Thursday, January 12, 2012

Actors Interruptus

I've become addicted to Inside the Actors Studio, the TV show where James Lipton interviews famous movie stars at length. Like any addiction, it's a combination of delight and agony.

I have no other acting experience than some childhood moments of bewilderment mixed with horror, leading me instead to the illusion of safety in holding the pen. Still, what impresses me the most with Inside the Actors Studio is how candid and generous the actors are, sharing their experiences without any concern for what it might do to their persona or reputation.

That shows devotion to the art and to the fellow artists – the aspiring actors in the auditorium. It's sweet to witness.

I've seen a bundle of the interviews and all the actors impress me. Some more than others, of course. For example, Angelina Jolie, one of the far too few women invited to the show, was refreshingly uninhibited and smiled with amusement while watching everything as if being in the audience.

Sean Penn said so many wise things – mostly about bigger issues than mere acting – that I gladly ponder for years. Billy Bob Thornton did sort of the same, with an attitude similar to the 18th century idea of the sauvage savant, the wise savage.

Alec Baldwin was quite frank about the business, although still affectionate about the art struggling within it. Tom Cruise worked hard at giving the students as much as he ever could, mentioning Scientology just briefly and humbly.

Dustin Hoffman gave some instant demonstrations of virtuoso acting. Ricky Gervais did the same by improvised comedy that he could go on with forever. Not to mention Robin Williams, but everybody knew that already. And so on. Delightful.

My agony, then, is the editing. Each interview actually goes on for several hours, but is cut down to one, sometimes two. Thereby the answers mostly become as brief as the questions, although it's evident that the actors have so much more to say – and say it to the audience present. I want to hear all of it!

You know how it is with an addiction - there's never enough.

The shortened show is too much of a rhapsody of movies and the awards they brought. At the latter, the actors are usually embarrassed and eager to move on. Rightly so. Awards are rarely to be trusted as indicators of splendid craftsmanship. Instead, the actors prove that by describing their work process and their motivations.

Nor do I care much for how James Lipton always ends his interviews: with the ten questions he got from the French TV host Bernard Pivot, allegedly of Marcel Proust origin. The questions are so trite, I didn't believe for a moment that they were of Proust origin.

They are not. He just happened to write down answers to questions in English confession albums, in his very own way, when he was an adolescent. They were not even the same questions Lipton uses, but sort of along that line. Read more about it here: Proust Questionnaire.

James Lipton's ten questions are rather childish – favorite and least favorite words, ditto sounds and professions, turn-on and turn-off, and favorite curse word. The last question is: “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?”

But Lipton, dean at the Actors Studio, should know mythology better: God's not the one waiting at the pearly gates. Saint Peter is.

Here are some of the shows on DVD at Amazon


  1. A friend of mine and I were arguing about astrology and she told me that he believes in astrology. She hasn't provided me with any evidence that the belief makes any sense to me. She she been telling me that I can't prove that it's wrong. Does her answer have merit? Any suggestions/help/opinions?

    1. Not that it has much to do with Actors Studio, but from a strictly scientific viewpoint the burden of proof is on the one with a claim. There's just too much to disprove, otherwise.

      On the other hand, the tools of natural science are not always the relevant ones for some theories, ideas, and old traditions, especially those that don't fit in the scientific paradigm.

      In other words: regarding much, we still have to make up our own minds.