David Thomson, Steve Wasserman: On Acting (BABF 2015)

The Official Bay Area Book Festival Video Channel
27 Jul 202044:24

Summary

TLDRIn a conversation between writer David Thompson and his friend, publisher and former literary agent Steve Wasserman, the two discuss the art and craft of acting. They delve into why humans are fascinated by actors, the interplay between a performer's real self and their character, and actors' insecurities. They trace acting's evolution, argue it reveals truth about human nature, and debate whether actors are born or made. The discussion encompasses acting's power, the role of luck, what constitutes great acting, and more, while emphasizing that the audience is essential for the actor's work to have meaning.

Takeaways

  • 😀 Acting fascinates us because actors are pretending to be someone else, allowing us to watch both the character and the real person
  • 😮 Actors have an urge to pretend and try to present an idealized version of themselves, just as we all do in everyday life
  • 🤔 Many great actors are not happy people - their insecurity and unhappiness drives their talent
  • 👀 Film and photography changed our relationship with acting by making actors recognizable celebrities
  • 😠 The acting profession is filled with rejection and unemployment even for dedicated actors
  • 🎭 Acting requires skill in modulation and adjustment to become different people for different audiences
  • 🎬 Movies today rarely have the creative freedom that allowed superb 1970s films like Taxi Driver
  • 🎤 Great acting often requires doing very little - just being powerfully present
  • 🍀 Luck plays a huge role in acting success - getting the right part at the right time
  • 🎓 While acting education exists, life experience is the most important teacher for actors

Q & A

  • What does David Thompson believe is at the core of why people are fascinated by actors?

    -He believes people are fascinated by actors because they are pretending to be someone else. We are watching both the character they are playing and the real person we think we know.

  • How does David Thompson explain why people have an urge to pretend or try to be someone else?

    -He believes it's because in life, we are always trying to present the best version of ourselves to other people. We adjust how we act depending on who we are interacting with.

  • What point does David Thompson make about why acting can be difficult for some actors?

    -He explains that the unhappiness or nervous energy that makes someone a great actor can also make them unhappy in their personal lives. Some actors struggle with the fact that what drives their great performances causes them pain.

  • How did film change people's relationship with acting, according to David Thompson?

    -He explains that early film stars like Charlie Chaplin were seen as larger than life on the big screen. This let people identify with and fantasize about being actors themselves more than ever before.

  • What does David see as one of the hardest tests of great acting?

    -He believes one of the greatest tests is having nothing to do but still being utterly compelling. Simply sitting still on stage and being impossible to ignore showcases truly masterful acting.

  • What point does Steve make about how acting has impacted history?

    -He discusses how John Wilkes Booth leaping onto the stage to assassinate Lincoln shows in an extreme way how acting can dramatically shape events. Booth made the theater of history much larger.

  • What does David say helps explain Robert De Niro's decline in later roles?

    -He speculates that as De Niro became more interested in business and money, he started taking projects he wouldn't have earlier in his career. His attitude became duller as he likely became disillusioned.

  • What does David highlight as a key element of great acting?

    -He emphasizes a refined sensitivity that lets an actor translate the urge to pretend into believable speech and movement. An inner emotional intelligence guides the performance.

  • What role does David think luck plays in acting success?

    -He believes luck is crucial, as getting the right part at the right time with the right co-stars and director can make all the difference. Missed chances shape careers significantly.

  • How does David think people could benefit from acting exercises?

    -He suggests bringing strangers together, having them create fictional situations, cast roles, and think through acting choices. This creative collaboration would provide life insights.

Outlines

00:00

🎭 Introductions and context on acting

The host introduces the guest David Thompson, a writer and critic he has known professionally and personally for years. They discuss David's new book on acting, the genesis of which stems from both men's lifelong interest in and experiences with theater and acting. The host makes a self-deprecating joke about their close relationship.

05:02

😄 Why we are fascinated by acting

David explains that acting fascinates people because it involves pretending to be someone else. We simultaneously see the character and the real person when we watch actors. Over time, we understand what pretending has meant to an actor in their life and career.

10:03

🏆 Film and the Oscars changed acting

Film enabled the widespread visibility of actors in new ways. The host sees the sword in the Oscar statue as representing acting's ability to break through emotional barriers within us. David discusses how the Oscars represent the film industry's desire for respectability, though the award was not taken seriously initially.

15:05

🎓 Acting requires passion and pain

The host recalls a formative theatrical experience in his youth. He relates this to John Wilkes Booth assassinating Lincoln after leaping onto the Ford's Theatre stage, arguing acting has real-world power. David notes acting is rooted in a universal human impulse to pretend to be better versions of ourselves.

20:08

👀 Film and TV changed acting reality

David explains how film allowed audiences to see actors writ large for the first time. This encouraged stronger audience identification and blurred the line between fantasy and reality. The host notes that average screen time has increased drastically, altering our relationship with reality.

25:08

⏱️ Tension between acting success and personal happiness

The host asks if acting's reliance on pretense and affect curdles into a kind of self-contempt for actors over time. David notes many great actors have been unhappy, as acting often attracts insecure people. Young aspiring actors rarely understand how difficult and unstable acting is as a career path.

30:18

🤔 Defining great acting

When asked to define great acting, David identifies sensitivity, translation of pretending into speech and movement, and silent presence as key. Luck, relationships, choice of material and coaches are also essential elements for actors to achieve greatness.

35:21

😌 Acting will endure amid Hollywood decline

When asked if he worries about acting's future given the decline of Hollywood films, David says the impulse to act will remain. He notes that television has become the locus of innovative acting and writing talent.

40:22

🧑‍🎓 Acting: born or made?

Asked if great acting is innate or learned, David says it's some of both. He notes that while formal training has some role, life experience seems crucial. Some non-actors like Joseph Welch evidence sudden great acting talent when a part calls for it.

Mindmap

Keywords

💡acting

Acting is the main focus of the video. It is defined as pretending to be someone else. The speakers explore why humans are fascinated by acting, the history of acting, what makes a great actor, and how acting has changed over time. They provide examples of famous actors like Marlon Brando and Meryl Streep to illustrate different aspects of acting.

💡audience

The audience is an essential part of acting, providing the spectators that complete the act. As Steve says, 'acting requires spectators' and is 'not complete' without them. The audience engages with the performance and collaboration between actor and viewer is discussed.

💡dissembling

Dissembling means deceit or pretending. It is used to describe acting itself as conscious deception, though the speakers argue this does not make it necessarily insincere. Rather, pretending reveals truths about ourselves that we otherwise would not admit.

💡method acting

A style of acting in which actors draw on real emotions and memories, instead of just representing them. Daniel Day-Lewis is discussed as an example of a dedicated method actor who deeply commits to his roles.

💡passion

Passion is identified as a necessary drive motivating actors, especially early on in their careers. Robert De Niro tells graduates they chose acting to 'follow your passions', which will sustain them through rejection.

💡power

The feeling of power an actor gets over the audience is discussed, using Steve's own experience on stage as an example. This sense of control when performing offers insight into why acting fascinates.

💡reality

Acting's relationship with reality is a key theme. The speakers suggest good acting reveals truthful aspects of human nature despite being deception. Our perception of reality has also been altered by films and screens.

💡rejection

Rejection and unemployment are portrayed as inevitable difficulties for aspiring actors that even famous ones still fear. De Niro warns graduates they will face rejection, showing it is intrinsic to the acting life.

💡sincerity

Sincerity is proposed by George Burns as the most important quality in acting, though there is irony in being able to 'fake' sincerity. Meryl Streep is put forward as an example of an actor perceived as sincere.

💡unhappiness

It is suggested many great actors lead unhappy lives, with nervous energy and insecurity underlying outstanding performances. Hence the stereotypical vain, unstable actor may hold some truth.

Highlights

Actors are fascinated by because they are pretending to be someone else. We watch both the character and the real person.

Good actors have an incredibly refined sensitivity that can translate the urge to pretend into speech and action.

Acting requires luck - the right co-stars, director, timing. Most acting careers depend on a few lucky breakout parts.

Great acting is having nothing to do but being inescapable in the process. Simply looking at someone with care.

Most actors are surrounded by desperation and insecurity, which drives their urge to pretend to be someone else.

The movies changed acting by making actors shine with light so bright that our fantasies came alive.

Many great TV actors have left movies behind due to the decline in mainstream films and rise of quality TV.

Actors go where the good work is, so they'll stay in TV as long as it offers better writing and roles.

The urge to act will last despite Hollywood's decline. Great new acting emerges in shows like Breaking Bad.

We all pretend to be better versions of ourselves. Actors professionally live out this fantasy we all share.

The Oscars were invented so Hollywood could pretend to be serious and say "Respect us!"

Most actors think they're failures despite fame and praise. Insecurity drives them.

Acting blurs reality. We now spend over 11 hours a day staring at screens, far from reality.

John Wilkes Booth assassinating Lincoln proves acting matters. He strode onto history's stage.

The best acting class would be meeting strangers, making up situations, and improvising roles.

Transcripts

play00:07

i'll keep the introductions short

play00:11

to my left is david thompson a critic

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uh and writer i admired for many years

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before

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it became my privilege to meet him and

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uh

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i have worn many hats with david so in

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the interest of transparency

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let me confess that in addition i'm glad

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to say

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of being friends i published some of his

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writing when he

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wrote for me on occasion when i edited

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the los angeles times

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book review later i became

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david's literary agent in which capacity

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i still function

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although i wear another hat when three

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years ago

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i decided to embrace the nearly

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scandinavian health care offered by yale

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university

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press and became an editor at large for

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them in which

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capacity i asked david to

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write the book which is uh the occasion

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for this

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talk which uh it's my duty as his

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publisher his

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agent and his friend to hold up he is

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also

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my uncle yeah

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so the the the charm well you'll be the

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judge

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of this conversation uh is that it's

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uh an incestuous one between two people

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who have

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each in their own way been interested in

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acting

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which is perhaps another way of saying

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that we have each of us in our own way

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try to lead our lives and become a

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protagonist in our own

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unfolding drama and it had occurred to

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me to ask david to write

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a kind of extended essay on acting

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since he has been

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i think it not too extreme to say

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obsessed with the subject

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nearly all his adult life and maybe even

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earlier than that

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written about many movies as you know

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written and seen many dramas

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and the idea that we would do so at the

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inaugural bay area

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book festival in the town in which

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i grew up made the whole affair

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very personal and i just want to sort of

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tip of the hat

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to um i saw many uh wonderful

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productions

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in this town from the work of the magic

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theater to the san francisco

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mime troupe to an indelible

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performance by the living theater at the

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berkeley community theater

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in february of 1969

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paradise now and frankenstein and

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the many ways in which acting and actors

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have been important for me personally as

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i

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suppose in each in their each in your

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own way they have been

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for you um forms the kind of bedrock

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on which we might have a conversation

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about a

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art form a craft a way of being in the

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world which is

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as paradoxical and as necessary as

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i think anything is so

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i'm put in mind of a perhaps apocryphal

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story that i heard many years ago in los

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angeles

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jack lemmon once asked george burns

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what was the single greatest attribute

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that one needed to be

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a successful actor and burns never at a

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loss for words

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instantly replied sincerity and if you

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can fake that kid

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you got it made which was perhaps about

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as good a definition of acting as i

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think i've ever heard so i wanted to

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turn it over for a moment to david

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and ask him a very simple question

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what is it about acting that

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seems to mesmerize us and over the

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course of time

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what's changed obviously acting from

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thespis to

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to johnny depp has a long and

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distinguished tradition although by some

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measures

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disreputable the catholic church for

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most of its history refused to

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allow actors to be buried with rights

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without first renouncing the sin

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of their entire profession

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so tell us if you would how you think of

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acting and what has drawn you to the

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subject

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and indeed why you think it matters so

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very much

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well i think it's rooted

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in our psyche um

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i think we are fascinated by actors

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because they are pretending to be

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someone else

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i think almost when we watch actors we

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are watching

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two people we are watching the character

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they're playing and we're watching the

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real person we think we know

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as a professional career and

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the interplay between those two

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i think is a large part of the pleasure

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so when you

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when you follow an actor or an actress

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over decades

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you know when you see meryl streep today

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you remember meryl streep in let's say

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the deer hunter

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where she's a very different kind of

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person

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but you see over the years just what

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pretending

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has meant to her which is interesting

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because meryl streep really has

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the reputation a lot of the affect

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of a very sincere serious

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down-to-earth honest person

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and you know compared with a lot of our

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leading actors i think she deserves that

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and i've only

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heard good things about her as a person

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so why is she obsessed with pretending

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to be other people

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i think this is a really core impulse

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in acting and i think it's a core

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impulse in what we

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get out of them because

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and i don't know how far back this goes

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because

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we can get on to this but film changed

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our sense of acting

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but i think it's because we all of us

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in life are always

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pretending to be a slightly

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better version of ourselves that we

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would like

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to have presented to people so when you

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meet someone

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for the first time

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so to speak physically but inside your

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head

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you straighten up you comb your hair

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you you smile you you be as sort of

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as open and accessible as you can you

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present yourself

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in a way that says look i might be your

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friend

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i might be your lover i might live with

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you for 60 years

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and in the course of 60 years you will

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probably have to pretend to be several

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other people

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just to make time pass pleasantly and

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easily

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but very briefly i think it's because

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we are pretenders now that can easily be

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interpreted as saying well we're all

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insincere

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we're all liars and i think those

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principles deserve more attention than

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they often get

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but i don't think it's an unwholesome

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unhealthy thing

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i think the urge to pretend to try to be

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someone else

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a better version of ourselves i think

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it's

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absolutely widespread and any people who

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are

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in human company are involved with that

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i think

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and you know if you have a large family

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situation

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you may sit back sometimes and say i

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realize

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that i'm not quite the same person

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to my children as i am to my parents

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or my wife or friends and i think we do

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this all the time

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it's a fantastic process of

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modulation and adjustment that goes on

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without any conscious

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process where we've just become slightly

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different

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because we know that person wants a

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out of us and that person wants b out of

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us

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it's very complicated and we do it as we

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do so many things

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because of a brain that is just so

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incredibly skillful

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yeah do you think

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that you observe in your book that

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the oscar the academy award statuette

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that is given

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um and i don't think very many people

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tumbled to this or

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focus on it is a figure that is bearing

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a sword

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yes why

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um i'm not literally sure

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of that it's a very strange figure

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because

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in the original oscar the sword is

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actually sort of pinning

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pieces of film to the ground which i

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don't think

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is what they meant us to interpret it by

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but it's a sort of noble classical

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figure it's a sort of arnold

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schwarzenegger figure

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before his time and um

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everything about the oscars is so

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bizarre

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i mean it it it could only have been

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invented and of course oscar

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is really a way for the film business to

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pretend

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we're serious we do good work

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you know respect us for god's sake

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respect us the oscars were invented

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for those purposes right i sometimes

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think in a

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somewhat highfalutin way that it's the

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unacknowledged

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uh admission that the sword

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acts for the actor as kafka is said to

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have

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regarded a book as the as the axe that

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would break up the frozen sea within us

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yes and that the art of dissembling the

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act of

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pretending the act of conscious

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deception

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itself done well reveals truths

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about our daily lives that we otherwise

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would not see

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or admit to ourselves you should have

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been there in 1927 when they first saw

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the oscar statuette

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you would have been laughed out of the

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room

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i mean this is the kind of comment that

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one can only get get away with in

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berkeley

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you know and i i want to be loyal to my

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yes my roots constituency yes yeah do

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you think it's a tension for actors

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uh in particular when uh they uh become

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the best of them are so gifted at

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dissembling and

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faking authenticity that in their own

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lives the most

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many of them are intelligent of them uh

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begin to

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experience it as a as a kind of curse i

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think of louise brooks

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who would give up acting and become

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famous really for

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a refusal to engage in a kind of

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dishonest practices because she found it

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intolerable

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i think many actors

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probably most of the really good actors

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know that feeling

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um late in life

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when he was really a wrecked person in

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most ways brando taught

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a class in los angeles called lying for

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a living and and the title was

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given to this series with a real degree

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of self-contempt

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um brando i think fell out of love with

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acting quite early

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on uh on the other hand someone like

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john gielgood

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was acting into his early 90s and loved

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every moment of it

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you know and i think he was very lucky

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for that

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i do think a lot of actors sense

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the problem that comes home to them and

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you would have to say

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that a lot of actors this is a big

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generalization so

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forgive that part of it but a lot of

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actors are not happy people

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and i think some of them know that the

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unhappiness

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is the nervous energy that inspires what

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they do and they've had they've had very

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difficult

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lives none more so

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than the lives of a huge majority of

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actors

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who never even get a job the acting

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profession so-called is filled with

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people

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who have never given up the hope that

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one day they would get a breakthrough

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and they will get a big part and they

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prepare for parts they go to auditions

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where they are

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humiliated really treated badly and

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they stick at it and they are old

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impoverished without

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pension almost certainly maybe without

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social security because they've never

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really earned from it

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um we should remember that

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every actor is born unemployed

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and they never escape that fear

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that they're going to be unemployed

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that's why a lot of actors

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make bad decisions about what parts they

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will do

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because they're terrified of not

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being able to play and pretend to be

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someone else

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or as robert de niro put it most

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recently two weeks ago

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when he delivered the commencement

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address at the graduating

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class of nyu's tisch school of the arts

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after thanking the assembled faculty and

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congratulating the 2015

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graduating class he said now you're

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which brought down the house and by that

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he went on to to say

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you know unlike your your fellow

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students who graduated the school of

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accounting they will have jobs uh unlike

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the people who are graduating ny school

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of law

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and then he stopped and said well enough

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about them they're lawyers

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but you you made a choice you made a

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choice to follow your passions

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uh it's going to be a lot of

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unemployment it's going to be rejection

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and then he said but you knew that going

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in and oh that's

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questionable i don't know how far

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18 year olds really know that the

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passion

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is intense and it should be it has to be

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i mean there are many walks of life like

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being a sportsman

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where it's the passion at first that

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carries you into it and you don't quite

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see what will happen when you're 34.

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and i think

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it's a very frightening situation to

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have

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a young person come to you and say do

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you think i should be an actor

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that's happened to me a few times in

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life and i've always said

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you have to take responsibility for that

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decision

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i'm sure your parents are hoping that

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you will not be

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an actor don't put your daughter on the

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stage because this is where things look

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like anything

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and they're right it's a terrible line

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of work to get into

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and incidentally that was the most

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coherent thing i've ever

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heard robert de niro say

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he is a notoriously bad

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interview and and you know he's done

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some great great work

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not a not a lot of it recently i think

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but once upon a time

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really great work but if you ask him um

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why and how and what the answers are

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terrible but yeah but in that he

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probably has a lot in common with

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i mean again at the risk of generalizing

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uh terribly

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um it's not uncommon in artists of many

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walks of life

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dancers ballet dancers opera singers

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painters uh even i dare say maybe even a

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lot of

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writers uh cannot when asked are

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actually articulate

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what it is they do i know and of course

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we're in a culture that that

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that insists on asking those questions

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so

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when madison bongano almost

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single-handedly won the world series

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there was aaron andrews i think it was

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her say how did it feel madison

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you know he's simply not made to tell

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you

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how it feels you were watching how did

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it feel for you

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you know right and in that sense

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i often uh think that um actors along

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with other

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uh artists uh so the best of them so

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uh wonderfully inhabit or exemplify

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traits that we wish often on our

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we wish on our best day we could inhabit

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but of course

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their their lines are written for them

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by others

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they have the gift of a kind of

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emotional intelligence to inhabit

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a role without perhaps uh overthinking

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it

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and uh revealing it in a way that isn't

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given to us but what we share with them

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in line what with what you're saying is

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what uh

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uh thoreau once uh called uh

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about most people leading lives of quiet

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desperation yeah

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yeah and you know actors get enormous

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praise

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and people will stop them on the street

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in restaurants and say oh i just love

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your work it's meant so much to me

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and it's very difficult to respond

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freshly to that

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all the time and a lot of actors hate to

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be recognized and

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accosted by strangers and for good

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reason because there are strangers out

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there

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who do not have the best intentions

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toward actors you know

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um in the age of celebrity actors have

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suffered because they

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they are treated often like famous

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people which

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they are but it's not what they set out

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to do and you make the observation in

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your book

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that this is as it were a recent

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development

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that if you and has everything to do

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with the invention of photography and

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yeah and moving pictures yeah i mean you

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know

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we assume that acting has always been

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there

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and it probably has i i invent a scene

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for the book of a caveman coming home

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after having a battle with a lion and

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he's torn to pieces by the land but

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he killed the lion and he's thinking as

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he goes back

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what am i going to tell the people at

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home in the cave

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why i'm in this state so he begins to

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work out a story

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which may not be exactly what happened

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you know

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and maybe it was two lions he killed by

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the time he gets back and and

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we all of us we we build up what we have

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done and and um

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we don't have writers we are our own

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writer which is a big burden

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and actors often get to a point

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where they think they don't need the

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writer it's a very interesting situation

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where an actor who has

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really sunk and soaked himself into a

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part over a long period

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he knows what he has to say by heart and

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he begins to think

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well if i was this character

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i think i'd say something else there and

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the whole process of improvisation

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and taking off from the script the text

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is amazing but you know once upon a time

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hardly anyone saw

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actors you go back to the 19th century

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we know of famous actors

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from the 19th century hardly anyone saw

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them

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and that's why movie changed everything

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because not only did everyone see

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charlie chaplin and mary pickford and so

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on

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but they saw them bigger than the side

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of a house

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they saw them so beautiful so dazzling

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so shining with light that the process

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of fantasy

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was let loose in a very big way and

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people started to identify with actors

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and they

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they thought they were actors too so

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it it's encouraged this whole thing in

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an extraordinary way and of course

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you know i mean uh

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i had a student at dartmouth a long time

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ago

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1970s who was a television fiend

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and i asked him how much television a

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day

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do you watch and he said oh it's seldom

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more than seven hours a day

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which shocked me terribly at the time i

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just recently

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asked my son who is 25 he's a writer

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he works for a publisher you know him

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i said try to estimate how many hours a

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day

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you spend looking at a screen and he

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worked it out

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and it was 11 and a half

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and that's probably close to the truth

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for more of us we are living through

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screens and if you think that is the

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same as reality

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you're wrong and and a big part of this

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book and about

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really everything i try to do about

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acting is about

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the way our deal with reality

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has altered immeasurably because of the

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movies

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yeah um

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i was uh shift the conversation a little

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bit

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on the ways in which the boundary

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between

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the well as it were the mirror that's

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held up to us by these screens

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yeah and how we look at them and how the

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boundary between the world that we

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live in and the permeable world that we

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enter virtually has elided or blurred

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the boundary

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between the way we we all of us

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act in our own lives and the way in

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which those acts

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are projected back to us by the stories

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that are concocted and

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shown to us many years ago

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i was in a production at the florence

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shrimly little theater

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just down the street on allston way it

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was a berkeley high school production

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of pearly victorious the year was 1968.

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uh the first act i had a small

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role in the part in the in the play and

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it required in the first act that

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after i said a few lines that i sat on a

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stool

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and other people had their lines while i

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just simply sat there of course

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i was still had to be in character i was

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still present

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and i have to confess that perhaps the

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epiphany that

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came to me during this sequence was made

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in some measure possible by the

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ingestion

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some hours earlier in the day of the

play23:30

hallucinogenic drug

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which is do i have any of my children in

play23:34

the audience anyway

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and there came to be a moment when i sat

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on the stage

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and i looked out at the audience and i

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realized

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that i was the most powerful person in

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the room

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and um and it was actually a frightening

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but also very

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thrilling uh moment when i realized that

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i could with a single act

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uh destroy or alter the entire history

play23:59

of the evening for everybody in the room

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all i had to do was get up and say

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this play is a piece of and jump

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off the proscenium

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and stride out the hall well whatever

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might happen

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afterward it would be never forgotten it

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would be quite a moment

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i thought of that this morning because

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we are

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this year this month like a couple

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months ago is the 150th anniversary of

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the assassination of abraham lincoln

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by a man who was the inferior actor

play24:32

whose brother was the most famous actor

play24:35

of his day john edwin booth

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and his brother edmund was something of

play24:40

a failure as an actor but who

play24:42

nonetheless

play24:43

leaps on the balcony of ford's theater

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assassinates the president um and

play24:49

forever upstages his brother

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and jumps down onto the stage and jumps

play24:53

down onto the stage

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so if you ask the question does acting

play24:58

matter

play24:59

you bet it does i mean there's a guy who

play25:01

just strode onto the stage of history

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and made the theater very much larger

play25:08

than no one remembers the play

play25:10

that lincoln was no right well

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i mean you're absolutely right and and

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um the power

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that an actor feels i think i think

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sometimes teachers have it you know you

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you may occasionally feel you have a

play25:31

class in the palm of your hand

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and you pause to just to sort of let

play25:36

that sink in

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and what you say next is going to be

play25:41

remarkable

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you see what i mean about the way we

play25:46

present ourselves

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and and i think the power is

play25:51

very much a part of it because

play25:56

actors are always amazed when you talk

play25:59

to them as if they were great and famous

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and successes very few actors think

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their successes

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there is a sort of stereotype of the

play26:08

vain actor

play26:10

rather like the character in the play

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20th century and the film

play26:14

um acting his head up all the time

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showing off and just brow beating other

play26:20

people

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i've never met an actor

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and talk to them at any length without

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discovering

play26:28

the desperate insecurity

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and i think another part of why they do

play26:34

it

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and why we do what we do is because for

play26:38

a moment

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we may have a feeling an illusion of

play26:43

power

play26:44

over the chaos of life and that's a

play26:47

heady thing that that's

play26:49

that's an hallucinogenic and

play26:52

you don't go to prison for it

play26:56

i'm sure you don't go to prison anymore

play26:57

but i know

play27:00

it's 12 33 time passes all too quickly

play27:05

when the play is really something you

play27:06

want to

play27:08

listen to i do want to invite some

play27:10

questions from the audience

play27:12

as well so let me do so now i will

play27:16

repeat the question

play27:17

unless you're capable of standing up and

play27:20

and

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speak the speech yeah but don't but no

play27:23

speeches

play27:24

just the question um so yes young men

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there

play27:36

could everyone hear the question he says

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i'm sure you get some blow back uh on on

play27:42

on your your opinions what's your

play27:44

opinion of daniel day-lewis

play27:45

is that fair enough um well the book has

play27:49

been reviewed

play27:50

by a very distinguished actor simon

play27:52

callow and it was a friendly review

play27:55

i i i don't think i've heard yet of

play27:57

other actors

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saying anything about it and and i think

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i think actors are very cautious when

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they're talked about in this

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this kind of way um i think daniel day

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lewis

play28:08

is one of the really remarkable actors

play28:12

of our time

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i tell a story in the book he did hamlet

play28:17

at the national theater

play28:20

oh in the late 80s i think and

play28:23

he was not the figure he is today but he

play28:26

did hamlet at the national theater which

play28:27

was a

play28:28

a real test because they

play28:32

you have an audience who know the play

play28:33

inside out

play28:35

and in the course of the play he was a

play28:38

method actor still is

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he began to see and hamlet

play28:44

something that resembled him which was

play28:47

the loss of a father

play28:48

day lewis father who was a famous writer

play28:51

died about 15 years earlier

play28:54

but he got into that more

play28:58

and more and other people in the

play28:59

production could see

play29:02

that this was making life very difficult

play29:04

for him

play29:05

and you know you play a real part you're

play29:08

walking a tightrope

play29:10

with sharks in the sea it's it's a

play29:12

dangerous thing

play29:13

you're playing with your own self and

play29:17

one night uh

play29:20

day lewis started sobbing on stage

play29:24

and he walked off the un you know the

play29:27

most

play29:28

unspeakable thing that an actor can do

play29:30

just terminate the performance and get

play29:32

off

play29:33

and there was a delay of about 15

play29:35

minutes

play29:36

and then jeremy northam his understudy

play29:39

came on

play29:40

and delivered a superb performance day

play29:42

lewis

play29:43

has never been back on stage since

play29:47

but i think he's a remarkable figure

play29:49

yeah

play29:51

um yes

play29:55

you mentioned um when you were talking

play29:57

about robert de niro

play29:59

that previously he'd done some great

play30:02

acting and

play30:03

recently not so much i'm interested

play30:18

what makes great acting tell us more

play30:19

about what you think worked well

play30:22

as you say earlier in deniro's career

play30:25

and what didn't work

play30:26

so well later in it um

play30:29

well i think that there was a period of

play30:33

time

play30:34

the 70s began in the late 60s but

play30:38

through the 70s

play30:40

when de niro in

play30:43

movie after movie delivered

play30:47

people that we

play30:50

immediately recognized

play30:53

like travis bickle but whom we'd not

play30:57

really

play30:57

seen in a film before i think he

play31:01

enlarged our sense of what

play31:04

people could be and

play31:07

i think one way or another he kept the

play31:10

company

play31:11

of challenging directors and and he just

play31:14

did

play31:15

a run of things and

play31:19

i think

play31:22

gradually into the eighties not to say

play31:25

there weren't some good

play31:26

pieces of work later but gradually

play31:29

he became interested

play31:33

in business became a restaurateur

play31:37

became a figure in tribeca

play31:40

really i think got very interested

play31:43

in money and why should he not be

play31:47

we most of us are and we live in a

play31:50

society that is

play31:51

obsessed with it so why should an artist

play31:53

not be very interested

play31:55

in money but i do think over a

play31:58

long period of time you can see him

play32:01

getting into

play32:02

films that once upon a time i don't

play32:06

think he would have done

play32:07

and i think his attitude to it has

play32:10

become

play32:11

duller a little blunter and i think a

play32:15

lot of actors of that age

play32:18

are disillusioned and in part it's

play32:20

because

play32:21

it's virtually impossible to make a film

play32:24

like taxi driver

play32:25

anymore you know it's amazing that that

play32:28

was

play32:29

done and a whole lot of films in that

play32:31

time were done it was a great time

play32:33

and and i don't think you can do it now

play32:35

and doesn't seem

play32:37

likely to come back what makes a great

play32:39

actor

play32:40

well it's clearly

play32:45

some specially refined

play32:49

sensitivity that can translate the urge

play32:52

to pretend

play32:54

into speech

play32:57

and maybe most important of all doing

play32:59

nothing steve talked about his great

play33:01

performance

play33:02

many years ago where he was just sitting

play33:06

a supreme test and not speaking

play33:09

a supreme test of great acting

play33:13

is um having

play33:16

nothing to do and being inescapable

play33:20

in the process of

play33:23

wonderful american film called rio bravo

play33:25

was made in the late 1950s

play33:28

and john wayne was cast in it and he

play33:30

said to the director

play33:32

um well i've read the script howard and

play33:35

you know

play33:36

it'll be a great film i think but dean

play33:39

martin he's got the part

play33:41

he's the guy trying to recover from

play33:44

being an alcoholic

play33:45

what do i do all the time he's got the

play33:47

shakes and everything and hawke said

play33:49

you just stand there and look at him

play33:51

like someone who cares for him

play33:54

and wayne is one of our most underrated

play33:56

actors

play33:57

for good reason he did a lot of other

play34:00

things that we don't

play34:01

like or a proof of he was a fantastic

play34:03

screen actor

play34:04

and if you look at rio bravo and you

play34:06

could look at it tonight with a prophet

play34:08

he just looks at dean martin as if he

play34:10

cares

play34:11

you can't beat that in acting you know

play34:13

you can't beat it in life

play34:16

how many awkward situations have you

play34:17

managed to get through in life because

play34:19

you've just

play34:20

turned to someone and looked at them

play34:23

and said i care i don't even said it but

play34:26

they see it

play34:28

and i think that's a very important

play34:30

important thing of acting

play34:31

i think you also have to say knowing the

play34:33

right people

play34:35

being in a situation that de niro was in

play34:38

in new york in

play34:39

75 where the people with great ideas for

play34:43

films come to you

play34:45

so that's important i think

play34:48

it's terribly important to have

play34:51

the right advice actors are surrounded

play34:54

with entourages and we sort of make fun

play34:56

of them

play34:57

and a lot of them are opportunists just

play34:59

taking advantage of the actor

play35:01

but a lot of them give golden advice

play35:04

suggestions

play35:05

so that's another thing i think luck

play35:08

is horribly important often when you

play35:12

take on a film if you're an actor

play35:14

or a play you're told well

play35:17

your co-stars will be a b and c

play35:20

and it will open there on that date

play35:24

so-and-so will direct it sounds

play35:27

wonderful sounds like a project made in

play35:29

heaven

play35:30

by the time you get there the actors

play35:32

playing with you are x

play35:34

y and z someone else is directing it

play35:37

it's not in the theater you were told

play35:38

about

play35:39

it's just not a good place to be with it

play35:44

and luck plays

play35:48

a real part in it and um

play35:53

i think that the people who are

play35:56

unemployed

play35:58

live with the dream that oh

play36:02

if only they could have got sophie's

play36:05

choice

play36:07

they'd have knocked it out of the park

play36:10

you know

play36:10

well probably probably

play36:14

almost anyone could have done sophie's

play36:16

choice and reduced us to tears

play36:19

and it's the luck of a part that comes

play36:22

along

play36:22

and in most acting careers there are

play36:25

parts that made all the difference

play36:27

and it often comes down to luck

play36:31

that you got the part so all of those

play36:34

things

play36:34

come into play uh we've got a lot of

play36:37

questions and

play36:38

and my name is running out yes ma'am um

play36:57

are you concerned about the future of

play36:59

acting given

play37:00

how terrible hollywood is

play37:04

i i've given out worrying about

play37:06

hollywood

play37:07

i think the impulse to act is going to

play37:10

last quite a while yet

play37:12

and i generally agree with your

play37:16

assessment of hollywood films but i

play37:19

would say

play37:21

uh some of the great acting of recent

play37:23

years

play37:24

has been brian cranston as walter white

play37:28

uh gandolfini sterling soprano

play37:32

claire danes is carrie mathison and and

play37:34

you know hordes

play37:36

of others and i think i think there's a

play37:39

real connection

play37:40

between the terrible decline in the

play37:43

american mainstream

play37:45

movie and the way that we we are

play37:47

enjoying

play37:49

a kind of television that may be as good

play37:51

as television has ever

play37:52

managed i think in other words the

play37:55

people with ideas

play37:57

people like david chase vince gilligan

play38:00

and

play38:01

the writers and the actors have gone

play38:03

into television

play38:05

which is not often as lucrative

play38:09

for them but you know actors generally

play38:13

will go where the good

play38:14

work is so

play38:17

i think a lot of people are staying home

play38:19

watching box sets

play38:22

rather than go out to movies however

play38:25

i would have to say that i went to see

play38:28

uh

play38:28

mad max this week because i'm a tom

play38:31

hardy

play38:32

fan but charlize theron owns the film

play38:36

and is amazing you know so you could be

play38:39

surprised

play38:40

uh yes back there yes sir

play38:46

are actors born or made

play38:52

well you could say that about doctors

play38:54

you could say it about

play38:56

anybody really i i mean i think it's a

play38:58

bit of both

play39:00

um i think the interesting thing about

play39:02

acting

play39:03

is that history has taught us that

play39:07

the educational processes that grow up

play39:11

for actors which were

play39:14

very popular in britain teaching you how

play39:17

to stand on stage and

play39:19

fence and you know slide down the

play39:22

banister all that kind of stuff

play39:24

i'm not sure how useful they are i think

play39:26

that i think that most

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artists rather than go to art school

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probably need to get out in life and to

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a pretty uncomfortable

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version of life because i think they'll

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learn more

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but i think that probably

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any actor

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knows that

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what happened in the earliest days are

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very important i saw a

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documentary about ingrid bergman this

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week and

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the film says some pains to say that

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ingrid was shaped by

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losing both her parents early and by the

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influence they had on her and and the

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way in which that

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focused her sense of herself in other

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words she was a little unhappy as a

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child

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well anyone here was not unhappy as a

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child

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but we're not all great actors so you

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know

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there is something unique in the genes

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but um

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you never know you never know joseph

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welsh

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do you all know who joseph welsh was he

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was the lawyer

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who really pinned mccarthy in

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54 i think on television and

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he was a lawyer trained as a lawyer

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and he spoke well as a lawyer but if you

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look at the clip of film

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with vole's him and mccarthy there's no

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question

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he acted better in that scene and not

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long after those hearings otto preminger

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cast him

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as the judge in anatomy of a murder

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he'd never dreamed of acting and i think

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it's the case that there are people out

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there

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probably people in here who have never

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acted but if the right part came along

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might be extraordinary

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of course very very very famously uh

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desicca and brasson

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yes uh were were devoted uh or very

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much and and and made a central part of

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their filmmaking that's right

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and hate testing the non-act hated to

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use them again once they've been used

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yeah

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yeah uh yes sir um

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have you ever thought of acting yourself

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and any suggestions you might have for

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the rest of us

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who uh

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yeah what should we take an acting class

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and could we learn something

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and i'm afraid this will have to be the

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last question uh

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because they have another uh class

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coming in

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and david will sign some books in the

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lobby if you care to

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purchase one

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i think the ideal cost

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on acting would be to gather

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a group of people at random

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to bring them together let them

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meet each other and know each other and

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come up with a situation to be discussed

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among the group

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to cast it but maybe then to cast it in

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different ways

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and to play with it and begin to think

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of well what should the character say

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what should the action be

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you would make the play from scratch

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without any intention of

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performing it but i think that that

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process

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might be an educational process about

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life in general

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that you would never forget

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i think that if i were to do a class

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like that that's how i would do it

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it is incidentally very close to the way

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mike lee makes his films

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i have never acted uh professionally

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but i am a constant and devoted am a

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director

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the one thing i think we should leave

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you with is that

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acting requires spectators

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it requires an audience and the act

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of acting is not complete just as the

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act of writing

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is not complete without readers so think

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of yourselves as co-collaborators

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in the process of why acting matters if

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it matters at all

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it matters to every one of us and may i

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say

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i have a vested interest in it of course

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but

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in every sentence that david has written

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in this little book and in his other

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books as well you will find

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a necessary oxygen thank you very much

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for your attention

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you