So, before I continue, I have to ask you the question. ‘Why do you want to be an actor?’ Do you want to be a star? Do you like the attention? Do you become a new, different person on stage? Are you dazzled and delighted by the lights and the razzamatazz? Do you want to make pots of money and live in luxury? Do you want to be recognised wherever you go? How important is performing – theatre, films, TV – to you? Why? Is it for the reasons set out above, or do you have a different approach?
Let’s go back to my wince. Why did I react like that? Even after I had finished my acting training I still had the same attitude and the same views.
For me, the job of an actor is to help present a society to itself. If, on the stage, or on a screen, you can create a character whose drives and motivations express the innermost feelings of people in our society, then, by my standards you are doing your job, and you are making a worthwhile contribution to our society. That doesn’t mean that everything you perform in, everything that has been written, has to be deadly serious. After finishing my acting training, my aim, if I were to become an actor, was to be in a company where we all worked at different things, both on and back stage.
Drama, tragedy and comedy all have something to contribute to society and to the individual. Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, currently out in a new, and apparently very funny film version, tells us much about people’s fears of commitment. About the way the ego can work, and about how women can be put upon. This comedy can tell us as much about other people and ourselves, (so long as you are prepared to be honest with yourself) as one of the 20thcentury’s best dramas, The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. The latter play looks at the American dream, the relationship between parents and their children, ambition, financial struggle, betrayal, trust, commitment, longing and suicide. (See the Dustin Hoffman film if you can.) See it, then ask yourself questions about our society, and yourself.
So, whether you are performing in a comedy or a drama, both the work you are performing in, and your own performance should add to the sum of the individual’s knowledge, about themself, and about the society they live in.
As for being a star, well there are stars and stars. Some are there just because they are sexy and look good. But others arrive at stardom because they make a contribution way above that of the average, working actor. Think of Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Smith, Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, (except for the crap ‘Fokkers’ films) or Carey Mulligan.
Last year a film appeared, made in Hollywood by an Australian director and close friend of Theatrica, Ben Lewin. It was called The Sessions. The topic was quite touchy. It was based on the true story of a man who had very bad polio all his life, and spent a good part of each day in an iron lung. He decided that, before he died, he wanted to experience sex. So he contacted a sex surrogate – not a prostitute – but someone who, for psychological and therapeutic reasons was prepared to have sex with him. It starred three big Hollywood stars – Helen Hunt (the sex surrogate) John Hawkes, (the man with polio) and William H. Macy, (his local priest.) The whole film was made for what, in Hollywood terms, is a pittance, US$750,000. That was at least half of the salary any one of those actors could have expected for being in a film.
Why did they do it for peanuts? I don’t know, but here is a guess. Perhaps they were tired of being in Hollywood rubbish, and wanted to participate in a worthwhile project for a change. Perhaps they wanted the challenge of playing a difficult and confronting role. Perhaps they thought the story was worth telling, and the ideas were worth exploring. Perhaps they felt that people seeing the film would take away new insights and ideas. Helen Hunt had to appear totally naked in some of the scenes, and there was nothing ‘sexy’ or fantasy-like about them. They featured a professional sex surrogate having sex with a man suffering from polio. Yet, I believe that she, as a woman and as an actor, made herself more vulnerable than in any other performance by a woman that I have ever seen. She surely didn’t do that for the money, or for the hell of it. Perhaps she felt that she was contributing something to people’s thinking.
And yet, as I said, all three were paid, in Hollywood terms, peanuts for their performances. Something had to have motivated them? What do you think it might have been? And how does all this tie in with why you want to be an actor?