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Meryl Streep: Talent Is A Sacrament

Tenn's bed, in the second-floor suite of the Royal Orleans Hotel, was a cluster of curiosities: notes, drawings, photographs, rough drafts of plays, poems, opening paragraphs. Among these many items were two pages of notes--on creased pages--about Meryl Streep, an actress who clearly fascinated him. Here are the notes, precisely as they were written or typed on those pages. Talent is a sacrament, and one doled out by a miserly God, who understands that its worth is sustained by its rarity, and its value increases when the ecstasy it releases upon exposure is felt by those who understand and appreciate it--those who can recognize it. I have searched for  faith, which people keep telling me is the greatest and rarest of gifts, but I see now that talent is the great gift, the pearl of great price, and a mean seductress, for you can only search for it in others: It will never arise from within you through faith or prayer or diligence.  You either have talent or you don'
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Kim Stanley: Acting Cannot Be Taught

  Interview with Kim Stanley conducted by James Grissom/1992/Los Angeles "I'm going to stop you right there, because I do not teach acting. Acting cannot be taught, and anyone who tells you that it can is a charlatan. You are either born with the talent to act or you are not. A teacher, a guide, a coach can only enhance what you've been given, and this is done primarily through showing the actor where to look--at books, at theatre, at films, at art, at people, at life all around. Expand their minds and hearts. You can give them confidence by the foundation you build beneath their feet, and then you can hold those feet to the fire by demanding that they be truthful--in life and in any scenes they do before a class. "There is so much out there to learn and to ingest, and we can share our experience of a book or a painting or a performance by incorporating into our roles what we saw and felt. We have to think and be big. A class is where you dare to take on parts you kno

Marian Seldes: Envy, Anger, Spite

  Interview with James Grissom/2006 "A student comes to me--or a young person who needs help--and I don't want to tell them about some of the things that await them. A gifted person comes to me, and I am inspired by all they have; their unique ability to analyze and share things--and then the day comes when fear strikes them, and it almost always surfaces as envy, anger, spite. "I have always been more afraid of anger than I have of people on the street who might hurt me. People always told me to walk closer to the street, because doorways and alleys might hide people who would hurt or rob me. I'm more frightened of the dark alleys in our minds, where actions are waiting to jump out and force us to corrupt who we are. "I found myself telling students that no one--no one at all--can take what is yours. You think a part was owed to you, belonged to you, and then it goes to another, and I have seen years of rage build up over this so-called slight. It is not a sligh

Johanna Day: Misery Is Optional

  Ah, what happiness it is to be with people who are all happy, to press hands, press cheeks, smile into eyes. ―Katherine Mansfield PART ONE Johanna Day, the actress, is the youngest of nine children, was born with a caul covering her face, and is frequently followed by snakes. These aspects of her biography are sometimes credited with giving her special powers: She can diagnose illness and is very good at treating people of both mental and physical maladies, her gift for friendship is phenomenal, and she can overlook the odious with admirable rapidity. A lot of Day's positivity she credits to her mother, who had hanging in her kitchen a sign that read "Misery is Optional." Day's mother, Eileen, was close to Johanna, her youngest, and knew about and supported her dreams. Diagnosed with cancer during a peak in her daughter's career--the Broadway run of "Proof"--her mother remained as active as she could, involved in the lives of all of her children, and g

Brooke Smith: Always In the Center of Truth

  Brooke Smith as Merilee in "Big Sky." When people who care about acting gather together to talk about how it's diminishing or being degraded, certain names are always brought up to engender hope in the group, and one of them is Brooke Smith. During a brief period when I had the ears and the attention of Mike Nichols, he said of Smith that "she was fully intelligent and present all the time, and that is very often not seen as 'acting.' People remain simple--if not dumb--about what they think acting is: Loud, outlined in neon, a parade of adjectives made flesh. To witness an actor inhabiting a character fully, listening, making a mark in the--God forgive this-- mise en scène,  is to see a rarity."        I was contracted by an online magazine last year to profile Smith when she mounted her own Emmy campaign for her supporting performance in the ABC series "Big Sky." When the campaign failed to net Smith a nomination, the story was dropped, bu

Bette Davis: A Goddamned Dream

  Bette Davis by Terry O'Neill. O'Neill has said: 'I took this in the apartment of Miss Davis - as she was always addressed - the year after her stroke. When I arrived she knew exactly where she wanted to be photographed ... and had chosen her gown. She epitomised the true professionalism of a special generation of brilliant Hollywood stars.'  There is an inability among actors--most actors--to be honest about this deal we have made with what we think is our art. It is rarely art, and when it approaches something like art, you are witnessing something that came about because of some serious battles, demands, and refusals. Here's the deal, and we have to own it: If people don't buy your dream of being an actress, then it will not happen. That is reality, and it's best to pack up and dream another dream. Or wait a while to see if you improve or tastes change, but no studio can or should employ you because you have a Goddamned dream or wish. I believed I was ta

Marian Seldes on Kelsey Grammer: A Joyous Abandon

  Marian Seldes on Kelsey Grammer Interview with James Grissom NYC 2006 I remember a joyous abandon, firstly, and also a very dry intelligence--not without heart, but just very crisp. Fumes of this humor rose from everything he did. I know that all of my students--and all actors, because he is now my peer--have fears, but he was very good at hiding those fears, so there was a bigness--of heart, talent, personality--in what he did.  Images of Grammer as Cassio, opposite Christopher Plummer as Iago, in OTHELLO, 1982. I don't know what was happening to interior Kelsey, but the exterior Kelsey was perfectly prepared, professional, and crisp--there's that word again. I came to think of his acting as a perfectly made hospital bed--everything was covered; there was comfort; order. When I say bigness, I don't mean messiness or artificiality: I mean a complete expression of all he had to give to a part.  Kelsey Grammer, Remak Ramsey, Roy Poole, and John Cunningham in Simon Gray'

Katharine Hepburn: Always Up

Katharine Hepburn, captured by Cornel Lucas, 1956. Interview with Katharine Hepburn New York City 1990 My father thought that I was a complete fool when I said I wanted to be an actress. He thought it was a total waste of a good mind, and an invitation to a bad life. I was told that I had been raised to read and think and defend my opinions, and here I was heading into a profession one tiny step up from prostitution. But I did it. My mother wanted me to be happy, to be fulfilled, and mothers are apt to display this feeling more often and more easily. Still, she wanted me to be careful. Both of my parents decided they would not support me when I came to New York to study and try to have a go at it all. When I was most desperate, and really wanted to study, for instance--I never asked for money for food or clothes or all that; I could go without those--I would write to my father, and he would send me whatever he had earned playing golf or cards or money he claimed he had found lying arou