Sidney Lumet: Fear and Guilt

Sidney Lumet as a young actor. Photographed by Carl Van Vechten.

New York

The destruction of the actor begins out of fear and guilt, I think. All actors, including myself, when I was young and thought I could act, take on jobs or volunteer to read at things or to help these ambitious and untalented people who crop up relentlessly and whose goal and passion is to stage tributes; to honor and preserve something of the past; to proclaim that they understand, to a degree never seen before, an understanding of a particular actor or writer or style of performance. And you ask why actors agree to do these things?

Fear and guilt.

There is a fear that they might not be seen as contributing to the culture and the form that they so hope will support them. There is a fear that someone--a producer, a director, an actor, a pretty girl or man--might be in the audience and might realize that they are the perfect person for the perfect project. In all actors there pulses a Schwab's drug store fantasy. Discover me. Use me. Love me.

There is guilt on the part of the successful actor because in offering an act of generosity to a failed person, a grasping person, it is believed that the kindness will banish  failure, keep it in abeyance. The successful actor--or the successful anything--feels so lucky and so blessed to work at all, that they wonder and marvel at their fate daily. So they appease the gods by giving of themselves to others. 

And no one knows anything. Remember that. We fall for the same ruses for all of our lives. This reading, we tell ourselves, will be different. This lifetime achievement award and concomitant festival and parade of testimonials and readings will have merit, beyond the vanity of the organizers. This tribute will be more than an opportunity for someone--always, it seems, with three names and inordinate mileage--to be photographed with some notable names and believe that some sort of work has been done.

Listen, life is a series of ruses. Just be careful about the ones in which you find yourself.

©2013 by James Grissom


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