Maureen Stapleton: The Toughness of Actors

Maureen Stapleton and Truman Capote in conversation at Lincoln Center, October 31, 1967. Photograph courtesy of Corbis.

I believe in the toughness of actors. I have a feeling of genuine pride in actors as my people. We're called egomaniacs; we're thought of as children. The people out front are regarded as heads of state, but actors are supposed to be irresponsible, stupid, unaware, and a kind of joke. They're accused of having big egos. Well, the actor's ego is no different in size because he's an actor. Actors don't need half as much of that flattery malarkey as some people think they need, and they need much less than a lot of other artists. A writer or a painter or a musician can go off into a corner and lick his wounds, but an actor stands out in front of the crowd and takes it. Actors are up for exposure night after night. Yet actors are expendable, like cattle, because so few jobs are available. Actors spend years and years being treated like dirt. They're constantly in a state of debasement, making the rounds of casting directors and having to look happy and great. I made the rounds for years, but I wasn't good at it. But then nobody is. You need a very strong stomach. You need a sense of the business as a whole, so that you don't get lacerated every time somebody tells you you're lousy. You need strength, and no matter how strong you get, you always need to get stronger. There's never a guarantee you'll go on working. A show will always close, sooner or later. If I'm not working, I just consider myself somebody who is waiting to go on working. It's the only thing you can do. Your aspiration to act is so great, so deep, so complete, that you give yourself not ten years, not twenty, but your whole lifetime to realize it.

Maureen Stapleton
From The Player: A Profile of An Art
By Lillian Ross and Helen Ross
©1961, 1962 Simon & Schuster


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