Marian Seldes: Patti LuPone Was My Teacher

The best actors to study at Juilliard became our teachers: They set standards which we, the so-called professionals, found ourselves aiming to reach. It is wise to always be a student; to think like a student. Occasionally, a student would arrive at Juilliard and change everything I had believed about acting for me. This was certainly true of Patti [LuPone], who arrived so full and ready and giving and energetic. She was a marvel. People with so much talent frighten other people because they're magical and alien. Envy arises. How do you control someone like Patti? Of course you can't, so even the wisest and kindest of people at Juilliard felt compelled to denigrate and limit Patti--simply so they could force her into a corner or a small space over which they could exert some control. What I now realize is that Patti arrived with so great a talent that all we needed to do was to harness and husband it, to clean it up, so that she could share it. Anna Sokolow, with whom I know you've dealt, once joked that if Juilliard should catch fire, we should run to save Patti first, because everything else in that building could be easily replaced. Patti is a fighter--for her freedom, for her talent, for her life. And she wanted a life. So many people who worked with her in her early years wanted a supplicant, a student with a face and a heart like an open cup, begging to be taught. Well, Patti was begging to be allowed to let all of that energy and talent out, and then she was begging to go out and live a life and have friends and lovers and experiences. This was so unlike any other experience at Juilliard--or anywhere else for that matter--that it brought out some unfortunate behavior. I wish I could have stopped it. I hope that I always let her know that I loved her and her talent, and I watch everything she does. I refer often to her performance in The Woods. So transcendent, and it is now a reference point for me when I need to reach a particular emotional level. Patti LuPone was my teacher.

Interview with the author
New York City


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