Jose Quintero on Vivien Leigh: Determined To Be Detailed

Interview with Jose Quintero
Conducted by James Grissom

I was assigned to the film [The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone] as a veteran of Tennessee Williams [having directed the acclaimed revival of Summer and Smoke with Geraldine Page] and as a fan of Vivien Leigh. I was terrified of her--I think because I had heard she was demanding and cold, and because I was in such awe of her talent. Gavin [Lambert] told me to not worry: Vivien admired talent and she admired those who came to her as peers rather than as supplicants, so I tried to remain calm and professional.

The primary problem with Vivien--as with almost all actresses--was in establishing confidence--in her abilities and in the quality of the production. Vivien had those extraordinary eyes--of beauty and concentration--and she would look at me, at everyone, and you could feel that she was searching us for answers, for guidance. I gave her all the direction I felt she needed, which was very minimal, because she had a deep understanding of Karen Stone, of women at that difficult age, when beauty and opportunities and interests wane. Vivien was terribly patient and kind with Warren [Beatty] and she was delighted and entirely supportive of Lotte Lenya, who walked into each scene scooping up energy and attention. Vivien knew that Lenya was necessary for the film and for her own development, so there was no ego displayed, no desire to pump up her own presence, her own energy.

I found her totally dedicated. Smart as a whip, dry as a bone in her delivery of gossip and dirty jokes. She was mad for Warren and would watch him work and say to me, under her breath, 'Oh, if only I were younger and stronger.' I didn't know if I should tell her that Warren was equally besotted with her and watched her every scene, reading her like the Berlitz books that were never far from his side.

I think she was an extraordinary actress--focused and determined to be detailed. She had the ability to concentrate to such a degree--and toward so high a goal--that it exhausted her and all of us watching her.

© 2014 James Grissom


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