Sidney Lumet: There Is Kindness

Sidney Lumet directing Vanessa Redgrave in The Sea Gull (1968).

Interview with Sidney Lumet
Conducted by James Grissom
New York City

I am frequently challenged on this, but I firmly believe that the artistic character is heavily suffused with kindness. In fact, I think it is impossible for any artist--in any field--to contribute, to survive, if there is not a substantial kindness within him. 

I want to add that people have distinct--and, I feel, limited--definitions of kindness. I'm not talking about the superficial ability to speak to everyone; to smile; to endure stupidities. Patience is not kindness, although it may be a twig on its tree. Perhaps I mean to say empathy, which, to me, is kindness. No actor can fully understand a character, which is to say, a unique human being, alien to their biography, without possessing a curiosity--gentle but ravenous--about this person's heart and mind and every movement. That is what I call kindness--a benevolent curiosity.

I know many actors who are not good with social situations, and they are often labeled as aloof or difficult, but when I've worked with them, I have been in the presence of an enormous heart, a significant intelligence that naturally extends toward other people, both in person and on the page. I have been surrounded by kindness.

The business, so to speak, of getting a film or a play together is brutal and curt and capricious, and you can witness frayed nerves, bruised egos, gnarled libidos as the project comes to completion--or doesn't. But in the act of rehearsal and discovery, there is kindness.

Legendary kindness has been shown to me by a number of people who are often called cool or deficient in empathy: Henry Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Marlon Brando, Anthony Perkins, to name a few.

I saw kindness. I look for it, and I find it. I return it.

© 2014 James Grissom


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