John Gielgud: Don't Force the Riches

Photograph, from 1933, by Howard Coster

Interview with John Gielgud
Conducted by James Grissom

I was taught very early about expectation--how to handle it, to be precise. All of us have expectation, and we desire and demand certain things. Edith Evans used to speak of how an artist in training must understand the superiority of the human eye over the artistic eye: We look at a building or a face or a mountain, and the human eye sees every detail, every color, every flaw, every shadow, and the artist demands that he place all of this within his painting or sculpture, but this can't be done, particularly in the early stages, perhaps never. This is when interpretation begins; this is when things become abstract and very personal. This is true of everything, and it is true of acting. As actors we think we know precisely how a character will speak and stand and live and react, and we try to bring all of this to the stage, and our artistic eye cannot always match our human eye.

Move slowly. Circle and seduce and study. Look at everything and everybody and be gentle with the eye you have. It will develop--but not if you force it or demand of it something that is not honest or necessary. 

One of the great grounds of study for all of the arts is friendship. Arrive daily without expectation of your friends, only gratitude and understanding. Circle and study. Be aware. Be present. Really notice what is there and live with it. And then, if you're lucky--as I have been--you wake up sixty years later and the friends are still there and you've gained all that you needed, if you didn't realize it until the gratitude was expressed.

Don't force the riches. That's what I meant to say from the outset.

© 2014 James Grissom


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