Katharine Hepburn on SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER: Guess and Fly
Interview with Katharine Hepburn
Conducted by James Grissom
New York City/Turtle Bay
I didn't understand that woman at all. [Violet Venable in Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer]. Not at all. I don't need to. No actress needs to understand her character. I mean, I don't understand you fully yet. I don't. You seem perfectly nice and intelligent and honorable, but what do I know? What is submerged there? You don't know me. I don't even know me. I can still surprise myself emotionally--all the time.
I'm not an actress that needs to know everything. I trust what I'm given, and in that case, I was given the play by Tennessee, and then the script, which was based on the play and was intelligent and had clear lines of direction within it. I'd go mad if a writer--in a book or a play or a screenplay--defined and described every motivation or memory or impulse in a character. I have to provide what I feel is important to a character, and so I invested some of my own ideas and traits into Violet, and I hope that audiences did the same. Some people admired her, you know? Very conservative people felt she was some sort of emblem of lost Southern gentility and grandeur, and what she was cutting out of a brain was reality, which was the fallen South. I don't see that, but what the hell do I know? Maybe it's in there. It's in there for some people, so it's real.
I loved that Tennessee would sometimes just say he didn't know. It just came to him. Characters, ideas, plays, whims. It's true, and it's true for all of us. Two things we are stupid to wish for would have to be knowing too much and living too long.
Sometimes you just guess and fly.
© 2017 James Grissom
All photographs by Burt Glinn