Actors Share Insight Over the Years

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"I mean, it's easy to say this now, but things happen for a reason. I look back on the movies I didn't get, and it never would've made sense for me to be in them. 'Hot cheerleader' probably wouldn't have been a good fit. I was quite angsty."—Julia Stiles, Nov. 10, 2010

"There were moments when I questioned [acting], when I was thinking, 'What is the purpose of this in our world? Is it as meaningful as being a doctor, being a teacher, or things that I think of as such noble professions?' But I think I've really reconciled myself with that, and I think art is not only important but critical to the soul of a human and the soul of a community. Not to be self-important about what I do, but I've found a lot of meaning in it." —Natalie Portman, Feb. 2, 2011

"I know people who say, 'Well, I'm going to try acting. I'll give it five years, or something like that.' Okay. Bye. You might as well go and get another job, because, generally, five years isn't going to cut it, and if you do make it in five years, you're going to have 15 minutes; then you're going to have to start all over again."—Morgan Freeman, Oct. 12, 2000

"I can't stress enough how important either doing a play or a showcase or working in an acting class…is. It is the foundation—you learn all the things you need. The truth is, actors today get famous quicker and younger, and you have no concept of the idea that it will go away, which it always does. And you hope for that second wave. And I've had five or six of those waves. And the only way you can get to those waves is to have something to fall back on, which is some training."—George Clooney, Dec. 1, 2005

"I think my first job was as a crank addict in a film, and then my second job was like a cyborg. So it was clear that my career was going to be full of very bizarre, strange women—which ended up being the ones I liked, anyway."—Angelina Jolie, Nov. 22, 2007

"I can remember from back in the '60s…when you had serious legit drama on Broadway at real prices. You could see 'The Wild Duck' for $6. You could see Helen Hayes in 'The School for Scandal,' Eva Le Gallienne in 'The Cherry Orchard.' You could see Ellis Rabb in 'Pantagleize.' Those were fabulous productions. I still hold on, in a way, to that kind of ideal. In London, they take that for granted, and always have, and we've kind of given up on that. I think that's too bad."—Christopher Reeve, actor, in Back Stage's 25th anniversary issue, Dec. 20, 1985

"There's a big difference between auditioning today and in the old days. In the old days a lot of actors invested in the theater. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, that great acting couple, invested in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.' Today it's businessmen and corporations like Coca-Cola who are not knowledgeable about the theater, so it's harder to sell yourself to them."—Carol Channing, actor, in Back Stage's 35th anniversary issue, Dec. 22, 1995

"Carol Channing's 'Hello, Dolly!' is a dilly of a show; best thing she's done since 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.' At a preview we caught, the audience was with it all the way, and the ensemble performances were perfectly and evenly matched. 'Dolly' Channing has a Tony Award in her future."—Michael Sean O'Shea, The Sardi Set column, Jan. 17, 1964

"After my first year at the Neighborhood Playhouse, I went back and did 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' in Arkansas, and the local critic there clobbered me. Rightfully so. I wasn't good, and I know exactly why: because I was so busy acting a method that I really wasn't telling the truth and I wasn't serving the play."—Mary Steenburgen, actor, Oct. 13, 1994

"My birth name is Krishna Bhanji. It's quite a beautiful name, but it doesn't get you very far in show business. I auditioned for [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] as Krishna Bhanji. I sat in the antechamber with other aspiring thespians, waiting for my name to be called. This guy came with a clipboard and said, 'Kristina Blange.' Nobody moved. He said, 'Kristina Blange.' And that voice in me said, God, he means me. I said, 'Actually it's my terrible handwriting. I am in fact Krishna Bhanji.' It was a very bad start to the audition. I didn't succeed in getting into RADA."—Ben Kingsley, actor, Dec. 4, 2003


George Clooney (Photo by Getty Images)

"Every free moment I had, I could sit in the theater and watch the professional actors work—rehearse, etc. That was one of the important parts of my training."—Max von Sydow, actor, Dec. 6, 2007

"My voice teacher had a constant struggle. And likewise people working with diction. Huge problems. My voice teacher at the time…said, 'You sound as if your voice is coming out of the back end of a drainpipe.' So, clearly I had work to do."—Alan Rickman, actor-director, Aug. 14, 2008

"I wrote a letter—a sort of begging letter—to the RSC, saying, 'Please see me.' And they did, on this Sunday night in November. Cold and miserable and wet. And in the darkened, empty theater. And I did some 'Henry V,' which I had just played…. And John Barton and Peter Hall got up on the stage, and they directed me for half an hour. And I quite quickly realized, 'They're not trying to find out if I can act. They want to know am I flexible. Can I take direction? Can I change my ideas and thoughts about the thing?' And luckily I stumbled to that and so did the best I could. And they took me into the company to play small roles and understudy. And the following year, a young actor called Ben Kingsley joined the company, not even to understudy but to walk on. Ben was a spear carrier. And another young actor called Roger Rees joined at the same time, both of them as background actors. And often, when I talk to people leaving drama school or young actors, they say, 'But I want to play Hamlet. I want to play Hal. I want to play Romeo.' I say, 'You know, there was a time when Ben Kingsley and Roger Rees accepted walk-on contracts. And then one of them ended up playing Hamlet for the RSC and the other playing Nicholas Nickleby—because they worked their way through the process.' " —Patrick Stewart, actor, April 22, 2010

"I think my face is pretty recognizable as that character, and that name is a pretty recognizable one, so it sort of sticks with you. But I suspect that Barney in 'How I Met Your Mother' will sort of update that, because I'll be in people's living rooms weekly for hopefully a little while."—Neil Patrick Harris, actor, on leaving "Doogie Howser, M.D.," behind, Oct. 27, 2005

"It's a time-honored job to be a good supporting player. You are necessary. You make the central person be able to stand on his podium in the right way."—Holland Taylor, actor, Dec. 8, 2005

"Every script is different, so your character encounters new situations and new people every time. You put yourself in his place and react as he would…. It's like real life in that sense. In some ways that makes it easier than in the theater, where you're not only doing the same character every night, but the same script."—Jerry Orbach, actor, on keeping his role of Det. Lennie Briscoe fresh, in Back Stage's salute to "Law & Order," Dec. 19, 1997

"I played a Nazi killer in 'Dead Bang,' and right before we were to roll camera, the director came over and whispered in my ear, 'Ronnie, if you move your eyebrows, you are on the cutting room floor.' And that became my character. I was so concentrated on my eyebrows not moving that I was like this psycho zombie who was very aware that my eyebrows should not move."—Ron Campbell, actor, June 9, 1994

"A basic pleasure of doing voiceovers is that you can honor words in a way that the words, as little individuals, are treated with great respect."—Barbara Feldon, Agent 99 on the 1960s TV series "Get Smart" and voice actor, "Spotlight on Speech and Diction," July 19, 1991

"I've always been good at analyzing scripts, but I tended to take a cynical view of my characters. I was especially cynical about Henry V. I saw him as manipulative, and I was just not feeling this guy. A part of me wanted to admire him, and I didn't know where to go. [Director] Doug [Hughes] and I talked for 40 minutes about the character's spiritual evolution, which made it more fun and more interesting to play…. I began to see the evolution of a man….This made me realize that every character is on a journey and evolving in some way. Most characters are in the grip of a lesser or better angel, and I think about that. If it's not apparent in the piece, I try to make it apparent to me."—Andre Braugher, actor, Jan. 27, 2011

"I've found that the best way is to treat the reading [for a role] just like a performance of a TV show. Nothing half-baked, casual, or tentative. Work on the scene just as if you had the role sewed up and were opening at audition time."—Jay Barney, actor and columnist, Notes for Actors, Nov. 27, 1964

"I believe in going to classes—all the first jobs I got, I got through people I met in class. I also found it gave me a companionship."—Colleen Dewhurst, actor, "Spotlight on Acting Schools," Oct. 19, 1990

"Studying is important in forming some kind of technique; read and do some classroom work. Then, eventually, you've just got to get up and do it anywhere. Life experience—living—is also important. Experiencing things helps you grow as an actor."—Nathan Lane, actor, in "The Learning Experience," Oct. 18, 1991

"All of us angst-ridden teenagers were trying like crazy and knitting our brows to figure out how to be better artists and be responsible to the community, and trying to manage the wild beast of the terrible business of acting. She reminded us, 'The reason you wanted to do this is because it looks like fun. And it is fun. Even if you're playing Medea.' "—Michael McKean, actor, on his acting teacher Olympia Dukakis, Sept. 5, 2002

"I teach acting, and I teach how to tell a story with a song. I tell my students that all human beings are natural singers, kind of like birds. I think that when people really want to sing, they should sing, whatever the circumstances."—Betty Buckley, actor, "Spotlight on Singing and Music," Jan. 26, 1996

"[A]ctors just don't seem to make the rounds [visiting casting directors' offices] anymore. It seems to have gone out of fashion. Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I'm still interested in seeing actors. Two hours, one day a week may not seem like much time, but it does give me a chance to see many, many new faces, and those that make an impression are called back for further interviews and auditions. I don't like to get flooded with pictures and profiles because they require replies and it takes a great deal of time. I am interested in seeing people in the flesh."—Judy Abbott, casting director and daughter of the legendary director George Abbott, Jan. 12, 1962


Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (Photo by Getty Images)

"[Jamie Foxx] was very compelling, a very intelligent person. He shared a lot in common with Ray Charles. They were both African-Americans from the South; they had kind of come out of the racist context. They were very driven, had burning ambitions to have their voices heard in the world. And I encouraged [Foxx] to plumb those depths that he shared in common with Ray. But I don't think I really had any sense that he was going to be my choice until I started talking about the music in the film and the fact that I would have to find somebody to play the piano and use some cinematic sleight of hand to come up to the face of the person playing the role. He said, 'I play the piano,' and I said, 'Yeah, so do I, but I'm no Ray Charles, and neither are you.' And he said, 'Well, wait a minute, I started playing when I was 3, I led the band in my gospel church in Texas, and I went to university on a piano scholarship.' "—Taylor Hackford, director, Nov. 11, 2004

"Most actors normally have a lot of skills and crafts, but the spectacular ones have that interior life that you can see in their eyes. You can see that there's a lot of complexity and that there's a powerful interior person living inside, and I have a good detector for that."—Alejandro González Iñárritu, filmmaker, Nov. 20, 2003

"I would rather be a director than an actress. As an actor, you have only one role to create. Creating a role means to fully understand the character's goals. However, in order to direct actors in a play, you have to be able to identify with all characters onstage."—Geraldine Fitzgerald, actor-director, in "Hyphenates: Performers Who Wear Several Hats," Oct. 23, 1987

"You have to be just as honest as you would for any other form of acting, but in commercials you have to condense it. You have to get your message across quicker."—Danny Goldman, (now retired) casting director, Oct. 27, 1994

"Everything you do you can learn something if it's only to be more comfortable in a situation. No one's going to stop and teach you how to do television. They haven't got the time. So you just better learn. That's part of your task: to find a way to exist in what they always call in the theater 'imaginary circumstances.' It's the same in a commercial. You're in a situation you have to make real for yourself."—Marian Seldes, Tony-winning actor, on what she learned when doing commercials, Nov. 13, 2008

"The owners of the theaters on 42nd Street are crying the blues. Why? Because business is bad at the houses which show exploitation movies. Why? Because Hollywood and Europe have stepped in and are doing a lot of sexploitation on their own. It's rare these days to see a new, big-budget film without at least one nude scene."—Charlotte Harmon, Back Stage legit editor, in "Sexploit Biz Sags," June 6, 1969

"Whatever personal fears an actor might have about taking on a gay role are his own business, but I resent the implication that it will hurt his career. A good performance in a good role in a good play never hurt anyone's career…. May we hear no more of this?"—Robert Patrick, playwright, letter to the editor, May 19, 1989

"A…friend…called me and said, 'I ran into a kid in West Hollywood recently who said that ["Southern Baptist Sissies"] saved his life.' The kid had been a preacher in the South. He was only about 26, 27, and he had an affair with a guy, and he was exposed and then was excommunicated from the church. His wife left him, and his family abandoned him. He had intended to kill himself, but he came out here to visit some friends. He went to see 'Sissies,' and then he decided to move out here. He said he didn't feel alone after viewing the play. I didn't do 'Sissies' to save the world; I kind of wrote it for me, but, for some reason, the universe allowed it to be other people's journey, as well."—Del Shores, actor-playwright-director, Jan. 5, 2006

"You know, we have an awful lot of moderate Republicans, and some not so moderate, who support the endowment. And those aren't taken into account very often. It began as a bipartisan agency, and I would like to see it continue as that. The partisanship only came in about six years ago. It's not healthy, because the arts belong to everybody; and most of the large arts organizations in the country, their boards are composed of mainly Republicans."—Jane Alexander, on her position as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, June 7, 1996

"Last night, I attended a candlelit vigil in Union Square to mourn the unspeakable loss we have all endured this week…. At last, I felt a glimmer inside that an ounce of healing had begun. Let's not ever forget the strength of the human spirit in this city, in this country, in this world."—Michael C. Brown, one of many Back Stage readers who responded to requests for thoughts and impressions on the events of 9/11, Sept. 21, 2001

"I can't thank Back Stage enough for the many doors it has opened for me since the commencement of my career as an actor in the spring of 1964. I certainly recommend it highly to all show business people."—Lynn Perry, actor, May 13, 1966