Thursday, January 08, 2009


I hadn’t realized that these three men were Actor’s Studio people. Eastwood (b. 1930 in San Francisco) was a strictly California guy, but he went to a roughly equivalent school. It was a tickle to see “Inside the Actor’s Studio” show the same acting books we used at NU pictured on the screen: Stanislavski’s “An Actor Prepares” and Michael Chekhov’s “To the Actor.”

By now I’ve also watched Johnnie Depp, Dave Chappelle and Barbra Striesand and they were pretty interesting, too, but in a different way. Did you realize that Depp was Native American? The usual Cherokee great-grandmother. Lipton said that eleven of the 200 plus actors he’s interviewed had at least some Native American blood. Tommy Lee Jones, Angelina Jolie, Tom Skerritt, and I forget the others but they were all fairly major people. Depp has made a movie called “The Brave,” but it isn’t at Netflix. Dave Chappelle kept reminding me of Sherman Alexie’s stand up routine. Both comics depend upon reversal: simply portraying white opinions of a minority by playing them in reverse. In fact, much of red empowerment is based on black empowerment.

But these three “big” men impressed me the most, each in his own way. Newman (b.1925, Shaker Heights, Ohio) is a cerebral kinda guy -- opposite to Joan Woodward, he said, who is highly intuitive. They approach acting from opposite sides but part of his maturation is to have moved much more towards intuition and feeling. They share a morality in their trendy and liberal Connecticut enclave, all about minorities and nonviolence, and are politically active. There was a bit of discussion about Newman playing “Hud,” whom the director had seen as a kind of sociopath, an object lesson about how NOT to be. Instead everyone fell in love with Hud, so charismatic and exciting! Newman was of the opinion that acting is a job, that it ought to be done well. If there are difficulties you should “engineer” your way through them or around them.

Redford (b. 1936, Santa Monica, CA) was quite different. He hadn’t gotten along with his father and his mother died young. He and his stepbrother became co-conspirators who broke boundaries many ways. Redford was very physical and loved to climb. Later there were mountains but in the beginning he would climb buildings. He and his brother worked up some stunts, fooling around the backyard, throwing each other over their shoulders. Managing to get an audition with a studio bigshot, they demonstrated their stuff, but no one was interested. This angered them enough to break into the studio in the middle of the night and trash the place. Redford was an excellent baseball player and had a college scholarship because of it, but became a heavy drinker and was thrown out. The skills worked for “The Natural.” He stopped drinking. He was married once and no longer legalizes relationships, but seems close to his children from the marriage. (His daughter was there.)

Newman tried a lot of sports with no success at all until he got to race car driving, at which he was very good indeed. Redford didn’t say how good a painter he was, but he talked about how that helped when directing. He wanted to be “edgy,” startling. Eastwood’s gift was music, although when Newman’s Q&A with the students was moved to a room with a piano, he sat down and batted out a tune. Eastwood composed the score for “Mystic River” which was eventually played by the Boston Symphony. His singing, of course, has been mocked. He said he sang like Rex Harrison: talking lyrics. The arts have not made sissies of these guys, but have broadened their grasp of acting.

Newman’s and Redford’s interviews were paired on the DVD because of the enormous impact of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which was originally “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy”: Newman, the high dollar name, thought he was playing Sundance. Redford was still new (he’s a decade younger than Paul) and it was partly Newman’s influence that pulled him in. They became close personally, though they are quite different: Newman is the patient, sturdy one who says tenacity is his highest value. Redford has a temper and seems more ambitious, more insistent on his own vision. Both are good businessmen, Redford developing Sundance and Newman with his foods.

Eastwood seemed to walk into the business like the golden boy he was: a contract player, then a television actor on Rawhide. He seemed unconcerned about becoming a star or making big dollars, even though he ended up with more than a fistful of dollars. His wife and ex-wife sat in the front row like sisters. What he shared with the other men was a willingness to look at facts for what they were: he sometimes worked for no pay in order to move forward in some untried way. The stigma of being merely a TV player and then of being merely a spaghetti Western star seem to have left him untouched except that, like the others, he is an exceedingly tenacious man.

It seemed to fascinate Lipton that Eastwood keeps a quiet set, despising the shouting that must have developed when movies were silent. Clint puts his tech people on personal radios “like the secret service” and signals with a twirl of his finger to start the cameras rolling. When the take is over, he says, “thank you.” He says he developed this to keep from scaring the horses, but that actors also “have a central nervous system.” All three men are Oscar-winning directors.

All three advised over and over, “just do it.” Start where you are competent or truly interested and keep doing it. As you acquire experience, your skills will expand and you will become more interested until you “break-through,” merging with your skills. (Annie Leibowitz, the photographer, was on the radio last night and gave the same advice.) Somehow -- maybe because of public schools -- the idea has been that one must have lessons for a while and then that amounts to an entitlement to actually do the job. But these men believed in learning by doing, and THEN extending and preserving what was learned by studying. They admitted to being fueled to a surprising extent by anger, though they appear mellow now. These were “craft” interviews so they spoke of “beats,” transitions, filling up space instead of speeding.

When I was little after WWII, the male acting heroes were seemingly irreplaceable. Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and so on were tall, tough, and tender. As far I know, not many wanted to direct and studios did not encourage politics. I’m not prepared to make connections to society in this post. These are idle notes. Among other things I saw that Newman had a silver digital watch, Redford had what seemed to be an analog watch with a leather band on his right wrist, and Eastwood had a silver watch on the left wrist, but I couldn’t tell whether it was analog or digital. A good actor (or writer) should notice such things.

1 comment:

beadbabe49 said...

Just a couple notes...Paul Newman died recently and his wife's name is Joanne, not Joan.