In this day and age of celebrity-oriented magazines, gossip-driven Web sites and partying starlets trying to stay out of jail, we sometimes forget there are folks out there in show business — be it acting, singing, dancing, what have you — that take it seriously.
Just as an advertising executive prepares a speech and formulates ideas before presenting to a client, serious actors read scripts, research roles, memorize lines, show up for work and do their jobs.
In Actors at Work (Faber and Faber, 369 pages, $16, paperback), authors Rosemarie Tichler and Barry Jay Kaplan, interviewed 14 working actors about the ways they work.
Meryl Streep, for example...
... sees little difference in what goes into preparing for a stage role as opposed to a screen role: "You just connect, that's all you do. You just connect with the other people. That's all you have."
Kevin Spacey notes that many of the actors he's admired over the years didn't get their big breaks until they were in their 30s: "Henry Fonda was thirty-one when he did his first movie. [Dustin] Hoffman was thirty-one when he did 'The Graduate.' [Jack] Nicholson was thirty-four when he did 'Easy Rider.'"
Philip Seymour Hoffman's interview outs him for the regular guy he is. He's an actor obviously passionate about his work yet he contends he'd rather be part of the audience: "I would rather be sitting, watching, and just caving in to the f---ing beauty. I would rather watch you than act. I prefer to be that person. I prefer actually sitting there and watching great actors and great material take me away ... and my love and awestruck-ness with actors at that moment, it just has no bounds."
Hoffman's statement pretty much sums up why the other actors interviewed got into the business in the first place. It's that "awestruck-ness" that Hoffman mentions. Whether they grew up in the theater, like John Lithgow, or figured it out in college, like Meryl Streep, or started out dancing, like Patti LuPone, it was their visceral reactions to what was happening onstage that indicated to them they wanted/needed to be a part of it.
The authors — Kaplan is a playwright/novelist and Tichler is a longtime New York theater maven, having been a casting director, producer, acting teacher, etc. — only interviewed actors with extensive theater experience, and most of whom still call New York home. Many of them went on to TV and feature film success as well, but all still keep their hearts close to the stage.