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The Actor Within

Intimate Conversations with Great Actors

Rose Eichenbaum

Publication Year: 2011

In Rose Eichenbaum's third work on the confluence of art making and human expression, she delves into the lives of thirty-five celebrated actors through intimate conversations and photographic portraits. With her probing questions and disarming manner, she captures the essential character of her subjects while shining a light on the art that defines them. The work provides extraordinary insights on the craft of acting with discussions of process, techniques, tools of the trade, and how to advice for aspiring actors from seasoned veterans. These stars of stage and screen, known for signature roles and critically acclaimed performances, emerge in The Actor Within with masks and wardrobe removed. Here, they speak their own lines, tell their own stories, and raise the curtain on what it means to live the actor's life--the challenge of mastering their craft, the drama of big breaks and career woes, the search for meaningful roles, and above all, having the courage to bare their souls before theater audiences or the camera. For the artists featured in this work, acting is more than a profession; it is how they make their way in the world and artfully merge their inner sense of humanness with universal truths. This collection serves as an important inspirational resource for anyone interested in making art, regardless of medium.

The Actor Within includes interviews with Karl Malden, Ruby Dee, Ed Harris, Piper Laurie, Marcia Gay Harden, William H. Macy, Ellen Burstyn, Joe Mantegna, Debra Winger, Julia Stiles, Elliott Gould, Elijah Wood, Stockard Channing, Bill Pullman, Amanda Plummer, Marlee Matlin, Charles Durning, Marsha Mason, and many others.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

The Actor Within

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To Mimi May your actor within soar and propel you to great heights.

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pp. ix-xi

Rose Eichenbaum met her first movie star at the age of ten. Her big brother delivered newspapers at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio near their home in West Hollywood. He often took Rose along on the back of his bike, and when...

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pp. xiii-xv

Many of the actors profiled in this work are known for some of the most memorable roles ever performed on stage or screen: Karl Malden as Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire; Ruby Dee as Ruth...

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Norman Lloyd

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pp. 2-9

‘‘After a lifetime in the theater and in films, how is the actor within you doing today?’’ ‘‘At ninety-four, I’m no longer being o√ered many parts, but I still feel that I can play them and much better now. If you started as an actor, you are always ...

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Frances Fisher

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pp. 10-15

Frances Fisher’s story reads like an independent film script: young married woman working as a secretary at the Firestone Rubber and Latex Company in Orange, Texas, decides to get involved in community theater. There she meets a retired New York actor (John Holland), who tells her,‘‘Looks like you have talent.’’ Realizing her true calling, the pretty redhead...

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Joe Mantegna

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pp. 16-25

‘‘When did you first recognize the desire or impulse to act?’’ ‘‘I had a taste of it as a child. When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with rheumatic fever, and what they did back then was put you in a hospital for bed rest. So I was in a children’s sanitarium for five months near my home...

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Amber Tamblyn

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pp. 26-31

‘‘You come from a rather amazing acting family. Your father is Russ Tamblyn (Peyton Place, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, West Side Story), and your grandfather, Eddie Tamblyn, performed in vaudeville before making a...

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Karl Malden

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pp. 32-39

‘‘When did you know that you wanted to become an actor?’’ ‘‘I was hooked on acting from the time I was a kid. My father loved the theater and produced Serbian-language plays in which my mother and I acted. After I graduated from high school, I got a job working in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana...

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Amy Madigan

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pp. 40-45

‘‘How did you get started as an actress?’’ ‘‘I was a keyboardist and percussionist prior to becoming an actress. I performed with a number of other musicians, performance art, rhythm and blues, rock and ragtime, and a variety of things. Then, one day, a friend of mine suggested I take some acting lessons. I thought it was a good idea and enrolled in classes at the Lee Strasberg’s Institute in Los Angeles...

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Hector Elizondo

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pp. 46-51

‘‘Do you feel that you’ve fully actualized the actor within you?’’ ‘‘I’ve come close, but the fact that I haven’t is probably my own fault. While I still had the energy and the interest and was at the top of my game, I passed up some good opportunities due to an inexplicable lack of ambition....

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CCH Pounder

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pp. 52-57

‘‘How did you find your way into acting?’’ ‘‘Quite by accident. I was born in Guyana, South America, but grew up in England where I attended boarding school. When I was around eleven, I got hit in the back of the head with a ball during a cricket match and su√ered memory loss. To improve my memory, the nuns at the school had me recite...

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James Cromwell

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pp. 58-62

‘‘You were born into an acting family. Your father was the acclaimed actor and director John Cromwell and your mother, actress Kay Johnson. Were you expected to follow in their footsteps?’’ ‘‘I actually chose to major in engineering at the Hill School, Middlebury College, but my engineering path was quickly aborted when my father visited...

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Gloria Stuart

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pp. 63-69

‘‘I saw you in the film Titanic and then learned that you had once been a great star during the 1930s.’’ ‘‘Oh, no, dear. I wasn’t a great star. The great stars were Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich. Those were the great stars. My name appeared under the title of films, but by the late forties I... was washed

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Bill Pullman

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pp. 70-75

‘‘The first thing I learned was that the odds of making it are really against you.’’ ‘‘There is no amount of research or data that will make you secure about what your chances are on the slippery slope of this profession. This is a tough business of ‘he’s good, he’s not good.’ To succeed, you have to believe...

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Debra Winger

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pp. 76-81

‘‘After making some of Hollywood’s most successful films of the 1980s— Urban Cowboy (1980), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), and Terms of Endearment (1983)—you were catapulted to celebrity status. What was it like going from aspiring actor to movie star almost overnight?’’ ‘‘In the early 1980s...

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Charles Durning

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pp. 82-89

‘‘I understand that, before becoming an actor, you were a dancer,’’ I began. ‘‘Yes, that’s right. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I got out of the service. I did all sorts of jobs, but what I most enjoyed was dancing. So I got hired to teach at the Arthur Murray dance school and then Fred Astaire hired me...

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Stockard Channing

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pp. 90-95

‘‘When did you know that you wanted to become an actor?’’ ‘‘Not until I was almost twenty, when a director friend of mine invited me to audition for a part in his production of The Threepenny Opera. I remember thinking, Me? Really? So, I went in and sang something, and he... cast me in the musical. This production was incredibly low profile and not of any real

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George Segal

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pp. 96-103

‘‘When I was a kid, my father brought home a magic trick that captivated me. It enabled me to turn a penny into a dime. Fascinated with slight-of-hand tricks, I soon began putting on magic shows. My mother helped me take out an ad...

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Marsha Mason

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pp. 104-109

‘‘When did you know that you wanted to be an actor?’’ ‘‘As a freshman in high school, when I played the part of the jack-inthe- box in a play along the lines of Babes in Toyland. On cue, I jumped up and the kids in the front row let out a loud gasp. This for me was the pilot light, the aha moment, when I...

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Ed Asner

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pp. 110-117

‘‘What initially drew you to acting?’’ ‘‘Having the focus on meeeee, meeeeeeeeee,’’ he replied without hesitation. ‘‘Acting allowed me to become multiple personalities. I once read in a newspaper a description of actors written by a psychiatrist. It was not flattering, but...

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Amanda Plummer

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pp. 118-123

‘‘When did you first recognize the impulse to act?’’ Lighting up a cigarette she said, ‘‘As far back as I can remember. When I was three or four years old, I brought characters into my life and gave each of them a personality. I liked to close myself o√ in the closet and play with one or the other...

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Ed Harris

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pp. 124-129

‘‘This work,’’ I began, ‘‘focuses on the engine within us that keeps us pushing to create and express ourselves. In your case, given the output of work, I think you have a pretty well-tuned engine. I’m curious how you feel about your own inner drive as an actor.’’ Ed took a deep breath, exhaled, and then tossed...

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Julia Stiles

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pp. 130-135

I met Julia Stiles in her dressing room at the Golden Theater on Forty-fifth Street. She had just finished a matinee performance in her Broadway debut role as Carol in David Mamet’s Oleanna. I commented on her bruised cheek, an injury she sustained during a choreographed ...

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Shelley Berman

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pp. 136-141

‘‘You attended the renowned Goodman School at the University of Chicago— a serious training school for actors. Yet, you became a comedian.’’ ‘‘The truth is that it was never my intention to be a comedian. Theater is all I ever wanted to do. I had been in some plays in high school and really liked doing...

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Teri Garr

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pp. 142-147

Teri sat alone in her kitchen munching on a bagel with cream cheese,unaware that I had been shown into her Beverly Hills canyon home.Standing in the doorway, I noticed a walking cane hanging from one of the chairs and a wheelchair parked nearby. The pretty blond actress who played Gene ...

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Bill Irwin

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pp. 148-153

In my purse was a copy of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a ticket to that evening’s performance of the play at the Roundabout Theatre, and a list of questions for cast member Bill Irwin, who agreed to an interview in his dressing room prior to the show an...

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Marcia Gay Harden

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pp. 154-159

I met Marcia Gay Harden in her dressing room at the Jacobs Theate in Manhattan. Her portrayal of Veronica in God of Carnage (2009)—playing alongside James Gandolfini, Hope Davis, and Jeff Daniels—won her a Tony Award. During our interview, she was readying herself for that afternoon’s performance, demonstrating an exceptional ability to an-...

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Elijah Wood

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pp. 160-165

The first thing I noticed about Elijah was his brilliant blue eyes. And when we sat down together to talk about acting, they seemed to become even more vibrant. The child actor who played Michael in Avalon (1990) and Mike in Radio Flyer (1992) has successfully transitioned to young adult roles including his most...

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Lainie Kazan

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pp. 166-171

Lainie Kazan became an overnight sensation after only two performances as Fanny Brice in the Tony Award–winning show Funny Girl (1964). A successful singing career followed, and by the late 1970s and early ‘80s, she would add screen actress to her resume with memorable ...

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Elliott Gould

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pp. 172-177

After Elliott Gould’s meteoric rise in the late 1960s and early 1970s, his superstar status plummeted after a rare opportunity to work with Ingmar Bergman in Bergman’s first English-language...

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Piper Laurie

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pp. 178-183

Piper Laurie’s Studio City cottage turned out to be a perfect meeting place for our interview and photo session. Nestled in one of the canyons behind Ventura Boulevard just minutes from where her career began at Universal Studios, her home is decorated with mementos ...

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Stephen Tobolowsky

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pp. 184-189

‘‘What first attracted you to acting?’’ ‘‘As a kid, I was drawn to monsters: Frankenstein, Wolfman, Mummy, and assorted creatures from outer space. I thought as an actor I could hang out with Godzilla or Rodin, fire guns and rockets and fly in spaceships and planes. I envisioned the actor’s life as one filled with adventure. Of course, when I grew...

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Marlee Matlin

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pp. 190-195

‘‘What originally drew you to acting?’’ ‘‘Acting has always been my way of expressing what’s inside me, what’s in my gut. When I was a child, I’d sit for hours in front of our full-length mirror and imagine that I was on a stage or in a film. Reflected back at me were all types...

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William H. Macy

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pp. 196-201

‘‘When did you know that acting was your calling?’’ ‘‘I knew after I met David Mamet. He was my acting teacher at Goddard College, which was the premier hippy school in the late 1960s and 1970s—no rules, no requirements. Mamet challenged all of us in his class to show up with our...

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Wes Studi

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pp. 202-207

Wes Studi’s teenaged son greeted me and led me through the family’s Santa Fe home to the music room where Wes sat quietly, strumming his guitar. He put the instrument aside and approached me with a hand-shake and a warm ‘Hello.’ Known mostly for his roles as aggressive Native Americans—the tough Pawnee...

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Ruby Dee

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pp. 208-213

‘‘How did the actor within you find her way to the stage and screen?’’ ‘‘Like magnets, we are drawn toward something and may not even know why. I think I was preparing to be an actor before I ever knew it. Growing up in Harlem, I was an inquisitive child and keyed into a life of hard times and struggle: poverty and bread lines, street riots, cops beatin’ people, gangsters...

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Larry Miller

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pp. 214-219

‘‘Larry, how did you break into the business?’’ ‘‘I started out as a musician playing piano and drums in the New York clubs. One night, I decided to try joke telling and got a lot of laughs. I’m thinking, This is something I can do! The strategy for success back then was to put in...

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Ellen Burstyn

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pp. 220-226

‘‘Do great performances happen when actors expose and reveal their essential selves through their characters?’’ ‘‘Yes. You have that right. The study of acting is the study of how to do precisely that. First, find out what your essential self is; second, how to make contact with it—that dimension of your being; and third, how to do it in front of people....

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pp. 227-228

I am most grateful to all the actors profiled in this work for so generously giving of their time, sharing intimate details of their lives, and revealing insights into the actor’s craft. Special thanks to Elliott Gould and Ed Asner, who early on recognized the worthiness of this endeavor. Had they not made personal introductions to fellow actors on my behalf, this work...

References and Recommended Viewing

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pp. 229-238


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pp. 239- 245

E-ISBN-13: 9780819571656
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819569523

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2011