David Bruce: Acting Anecdotes

• Jamie Kaler starred in the TBS comedy My Boys, on which he played Mike Callahan. In his life, he has shown a lot of persistence. After resigning his commission in the United States Navy, he wanted a job in a certain bar on the beach at San Diego. The bar did not have any job openings, but he returned to seek employment at the bar 27 days in a row, and the bar hired him. He started taking acting classes, and he started acting in commercials, including a commercial for Sea World: “All I did was watch Shamu jump, and that was it. But I made a boatload of money off it, and I immediately thought, ‘This is going to be the easiest profession ever.’ But I didn’t get another job for a year.” He also learned early to live life. In San Diego, he roomed with John David Lenz, a dedicated actor who died young: “I’d wake up on a Saturday morning having bartended and been out drinking, and he’d be playing Henry Vand quoting the movie with Laurence Olivier. And he ended up dying. He got shot […] walking to his car, a random shooting by a 15-year-old girl. So I had to come home to the apartment and pack up his stuff, sell his car and had to help his parents take all his stuff out of the house. And then we all went back to Kansas for the funeral. I think after that I was, ‘Man, I’ve got to get busy living. It’s all going to end.’” He kept acting, picking up more and more roles, but he never officially quit his night-time bartending job: “Finally the owner called and said, ‘Dude, you haven’t worked in nine months, do you still work here?’ I said, ‘No, I guess I don’t.’”

• Celebrity photography can be an art, and photographers appreciate actresses who truly know what kind of makeup works for them. In 1944, Ingrid Bergman had a sitting with celebrity photographer John Engstead, who had been told by David Selznick’s assistant producer William Perreira, “We’re going to change Ingrid Bergman’s image. We’re going to glamorize her … a new makeup, a new hairstyle, and a new wardrobe, and we’d like you to photograph her.” Mr. Engstead set up his lights while Ms. Bergman’s image was changed, and eventually the “transforming” man came out of the “transforming” room and told him, “She’s changing. She looks great. I changed her eyebrows, added false lashes, and shaded the face.” When Ms. Bergman came out, however, she did not look transformed—she looked like the same beautiful Ingrid Bergman. She explained, ‘I don’t mind trying something new, but I think I know what is best for me and this glamour makeup is not right. I look better with nothing on my face.” After the transformation, Ms. Bergman had washed off the makeup and combed her hair in her own way. Of course, she was beautiful and she looked beautiful, and her photographs that day showed her beauty.

• Too often, Hollywood has stereotyped actors and actresses, sometimes because of their ethnicity. Anna May Wong played many, many Oriental stereotypes in the 1930s, something she disliked. So, of course, did other actors and actresses with Oriental features (or makeup that made them appear Oriental). Once, Ms. Wong said, “Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain? And so crude a villain. Murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that. How should we be, with a civilization that is so many times older than that of the west?” In 1960, after appearing seldom in movies for two decades, she played Lana Turner’s housekeeper in Portrait in Black. Again, the stereotypes came out, this time from the publicity department, which explained Ms. Wong’s long absence from the screen by passing along a proverb that supposedly had been taught to Ms. Wong by her mother, “Don’t be photographed too much or you’ll lose your soul.” Ms. Wong’s own explanation was this: “I was so tired of the parts I had to play.”

• As a teenager, Scottish actor Ewan McGregor knew what he hated, and he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He hated school, and he wanted to act. His parents also knew what he hated, and they knew what he wanted to do with his life. And so one day, when Ewan was 16, his mother told him, “Look, I’ve spoken to your dad, and if you want to leave school you can.” Lest anybody is wondering what planet his parents are from, since they allowed him to leave school, Mr. McGregor says that they are from “[t]he planet of common sense, I think. It was a wise decision. A week later I was working in Perth Repertory Theatre helping to build sets, learning my trade from the bottom up.” Of course, in his case, dropping out of school worked out well, and he became a famous and successful and good actor.

• Amy Ryan admires director Sidney Lumet, working with him on the TV series 100 Centre Streetand the movie Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. According to Ms. Ryan, “The great gift from Sidney, among many, is he really feels actors can do no wrong.” As evidence, she cites the example of her appearing on his TV series 100 Centre Streetin one episode, and only three episodes later being asked to appear again in the series, but playing a different character. She said in answer to Mr. Lumet’s request, “Sidney, yes, of course, thanks, but how am I going to pull this off?” He replied, “You’re a good enough actor—you’ll figure it out.” According to Ms. Ryan, “If that man can give the OK to that, you think, ‘Oh wow, maybe I can do anything.’”

• Actor John Hurt co-starred with Harrison Ford in the 2008 action-adventure movie Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. The then-66-year-old Mr. Ford had kept himself in shape, and he did his own fights and many of his character’s stunts in the movie. At one point, after performing a harrowing stunt, Mr. Ford turned to Mr. Hurt and joked, “Well, you don’t think they employ me to act, did you, John?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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