David Bruce: Acting Anecdotes

• Javier Bardem, the Spanish actor who played the very evil murderer in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, had a number of other jobs before becoming an actor. In fact, for one day when he was a teenager, he was a stripper. He says, “Unfortunately, I made the mistake of talking about it years later and my mother and sister read the article. You talk about showing your *ss and then your mother reads all about it.” As a citizen of Spain, he has a perspective different from that of Americans. For example, one day he had a nude scene, and the American crew made sure that he was covered up when he was not actually working—he definitely got the idea that people did not want to see his rear end. However, when he was murdering people in a scene, the Americans on set were happy. Mr. Bardem says that “the day I was killing people they were like, ‘Yaah! That was good!’ I know I don’t have a nice *ss, but I would go for an *ss over killing people every time.” A final difference between Spain and other countries is this, according to Mr. Bardem, “I like the way people behave in my country. It’s about being open to life instead of being obsessed about getting somewhere. There’s a moment when they put the worries about paying the bills to one side and just live. In some countries, it’s all about being number one and if you are second you are a failure.”

• This may be a shock to some people, but at one time, two-time Oscar-winner Jody Foster thought about giving up acting. She found acting not to be rewarding anymore, and she thought about entering some other profession where she could use her analytical skills. Ms. Foster says, “I had been feeling there was something kind of not intellectually valuable about being an actor. It had started to seem like a really dumb job.” Fortunately, she realized what the problem was: “It was me. It was my fault. I wasn’t bringing enough to it. I hadn’t realized that it was my responsibility to go deeper, to really build a character from the ground up; that to really be a good actor, you had to be able to discuss a movie, any movie that you’re taking on, and to see the literature in it. Then it becomes fascinating. Then youget better as an actor. Then you learn to really love movies.” With this realization, Ms. Foster rededicated herself to her career—at age 12. This paid off in a big way. Just two years later, when she was 14, she played a prostitute in Taxi Driver, earning an Oscar nomination.

• In 2007, Kenneth Branagh directed the movie Sleuth, with Michael Caine acting in a version reworded by Harold Pinter. Of course, Mr. Branagh has his roots in the theater, and so he used theatrical techniques in creating the movie, including two weeks of rehearsals before filming began. After the two weeks of rehearsal, everyone ran through the film one more time, with actors reciting their lines, and Mr. Branagh using a wheelchair to move Mr. Pinter to the place where the camera would be filming. Unfortunately, this made Mr. Caine nervous, and after 10 minutes of this, Mr. Caine said, “I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to stop just for one minute. I have never been this f**king nervous since I did live television. I’ve got f**king Harold Pinter’s face about two feet from me, and above him I’ve got f**king Branagh giving me notes. Let me have a cup of tea.”

• One problem that many actors have is acting in bad weather conditions of extreme heat or extreme cold, often at unpleasant times such as night or very early in the morning. In her acting, Laura Linney deals with industrial-strength issues such as death, illness, and personal failure. However, she says, “You know what’s more difficult, what they don’t teach you in drama school? How to act at 4:30 in the morning in the freezing cold or boiling heat. That’s more challenging than any sort of emotional work. And it’s like childbirth. You forget about it once a movie’s finished and you’re on to the next.” While acting in the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma, Russell Crowe ran into the problem of an unpleasant acting environment: “We were surrounded by four-and-a-half feet of snow doing scenes where we’re talking about the drought.”

• When he was four years old, actor Steve Buscemi was hit by a bus and got his skull fractured. This doesn’t mean that he was unlucky—the accident could have been a lot worse. In addition, when he became 18 years old, he received a $6,000 settlement from the city. He used the money to pay for acting school at the Lee Strasberg Institute, where he studied with John, Lee’s son, who was more laid-back than his famous father. For example, Mr. Buscemi describes an acting scenario at the institute: “They had this thing where if you were in a desert and imagining sun beating down on you, you couldn’t use the stage light to imagine the sun. But John said if the stage light works, that’s fine. The audience don’t know and don’t care.” Mr. Buscemi, of course, gets results, as is evidenced by his roles in such movies asFargoReservoir Dogs, and Ghost World.

• Actor Jimmy Stewart once told director Peter Bogdanovich about a stranger, a fan, who told him how much he liked his delivery of a piece of dialogue that Mr. Stewart had said in a movie made 20 years previously. Mr. Stewart reflected, “And I thought, that’s the wonderful thing about movies. Because if you’re good, and God helps you, and you’re lucky enough to have a personality that comes across, then what you’re doing is, you’re giving people little … tiny … pieces of time … that they never forget.”

• Way back in 1929, comedian W.C. Fields used to say that his favorite actor was Benito Mussolini.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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