Actors Talking About Acting
William Holden & Veronica Lake in I Wanted Wings (1941) – photo: Paramount Pictures
William Holden – “The best actors I know have no style but that of genuine professionalism. They act each role according to the script. And if they do have a style, it is so much a part of their personality it can’t be noticed.” (Atlanta Constitution April 22, 1956)
If you hear people lament that today’s movie stars don’t stack up to the old stars, there are probably many reasons for the lack of charisma or star power today. Regardless of their approach to acting, the old-time Hollywood stars all had one thing in common: they came through the studio system, where they were trained and “groomed” to be and act like movie stars. How each actor accomplished that varied from actor to actor.
Whatever techniques they used to develop their acting style; “The Method,” “Chekhov,” or simply showing up and knowing your lines, movie stars usually could provide philosophy or insight into their craft when being interviewed by the press. Whether they had honed their skills on the legitimate stage or come straight from a farm, to be a star you had to learn and understand something about acting.
Here are twelve old time movie stars expressing their views, sometimes simply, other times with great insight about acting.
Veronica Lake – “I’m no great actress. I just had a movie job dumped into my lap, the public seemed to like me, and that’s all there was to it.” (Wide World Features May 3, 1942)
Rod Steiger – “Good acting is like good love-making. Leave yourself alone and explore. Do it. Don’t watch yourself do it. Don’t think about yourself doing it. You just go from moment to moment. But don’t take anything for granted either, especially not in acting. That’s when you get your ass kicked.” (Los Angeles Times September 15, 1994)
Yul Bryner – “I’m not of the can-kicking, shovel-carrying, ear-scratching, torn T-shirt school of acting. There are very few real men in the movies these days. Yet being a real man is the most important quality an actor can offer on the screen.” (Detroit Free Press April 27, 1958)
Paul Muni – “Acting is a scientific art. It’s a matter of trial and error. You try out your effects like a man who is experimenting on a new chemical formula. I enjoy the experimenting.” (Boston Globe Feb. 6, 1949)
Barbara Stanwyck on reluctantly accepting the role of the “no good” Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity – “Once I said yes I was awfully glad. During the making of it Fred (MacMurray) would go to the rushes. I remember once the next day he said, ‘You’re not acting, you’re enjoying it.’ And I remember saying ,’Fred, really, how was I?’ And very candidly he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know about you- but I was wonderful!’ And that was such a true remark. Actors only look at themselves.” (Los Angeles Times April 5, 1987)
Spencer Tracy – “I’ve always played the same character. Larry Olivier says the way to act is learn your lines and get on with it. I’m Spencer Tracy with some deference to the character. When a person says he’s an actor – he’s a personality. The whole idea is to show your personality. There are people who are much better technically, but who cares? Nobody cares.” (Los Angeles Times November 18, 1962) Continue reading