One of a series of actors’ reminiscences researched by Jack Tewkesbury
I overheard a producer say, “If you kicked an En – glishman in the heart, you’d break your toes.”
Oh, we work aplenty. After all, we have a much stronger tradition of theatre. Actors are schooled in England. We are technically trained. Not America’s subjective approach to acting.
But it’s interesting that British actors are usually cast as heavies in American movies. Maybe it’s some kind of cultural archetype in America that believes the British are not to be trusted.
Robert Duvall once said to Glenn Close — Jeremy Irons told me this when he and Glenn were doing The Real Thing on Broadway –Duval took her to lunch, and he said to her about Jeremy Irons, “How can you trust a guy that talks like that?” So, deep in the American consciousness, we’re not to be trusted. Maybe it goes back to the American Revolution.
A lot of directors are bullies. No matter. I need a good director because I can’t be on my own, either on stage or in film. In the past I have led the fray against directors because I didn’t always respect them, but do now more than ever.
Actors can be infuriating people with big egos, but a really good director is somebody who will, like Jonathan Demme, let you express character through your psychology and body. If he knows his stuff, he will concentrate on guiding the speed of the scene, the rhythm, the pace.
In the theatre, the director has to have the whole plan in his head. He’s got fifteen actors on stage, all those egos bumping about. He’s got to sort them out. If an actor doesn’t agree, a sensible director will negotiate.
The worst directors are the ones who shout and scream. They’re a nightmare. The late John Dexter, who directed Equus and M. Butterfly, was one. John was a very tough, brutal director. He could be savage.
After Equus I vowed I’d never work with him again, but as the years passed I thought, I’ve got to work with this guy again to get the record straight.
So I worked with him on M.Butterfly, and it was a pleasure, not because John had changed but because I had. We had a lot of fun, and he was very nice. I put up with his bullying because he knew what he was doing.