by Jack Tewksbury
For forty years the HFPA has recorded interviews with famous and celebrated actors, actresses and filmmakers. The world’s largest collection of its kind — over 10,000 interviews — is now in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Library. The audios are fascinating. Below is an excerpt: in this anthology of quotes from the late 1980's, master filmmaker John Huston reflects on his life and the craft of directing.
“I was born in Nevada, Missouri. My grandfather won the town in a poker game.
Walter Huston, my father, was an actor who traveled the West with a theatre troupe. For a brief period, he did a vaudeville act with a chicken that danced on one leg. Times got hard. Other vaudevillians said Walter ate the chicken. He said that was a bold lie! He ate only the leg the chicken didn't dance on.
My mother and I traveled the West with him. I got a taste for colorful people. Making a movie, I like casting best. No question , my films are successful because of my casting. I choose charismatic actors with the ability to play a certain role.
I directed Marilyn Monroe in her first movie, Asphalt Jungle, and last, The Misfits. She was the embodiment of the characters she played. I give artists as much freedom and encouragement as I can to be themselves.
Very often, as in Prizzi's Honor, I get the actors together and say, "Look, work this scene out between yourselves." I'd send the crew away and tell the actors, "Send for me when you're ready." Half or three quarters of an hour later they would have put a scene together. Usually it was ideal, and I wouldn't have to do any directing at all. That is what being a director is knowing when not to direct. Someone asked me a question about having conflicts on the set. You don't have conflicts with an actor. You get as much out of him as you can through encouragement.You give him heart and boldness and freedom to exercise his artistry.
Jack Nicolson has the greatest virtuosity of any actor in the business. He is not necessarily the greatest. De Niro is. There was never a better actor than De Niro. I'm often asked, "Why haven't we got actors like Bogart and Cooper today?" Well, Bogart and Cooper weren't like anyone who preceded them. But the very nature of a star is that he isn't like any other star. We have extraordinary actors today.
The Nineteen-Thirties and Forties male stars were unique because each was a defined personality, supported over and over again by screenplays written specifically for them. Their voices personified them. Each one not only sounded different from the other, but no one else on the planet had their accents and manner of speech. Even some of the women, particularly Hepburn and Davis.
Again, we have extraordinary actors today, but not personalities. Well, Nicholson.”