“I think people don’t know what they’re talking about when they think that anyone could do it.”
Acting isn’t exactly brain surgery. It’s much, much harder than that.
Such is the view one might get after hearing Glenn Close recall the time she once scoffed at a literal brain surgeon who thought he could become a thespian.
The seven-time Oscar nominee was speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in its actress roundtable, when she was asked: What is something people often get wrong about acting?
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“A lot of people think that anyone can do it,” the “Elegy” star proclaimed. “I really take my craft seriously, and I think people don’t know what they’re talking about when they think that anyone could do it.”
She admitted there have been documentaries and “even some movies” that have somehow managed to come into existence with “people who are not trained as actors”; she then shared an anecdote of one such hopeful, who we can only assume didn’t get to have that chance.
“I once had a brain surgeon who was the father of one of my daughter’s middle school friends … He asked if he could come over and pick my brain about something,” she retold.
“And so I said, ‘Sure,’ and he came over and he said, ‘I find being a brain surgeon depressing, I really want to be an actor.'”
(This prompted an “Oh my God” from fellow roundtable participant Kate Winslet).
“And it was all I could do to not throw him out of my house,” Close continued. “He said, ‘But I have to make a living, so how do I do it?'”
“It was astounding to me that he would have such an ignorant idea of what acting was.”
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“So I think, for longevity, it is a craft, and I take great pride,” she went on. “There’s always something new to learn every day, but it is something that really does count. When you task yourself with becoming, looking through the eyes of another person and telling a story that will have emotional impact, that is craft.”
Her fellow actresses fielded the same question; Zendaya’s answer was practical, Carey Mulligan’s a little unsettling, and Winslet’s quite sad.
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The “Malcolm & Marie” star described how she’s had to learn from a young age that there is a necessary business side to acting, and not just the fun creative side.
Mulligan highlighted the commonly held concept that “to make something great, people have permission to behave badly”.
“… the idea of someone being a creative genius … that they are so inspired, there’s a required level of darkness or unpleasantness that goes along with that, that you need to put up with.”
“I think people get away with bad behavior because of those reasons,” she said. “In my experience, some of the most incredible people I’ve worked with have just been also the most delightful.”
“So that’s kind of a common misconception, that there are people who have to behave badly to psych themselves up at work, or that the process is just sort of utterly miserable. I think you can work really hard, but ultimately … the attitude on set should be one of warmth.”
Winslet, meanwhile, appeared to agree with Close on how tough the gig is, explaining the sad effect it has on her family.
“I do find myself getting almost agitated when I feel I have to explain just how hard the job truly is,” she said. “I don’t think people understand that preparation can take up to four, five, sometimes even six months depending on the kind of role you’re playing. And also how absent, I think, you are from your family.”
“Even if they might physically be with you — which, in my case is nine times out of 10, I’m fortunate that they are — but emotionally I know that I’m gone. I’m just not there, I’m not just Mummy, I’m not just Ned [Smith]’s wife — suddenly, I’m this other being. And I do find that part quite upsetting sometimes, and I wish I had more of a balance with that.”
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On the subject of getting into character, elsewhere in the roundtable Vanessa Kirby described how she managed to give such a convincing (and harrowing) 20-minute childbirth sequence in “Pieces of a Woman” — despite having never had children, or even been pregnant herself.
She wrote to several obstetricians to ask if she could shadow them for research, and one in a north London hospital agreed.
“One afternoon, my very last afternoon at hospital, one of the midwives came round and said, ‘Oh, a woman’s just come in and she’s 9 centimeters dilated. And I’m going to ask if she’d mind you watching.'”
“I just thought, ‘There’s no way in hell she’s ever going to agree to have some random person sit in and watch this really sacred moment of her life.’ But she did, she said yes, and so I got to sit with her and watch her go through six hours of … I mean, it was just probably the most profound afternoon of my life.”
“I never, ever could have acted it without watching her, because I saw her go on this unbelievable journey, and I saw the animal in her take over. And it was only because of that, really, that I then felt like maybe I had a chance at attempting it.”
She said they did six takes over the space of two days.
“When we came to it … it was so physical and it was such a primal body thing,” she said. “It was a bit like doing a play, really, where once you’re on, you’re on, and you can’t stop. And there was something magic about that, because you couldn’t spend any time doubting yourself, you just have to do it.”
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