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David Mamet's Advice for Actors.

Playwright and Screenwriter David Mamet. His latest film is "The Edge," and he's recently published two books: "The Old Religion," (Simon & Schuster) is a novel about a southern Jewish man falsely accused of murder. "True and False: Heresy and Common sense for the Actor" (Pantheon) is a guide to acting that negates the common and popular dramatic techniques. Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for "Glengarry Glen Ross."


Other segments from the episode on October 29, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 29, 1997: Interview with Kevin Kline; Interview with David Mamet; Review of Jacqueline Susann's novel "Valley of the Dolls."


Date: OCTOBER 29, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 102901NP.217
Head: Kevin Kline
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

As if we needed proof of Kevin Kline's versatility, he's now starring in the hit comic film, "In and Out", the critically-acclaimed dramatic film, "The Ice Storm", and a new Lincoln Center production of Chekhov's "Ivanov".

In the film "In and Out", Kevin Kline plays a small high school -- a small town high school teacher who's about to be married when he's "outed" by a former student. The problem is, the teacher hasn't even admitted to himself that he's gay.

The film "The Ice Storm" takes place in 1973 and is about the impact of the counterculture and the sexual revolution when it has filtered down to suburban Connecticut. Married couples are restless, and are dealing with it by having spouse-swapping parties. Their kids don't know what their limits are, and are going off the deep end.

Kevin Kline plays Ben Hood, who's cheating on his wife with his neighbor and is unsure of what kind of father to be to his children. Here he is, in the car with his 16-year-old son, played by Toby McGuire (ph).


KEVIN KLINE, ACTOR: You know, Paul, I was thinking, this may be as good a time as any to have a little talk, about -- well, about...


KLINE: ... well, a whole gamut -- facts of life, because I tell you, there's things happening that you're probably old enough to digest.


KLINE: Well, things that happen between a -- well, on the self-abuse front. And this is important. I don't think it's advisable to do it in the shower. It wastes water and electricity, and because we all expect you to be doing it there in any case. But not on -- onto the linen.

Anyway, if you're worried about anything at all, just feel free to ask. And we'll look it up.

MCGUIRE: Dad, you know I'm 16.

KLINE: All the more reason to be having this little heart-to-heart.

GROSS: Although "The Ice Storm" is a period film, the early '70s is a period Kevin Kline lived through, so he had personal experiences to draw on, not just research.

KLINE: I was alive there, and I do -- I remember, in my connection to the film, was more actually as the younger generation in the movie, the kind of disillusionment, post-Vietnam, the midst of Watergate, I mean, everything, the father figure of, you know, the president being now a criminal in our minds, and just this, sort of, national familial disintegration.

GROSS: Even those of us who aren't actors know that when you put on certain clothes, it makes you feel a certain way, different from yourself. What was it like for you to wear some of the clothes, some of the '70s clothes you wear in this period? Like in the first scene that you're in. As I recall, you're wearing, I think it's like a brown and white striped shirt, with a vest and slightly flared bell bottoms. It's the very, kind of, tailored, controlled, straight middle-class version of freaky, hippy styles from the period.

KLINE: Yeah. Yeah. It was, it's about as uncomfortable a costume as I've ever had to wear. And, I suppose part of the trick and part of the brilliance of Carol Odet's (ph) designs is that, to make them not look like costumes, but to make them look like actual clothes.

I mean, we all marveled, I think, at all of our costume fittings, at these clothes which was: What were we thinking back then? What were we thinking? How could we wear these hideous, uncomfortable clothes?

And for me, I suppose it was -- it was like a physical manifestation of canker sores, which are hard to show on screen. But just the discomfort and the, and the kind of self-consciousness that those clothes created, especially for my character with his little ascots and his neck wear and his vest fetish and these -- and the way they were all sort of form-fitting.

And it was very uncomfortable and made us, I think, feel very self-conscious in an appropriate way. It's one of those cases where the artifice can actually make for something more real, as if the actors can translate this self-conscious, artificial, costume-like feeling that they're having in these clothes, to feed their characters in any given situation. And these people are very self-conscious.

GROSS: What would you have been wearing in the early '70s when the movie is set?

KLINE: I wore that timeless actor garb of blue jeans and a sweat shirt and tried to look like an actor.


GROSS: Right. You use your body so differently in "The Ice Storm" and in "In and Out. I mean, one's a comedy and one's a drama. Would you talk a little bit about your -- your body, your posture, your movements in each of those films?


KLINE: Talk about -- well, I think it's something I've always done instinctively, whether it's from loving athletics in high school. It's something I just do unconsciously, so I -- it's hard for me to comment on it, I mean, in terms of where it comes from, probably a love of music from early in my life and -- but I never was a dancer. In fact, I was very self-conscious about dancing, and still am, in public.

GROSS: Well, that's interesting, though, because in -- you really dance up a storm in one scene in "In and Out" where you're listening to a tape called...


GROSS: ... "Exploring Your Masculinity." And it's basically telling you to be very straight-laced and controlled. And you're body's just giving in more and more to the urge to dance...

KLINE: Yeah.

GROSS: ... until you're dancing all over the living room. Quite...

KLINE: Right.

GROSS: ... quite well, I might add.

KLINE: Oh, thank you. Well, there the mask is the source. I get, by being this character, and especially a character in a very private moment dancing around his living room, I can abandon -- which is one of the great privileges that actors have, and therapies, as well, which is, you abandon all of the self-consciousness you would have in a regular social situation on a dance floor, at a party, or whatever, and just give in to that terpsichorean muse, and just pretend you're Baryshnikov or Fred Astaire or whoever. And I had a great time doing that.

In "In and Out, I remember thinking that this man has been in his head for 40 years, and has not been in his body. And it's almost -- and the moment when Tom Selleck grabs me and kisses me, suddenly he like sort of jump-starts a dormant -- anything from my neck down suddenly sort of is jolted into life.


GROSS: Let's talk about that kissing in which -- now Tom Selleck plants this long and surprising kiss on your lips and -- because he's gay and he realizes that you are and that you don't realize it.

And your character goes through several moods in this long kiss, starting from resistance to ending up looking kind of like the ingenue.


KLINE: Yes, precisely.

GROSS: And, first I'm wondering what the screen play said there, what kind of advice the screen play gave you about how to handle the kiss?

KLINE: Oh, wow. As I recall, it says "He grabs him and kisses him."

GROSS: Uh-huh.

KLINE: I remember, we always discussed the scene and whether or not Paul had written it in the stage directions or not, I can't remember. But it seemed to be in the tradition of screen kisses where the hero grabs the heroine and plants a kiss on her. And she's, like, stunned, and insulted, and affronted, and yet very excited.

And so, I think it was basically sort of homage to that tradition with a little twist. Just that it happened to be two guys, this time.

So -- and we tried it a number of different ways. This was one of those things that -- well, the way I like to work and the way Frank Oz likes to work, and Tom, too, and Joan Cusack and most of the members of that company, in fact -- which is to play with it, to experiment, to try it a few different ways. And then, you know, before -- you can decide in the editing room, which is the best way to go.

So we tried it, just indignant, and snapping right back. And then I -- we found this one where -- the only one we ended up using, actually, was my favorite one where I'm so stunned that I -- I'm just sort of wandering around in a daze from it, not quite sure it really happened, and then indignant, you know, after he -- and with the -- the wrapping the leg.

Again, he doesn't even know that his body did that because he's not in his body. Do you know what I mean?

GROSS: Mmm-hm?

KLINE: So that was -- we found this physical expression. And that was actually the -- that was the next day that I had this idea of wrapping my leg around him. We added that, and so what you saw is really a combination of a day, you know, one, you know, takes from the day before. And then the ending was shot as an afterthought.

I remember driving home after the day we shot the scenes that there's something missing. There's -- I had had this impulse, unlike one of the last couple takes, and I thought, "I really should have done that."

And I told Frank the next morning; he says, "That's great. Let's shoot it." And so, that's how we got the, what we call "the button". And it's the signal for the audience that it's, in fact, a comic kiss.

There's not much you can do, you know, in a kiss, because it's so much tradition to it. And you're watching this kiss and it happens to be two guys. But when the leg wrapped around him, it always worked -- at least in the screenings I saw -- as the signal that, ah, it's a comedy.

GROSS: My guest is Kevin Kline. He's now starring in "In and Out" and "The Ice Storm". We'll talk more after a break. This is Fresh Air.


GROSS: Kevin Kline is my guest. And he's starring now in the movies, "In and Out" and "The Ice Storm". And he's also starring in the Lincoln Center production of Chekhov's "Ivanov."

You grew up in St. Louis and your father ran a record store there, and I think then a toy store? Do I have that right?

KLINE: They were simultaneous. It started as a record store. It became a record and toy store, and ended up as a toy store. He phased out the records during the '60s when all those discount record chains came into being. He kind of -- he was a, you know, small business. And all the small record stores kind of all went out of business, so he just then focused on toys.

GROSS: So what kind of records did he sell?

KLINE: Mostly classical, but jazz and rock-and-roll. Part of his mission in life -- I'm still meeting people who used to frequent his store, who said, "You know, your father turned me on to classical music. I would go in there to buy a Bo Diddley or Muddy Waters album and he would convince me, you know, to buy Mozart and Beethoven."

So, he was a great lover of classical music and opera, especially. And used to sing opera from behind the counter at his store and, sort of, harangue my friends, my generation, who were there to buy rock-and-roll that they should, you know, broaden their musical horizons. And it -- apparently, he got through to many people.

GROSS: Was it embarrassing at the time, though?

KLINE: Oh, yeah. But not that embarrassing because he'd somehow, I'd become convinced at a rather early age that classical music was pretty cool. And I had loved it for many years. I was playing in a rock-and-roll band while I was in high school, but I was also studying classical piano.

So, I could -- I just could never convince my father that rock-and-roll had its place. He just thought it was noise.

Although, he liked the Beatles. When the Beatles came in, he said, "There's something -- this is more sophisticated." And he just -- but generally, he was anti-rock-and-roll.

GROSS: So what were your show pieces on piano, when you were studying?

KLINE: I was a great lover, and still am, of Bach. And my -- because I started very late, I didn't start until like, I guess it was around eighth grade. But one thing I always had was great speed. So I would love to play Bach preludes and fugues, and that was sort of what I would do to show off.

GROSS: So, how did you get into acting?

KLINE: I took an acting class my freshman year in college because, at my high school, we did not have a drama club or anything like that. But we, as seniors, put on a senior play on the lawn in front of the main house of the school.

And I remember doing that and enjoying it tremendously and not being nervous, but in fact, feeling quite comfortable on stage while my friends were mostly vomiting in the wings from nerves. And I'm feeling quite at home.

And so I thought, you know -- and I loved movies. I didn't go to the theater much. There wasn't that much -- or if there was in St. Louis, I did not -- I wasn't aware of it.

But I loved going to the movies. And my sister, God bless her, used to take me to less mainstream movies, which I would also see. But she would take me to the art house movies, and see, you know, Antonioni films and Truffaut and what-have-you.

GROSS: Yes. So why do you think you're so comfortable on stage instead of vomiting in the wings, like -- ...

KLINE: I don't know...

GROSS: ... like other people?

KLINE: ... to this day. I have no idea. No one in my family had -- was -- were in the performing arena.

GROSS: Some of your early years as an actor overlap with the period of your new movie, "The Ice Storm". You know, in "The Ice Storm", the character you play is somebody who's very, kind of, far-removed, you know, in a little suburban enclave he's kind of far-removed from the real, you know, kind of cultural revolution going on around him.

And -- but it's all very confusing to him. And he's doing some things that are -- you know, like the whole sexual revolution has filtered down into, you know, wife-swapping parties and things like that.

KLINE: Yeah.

GROSS: But anyway, you know, there was a lot of radicalism in theater in that period, you know: nudity, the breaking down of the fourth wall, interactions between the audience and the people on stage...

KLINE: Yeah.

GROSS: ... improvised works. So tell me a little bit about how the radicalism of that period affected your early days as an actor?

KLINE: Oh, it was very exciting because, in fact, I think the most exciting theater experience I've ever had was playing Viet Rock (ph) when I was a senior. And...

GROSS: It was an anti-war musical?

KLINE: Yes. This is Megan Terry's (ph) play that was done originally at -- I did it at Cafe Chino (ph) off Broadway. And it was an anti-war play where there was audience, direction, where there was music.

It was the kind of play that, at the end of it, people would burn their draft cards. And, you know, I've just never been a part of a theatrical enterprise that had that kind of reaction.

I mean, at the end, we were all blown up in a Saigon bar. And we all walked out -- I remember the stage directions, like they, the actors, in sort of slow motion rise from the floor and walk out to the audience and touch the audience. And we are angels.

And it was this -- I mean, it seems so hokey, now, in retrospect. This inter- you know, -audience participation kind of thing. I loathe it. If I see an actor coming...

GROSS: Oh, it scares the heck out of me.

KLINE: ... off the stage toward me, I just go -- I just look at him like: "Don't. Don't come near me, bub."

GROSS: Yeah. Me, too.

KLINE: I hate it. But, at the time, it was extraordinary. This was around the time that Peter Brooke was doing "Marat-Sade" and whole theater cruelty stuff. And I was reading Antonin Artaud and thinking, "Oh, yes. This is what it's all about."

And it was very exciting. It's -- I think those were exciting days in the theater.

GROSS: Well, this has been interesting for you coming from, what I imagine was a fairly disciplined upbringing, you know. Maybe you didn't practice piano six hours a day, but you had to be pretty disciplined to be a serious classical pianist.

You went to a Catholic school, taught Benedictine monks. So I imagine they didn't let you get away with a whole lot.

KLINE: No. That's where I really learned discipline.

GROSS: Yes. OK. So you learned discipline on every front, really. And then -- and now you are in the theater, which requires a lot of discipline, but it's a period of, kind of, really unbuttoned stuff of, you know...

KLINE: Well, that's why, to me...

GROSS: ... turn loose the psyche, and everything.

KLINE: Exactly. And to me, it was impossible. That was the irony that I was speaking of before. To me, I thought: How can I -- I'm the -- I was the most uptight, especially physically uptight person.

I'd go, what do I -- where can I put my hands when I was actually -- I remember, not knowing for years -- well, look, notice my outstretched hands and going: How did these get out here? And how can I get them -- how can I retract them? I was very awkward, physically, and emotionally.

I was very, you know, buttoned-down, Catholic, Benedictine, discipline, discipline, last thing in the world you're supposed to show is an emotion. And then I think, now, I'm going to become an actor when that's the first thing you're supposed to show.

So it was always ironic to me, but attractive. And I just couldn't resist it.

GROSS: What was your first reaction when you started your movie career and you saw yourself on a large screen?

KLINE: I remember the first dailies on "Sophie's Choice". I remember the scene. And I was sitting there and I just said, "Yes!" to Nestor Almendros (ph), who was lighting it, and Alan Pakula was directing. And I said, "That's -- that's him. That's him."

And we all kind of said it because we talked about how we wanted the character to look. And something in -- I just remembered feeling that the way that they shot me, especially in this scene, I looked the way I wanted the character to look. And it all seemed right.

GROSS: This is good. You were reacting to your character and not to yourself.

KLINE: Yeah. I was never -- I used to go to dailies all the time, and Meryl Streep said, "Oh, I go all the time." Some actors can't. It makes them self-conscious. But I can look at it very objectively, and just look at it as, "Well, is that right for the character? Is that wrong?"

So I go to dailies now, usually for the first week or so of the movie just to make sure that what I'm thinking is in fact coming across. Is, I mean, what I'm thinking is coming across is, in fact, coming across. And it's -- that's one of the benefits of movies, that you can be your own third eye and look at dailies.

But no, it wasn't. It didn't make me self-conscious. No.

GROSS: You turned 50 recently. And I'm wondering if that seems significant to you as an actor, if you think that's going to have any effect one way or another on your career?

KLINE: Mmm, no. I think -- I mean, it's just a number, the fact that we sort of tend to look at things in decades and these turning points.

I was never very strong in math. To me, that's not the number so much as a feeling I have now, which is, I don't feel old. But I do feel, in a very positive way, that my work is getting better and that my life is getting better.

So I think, perhaps, in no way due to any kind of effort on my part, I think I'm growing up and just appreciating life more. And that's making me do better work.

I just feel very good. So, I don't feel old or young. I just feel good.

GROSS: Well, Kevin Kline, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

KLINE: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

GROSS: Kevin Kline is starring in the films, "In and Out", and "The Ice Storm". He's starring in a Lincoln Center production of Chekhov's "Ivanov".

I'm Terry Gross. And this is Fresh Air.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Kevin Kline
High: Actor Kevin Kline. He can currently be seen in the movies "In and Out" and "The Ice Storm." This winter, he'll also be playing the title role in the Anton Chekhov's play, "Ivanov" in New York. Kline's past movies include "Dave," "The Big Chill," and "I Love You to Death." He received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "A Fish Called Wanda."
Spec: Movie Industry; Kevin Kline; The Big Chill; The Ice Storm; Dave; I Love You to Death; Comedy
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Kevin Kline
Date: OCTOBER 29, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 102902NP.217
Head: David Mamet
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Although David Mamet says he wasn't a good actor himself, he's written for, and directed, great actors including Joe Mantegna and W. H. Macy. Mamet says that a lot of what actors are taught is nonsense. He explains why in his new book, "True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor".

Mamet also has a new novel called, "The Old Religion", based on the 1914 trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish man unjustly convicted of murdering a girl in Atlanta. And Mamet has a new play called, "The Old Neighborhood", that begins previews on Broadway next month.

His earlier works include the plays, "Glengarry Glen Ross", and "American Buffalo". He wrote and directed the films, "House of Games", "Things Change", and "Homicide". His latest screenplay is, "The Edge".

In his new book about acting, Mamet says that it's pointless for actors to use emotional memory and sense memory to try to become the character. It just doesn't work.

DAVID MAMET, PLAYWRIGHT AND SCREENWRITER: I've been working with actors for all of my life. I started out as a kid actor in Chicago, back around the turn of the century, and attended many acting classes, and taught many acting classes, and directing actors for many, many years.

And I started out, like all young actors do, confused, frightened, ambitious, and dedicated, and wide-eyed and went to a lot of acting classes where people of various stripes suggested and conducted exercises, the worth of which I couldn't see.

And I felt very stupid because of it. And I felt stupid, talentless. And I realized, when I started teaching, when I started working with actors, -- which I did very, very young. I started teaching college when I was -- teaching acting in college when I was about 21 years old.

I realized, in attempting to implement these exercises as a teacher that they just didn't work. And that they could only be -- their use could only be defended by the notion: The truth will be revealed to you at some later date on the part of the teacher.

And further, that when one works with actors, whether as a director or as a teacher, what one is doing is creating physical habits. That's what a rehearsal period is about. And that's what a training period is about.

It's not about creating ideas. It's about creating physical habits. And that if one creates the physical habit of doing something one doesn't understand in the hope that it will later be revealed, one becomes a gull and a patsy, and has to live one's life in a state of self-loathing because one is indulging in hypocrisy.

So, I tried, and I try as a director, and I still teach, to work with actors in a way which is responsible, which is to say that, if the actor doesn't understand the direction, or the actor doesn't understand the exercise, if the actor doesn't understand the scene, it's not their fault. It's my fault.

And that if I'm speaking in jargon, I'm probably lying. There's nothing in acting, but a director can't -- if the director can't express his or her thoughts succinctly, in clear, unjargon-laden English, then they don't know what they're talking about.

GROSS: Since you don't like the idea of "the method" or, you know, "sense memory", or, you know, "becoming the character", what is your approach to teaching the craft of acting?

MAMET: Well, the craft of acting, I think is -- the components are fairly simple. One has to have excellent diction and a strong voice, a supple body. And one has to be able to analyze a scene very, very simply simply to answer the question, "What's the scene about so I know what I'm going to do in a scene?"

After that, one has to be able to do it, that is to say, to go off -- to go into the scene and do nothing but that one thing the scene is about: to help out a friend; to put down an enemy; to clarify a situation; to draw the line; to make a contract; to forge a bond.

These are all actable objectives. If some -- they're all and each something that a person can come into a room and do with no preparation. If one -- anything one has to work oneself up into a state to do is not acting. And the -- it's pretending. It's making funny faces, and doing funny voices.

And, as I say in the book, the -- what moves us in life is not people acting extraordinarily, but people acting fairly ordinarily in extraordinary circumstances. That is to say that the -- what moves us in life, in real life, is not a person proclaiming their anguish, or a person proclaiming their bravery, but the ordinary person who -- who, without feeling like it, commits an act of bravery.

A good example of that -- a great example of that is Rosa Parks, who just didn't get up off the bus. It's a great act of bravery. She didn't sit there and talk about the nature of injustice; she just said, "What I'm feeling is nobody's business but my own, but I'm not moving."

And if you'll look at the great actors of all time, and the great actresses, that's what one sees in them, that what they're feeling is nobody's business but their own, but they ain't moving.

GROSS: So how much do you describe to the actor in the script? What might be going on in their mind, but what their motivations are that they have not revealed to the character they're talking to?

MAMET: I don't describe anything at all...

GROSS: You don't describe any of that?

MAMET: No. All the script's got is the words that they say.

GROSS: Right. Because that's the kind of stuff that would be in a novel.

MAMET: Exactly. And that's one way in which the novel, which is the epic form, deals -- differs from the drama, which is the dramatic form. They're two completely different arts.

GROSS: What are your auditions like? I mean, you've worked with some actors who, I've always felt, you know, seem born to do your plays and films, people like Joe Mantegna and William Macy.

MAMET: Mmm-hm.

GROSS: I know you found them pretty early in your career. I know Mantegna, for sure, was from Chicago. I can't remember with Macy. But when you're looking for actors now who you haven't worked with for that long, what do you look for? And how do you find it, when you're auditioning?

MAMET: Well, the best way to see what an actor can do is look at their work. Go see them in a play. Go see them in a movie.

GROSS: Right. As opposed to just doing an audition in the casting office?

MAMET: Yeah, audition, I mean, it's -- audition is a barbaric process. And it's -- the way that most of them are held is, in my experience, not only barbaric, but kind of useless because what one doesn't want to do is ask the actor to come in -- this is what almost all auditions are like -- the actor or the actress is asked to come in and do what they would do had they been hired. That is to say, the people want to sit back and say, "OK, now. Go up there now and do what I'm going to be seeing on opening night."

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

MAMET: Do what I'm going to be seeing in the movie. Well, the old adage in the theater, and I think it's absolutely true, is, "The better an actor is, the worse they audition." And the reason is, that the -- what makes a good actor, a good actress, is somebody's who's truthful. It's somebody who's simple and truthful.

And if you're coming to the audition, well, what -- you don't know what you're going to be doing on opening night. You haven't rehearsed the play, yet. And to -- and more importantly, what you're going to be doing on opening night's going to depend on what the other actor or actress is doing on opening night. You're going to be playing the play with them so that an audition process which pays off on "show me, strut your stuff" is going to select for the second rate.

GROSS: Mmm-hm. So, did you not do those kinds of casting auditions at all?

MAMET: No. I don't. I don't.

GROSS: What are your rehearsals like when the actors are just getting acquainted with their lines and with the larger screen play or play?

MAMET: Well, they're a lot of fun. My theory, my experience and my practice is, "Why have a bad rehearsal?" It doesn't make any sense because you're going to reform what you're going to rehearse.

So if you rehearse being disappointed and trying to fill up the gap by adding effects, that's what you're going to perform. And you'll carry with you through the rehearsal process and end up performing a certain amount of self-loathing, which comes from your knowledge of your own hypocrisy.

So rather than doing that, take it simple and say: OK. Let's look at one scene at a time. What's the scene about? What are the characters doing? Let's do that. Fine. Now I understand what it means to do that scene.

Let's go do another scene. Let's go back to square one. What's the scene about? What are you doing in the scene, physically? Are you trying to correct a flaw in another person? You're trying to get a job. You're trying to smooth out a disagreement.

As I said before, these are all things which are active. One can actually do them. Try to get in touch with yourself is not something which anyone can do, an actor or not. No. It's not actable.

Some of the process -- of the rehearsal process is to determine, with the actors, what are the actable actions in the scene and then practice doing them.

GROSS: Give me more of a sense of what's not actable.

MAMET: OK. Here's a sense of what's not actable: Become a better person.

GROSS: Mmm-hm.

MAMET: Get in touch with yourself. See the light. Come to a clearer understanding. None of these things are actable. Open the window is actable, something that people can do.

GROSS: Have you ever ended up casting an actor who you really liked in the previous production you saw, but then, in working with him, you realized that their approach to acting is exactly the opposite of yours?

They're into the "method". They're into becoming their character. They're into trying to understand all the subtleties of the emotions the character's going into, and playing that on stage?

MAMET: Well, the actor's technique is really not my business. The actor's technique is his or her business. But what's my business as a director is that the scene or the -- the scene, whether on film or on stage should be truthful.

What the actor does to get there is their business. What's important to me is that the scene in each moment within the scene should be truthful.

GROSS: So you'll never say to an actor, "Boy, you know, your approach to getting this character down is really troubling me because you're into all those things that I consider to be bogus approaches to acting?" As long as...

MAMET: No. No.

GROSS: ... the performance is good, it just doesn't matter how they got there. Is that what you're saying?

MAMET: That's exactly right.

GROSS: Right. Now, you write that -- you kind of caution actors not to worry so much about about their talent or their lack of talent, but to just be as prepared as they can, to focus on their craft as much as they can, and to show up and be brave in the face of insecurity. And...

MAMET: That's right.

GROSS: ... just do their best. And --

MAMET: That's right.

GROSS: I guess I'm wondering how much you think that acting is a question of a certain gift that you're just born with and how much of it can be developed through craft? And it's a question that can apply, I think, to any art. You know, how much of it is -- either you have it or you don't, and how much of it can actually be learned?

MAMET: Well, I think that the difference between a good actor and a great actor is a question of gift -- of a gift. I think that I've been looking at actors many, many, many years and watching them develop over many years.

And what happens over the period of years is magical. I mean, sometimes people who were students of mine, or people who I worked with I've watched very closely, who I thought -- quote -- "just didn't have it" -- end quotation, blossomed into superb and brilliant artists.

And sometimes the opposite was true. People had a -- who I saw -- who occurred to me -- it appeared to me had a great gift, for some reason didn't want to or seem able to stay the course.

I think what that -- one has to stick with it. And that talent -- I say in the book that talent -- a concern with one's talent is like a concern with one's height. It's trying to exercise a prerogative of the gods. It's already been exercised. You can't control it.

All you can do is stick with it. And that sticking with it, being brave and being consistent, and being prepared, and being determined, will have great gifts. Whether or not it will improve one's ability to act well or improve one's ability to act brilliantly, it will improve one's ability to get a job and to support oneself.

GROSS: My guest is David Mamet. His new book about acting is called, "True and False."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Back with playwright, screenwriter, director and novelist, David Mamet.

You have a new play. It's actually been performed before. But this will be its first time on Broadway. And it goes into previews November 11th. Tell us something about this play.

MAMET: Well, this play's called, "The Old Neighborhood." And it's a play about a fellow who comes back to the old neighborhood for some semi-specified reason. And he's -- his -- the first scene is he meets in this hotel room with his best friend.

And the fellow who went away, the hero, Bobby Gould, played by Peter Riegert, has obviously become very successful at something. We aren't quite sure what. And he meets with his best friend, played by Vincent Gustafaro (ph) who stayed in the old neighborhood and went into his dad's delicatessen.

And they talk about being Jewish and what it means to have left and what it means to have stayed. And the play's called -- subtitle of that play is "The Disappearance of the Jews." And that's the beginning of this hero Bobby Gould's weekend back in the old neighborhood.

And then he goes on and he spends the weekend with his sister, played by Patty Lupone and her husband, played by Jack Willis. And they go back through the "attic", as it were, of their childhood, which was apparently not a very -- not a very diverting time.

And it comes out that Bobby is in the midst of some life crisis -- of some life crisis, and comes back to the old neighborhood as we, you and I and everybody else, goes back to the attic and finds themselves taking out that old box full of scraps when we're in the midst of a change in our life.

And, at the end of this play, he's driven to go back and find what he didn't have before, which is to meet with a woman whom he didn't marry, whom he loved but didn't marry, and to finish out his weekend in the old neighborhood by trying to put some closure -- to try to put some direction on his life.

He goes back to her for an answer, and she gives him one. And, that's the play.

GROSS: Do you have sensations like this when you go back to your old neighborhood in Chicago?

MAMET: Sure.

GROSS: How often do you go? Do you still have any family there that would draw you back?

MAMET: Oh, yeah. My stepmother's there. And I was just back there a couple of months ago. And I was walking by the lake and the smell of Lake Michigan hit me. And I was overcome by -- I thought I knew what nostalgia meant, but I didn't. I was overcome by this almost debilitating -- and I hope I'm using Mr. Sartre's term correctly, nausea. And I was talking to a friend of mine who is also from Chicago, and describing the situation to him and he said, "Yeah," he said. "That happened to me, too."

I said, it's like, I thought that nostalgia was rather a longing for the past; a kind of bittersweet wetzschmerz-y, a gooshy feeling. But I find that that's not true at all. That it does mean the pain of the past.

GROSS: When you say the pain of the past, is it because the past was painful or because it's painful that you've lost the past?

MAMET: I think more of the second because, I mean, I -- the -- all the memories I had walking around that neighborhood and all that side, were happy and provocative. But the overwhelming effect, the important effect, was one of loss.

GROSS: When -- what do you do when you're overcome like that? I mean, do you just try to, like, stay in that moment or shake it?

MAMET: I don't know. I think I came back East and I think I thought about it for a while and talked to several people about it. And -- just, it wouldn't go away. There was no thought of overcoming it.

GROSS: Yeah. Do you have friends like Bobby Gould in the play, who stayed in the old neighborhood and have shown you a kind of, like, alternate existence what life would have been like...

MAMET: Sure.

GROSS: ... if you had stayed?

MAMET: Sure.

GROSS: Anything you wish you had, about that?

MAMET: Oh, of course. Of course. Absolutely.

GROSS: What?

MAMET: Well, Lake Michigan and the old -- the old pubs and the old people, and the old life. Of course, the old life wouldn't have been the old life because I would have grown to this age in that environment.

But I think that's what nostalgia is, is I can never be a fireman, you know, as the ancient Greeks used to say.

GROSS: Do you have that kind of box of old stuff that you keep?

MAMET: Sure.

GROSS: How do you decide what to keep and throw away? I mean, I moved recently, and it was really a crisis. I had a friend who was moving, too, and I love the way she put it. She said, "You have to interrogate every object in your life and ask it: Do you matter to me? Do you matter enough to keep you? If I'm not keeping you, do I want to sell you? Do I want to give you away?

And, if -- it's this kind of crisis of the emotional attachment to every object you own when you're moving and you're trying to just kind of, like, throw out excess baggage, but keep the things that really matter.

And then you wonder why, why is it so important to keep certain, like, objects and then you realize that it's because they evoke these feelings. But the feelings they evoke aren't always good, so you wonder.


MAMET: Indeed. Well, we aren't rational creatures, you know. We're creatures whose life takes -- and perhaps I can use this as a segue to tie together several of the things which I've been working on which you've kind enough to refer to today -- that perhaps our lives take a place on a level much, much deeper and more interesting than the rational. And that that's what art's about.

GROSS: Yeah. Well, that kind of sums it up, I guess.

MAMET: I guess that put you to sleep, huh?


GROSS: No. On the contrary.

MAMET: Starbuck's time. Right?

GROSS: No. No. I guess I'm wondering how often do you go to those, like, memory boxes? And...

MAMET: I go through them about eight hours a day.

GROSS: Oh, you mean to write?

MAMET: That's with me forever.

GROSS: That's right.

MAMET: Right.

GROSS: Yeah. Right. Say, have you saved old writing, like, really old writing? High school?

MAMET: I save everything.

GROSS: You have?

MAMET: Yeah. Sure.

GROSS: And -- And when you look at it, when you look at that stuff, from, say, high school or college, are you proud of it?

MAMET: Oh, God. I'd never look at it again.

GROSS: Oh, you're saying that you wouldn't look at it?


MAMET: Yeah. I mean, you know, one has to draw the line somewhere.

GROSS: Were you saving it for the David Mamet archives, or...

MAMET: No. No. Hell, no. I'm just saving it because, why would one want to throw it out? But, on the other hand, why would one want to look at it?

GROSS: One would throw it out to prevent oneself from having to endure looking at it and reading it.

MAMET: Oh, yeah. I have no doubt that if I looked through that stuff, I would probably even find a poem or a rhymed rain and windowpane. And if I -- I say probably, but if I found that actually to be the case, how could I go on?


GROSS: Right.

That's David Mamet. And his new book about acting is called, "True and False". His new novel is called "The Old Religion". His play, "The Old Neighborhood" begins previews on Broadway November 11th.

Coming up, the return to print of the "Valley of the Dolls". This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: David Mamet
High: Playwright and Screenwriter David Mamet. His latest film is "The Edge," and he's recently published two books: "The Old Religion," is a novel about a Southern Jewish man falsely accused of murder. "True and False: Heresy and Common sense for the Actor" is a guide to acting that negates the common and popular dramatic techniques. Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for "Glengarry Glen Ross."
Spec: Movie Industry; Theater; David Mamet; The Edge; Glengarry Glen Ross

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Mamet
Date: OCTOBER 29, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 102903NP.217
Head: Valley of the Dolls
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:58

TERRY GROSS, HOST: You may not be aware of it, but we are currently in the throes of a Jacqueline Susann revival. At The New School last week, there was a conference on Susann's work. Next month, the L.A. County Museum of Art plans a tribute to the film adaptation of "Valley of the Dolls".

Two movies based on Susann's life are in the works, and Susann's biography and some of her novels are being reprinted. Chief among them, her masterpiece, "Valley of the Dolls".

Book critic Maureen Corrigan advises us all to run for our lives.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Forget Frankenstein or Freddy Krueger. If you want a real fright this Halloween, read "Valley of the Dolls,"

Jacqueline Susann's 1966 trash classic, to quote its publisher, "has been tragically out of print for over 15 years." The novel has just been reprinted by Grove Press. And it turns out to be a still-potent witch's brew of female masochism, cat fights, misogyny, and mother-bashing.

I, thank God, missed out on reading "Valley of the Dolls" during my formative years. "The Godfather" was my childhood sneak-sex book. Given the choice, I'd still rather grow up with the distorted image of male anatomy I got from Mario Puzo's descriptions of Sonny Corleone than the distorted idea about a woman's reason for being that Susann preaches throughout "Valley of the Dolls".

"Remember," an older woman advises a younger one, "the most important thing in the world is to have a man who loves you. Dress up for him."

Lines like that give me the creeps. But they've also made "Valley of the Dolls," the book, as well as the 1967 Patty Duke movie, a gay camp favorite for decades.

If you've forgotten, or never read, "Valley of the Dolls," the tale goes like this: three ambitious girls -- and they do refer to themselves as "girls" -- arrive in New York City at the end of World War II. Ann, the beautiful, reserved New Englander starts a career as a secretary and winds up a supermodel. But her success means nothing because she's caught in a doomed love affair with a British stud who goes by the testosterone-loaded of Lyon Burke.

Jennifer, the Marilyn Monroe look-alike, becomes an international sex kitten, and eventually commits suicide rather than face a mastectomy and lose her babies, which is what she affectionately nicknames her stupendous breasts. And Neely, the Judy Garland character, ends up a Hollywood star who eats men and amphetamines for breakfast.

In fact, all three girls become addicted to pills, which they call "dolls"; hence, the title of the novel.

As a literary stylist, Susann ranks somewhere below Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew Mysteries. Like Keene, Susann is very big on telegraphing events. Early in the novel, we're told, "Ann envied Neely, so vibrant and uncomplicated. Nothing bad could ever happen to someone like Neely." Ominous music, please.

But who am I to sneer at Susann? I got up at 6:00 in the morning to finish the last 40 pages of this novel because I couldn't bear to go through a day of teaching not knowing if Ann finally got her man.

Apart from the novel's undeniable plot power and its sleaze appeal, what I found compelling and terrifying about "Valley of the Dolls" was its sociological revelations. Pop literature often contains the prevailing myths of a society in a less-disguised manner than works of high art do.

That's why Susann's novel is a virtual King Tut's tomb of fully preserved 1950s and early '60s assumptions about women. Chief among them is the belief that a woman's worth is defined by her looks. For the "girls" in "Valley of the Dolls," aging is the ultimate horror.

"How long could she go on like this?" Neely asks herself halfway through the novel. She was almost 27, and soon it would begin to show. A few chapters later, Jennifer looks in a mirror and is aghast to discover a wattle, that indefinable slackness in the skin that tells the difference between the 20s and the 30s. Dracula's dread of the dawn was nothing compared to Susann's characters' fear of sagging.

"Valley of the Dolls" still retains its power to shock. But unlike those first readers, who were titillated by all the raunchy passages about oral sex, overdoses, and lesbianism, lots of readers these days will find themselves gasping at the mundane sexism that turns just about every page into a deliciously naughty nightmare.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed the new edition of "Valley of the Dolls."

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the re-release of Jacqueline Susan's "Valley of the Dolls."
Spec: Books; Literature; Authors; Lifestyle; Culture

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Valley of the Dolls
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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