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On Acting.... Olivier's Words

 Most people put acting behind them when they reach puberty, and very often long before. But some of us leap the barrier of self-consciousness and spend the rest of our lives acting out the dreams of others.

Oliver as Lear

The actor should be able to create the universe in the palm of his hand.

Burbage, Garrick, Kean, Irving: four names that handed on the Shakespearean mantle to our generation. That's why today, performing Shakespeare, we can feel close to him; that his ink is still wet on the paper.

Burbage did not know Garrick, Garrick did not know Kean and Kean did not know Irving, but it is the little cogs between that make it all work, make it fascinating. Burbage created Hamlet and then, some time after, rehearsed a young actor, Joseph Taylor, in the part. Taylor played for the Kings Company at the Globe and Blackfriars theaters. Being the second Hamlet and taught by the first, he must have automatically retained some of Burbage's original performance. Thomas Betterton played Hamlet and had studied with Sir William D'Avenant, who had seen Taylor. Garrick studied and learned from some of the older members of Betterton's company, and Kean from the survivors of Garrick's company, and then on to Irving. It all sounds very romantic, but looked at in this way it doesn't make William seem so very far away....

Re Henry V (the film)-- I appealed to a new public, to those who had thought that Shakespeare was not for the likes of them. When actor and audience communicate well, the sense of freedom is unbelievable. It is like flying together.

I enjoyed being the director; I enjoyed being the leading actor. The responsibility is a major challenge, and one's grown up to like challenges. But I didn't enjoy the act of acting a great part on film. I don't think any actor does. I'm always haunted by anxiety, an underlying constant dread.

Re Hamlet: The core of Hamlet is his loneliness and desolation after the death of his father, and his feeling of alienation from the new court. In my mind's eye I saw the camera seeing most things through Hamlet's eyes, wandering, or running, through the empty corridors, piercing the vast shadows of Elsinore's great rooms of state for some joy or the sight of some familiar object; but in vain: as lonely as a cloud, with no color or no silver lining.

Re Richard III: I made a mistake casting Ralph (Richardson) as Buckingham, but he wanted to play him. He wasn't oily enough. There was always a twinkle in his eye. I should have got Orson Welles. Not only was he oily - he had perhaps the oily aura of medium-dry sherry - but he was such a marvelous film man, as was seen in his bravura performance in Citizen Kane and its demonic, rule-breaking editing.

Eugene O'Neill is the father figure of modern American drama: his shadow touches all the modern American playwrights from Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller to Sam Shepard and David Mamet, as well as many British playwrights. O'Neill was a colossus of twentieth century drama: he dared and succeeded.

More to come.....

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