Friday, June 21, 2013
James Cagney on Rule 1 of Acting
Arthur Johnson, the stepfather of my good friend Albert Hackett, was D. W. Griffith's leading man in the old Biography days, and a first-rate actor he was... He gave his stepson some acting advice, which in turn was passed along to me, advice that I treasure. Johnson's advice on how to play the scene was affirmative:You walk in, and plant yourself squarely on both feet, and then say what you have to say.I remembered that.
When we were making One, Two, Three, I told Pamela Tiffin that because we had an awful lot of things to say to each other in our first scene, it would help if we got our heads together and talked it over. She agreed, and as we worked on the scene I noticed she couldn't look me in the eye. Self-conscious, ill at ease. I wanted to help a bit.
Want to listen to a minute of old-man talk?What is it?Rule 1.What's that?You walk in, plant yourself, look the other fella in the eye, and tell the truth.She asked me to repeat it, and I did. I told her the source of that advice, and I explained my little addition to Johnson's sound instruction:I also tell you, 'look the other fella in the eye and tell the truth' because you weren't looking at me.So may I say, bless her, she did just that, never wavering for a moment.
In a later scene, however, her eyes did begin to wander again. But this is quite common among inexperienced players. They glance from your left eye to your right eye almost in Ping-Pong fashion.
One more thing,I told her.Look in the downstage eye.Which one is that?The one nearest the camera.Which is what she did thereafter.
(from Cagney by Cagney).
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