Sunday, October 05, 2008

ON ACTING: Playing Oneself

There are some actors, especially film actors, who are criticized for 'only being themselves' in every role: “Oh, Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Robert Redford…all they play are themselves. They are not as good as Alec Guinness, Humphrey Bogart, Johnny Depp or Meryl Streep, or many stage actors who play widely different sides of themselves, or characters."

One should not denigrate the careers of Cruise, Grant, Gable and Redford for having a lesser horizontal range of role-playing. With their perhaps limited personality performance horizontal range, each of them exhibits great vertical depth of human characteristics. Should the Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax be criticized because he played only baseball, and was relatively inept in football or basketball? Does it undermine his greatness because he was a lousy batter, that he only pitched, and only pitched left-handed? I saw him pitch. He thrilled me more than any other pitcher I ever saw…with only two pitches: a curve ball and a fast ball. Talk to me about baseball, and I think of Sandy Koufax.

While it is true a Alec Guinness, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, or Humphrey Bogart and others are brilliant with their wide range of behavioral possibilities, they only come along come along once in a generation or two. In the meantime, Cary Grant, Robert Redford and Tom Cruise—and the rest of us who enjoy their performances—will have to be content with their horizontally limited, but brilliantly deep and satisfyingly--and successful--acting capabilities.


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