Hurt So Good
One thing I wanted to do on the blog was pass along articles I come across on the interwebs. So, the following post will have a few on a favorite: William Hurt.
In a 1986 Esquire interview, they dub him the "Thinking man's leading actor." He was a nice alternative at the time to the Stallone and Schwarzenegger testosterone show. Don't get me wrong, I love s***t to blow up in movies too.
He referred to himself in the New York Times as "a character actor trapped in a leading man's body."
He's such an interesting actor. His choices and thought processes intrigued me in films like, Altered States, Kiss of a Spider Woman, Body Heat and the often overlooked, The Doctor.
Back in the day, I had a VHS compilation tape where I collected interesting acting moments I saw in movies I rented or taped off TV.
One moment that I had on the tape was of William Hurt in The Doctor. It was specifically one look he gives his son as he exits the room that fascinated me. It seemed so spontaneous, odd and enigmatic. I put together the scene for you and looped it the way I watched it, rewinding it over and over.
To set the scene up a little bit...
It's basically about an arrogant doctor who gets a taste of his own medicine when he develops throat cancer. It's important to know that right before this short scene, he received his first radiation treatment. A radiology technician tattooed a tiny dot on his neck to make sure they hit the same spot for subsequent treatments.
In the beginning of the scene, he comes home exhausted and as you'll notice he has conflicted feelings about being in the role of the vulnerable patient.
Recently, Hurt appeared on TV in the FX show Damages with Glenn Close. In a fantastic interview with the New York Times he talks about the difference between working in TV vs. Film. What he doesn't like about working in televistion is that the schedule doesn't allow for rehearsals. I like what he says:
"Every single second of extra time to work with other actors has definitely always paid off for the film. For the project. Every single extra heartbeat you could get, mutually considering the scene, was of benefit. Some people think that preparation-especially actors- there's a hoax that's been perpetrated that if you rehearse and consider your work, that lets spontaneity out. And that's just completely fallacious. It's wrong. It's wrong. You are better the more you consider. I think art is an act of consideration, and if you're not considering, I don't think you're really doing mankind a favor."
He also talks about two often left-out elements of acting, theme and metaphor.
"And I wish I was allowed to basically be the actor that I am, which is a repetory ensemble guy. That notion that you're developing the understandings of the work that you do, that you task yourself with a physical demand of moving into a metaphor, so that your character is a creation. To me, that's my skill, is I basically try to make my body as much a matter of Silly Putty as I can, and in some sense sculpt that to be perfectly appropriate to themes and the metaphores that are in the play at hand."
The actor atttaches himself to the theme by asking questions like: What is the whole piece about? What is the scene about? How does this scene fit into the entire thematic structure? The actor digs up the subtext and personalizes their motivations in the context of the theme and metaphor.
The actor's job is to be of service to the text. Not the other way around.
Now that I think about it, I have to look for that tape in storage. I can't remember all the scenes but I vaguely recall one with early Woody Allen. Yup. The Woody.