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Happy Birthday, George Clooney!

So, George Clooney is 52 today (we can’t believe it either). Enjoy an excerpt from George Clooney, by Kimberly Potts.

George Clooney had often told reporters he wouldn’t attend the Oscars until he was nominated for one. He didn’t expect, though, that one trip to the Academy Awards was all he’d need to take home one of the little golden guys.

After nearly twenty-five years in Hollywood, more than a dozen failed TV shows, a breakout role in a hit TV series that gave him his firstbig success at age thirty-three, and another decade of critical film hits (Out of Sight) and box-office misses (Batman & Robin), 2006 was the year that his industry cohorts decided Clooney was a genuine triple threat: he had become the first person in the history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for three different Oscars in two different movies. All of a sudden, in 2006 Hollywood had decided that Clooney was one of the best actors, one of the best writers and one of the best directors in the industry.

And all the big-screen triumphs he was at last enjoying had come not because he had motored along the usual path to success in Hollywood. Instead, Clooney had done things his way, shrewdly switching back and forth between projects with big box-office potential and smaller, more independent movies he felt passionately about, working with actors and filmmakers who shared his goals of turning out good work they could be proud of listing on their résumés and, in a reflection of his personal ethics, making it a priority in his professional life to treat people, at every stage and level of the filmmaking process, fairly.

Clooney had become a genuine movie star, one of the biggest in the world, one of the most beloved and most respected—and, judging from the crop of those coming up behind him, one of the last real movie stars in Hollywood. As unlikely as it might have seemed earlier in his career, when he felt lucky to land parts in movies like Return to Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes! and to be playing sixth banana to Mrs. Garrett and the girls on The Facts of Life, Clooney had deftly managed to sustain and expand upon a career in an industry that is notoriously fickle. He’d become a better actor, one capable not only of genuinely terrific performances in movies such as Steven Soderbergh’s slick heist crime dramedy/romance Out of Sight and Joel and Ethan Coen’s comic adventure O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but also of aligning himself with filmmakers who could draw out his best acting efforts and who had likeminded commitments to making movies that mattered, that provoked, that entertained . . . that, above all, did more than just line a leading man’s pockets with an eight-figure payday.

He’s famous for twice being People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, for his penchant for practical jokes and his vow never to remarry, as well as for his Oscar-winning and Emmy-nominated acting career. But George Clooney’s reputation as a celebrity belies his essential seriousness, as a businessman, a humanitarian, and, of course, in his ascendancy to the Hollywood A-list.

George Clooney: The Last Great Movie Star 

In this updated biography of one of Hollywood’s most colorful leading men, pop culture expert Kimberly Potts traces Clooney’s life from small-town boy to big-screen idol. Clooney slowly and deliberately built a résumé that took him from TV stardom on ER to a winning film career as a serious actor, writer, producer and director. Along the way Potts fills us in on Clooney’s early attempts to break into film (including his Batman flop), his many well-publicized romances, his political and humanitarian efforts, plus a major fight with director David O. Russell on the set of Three Kings.

Potts also recounts how Clooney has gained success and acclaim with his shrewd strategy of alternating blockbuster movie roles, such as the Ocean’s franchise, with less lucrative “passion” projects – such as Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck – that reflect his personal ethics. He won an Academy Award for the former and rave reviews for the latter, and has continued to earn accolades and Oscar nominations for smart dramas such as Michael Clayton and Up in the Air.

Including fresh interviews, essential Clooney photographs, a filmography, a timeline, and a list of his favorite 100 films, this is the book no Clooney fan will want to be without.

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Kevin Kline on Acting

For Kevin Kline’s birthday, we are posting an excerpt from Mary Z. Maher’s Actors Talk About Shakespeare (Limelight Editions). Maher interviewed the actor about his craft and about Shakespeare. For the full discussion with Kline, the book is available wherever books are sold, as well as in e-book format.

His function as an actor is not to fulfill expectations but to serve the play. The study of acting is a lifelong process. He loves to explore the craft, to talk about acting and all its allied skills: “I like variety,” is how he explains it. “You always try not to repeat yourself, but at the same time you can’t not do something just because you’ve done it before. Otherwise, you’ll end up not walking or talking.”

The key to Kline’s acting philosophy is the idea of the actor taking authorship: the actor creates his own role and the gestures and voices that flesh it out. In stage practice, the director is often a Svengali-like creature who has an “idea” of the character in his head; actors can be treated as meat on a meat hook that must do as the director says. Kline resists this notion and insists that the actor has a brain and uses his own resources in creating a character:

The author of the play is Shakespeare, but the actor has to own the character he is playing. Olivier aptly said you marry yourself to the character.

I can always tell when comic business has been imposed on actors as opposed to having been found in rehearsal. There’s an aura, this kind of visible odor if they’re not in tune with themselves when they are performing somebody else’s idea. Now, if the idea resonates, then it’s yours, you are now the author. If it doesn’t, it will always look or feel alien. 

You can steal from other actors? Of course. We’ve been stealing from the generations that have preceded us, especially when you play a classic part. You’ve confiscated it, appropriated it. If a line reading or piece of business is merely borrowed, that’s no good. You must make it yours. Occasionally you watch an actor and you think, there’s something wrong here. He’s imitating. He’s not playing from his own engine—something has been grafted onto this “machine” as Hamlet calls it.

I always get shivers when an actor comes in to audition and says, “Oh, I really want to play Macbeth. I have an idea about how to play him.”

Why bother? What’s the adventure? Where’s the discovery?

Kline emphasizes that ownership is a concept that has boundaries and can be mastered over time, as an acting career matures:

I think the best directors give an actor a note [a suggestion] with the implied proviso, “If this resonates for you.” If it doesn’t, then you must discard it. Otherwise, it will look like glop suddenly, which will take the actor and then the audience out of the flow.

Every actor has a different threshold. You say to yourself, am I really happy doing this work or am I just making a director happy? That takes a lifetime to find out.

I’ll give an idea a try. If it doesn’t work after a while, then I’m going to campaign for “Please, can we find another way—I’m giving up too much here and I’m losing something vital.” It’s a very interesting juncture in any area of work. To know when you’ve compromised yourself is a useful kind of self-knowledge.

Occasionally directors do take on the role of a marriage counselor. I usually prefer to work out our differences on our own, keeping it private and personal.

From ownership evolves responsibility. If an actor has been responsible for the generation of his character, then he will enter the rehearsal process with a positive, collaborative energy. There will be an “instinctive commitment where the acting will come alive in a much richer way.” Kline is not interested in the actor who comes into rehearsal and thinks, “I’ll simply do what the director tells me, collect my paycheck, and be on my way once the show is over.” A quality production depends on group effort, the process of discovery freely entered into: “I want to work with actors who have a personal connection to the production and to the role and to the theater—someone with a deeper purpose.”

 

Actors Talk About Shakespeare features personal interviews with a stellar collection of prominent American, Canadian, and British performers of Shakespeare onstage, including Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Stacy Keach, Zoe Caldwell, Martha Henry, William Hutt, Tony Church, Nicholas Pennell, and Geoff Hutchings. In conversations equivalent to a magician telling his secrets, Mary Z. Maher uncovers the actors’ process. The book speaks to theater patrons, to actors both novice and experienced, and to educators who teach Shakespeare. Each chapter profiles a career in context, using the actor’s words along with supporting research material. The result is a treasury of talents, tactics, and tales from veteran performers who return often to Shakespeare from careers in film and television.