William Hurt Listens To Stanislavski: “Breathe The Ethic Into The Play”

I paid attention to a Fresh Air interview this morning when I heard William Hurt talk about an ethical approach to the craft of acting. He described the process he followed to prepare for a single scene in the film A History of Violence, which he resists calling a cameo, for which he received an Oscar nomination in 2005. In the interview he quoted Russian director Constantin Stanislavski on the core ethos of method acting.

WILLIAM HURT: To me, I mean, there’s a standard and the standard was something I arrived an understanding about after I had been looking for it for 15 years of study. The standard is six weeks of rehearsal, 42 days, to hatch a character the way, you know, nine months to hatch a kid. I dont know why its true. I dont know why we need nine months, but it is true for me and anything less results in a premature character. That means, of course, that I’m guilty of launching a lot of premature characters out there the way we live in a post-adolescent society. But I always have that image of what a proper rehearsal would be where we would go in everyday, eight hours a day, five days a week and prove that we were friendly to each other, not competing with each other. Where we would check our ego, guns, at that the door, go in, inspire each other, communicate with each other, research with each other and bring about the best possible life that can be breathed into that play.

Stanislavski said, when he was asked a question by a young actor, once, what is it that I do? I dont create anything. I dont write the words. I dont write the themes. I dont write the (unintelligible). Am I an artist? Do I create? He says, of course, you create. You breathe the ethic into the play. And he said, that’s essential. A lot of people dont understand the ethic of assemble at all. They offer awards for assemble when I can guarantee you that the only thing that those people had in common was that they maybe all met the director but they never worked together. They never sat in rooms, you know, before shooting, before judgment, before the, you know, the array of critiques and opinions and… They never got past auditioning for the next job. They never had the job, you know, what I’m saying?


WILLIAM HURT: They never felt secure. And I believe in being secure. And I believe in proving my trustworthiness to another actor – that I’m not just there to gun him down. I’m not there to beat him. I’m not there to win. When people turned the role in “A History of Violence” into the shortest Academy Award nomination in history, I was chagrined by that. That’s not what we did. It was a role. It’s a guy. All the roles could be that great. Everybody can be that great. Everybody can be that vivid. You know, if you do the work right, everybody’s vivid. Every life is vivid. That’s what we’re trying to say, right? [Transcript]

William Hurt’s scene from A History of Violence:

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