by: Thomas Lindsay
Come award season, somehow through all the hype, there are always moments when the cream rises to the top. I was particularly affected by Tom Hanks acceptance speech of his Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hanks told the story of his first professional job as an actor. He was a part of a Shakespeare company in Michigan. After a night of too much partying the director yelled at all the actors saying something like...
“You actors. You have four things that you must do to respect your craft. Always be on time, know your lines, and bring a thousand ideas to rehearsal. I may not use all your ideas. But if you do not bring them, I cannot do my job.”
This resonated with me for several reasons. First, I was schooled in that philosophy by my acting teacher Ted Liss. Secondly, it spelled out not only the necessary responsibilities of an actor, but also what is to be demanded of actors by a director. This is not a theory. It is time tested truth.
Sound familiar? The last point of the director - and probably the most important- was this,
“When it comes time, you must hit your mark.”
I don’t think the director was simply referring to marks on a stage. I understood this last comment to mean you must come through. Or, as Shakespeare would put it, “must show a mirror to nature”.
Tom Hanks seems to me one of the humblest of men. So, when he was addressing actors in the audience, telling them you do not need someone with headphones to come to your trailer and tell you it is time to go. You should be there already! I didn’t perceive for a second he was passing judgement. Rather, maybe he felt there was something grossly lacking in Hollywood - and it meant enough to him to say something.
There was a hush in the audience following that statement. As the camera panned you could see great actors and directors, like DeNiro and Scorsese, shaking their heads in approval. Almost in relief. It was time for that statement, and I believe looking at the body of Hank’s work, he was the perfect person to deliver it.
I hope all actors watching the awards heard that as I did. I know that will not always be the case. There will always be those talented among us like Tarantino who are more at home praising themselves, sure. But I do hope that becomes a shrinking club.
Hank’s comments inspired me and as I fell asleep last night. I kept thinking of Ted Liss saying things like, “Cream rises to the top… There’s tons of room at the bottom… The ego comes from the work… Failure is not an option… And the ego comes from the work!”
Look at someone like Joaquin Phoenix, who is on level of his own. An actor so dedicated he lost 53 pounds for his part but has trouble fitting in with the Hollywood community? His ego comes from his work. And he sure hit his mark.
Thomas Lindsay is Artistic Director of The Kirkwood Players. He has over 30 years experience as a professional actor and director. He is a member of SAG AFTRA and completed his professional training at the Ted Liss Studio in Chicago, IL.