American Experience
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Actors on O'Neill (5:13) - Transcript

Robert Sean Leonard (performance: Edmund, Long Day's Journey Into Night):
I was on the Squarehead square rigger bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the Trades. The old hooker driving fourteen knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail, white in the moonlight, towering high above me....

Natasha Richardson: I just think finally it's the passion and the uncompromising intensity of his work. I mean you just get swept up in the sometimes frequently desperate people's lives and you go on the journey with them and you dig very, very deep into their hearts and souls ­- and he's not afraid, so as an actor playing it you can't be afraid.

Liam Neeson: You can't pull back from it. If you do pull back and start acting it, you fall flat on your face it comes a across as melodrama, and kinda cheap and stagey, but the more you go into it emotionally, the more O'Neill keeps you buoyant.

Natasha Richardson: Yeah, we'd find playing Anna Christie that there were some nights when we tried to sort of back pedal it, and you know... it would be like a 747 that never got off the ground. Torture, but when you go "Okay, let's hurl ourselves off that cliff," and suddenly, it's electric.

Jason Robards: O'Neill demands your best all the time ­- no, no less ­- and the best you have. And it doesn't matter if it's as good as somebody else or worse than somebody else, none of that matters. It only matters, that you give him your best. And then it works.

Liam Neeson (performance: Matt Burke, Anna Christie):
And me to listen to that talk from a woman like you and be frightened to close her mouth with a slap! O, God help me, I'm a yellow coward for all men to spit at! But I'll not be getting out of this Œtill I've had me word. And let you look out now how you'll drive me!

Al Pacino: Aside from everything else, they're great parts. They're parts that allow you to play the kinds of emotions you need to play as an actor. An actor's an emotional athlete... and it's not just naturalism with O'Neill. It encompasses a larger canvas. He asks you to go very far, I think. I've seen O'Neill performed beautifully and when it's performed beautifully that's what happens, you sense the size and the reach of O'Neill -­ the scope of him. I don't know any playwright that is close to that except for Shakespeare.

Zoe Caldwell: He's so exact in his writing. There's nothing accidental. I remember that I had to say, "Home dear... I just wanted a home dear...That's when we had a home dear." And I thought, "Oh, we don't need home dear, home dear, home dear." But I suddenly realized when we were playing it, of course you did because then it suddenly becomes like a knife across the brain. Home dear. "Home" is a lovely word. "Dear" is a lovely word. But if it's said forty-two times, it can become, "Don't say home, dear again, I beg you."

Christopher Plummer: I wasn't always passionate about O'Neill because I felt that he enjoyed being indulgent. There is a great indulgence in him and it seemed to me that the British understatement that I was used to is so simple and so extraordinarily economical and I always sort of veered towards that kind of writing as the real moving writing of all time but now that I've sort of looked at James Tyrone, and it is extraordinary to sort of pick the script up, and learn it, and follow his strange rhythms ­- which are strange to me ­- and yet they become terribly, terribly one's own after a while. They uncannily become your own.