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Jason Robards on O'Neill: Part 2 (5:43) - Transcript

Jason Robards: It's amazing, it has drawn universally everyone into the family unit somehow or family that they didn't have or did have or reminded them of things that have happened in their family because it's a terribly, a deep family play and love and hate and how we handle these things or if we handle them.

You know, James Tyrone's speech too about the fact he looked back on his life and he sold out. And he looks back and he says, "When I think about all of the things that happened and I lost the great talent I once had and the great artist I might of been." And all the people in the play are 'might have beens'. Jamie says, "Look in my face, my name is Śmight of been.' I am also called 'no more, too late, farewell.'" And the only one that survived it was Edmund. Who was in a strange way, beaten upon by all three of them. But this young guy got out, which is O'Neill really in the play.

I worked everyday of my life on Iceman. You see you can never learn enough in these plays. You could do them for forever and you still find things. It's always something -- something new unfolds. Jose said, "Yes, you know, when we have pickup rehearsal," he said, "it's like a Spanish dancer." You first see the spin and you see a color, a petticoat maybe, just a little thing. And then it gets more involved and all of a sudden another color shows up and you see all the colors of the rainbow finally when there in the dance, when they're really there.

You say, "I don't think I can do this tonight, there's just too much in this." I remember I said to Colleen during -- we did eight performances a week of Moon For The Misbegotten and it's a three hour and forty five minute play and we didn't cut -­ we didn't do any of that stuff. And we played it out, the whole bloody thing and it was a fabulous, fabulous play. And I thought it was a Freudian soap when I read it. And then I suddenly realized the guy is a genius. Once you get in, you say "What did I ever think that for?" And you get to a point doing a 3 hour and 45 minute play where you say we're doing eight a week and you say between a matinee, "Jeez, I don't know if I can make it, and I mean, I can do it, but I may cut down a bit." I'd say to Colleen, "I may have to, I'll give you everything I got but I don't know if I can get the full emotional value come late in the play, in the latter half of the play" and she'd say, "You know, I feel that way at times, too." But sure enough, I got halfway into that, I was just going along and all of a sudden a hand came out and it came right in the middle of my back and just gave me a push, like this. Up and soar, everything was there. And it was O'Neill; it was his writing and his hand and it was him. And I know that he filled me with that. And it happened again on the evening performance, that I felt, "Well, I really gave..." and then I never worried about it again. See, I just knew it was going to be there, and it was.

You know your first time out in front of an audience is the hardest performance of all because you don't realize what you've rehearsed, where it will hit... That's when I'm nervous. I'm not nervous opening night. I'm nervous when, "Oh my God, is that what it means?" Or, "Oh, Boy did we go off there," you immediately know what the author meant, especially wonderful playwrights, especially a great artist like O'Neill. You know. He knew. I mean he knew what an audience was. God knows he must have spent enough time with Śem with his father out on the road and all that stuff, and having that ham bone around the house. He knew what was going on.

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. You know it's wonderful. It works beautifully.

That's the eternal triangle: the writer, the audience, and the actor, where they join. And here's the thing, when this hand comes up and pushes you, you go in there to a three hour and forty-five minute performance or five hours, like in The Iceman and if it's going right, it seems like about 2 minutes. You break time and space and time. Ralph Richardson said, "Every time we go on the stage at 8:30," when we used to be in the old days, "we break time, if we do it right, we break space and it's our time to dream. We dream, we have to be able to dream." What a line, he says. Is that unbelievable?