David Mamet on Acting


When they were shooting Casablanca . . . someone comes to [Humphrey Bogart] and says, “they want to play the ‘Marseillaise,’ what should we do? — the Nazis are here and we shouldn’t be playing the ‘Marseillaise.'” Humphrey Bogart just nods to the band, we cut to the band, and they start playing “bah-bah-bah-bah.”

Someone asked what he did to make that beautiful scene work. He says, “they called me in one day, Michael Curtiz, the director, said, ‘stand on that balcony over there, and when I say “action” take a beat and nod,'” which he did. That’s great acting. Why? What more could he possibly have done? He was required to nod, he nodded. There you have it. The audience is terribly moved by his simple restraint in an emotional situation — and this is the essence of good theater: good theater is people doing extraordinarily moving tasks as simply as possible. Contemporary playwriting, filmmaking, and acting tend to offer us the reverse — people performing mundane and predictable actions in an overblown way. The good actor performs his tasks as simple and as unemotionally as possible.

— David Mamet, On Directing Film

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