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Do you have a sense when you’re working with other performers—do you feel that most of the performers you’ve worked sort of give in to the script. Do you feel like you’re in the minority or the majority?
I think it depends. I think a lot of my favorite actors are ones who are in love with acting, and maybe I’m just self-loathing. But I think a lot of my favorite actors, I think they’re the ones who can take mediocre material and elevate it. Because they’re so in love with acting that they can do that. I don’t know. I’m not quite sure I think that there’s a good number of actors that I love who know struggle with it too. Gene Hackman is one of my favorites, he has nothing good to say about acting, pretty much.
That’s his persona, too.
That’s the thing, yeah, I’m such a sucker, too, I believe personas, I believe interviews, sometimes I’ll read things, like, “That’s the truth” and my agent’s always like, “Greta, you of all people should know this is not always true.” I can’t like separate it, if I read a profile of someone… I actually think some of the best, for me, whenever I feel like uninspired, especially as an actor, I love listening to Terry Gross’s interviews with actors, she always asks great questions and she gets them talking about something they love, and listening to really smart, interesting actors talk about why they love acting makes you want to do it. I just heard Viola Davis talk about it and I was like, “Oh my god,” I was crying, she’s talking about her grandmother and what it means to be an actor and it’s really I think that’s always a good thing. I don’t know, I think listening to other actors talk about acting is the best way to learn about it.
One thing I remember vividly from Hannah Takes the Stairs was the sense that the struggle for the character that you played was about expressing herself, verbally and whatever else that implies, and the film that I thought of at the time was actually Kicking and Screaming, because it was a completely opposite tack, people talking around and around and around the same problems. And I was wondering, as you’ve started to work with directors who are known as writers of great dialogue, about the difference between performing inarticulacy and performing articulacy.
Well, I love scripts, I love lines, I love working with good ones… With Whit, the character of Violet is the most articulate character I’ve ever played. I don’t have the sense of Hannah, or other films that I made—we got a lot of shit for the way we used language, or for people struggling with what they were going to say, but I don’t know that struggling to find the right word is necessarily a sign of inarticulacy. It’s odd because I think sometimes it shows someone who cares a lot about language, because they’re struggling and can’t find the words.
Mike Nichols said something about—I actually, as a person who both acts in things and writes things, I’m not that interested in improvisation. I don’t like it that much. I don’t think it’s that useful. Most often it yields something that might be interesting, but feels like a rehearsal. And then you need somebody like Mike to go away and shape it and make it amazing and come back and execute. Mike Nichols said something, he came from an improvisational background, that there’s this quality to improv where someone says something, they’re not really thinking about their motivation or anything else, they’re just so proud to have thought of something to say. And there’s this kind of, “I just thought of this and now I’m gonna say it,” and he said that ideally all lines should feel that way too. And the biggest thing for me, with really great dialogue, is finding the words spontaneously appear for you, in your body, and they come out in the same—I think that’s what’s exciting. I think that’s what the whole struggle with acting is. In Greenberg, I had very precise things to say, but they weren’t very erudite… Often, she struggled to find the right thing to say. So sort of artificially creating that struggle…