May 31, 2007
Mark Rydell—a Hollywood quintessential passionate professional
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Rydell recalls that on the first day after the first scene of "On Golden Pond," [Fonda and Hepburn] looked at me as soon as they finished." He realized that "these giants are still actors. They needed me for a mirror for the events that had occurred."
On occasion, Rydell has played roles in movies, most notably the role of Meyer Lansky in "Havana" and memorably the Jewish gangster in Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye."
More recently, Rydell made the HBO film, "Crime of the Century" (1996), about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and in 2001, "James Dean" for TNT, which launched the film career of James Franco, who won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the troubled actor.
When Rydell was first sent Israel Horovitz's "James Dean" script, he was struck by the fact that he had known almost all the characters in it. What he most wanted to convey in the film, he says, was Dean's desperate hunger for the approval of his father.
Rydell recalls that he had met Dean in the 1950s at the Actor's Studio, where they competed for roles in readings and for roles on Broadway.
"Sometimes he beat me out; sometimes I beat him out." Landau and Rydell were his friends "and he [Dean] didn't have a lot friends."
"He was incredible remarkable character -- very disturbed." Rydell recalls that Dean attached himself to all of his directors who were father figures -- evil ones, as well as good ones. According to Rydell, Dean hated George Stevens, who directed him in "Giant." He loved Kazan, who directed him in "East of Eden," but Kazan, by contrast, was impatient with Dean, and used Dean's feelings about his father to fuel the conflict in the movie.
Brando, Rydell says, suffered from the same conflict with his own father.
In truth, Rydell admits, he had his own difficulties with his father, whom he described as "a cold man" who "felt threatened" by him. Rydell left home at 17, joining the Army to escape his "prosaic" home. Without paging Dr. Freud, it's clear that Rydell's success at nurturing his fellow actors and leading them as a director stands in marked contrast to his experience with his own father and that through acting and the Actor's Studio he found a family.
I asked Rydell whether he felt acting had changed since the days of James Dean.
"Really good acting does not change," Rydell says. However, he says, "Craft and skills are not respected as it used to be."
In the '50s, "people studied, really studied. They worked. They went to all the teachers who were at the peak of their talent." In those days, people went to the movies to see a performance. Today, he said, "they go to see a personality."
Which is not to say that there are not talented actors. Rydell sees them in action most Fridays at the Actor's Class at the Actor's Studio. "I see great acting here of successful and unsuccessful actors." Together with Landau, Rydell feels the Actor's Studio continues to "recognize and encourage a deeper examination [in acting] than people are inclined to pursue."
Rydell says that it was his start as a musician that made him appreciate craft. "You can't pretend to be a musician, like you can pretend to be an actor -- if someone says 'you're a violinist, play something'; you can't fool anybody. There are a lot of actors without training -- actors who can read a script intelligently but cannot act. The difference between reading and acting is monumental."
As Rydell explains, "acting is creating behavior under imaginary circumstances; doing things -- really doing things -- under imaginary circumstances, and that requires a technique that you have to learn."
Rydell remains passionate about his profession. "I feel as enthusiastically as I did in my 20s," he says. He has maintained his integrity throughout his career. He has never taken on a project that "I wasn't desperate to make because of its humanity or other qualities."
The commitment to being an artist, Rydell says, is a "higher calling than being an actor or director." He has taken his role as artist and as director seriously and passionately. "What other profession," he asks, "allows you to sit people in the dark and tell them what you think is the truth for a couple of hours?"
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.
1 | 2