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What they really want to do is act

'Inside Actors Studio' a forum to discuss craft

There are as many takes on the craft and profession of acting as there are actors, a circumstance that’s only one of the unique facets of the annually expanding archive known as Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio.”

“It’s a good way to train yourself how to live,” claimed Willem Dafoe on the show.

Holly Hunter declared: “I want to spiritually enhance my life by acting. … I hold that precious.”

“It has to be molecular,” Glenn Close responds. “How else can you have a silent broken heart on stage and, 30 feet away, someone weeps?”

“It’s thinking out loud,” Christopher Walken said. Meg Ryan averred: “It’s not about you, it’s about the other actor. … You’re an instrument for storytelling.”

Intimate glimpse

Since it first aired in 1994, “Inside the Actors Studio” has turned the camera around and captured another kind of magic by taking viewers into the world of creating emotions and ideas, on the stage and for the camera, through the first-person experiences of the lifetime members of arguably the most prestigious thespian institution in the world.

What started out as the idea for a bimonthly seminar for Actors Studio students to hear veteran members’ ideas on craft as well as their war stories from the soundstages has become one of the most outstanding talkshows in a TV landscape littered with gabfests.

The show, which won a CableAce Award for best talkshow in November, soon will be available to the public on video, according to Bravo and the Studio.

“When we created the curriculum, we used all the resources of the studio except one — those people who could only give us one day of their lives,” remembers James Lipton, “Inside” host and vice president of the Studio. “So, we created this forum whereby every other Monday, a great artist and Actors Studio member would come in and talk so the students could see what was happening at the other end of the road.

Enthusiastic response

“The response was so extraordinary — Al Pacino, Lee Grant, Ellen Burstyn — I said to my attorney, ‘We can’t let all this evaporate into thin air. Let’s archive it — find out if there’s any interest.’ The network that stepped up immediately was Bravo. Then the show took on a life of its own.”

Just as the studio forged its curricular relationship with the New School for Social Research, it also forged a fruitful alliance with Bravo. In four years, 35 guests — 15 Academy Award winners among them, from Paul Newman to Anjelica Huston to Jessica Lange — have appeared on the show.

“The guests get to talk in a very detailed way about their craft and careers without time constraints,” says Bravo president Kathleen Dore. “They know that we are interested in them as artists and the show is not a plug about their newest film. They talk about passion to the next generation.”

Validating the craft

Actors Studio president Arthur Penn calls the show “enormously informative” and says that it “validates the actor’s craft and art for the layperson who has no idea of the time, training, money and effort have gone into the work and how seriously world-class actors see their profession.”

Several who had been labeled “tough interviews” — Jones, Julia Roberts and Harvey Keitel, for instance — were more than forthcoming. Roberts, Mike Nichols and Faye Dunaway actually asked to be on the show, Lipton says.

In a word

At the end of each “Inside” show, Lipton asks the guest a series of questions borrowed from French talkshow host Bernard Pivot — among them the person’s favorite word, least favorite word, favorite curse word and alternative professions they considered: Alec Baldwin, “forgiveness”; Martin Landau and Shelley Winters, “love”; Faye Dunaway and Meg Ryan, “authentic”; Norman Jewison, “faith”; Holly Hunter, “portentous”; Billy Crystal, “charming”; Nathan Lane, “friendship”; Steven Sondheim, “pioneer”; Matthew Broderick, “life”; Sally Field, “excellence,” and Paul Newman, “try.”

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