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Jon Voight on His First Acting Experience in Sketch Comedy

It’s hard to imagine a better match of actor and role than Jon Voight as Ray Donovan’s manipulative ex-con father in Showtime’s family drama. But the Emmy nominee (and Oscar winner) admits that his first acting experience was a bit of a tougher fit: doing sketch comedy (“O, Oysters”) in a Village jazz club in the ’60s — though it did earn him his first Variety mention.

Do you remember that review in Variety?

Yes, I do! They didn’t completely destroy us. They said Jon Voight is pleasant. At least they didn’t say I was completely out of place. I looked like I was 14 years old working with those very talented performers.

Tell me about the show.

It was really a jazz club. Art D’Lugoff wanted to have a show for his girlfriend. At that time I was cleaning out my father (financially) and just trying to get a job to get a foot down. I happened to go up to this audition, and they chose me. I’ll always be grateful for it.

What was your role?

We had some songs and we did some sketches. I remember one where I played a button-down business guy, and someone else played a homeless guy. He comes up to me and says, “Can I have a quarter for a cup of coffee?” I grab him by the tabs of his shirt and I say, “Coffee? Look what it’s doing to you!” Can you imagine remembering a joke all these years?

Did you always know you wanted to act?

In college, I used to carry around a book of Kenneth Tynan’s reviews, and I earmarked the pages having to do with Laurence Olivier’s performances of all of the great heroic roles of Shakespeare. I was like, “Why am I carrying this book around?” and then I realized, this is what I want to do, even though I’d given nobody any evidence that I had the capacity to do it.

Who was your acting mentor?

I eventually found Sanford Meisner, who made all the difference to me. He would say, “You won’t begin to understand acting until you’ve worked for 20 years.” You do all of your work, and then on the set, you throw it all away. It sounds crazy, but there’s a lot of truth to that.

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