Abused as we abuse it at present, dramatic art is in no sense cathartic; it is merely a form of emotional masturbation. It is the rarest thing to find a player who has not had his character affected for the worse by the practice of his profession. Nobody can make a habit of self-exhibition, nobody can exploit his personality for the sake of exercising a kind of hypnotic power over others, and remain untouched by the process. We become actors without realizing it, and actors without wanting to.
The actors today really need the whip hand. They’re so lazy. They haven’t got the sense of pride in their profession that the less socially elevated musical comedy and music hall people or acrobats have. The theater has never been any good since the actors became gentlemen. Talk to them about things they don’t know. Try to give them an inferiority complex. If the actress is beautiful, screw her. If she isn’t, present her with a valuable painting she will not understand. If they insist on being boring, kick their asses or twist their noses. And that’s about all there is to it.
The actor searches vainly for the sound of a vanished tradition, and critic and audience follow suit. We have lost all sense of ritual and ceremony — whether it be connected with Christmas, birthdays or funerals — but the words remain with us and old impulses stir in the marrow. We feel we should have rituals, we should do something about getting them and we blame the artists for not finding them for us. So the artist sometimes attempts to find new rituals with only his imagination as his source: he imitates the outer form of ceremonies, pagan or baroque, unfortunately adding his own trapping — the result is rarely convincing. And after the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep the children good.
Actors ought to be larger than life. You come across quite enough ordinary, nondescript people in daily life and I don’t see why you should be subjected to them on the stage too. Actors are loved because they are unoriginal. Actors stick to their script. The unoriginal man is loved by the mediocrity because this kind of”artistic” expression is something to which the merest five-eighth can climb. You don’t merely give over your creativity to making a film — you give over your life!
In theatre, by contrast, you live these two rather strange lives simultaneously; you have no option but to confront the mould on last night’s washing-up. Acting is a question of absorbing other people’s personalities and adding some of your own experience. The hardest part has been maintaining a small head — remaining down to earth. So many people try to make you more than you are. This business has changed a lot of good people and a lot of good families, and I don’t want that to happen to me.