Careful What You Wish For

Dustin Hoffman is one of the finest actors of his generation.

He is also notorious for going all out to get into character.

In one movie where Hoffman’s character gets held underwater by a group of killers, he rehearsed by holding his own head underwater until he almost drowned himself. It put him in the hospital on an oxygen tank.

In Marathon Man, Hoffman played an obsessive runner. Before his running scenes, he would run all out for a mile just so he was out of breath for his scenes.

His co-star in that movie was legendary actor Sir Laurence Olivier.

The two actors respected one another on set but their methods were polar opposites.

Olivier didn’t see the point in method acting. When Hoffman went overboard to get into character, Olivier famously quipped, “Why don’t you just act?”

As long as the finished product is good I don’t care all that much about actors get into character.

Jeremy Strong seems to share some similarities with Hoffman in his portrayal of Kendall Roy on HBO’s Succession.

Strong has put in one of the great TV acting performances of all-time. Kendall is unlikeable yet Strong still makes you root for him. He’s spectacular at playing a spoiled rich guy.1

This scene in the season 3 finale floored me:

Brian Cox plays Kendall’s father, Logan Roy, on the show. His comments on Strong’s acting techniques make him sound like the Olivier to Strong’s Hoffman.

Cox said in an interview, “I’ve worked with intense actors before. It’s a particularly American disease, I think, this inability to separate yourself off while you’re doing the job.”

Maybe Strong felt he had to go all out to make it to this place since he spent so many years toiling in obscurity trying to make it as an actor with little success.

A recent GQ profile looked at what happened when Strong finally got what he wanted:

Before, he was toiling, if not quite in the unknown, then the not-exactly-known. Off-Broadway plays and bit parts in big movies, but no breakthroughs. He spent years in a studio apartment that had “one chair, one set of fork and knife, a coffee cup, some books, a pile of scripts.”

Now, he has a family. Three daughters with his wife, child psychiatrist and documentarian Emma Wall. Ages four, two, and one, they were all born while he worked on Succession. He has an Emmy and the luxury of choice when it comes to roles. Presumably a few more chairs and forks and knives. “The difference,” he says, “is somebody finally giving me the ball.”

The thing about getting what you want, though, is that it usually comes with some baggage you didn’t bargain for. That whole monkey’s paw scenario.

For Strong, that meant being cracked open publicly. He swiftly went from Jeremy Strong, that guy you like on that TV show, to Jeremy Strong, tortured actor who’s sometimes overly intense to the point of mania and delusion.

“Last year this time,” he says, “I sort of cratered a bit.”

He looks at his peers, who have filmed five, six, seven projects while he was in the Succession trenches. He envies “that freedom to just shoot yourself out of some different cannons. Sometimes Kendall feels like the same cannon over and over again.”

Sometimes getting exactly what you wanted can lead to unintended consequences.

Fame and fortune sound great but it’s not all fun and boar on the floor when you become rich and famous.

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were on The Bill Simmons Podcast this week and I loved every minute of it. I’ve been watching their movies for so long that I almost feel like I’ve known these guys for 25 years.

The Good Will Hunting duo opened up about some of the challenges of becoming famous (edited for clarity):

Affleck: We always say I’m going to be rich and famous as if the two are synonymous in a way. These are the two things that will deliver happiness. But the aspiration to be famous is really sort of missing it because it makes life weird.

Damon: People become weird because your echolocation, your radar, you have a better chance of becoming weird than not becoming weird. But it’s such a mindf*ck, right? Because the world doesn’t treat you the same. So it’s like, how do you not become weird? It’s much harder.

My brother always had this theory that I really think is true, which is that you retard kind of socially and emotionally at the moment you become famous. You stop growing. You stop growing because your subjective experience changes entirely, right? It’s never the same. Like, your experience of the world, and that’s the mind f*ck.

I’m not saying we should feel sorry for the rich and famous.

They’re pretty far down the list in terms of people that should receive our sympathy.

But it’s pretty telling that so many people who achieve a certain level of wealth and fame seem to end up unfulfilled or unhappy.

Don’t get me wrong, most of us would take the money and fame if we could get it. Hope springs eternal.

I just think it’s important to recognize that outward measures of success don’t automatically translate into inward feelings of happiness.

Life is often more complicated than it seems.

Further Reading:
Everyone Struggles

1If they can stick the landing on the final season, Succession is moving into the discussion with Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Wire in terms of best TV shows of all-time.

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