From the New York Times:
Broadway, it seems, has eclipsed Playboy as the place to make Hollywood pay attention. There was a time when female movie stars who felt they were being ignored by the industry took off their clothes for Hugh Hefner's magazine.
Which movie stars?
The Baywatch girls?
Didn't one of the Waltons do a shoot for Playboy? That's not something my dirty mind would dream up for my own amusement.
Marilyn Monroe, of course, but she was far from being a movie star yet when she posed for her calender shots and Playboy reprinted those later.
There's a long and honorable tradition of starlets, which is what Stone was when she appeared in the magazine, and fading starlets, like Arquette, posing for Playboy, but I can't think of a single serious star who did it, even one who felt her career faltering or fading.
There is, however, a long, long tradition of stars coming to New York to act in plays, on Broadway and off. In the late 1930s, Katherine Hepburn saved her movie career by starring in several hits on Broadway, including The Philadelphia Story.
Henry Fonda practically abandoned Hollywood for New York after he came home from the War.
Dustin Hoffman starred in Death of a Salesman going on twenty years ago now.
Over the last decade Kevin Kline has probably appeared in more plays than he has movies.
But Hepburn, Fonda, Hoffman, and Kline were all returning to their professional roots. They'd started out as actors acting in plays. This was the case for almost all movie stars of their respective generations. The path to movie stardom started on a stage. It's in fact still the case. Most movie and television stars were stage actors first. They began their careers acting in plays, in high school, in college, in grad school, in regional theater companies---there was a time in the 1980s and early 1990s when you couldn't throw a brick on any studio lot without hitting an alum of the Chicago theater scene. Every movie made had to feature at least two Steppenwolf grads. I think it was a union rule John Malkovich negotiated.
While there are plenty who have had no theatrical training or experience, it's still true that most movie and television actors got into acting in order to act and acting meant being in plays. And no matter where their careers have taken them since that first high school production of Oklahoma!, most of them are still in the business in order to act.
Acting in movies is a very weird and, for many actors, frustrating art. Most of your working day isn't spent acting at all. It's spent waiting around and then when you're called onto the set it's often not to act as much as it is to pose. And when you do act, you often find yourself doing it alone, delivering your lines to the camera or to someone off camera who is not another actor in the movie. Movies are usually filmed out of sequence. You might have to do your big death scene the first day of filming. Your last day on the shoot might be a fifteen second long shot of your character walking down a street that is supposed to appear somewhere in the middle of the film, if it makes the final cut at all.
Let's not even start talking about move dialog.
This is why more and more stars are turning up on television. It's true that TV has a better reputation than it once had, but it's even more the case that TV shows are just much more rewarding to do for actors, starting with the fact that the writing is vastly superior.
But because the schedules are more compact and the budgets much, much tighter and multiple takes of scenes are often out of the question, acting in a television show can feel more like...like acting.
You get to play a scene all the way through. You do it with your fellow actors right there acting and reacting with you. You do it only a few times so you have to get it right every take in case there's only one take in which everything is working, and the director is stuck with your performance pretty much as is. There won't be enough time or footage to mess around with it in the editing room, so you know that what the audience is going to see is going to be your work not some clever cut and paste job.
But still, the play's really still the thing.
Acting isn't truly acting until you're naked in front of a live audience.
Not literally naked the way Nicole Kidman was in The Blue Room or Daniel Radcliffe will be in Equus.
Naked the way Katie Holmes is going to be next month when she appears in a revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons in which she'll probably be wearing a pleated skirt and a sweater of appropriate length and snugness for a wholesome girl next door type circa 1946: standing on stage with nothing between her and the audience but whatever talent she can bring to her part.
Kidman had to be and Radcliffe will have to be naked in just that way too. This is another reason movie and TV stars often like to do live theater. It's proof that they can really act. If it doesn't happen to turn out that way, it is proof that they're serious about learning how to act or act better. Fans of the great Canadian backstage comedy Slings and Arrows know that the plot arc of the first season, in which a young action movie star comes to the New Burbage Theatre Festival to do Hamlet, was inspired by Keanu Reeves' real life appearance as the melancholy Dane. Katie Holmes, who started as a child star, is essentially going back to grad school for her MFA in theater in this one, and she's going to have a pair of great teachers.
That's why I'm going to see it.
I don't care that Mrs Tom Cruise is in it, this production of All My Sons stars John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest, two tremendous talents who made names for themselves on stage in New York before going on to fame and fortune in movies and on television.
All My Sons is a great play anyway. (If Maud Newton ever follows through on her promise to introduce me to Terry Teachout I'm afraid that Terry and I are going to get into an argument over Arthur Miller's place in literary history. Terry thinks Miller's over-rated, his reputation pumped up and his plays kept on stage by his fashionable lefty politics more than by his talent and that he and his plays will disappear into obscurity once those politics go out of fashion. I think any playwright who's turned out three plays as good All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and The Crucible has a pretty good shot at immortality. Miller's style of leftish politics pretty much went out of fashion forty years ago and those three plays still hold the stage decade after decade. How many high school John Proctors know they're really telling off HUAC when they shout their refusal to sign their names to the confession of witchcraft? I didn't, not in any meaningful sense that mattered to how I delivered the lines and I'll bet none of the students and few of the parents in the audience cared about that when they were tearing up as I was led out to be hanged.) All My Sons is about Joe Keller, a good guy who owns a factory that made airplane parts during the War. It turns out that Keller knowingly allowed some cracked cylinder heads to ship and twenty-one P-40s they were installed in crashed because of it. The play tells the story of the day Joe's guilt is revealed. I was in a production in college. I played the son of the partner Joe let take the fall for his crime. (Katie Holmes is playing that character's sister, who is engaged to Joe's son, Chris.) My character's job in the play is to deliver the news that sparks the catastrophe that brings about the tragic conclusion of the play. Even though I was in only one scene it was one of my favorite parts in college. It wasn't the most fun I had while doing a play, but it was the most satisfying time I had on stage. I think it was my best performance. But probably what I really liked about it was that I scared people in the audience. They let out a collective gasp when I made my appearance. The director did a good job of surprising them with my entrance. The other actors suddenly stepped aside and there I was at the backyard gate, this scowling angel of vengeance obviously there to bring an end to everybody's happiness.
It helped that I was wearing a blue flannel business suit and a snap-brim hat pushed back on my head and I had my hands in my pockets so that I looked exactly like George Reeves as Clark Kent in the opening credits of the old Superman TV series, except that I was shorter. And skinnier. And not as handsome. And I looked about twelve. And...
What was my point again?
Nevermind. I had fun doing the part anyway.
And a lot of the fun came from actually being able to feel the audience react to what I and the other actors were doing.
I expect that's what draws movie stars back to the stage. Acting, real acting, is something that's done between you and an audience.
It's not nostalgia that'll have me in the audience.
I want to feel what'll be in the air when John Lithgow---perfect part for him now, too---delivers what as far as I'm concerned ranks high among the saddest of all the speeches in any play ever written.
It's Joe's last lines of the play. The truth is out, Joe is revealed as murderer, a fraud, and a coward, and his son Chris has made it clear that he expects his father to go to the police and turn himself in. Joe can't believe Chis is asking this of him. He can't believe that Chris can't understand the pressure he was under to deliver on the contract nor that he won't forgive him. Joe says to his wife that things would be different if their situations were reversed and Chris was the one who needed forgiveness.
"There's nothing he could do that I wouldn't forgive," Joe says, "Nothing. Because I'm his father and he's my son."
Then he thinks it over and his pity for himself vanishes in a flash. He remembers all the young men who died because of what he did.
"But I guess to him they were all my sons," Joe says. "And I guess they were. I guess they were."
And he goes inside and kills himself.