The Magic of the Theater

The Magic of the Theater by David Black

Chapter Five: Christopher Walken and Madeline Kahn

When Madeline Kahn appeared as a guest in our series, she was starring on Broadway in a revival of Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday." Her partner for our evening was Christopher Walken, who had just finished a run playing Coriolanus at Joe Papp's Public Theater. Madeline wore an elegant, short black evening dress (she was due at a formal dinner after our session) and Christopher wore a dark suit and black sport shirt. His buoyant charm gave no trace of the sinister psychopathic qualities he's diplayed in such films as "Annie Hall," "King of New York," and "Batman Returns." As Madeline and Christopher walked out onstage, they were greeted with generous applause.
When I asked them what makes live theater so special, Chistopher answered, "What just happened. I find it hard to ignore an audience. They are there. An old actor once said to me, 'What do you think they are, a field of cabbages?' The audience is there and that's what makes doing a show interesting."
Madeline said, "I find, for myself, that it's important to get back in touch with the kind of work you do in front of a live audience. In my film experience it hasn't happened that I get to do a whole role from point A to point Z. In theater you get to do it in one piece and you are in the moment and you get to explore yourself as an instrument. You don't get to do that in film."
"I grew up in musicals," said Christopher, "and I was used to performing in front of an audience. In 'Pennies from Heaven' I had this dance number. I found that it was flat and it wasn't working. I said to the crew, 'Would you please just act like an audience. If you feel like laughing or making noise, please do.' And they did. And it worked. The element of the audience is cathartic and it's absolutely necessary. There is a scene in Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,' when the player king says, 'I turned around and there was nobody there.' He's an actor. To turn around and have nobody there is not good."
"Had there been people there before?" Madeline asked.
"Yes," said Christopher. "They left."
"Because it could have been a rehearsal," said Madeline, "in which case there was never anyone there."
"No," said Christopher with a devilish grin. "They left. I don't know why they left..."
Is there an element of danger for an actor when he appears in front of a live audience?
"Depends on how you feel," said Christopher. "Look at Gunther Gebel-Williams in the circus. He gets into the ring with those tigers and he's perfectly comfortable."
"He knows those particular tigers, right?" asked Madeline. Then she burst into laughter. "Suddenly I'm asking the stupidest questions of you! What is this? We're going to become the George and Gracie show!"
Madeline made an attempt to compose herself, sitting with her back straight up. "I can say a word about the audience being dangerous. Having gone back to the stage from television and films, I find that in a comedy, every audience is different. Some people are very appreciative and happen to be quiet. It's an interesting phenomenon that audiences are different. Some are very noisy and vocally responsive, and others are not. But that doesn't mean they're not enjoying it. If you're surrounded by other actors who are going," (Madeline clenched her teeth and whispered) " 'Oh my God, it's because they're nervous that so-and-so didn't get a laugh. That's a sign. Now we're in trouble.' They stretch the message of the play out of line and the whole performance gets out of shape. That is a danger. So it's not the audience which is dangerous. It is seductive, since they're alive, to try and wring some response from an audience. [But] I don't think you should. You should let them be however they want to be. They paid. They're sitting there. Let them react or not react as the case may be."
"Born Yesterday" is a classic comedy that is fundamentally the story of an uneducated ex-chorus girl who rebels against the corrupt self-made businessman who is keeping her. In Madeline's production, there's a moment when she gets slapped, and then she cries. It's a serious situation, but the audience laughs. How does an actor remain in character and go on with the scene when she hears the audience laughing?
"That's part of the task of doing any comedy," said Madeline. "In a comedy you know the audience will laugh. It's part of the deal. You the actor might not feel that it's funny, but you're there because you know that it's supposed to be funny."
"Anything without jokes is not like life," Christopher added.
I asked Christopher if he found a lot of humor in "Coriolanus."
He smiled. "A tragedy's got a lot of humor and a comedy's got a lot of darkness. I've seen different actors do different plays and it's funny what certain actors focus on. I went to see Richard Burton in 'Private Lives' and I'd seen that play a number of times. In the second act he said, 'Death is a trick done with mirrors,' which is apparently a line from the play. I never heard that line before. I've seen that play many times, but I never heard an actor say that. And that's a comedy. A lot of Noel Coward plays, for example, like 'Blithe Spirit,' are funny but also very dark. Somebody ought to do Noel Coward that way."
"I'd love to," said Madeline. "I would absolutely love to."
"He's got enough jokes," said Christopher.
Speaking of the mix between comedy and something darker, I referred Madeline to her own role in "Young Frankenstein," and the scene in which she's raped by the monster.
"Yes," said Madeline. "What's funny about that? It's grotesque. I know when I'm in a Mel Brooks movie we're going to be doing some low, grotesque stuff. A lot of what makes sufficient numbers of us laugh, me included, is sometimes very broad, very low, grotesque, horrible stuff.
" 'Blazing Saddles' was a lot of fun. It was a great collaboration and it was fun to go to work every day. You didn't want to go home. Mel Brooks was strong but he was tempered by Gene Wilder. Because they're opposites, you had a very harmonious collaboration there, one balancing the other."
Madeline herself seems to laugh very easily. Does an actor laugh on purpose to help the audience laugh?
"You mean like my own laughter this evening?" asked Madeline. "No. I haven't contrived it. There are a lot of times I don't laugh at all when a lot of people are laughing. I'm someone who doesn't laugh a lot of the time. When I feel good and I'm in a certain energy level I do laugh a lot."
I asked Christopher if he looks for moments of laughter when he performs a serious role like Coriolanus.
"Sure," he said.
Coriolanus was done in a modern setting. Whose idea was it to stage it that way?
"Joe Papp wanted to do it and he made it happen," explained Christopher. "He got me and the other actors, including Irene Worth. Steven Berkoff, the director, had a way of doing it. That's the good thing in a collaboration. Nobody knows beforehand what it is, but if you're lucky, it turns out nicely. It's like cooking. You put things together and then you cook them and hopefully it's good. I never understand people who tell me what it is before. If you tell me, 'Look, this is what it is,' I think," (he snickered) " 'Good luck.'"
"You know there are directors like that," said Madeline.
"Of course," said Christopher. "I hope I never see them again."
"So you would tend not to want to work with them?" Madeline asked.
"Absolutely," said Christopher.
"And they probably would not be too happy working with you either," said Madeline.
"They wouldn't want anything to do with me!" said Christopher. "It's like animals in the forest. We stay away from each other."
"But what if," Madeline asked, "you happened, for some strange reason, to find yourself in a project with someone who did have a vision of what they were going to make it be?"
Christopher shifted in his chair. "Then I'd have to believe that they were so wonderful that I would surrender my own self. 'Coriolanus' is an example of making a strange stew that worked out well. Sometimes it doesn't work out well."
"I have a feeling that your director had something in mind," said Madeline.
"Sure he did," said Christopher, "but it's especially difficult when you have a very specific idea and then you don't get cooperation. You never can tell what people are going to do. I saw Marlon Brando about twenty years ago on 'The Dick Cavett Show.' I thought he was being cynical when he said that acting was a roll of the dice. But in a way it is."
The revival of "Born Yesterday" seemed to be a stew that worked out.
"It didn't work out the way I hoped it would," said Madeline. "I wanted to take a new look at the play and focus on some of the values which weren't so important back in the forties, but which are now. My attitude was, let's find it, and it didn't turn out that way. I found new values in my own performance, but I wanted it to be true to the rest of the production."
Billie Dawn was originally played by Judy Holliday, whose appearance in the role still lives on in the film version. I asked Madeline how her concept of Billie differs from Holliday's legenday performance.
"There is a big difference," she said. "Judy Holliday comes from another period in time. She grew up in the twenties. She was informed by certain ideas of women which were different from the eighties. I feel that I'm more edgy and more aggressive, and I focus on different things in the play than she did. She felt much more comfortable with her softness and her femininity and glibly being the one who triumphed over everything. I don't feel that way about it at all."
It seemed to me that Billie had a lot of anger in this new production, which had the effect of producting a larger reality for the character.
Madeline nodded. "It's all in the script. It's what I find very interesting. I find her to be symbolic of someone who is very oppressed and who contributes to her own oppression because she doesn't see any other choice. Then she starts to see another choice, and she starts to change and finds it very difficult."
Is it harder for an actor to become somebody else on the stage than in film?
"There is a translation that happens in movies that doesn't happen on the stage," Christopher said. "On the stage, when people look at you, they are more apt to see YOU. If you meet somebody in person, you are more apt to get a true impression of them than if you see them on TV. A funny kind of translation happens by way of film. It has to do with your own attitude toward the camera, or the lack of audience."
Madeline was fired from the movie version of "Mame" on the first day she showed up for work. Lucille Ball, who was playing Mame, had seen Madeline looking frumpy in the film "What's Up, Doc?" and was surprised she didn't look that way in person.
"I was hired to play Agnes Gooch in 'Mame,'" explained Madeline, "and she would be different from me in appearance. I had come on the set and I had never met Lucille Ball. She saw me and I don't think she was pleased at all. She didn't give me the credit that maybe I'm really a good character actress. She reacted to me visually and she called me a Method actor in a derogatory way." She imitated Lucy doing a slow burn. "'Oh, this is very dangerous, that you're going to develop a role slowly. If you have four weeks, you're going to develop a role slowly over the course of that four-week period, find your own way of doing it, and you're going to feel relaxed at rehearsal walking around the way you look. You're not going to be starting to perform on day one.' She didn't like that. It was her movie and she didn't allow it."
"It's horrible to have to perform prematurely," said Christopher. "I'm a member of the Actors Studio, although in all my years of going there, I've never understood what [the Method] was. I've tried. The only time I had a glimpse of what Method acting is, was when I was doing a scene for Lee Strasberg ten years ago at the studio. While you're doing your scene, the people who are going to follow you start setting up, so there's people arranging things. I thought I had done well, and afterwards Lee Strasberg said, 'Well, that was alright, but that man dropped a huge box of dishes during your speech.' I said, 'Yes, I know that.' He said, 'Well, you didn't even skip a beat. You didn't even notice him, did you?' I said, 'I noticed him but I didn't let on.' He said, 'You should never do that. When he dropped that big box of dishes, everybody in the room turned around and looked at him except you.' I said, 'I was rather proud of that.' He said, 'That's terrible acting!' I think that's true. You can't ignore life. That was my glimpse of what Method acting was and it was really the only time I ever thought I learned something."
For the actor to be successful, the audience must accept what he is doing as truthful. How does an actor find truth for himself on the stage?
"Actors are unusual in that they are sort of like musicians," said Christopher, "but they carry their instrument around with them. You hear the expression, 'You're always acting, you're acting all the time.' I was always taken aback by that because I thought, 'I'm NOT acting all the time. I'm being perfectly like myself.' But on the other hand, if you are an actor, you've got your own violin with you all the time, so that if you're dishonest with people in a social situation, you are apt to be dishonest with them onstage, too. Actors have to practice all the time. In the last few years I've started to think about it that way. You have to remember that every time you talk to somebody, that's the quality you are going to bring to whatever it is you do when you work. Actors have to stay in touch with themselves. It's a cliche but it's true."
"IF they are actors who want to bring truth to what they do," said Madeline.
"There's no other reason to be an actor!" Christopher stated.
"I agree," said Madeline, "but there are plenty of actors who 'do a good job' and they have a lot of fans."
"But it's not FUN," said Christopher, "unless you bring truth to a role."
Madeline spoke quietly. "There are lots of other people who audiences of all types enjoy and who are praised. I don't know if you can judge such a thing."
"Maybe they have their own way," Christopher said. "I've met people that I didn't understand whatsoever. They were good actors. I can't even talk to them for five minutes. They're good actors but I don't know what they're talking about. But they're good actors."
Madeline looked thoughtful. "There's a kind of acting that has more to do with very skillfully constructing the outside portion of the character. They can do that and they are really NOT very in touch with their feelings, but they can ENACT feelings well enough... You may not be touched by it, but maybe you won't even know the difference. They have careers."
What is the most important quality for an actor to have in order to move an audience?
"Emotional power," said Christopher. "The power to emotionally move people. It goes back to the Greek theater, the whole idea that theater is basically a religious event in which you are changed, and when you go you ought to be altered. You come out of it knowing something you didn't know before. Otherwise, why go? It's like church."
When we are altered by an experience in the theater, does that happen because of the message of the play?
"It happens because of everything," Christopher said, "the whole thing, the script, the actors, the lighting, the music, the whole ritual."
If we go to see a powerful play such as "Death of a Salesman," we may see it with an actor playing Willy Loman who touches us with his emotional power, or we may see it with an actor who doesn't.
"That's a matter of opinion," said Christopher. "I have my actors who give me that and you have yours. I don't think that there are definitive things about this. It's a matter of taste. A play like that almost carries itself. People tamper with Shakespeare, but the fact is Shakespeare will overwhelm everybody who fools with him. Do whatever you like, Shakespeare will be there."
Christopher once said that a Shakespeare play should be tackled as if it were a new play.
"That was one of the virtues of the production of 'Coriolanus,'" he said excitedly. "It was produced as though somebody had just written it. I like shows like that. You're talking about your character. You have to look at it in terms of yourself. How else can you make connections? You have to look to your own life."
Can anybody be an actor?
"Anybody can do anything they want," Christopher said. "If you feel like being an actor, you can be an actor."
Are there any talents that are inherited, or can all the skills and all the tools be learned?
"I don't know," said Christopher. "You have to develop a skin that's very thick AND very thin. I don't know how you do that."
"That's it exactly," said Madeline. "I'm still in the process. I suppose it's an ongoing process. I started off with a very thick skin, like, 'Wow, I know I can do this kind of a thing and I just want to get in there, into the marketplace!' In the very beginning that was my method of going about things. It was later that I felt, 'Gee, I'd like to round this picture out a bit. I'd like to use more of myself, and I really don't know how to use all these other parts of myself.' Then I proceeded to look into that and I was able to use more of my feelings in the parts that I did. I stopped performing so much and started to act more.
"I find that as I become more wholly myself, that I am more an actress than I am a performer. I don't really like performing. Acting does require, as Christopher just said, being vulnerable and honest and having a thin skin, so that everything does have an effect on you. At the same time, you have to be able to function in the world, and in the world of show business, which has a thing or two in it that makes you need a thick skin."
"In show business," Christopher said, "when they tell you they don't like you, it's not that they don't like your ice cream. It's not that they don't like the car you sold them. They don't like YOU."
"That's a rough one," agreed Madeline. "You have to live with that. You put yourself right out there. You're in business. Then if you are successful in having a life where you act, you are your own business. So part of it is that. You do have to have a strength, which is the thick skin, so that you can go, 'Ya, well, okay, fine, there was that review, and there is this and there's that going on and I'm just going to keep doing what I do.' You keep on exposing yourself, because there's something about communicating with people that you really enjoy, that you feel COMPELLED to do."
In addition to the thick and thin skin, how important is formal training for an actor?
"I grew up in show business," said Christopher. "I was in musicals until I was twenty-five. That's my training. I went to different places and studied. Basically when you work with certain actors, like Irene Worth, that's the best. The good ones always show you everything."
"I studied voice a lot," said Madeline. "I was always terrified of acting class, so I avoided it as long as I possibly could. For whatever my reasons were, I just thought it was really scary. At one point I discovered this particular class I did go to, the Warren Robertson Actors' Workshop. I went in there and I was overwhelmed by what I saw and it really scared me. I thought, 'I really could use this,' at the time. So I did study there for a few years."
Because Madeline has a reputation for being funny, I asked her if directors ever just say, "Madeline, be funny!"
Madeline bristled. "If they do, I put an end to that very quickly."
Madeline has said that, "Comedy is created when someone is trying very earnestly to do what he feels is the right thing to do at that moment. For example, to eat the bottom of his shoes with great elan, as Chaplin did. When you see someone doing what they think is the right thing to do with their total self -- when the audience sees that, and sees that it is not the right thing to do, from that comes the laughter." What IS laughter?
"Laughter is a response that you can hear," explained Madeline. "It's a response that you yourself make at certain times. It's a spasm, and it comes through your vocal cords. There is this sort of staccato thing that happens with your voice. It's a spasmodic vocal reaction. Now what is that? Sometimes it's joy, but rarely. It's an expression of some sort of feeling about what's going on. As an individual, I have always been hypersensitive to what I see going on in front of my eyes. I think," (Madeline's eyes grew bigger) "'Would you look... I can't... Would you look at that!' I have always been that way. I feel as though I came from some other planet half the time. It's all so amazing to me what goes on."
Christopher looked at Madeline. "Some people are just funny. I don't know why. You're funny! You're always funny, like even in the car you were funny."
"And that's all you can say about it?" asked Madeline with mock annoyance. "Can't you explain it?"
Christopher and Madeline had never met until their ride in the car to this session. Now they were rolling along like a pair of experienced vaudevillians. Madeline had become the straight man but there was humor in her sincerity. The fun came from her earnest search for the truth. Christopher seemed to stumble onto punch lines as he spoke with her. Comedy was being created while we talked about it.
"I think that's true," said Madeline, agreeing with Christopher that she was naturally funny. "But I don't know what THAT is."
Christopher began to egg Madeline on. "Who knows WHAT it is?"
"Does that mean I can't do a straight play?" she asked.
"Of course not," he laughed.
"If there's any humor in it," said Madeline, "they're going to laugh."
Christopher said, "I read in Laurence Olivier's book that when he plays a tragedy, he looks for the comedy."
"I remember in college I did '27 Wagons Full of Cotton,'" said Madeline. She paused for a moment and then added with great dismay, "Did they laugh! There was a lot of humor in it..."
"There is," said Christopher emphatically.
"There is?" she asked.
"It's a hilarious play," he exclaimed.
"Oh," said Madeline, "okay, fine. I thought I failed."
"It's a scream, believe me," said Christopher. "It's never been done right."
Madeline cocked her head toward Christopher. "Either you're putting me on or you mean what you say."
She was having the same problem I often have with actors. She couldn't tell if Christopher was acting or being sincere.
"I'm deadly serious," said Christopher.
Does a comedy start to come to life in rehearsals?
"It depends a lot if the rehearsals are fun," said Christopher, "and that's almost what a director does best. If I was a director, and I never have been, I would try to make the rehearsals fun. By fun I mean that when people got there in the morning, they'd be looking forward to it, and when they left in the afternoon, they'd be waiting to come back the next day. The best rehearsals are always like that. No matter what it is, you enjoy yourself."
Can an actor recognize the comedy in a play by just reading the script?
"No," said Christopher. "You see it when you stand with somebody and they do something and you do something. That's what happens. Plays are not like books. They're not meant to be read. They're meant to be played."
"You don't see the potential comedy in a script?" asked Madeline. "Or the potential non-comedy in a flop script that's not funny?"
"Of course," said Christopher. "That's a professional way of looking at it. You never really know whether that's going to actually happen because you may get there and say something that you think is hilarious and the other actor looks at you like --" (Christopher made a quizzical face) "Then it won't work."
"Then it won't work," agreed Madeline. "But you can see it there in the script. I do believe you can see it on the page and you can also see when it's not there on the page."
Is it possible that reading a play can be very funny, and then when it's spoken out loud it's not?
"Look at the same play done by different actors," said Christopher. "One can say something and you don't even hear him say it,and another can say it and it rings a bell. Lines really finally amount to what they mean to you. Shakespeare is a particular instance of that, because in many of his plays the language is archaic. It's stuff that isn't even said anymore. Elizabethan English. In 'Romeo and Juliet,' a lot of Mercutio's stuff. In 'Measure for Measure,' a lot of Lucio's stuff. There are references to things that people don't speak of anymore. And yet, audiences are sometimes bowled over, laughing. When that happens, it's because THE ACTOR knows what he's talking about. The audience doesn't know what he's talking about. All they know is, 'If you're having a good time, I'm having a good time. If you think it's funny, I do [too].'"
Even if actors can't tell how a project is going to turn out, is there a moment when an actor realizes he's involved in something special and that his performance will be part of that?
"I know exactly what you mean," said Christopher, "and you're right. But I don't like to talk about mystical things. I think you're absolutely right. There is a point in special things but I can't possibly name or articulate or describe that."
Even when a script is brought to life by experienced actors, directors, and producers, it may still turn out to be a flop. Does an actor know when she is involved in a project that is NOT going to make it?
"I usually know pretty soon," said Madeline. "But I'm not in control of it. So why am I in it if I know that it's not going to succeed? I'm not including 'Born Yesterday,' which obviously works. I've been in some movies that haven't worked and I knew that they were not good from the minute I read them. What I knew was that I needed to work and I knew it wasn't terrible. It wasn't embarrassing. It had some merit and some class, something going for it. If, in fact, it was done to a tee, it could be all right. Very few things are done to a tee.
"Why does it go forward? Boy, you got me there! I just really don't understand why some people can look at a project and put down the money they put down on it when it's just not there. I knew it wasn't there! I'm not the one who's in the position to make it happen. I say, 'Well, yeah, I'll do this job,' because I feel I can do this job and kind of float away unscathed. And that, unfortunately, has been what I've done sometimes. I am amazed, myself, that they can't see that it's just really not there."
"It's funny how people think that actors make all these career choices," added Christopher. "They say, 'Why did you do this movie?' It's a job, you go to work. There's this notion that actors sit around making these artistic choices. I don't think that's true. Maybe some do, but that's a very, very rarefied group. Most actors act first to be busy. Everybody likes to go to work. You go to work to make a living and you go to work to go somewhere. It's funny how people think, 'Why did you do 'The Ninja from Mars'?' I did it because I wasn't doing anything else!"
An actor goes through many stages of getting to know his character before he actually performs the role. Before rehearsing with the director what does an actor do on his own to begin working on his part?
"I read the script about one hundred times," said Christopher. "I focus on my own lines, and I think about how I would say it. In other words, I paraphrase it for myself. I look at what everyone else has to say. I try to understand what's going on. One of the things they tell you in acting class is when you go into a scene, ask yourself, 'What do I want?' Usually in life when people enter a room, they're up to something. Even if it's very subtle. They want a sandwich. They want a divorce. They want SOMETHING."
"If you don't have an intention, you're very boring," said Madeline.
Does the playwright specify what each character wants in a scene?
"Sometimes," said Christopher.
Can an actor choose a goal for his character that's different from what the playwright has written?
"Absolutely," Christopher stated. "It's shown in the great plays because they get repeated -- Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, etc. As many times as you see them, you see different interpretations. It's like music."
Do different actors pick different goals for the same scene?
"Sure," said Christopher. "And it wouldn't be worthwhile unless they did. You don't want to see somebody repeat something. It's funny how many actors choose to enter the same arena that other people do, that other people do much better than they do. It's always been curious to me. I see actors who are very interesting and then they go and do something and they try to do what other people do and it's pointless because, in fact, all they have to offer is what's theirs."
"But what if they feel that that's a part of them that they haven't explored?" asked Madeline.
"It's funny to see people doing things that they're supposed to do," said Christopher. "It's always interesting to see how many fascinating actors there are who never pursue their own 'fascinatingness.' They just try to repeat what someone else did. They don't tell the truth."
If actors are expected to be truthful, what happens when they experience stage fright? How does an actor deal with that?
"Acting onstage has to do with a state of grace," Christopher replied. "There's no telling how you attain it. But if you don't have it, you can't do it. There's an act of faith in walking on the stage, because you can never tell when your mind might turn on you. You have to be comfortable with yourself about your part. I find that I either have stage fright or I don't. I don't have it, period, or I have it a lot."
"You can take that energy and use it," suggested Madeline. "If you can find a way in your part to use, 'Ooh, my character WOULD be afraid at this moment,' then you're kind of pleased that you have that on hand."
Christopher laughed. "You play a really scared person."
"You work it right into the role," Madeline said, her voice building with enthusiasm. "Then, when it's gone, you're left hanging with -- NOTHING!"
What happens when an actor forgets the lines?
"I haven't blanked out," Madeline said. "I've been caught when something happened unexpectedly, like a loud explosion or the lights going out. Other people have no problem ad-libbing. I just stand there. I don't know what to do."
"The audience is very interesting," said Christopher. "It sometimes doesn't realize when something's wrong. I was onstage once [waiting for] a guy who didn't show up. I said to the audience, 'The actor who is supposed to come on isn't here and I'm going to go get him.' It was one of those theaters where you had to take an elevator down to the dressing room. So I took the elevator down and walked into the dressing room and he's playing checkers with another actor. We went back up onstage and played the scene and after the show I said to some friends of mine, 'I'm sorry that happened.' They said, 'What? What happened?'"
Many of Christopher's roles have been dangerous people. They have psychological and personal problems. Do actors make a conscious choice to get involved with these kinds of roles?
"Movies are so expensive to make that if you do something that works, you're apt to get asked to do it again," he said. "I kind of got a ball rolling in movies. Theater isn't like that because the stakes aren't so high and people tend to take more chances in terms of casting. The truth is, I've been married for over twenty years, I've got two houses, I pay all my bills, I have cats, and I drive a station wagon. There is NOTHING eccentric about me. I'm a model citizen. All I'm saying is, I would love to play a part like that with a girl and jokes and no guns."
Even if it's easier for an actor to avoid typecasting in the theater, once he is cast in a role, the show's costs require that he work eight times a week. What can an actor do to give himself the stamina for this?
"You have to get sleep and eat and not stay up or smoke cigarettes," said Christopher.
You don't have a shot unless you take care of yourself like an athlete does when they're in training," said Madeline. "Then you have a chance to do it eight times a week. What I find difficult is my mind sometimes does not want to do this now." She began speaking in a robotic monotone, "'I do not want to do this now.'"
How does an actor get into a performance when she doesn't feel like doing it on a particular night?
"It's really a mind thing," explained Madeline. "Because physically I'm okay or, even if I'm not quite okay, I can kind of function if I'm a little under. It's never physical. If it is, you deal with a specific problem. It's usually mental." She became robotic again, "'My mind does not want to do this part right now.' And you have to adhere to a rigid schedule on Broadway. You do it eight o'clock, two o'clock on all the designated days. Mostly it's fear that I won't be able to do it because I don't WANT to do it. It's fear I won't be able to. I've done the preparation. I really have prepared very well. All I really have to do is take the first step, like get myself ready, go over there, just take that first step. Put one foot in front of the other and then the play is so good that point A leads to point B. It leads to point C and before you know it, sometimes it's one of the better performances and I come out of that performance saying, 'That was very interesting.'"
"Do you find that sometimes when you're finished at night you don't wanna go to bed?" asked Christopher. "It's terrible. When you've finished a show, what you should do is go to bed, but you can't because you're all jacked up."
"You're wound up," Madeline agreed. "You have to wait for a few hours."
Do established actors still have sleepless nights before auditions?
"One of the first things I ever did was 'The Lion in Winter,'" said Christopher. "I was a dancer before that. I was dancing in the chorus and for some reason I got a job in the original production of 'The Lion in Winter,' which was done on Broadway with Rosemary Harris and Robert Preston. It wasn't a very successful show but it got made into a movie. It opened in the early spring and it was closed by the summer. I went to a famous summer stock producer who was doing 'The Lion in Winter,' and I auditioned for the part that I was just in on Broadway. After the audition he said to me, 'You're not right for the part.'"
By the end of the session, I found myself thinking like a producer. It's always interesting to cast actors in parts you would not expect to see them in. If I could find a script where I could use the seriousness of Madeline Kahn, and the humor of Christopher Walken...