Terry Gross: All I Did Was Ask & the Wisdom of Others

Terry Gross: All I Did Was Ask & the Wisdom of Others

Terry Gross has been the host of the NPR program Fresh Air for a long time. She conducts interviews and has conversations with writers, actors, musicians and artist’s. She collected her most interesting Caine interviews in a book she titled All I Did Was Ask. It is an entertaining summary of conversations with people over the years of her radio work which I enjoyed reading. When she interviewed the actor Michael Caine he said some things I thought were informative. I have admired his ability to explain acting in plain English. Many of this advice has benefit for all of us including trial lawyers. In this interview Caine had this to say about projecting power and authority:

"Authority is shown not only by the voice, but by movement. And the first thing in authority is you never move. If you look at aristocracy and other powerful people, they move very little because everybody is waiting on their every word, wish or command. And their voice is very, very, slow because everybody will wait no matter how long it takes for them to say what they are going to say"

When Gross asked about acting and eye contact. Caine spoke about not blinking as a means of demonstrating power and authority. He said:

"That’s a trick for actors on film…If you blink on camera, it signifies weakness. If you look in the mirror yourself, and just stare and start saying things to yourself, you’ll see how powerful it is."

He also went on to discuss how one should look into the eyes of another actor and said:

"…What you do is you only look into one eye, because if you look into two eyes, you’d go cross-eyed. The one eye you look into is the one that is nearest the camera."

I thought he offered some profound advice when he was talking about the need of the actor to take advantage of problems one always encounters and to use them affirmatively. We encounter daily problems and unexpected obstacles both in life and in trial. His comments reminded me of what Improve theater offers and our need to be flexible. Here’s what he said:

"…There was an old theater producer who said, ‘Use the disadvantage. Always use the disadvantage.’ …I said…’There’s a chair in my way.’ he said, ‘Well, use the difficulty.’ So I said, ‘What do you mean, use the difficulty?’ he said, ‘Well, if it’s a drama, pick it up and smash it. If it’s a comedy, fall over it.’ This was a line for me for life: Always use the difficulty."

I particularly enjoyed comments Isabella Rossellini made about an experience she had about her self image. She said:

"One day I walked into an antiques shop, and there were beautiful things – tables and chairs and old mirrors…A middle aged woman came in…Every time I walked toward her, I discreetly walked the opposite way so I wouldn’t disturb her. As I was walking I kept on thinking, ‘She reminds me of my mother.’ Then I bumped into her. I looked up and it was a reflection of me in the mirror."

I was reminded about an article I once read by a man who had taken a younger woman on a cruise with him and while they were walking down the staircase on the ship he glimpsed an older man with a younger woman. The thought flashed through his mind, ‘He’s too old for her’ and suddenly realized he was looking in a mirror. That’s the way it is for me – increasing surprise at my reflection which is not always consistent with the self image I have of myself. A revealing lesson about life in her story.

I also thought Dustin Hoffman had wise advice when he as asked for the best acting advice he had been given. His response was: "Probably Mike Nichols in The Graduate, who told me two things almost every day. One was ‘Stop acting.’ Now, that’s excellent advice for all of us, particularly trial lawyers. Stop acting and be yourself.

This was a good book, worth reading.

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