SHOWBIZ 7's: James Lipton on James Lipton

Times Staff Writer

If ever given the opportunity to speak with James Lipton, do it. He is entirely as weird as he is on his infamous television show/masters class with the stars "The Actor's Studio, " but on the phone he seems more eccentric than pretentious.

Lipton and I were speaking about the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award that he will be presented with at the 34th annual Daytime Emmys on Friday.

Lipton said the award was completely unexpected, although he did not say it like a normal person.

Instead he said: "If you, specifically you Deborah Netburn, if you had put a gun to my head 13 years ago and said, 'Look Jim, I'm going to pull the trigger right now unless you predict that this television show that you are starting will be seen in 84 million homes a year, and 125 countries, and will receive in its 12 year lifespan 12 Emmy nominations," I would have said, 'Pull the trigger, blow my brains out.'"

"But didn't you believe in the show?" I asked.

"It was my child, it was my love!" he responded. "Of course I had hopes, but remember, this show is not about gossip. When I started it I said it's going to be about craft, craft, craft. I had no dark hopes for it. I just had no way of guessing these things would happen--that one day in twenty oh seven my friends would say 'You are getting a lifetime achievement award.' I could not have looked ahead."

It was all so dramatic.

It was also a tiny bit awkward. Before the interview got underway there was some discussion about what topic Lipton was going to speak on. Finally he and his publicist (also on the phone) settled on "Seven Reasons Why he is Pleased to Receive the Emmy" which of course, was what Lipton had been planning all along because he is eccentric like a fox. (Note how many promos he managed to drop into his list).

"Are you ready?" he said. "Here we go."

1. "The obvious reason that is almost always given at moments like this, namely that it is an acknowledgement by my peers."

2. "Because it recognizes a television program that in one sense is not a television program at all. It is a classroom in a master degree program. I don't know if Emmys have been given to schools or to classrooms in the past, but in this case since I am inseparable from the school. I am the dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School, was its dean for ten years and therefore I am pleased that our school, of which I am the founding dean, (I created it with a colleague), that it would be acknowledged, by the lifetime Emmy."

3. "Because of all the things that have happened to me in my life, two are the most unexpected. One was when I was invited by Bernard Pivo, the great French talkshow host who's questionnaire I use at the end of every show to be one of his honored guests in his final telecast after 26 years. All of France stopped everything and the two of us, for the first time he in 26 years and I in 7 answered the questions. That was surprise number one. Surprise number two was when my colleagues at Bravo Frances Berwick called a few weeks ago and said we have something to tell you…. "

4. "I just finished writing my book, "Inside Inside," which Dutton will publish on October 23, and any minute now a doorbell is going to ring and a messenger will come in with a bound galleys. You are speaking to me in a hugely significant time in my life. The fact that this step, which is the Emmy occurs at precisely this moment in my journey …I had to call my publishers and say, 'Hold the presses!'"

5. "This getting the lifetime achievement Emmy is an incentive, an enormous incentive to work harder, and maybe better, if I can. The two nights before I receive the Emmy I am shooting two shows out there. On the 12th I am shooting Anthony Hopkins. On the 13th Billy Crystal. I said I want to shoot two shows out there. Getting the Emmy was an incentive."

6. "The occasion itself will bring together at my table at the ceremony on the 14th many friends and colleagues; my agent, Bob Levinson, my CM, the provost Jeffrey Brackett. My academic colleagues will be there and some of the students will be there. They said, 'Please, may we come!' They are coming out there on their own. That for me is a lovely occasion."

7. "Seven and last…talk about the coincidences and continuities. Within the next few days Al Pacino will achieve a lifetime achievement award from AFI, and Al Pacino is one of the three presidents of The Actors Studio. I am a VP of The Actors Studio. So within one week of each other, Al and I will receive awards that we will both accept them in the name of an institution that we both esteem: The Actors Studio. And that is an amazing, amazing coincidence."

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