The hells of acting in film and on the stage

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During a recent joint interview, Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman extolled the particular challenges and joys of trodding the boards as they prepared for their upcoming stint in David Mamet’s “Oleanna” at the Mark Taper Forum next month.

Both actors move easily between film and theater: in movies, she’s known best for the “Bourne” series and he for playing the president of the United States in “Independence Day.” That doesn’t mean, however, that the actors necessarily prefer one discipline over the other.

“Yeah, film and theater have their own special heaven and hells,’ joked Pullman, as Stiles murmured her assent. When asked to define her take on the differences, Stiles said she’s in theatrical heaven when a total lack of self-consciousness takes over for the stage role. “You get so wrapped up in the experience for those two hours and, unfortunately, that doesn’t happen with movies that much,” she said.

On the other hand, she added, “You can work on a play that isn’t so rich and you have to do that over and over and over again. And in a movie, there can be that moment on the set where everybody comes together and it’s this group of people working together for that same vision.’


Pullman quoted actor Anthony Hopkins’ definition: “Theatrical hell is playing in some very uninspired production of a Shakespearean play at the Old Vic on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.”

He added that “movie hell is where the incompetency is multiplied exponentially, and you’re not sure when the movie is going to end, the food is terrible and the hotel has bed bugs.

‘But I think the hell of theater can be a whole lot worse than the hell of movies. I’ve been in hellish movies but theater can be very humbling. Sometimes you go and think, ‘This is a great play’ and you invest deeply in it, and you run into a glass ceiling and, try as you might, you just can’t crack it. And you’re reminded of that day after day.”

Stiles agreed. “There’s no filter between you and audience in theater and so it feels much riskier. You’re not in control. And that can be thrilling — and really scary.”’

For more about Pullman and Stiles, check out Sunday’s Arts & Books section or click here.

--Patrick Pacheco