You don’t have to be an aspiring actor to enjoy the new DVD “The Perils of Show Business” (Limelight Editions) in which Charles Grodin talks about his experiences progressing from useless acting classes in his youth to delivering some of the finest performances in modern movies.
It’s a no-frills production, with an informally dressed Grodin talking directly into the camera for an hour (I assume the DVD was shot in the actor’s Fairfield County home). In a lesser talent’s hands, this could have been a deadly affair, but Grodin is a such a great storyteller and has such a down to earth attitude that you might share my wish that the session was longer.
Grodin is refreshingly critical of two of the most legendary New York acting teachers, Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg.
The actor studied longer with Hagen, but says he only really learned in her classes when he had the chance to work on scenes. The “exercises” such as packing an imaginary suitcase left him feeling foolish and frustrated (and he says these lessons never came in handy during his long professional career).
Grodin pooh poohs the idea of actors studying dance to improve their craft (unless you intend to work in musicals).
“The Perils of Show Business” takes us beyond acting and into some of Grodin’s life philosophy which now seems to be simply trying to follow the Golden Rule (he tells a rather unpleasant story on himself about one of his own acts of unkindness that bothered him in the days and weeks following the event).
If you love the actor’s work as much as I do, you will relish his behind the scenes stories on the making of “Rosemary’s Baby” — the first movie in which he had a noticeable part (as the gynecologist who turns poor Mia Farrow over to the devil cult near the end) — and his breakthrough role in the great Elaine May film “The Heartbreak Kid.”
For those who have always wondered why the 1972 comedy seems so different in tone from every other film Neil Simon scripted, Grodin supplies the answer — May encouraged the cast to improvise and bring their own ideas to their characters (much to Simon’s chagrin).
Here’s hoping Grodin is planning a sequel (or two) to this fast and funny account of a life on Planet Show Business.