'The Perfect Idiot's Profession': When Famous Actors Ridicule Their Craft

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Jennifer Lawrence was quoted called acting "stupid" last week, but she's far from the first to roll her eyes at her chosen line of work.

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AP / Evan Agostini

If you needed one more reason to love Jennifer Lawrence (and frankly, between her candid interviews and terrific performances in Winter's Bone, The Hunger Games, and Silver Linings Playbook, I've been sold for a while), get a load of this quote from her recent Vanity Fair interview: "Not to sound rude, but [acting] is stupid... Everybody's like, 'How can you remain with a level head?' And I'm like, 'Why would I ever get cocky? I'm not saving anybody's life. There are doctors who save lives and firemen who run into burning buildings. I'm making movies. It's stupid.'"

That's the kind of sound byte that helps cultivate an always-sensible "down to earth" image, but there's more to it than that. Lawrence's comments fall within the grand tradition of no-nonsense actors not only refusing to romanticize what they do, but often coming right out and disparaging it.

Below, quotes from 25 famed actors who, like Lawrence, refused to buy into their own hype.

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Katharine Hepburn
"Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four."
"Acting is the perfect idiot's profession."
"It's a business you go into because you're an egocentric. It's a very embarrassing profession."

Marlon Brando
"Acting is the expression of a neurotic impulse. It's a bum's life. ... The principal benefit acting has afforded me is the money to pay for my psychoanalysis."
"An actor's a guy, who if you ain't talking about him, ain't listening."

Dean Martin
"I can't stand an actor or actress who tells me acting is hard work. It's easy work. Anyone who says it isn't never had to stand on his feet all day dealing blackjack."

Robert Mitchum
"This is not a tough job. You read a script. If you like the part and the money is OK, you do it. Then you remember your lines. You show up on time. You do what the director tells you to do. When you finish, you rest and then go on to the next part. That's it."

George Clooney
"I cut tobacco for a living in Kentucky. That was hard work. I sold insurance door-to-door. That's hard work. Acting is not hard work. If you're lucky enough to be sitting at a table like this, you've been very lucky in your life. You caught the brass ring somewhere along the way."

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Sir Laurence Olivier
"Acting is a masochistic form of exhibitionism. It is not quite the occupation of an adult."

John Hurt
"I remember once, when I told Lindsay Anderson at a party that acting was just a sophisticated way of playing cowboys and Indians, he almost had a fit."

Sir Ralph Richardson
"Acting is merely the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing."

Noël Coward
"You ask my advice about acting? Speak clearly, don't bump into the furniture and if you must have motivation, think of your pay packet on Friday."

Spencer Tracy
"Show up on time, know your lines, and don't bump into the furniture."

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Johnny Depp
"I despise those prick actors who say, 'I was in character,' and 'I became the character,' and all that stuff. It's hideous. It's just masturbation at the highest level."

Gary Oldman
"Any actor who tells you that they have become the people they play, unless they're clearly diagnosed as a schizophrenic, is bullshitting you."

Sir Anthony Hopkins
"It's very easy. If you'd asked John Wayne he'd have probably said, 'Well, you just go to Monument Valley and get on a horse.' Acting is very, very simple... That's the trick great American actors have had. John Wayne didn't have to act, he just rode in. Gary Cooper, all those guys were smart. They didn't try to do too much."
"(re: Method acting) I think that's a lot of crap. I just don't understand that. If actors want to do that, fine. If they want to be miserable, that's up to them. I'm not interested. It's a job. I do the job. I'm certainly not going to make my life miserable just to be a character... It's a pain in the ass. Who the hell wants to be with some miserable grump because he wants to get his performance right, so you have to call him this or call him that? It's so boring. I've been with actors like that and they're a pain in the ass, they really are. They're unpleasant to work with and I don't think they're always that good either."

Jane Fonda
"You spend all your life trying to do something they put people in asylums for."

W.C. Fields
"Show me a great actor and I'll show you a lousy husband. Show me a great actress, and you've seen the devil."

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Liam Neeson
"Acting is invigorating. But I don't analyze it too much. It's like a dog smelling where it's going to do its toilet in the morning."

Miranda Richardson
"Insecurity, commonly regarded as a weakness in normal people, is the basic tool of the actor's trade."

Sir Michael Caine
"I'm a skilled, professional actor. Whether I've got any talent is beside the point."

Robert Downey Jr.
"I know very little about acting. I'm just an incredibly gifted faker."

George Burns
"Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

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Marlene Dietrich
"When you prostitute yourself, you have to get paid for it."

Rachel Weisz
"People find out I'm an actress and I see that 'whore' look flicker across their eyes."
"I sometimes do worry that actors are people's role models, you know. And doctors and teachers and people doing really important things just get paid nothing. And they put us on the cover of magazines. They should be our heroes. I find it all a bit dubious."

Malcolm McDowell
"It's really, basically, really easy. We're not curing cancer—wish to God we were—we're not. And it's not rocket science. We're just interpreting what somebody else who's much cleverer than me has written."

Kevin Bacon
"There are two types of actors: those who say they want to be famous and those who are liars."

Michael J. Fox
"Only a few of us will admit it, but actors will sometimes read a script like this: bullshit ... bullshit ... my part ... blah, blah, blah ..."

This post also appears on Flavorpill, an Atlantic partner site.

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Jason Bailey is the film editor at Flavorwire, and has also written for Slate, Salon, and the Village Voice.

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