The great actors experience life on two levels: There is that outside and beyond the work; then there is life inside the character. It is through those lenses that they learn about the world. Here, seven acting greats share the wisdom that they’ve discovered along the way.
“People don’t remember who the critics were.” — Robert Redford
“Success is finding satisfaction in giving a little more than you take.” — Christopher Reeve
“There is no shame in my saying that we all want to be loved by someone. As I look back over my life in romance, I don’t feel I’ve ever had that. I have been the only one that was unaware of the fraud in a few of these circumstances blindly. When you get divorced, all the truths that come out, you sit there and you go, What the fuck was I doing? What was I doing believing that this person was invested in this way? Which is a fantastically strong humiliation in the best sense. It can make somebody very bitter and very hard and closed off, but I find it does the opposite to me.” — Sean Penn
“The hardest thing about being famous is that people are always nice to you. You’re in a conversation, and everybody’s agreeing with what you’re saying — even if you say something totally crazy. You need people who can tell you what you don’t want to hear.” — Robert De Niro
“I don’t understand boredom. All you have to do is walk around the house as if you were blind. How could you be bored? Depressed, yes. That’s a different ball game. I know depression. I know every degree of it. But not boredom.” — Dustin Hoffman
“I went to see Frank Sinatra in a concert. This was about twenty years ago. His opening act was Buddy Rich. So Buddy Rich came out, and I wondered about him because Buddy Rich was in his sixties and he was playing the drums. I know he’s a good drummer. But I’m thinking, ‘Now I’m going to sit here and listen to him drum for a while and twiddle my thumbs until Frank Sinatra comes out.’ But once he started and then kept going and going and going, he transcended what I thought he was gonna do tenfold. And it became this experience.
“He did things I’ve seen great ballet dancers do. It really took me by surprise, and not only me, but everyone else, too, because in the middle of this riff, the entire audience stood up in unison and started screaming.
“When Sinatra came out, he said, very simply, ‘You see this guy drumming? You know, sometimes it’s a good idea to stay at a thing.’ Buddy Rich stayed at a thing. Not only did he stay at drumming all those years, but as he was playing that night, he stayed at it. It was like he was saying, ‘I went this far, lemme see if I can take it further and further.’ And then suddenly it took itself. That’s why we do this. To find that place. But it’s not enough to have found it. You gotta keep going. What’s that saying? He who persists at his folly will one day be wise.” — Al Pacino
“My dad was an absentee dad, so it was always important to me that I was part of my daughter’s life, and she deserved two parents, which is part of what informs us staying married for thirty years. ’Cause everybody has a chance to say, ‘Fuck it,’ and walk away, you know? But you also have a chance to say, ‘Okay, fuck it, I’m sorry.’ Even if you’re not.” — Samuel L. Jackson