THR Actor Roundtable: George Clooney's Worst Job, Nick Nolte's Thoughts On Death, and Who Has 'Rage' Issues

George Clooney's career that involved hammertoes, Christopher Plummer's "awful" "Sound of Music" role, Christoph Waltz never likes his own work: No topic was off-limits as six of the season's big talents loosened up to talk role models, fame and fear of failure.


THR: Are you afraid of failure?

Clooney: All of us are afraid of failure.

Nolte: I don't think the downside is about failure. The downside is about not working. I do one European film a year. I just did one in Spain, but I was the only person who spoke English. The rest could only speak Spanish. I can't remember who was in it, but you would recognize the people. It was a great experience. Now if I had stayed home with no work, then I would have been in the shitter.

Brooks: But the truth is, and without turning this into a men's group …

Plummer: Tell us [your secret]. You can feel comfortable.

Brooks: It was only once, and I was drunk! I was doing King Lear. (Laughter.)

Clooney: You had too much time off!

Brooks: You are who you are, no matter what happens to you. My father was a famous radio comedian [Harry "Parkyakarkus" Einstein]. He was very ill, and he died when I was young, I think before I really comprehended anything, I saw that this [fame] stuff had no meaning. He was paralyzed. He didn't care about people going, "Oh, I love your radio show." He could barely get out of a chair. People think that success changes you, but your demons are your demons. They're only magnified.

THR: Has any great role model influenced you?

Brooks: Jack Benny did something when I was very young that showed me more about how to live a life in this business. I was on The Tonight Show early in my career. When they went away for the last break, Jack Benny leaned over to Johnny Carson and said, "When we come back, ask me where I'm going to be performing, will you?" Johnny said, "Sure." So they came back, and they were saying good night, and Johnny said to Jack, "Jack, where are you going to be performing?" Jack said: "Never mind about me. That's the funniest kid I've ever seen." He set that up to make a compliment. I was like: "Oh, so you can be brilliant and gracious. They go together."

Oldman: My mother is a hero. She's 92 and still gets around. She lives here; I moved her out. Still takes the bus.

Brooks: Get her a car, man. (Laughter.)

Oldman: I've never heard my mother say, "Poor me." She used to do big tapestries and then met my father when he was in the Royal Navy and became a housewife. Then when I was about six or seven, he ran off with his best friend's wife. It happens. I have older sisters who had flown the coop. I was essentially an only child. She's a great inspiration.

Nolte: You're very lucky to have a mom of 92. I lost mine at 86. That was the last parent. When the last parent dies you call your sister or brother and say, "How old are you?" Whichever one's the oldest, that's the next to go. My sister's two years older than me, but it's not going to work out that way, I don't think.

Brooks: You're getting the most calls?

Nolte: Yeah.

THR: What's the best or worst career advice somebody has given you?

Nolte: The best advice is to do theater.

Clooney: Sometimes when you work with younger actors who haven't done theater -- because most of them haven't now; they've gotten famous quickly -- when you're directing them, they will try to "win" every scene. But you have to lose some scenes because you're going to win in the end. If you had done theater, you would go, "No, I'm not going to cry in these next two scenes because I'm going to really lay it on at the end and have earned it."

THR: Has directing changed your acting?

Brooks: I started as an actor before I became a director. I went to Carnegie Tech, which was a theater school. You were taking mime with this man Jewel Walker and dance with Paul Draper. You did everything.

Clooney: You took mime?

Brooks: Shh! Anything you do helps you as an actor. A trip you take to Spain will help you as an actor. As a director,
I work with actors from an actor's point of view. I think there are some directors who like the picture more than the person.

Clooney: You are more direct. You simplify a lot of things. There's this weird dance that directors and actors have to play. The director is basically trying to manipulate the actor into doing what he wants …

Oldman: Yes, but the actor likes to think that it was his idea!

Clooney: Right. So the actor is trying to manipulate the director into doing what he always thought. There's this weird dance …

Waltz: I read this really interesting article written by a cognitive behavioral psychologist, Daniel Kahneman. The "illusion of validity," he calls it. Everybody is so convinced about the validity of their actions, their opinion, and so confident about their decisions. It's complete illusion. It's really a confidence of communicating your point, rather than being right or wrong.

THR: Do you like your work when you see it?

Waltz: I don't see it. Not regularly.

Clooney: Do you go back and see old things you've done?

Waltz: No. Never.

Oldman: I think it's healthy sometimes. It's just, it's old work. Some of it's good, some of it stinks, and what does tomorrow bring?


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