Bob Odenkirk, Morris Chestnut and 7 More Actors Reveal Their Onscreen Mentors

11:00 AM 6/4/2019

by Scott Huver

TV's top male performers reveal which actor or actress, on set or onscreen, taught them the most about their craft, from Gene Wilder to Spencer Tracy to Demi Moore.

Bob Odenkirk and Morris Chestnut
Bob Odenkirk and Morris Chestnut
Courtesy of AMC; NBC

  • Jason Bateman

    Courtesy of Netflix; George Rose/Getty Images

    "Gene Wilder was a big deal for me growing up. He's a guy who was just hilarious in everything that he did comedically, but he never seemed to be doing a comedy. He was always playing his characters that were vulnerable or human or broken enough that the humor would come from these car crashes of dignity, or paralyzing moments of self-doubt. It was an interesting strategy to try to get a laugh, and it necessitated a lot of acting talent." 

  • Benicio Del Toro

    Courtesy of SHOWTIME; Dave Benett/Getty Images

    "There are actors that lead, and actors that follow — the ones that you really have fun with are the ones who can do both. Patricia Arquette is a leader just by nature, and it was fun to follow her, and she sometimes allowed me to take the lead, in terms of two dancers. She’s very giving and it shows in her work — it was very complete. I learned from her to be strong, and to be OK in the backseat and enjoy the ride."

  • Bob Odenkirk

    Courtesy of AMC; Bruce Glikas/WireImage

    "Working opposite Bryan Cranston was a gift: the ease that he exhibited with losing himself in a character, the sense of surrendering your own sense of your own world and your own self to a character's world was a wonderful energy to be around and to try to emulate. [Acting] has more in common with an athletic endeavor than it does anything else. Not just in the way that you use your whole body, but it's a mental preparation and everything is consuming, losing yourself in this activity, this movement." 

  • Eric Bana

    Courtesy of Bravo; Matt Carr/Getty Images

    "Robert Duvall is one of the most watchable actors ever. I was fortunate enough to be in a film with him. I got to work with him closely and ask him a lot of questions and watch him work. There's nothing that I saw him do that I should have written down on a piece of paper or anything like that, [but] it was amazing to watch him up close and see his approach and his ability to deal with many different things at once. He was just a really interesting actor." 

  • Kevin Costner

    Courtesy of Paramount Network; Ron Davis/Getty Images

    "What you do is you find that you have certain things in common with people that you did admire. Whether it's easy or not for Gene Hackman, I can't tell you, but he was such a real actor to work across from. That's what I hope I am for other actors, that when they work with me, they feel like it's real, it's honest, right across from them. The goal for me is to be a better actor next year than I am this year." 

  • Brian Cox

    Courtesy of HBO; Photofest

    "Spencer Tracy. When Charles Laughton — who was also an actor I admire, and a very dangerous actor — died, Spencer Tracy said, 'Well, did he die of acting?' But I knew what Tracy meant, because Tracy was always in the middle of these realities' truth. My great friend Albert Finney had that as well, and Brando at his best had it. But what you see on the screen of Tracy's work is always that the integrity is beyond measure, and to me, he is probably the greatest actor of all time." 

  • Morris Chestnut

    Courtesy of NBC; Buena Vista Pictures/Photofest

    "One of the hardest working actors that I've worked with was Demi Moore. When we were doing G.I. Jane, we were literally on set at 6 o'clock in the morning — she was there being professional, doing her work, focused. Then at lunch time she was running three to five miles, and getting right back to the set after lunch. And that really opened my eyes. I was like, 'Wow, not only is she just dedicated to this role, but she is working extremely hard.' I mean, she was the lead in the movie, and I was exhausted at lunchtime! That's what I saw of her work ethic." 

  • Sam Heughan

    Courtesy of Starz

    "I'm a theater actor — I was always obsessed by the greats like [John] Gielgud and [Laurence] Olivier. When I was growing up, I was lucky to work in a theater as an usher, and there were a few local stage actors that became my idols, and I actually was very lucky to work with them later on in my acting career. So it's my peers, mostly — the people that surround you. Your performance is always raised by those around you. That's the great joy of an ensemble." 

  • Cody Fern

    Courtesy of FX; Jean Baptiste Lacroix/Getty Images

    "I've learned the most from Sarah Paulson: to understand how damned hard she works and how much it means to her, and how willing she is to fight for the character and to fight for the story. To watch her act is to be in the presence of greatness, and to call her a friend now is very strange and wonderful thing. She’s the real deal." 

    A version of this story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.