David Mamet Reveals Secret Behind His Trademark Dialogue

David Mamet - 2016 11th Rome Film Festival - Getty - H 2018
Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images

The Pulitzer Prize-winner stopped by the 'It Happened in Hollywood' podcast to share secrets and stories behind his play-turned-film 'Oleanna.'

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, screenwriter and director David Mamet shared the secret behind his trademark rapid-fire dialogue on the latest episode of the It Happened in Hollywood podcast.

"I'm going to share my secret with all of your listeners and you can all do the same thing," Mamet said when asked how his halting patter in classic scripts like Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna came to be. "You have to have your ancestors start about 6,000 years ago being persecuted because of their race and religion.

"And after 6,000 years of that you will probably have the genetic and cultural disposition to not trust anything and to treat everything with a sense of irony and to be very, very wary — not so much of bad news, but of good news. I think these people are called Jews. Sound familiar?" he continued.

Mamet, 72, was born in Chicago to Jewish parents. His father, a labor attorney, was a first-generation American, born to Polish-Jewish emigres. 

"When I was a kid, my grandparents and the grandparents of everybody I knew spoke with a very thick accent and didn't speak very good English," Mamet explained. "So my parents' generation was the first American generation. All they wanted to do was assimilate."

"I can't blame them," he said. "They came back from the Depression, the came back from the war, anybody who stayed in Europe got thrown into an oven. So they wanted to be Americans, but still they retained the speech patterns of Yiddishkeit, the Jewishness of Eastern Europe — it's very batamt, as they say. It's very tasty."

Mamet also revealed that he wrote Oscar show gags for friend Steve Martin the first time the actor and comedian hosted the telecast in 2001.

"He had just broken up with Anne Heche, who decided that she was gay. And Tom Hanks had just done Cast Away — so I said here's a great gag to open up: 'I see Anne Heche is dating the volleyball from Cast Away,'" Mamet said.

Mamet's newest work, The Christopher Boy's Communion, will receive its world premiere Feb. 13 in Los Angeles at the Odyssey Theatre and run for 10 performances. The play, about a grisly murder in New York's Central Park, stars William H. Macy and Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon.


For much more from David Mamet on the making of Oleanna, listen to the episode of It Happened in Hollywood and be sure to subscribe.