Monday, 10 October 2011

On the birthday of a talented actor

I don't know if Bradley Whitford seeks the limelight. If having legions of twitter followers is any indication of such desires, it would appear he does not.

But, you say. Hang on. Who chooses to be an actor if they don't have, somewhere inside them, this desire to be looked at, respected, recognised, admired, worshipped? Well, leaving aside the question of whether we all, to some extent, want those things, perhaps there are some who love acting for its own sake, for the sake of the art; perhaps all the baggage and the glitz that come with Hollywood is, to those people, incidental.

Those are the people with talent, or perhaps these are the people who, because of their devotion to their art, have studied and practised and read and observed: perhaps they are skilled, rather than talented. It is not the accident of birth that has made them what the are, but rather discipline, hard work, and determination.

The concept of talent is comforting to the rest of us: if some people have it, and I don't, well that's that, my bad luck. This mindset does not demand of me that I work hard, sacrifice sleep and time and money and sometimes relationships. I can leave that to the talented people. Who probably don't need to do that anyway, since they have it naturally. Right?

And so talent becomes revered, because it is almost magical. It is mysterious, after all: no one knows why some people have it and some don't.

Bradley Whitford may or may not be talented. What? I can hear the outcry from here. How could he not be talented? Have you not seen The West Wing? Do you not know that he won an Emmy or a stunning performance of a PTSD-afflicted Josh Lyman? Of course I know. And - unlike some Emmys, which are motivated by plenty of other factors beside the quality of acting, viz Best Supporting Actress, 2004) - his was wholly merited.

But here's what I also know: he studied for four years at Juilliard, where the hours are incredibly demanding - 8 am to 11 pm most days - and where they don't let even let you perform in public until your fourth year. You are not, in that time, seeking acclaim or pursuing celebrity. You are honing your art for the love of it. You are, often unglamorously, often exhaustedly, putting in a substantial proportion of those 10,000 hours widely believed to be required for becoming an expert at something.

Ah, you say. But 750 to 1,000 people apply to Juilliard each year, and they only take twenty. So there must have been something about Bradley. And you'd be right.  But he had, importantly, already fallen in love with his art. He wanted to act more than he wanted to be an actor. He had fallen in love with the process, and the results would follow. He had found joy in the journey itself. Perhaps that's why he does not appear to be lured by the trappings of fame.

Is he talented? Probably. I want to say, definitely. Because I too am wowed by talent. But I'm also wowed by his devotion to his art. And I think you should be, too.

Fall in love with the process and the results will follow. You’ve got to want to act more than you want to be an actor. You’ve got to want to do whatever you want to do more than you want to be whatever you want to be, want to write more than you want to be a writer, want to heal more than you want to be a doctor, want to teach more than you want to be a teacher, want to serve more than you want to be a politician. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.

- Bradley Whitford


mrsmodcs said...

Yes! And indeed, you were born with a gift as well! So I'll say it here, Happy Birthday Bradley! May it be full of things you love to do!

Stacia said...

I was so sad when he and his wife split up. I thought they were in it for the long haul! That doesn't make his work and dedication any less inspiring, of course, but still ...

Claire said...

Yes, me too...