Photo Source: Jeremy Jackson
Ted Kotcheff has been in the director’s chair for over 60 years and has worked with some of the greatest talents to grace the screen. Now Kotcheff, who has directed everything from live television dramas to “First Blood” to “Weekend at Bernie’s,” has written his memoir, “Director’s Cut.”
You’ve been in the business for so long. What’s the secret to longevity?
Passion. I’m very interested in working with actors and eliciting great performances. In 1952, I enrolled in an acting class taught by a student of Michael Chekhov. She offered me a class and said, “If you want to be a director, teaching actors is a wonderful enrichment of your directorial skills.” Chekhov’s book “On the Technique of Acting” was my bible. I recommend it to every actor I work with. It gave me criteria to judge an actor. One of my pupils was William Shatner.
I loved working with actors—that’s why I studied actors. I worked with Gene Hackman [in “Uncommon Valor”], who is one of the greatest actors I ever worked with. The first time I cast [him], he said, “Kotcheff, I want three directions from you: more-less, faster-slower, louder-softer.” I just laughed; there was no way I could stick to those three directions. But it wasn’t acting with him; he was being. He was wonderful to be with. You do learn things from great actors. Hackman was delivering this speech, he was instructing the various men who were with him. I said, “Action!” He said, “Kotcheff! I can’t just stand here and speechify. I want some business. Actors are better with business. You don’t have to think about the words, they just come out naturally.” I said, “What if you are putting on camouflage makeup while you’re putting on the speech?” “That’s brilliant,” he said. Actors act better with business, and that became a part of my approach.
What advice do you have for actors?
Actors have to believe in themselves totally and unequivocally. Repress doubt. That’s obvious, isn’t it? I did a teleplay with Ingrid Bergman [“The Human Voice”], but she would have [issues with] confidence. Even the biggest stars in the world have insecurities, and the director has to deal with them. They look at me and say, “I’m putting my career in your hands.” I remember Ingrid saying, “Could he evoke the best from me? Is he going to photograph me in an interesting way?” But when she felt my security, her own insecurities dissolved.
Do you have advice for auditioners?
Go to a good acting school. You have to learn about the essentials of performance. Directors elicit the great performance, but you have to get those tools.
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