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Too often, Hollywood has stereotyped actors and actresses, sometimes because of their ethnicity. Anna May Wong played many, many Oriental stereotypes in the 1930s, something she disliked. So, of course, did other actors and actresses with Oriental features (or makeup that made them appear Oriental). Once, Ms. Wong said, “Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain? And so crude a villain. Murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that. How should we be, with a civilization that is so many times older than that of the west?” In 1960, after appearing seldom in movies for two decades, she played Lana Turner’s housekeeper in Portrait in Black. Again, the stereotypes came out, this time from the publicity department, which explained Ms. Wong’s long absence from the screen by passing along a proverb that supposedly had been taught to Ms. Wong by her mother, “Don’t be photographed too much or you’ll lose your soul.” Ms. Wong’s own explanation was this: “I was so tired of the parts I had to play.”

This may be a shock to some people, but at one time, two-time Oscar-winner Jody Foster thought about giving up acting. She found acting not to be rewarding anymore, and she thought about entering some other profession where she could use her analytical skills. Ms. Foster says, “I had been feeling there was something kind of not intellectually valuable about being an actor. It had started to seem like a really dumb job.” Fortunately, she realized what the problem was: “It was me. It was my fault. I wasn’t bringing enough to it. I hadn’t realized that it was my responsibility to go deeper, to really build a character from the ground up; that to really be a good actor, you had to be able to discuss a movie, any movie that you’re taking on, and to see the literature in it. Then it becomes fascinating. Then you get better as an actor. Then you learn to really love movies.” With this realization, Ms. Foster rededicated herself to her career—at age 12. This paid off in a big way. Just two years later, when she was 14, she played a prostitute in Taxi Driver, earning an Oscar nomination.

When he was four years old, actor Steve Buscemi was hit by a bus and got his skull fractured. This doesn’t mean that he was unlucky—the accident could have been a lot worse. In addition, when he became 18 years old, he received a $6,000 settlement from the city. He used the money to pay for acting school at the Lee Strasberg Institute, where he studied with John, Lee’s son, who was more laid-back than his famous father. For example, Mr. Buscemi describes an acting scenario at the institute: “They had this thing where if you were in a desert and imagining sun beating down on you, you couldn’t use the stage light to imagine the sun. But John said if the stage light works, that’s fine. The audience don’t know and don’t care.” Mr. Buscemi, of course, gets results, as is evidenced by his roles in such movies as Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, and Ghost World.

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