David Bruce: Anecdotes About Actors

In 2007, Noomi Rapace read for the part of Lisbeth Salander, the punk computer expert in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, in the Swedish film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She got the role, and played Lisbeth in three Swedish movies. The movies made her a star, and suddenly she was able to work with pretty much anyone she wanted to work with. Like many people, she had some misconceptions about Los Angeles, as her manager, Shelley Browning, who represents many foreign citizens who work in Hollywood and who has long known Ms. Rapace’s Swedish agent, discovered. Ms. Rapace said, “I thought L.A. was more about celebrities and red carpets and glossy big lips and big tits. I said to Shelley when we met, ‘I don’t want to go to Hollywood. That’s not for me. I want to do real movies.’ And then she said, ‘But who do you actually like?’ I started to mention people, and she said, ‘Those people actually live in L.A.’” Of course, many misconceptions about actors exist, and they are held even by people who should know better. One misconception was revealed when Ms. Rapace began to meet people in Los Angeles. Ms. Browning said, “It was quite funny, when you work in a business where artists are chameleons, because they kept calling me and saying, ‘She’s nothing like Lisbeth Salander.’ And I said, ‘What did you expect? She was going to come in on a Harley, with a leather jacket and piercings?’ And they said, ‘No, but like, nothing! She’s beautiful, she’s funny, she’s feminine.’ It wasn’t like one or two people called me, it was like everybody called me.” Another misconception could be about actors’ glamorous lives: Actors don’t sweat. But one of the people Ms. Rapace wanted to work with was director Ridley Scott. Ms. Rapace got to meet Mr. Ripley. She said, “I never get nervous, but I thought I was going to pass out. I had on this blue Helmut Lang dress, and when I started to sweat, you could really see it.” By the way, Mariah Larsson, a research fellow in cinema studies at Stockholm University, pointed out, “If you just read Swedish newspapers, you would think there are three big stars in Hollywood: Stellan Skarsgard, Noomi Rapace, and Alexander Skarsgard.”

Elizabeth Taylor displayed great heroism at least twice in her life. In 1967 in Salzberg, Austria, her then-husband, Richard Burton, and some friends were having drinks at the hotel when a very drunk Englishman got annoyed at Mr. Burton and pulled a gun and told him, “I don’t like you very much.” Two hours went by, and Elizabeth, who was upstairs and ready for bed, tried calling to her husband to come to bed, but of course he was in no position to go to her. Annoyed, Elizabeth came downstairs wearing a see-through chiffon nightie and robe. She saw the Englishman and the gun and walked up to him and said, “Put that thing down!” She took the gun from the man and put it on a coffee table, and then she told her husband, “I want you to come to bed now, buster.” They left, and later the Englishman was arrested. And in 1970 in Yugoslavia, where Mr. Burton was playing Marshall Tito in a movie in a remote location, Ms. Taylor and fashion designer Vicky Tiel used to have a helicopter take them and a lunch each day to their husbands. Unfortunately, the helicopter was rickety, and on one flight a door fell off. Vicky was sitting next to the door, and she felt herself being pulled by the air out of the helicopter, but Ms. Taylor grabbed the poncho Vicky was wearing and kept her in the helicopter and alive. Vicky says, “Hooray for top-quality clothing—and a strong-willed woman who can save your life.”

Actor Roger Moore, who played James Bond, aka 007, in several movies, remembers the bad reviews he has received and jokes that he has received no good reviews. He says, “One review I had for Bond said I looked like a floor-walker who had had three facelifts. You’ve got to laugh.” When asked how he wants to be remembered, he says, “As somebody who never walked past a beggar.” He serves as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, having been recruited to the cause by fellow actor Audrey Hepburn, who died in 1993. He says, “We all have a responsibility in life to do what we can to help those less fortunate. Audrey Hepburn originally asked me to get involved with UNICEF. She was my neighbor in Switzerland; at the first press conference we did together, everyone only wanted to ask us about movies, but she wouldn’t let them. She’d turn every question back to the problems facing the world’s children.”

Actors often know their own limitations. Early in his career, E.A. Southern tried to act the roles of tragic heroes but discovered that he was not very good at them and so performed other kinds of roles on the stage. He once told theatrical critic John Rankin Towse about a conversation that he had had with fellow actor Edwin Booth: “We were talking, among other things, of Will Stewart, the old dramatic critic, and his capacity for apt and cutting definition. By way of illustration I quoted his remark about my Claude Melnotte, that it ‘exhibited all the qualities of a poker except its warmth.’” Mr. Southern then added, “I suppose that my performance was about as bad as anything ever seen upon the stage.” Mr. Booth chuckled and then asked, “You never saw my Romeo, did you?”

Some actors and actresses refuse to miss a performance. One such actress was Ethel Merman, about whom it was said that if you wanted to vanish from show business, the best way was to be her understudy. Why? She once said, “I’m gonna take a chance on some young cutie going out there and being better than me? Fat chance!” (Actually, she used stronger language than that.) One of Dick Cavett’s friends was Ms. Merman’s understudy in Call Me Madam. This understudy was told, “If a cement truck hits Ethel, she goes on.”

© 2016, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

David Bruce has written lots of collections of anecdotes, plus other books. Take a look at the list here:


Most of the anecdotes are funny; some are thought provoking.

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