I love actors. And not just because I used to be one. It’s that there’s a desire at the core of the profession to discover the truth and communicate it fully to an audience.
Much as they giggle at the old adage, “Acting is about honesty – once you can fake that you’ve got it made” it’s as far from the actual work as you can get.
Yeah, they drive writers crazy from time to time. We writers are the prospectors of show business, the truffle hogs who unearth the rich veins of comic or tragic gold. But in the end it’s actors who make somebody else want to pay for what we’ve found.
And let’s face it, without them we’re all writing books –- and earning a lot less money.
The honesty of actors also cuts through the bullshit of those who approach cinema as a form of art filled with more hidden messages than the Sgt. Pepper Album. Those pasty faced geeks who invented semiotics and the auteur theory.
This week I unearthed an anecdote from one of my favorite films “Lawrence of Arabia” about one of my favorite moments from that movie, the Arab cavalry attack on Aqaba.
Volumes have been written about that movie and the magnificent performance of Peter O’Toole in the lead role – many of them by those pasty faced geeks.
In the process, they’ve lionized its images into meaning far more than was intended and at least in one case, what was the reality.
Here’s Peter O’Toole…
“There was a famous scene of a charge in which my face was described by Time magazine as with a look of ‘messianic determination’ as we charged.
The day of the charge, we were given Moroccan plow camels, who had never had a human being on their hump. We were doing a mile down a shale hill - 50 camels and 400 horses. It was going to be very dangerous indeed. So I went to the caravan which Omar and I were sharing. As you may know, Omar is a gambling man. He was looking very solemn.
He said, ‘I’m working up the odds, Peter, whether or not the camel will fall over, or whether I will fall off the camel. The odds on the camel falling over are 6:4 against, but the odds of me falling off the camel are even money.’ I saw the sense of that so I asked, ‘What do you intend to do?’ He said, ‘I’m going to tie myself onto the camel.’
I thought, well, I don’t really fancy being adhered to a camel. So I said, ‘I’m not going to do that, Omar. I’m going to get drunk.’ And Omar said, ‘Oh, I’m going to get drunk as well.’ So we got a bottle of brandy and two bottles of milk and we drank the brandy and the milk. And of course by this time we were supremely confident of doing anything. So he was tied to the camel. Off went the rockets – Boom! - and the camels, out of sheer terror, bolted.
And that look of ‘messianic determination’ on my face was, in fact, a drunk actor.”