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(on acting) "If I weren't allowed this outlet, there wouldn't be a place for me in society."


I suppose I have a highly developed capacity for self-delusion, so it's no problem for me to believe I'm somebody else.


On whether or not he will act in films more often in the future: "Nothing happened over the course of making Gangs of New York that made me think, 'Why don't I do this more often?'"


In every actor's life, there is a moment when they ask themselves, 'Is it really seemly for me to still be doing this?'


(On Scorsese) Martin doesn't have to convince me about anything. I can only say that I would wish for any one of my colleagues to have the experience of working with Marty once in their lifetime. If you get it twice, it's a privilege that you don't necessarily look for but you certainly don't try to avoid.


Life comes first. What I see in the characters, I first try to see in life.


The West has always been the epicenter of possibility. One of the ways we forge against mortality is to head west. It's to do with catching the sun before it slips behind the horizon. We all keep moving toward the sun, wishing to get the last ray of hope before it sets.


(on playing Jack Slevin in The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)) I was, as always, wary of taking on the role. This was a man whose soul was torn, and once you've adopted that kind of internal conflict, it's difficult to quiet.


On disengaging from a character after filming: "There's a terrible sadness. The last day of shooting is surreal. Your mind, your body, your spirit are not in any way prepared to accept that this experience is coming to an end. In the months that follow the finish of a film, you feel profound emptiness. You've devoted so much of your time to unleashing, in an unconscious way, some sort of spiritual turmoil, and even if it's uncomfortable, no part of you wishes to leave that character behind. The sense of bereavement is such that it can take years before you can put it to rest.


Before I start a film, there is always a period where I think, I'm not sure I can do this again. I remember that before I was going to start There Will Be Blood (2007), I wondered why I had said yes. When Martin Scorsese told me about Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York (2002), I wanted to change places with that man. But even then, I did not say yes right away. I kept thinking, I'm not sure I can do this again.


(on seeing his face in Hollywood posters for The Last of the Mohicans (1992)) That was, and will always be, difficult for me. The work itself is never anything but pure pleasure, but there's an awful lot of peripheral stuff that I find it hard to be surrounded by. I like things to be swift, because the energy you have is concentrated and can be fleeting. The great machinery of film can work against that. I have never had a positive reaction to all the stuff that supposedly promotes the film. The thought of it will make me hesitate to do any films at all.


(on learning to box for The Boxer (1997)) I wanted to see if I loved the sport, because if I didn't love the sport, I wouldn't want to tell the story. At its best, boxing is very pure. It requires resilience and heart and self-belief even after it's been knocked out of you. It's a certain kind of a test. And it's hard: the training alone will kill you. And that's before people start giving you a dig.


Playing the part of Christy Brown left me with a sense of setting myself on a course, of trying to achieve something that was utterly out of reach.


(after filming The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)) I was hopelessly at sea. I was extremely unhappy most of the time. I think I probably felt I'd made a fundamental error in agreeing to do that movie even though it was the part and the film that everyone wanted to do. And God help us, that is, in itself, a reason not to do something.


(while filming My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)) I needed - and I still need - to create a particular environment. I need to find the right kind of silence or light or noise. Whatever is necessary - and it is always different. I know it sounds a little fussy and a little ridiculous, but finding your own rhythm is one of the most important things you can discover about yourself. And you have to observe it. As actors, we're all encouraged to feel that each job is the last job. They plant some little electrode in your head at an early stage and you think, Be grateful, be grateful, be grateful. So, it's not without a sense of gratitude that I work. But I couldn't do this work at all unless I did it in my own rhythm. It became a choice between stopping and taking the time I needed.


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