Picks and Pans Review: On Acting

UPDATED 12/01/1986 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/01/1986 at 01:00 AM EST

by Laurence Olivier

Four years ago Olivier wrote a delightful autobiography, Confessions of an Actor. This book is less focused on himself, but since he is such a superb raconteur and On Acting is written in conversational style, it is even more entertaining than Confessions. Of King Lear, Olivier says, "Frankly, Lear is an easy part, one of the easiest parts in Shakespeare.... He's like all of us, really: He's just a stupid old fart." Explaining how he prepared his controversial Othello, Olivier says, "To create a character, I first visualize a painting; the manner, movement, gestures, walk all follow.... You keep the image in the heart and then project it onto the oil painting." Of the first rehearsal for a play: "If you are frightened of making a fool of yourself, if you start too subtly, too cozily, giving just little glimpses of what the part might become, you create huge barriers for yourself later on. You must be open, naive, prepared to charge down every alley that presents itself, until you lock into the ones that you and your character need." Olivier is an impressive critic too. Eugene O'Neill, he says, "was a writer with a heart the size of a melon, which he sliced open from time to time and dipped his pen into." With great insight, Olivier points out those qualities in great acting that can apply to all artists: "It is not a game of charades, this acting world of ours; it is an everlasting search for the truth.... We must insist on holding a piece of rock in our palms and not bright-colored plastic." In On Acting he gives readers solid rock indeed. (Simon and Schuster, $18.95)

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