MasterClass with Danny DeVito

The Theatre Royal Haymarket is not only a beautiful venue in the heart of London which is the new home of the hugely successful One Man, Two Guvnors, but it also plays host to MasterClass. This week I was treated to a place on their recent discussion with none other than Danny DeVito, who has graced the stage for the first time in 40 years alongside Richard Griffiths in The Sunshine Boys.

With advice on how to keep your audience awake – “Keep ’em cold!” – to his opinions on Shakespeare – “I don’t understand that s***” – DeVito was full of jokes and hysterical stories that had the audience (filling at least a third of the auditorium) in cringing stitches. Wearing a casual shirt and crocs (which he took off half an hour in), he gives off a feeling of immediate comfort and familiarity. But it wasn’t all laughter; this master of acting, direction, and production shared some of his wisdom following questions from Sunshine Boys director Thea Sharrock, and some brave suggestions from the audience. Below are his answers to some questions, as best as I could scribble them down.

How did you feel about being back onstage after 40years?
I was excited by the thought…. I just took the leap… [it was] beyond my wildest dreams.

Plays or films?
With plays… you get onstage with those crazy people and you go. I corpse a lot, can you tell? But besides the other actors and the play, you’re working with the audience. But if there’s no-one in the audience we’ll still do the show.

Advice for those entering the industry/study/career of theatre?
It’s about studying the things you like, find your path. Take it a piece at a time – stay right in the moment and concentrate on what you’re doing now. Don’t turn things down straight away; experience is a good thing and it’s about being around everything. Keep your eyes open and keep working. Give them some representation of yourself in the characters – that’s 90% of it.

Which do you prefer, acting or directing?
Acting. Unless I’m directing. Here’s something that I like to remember – the reason to be a director is because the position of God is already filled. I didn’t come up with that.

What makes a good director?
Knowing exactly what you want. If the director knows their perspective or point of view, they can relate it. How are you going to communicate that desire to everyone involved? You’ve gotta be able to assimilate all those ideas. If you’re working with those 10 people, 20 people, 80 people, all those ideas come through the filter.

What was your favourite moment on The Sunshine Boys?
There are so many… some funny, some emotional. It was a sea of great feelings.

At the end of your Inside the Actors Studio interview, you talked about secrets. What do actors benefit from these ‘secrets’?
We all have secrets. We don’t want to leave our bodies and minds completely, you want to be there. You are present, as a character. There are secrets that [the character] doesn’t talk about. It’s not imperative that you tell every actor what you have in your mind.

How do you deal with s*** days?
If something good happens, embrace it and let it go. If something bad happens, embrace it and let it go. I try to live in the now. There’s good things and there’s bad things – you’ve gotta stay in the middle. If something good happens, embrace it and let it go. If something bad happens, embrace it and let it go.

And just like most well-rounded interviews, and indeed episodes of Inside the Actors Studio, the session ended with a meaningful yet blissfully simple statement that left us sighing happily at this unassuming man on the stage. A wonderful, insightful experience that I hope to relive another time, with someone new.

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