“Are You Anybody?” Quotes

I recently read “Are You Anybody?” by Jeffrey Tambor. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you like them, buy the book here.

“Yo-Yo Ma once said that you have to have fire in the belly to be an artist. Same goes for being an actor. It’s not enough to want to be an actor, you have to have that fire. One of the things that provided that fire for me was that moment with my family. I loved my dad, but I was going to prove him wrong. I woke up each morning with a mission, with fire in the belly.” (8-9)

“There are three kinds of Jews: Orthodox Jews, who only read Hebrew; Conservative Jews, who read Hebrew and English; and Reform Jews, whose only requirement is to sing show tunes.” (12)

“I keep a photograph folded in my wallet of a little Jewish boy being marched out of the Warsaw ghetto at gunpoint. When I lose my nerve, I take the photo out and look at it. I am that boy. We are all that boy.
A reporter once asked me if I put my Jewish roots in my performances.
“All my characters are Jewish,” I said.” (24)

“A late friend of mine came up to me one day with tears in his eyes and said, “I used to be somebody. Now I’ve become somebody else. God help me, what have I done?” (27)

“When I do my talk, I choose a moment in the evening to have the audience close their eyes and imagine someone in their lives who is having a bad time of it, someone who is failing. I caution them not to use themselves, because it’s too close and it’s hard to be objective.” (29)

“The very definition of being an actor is: Don’t keep your nose clean – your mission is to get into trouble and stay there.” (29)

“I have a theory that we come into this world with a set of sealed orders. It’s not just our physical DNA, but a sort of spiritual DNA. You could call it your purpose or your groove or whatever word you like. Joseph Campbell called it bliss. George Saunders calls it “one’s primary reason.” Whatever you call it, it’s your obligation to yourself to find it. It’s not a whim, nor a wish, buta need. It wakes you up each morning with almost a sickness in your stomach to get on with it.” (42)

“If you comment on it, you kill it. If there’s a hat already on your head, why in God’s name would you put another hat on top of it? The audience doesn’t like to see you wink.” (48)

“Jack was adamant about this one: You must come to the first rehearsal off book – with your lines memorized.” (49)

“Forcing us to confront the text made us get ready in thought and character. We had begun the process. We weren’t waiting for his direction. We were co-creators. It wasn’t about learning the lines, it was about learning the part.” (50)

“About two weeks into the four or five week rehearsal period, Jack would leave. Let me repeat: the director would leave. For a week.
We were blocked, which means we had all the stage movement learned, and were up on our feet. He’d say, “Okay, see you in a week. Start running it.” That’s it. No advice, no notes. Not even a wave at the door. We would rehearse with the stage manager while he was gone.
I’ve never seen any other director do this, but it worked extremely well for him. He believed in his cast, and he believed in the play, and he believed in his process.” (50)

“He taught me to seek out other mentors in my life and career who would also give me confidence.” (51)

“There are actors in those local companies who kill in show after show, and they never leave because they are already doing exactly what they want to do.” (61)

“If you don’t get better in the first two weeks of your acting class, for which you’ve plunked down a good amount of money, get the fuck out of there as fast as you can.” (82)

“When people ask me for one salient piece of life advice and I tell them, “Adore everything,” they are usually disappointed. But it’s a true thing, and you should do it.” (95)

“Orson Welles put it: “You have to make the actor believe he is better than he is. That is the job. More than confidence, give him arrogance. He really has to think he’s great, that he is extraordinary.”” (100)

“I start every single day reading. This is my ritual: I make a cup of coffee before bed and put it on my nightstand. This routine goes all the way back to my college days. When I wake, I drink the cold coffee and read for thirty minutes. I don’t get out of bed until I’ve completed this sacred ritual.” (113)

“I like to say, Judith is so good she gets a Tony when she goes to the theater.” (123)

“By the mid-1980s, I had a recurring role on a top television show, and people were noticing me – and I noticed them noticing. Under that gaze, I became not myself but this actor with this built-in expectancy. It’s what happened when I first did Sly Fox in front of Larry Gelbart. “Wait till you see the kid” ruined me. I was trying to be perfect to impress people, but that’s not where the “good stuff,” as they say, comes from. To find your purpose – or your “primary reason,” as George Saunders so aptly describes it, or as we used to say in the ‘60s, your “thing” – I believe you first must be willing to wreck it.” (141)

“The author Henry miller said his teacher told him he knew what he sounded like when Miller tried to write well, but what did it sound like when he tried to do it badly? And that’s when Henry Mill said he found his “voice.”” (142)

“Errors are essential and need to be welcomed. They are the opposite of perfection and yet can lead to genius and revelation.” (142)

“In movies and television, the director might have you do many takes of a scene until it’s done, and then say, “now do one for yourself.” Inevitably – ask any actor – that’s the take that’s full of play and creativity and joy and is the one that has the most freedom and life. On the Transparent set, Jill Soloway starts us with that take. That is, indeed, our premise.” (144)

“Dopamine and serotonin flow through the body when you play. It makes you joyful and fearless. When you submit to the eyes being on you, the work ceases to be play and becomes something else, something rigid, something expected.” (144)

“There is no such thing as a straight line to success, in life, in love, or in career. You’re going to fuck up somewhere along the way. You might make a bad decision, a stupid choice, an ill-informed move. You might choose to do something good, but for the wrong reason. You might choose something bad for the right reason.” (151)

“Milton said, “You’re a good boy. You’re the first one off book. You’re the first one to rehearsal. You like to please people. That’s a good thing, and a bad thing.”” (161)

“The crazy part is, the audience doesn’t know you’re in their thrall. You’re in thrall to no one and nothing, to something that doesn’t even exist. And that thrall is the death of spontaneity and invention.” (169)

“I think this ability [to eliminate any sense of subservience to the audience] is not just a necessity, but it is one of the keys to the kingdom. To be clear, dear reader, the phrase is “fuck ‘em.” It’s not “fuck them.” It’s not “fuck you” – especially not “fuck you,” never “fuck you.” It’s “fuck ‘em.” It really should be written fuckem actually. It’s an attitude – not of hatred or aggression – but of freedom from self-censorship and the need to please.” (169)

“It’s not that you don’t give a shit – you do give a shit. It’s not that you’re relaxed; it has nothing to do with relaxed.” (171)

“It’s not being unafraid; who’s not afraid. It won’t slow your heart rate down; in fact, it will increase it because “fuck ‘em” brings more tasks and makes you use even more of the colors on the palette. It won’t make you happy; who’s happy? I’m the Jewish son of Russian Hungarian parents – it’s not even an option.” (171)

“It will make you more effective when you put down the heavy luggage being a good boy or girl; that’s when your talent will come through.” (171)

“It’s an attitude. It is confident.
It applies even in the quotidian routines of everyday life. A friend of mine used to being his day by aying, “I’m going to work to get fired today.” That was his version of muttering through the peephole. He assumed an attitude that said, “Fuck it. Fire me if you don’t like it.” It freed him to do his work unfettered by fear.” (172)

“This is how you get a role. You walk into an audition with this attitude: “If you were to pay me, this is how I would do this role. If you agree with that, hire me. If you don’t agree with that, adjust my performance. If you don’t agree with that…then let’s part ways as professionals and move gently on with our lives.” It’s called an audition, a word that literally means a “hearing,” not a do-you-like-me or do-you-think-I’m-talented or do-you-think-I-have-a-future-in-show-business.” (175)

“My attitude showed them that I had confidence, a word I take very seriously. Con = with; fidence = loyalty to oneself. Loyalty to oneself. Fuck’em. And confidence spreads in the room: if the actor is confident, the director is more confident as is the producer and, oh boy, the casting director, and maybe, just maybe, the guy doling out chili on the set.” (175)

“I met them in the office of the high priest of ABC for this high-pressure pitch meeting. My partners started to do their spiel, and I could see they were being timid and it was not selling. I thought, Fuck it, my mom just died. I just didn’t feel like being cowed and afraid that morning – so I grabbed the script and read a long paragraph, acting it with everything I had. Their mouths were hanging open. By the time my partners and I got down to the lobby, we got the call: the network bought it. They bought my confidence more than even the concept.” (176)

“Brian Grazer told me the best thing: “This is what a career sounds like: No, no, no, no,no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes, no, no, no, no, no, no.”” (186)

“I tell my students, “If you are any good, you will be fired.” I must have made it sound good, because I regularly receive emails from students who tell me they can’t wait to graduate and get fired. If you’re ever stuck at a dinner party with actors and the conversation lags, just ask, “have you ever been fired?” and you will be regaled with stories of dismissal for the rest of the evening.” (187)

“Pay attention. God is in the details, as every good writer knows. People are not generalities or abstraction; they are a collection of specifics, detail upon detail upon detail. In observing those details, you will discover this axiom: People are ridiculous.” (216)

“It’s my theory that you don’t get a role by just reading a part well. There’s a moment in a reading where you get a role, and you have to hit that moment.” (225)

“The thing that I loved about doing The Larry Sanders Show was that not everyone got it at first. The writing was remarkable – Garry never went for the easy joke, he went past the joke to the character reveal. If you were a writer who got that, you excelled.” (228)

“As a young actor, I would plan my performance in my office or in my room. I would get up the next day to shoot, and I would get in my car and will the world away. It was as if I had a body prophylactic on. I wanted nothing to affect me. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t want anything. And when I got to whatever set I was working on, I presented this pristine, rehearsed, performed character. I didn’t just learn my own lines, I learned everybody’s lines. I showed up two and half hours before curtain and ran through the entire play.
What Garry was doing was a revelation, just as it had been when I first saw him on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show years earlier. With Garry, you didn’t hide; you brought the day – what was affecting you right then, right there – no hiding, you brought “the day.” It was like the crossroads of jazz and existentialism, as composer Ben Sidran once said, by “being yourself in the moment” and “open to what comes next.” (233)

“There’s a wonderful thing that happens when you know you’re a day player. I think everyone should go to work every day thinking they’re a day player. You know that at the end of the day, you can go on to the next job or you can go on safari. There’s a certain liberation to that.” (241)

“I’ve noticed something that happens to me when I teach. My life gets better. I get better. Not my acting per se, but my life. It’s what Milton and other teachers had said to me: when you teach, you’re basically talking to yourself.” (267)

“To be an actor, I believe, you have to be personal and you must act as if your life depends on it.” (267)

“Acting and comedy are about saving lives. My dad used to say, “be useful. This was useful.”” (268)

Liked the quotes? Buy the book here.

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