“Inside The Actor’s Studio” Celebrates 10 Years Sunday Night

Mister D: I saw a commercial for this last night and they showed Bette, so I’m assuming they will be showing clips of her from the show. Whether they are new clips, I have no earthly idea.

JAMES LIPTON is easy to make fun of. The great one always are.
The Star Ledger
Matt Zoller


Photo: Marcia

The host of Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio,” which celebrates its 10th anniversary with a two-hour retrospective special Sunday at 8 p.m., has been imitated a lot in recent years, most notably on “Saturday Night Live,” where Will Ferrell portrayed him as a fawning, unstable neurotic.

The man is certainly a tempting target, and bully for him; better to have an excess of style than none at all.

With his insinuating questions, plum pudding delivery and stacks of note cards, Lipton is cornball in the best way. He seems less like a contemporary TV host than an intense egghead who time-warped in from 1954, when hosts and guests could blab for 30 straight minutes about art and philosophy without fear of interruption, and everybody dressed to the nines and chain-smoked.

Like Barbara Walters, Larry King and other strategic fawners, Lipton always poses as the world’s most devoted student of whomever he happens to be talking to. And he specializes in what might be called Oscar Moments — when he prods his guest into discussing a touchy or painful aspect of his or her life.

This special contains many such moments. Most of them are so unaffected and honest that I found them difficult to watch, even though I’d seen them before.

In heartbreakingly plain language, Gene Hackman recalls the last time he saw his dad — casually waving from the window of a car as he left his family without even saying goodbye. Melanie Griffith admits she turned to booze and cocaine to fill the emptiness she felt when she wasn’t acting.

When the late Jack Lemmon frankly tells Lipton, “I’m an alcoholic,” the room falls so silent that you can hear a faint electrical hum that microphones make when they have nothing to record but dead air.

“Are we gonna bring out the Kleenex already?” Bette Midler teases him, three questions into her interview. “We don’t try to make people cry,” Lipton assures her, unconvincingly.

Luckily, Lipton rarely crosses the line separating biography from gossip. The personal disclosures usually tie into the artist’s work and the process by which it was created.

My major objection to the series has always been that Lipton avoids discussing his guests’ professional mistakes. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this job over the past decade, it’s that an artist’s failures can be as revealing as his successes.

But this is a minor complaint considering how much new and useful information Lipton teases out of his guests. “Inside the Actors Studio” is structured as a classroom exercise that lets a professional share advice and war stories with students — and on that score, it should be considered a great success.

Ben Kingsley warns students not to saw the air too much with their hands. Anthony Hopkins admits he always had difficulty with Shakespeare’s dialogue and used to break it up into pieces, until Sir Laurence Olivier warned him, “When you break it up, you break up the thought.”

Like all great interviewers, Lipton is a dogged reporter. He dredges up revealing quotes so old the subject has forgotten he or she uttered them. His questions about key motifs in directors’ movies suggest that he might have made a great film historian or biographer.

Interviewing Steven Spielberg , Lipton notes the director’s father is a computer scientist and his mother is a musician, then describes the finale of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” in which humankind makes contact with extraterrestrial life.

“When the spaceship lands, how do they communicate?” Lipton asks Spielberg.

“You answered your own question,” Spielberg says, smiling. Then he adds: “You see, I’d love to say, ‘You know, I intended that, and I realized that was my mother and father.’ But not until this moment.”

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