Olivier, ’nuff said
For me, the best book ever written about Hollywood is William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983). Goldman was a highly successful screenplay writer in the 60’s and 70’s. His book is full of anecdotes that are not found in most other publications or via the world wide web. Witness Goldman’s exasperation when director Bryan Forbes says on the casting of the sex bomb of The Stepford Wives- “I think Nannette might be rather good for the part of Carol, don’t you?” Read the book to find out why Goldman can’t argue with this, though he disagrees entirely with Forbes’ choice.
In Marathon Man (1976 movie) Goldman got to work with one of the most talented actors of all-time, Laurence Olivier. Larry, as Olivier was called in the business, was at the end of his career but he still knew how to read a scene. He gave the director of the film, John Schlesinger, a lesson in stagecraft.
(verbatim excerpt from the book)
Olivier and Roy Scheider were rehearsing a scene. In the story they are very close to violence, but both are still trying to figure out what the other one knows. The dialogue went like this:
OLIVIER: We must, talk. Truthfully, Are you to be trusted?”
OLIVIER: Was that the truth? Or are you trying to upset me?
SCHEIDER: I know why you’re here and I know that sooner or later you’re going to go to the bank.
OLIVIER: Perhaps I have already been.
Schlesinger interrupted them. He said, “Larry, that’s supposed to go fast and after Roy says the line about the bank, you’re taking a pause before “Perhaps I have already been.” Don’t take the pause.”
“Olivier said “Of course,” and they started into the dialogue again. And then he stopped. “I have a problem about not taking the pause.” We waited. “I’m trying to find out information. Roy says, “I know why you’re here.” And I need to find out what that means. Then Roy says, “I know . . .” And I ‘m listening. Then he says, “I know that sooner or later . . .” And I’m still listening. Now he says, “I know that sooner or later you’re going to go . . .” And I’m still listening. Finally he says, “I know that sooner or later you’re going to go to the bank.” That pause I’m taking is to give me time to register the information about the bank. “I understand,” Schlesinger said. “But we’ve got to get rid of the pause.” Olivier turned to me, then. “Bill,” he said, “could I suggest an alteration in the line? Would it be all right if I changed it so that the line went, “I know that you’re going to go to the bank sooner or later?” You see, then I could register the word bank while he was saying “sooner or later” and I wouldn’t need the pause.”
Obviously it was fine with me and the line was altered and we went on without the pause. And probably this two minutes of rehearsal explained at length doesn’t seem like much put down in black and white. But that moment-when the actor of the century asked me would I mind if he switched six words around-is the most memorable incident of my movie career. Olivier. Calling me “Bill.” Olivier. Asking me would I mind.