Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Inside Inside

Being a huge fan of Inside the Actor's Studio, I knew that James Lipton's new book, Inside Inside, would really appeal to me. I saw him on Late Night with Conan O'Brien when he was promoting his book, and it hooked me once he spoke about its inner contents. Needless to say, it was a long read, but it was still enjoyable.

Inside Inside, what I thought it would be all about, is not ALL about Inside the Actor's Studio. The first half of the book is really an autobiography of Lipton's life. He goes through very fine details about his past, which are very sharp and, at times, over-detailed.

Lipton goes through his early life, being raised by a single working mother in Detroit after being abandoned by his father, a beat poet who married another young artist. Litpon searched for approving his father his entire life which led him to a similar career in writing and show business. Lipton and his father were reunited later on in life, shortly before his death, where he finally got approval from his father for his talents. On Inside the Actor's Studio, Lipton always looks for common threads between actors and their crafts, and many of them have the same theme that Litpon had: the absent parent. He can relate and does bring it up whenever it comes up with his guests.

Other details of Litpon's life surprised me: he was a writer, a poet, an actor, a soap opera star, a writer of Broadway musicals, and a producer of such television specials such as President Carter's Inauguration and Bob Hope's birthday specials. He really has lived a rich life and has known many important and influential people that must make his life extremely flavorful. What a lucky guy.

Let's not forget Lipton's brief stint in Paris where he was a French pimp. He worked as a pimp when prostitution in France was quite a respectable business. The women got checked out every month and were a lot classier than they are today. They actually had decent reputations and were working to earn money for something higher--a business, school, a family. Lipton would translate for the women, since many of the men coming to the brothel-like atmosphere were American. He would be in the room and translate, and then he would earn a bit of the money. Never knew that part of his life, eh?

Lipton eventually met his wife in 1970, Kedaki, most famously known for her role as Miss Scarlet in Clue. Throughout the book, it is apparent that Lipton is completely in love with her. She is always referenced, and she has a hold over him, not letting him have tattoos and such. She is always with him, and they always seem to make decisions together. Lipton portrays their life as very happy, and it's nice to see him in a good relationship like that. Kedaki seems to be at his shows as well, which must be a nice life for her. The two of them also accompany the guest to dinner after the show which is a brilliant ending of a night! They've got a sweet gig going on there.

Later on, Lipton eventually helps found the Actor's Studio Drama School by merging the Actor's Studio with New School University in New York City. He helped create a three-year MFA program for actors that was built on the Actor's Studio's main principles. Someone who wanted to get in would have to try out, and selection into the school was quite difficult. In order to keep the Studio exclusive, only those who meet certain criteria can be allowed in. The program is for actors, writers, and directors, and they all work together to understand everyone's part of the creative process, which I find to be quite smart.

This is where Inside the Actor's Studio was born. Lipton created his project under the school, a non-credit course where students focus on craft. Lipton would invite famous actors to the school and interview them, as a means to help educate soon-to-be actors, writers, and producers. Lipton got Bravo to sign on, and the show became popular pretty early on. In the beginning, Bravo wanted to change the show a bit, so they hired some people to put in their input on the show. The outcome was that people didn't want a lengthy interview; they wanted quick, fun, juicy, gossipy facts about the actor. They didn't want the end questoinairre. So then, what is really left? Then Inside the Actor's Studio would be like any other junky interview. Thankfully, Lipton ignored the request, and the show has been a hit ever since then.

The second half of the book is then dedicated to Lipton's work on the show. He discusses his process to preparing for the interview. He watches their movies, he researches their past, he makes phone calls and inquiries into their lives to try to dissect their transgression into acting. He then looks for a common thread, a common theme from which to center the entire interview upon. Maybe it has to do with loss, addiction, or comedy, but he tries to find some common idea to use as a central point for the interview, which is pretty smart. I'm sure if you watch any episode that you could figure out what his central point is.

Lipton then goes through many of the important interviews he's had. He has brief clips of some of the best material and answers that have been said on the show. He even discusses some elements that we didn't see as the viewer. For instance, the taping really goes on for about five hours, which they cut down to one. Maybe that's why he has so many cards. We only see a little handful! They normally will start around seven and the interview will last into the wee hours of the morning. The students LOVE watching the taping, and the interview finally stops because students have to go to class in the morning. It must be such a magical experience for them.

He even gives his favorite responses from his beloved questionairre towards the end of the book. He even discusses meating Bernard Pivot and having them both answer their questionairre on Pivot's last day on the air in France. It's a good ending point for the book.

He should have included his own interview on Inside the Actor's Studio when Dave Chappelle interviewed him, but I bet that happened after the book was published. Lipton has had such a tremendous effect on popular culture and has drawn the audience closer to the actors. AND, it also has helped actors who went on the show receive Academy Awards. Interesting combo, eh?

If you like James Lipton and Inside the Actor's Studio, this is an incredible book to read. If you're only really interested in the actors and their responses, only read the second half of the book. I mean, I like James Lipton and all, but he went into SO MUCH detail about his life that I became bored at times. The second half of the book really kept me reading. If someone didn't care about Lipton, then the book would be a drag. Lipton can also be very wordy and lofty at times which was really hard for bedtime reading. But, if you're interested in this stuff, then it's a great read. I wonder if this is required reading for the Actor's Studio School now?

If you don't like the size of the book (because it's pretty intimidating), then just check out the show. Wikipedia has a great list of actors who have appeared on the show, check it out here, and watch episodes on Bravo. They're absolutely fascinating. You'll take away some great lessons on life from listening to these people. It's really something else.

And man, does he love that Will Ferrell! I wish I had a nickel for every time he was mentioned in the book. I love their relationship. And I also love that Conan got Lipton back into acting. Two men that I love who have had such an impact on Lipton. I love it!

So, what do you think of James Lipton's Inside Inside or Inside the Actor's Studio?

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