Billy Wilder on actors learning their lines

“As someone who directed scripts that I myself had cowritten, what I demanded from actors was very simple: learn your lines.

That reminds me. George Bernard Shaw was directing a production of his play Pygmalion, with a very well-known illustrious actor, Sir Something. The fellow came to rehearsal, a little bit drunk, and he began to invent a little. Shaw listened for a while and then yelled, Stop! For Christ’s sake, why the hell didn’t you learn the script?

Sir Something said, What on earth are you talking about? I know my lines.

Shaw screamed back at him, Yes, you know your lines, but you don’t know my lines.

3 thoughts on “Billy Wilder on actors learning their lines

  1. Speaking of Shaws…I believe there are some crazy stories about Robert Shaw showing up well into his cups during the filming of “Jaws” and Steven Spielberg just letting him go and filming it and that a few convincing pieces of Captain Quint’s dialogue came directly from those days.

    • Yes, I read that, too. And one of those speeches was that wonderful one about sharks eating other crewmen from a sinking ship (I can’t remember the name, maybe The Arizona?) the night before the final confrontation with their shark.
      Which reminds me of stories about Lee Marvin also improvising while drunk on the set, too.

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