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Tony and Emmy Award winner Judith Light is critically acclaimed for her film, television, and stage work, as well as a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star recipient. Television: The Politician,[…]

The difference between nailing a scene and turning in a mediocre performance is all about “being present in the moment” while “really being outside of yourself.”

Question: How do you prepare for a role? 

Judithrn Light: I have a very complex, complicated and intricate process rnwhen I create a role that I don’t even know that I can really rnarticulate. I have the most extraordinary manager who I have had for 30 rnyears, who used to be a psychologist before he was managing in our rnbusiness and... his name is Herb Hamsher. And I always talk to Herb rnabout it. I always talk to Herb about the decision of choosing this rnparticular role and because of his psychological background, even thoughrn he’s never been my therapist, he is able to talk to me knowing and rnunderstanding my psychology and understanding the psychology of this rnparticular character. So, I begin there and then I read it over and overrn and over and over, and I continue reading it over and over, even to rnright before I do a performance once I’m into a run because there are rnalways new things to be found and there are always things that are rnplaying on me in my own psyche that I use and I call upon. 

I am rndedicated also to making sure I am giving a performance, which means rnthat includes the audience, whoever the audience may be. It doesn’t rnmatter if it’s film or television. There's always an audience and I’m inrn a service business and I know that. And the other thing is that my rnconnection to my fellow playmates, my cast mates, is extremely importantrn to me because the dynamics of who I bring to that role are colored rncompletely by who else is cast in that story. 

So, I spend a lot rnof time, I do a lot of very quiet, personal homework where I spend rnhours. There was a quote in the book about Eleonora Duse and the way shern worked called “The Mystic in the Theater,” and they talk about how she rnwould sit in front of an open window and simply think and use her rnimagination in relation to creating the character to see that person andrn know that somewhere it is inside of her and to find that treasure trovern of that psyche and bring it forward because that character always has arn very specific voice and I listened for the voice. I think a lot of rnactors do this too... It’s like you hear the voice of that person and rnyou incorporate it into yourself. 

So, I have lots of different rntraining from different methods, the method being one of them, but I rnincorporate them all for what I’m doing and what I’m working on. And rnsometimes, it clicks for me when I put on the shoes or the costume or rnthe wig or the something. Something happens for me. so, it’s a lot of rndifferent disciplines from a lot of different places and also if it’s a rnhistoric piece, I do a lot of research or if it’s a particular rnpsychological bent, I do a lot of research. So, it’s a combination of a rnlot of things. So, there you have it. 

Question: What rnmakes the difference between nailing a scene and turning in a mediocre rnperformance? 

Judith Light: Being present in the rnmoment, listening, not thinking about yourself, really being outside of rnyourself. I’ve done performances where I’ve finished and Herb has been rnthere and I’ve turned to him and I’ve said, “I think it went really wellrn tonight.” And he would go, “Mmmm,” because all that told me was that I rnwas watching me giving the performance and so I wasn’t really giving thern performance. 

Oftentimes I’ve said to him, “Oh, no. Not there.” rnAnd he said, “Oh, you're absolutely incorrect. It was thrilling to watchrn that tonight.” So, it really is about losing self-consciousness and rnreally making it about somebody else and making it about the audience rnand making it about yourself. It’s the paradox of having to have enough rnof an ego so you want the performance to be good, but also at the same rntime, knowing that you must get the ego out of the way in order to rnreally transcend it and give a performance that creates an experience rnfor someone outside of you. 

Question: Do you need to rnidentify closely with the role you’re playing? 

Judith rnLight: Whenever you respond to a role, whenever I respond to a role,rn it’s because there is something that is calling me. I have a different rncontext that I’ve developed over the years for my work, because before rnmy work was always about taking the thing that I thought was going to rnhelp me "make it" in the business and now I take things because I rnexperience being guided to take them. 

So, often times they are rnthings that I need to be working on in my own life, and I’ll respond to rnit for some reason, but I won't find out that reason until I’m in the rnmiddle of the rehearsal process or sitting in front of that open window rndoing the work that I know that I need to be doing for this character. rnSearching my soul to find what I think actors have the luxury of doing rnwhich is living many lifetimes in one lifetime and working on your own rnpsyche because only then, when I have created that, can I really give rnthat experience to somebody else? So, often times it may not seem like rnit’s close to me, but there's something in there that’s close to me for rnsure. 
Recorded on May 10, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen