I’m the type of guy who loves behind-the-scenes stuff. Audio commentaries on DVD? Make my day. Cut scenes? Even better! Making-of featurettes are hit or miss, but I love to hear stories about what goes into the acting process. So it’s no surprise that when I was a theatre major in college and discovered Inside The Actors Studio, I immediately considered it one of the greatest shows on TV.
It was an original concept that Bravo had the good sense to run with: through a joint venture between the Actors Studio Drama School and New School University in New York City, invite iconic and popular actors to share their experiences and insights with acting students, tape it and broadcast the interviews to the public. The gamble paid off in spades as Inside has won numerous Emmys and is the network’s longest-running original series.
Now, so many years after first being introduced to the series, I’m enjoying the original interviews all over again with the Inside the Actor’s Studio – Icons DVD set – an apropos title for the three-disc collection that features some of Hollywood’s elite: Paul Newman in the first interview ever filmed for the show back in 1994; Clint Eastwood outlining his career as an actor and the evolution into an Oscar-winning director; Robert Redford discussing his founding of the Sundance Film Festival and his ongoing prank war with Newman; and Barbara Streisand waxing poetic about music, her storied acting career and what it feels like on the other side of the camera.
Even more appealing than the actors themselves is the host, James Lipton, who is dean of the Actors Studio Drama School. He really does his homework by contacting former teachers and friends of the guest on stage to gain facts and personality tidbits that he injects into his questions. It’s interesting to see the actors’ reactions when he comes up with some obscure piece from their past.
Lipton’s style and deliver has become iconic itself; I really can’t help but think of how many Saturday Night Live skits feature Will Ferrell doing a caricature of Lipton and how Lipton mentions Ferrell every time he interviews someone who’s worked with him.
For this DVD, Lipton takes you through the beginning of the actors' careers, the jobs they had before making it as “full-time” actors, their struggles, victories and defeats. I’ve always learned something about acting or the person on stage each time I’ve watched and it makes me appreciate the craft, a particular film or the individual (sometimes all of the above) even more.
Then we get to the portion of the show which has been spoofed endlessly on various shows – the questionnaire inspired by French talk show master Bernard Pivot. Questions include: favorite sound, what turns you on, and favorite curse word. This is always fun to watch, especially when the actors squirm a little in their seats trying to decide whether they should really swear on cable TV.
Though I must admit that I didn’t always care for the guests (case in point, Barbara Streisand), their stories were interesting nonetheless and I can’t wait for more of these sets to be released. Through Inside’s 12-year tenure it has featured over 100 guests guests, representing some of the most beloved actors of all time (those still around, anyway) or those who’d been the most popular during that year. Some of my favorites include Hugh Jackman, the cast of The Simpsons (the voices behind the animation), Samuel L. Jackson, Dave Chappelle, and Harrison Ford, to name a few.
This DVD set is great for the aspiring actor, a lover of films or a particular actor, and is a great inaugural launch for the series; I truly hope more sets come out as companions.
And though I consider Inside the Actor’s Studio – Icons to be one large bonus feature, it does offer its own bonus features: "James Lipton: Flashbacks" which are new introductions with James Lipton (which was great for the Newman interview as it set the tone for the rest of the series); and "Great Moments That Didn't Make The Cut," previously unseen portions of the original interviews (cut scenes, baby!).
Grade: APowered by Sidelines