The Actor’s Studio was founded in 1947 by Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford, and Robert Lewis, to provide a unique environment for theatre professionals (actors, directors and playwrights) to develop their craft within a select group of their peers. It particularly emphasized the Method school of acting as taught by Konstantin Stanislavski and his student Eugene Vakhtangov, but also included other styles of work.
In 1994, when the Actors Studio was in danger of dissolving, James Lipton facilitated a partnership between the New School for Social Research and the Actors Studio to create a Masters degree program in Fine Arts. The Actors Studio then became the Actors Studio Drama School, with Lipton serving as its Dean Emeritus. In 2006, the ASDS moved to Pace University in New York.
Part of the ASDS program involves craft seminars, in which highly accomplished professional actors and directors are interviewed by Lipton for three to five hours before an audience of students. These interviews are intended as training, not entertainment, but they are filmed and edited to create the series, Inside the Actors Studio, produced and broadcast by the Bravo cable network. The series, now in its fifteenth season with over 200 episodes in the can, is viewed in over 125 countries.
ASDS alumnus Robin Williams was interviewed by Lipton on January 29, 2001, and the resulting episode of Inside the Actors Studio became one of the most popular that Bravo ever aired. In his inimitable style, Williams takes control of the evening away from his host the moment he steps onto the stage, and spends more than five hours (from which the two-hour episode was edited) committing serial improvisation for the very entertained students. He also, when Lipton can get a word in edgewise, answers questions, discussing his childhood, different film roles, and how he moved from stand-up comedy to acting. I had watched this episode when it aired on Bravo, and I was pleased to see it released on DVD. I hoped that the DVD version would include material not seen in the original broadcast.
The DVD version, Inside the Actors Studio: Robin Williams, is extremely enjoyable. Everything that made the original broadcast episode so popular is intact, along with additional footage from Williams’ live interview. It’s futile to say any more about it, because Robin Williams can’t be described — you just have to watch him, and repeated viewings are recommended. Sometimes he’s gleefully predictable: when Lipton ingenuously asks Williams if he has an introverted side, we know exactly how Williams will respond, and we’re just waiting for it. But more typically, Williams takes Lipton and us on the kind of roller-coaster ride we’ve come to expect from this brilliant comedian and actor. I’m very sorry that we can’t have an epic video of raw footage incorporating the entire five-hour session.