This Is Not My Memoir
The creative world is not just about an audience's simple gratification or creating work for monetary rewards alone, it's about exploring one's own creative mind, desires and one's own willingness to remove all limits placed on you.
André Gregory, the renowned actor, director, writer and artist has a body of work that is intriguing and engages his audience. Whether it is through his American cult classic 'My Dinner with André', co-written with Wallace Shaw, through theatre or through his art Gregory's inspires you to look deeper and explore creativity and the arts in such an original way.
Hello André thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
It's a dark, dark, time. We have 27 friends who have now come down with the virus, it's completely changed our lives. My wife and I have been in lockdown since March and have seen almost no one. It's strange and lonely with very little hope that things will change for the better soon. Then we have the second virus - an insane and stupid President who is killing his own people and bringing this country to its knees. As a young boy, I was confronted with fascism in Europe. Now I have to live through fascism in America. Arundhati Roy has said "we cannot afford the luxury of despair." So the question is how to see what's going on with clarity and still find some remnant of hope.
Do you think this has offered people creative opportunities to explore their creative selves?
From the artists I know, I would say that this time is so cataclysmic that very few are able to explore their creative selves. There's too much distraction, too much concern, too much anxiety. I did do some joyful paintings during the summer, but have now run out of steam.
You studied acting at The Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre where did your passion for acting and theatre come from?
No, my passion for acting did not come from the Neighbourhood Playhouse, it came from performing the role of Petruccio when I was 12 years old.
What was your time like at The Neighbourhood Playhouse School and how much did your time at the school help shape the type of work you would create?
My times at the Neighbourhood Playhouse? I would say that I learned nothing there and that Meisner's work was rather superficial. He gave us exercises developed years before for the group theatre in another time for other actors. Also, borrowing from one period in Stanislavski's work, he asked us while working on a scene to ask the questions, "where am I going, where do I come from, why am I here, what is my action, what is my objective." This is very cerebral, I was so busy asking these questions that I couldn't simply be there. I did learn a lot, however, at the Actor's Studio, the Berliner Ensemble, and at the theatre of Jerzy Grotowski.
How much did your theatre background help prepare and guide your move from into film?
My theatre background helped prepare and guide my move into film because of my feeling that the theatre belongs to the actor.
Few modern actors/writers/directors have theatre training or a theatre background would you recommend theatre training for an emerging acting?
In my experience, most theatre training is rather mediocre, at least in the United States. Every actor is unique and works in his or her unique way. The task, I think, is to find out how to make a concrete manifestation of your inner self as an actor. Theatre schools often give every actor one way of training. This does not address the unique nature of each human being.
"I have never understood why the film made such a profound impression on people, but of course I was delighted it did so."
Was it cathartic looking back at your life and career?
It was not cathartic looking back at my life and career. It did though give me a deep feeling of what an extraordinarily fascinating personal and professional life I have been privileged to live.
You collaborated on "This Is Not My Memoir" with Todd London, what inspired you to want to write this book?
What inspired me to write this book, and I have to say that I never wanted to write a memoir, but my editor at FSG, Will Schwalbe, made me an offer I couldn't refuse. His offer backed me into a corner in which I was tempted to do what I never wanted to do. And I am so glad now that I did so.
My Dinner with André is an American classic, though "film is forever", did you ever imagine that the film would remain so culturally significant nearly 40 years later?
When Wally and I began the work on MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, we said that we would be surprised if anyone other than a small group of relatives and friends would ever want to see it. I have never understood why the film made such a profound impression on people, but of course I was delighted it did so. I saw it again about a year ago, this will not sound humble, but I was so impressed by the script, the acting and the direction. I think it's still culturally significant because one of its main themes, not understood at the time of the release, is the danger of America's going to sleep and making fascism possible. With a fascist putsch in America, with the erosion and destruction of democracy here, and with fascism coming to Poland, Hungary, Brazil, the theme of the birth of fascism, sadly is not going away.
Do you have a favourite moment or line from My Dinner with André?
My favourite moment in the film is Wally's talking about the cockroach in his cup of coffee.
And finally, I was wondering if you could share with me what art means to you?
What does art mean to me? When Bush was elected for the second time, my wife and I, in despair, (how could Americans in God's name ever have voted for him again after his brutal and illegal incursion into Iraq and his program of unlawful torture) we visited our neighbour Howard Zinn, author of the legendary PEOPLES HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, and I said "What do we do Howard?" He replied, "well, it's important to do all the usual things, write to your representatives, march in the streets, protest, but most of all," he added, "make your art, art brings light in the darkness."
And God knows in these terrifying days, any light is welcome.