Caption: Paul Scofield in "The Power And The Glory" - check the hair


Acting is a mysterious business. I should not analyse it at all…but I will.

“Think of coca cola and ice cream.“ That was the instruction for Marilyn Monroe - her acting coach Paula Strasberg gave it to her. Yet it took 123 takes to shoot a simple scene in Some Like It Hot. Marilyn always forgot or messed the line “Where’s the bourbon?” Director Billy Wilder’s tale in his memoirs of this exasperating time is exhilarating – and strange.

Gerda Wrede once directed an actor in trouble, Erik “Kirre” Lindström, said to be Finland’s best actor: “But Kirre, this is a blue sentence.” That is how the obstacles to his Hamlet fell down, and he gave a performance still recalled. (it was in the 1940s).

There is this wonderful and strange story about Paul Scofield and how he was near disaster in the rehearsals of the play The Power And The Glory where he played a Roman Catholic whisky priest. Peter Brook says he and the other crew were unable to help Paul to “unlock” the role, and even Scofield himself knew that it was not good.  Scofield was playing Hamlet at nights and rehearsed the new play during days Then, at the dress rehearsal, Brook & company saw a small, shifty man in steel-rimmed glasses with shorn hair arrive at stage, carrying a worn-out suitcase. They wondered who this stranger is who had accidentally entered their theatre. It was Scofield, who had been at the barber’s after the last Hamlet performance, and had his showy mane cut to pieces. The role was there, all in place. By the thread of hair---It is said to be a great performance. Laurence Olivier went to see it twice, and said he never saw anything like it. (And he, the envious and competitive one, played the same role for TV in a few years).

I like this story because they said the 6’2’’ Scofield looked small. When I saw Scofield on stage, he looked small, too. Only at the curtain call he “grew” height – and looked like himself.

Musicians, we are the prudent petty bourgeoise among artists. We keep steady hours. When I was a student, all the rehearsal cabins 14m2 were taken by the time of 8 am at the Music Academy – except that I was part of the Evening Shift that came later and didn’t leave the Academy until 9 pm. Nowadays, with electronic keys, it is playing through the night.

 “You have not practiced enough.” I was once at a choir/orchestra practice where conductor Jorma Panula put down his baton and glanced us gloomily: “Hear the orchestra. They have practiced and know their stuff. You don’t. Do your job.”

It is no wonder that when a theatre director is given an opera to direct, he may become flabbergasted and frustrated. The work is there, the practice has been done, and (sometimes) people (especially the professional choir members) keep high standards – they repeat the practised as it is, no variations. A different kind of beauty.  As high level, though – but no room for improvisation or invention?  I have read about this director’s frustration in the memoirs of Peter Brook and Richard Eyre.

There is a common thread in the memoirs of theatre directors: actors are babies, whose main strategy is “when in doubt, complain about your costume.” Or make-up. Sir Peter Hall tells a story of how Paul Scofield became dissatisfied with his moulting furry robe in Volpone.  I dimly remember something about how he even complained about the heaviness of the cloak of King Lear.


In Finland, an actor par excellence Lasse Pöysti had once a memorable spat with Vivica Bandler. He was underperforming, and he knew it. He was the kind of actor who experiments and performs best with the danger of the first night – nothing is revealed of him until the last moment. 

Vivica. Lasse-what is the matter? I thought you would like this part.

Lasse: What’s wrong?

Vivica:  You are not funny.

Lasse (seething): Funny? How can I be funny in this costume?

Vivica: What kind of costume do you want?

Lasse: Too large trousers. And braces (=suspenders)!

At home Lasse was fuming: “The bloody woman. I will show her funny.” He got his “process” going and made a performance of his life. But remember:  the costume must be right.