Legendary actor Cliff Robertson passed away on September 10th, one day after his 88th birthday. The Archive of American Television interviewed him about his television work in 2005. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
On his proudest career achievement
I would have to say, survived. I have survived. I’m not sure I’m proud, but I recognize that the dear Lord has helped. Whether it’s surviving these airplane mishaps that I didn’t get on that crashed or whatever, whatever it is, he’s given me in spite of it… Maybe the fact that, I did confront corruption at the highest level and that’s what my dear friend, Congressman Udall, put me up in the Congressional Record for standing against corporate corruption in Hollywood at a time when it was very costly. I didn’t work for three years. It’s a little perverse, but I’m kind of proud of that. Because I knew when I did it, people said, including my former wife, it’s the end of your career. And somehow or other we survived. So, I’m just very lucky. I’m lucky to survive the traffic on the way over here.
On how television has changed since he started his career
Since I first started? It’s fast. It’s five second, two second, one second shots, it’s accelerated, it’s almost bizarre, it’s so fast. And along with that speed sometimes you sacrifice quality. I mean, it’s arresting, but like a shallow meal, it leaves you. I think if we had the courage to take time, I’m telling you a story and you have to have the courage to take time to let the reader or the viewer get involved so that he or she are not in a hurry, they’re willing to cover the words or the thoughts or kind of digest what you’ve just seen so it stays with them – like a very memorable meal as opposed to this quick snack.
On his advice to aspiring actors
Lee Strasberg said to me when I went out to do my first film, he said, “Cliff, they’ll promise you everything. You come in with your own homework. You come in with having analyzed and thought about your character. You come in prepared emotionally as well as technically and don’t let the hollow promises infatuate you because although they may mean well, most of the time they’ll promise you everything and give you little” I tell my young students, give them a buck and a half for every dollar they pay you and maybe even more, not necessarily out of respect or love for them, but out of respect for your own profession, your own talent, don’t sell yourself short. Don’t come in and just walk through it, even though you know you can do it and pick up the check, just out of respect for your profession and yourself, give them more than they give you.
On his mentors
As an actor? I think Henry Fonda. But I had Olivier, I mean, certainly Marlon in his early days, but he was kind of a child. He’d be the first to admit it. He was child playing with this fabulous talent and letting it slip through his fingers. Maybe that was the way he wanted it, but as a mentor, I think they lost them all with Olivier and Richardson, people of that ilk. I have such high respect. Willy Loman’s wife had that line in that wonderful Arthur Miller play, Death of a Salesman, “attention must be paid, attention must be paid! And I think our attention span in this business is so short. We’re worried about some little starlet temporarily on all the covers of all the magazines, that’s kind of shallow. Attention must be paid to those talents that are real, that are viable, that are lasting.
On how he would like to be remembered
Spell my name right.
About the interview