Wednesday, January 18, 2012

117. Interview with Daniel Talbott (Juilliard): Part Two

For those of you that are just tuning-in...This is a continuation of yesterday's post. If you liked that one, this one's about to knock your socks off. Daniel is a truth-teller. Nothing too personal to discuss. Nothing off-limits to reveal. He's an incredibly wonderful and courageous human being! I LOOOOOOOVE this man...

Without further ado...PART TWO of my interview with Mr.Daniel Talbott...Enjoy!

(The following was recorded on January 7, 2012, and lovingly transcribed into text by my mother, Dorothy Wilcox, the fastest typist in the west! Thanks, Mom!)

Virginia: So tell me about your experience at Juilliard…

Daniel: Juilliard is the best thing that ever happened to me, seriously, for the bad as much as for the good, if not more.  It’s an amazing school full of brilliant and human and flawed people. It gave me a home base to come to New York and work every day of my life as an actor.  I was in the middle of my class.  There were kids that were straight out of high school.  There were kids that had come out of a graduate program.  I was so happy I was in the middle ‘cause I wasn’t burnt out, and I wasn’t overly intellectualizing stuff.  But at the same time, I also wasn’t so terrified that I was just out of school...I had already had an apartment and done stuff like that. 

It was really hard my first year because the great love of my life, up to that point, and I ended up in class together after we had been broken up for a year and a half.  And it was really, really hard for both of us. I think we both did okay with dealing with it.  They ended up leaving after the first year which I think was maybe easier on both of us, but it’s sad. I mean it’s not what they chose to do with their life, but if they had chosen that, I had really hoped that they would not have chosen to leave because it’s a great opportunity for anybody.  I mean, we dealt with it, but the first year was really hard because of that. So, you know, they didn’t come back, and I feel like that really opened me up.  And so I felt like my second year and third year I was much more able to work.  I was much more at ease.  Because we weren’t tiptoeing around each other 24/7,…it was so hard for both of us. 

And then, in my third year – the third year was the hardest year for me because I knew I was getting married, I was engaged.  My now wife – at the time, my fiancé – thought that we had messed up and got pregnant...I was also feeling like maybe it wasn’t the right fit for me in my third year.  And I had also started Rising Phoenix Rep.  I also knew I wanted to direct and write plays.  I knew I wanted to act, but it was a really, really hard year.  And there was this day we really thought my wife was pregnant.  I had a really good attendance record, and I skipped class so I could go to the doctor’s appointment with her.  I think someone chewed me out about it, one of my teachers or something, and I went off on them.  I was really angry about it.  I can’t remember what happened, but I was really, really upset.  I remember I was shaking, and I was walking through Central Park, and I called Kathy [Hood].  I said, “I really need to talk to you.  I think I’m going to leave the school.  I’m not going to finish it.  I’m really fed up. I’m really sick of being treated like this by certain people.” She said, “Why don’t you come in and talk to me first before you make a decision.”  Kathy’s kind of the great mama of the Juilliard program.  She’s amazing.  She said, “Michael [Kahn] wants to talk to you.”  I think he cancelled his trip to Washington to talk to me.  And so I came back to the school.  I think I was crying and shaking.  I was really pissed off.  I was a mess.  And I went in and I talked to Michael, and he was amazing.  I remember sitting in his office, and he told me, "You’re not going to leave this school.  You’re going to graduate from this school."  And he told me very personal stuff about himself and where he was at, that I reminded him of himself when he was younger in some ways.  And because of Michael and because of Kathy I stayed at that school, and I’m so proud that I graduated.  I’m so happy that they believed in me enough, and they stood by me enough to tell me I had to stay… 

The fourth year amazing. It was Rep season, and you start getting a little bit more breathing room which was good for me.  And doing rehearsal a lot, which was great.  And I had a play that was at the Young Playwrights’ Festival at the Royal Court, and the school made it possible for me to fly back and forth to London and also do Rep season.  So I got to go to London, which was a huge thing for me.  And the Royal Court’s probably my favorite theatre in the world.  It was such a dream come true for me…It was an amazing year.  I feel so lucky and proud to have graduated from that school, and I would say 98% of my teachers I’m still really close friends with and profoundly changed my life in a great way. 

Virginia:  So in your day-to-day professional life now, with a career that you’re continuing to build and your many, many hats that you've taken on – as a playwright and as a director, producing and artistic directing and acting– what do you feel have been the most valuable contributions to your current work that you learned at Juilliard? 

Daniel:  I think everything.  I think you learn from everything that happens in your life and that you put that into your work. I think the theatre is this ultimate kind of – for lack of a better word – truth box that represents back to us what we are, in every way -- as a society, as people, as a world, as a culture, as a community.  So I think every life experience that you have:  the good, the bad, the shitty, the great experiences, the crappy experiences, you can transform all of that into work and flip it into beauty and into art.  That’s, to me, what you do.  Every experience that I’ve ever had at Juilliard and just in the world has influenced my work, and my career, how I view things and how I view the world and how I view life and art. I think too much in our culture we have this thing where we separate the professional and the personal , and you can’t really do that.  I think your work should be greatly personal. I think you should be professional.  I think you shouldn’t come into work and be a wreck and not be able to work.  But as long as you can work and are allowing other people to work, it should be deeply personal.  So it’s all tied in together for me.  My family is part of theatre, the theatre is part of my family.  It’s all one thing to me…

My life is...I like simplicity.  I try to simplify my life as much as possible.  I feel like life is my work, my friends, and my family.  And that’s my life…taking walks, I love the ocean, I love whales, I love tennis. (Laughs.) I just try to be very simple about it and I put everything I am into my work, my family and friends.  I don’t think Juilliard – I don’t think any school – is the right school for everybody.  And I think there were kids in my class that came in that were so technically proficient and then became overly technically proficient at that school which is the kind of the “bad Juilliard speak” that you hear about and all that stuff.  And then I feel like there were kids that were just really raw, kind of messy, kind of hot messes, like myself. I’m a messy, kind of process-y, nutty fuckin actor and theatre artist.  And for me, Juilliard was the best thing, again, that ever happened to me.  It was the best school I could have gone to because it gave me very strong technical [training] – not that it’s just a technical school – but it balanced me. I think so of much of life and so much of art is balance…

Al Pacino has this great thing that he says about how acting is like walking a tightrope. Walking a tightrope is always active.  It’s always moving forward.  There’s always conflict and extremity. There’s a limit of time.  And you also can’t over balance one over the other or you’ll fall off.  So there’s this perfect alignment that’s moving forward with…extremity of action and in an extreme objective way.  And so I think it is a perfect analogy with acting.  Juilliard balanced me as an actor...But I don’t think it’s the school for everybody.  I think it’s a brilliant fuckin school.  But I think as an artist you have to have a strong sense of why you’re doing it from every part of yourself.  And if you’re just doing it from your neck up, to please other people, you’re not being an artist.  I mean Jackson Pollock, everyone thought he was fuckin insane.  Francis Bacon everyone thought he was crazy.   Joseph Cornell was an agoraphobe.  They fuckin thought he was crazy, and he was a genius. Do you know what I mean?  But he was doing what called him.  Another thing that I think happens in our culture is that people eliminate the uniqueness of the personal, you get people trying to imitate other things that have been successful  in order to have success.  You can’t do that in the theatre.

I think there have been times, absolutely there’ve been wonderful times in American theatre history that you’ve gotten these periods... like the Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman period, you know...the Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams period.  None of those people imitated other people.  That’s not how they created their success.   They were just artists.  They found their own personal, unique, explosive way to create.  Like Kim Stanley or Laurette Taylor … The people who you remember are the people who have created a unique personal path through art, and that have been greatly influenced by everyone else that they’ve worked with and everyone else that has inspired them. And so I feel like I was able to be who I am, and I got four years to explode that and challenge that and get a very strong foundation, so that I could hopefully do that eight times a week instead of doing it three times a week. You know what I mean?  I would never be the theatre artist I am without that school. 

Virginia:  So with regard to the personal thing.  I want to transition into a little bit about Yosemite, which is your most recent project. 

Daniel:  It’s probably my most personal play.

Virginia:  So what are some of the personal elements that you’re excited to share through this creative work?

Daniel:  I don’t know if excited is the word.  I’m like fuckin terrified…  I think that I’m such a beginning playwright.  It’s hard to even call myself a playwright.  There are so many playwrights who I admire that I think that are so further along than I am... It is a weird play…I don’t know if anyone’s going to get it.  I don’t know if it’s going to mean anything to anyone else.  I could see people loving it.  I could see people and critics just completely trashing it, but I’m proud of it. It's the thing I'm most proud to have written.

End of Recording.

Ohhhhh, Daniel. WE are so proud of you tooooooo! Your journey from young-baseball-player-and-hopeful-someday-actor -- is sooooo inspiring.

You are clearly on your right path and I applaud all of the courage and heart it took for you to get to where you are now!!! Thanks for sticking with it. We allll benefit from your decision to follow your calling and live this crazy-artist-life to be able to CREATE and tell your the way that ONLY you can. Thank you for that.

Sending you love and wishing you tons of success with Yosemite and beyond!!!

I am sooooo grateful to have had this opportunity to record this moment in time. (It is soooooo awesome to have this blog as an excuse to talk with really f-ing cool people about how they got to be where they are...and then have the privilege of sharing it online! YAY!)

It's great to be able support a theatre artist in process...who's life is dedicated to exploring the human condition and reflecting it back for your entertainment and contemplation. CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR TICKETS TO YOSEMITE.

Gotta run. My computer's about to run out of juice...And I've got to grab some food before I head to the see the first preview of Yosemite.

Hope to see you all there.


P.S. RE: Monologue practice for my up-coming grad school auditions...Did all four of my monologues for my friend H. She was around to see my monologues last year too. And I didn't show them to very many people last year...I was waaaay to scared. But this year...I'm doing these freakin' monologues for EVERYBODY, scared or not! And H said that she thinks I've shown some improvement over last year! Yay!!! Progress! Who could ask for anything mooooooore???

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