“It sometimes takes nerve to get an effect you visualize. I’ve found it necessary to reduce an audience to near-boredom in order to give it a whack in the guts.” ―David Lean
He cited the scene in which Omar Sharif first appears out of a desert mirage and seems to be approaching in slow motion a water hole at which Lawrence has stopped with an Arab guide. The scene explodes with electrifying shock when Sharif shoots the Arab dead for using the water hole without permission—in the midst of a desert of magnificent endless solitude.
What made the scene, Lean said, was the near-boredom of the three minutes of preparation.
None of the critics mentioned the scene, however. Ninety percent of the critics, he said, fall over in helpless admiration at the directorial stuff that isn’t difficult to do—the show-off stuff. I’m bothered by this sort of worship only because the stuff is so very easy to do. It’s always been important to me to hide the technique.
Directing him was only a matter of giving a slight suggestion here, a gentle nudge there. He was an immaculate actor, clean, precise, and exact in everything he did. There was no floundering about until he got the feel of a role, but a studied analysis with a design in the background that built bit by bit until the total architecture became visible. It was not consciously Stanislavsky, but he was doing precisely what Stanislavsky had formulated in connection with building a character. He knew what he wanted and why; Claude had great concentration, knew his attitude in each scene, played with his partner, and created an inner life for his character.
He was a professional in the best sense of the word. While he came on the set prepared, he always allowed room for the director to create with him. As I reflect upon his career, I am amazed at the variety of roles he played and his fantastic versatility. Gentle fathers, suave villains, sharp politicians, evil doctors, compassionate doctors, sophisticated artists—there was no end to the list.
Recently, I was glancing through a book written by John Gielgud and was astonished to learn Claude had once taught him acting in London. Moreover, Laurence Olivier was also one of Claude’s students. Claude had never mentioned this to me, like many other things in his past. They did not seem important to him. His life was acting, the satisfaction of creating a memorable role.
The actors’ opinion is irrelevant. Just do what you have to do. The
audience’s opinion is what this is about. Well, maybe not even that, but
the audience’s experience. We all try to be smart, but I don’t
know…it’s meddling with perspectives. If you go to the movies and you’re
never invited in, then you’re just there to have an opinion. There are
too many opinions.