Thursday, August 22, 2013

Actresses who Inspire Me: Bette Davis

I am sad (and embarrassed) to say that I only discovered the incredible Miss Bette Davis within the past couple years. I'm not really sure how this happened since as a young child watching classic films was one of my two favorite past times. (The other was reading.) I remember one Saturday afternoon a neighborhood friend had asked me to come out and play but I "just couldn't" because Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn was on and it was absolutely my favorite movie. I was about 11 years old. So yes, I am surprised that I am just discovering this dynamic screen legend whose talent was seen in over 100 films, who was nominated for ten Oscars, who won two of them, and who is the epitome of what it means to be a star. Maybe as a child films like Funny Face appealed to me more at the time because they seemed more colorful. Of course, I've always known of Bette Davis, how could I not. I knew that she was one of the most famous Hollywood actresses of all time and that she was a classic beauty known for her eyes. But I never really knew the extent of her talent or the range of her work. 

When I watch Bette Davis on screen I am just in awe of her talent, personality, and unique beauty. I cannot change the channel when one of her movies is on. (I'm sorry if all that sounds cliche or corny, but it's true and I don't know how else to say it.) Regardless of any negative aspects of her personal life that have emerged over the years and her reputation for being "tough," she was an inspiring woman on and off screen. She fought hard to get the roles that she knew she deserved. She was always herself, she had strength, she had deep passion for acting, and she knew she was great. All aspiring actresses should look into her story of how she fought Warner Brothers and as a result she started receiving roles that were more challenging than the ones they had wanted to cast her in. Miss Davis knew her worth and didn't settle. At the same time, she knew she wasn't perfect and never pretended to be. 
The first movie I ever saw her in was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. She was in her 50's and even though I had not yet seen her younger work, I was captivated. Right away I understood the reason why she was (and still is) a mega star. It's so many things; her voice, her strength, her skill, her looks. After watching many of her films (my favorite so far is All About Eve), I can say that her characters are fully developed and she is absolutely uninhibited. There are many actresses whom I admire who are just as talented in acting as Bette Davis and maybe some who are even as captivating, but for me, there is something powerful about her that I don't see in others. 

After reading about her and recently watching an interview she did for the Dick Cavett Show back in 1971, it seems that Miss Davis and I have many opposing philosophies on life; on what is right and what is wrong. 
It is interesting for me to imagine the two of us meeting. I think from her perspective she would see me as too nice and perhaps naive. 

Still, there are many ways in which I feel I relate to her or hope to be like her. For an actress who rose to fame during the era of high Hollywood glamour and true leading ladies, she wasn't afraid to play characters who weren't necessarily likable. She wasn't afraid to do films that were dark or even a little strange (The Nanny, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane). 

Miss Davis believed that acting actually shouldn't be so natural that it is as if you are just being yourself. She didn't even believe in ad libbing
during a scene. Her reasoning being that people go see movies in order to get away from real life. (Source-Dick Cavett interview 1971.)

"Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should all be bigger than life."-Bette Davis

I love this quote and understand completely why she felt this way. In fact, when I was young I thought acting on screen was supposed to be glamorous, stylized, dramatic, and not like real life. I would often try to imitate actresses from classic films--their voices, their expressions--because I thought if I were like them that would mean I was a great actress. I just thought these actresses were way better than actresses of today. I didn't realize yet that when acting I was supposed to bring myself to the character. Of course it isn't true that that the actresses of today are not as talented. The style of film has just changed. Actually, today's movies allow actors to give much more in depth performances because now we are more focused on subtleties. But ANWAYS, the point is that it was the actresses of classic film who inspired my acting once I chose that profession. It still is. There are many incredible actresses today whose talent amazes me, but when I feel discouraged, I can only feel reignited by watching classic film stars. 
"You know what I'm going to have
on my gravestone? 'She did it the hard way.'"-Bette Davis

And that is exactly what it says on her tombstone. Integrity was important to her. I sometimes feel that I am doing "it the hard way." I'm sure that means something different for everybody. We all have different challenges and different boundaries. 
For me, it means upholding my faith in Jesus Christ above my acting career. That doesn't mean I will only do "Christian" films or only play "saintly" characters (I love dark, gritty, strange films) but it does mean I myself won't curse, take the Lord's name in vain, or do any nudity. Making a career out of acting is hard, and my decisions to not do those things make it even harder. 

Lately, I have been going through one of my down times in my acting career. This one has lasted longer than normal. Not just because I haven't been getting many auditions (I can deal with that at the moment because aside from the past few weeks, I've been working in quite a few projects), but because I just haven't felt like doing anything needed to get more auditions. I also haven't felt like blogging or being on social media. I guess it is a sort of depression. Part of it is from the fact that juggling my last few films with each other AND with my day job really drained me this time. It is over and done with now, but even thinking about it makes my heart beat faster and gives me a sick feeling in my tummy. (I'm happy and grateful for those parts, but it was very hard to balance it all at once.)

The other night I was flipping through the channels and came across the movie Dark Victory starring of course, Bette Davis. It was at the end of the film, but just seeing her in the last scene made me immediately say to myself "I have to keep going." It made feel happy about the work I have done so far but also made me want to start working hard again so I can become better. It brought back the hope that achieving my dreams is possible. It made me remember why I love acting and chose to be an actress in the first place. As I said before, there is certainly something powerful about Miss Davis. 
Some of My Favorite Bette Davis Quotes:

"I will not retire while I've still got my legs and my make-up box."

"Attempt the impossible to improve your work."

"To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over a lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy."

"Hollywood always wanted me to be pretty, but I fought for realism."

"Psychoanalysis. Almost went three times-almost. Then I decided what was peculiar about me was probably what made me successful. I've seen some very talented actors go into analysis and really lose it. "

"Good actors I've worked with with all started out making faces in a mirror, and you keep making faces all your life."

"I am just too much."
(Quotes were taken from many various websites.)

Love this clip from her interview with Dick Cavett in 1971. It shows her personality and how funny she was.

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