I have been watching the riveting and thoughtful documentary series, The Last Movie Stars – that chronicles the life and legacy of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Before they were married, Newman and Woodward studied together at the Actors Studio, alongside contemporaries Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
The first episode shares their experience in the studio. A cast of current actors, including Ethan Hawke who directs the documentary, recite The Actor’s Vow. This was a treatise written by legendary director/writer Elia Kazan, who co-founded the studio and championed the idea of “method acting.” Below is The Actor’s Vow in its entirety:
“I will take my rightful place on stage
and I will be myself.
I am not a cosmic orphan.
I have no reason to be timid.
I will respond as I feel;
I will have my throat open,
I will have my heart open,
I will be vulnerable.
I may have anything or everything
the world has to offer, but the thing
I need most and want most,
is to be myself.
I will admit rejection, admit pain,
admit frustration, admit even pettiness,
admit shame, admit outrage,
admit anything and everything
that happens to me.
The best and most human parts of
me are those I have inhabited
and hidden from the world.
I will work on it.
I will raise my voice.
I will be heard.”
In hearing this for the first time, it seems as much a treatise on life as it is on acting.
It applies to almost any act worth doing – from being a good parent, partner, citizen, teammate, neighbor and human.
It is a call to act with authenticity and integrity – regardless of whatever role we play in our lives.
Newman and Woodward were world-class actors and philanthropists. They contributed to their community and causes they believed in. They were no doubt flawed – as their own children attest to in this documentary. But they were undeniably themselves, embarking on a lifelong journey together to act in ways we still admire today.
Perhaps we could all benefit from taking The Actor’s Vow.