Can you remember the first time you were inspired to pursue a career in acting? Were you watching TV, a feature film in a velvet dark theater, or maybe it was a play? There is that exquisite moment in any artist’s life when his or her passion is awakened, and from that point on, the pursuit of that passion is their raison d’être. A performance can reach us on such a deep level, enough to make us cry, or even to change our path in life. These moments reveal just how connected we truly are—to each other, the past, and the future.
Here, actors reveal the performances that awakened their zeal for acting.
“Bridgerton” actress Simone Ashley grew up watching Disney classics and was a talented singer and pianist. But when the British actress saw Uma Thurman’s performance in Quentin Tarantino’s violent revenge fantasy “Kill Bill” in her early teens, she knew she wanted to become a screen actor. “There was something about Uma Thurman’s character in ‘Kill Bill’ that I didn’t completely understand, but was entranced by,” she recalls.
The “A Star Is Born” actor was inspired to pursue a career in acting after watching David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man,” and particularly John Hurt’s stellar performance as the disfigured Joseph Merrick. He shared: “It was actually the reason I wanted to become an actor. My father showed me this movie when I was a kid, and then I realized there was a play, and I did it for my thesis in grad school, and I did it in Williamstown [years later].”
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” actress Michelle Yeoh switched her career in dance and beauty pageants to acting after watching “The Champ,” a story of a boxer who’s past his prime. The Hong Kong action star recalls: “I still remember having this huge poster on my wall, and Faye Dunaway, and Jon Voight, Ricky Schroder when he was a little boy. And I think that was the first movie I remember sobbing my heart out. That emotion was so powerful, and I didn’t understand how, but it resonated so that watching something on the silver screen deeply was so powerful to make you have such complicated feelings.”
“The Lighthouse” actor gushed with childlike enthusiasm when he recalled seeing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for the first time. “I wanted to be Jack Nicholson. I did everything like him, I acted like him, I dressed like him, I even tried to emulate his accent.”
In turn, Jack Nicholson was inspired by Marlon Brando. Nicholson has been quoted as saying, “Actors don’t normally discuss who the best actor in the world is, because it’s obvious—Brando is the best.”
He might have been the Godfather, but Brando had his own inspirations, including Fredric March, who won an Academy Award for best actor in the fifth Oscar ceremony for his performance in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).
The “Mad Max: Fury Road” actress to admitted being jealous of Daryl Hannah after seeing the movie “Splash,” and developed a crush on Tom Hanks. She was sure she could have played the role of Madison better than Hannah.
At the age of 11, Daryl Hannah watched “The Wizard of Oz” and decided she wanted to be like Dorothy and actually get to meet characters like the scarecrow, the tin man, and the cowardly lion. “I didn’t really want a job; I just wanted to be able to go to those places,” she explains. As a teenager, she was inspired by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer’s “mad brand of poetic genius” in “Soldier of Orange” and “Spetters.” At the age of 17, he would be Hannah’s co-star in “Blade Runner” as he played Harrison Ford’s nemesis.
At 11 years old, Clint Eastwood watched Gary Cooper portraying the courageous sharpshooter Alvin York in the 1941 blockbuster “Sergeant York.” Eastwood was certain he wanted to be an actor after that.
Seth Rogen of “This Is the End” recalled his early inspiration, saying, “I remember when I got my first Adam Sandler CD, and it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard in my entire life, and continues to be.”
The “Saturday Night Live” legend loved Lucille Ball, was a fan of hers, and knew every detail of her life and career.
So, the next time you’re taken by a brilliant actor’s performance, remember, there may come a time when someone you’ll never know is inspired by your performance.
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