MEMORABLE MOMENTS – George C. Scott
Improvisation by great actors that made the cut
GEORGE C. SCOTT
It takes balls to trick a great actor into improvising and then to use that performance without the actor’s approval. But, that’s what the equally great director Stanley Kubrick did to George C. Scott.
The great actor cared little for Hollywood and movies and claimed to fund his stage work with what he made on screen.
“Hollywood, unfortunately, exploits actors for their own reasons, which are usually financial. So we might as well exploit Hollywood as much as it exploits us”. -George C. Scott
Scott approached his role as General Turgidson in DR. STRANGELOVE OR HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE THE BOMB, somewhat reluctantly and with an idea to play him in a more serious, less “expressive”, more tragic way than Kubrick wanted him to.
Stanley Kubrick’s vision of the film was initially to be shot as a drama but altered into a dark comedy in keeping with the absurdity of the script. George C. Scott’s feeling was to underplay his role and leave the comedy to Peter Sellers.
Notoriously known for his rigid control, Kubrick surprisingly allowed Peter Sellers to improvise and kept three cameras on him to catch the inspiration that was used throughout the film.
But Kubrick was not above devious manipulation to get the best from the performers. He even convinced actor Slim Pickens that his character in the movie was the hero and that Dr. Strangelove was a serious drama. Pickens wasn’t even given the entire script and was limited to reading only scenes he was in.
When Pickens found out he had been manipulated, he had nothing bad to say about the director as his career was bolstered by his work in the film. Very much like many improvisation games, the limitation of not knowing too much allowed for better work.
Scott on the other hand vowed “NEVER AGAIN” to work with Kubrick. And, he never did. Many years later, however, Scott expressed admiration for Kubrick’s audacity in pulling that performance from him.
How did Kubrick do it?
Kubrick and Scott famously played chess throughout the shooting of the film, building a trusting rapport. Kubrick convinced Scott in these moments to rehearse in an “over the top” exaggeration of the character without the cameras rolling as a warm-up for the actual filming.
Scott agreed with the provision that ‘the rehearsal wouldn’t be used in the final production.
The cameras WERE rolling. And much of the spontaneous rehearsal can be seen in the final cut. Judgment aside about the broken trust, the performance was great.
In fact, there’s a particularly great moment where Scott falls in the middle of a rant and pops back up without missing a beat to continue his tirade which was not scripted but works magically to illustrate the what Kubrick imagined for this character. The scene was used in the film. (as was most of the “rehearsals”)
Many improvisers put limits on their performance because they think it will be “too much”. Good improvisation exercises and work with masks can manipulate the actor into giving more than they normally would. More often than not, the work is bright, alive, and captivating.
Other improvisers PLAY the comedy too hard, often leading to ironic performances lacking authentic humour.
We live our lives minimizing our expression so we don’t stand out or look stupid. Or we ‘perform’ what we think others want to see. It sometimes takes improvisation to trick us into being better than we think we should be.
Although he never worked with Kubrick again, Scott eventually came to appreciate Dr. Strangelove and looked at his role as one of his favorites.