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Legends

March 2, 2007

There's a longstanding idea that British and American actors are completely different. And not only that they are different, but that British actors are better. Much of the evidence to back up this idea is shaky at best.

Take the famous legend about Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier's collaboration on Marathon Man. It was reported that, to prepare himself for a scene in which his character was supposed to have been kept awake for days on end, Hoffman, like a good Method actor, himself refused to go to sleep all night. "Have you ever tried acting, dear boy?" his Lordship was alleged to have said.

This bit of Hollywood lore is meant to show the essential difference between British and American actors (and the implicit superiority of those that can act -- ie the British -- versus those that have to whip themselves into some kind of psychological and physical maelstrom in order to be able to play a part -- ie the Yanks.)

But there are so many different versions of this story that, like the general idea that British actors are somehow better than their American counterparts is rubbish. Hoffman finally attempted to clear up the confusion over the tale. In a radio interview, the actor said that the story was taken out of context. He said that he was, in fact, out partying at Studio 54 the night before and that Olivier's comment was a mild rebuke for his debauchery.

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