Cast Blog: #ACTORSSTUDIO

How It All Started

Sting's Greatest Hits!

The Magical 250th Episode

A Mad Mad Mad 'Mad Men'

Just Get Me There

Making History

The Eighteenth Season

'Inside' the Oscars

Cheers and Tears

A Surprising Discovery

Some Words About Some Music

What Is It Really Like?

Unforseen Pleasures

A Bloomin' Miracle

Some Midwinter Fireworks

The Joys Of Kitsch

A Parade Of Guests

Scarlet Fever

The Horny Manatee

The Strike Is Over!

I Believe I Can Fly

My First Night In Paris

Christmas Past

What About Bob?

My First Blog. My First Confession.

How It All Started

James Lipton tells the story of how Inside the Actors Studio began.

My last blog celebrated Spring, so it's been a while. For a reason. After the 100-day writer's strike, which Inside the Actors Studio honored from first day to last, my team and I have been working night and day to catch up, shooting five episodes in twenty-one days, an unprecedented schedule, given the two weeks of preparation I normally devote to each guest.

No one was given short shrift. By working ahead, and devoting sixteen hours a day to the task, I was ready for Brooke Shields, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Myers, Goldie Hawn, and Dave Chappelle -- and you'll be seeing the results on Bravo. They are five exceptional guests, and they've provided us with five exceptional episodes.

Dave returned to our stage to help us celebrate our 200th episode, and I can confidently promise you that when you see this show, it won't look or sound -- or feel -- like any Inside the Actors Studio episode you've ever witnessed.

Because of the 100-day gap in our schedule last fall, we still owe you a few episodes, which we'll be shooting this summer. So ... no rest for the weary Inside the Actors Studio staff, but on the other hand, no complaints. Meeting these artists on our stage, as we have for fourteen fascinating years, and listening to the unguarded, unabridged, uncensored accounts of their lives, is a rare and precious privilege that we enjoy as much as our audience in 84,000,00 homes on Bravo and in 125 countries.

One of the most frequent remarks I hear from strangers is, "You've got a great job!" -- and I agree -- which often leads to the question, "How did it start?" which I address in my book Inside Inside:

In September, 1994, once we had assembled the full-time faculty of Studio members for our school, one category remained: those Studio members and colleagues whose lives were so circumscribed by their work schedules that they could give us, if they were willing to participate, only one evening. I set out to enlist them, sending dozens of letters, explaining and describing our school, and inviting them to come for one evening to teach our students. The response to my letter startled and heartened me. Paul Newman said yes, as did Alec Baldwin, Sally Field, Dennis Hopper, Shelley Winters, Sydney Pollack.

With a sheaf of acceptances in hand, I sent word back into the professional world from which I'd come. It was a simple message: "These are the people who are coming, and it's possible that they may say something worth preserving. The only way to preserve it is with cameras and microphones." In an existential leap of faith for which I'll be forever grateful, the Bravo cable network stepped forward. Now, suddenly, we were a master's degree program and a television series, owned, at my insistence, entirely by the Actors Studio, and licensed, like any other television series, by a network. The day after the contract negotiation was concluded, I got a call from a Bravo executive asking, "By the way, what's the series called?" "I've got someone on the other line. I'll call you back," I sputtered, and hung up. I had no one on the other line. What I had was a problem. In the burly-burly of putting together our TV staff and crew, and booking equipment--not to mention admitting our first academic class -- I hadn't paused to give "the series," as it was identified in the contract, a name.

Now, seated at my desk at the school, brow knotted, I asked myself, "What is it called?" I was still covering a sheet of foolscap with names -- Onstage! -- Lights! Camera! Action!--Backstage--when the phone rang. The network executive's voice trembled. "Listen --we've got a TV Guide deadline! If we don't tell them what it's called right now, the Bravo space'll be blank!" The words came out instantly and automatically: "Inside the Actors Studio." "Got it! I'll tell Publicity." I hung up and wondered why it was called Inside the Actors Studio. "Well," I told myself, "it's obvious: you're inviting all these people inside the Actors Studio to teach the Studio's students, and the public's being invited inside the Actors Studio to witness the interaction." It may have been obvious to me, but it hasn't been obvious to every member of our television audience. I still get viewer letters from self-appointed custodians of the Studio's torch demanding to know whether Anthony Hopkins and Martin Scorsese and Robert Redford and Vanessa Redgrave are Studio members, and, if not, what are they doing there! All I can do is sigh and say, (A) I wish they were members, and (B) I'm eternally grateful to them for interrupting their busy schedules to come inside the Actors Studio to teach our students, whose education would be the poorer for want of their instruction.

So, if you were wondering, that's how our show was born, and how it got its slightly ambiguous name -- and why, fourteen years later I am as excited each time a guest walks onstage as I was that first night in 1994 when Paul Newman did.

A Mad Mad Mad 'Mad Men'

James Lipton discusses the intense preparation he (gladly) underwent to interview the cast of 'Mad Men.'

The title of this blogs tells the story. On May 14th you'll see the largest cast ever assembled on our stage. Eight -- count 'em, eight -– members of the Mad Men cast arrayed in front of me and our students and you the viewers.

If you've been watching our show you know we've interviewed casts before -- The Simpsons, Law and Order, Will and Grace, Everybody Loves Raymond, Modern Family, Family Guy, Glee -- but this one breaks the population record: Jon Hamm, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka and the show's co-creator Matt Weiner, lined up and ready to go.

And bear in mind that when I have groups like this on stage, I prepare for each member of the group as if he or she were my only guest. Since it normally takes between seven and 14 days to prepare for a single guest, this show took. . .well, you can do the math. And you know what? I loved every minute of it. I normally watch everything a guest has put on film. In the cases of television series, I watch selected episodes from each season. In the case of Mad Men, I watched every frame of every episode, from their premiere to the night they walked on our stage -- 54 episodes. Not because I was obliged to do so, but quite simply because I was hooked.

In a little more than three years, Mad Men has won three Best Drama Emmys and three Best Drama Golden Globes, and for good reason. It's that good. The writing, the acting, the direction -- every element of the series is fresh, different, and constantly surprising.

Over the years, I've said on Inside the Actors Studio that nothing impresses me more than the ability of an actor -- or a dramatic work -- to stay ahead of the audience. What lay at the heart of Marlon Brando's great gift was the ingenuity and brilliance of his choices. You could never outguess him, never anticipate him. You simply surrendered to the utter unpredictability -– and ultimate inevitability -- of his choices.

For me, the collective creators of Mad Men possess that ability to first startle, then persuade us, drawing us deeper and deeper into the lives of the series' characters. And that's what Matt Weiner and his cast brought to our stage, laying bare their characters' -- and at moments -- their own souls for our students -- and you.

If you watch the episode you'll learn how alike Jon Hamm's and Don Draper's stories are. Look at the faces of his co-stars as he reveals the source of Don. Time and again the groups who've come to us have expressed their astonishment at how much they’re learned about each other on our stage, secrets they hadn't learned in years of intimate daily contact. This night was no exception.

There were lighter moments, too, as when Vincent Kartheiser revealed the similarities between himself and his character, Pete Campbell. Both, he lamented, "are creepy." Jared Harris described his stepfather Rex Harrison with a dry and revealing "He wasn't that fond of children." And Matt Weiner revealed -- to us and Jon Hamm -- that the reason Jon had to audition seven times for the role of Don was that someone at the network kept complaining he wasn't "sexy enough."

Twelve-year-old Kiernan Shipka revealed that she isn't allowed to watch any of the show's scenes but her own, for obvious reasons -- and for the same reason, she was confined to her dressing room with her mother as the cast and I discussed the events and storylines that would have made her presence on stage inappropriate. Since the cast, in their fervor, spent a generous six hours with our students, it was midnight before Kiernan was allowed to come to the stage to be interviewed -- whereupon she, in the words of Entertainment Weekly, stole the show -- by responding to my frequently expressed invitation to dance for our students with a balletic display that brought the house down.

There was more -- much more -- but you'll have to tune in on May 14th to see and hear it. Not exactly a hardship.