The actor and author of Love Life on his literary influences, what real courage looks like and why funny people get an invite to his birthday party.
As told to Ruth Baron
1. When you're writing personal stories, you have to be totally uncompromising -- to the extent that you can be -- about yourself. I know that if I am über-uncompromising with myself, that gives me some latitude to write about others.
2. I've had extraordinary things happen to me, and I've met extraordinary people, but it's my life. It belongs to me. It's no one else's.
3. I love anything by Joan Didion. Incidentally, she was one of the local moms when I was growing up in Point Dume. She always reminded me a little bit of my mother, so I feel a great affinity. I love the precision of Didion's writing. There's a construction and a craftsmanship to her sentences that's imbued with so much emotion.
4. In acting, there's a type of courage you're recognized for all the time. You lose 100 pounds and play a guy with AIDS and you get rewarded. But, in life, doing what is courageous is quiet and no one knows about it. Courage is someone making sacrifices for their family, or making selfless decisions for what they hope or feel. I think selflessness and courage are almost interchangeable.
5. I'm in my fifth decade of doing this, and I'm proud that I can still surprise people, that my work can make them go, "Oh my God, you in Behind the Candelabra -- I can't believe it." These people have known me since the 70's, and that they can still use the phrase, "I couldn't believe it!," that's cool to me. I'm not exactly an unknown flavor.
6. I just had a series of birthday parties to celebrate my 50th and I looked around the rooms and there were a lot of funny people. I've always gravitated toward funny people, but it's become more pronounced. I've never met a funny person who wasn't smart. I've met a lot of dramatic people who were stupid. But I've never met a funny person who wasn't smart.
7. You can get away with it for a bit, but you don't get to stay at the highest levels for long if you are an idiot or a jerk. Show business is like a self-cleaning oven.
8. Getting sober and getting married are the biggest risks I've ever taken. Ironically, they seem like no-brainers now. They did not seem that way at the time. Both required a seismic shifting of the life I had built. And there's your risk; because it's very hard to completely scrape away the life you've known to do something completely different.
9. Staying young is an inside job. Look at what kids are. They're curious, they're excited, they're interested -- all of the very things that, if you're not careful, you're not when you're old. You can have a 32-inch waist and no lines on your face, but if you don't keep an open-mindedness and a willingness to compete in life, no one's gonna say you're youthful.
10. What I know for sure is that the only thing that really matters are the memories you make. You should think of creating them as a job, you should work at it. Memories can empower you, they can enlighten and inspire you, they can comfort you; but you have to make them.
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