Actor Elliot Gould talks drama

There were no blinding lights or expensive cameras, but actor Elliot Gould began his Master’s Tea with a line that sounded scripted.

“There are no laces in your shoes,” he said, staring at Richard Miron’s ’12 feet with a coy grin. “Must be the weather.”

Actor Elliot Gould discusses improvisation in acting at a Davenport College Master’s Tea.
Sandra Huang
Actor Elliot Gould discusses improvisation in acting at a Davenport College Master’s Tea.

More than 40 people gathered in the Davenport common room Wednesday afternoon to hear Gould, the Academy Award-nominated actor, describe his career and share his philosophy on life.

“I was never an undergrad,” Gould said. “But I’ve learned a lot in life.”

The Brooklyn-born actor said his career is like riding a horse through obstacles on a racetrack. Life, he continued, “tosses everyone ups and downs to which we can all learn from.”

In his first film, “The Confession,” a 1964 drama, Gould played the role of a deaf-mute. He was required to not speak, and so Gould said he began to focus on his character and explore the objective nature of the camera.

“My mother and my father couldn’t be objective with me, but the camera could,” Gould said. “I knew that [the camera] wouldn’t lie to me, nor would [it] try to manipulate me.”

Meeting Alfred Hitchcock, he recalled, inspired a change in his acting. When he starred in Robert Altman’s satirical film “M*A*S*H” in the 1970s, Gould said he began to test out his new improvisational style.

“Before I would wait for someone to tell me what to do,” Gould said. “But now I’m like a jazz artist and I go off the theme of a film. Now I’m always in character.”

Gould likened filmmaking to an orchestrated composition: The director conducts. The writers compose. The actors bring it to life.

“It’s like a symphony,” he said.

Throughout his career, Gould has acted alongside dozens of acclaimed actors and actresses. Gould played Monica and Ross’ father on the NBC sitcom “Friends.” He also acted with George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the “Ocean’s” trilogy and hosted “Saturday Night Live” six times. He has even done voice-over work for animated shows, such as Disney Channel’s “Kim Possible.”

But Gould said the old-world glamor of Hollywood has undergone “big changes” since he began acting.

“So much of the mystery, romance and nature of what’s possible in film has been outrun by technology,” Gould said. “There’s an insatiable appetite to create more products. Like our American economy, things have gone too fast. I feel that that disrupts the order of things.”

One audience member interviewed said he could feel Gould’s passion during the talk.

“I can tell he cares about his acting a lot and puts a lot of heart into what he does,” Miron said.

Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld ended the talk by commenting on the breadth of Gould’s career.

“[His] remarkable career has allowed the actor to create roles that resonate with many different people,” he said.

But Gould had the last words.

After a recent hip replacement surgery, Gould said his doctor cautioned him to recognize his limitations.

“It’s human nature to be complacent,” Gould chuckled. “But someone has to go beyond.”

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