When I was a young actor in repertory, I came — very young — and I came on rehearsals, and I was playing a drunk — a drunken man. And I came on, and then the producer said, “Just a minute, Michael, what are you doing?” I said, “I’m drunk in this scene.” He said, “I know you’re drunk in this scene. What are you doing?” I said, “I’m playing a drunk.” He said, “No, you’re not. You’re playing an actor.”
I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “A drunk is a man who is trying to speak properly and walk straight. You’re an actor who is trying to speak in a mumbled voice and walk crooked.” And there, he described movie acting to me in one sentence — and the same thing he did when I had a crying scene. He said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m crying. Blah, blah, blah.” And he said, “No. When a man cries, it’s the last thing he wants to do.”
He said, “He will do anything but cry. He will stop himself crying no matter how tragic it is. And he would do everything, and only when he’s completely defeated emotionally will he start to cry properly.” He said, “He will do anything but cry — a real man.” He said, “You are an actor who is trying to cry.” And he described, again, movie acting. That’s a complete description of movie acting.
The hardest thing that I’ve had to do on camera was in Harry Brown, crying. And I had to do that, and I did that. If you saw a movie I did called Harry Brown, you’d see me cry, and you’d see the man doing that, doing everything but cry and then having to break down because he was so unhappy.