Center Stage: Thoughts on Awards and Peter O'Toole

Posted by Bridget Beirne
December 17, 2013

Some brief thoughts, putting Peter O'Toole center stage.

It was with sadness that I read of the passing of the legendary actor Peter O'Toole. As I sat this weekend, enjoying a lazy cup of coffee and swiping through news stories, I let out an audible sigh as I read the news. It is always sad when the public at large loses someone they admire- there certainly has been no shortage of that lately- but, as an actor/trainer, a big thought about Mr. O'Toole keeps lodging itself in my head these past few days.

center stageAnother of our actor/trainers, Tom Frey, does a pretty fantastic O'Toole impression- voice booming, arms swinging, imitating the swaggering confidence of one of the best. Actors tend to latch on to people they admire, or aspire to be, and find ways to incorporate a secret nod to their idols into their own performances. (Tom himself would tell you that parts of his O'Toole have ended up in shows from Shaw to Sondheim...) However, it isn't O'Toole's formidable ability as an actor, admired by millions, that keeps coming to mind.

What I can't stop thinking about is that Peter O'Toole holds the distinction of being the actor with the most Oscar nominations WITHOUT a win. Eight times- eight!- his name was announced with the nominees, but he never walked off with the statue. Considering he is largely regarded as one of the greatest actors of a generation, that's hard to fathom. As the old trope goes, "It's just an honor to be nominated," but certainly, after the third, the fifth, the sixth, he must have been starting to wonder. Yet he kept turning in exceptional work. Obviously, winning that little golden man couldn't have been all that his career was about.  (Yes, he was bestowed an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievements in 2003- of course, impressive, but not for any of his individually nominated performances.)

I don't presume to know what was going on in that magical brain, simply because I'm an actor myself. However, something becomes very clear- sometimes good work, nay outstanding work, is not about the big prize at the end. It's simply about doing good work.

That's not to make the assumption that accolades aren't important, or to give the false impression that no one really cares about recognition. We all know that's not the case. But when you look at a career where the body of work far outweighs the awards, one gets the feeling that what was important, what was truly important to him, was turning in good work. He said, "I'm a working stiff, baby, just like everyone else." And aren't we all.

I often stop and think of this idea for myself, whether I'm working on stage or off. "What am I doing this for? For recognition? Or for my audience?" Undoubtedly, the better work occurs with the latter. But everyone, whether preparing for a film or a presentation, can get wrapped up in the idea of recognition. And if that is all you are working for, rather than just attempting to do truly good work and communicate with others, results can fall short.

I offer you this challenge, one I take upon myself as well, as 2013 winds to a close. Challenge yourself to do your best work possible, in all venues- regardless of the recognition. Make a resolution that 2014 will be the year that you free yourself from the drive simply for the award. Try to realize that the best thing you can win is the respect of others for a job well done. When all is said and done, if they want to bestow an honor on you, fine. And if not, you're in excellent company.

Enjoy this wonderful monologue delivered by Peter O'Toole in Man of La Mancha:





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