Before I start, please forgive me if this article dissolves into a hundred and fifty Robert Mitchum quotes…the guy was the man and a bunch of his sayings will probably be more coherent than anything I can put together.
Robert Mitchum was about the coolest actor to blaze through Hollywood, ever. Don’t get me wrong, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen and James Caan and John Wayne all have their moments, but Robert Mitchum was the man.
He knew that being an actor was a meaningless profession, and he spoke about it on numerous occasions-
‘I gave up being serious about making pictures around the time I made a film with Greer Garson and she took a hundred and twenty-five takes to say no.’
‘Movies bore me; especially my own.’
‘Listen. I got three expressions: looking left, looking right and looking straight ahead.’
Here’s the thing, though- he was a great actor. He was Max Cady in the original Cape Fear (1961) and Robert DeNiro didn’t hold a candle to him in the remake. He was awesome in The Enemy Below (1957), and since loving submarine movies is Step #8,001, that should move him right up on your list.
So what lesson is there to be taken from this man- why emulate him?
For me, it’s clear- don’t be too serious about your job. Now, don’t misunderstand me, there are important jobs out there- being a doctor is important, being the Captain of a ship is important, being a teacher is important, being in the Service is important. Any job where people’s lives depend on you, yea it’s important and it should be treated as such. But for the most part, for Americans, anyway, your job is pretty meaningless.
I don’t apologize if you find that offensive, and in fact, if you find it offensive, you probably work in either of the two most meaningless professions- finance or politics. My job is meaningless, and every time it starts to get to me, I can just reflect on that fact and things become much easier to deal with. I’m a bartender. There are only a few jobs I find less important to the world. Good bartenders are important to me, because I like good drinks well made and good banter with a guy behind the stick who doesn’t give a shit who you are or who you know, but ultimately, we’re not curing fucking cancer. Or, as Mitchum said, ”People make too much of acting. You are not helping anyone like being a doctor or even a musician. In the final analysis, you have exalted no one but yourself.’
One shift, one of the waitresses was having a particularly tough day, and I took her aside and just said, ‘Take a deep breath, and think about this- this doesn’t matter. Don’t let it get to you.’ I doubt I helped, but, it certainly helps me to think about it.
There is a famous anecdote about the filming of the movie Marathon Man(1976). Dustin Hoffman was young, and a method actor. Sir Lawrence Olivier was playing opposite him, and Hoffman had prepared for a scene where he hasn’t slept in days by staying up all night. Olivier says to him, ‘Why don’t you try acting, dear boy?’ Or as Mitchum said, ‘These kids only want to talk about acting method and motivation; in my day all we talked about was screwing and overtime.’
Whenever I hear people tell me about how tough their job is, and see how they bring it home with them or into the bar on their shoulder, I ask myself why? Why are you doing this to yourself if it is making you this way? Either you want the job, or you don’t. If you don’t want it, quit. There is something else out there. I love that people think the service industry is below their station when the people bringing them their lunch are making more money than they are. If you want the job, and it is still stressing you out, well, maybe you’re just a glutton for punishment.
My point is just what I said at the beginning, don’t take your job too seriously. It really isn’t. Stress is induced by your own self as much as any outside factors. Realize that and make a mental change and be happy in your work, Pear.
‘I have two acting styles: with and without a horse.’
On being asked what he looks for in a script before taking a job- ‘Days off.’
‘Up there on the screen you’re thirty feet wide, your eyeball is six feet high, but it doesn’t mean that you really amount to anything or have anything important to say.’
How can you not love the guy?
The Step- Be more like Robert Mitchum, and while you’re at it, see some of his movies.
Have I Done It- I try, god damnit.