What Actors and Equestrians Have In Common

Why does James Lipton enjoy flying planes, show-jumping horses, and treading the boards? Because all require a bone-deep love of risk.
  • Transcript


Question: As a licensed pilot, what have you found is most important in flying a plane?

James Lipton: This is not going to come as a surprise. Concentration. You’re taking a plane off the ground, from the moment those wheels leave the ground; you’re PIC, Pilot in Command. Anybody else sitting in that airplane, you’re in charge. You’ve got to get them back there. Landing the airplane I think is the most difficult thing that I’ve every learned to do in my life. Most people agree. That’s why so many people never finish their training, they just can’t do it. And the wonderful thing about it is that when you’re – say you’re coming in for a landing and you’re in a busy environment, there are other airplanes there, the control tower is talking to you, they’re talking fast, they’re talking to you in this pilot’s speak, which is cursory and mysterious until you learn it. All these things are happening at once and the ground is coming up at you and you’re moving at about 125 mph. So, it’s happening fast, right? And the result is that you can’t think about anything else. It erases the rest of the world, which is a wonderful reason to go flying. And it is the same as in acting in that respect. It’s total concentration until you see that center line go right between your legs, dividing your body in half, and you hear the squeak of the wheels as you make a nice, nice soft landing. Then roll out. Concentration.

My favorite sport demands the same thing of me. I realized it long since that this is why both of these things appeal to me because they force me to focus on them and not on anything else that I have brought with me from my life, from the world, no worries, no aspirations, no ideas, no plans, no nothing. You just focus. And that is, I became a show jumper. I jumped horses over big dangerous fences in competition. And got very, very good at it, at quite a high level. And I realized long since that, yeah, it’s the same thing that appeals to me about it. You can’t think about anything else, in either case; jumping horses in competition, show jumping, or flying an airplane, for whatever purpose. You are the PIC, and the alternative to doing it correctly is death, or injury. I’ve been injured badly on horses. I finally stopped seven years ago when I had a very bad injury and had to be helicoptered into New York. But, I miss it. I’ll miss it until the day I die, and I’m convinced to this day that I can get on a horse and jump a course of fences satisfactorily. It doesn’t leave you. I’ve described myself as a recovering equestrian. Taking it one day at a time. These are two things that I love very, very much. And I realize that I love them for the same reason. Why? Because they involve risk.

Recorded February 9, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen