Actor Jonathan Pryce on Stage Fright as Selfishness
Jonathan Pryce: I have to think hard about what stage fright is because I suppose I don't really allow myself to go there. I came to acting by accident. I went to art school, and I went to a college where I was training to teach art and you had to do a subsidiary course, and I was told the easiest course to do that required the least amount of work was the drama course. So I signed up . . . and that proved to be true. But it meant I had to start performing and start acting, and I think that was the first time I experienced stage fright or nerves -- feeling very faint and dizzy; my hands would start tingling, and I’d find it very difficult to learn lines.
But I was fortunate in that people, when they saw me, they weren't aware of what was going on inside, and they were saying “It’s good. What you’re doing is good.” I began to just get confidence from people, the support of people saying that what they saw externally, whether I was dying inside or not, was something positive.
I get more nervous when I’m me. When I’m a character in a play, I’m fearless. It doesn't worry me, and I enjoy it and I enjoy going on stage every night. There are times when I appear as me and I have to talk about something, and then the nerves start to come back. But I think the cruel answer is that those nerves are to do with self-regard and that you are thinking that you are the important thing in the presentation. And, of course, you should be thinking about who you’re talking to. That’s what you need to focus on. It’s less to do with self and more to do with what you’re communicating to the audience or the other person you’re talking to or the other person at an interview.
So, yeah, I think the cruel way to tell somebody is, try being less selfish. Think less about yourself and more about the person you’re talking to. And then you’ll work it out that way.
I was lucky in that the early work I did, when I was still quite nervous and apprehensive about it all, it was company work, and I was a member of a company, and the focus wasn’t on me. I wasn't the star performer. I was playing good roles and leading roles and sometimes small roles in plays, but I always knew I had the support of every actor around me. And we needed each other -- and that's what I love about theater is that interdependency we have. And I just think that, when you’ve got that and when you . . . you know, inwardly, you could think, “Yes, this play is about me. This scene is about me” . . . but I think outwardly you're sharing it and you're sharing the responsibility.
And I think that's what's important is to listen to your other actors. I mean, it’s part of my rehearsal process is very much to listen to what other actors are saying about my character, what they say to me. And I learn about my character from the way they react to me, and that makes for a shared experience. I need that other actor. They need me. At its best, it’s a wonderful, wonderful experience.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
Throughout his extraordinary career, Pryce has turned his attention outward rather than inward – onto his fellow actors, the audience, the needs of the story. This, he reflects, is the secret to overcoming stage fright: remembering that it isn’t all about you.
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