Life’s work

At the beginning of his career, Gielgud delighted in mere strutting and preening, and wondered why he felt dissatisfied; next, moving to another extreme, he formed a habit of “novelistic absorption” in the people he was playing, and gave himself over to heavy, self-concealing, mask-like make-ups, through which he would peer, hopefully but not yet quite convinced. Late in the 1920s, with the problem still unsolved, he was forced to conclude that he could be defined only as a star; and that his responsibility was to no theory of acting, no producer, and no management, but to himself, and through himself, to his authors. This moment of decision comes, sooner or later, to every actor; the moment at which, consciously or unconsciously, he takes stock, and says to himself, “I know my powers; I have tested them thoroughly. And I am fairly sure that some of them are unique, and theatrically valid quite apart from the roles I play. These qualities will not survive me, as Hamlet or Peer Gynt will survive me. My job, therefore, is to concentrate on putting them over while I still have my looks.”

Kenneth Tynan