Oscar Directors: Lumet, Sidney, Actors’ Director–Part 5

“I think actors are the best people in the world.  Actors are the infantry, the ones in the line of  fire.”

“Good work in movies involves personal exposure,  personal risks, showing how you feel about  something. The actor is infinitely more exposed than anyone else, and he’s exposed at the very  moment of creativity.”

Lumet evaluated his relationship with actors in the following way: “I work well with actors, and I know I have gotten the reputation of being an actor’s director.”  “The primary reason for that,” he explained, “having been an actor myself, I do not have the normal director’s contempt for the actor, the Hitchcockian attitude that they’re all children.”

From the beginning, Lumet understood well the critical point about actors “their baring of selves, their personal revelation.”  It is this respect for personal revelations that made those actors want to work with him in the first place.  Unlike other directors, Lumet has refused to use actors as puppets.  He firmly believes that “next to stand-up comics, actors are the guttiest people in the world.”  Lumet thus treasures “the moments Marlon Brando gave me in The Fugitive Kind, or Sean Connery in The Hill, or Kate Hepburn in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.  “I felt lucky,” he elaborated, “just to be alive at the same time as Kate or Mason or Fonda or dozens of others I have worked with.”  “Those moments,” he says, “I could not get from any other source but the real actor.  That’s why I love them.”  One of Lumet’s “genuine joys” of life is that he “never had an actor who didn’t want to come back for a second time!”

Sean Connery

Indeed, Sean Connery, who has appeared in four Lumet films, has described him as “one of my favorite directors.” The late French actress, Simone Signoret, who appeared in two of his films, told an interviewer: “Sidney has fantastic energy, he’s optimistic, he’s nice, he loves actors.”  Dirk Bogarde, who has never worked with Lumet, went on record saying: “If Lumet calls me up, I will do anything he wants me to do.”

From the very beginning, Lumet had a wonderful eye for detecting acting talent. He launched or promoted the careers of many actors, such as Lindsay Crouse, who appeared in Prince of the City and The Verdict.  “She’s my favorite kind of actress,” Lumet explains, “She can change so much from role to role that you don’t even recognize her.  Absolutely instinctual and right.”

Genuinely modest, Lumet has always given credit to his players.  He is known for his great patience in “handling” actors and actresses.  Revered by his performers, they have described him as “a dream director” and “an actors’ director,” because of his great respect for acting.  Notable for an astute panache for casting, he had a perceptive eye for what particular players could–and could not–do.  Lumet believes that the “right” casting is the most crucial factor for the film’s overall quality, practicing at times “an offbeat casting,” or casting against type.


Actors Lumet Directed (in alphabetical order)

Anouk Aimee (The Appointment)

Harry Andrews (The Hill)

Ed Asner (Daniel)

Lauren Bacall (Murder on Orient Express)

Martin Balsam (Twelve Angry, Anderson Tapes)

Anne Bancroft (Garbo Talks)

Candice Bergen (The Group)

Jacqueline Bissett (Murder on Orient Express)

Marlon Brando (Fugitive Kind)

Beau Bridges (Child’s Play, Lovin’ Molly)

Jeff Bridges (The Morning After)

Michael Caine (Deathtrap)

Dyan Cannon (Anderson Tapes, Deathtrap)

James Coburn (The Last of the Mobile Hot-Shots)

Sean Connery (The Hill, Anderson Tapes, The Offense, Murder on     Orient Express)

Lindsay Crouse (The Verdict, Daniel)

Blythe Danner (Lovin’ Molly)

Faye Dunnaway (Network)

Albert Finney (Murder on Orient Express)

Peter Firth (Equus)

Geraldine Fitzgerald (The Pawnbroker)

Jane Fonda (The Morning After)

Lena Horne (The Wiz)

Tab Hunter (That Kind)

Timothy Hutton (Daniel, Q&A)

Raoul Julia (The Morning After)

Christine Lahti (Running on Empty)

Sophia Loren (That Kind of Woman)

E.G. Marshall (Twelve Angry Men)

Walter Matthau (Fail Safe)

Shirley Knight (The Group)

Paul Newman (The Verdict)

Nick Nolte (Q&A)

Al Pacino (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon)

Anthony Perkins (Lovin’ Molly)

River Phoenix (Running on Empty)

Christopher Plummer (Stage Struck)

Lynn Redgrave (The Last of the Mobile Hot-Shots)

Vanessa Redgrave (The Sea Gull, Murder on Orient Express)

Christopher Reeves (Deathtrap)

Jason Robards (Long Day Journey)

Diana Ross (The Wiz)

Maximillian Schell (The Affair)

George Segal (Bye Bye Braverman)

Omar Sharif (The Appointment)

Maureen Stapleton (Fugitive Kind)

Rod Steiger (The Pawnbroker)

Dean Stockwell (Long Day’s Jorney)

Beatrice Straight (Network)

Susan Strasberg (Stage Struck)

Jack Warden (Bye Bye, Braverman)

Treat Williams (Prince of the City)

Joanne Woodward (Fugitive Kind)





Major Actors who worked with Lumet (and are dead)

Ingrid Bergman (Murder on the Orient Express)

Peter Finch (Network)

Henry Fonda (Twelve Angry Men, Fail Safe)

William Holden (Network)

Trevor Howard (The Offence)

Anna Magnani (The Fugitive Kind)

James Mason (Sea Gull, Child’s Play, The Verdict)

Michael Redgrave (The Hill)

Ralph Richardson (Long Day’s Journey into Night)