8 Facts about James Lipton and Inside Actors Studio

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“In Mr. Lipton’s guest chair, actors cease being stars for a while and become artists and teachers” (New York Times)


Inside actors studio
Inside the actors’ studio with James Lipton

Inside Actors Studio is a popular show conducted by James Lipton since 1994, based on interviews with today’s talented actors, writers and directors. The discussions begin with personal information, like the interviewees’ childhoods, their start in show business, early moments in their careers and lead to some trivia from the backstage. The interviews end with questionnaires about their favorite word and imagination exercised, of which one: how God would greet them at the gates of heaven, if it existed. The audience is formed of students and famous alumni who finished the master of fine arts program Actors Studio and they can ask questions after the interview is done.

The show aired on Bravo channel. Among the people in the industry who were questioned by Lipton are Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Johnny Depp, James Gandolfini, Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, Mickey Rourke, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dave Chapelle, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Matt Damon or Angelina Jolie. The show is delivered to more than 94 million homes and in 125 foreign countries and celebrated 250 episodes. The 250th edition starred Robert De Niro, Conan O’Brien, Bradley Cooper and many more. The show is not only respected for its educative purpose, but also loved for the relaxed atmosphere and the memorable insights in the personal lives of the actors and the hidden secrets of industry.

Memorable Lessons from Inside Actors Studio

The guests invited in James Lipton’s studio as well as the host himself offered several unforgettable thoughts on acting, entertainment and the artistic industry. In the 250 episodes which were aired there is an incredible collection of memorable moments, but here are 3 of them than everyone needs to know about.

  1. James Lipton presented his view on what a great actor means: “talent and technique” combined. As he presents Marlon Brando as a role model, he explains he considers he was a great actor because everything he did was “unpredictable”.
  2. The episode with David Chappelle, regarded by some as a “cautionary tale”, is one remembered for fun moments, but also for a good quote. Chappelle tells the students in the audience they’re idealists and they don’t know about “where art and corporate interests meet, yet”. He concludes by warning them to be prepared to have their heart broken, with humor but also a mild sadness in his voice.
  3. Robin Williams doing a six-minute routine with a pink scarf is something held for spectacular. It is said that this episode is remembered as “definitive” not only for the show, but also for the host himself, as he sort of let go of control and abandoned the routine. The episode exhibits the late actor’s controlled insanity and balance between hilarity and intelligence, as well as some really funny moments.

James Lipton had the great idea to invite a TV voice cast on the set of his show – and not only once. The “Simpsons crew”, a group of craftsmen and -women perfecting their art for decades, puts the spotlight on how iconic TV characters of the contemporary generation are built by associating a voice to a face in an animation. How many of us already hear Homer Simpson’s interjection “d’oh!” in the back of our heads while reading this? Well, truth be told, probably anyone who ever heard of Homer Simpson, not even necessarily watched the show. Did you know that Dan Castellaneta, the actor voicing and interpreting Homer (and many other characters from The Simpsons) basically created a new word, which not only is a 20th Century Fox trademark, but also a 2001 adding to the Oxford English Dictionary? Well, “d’oh” is what we’re talking about! James Lipton provided in that episode one of his best shows ever!

Lipton also invited Seth MacFarlane in a different episode, the creator of Family Guy and voice actor of many of its characters, alongside his crew. The episode is a marvelous occasion for aspiring voice artists to watch the craft of these professionals and to throw a sneak peek into their personal development.


inside actors studio
A vintage acting studio

Almost legendary moments happened on the set for Inside Actors Studio, like the time when Bradley Cooper asked Sean Penn about acting, 12 years before he starred in his own episode with Lipton. Back then, Cooper was 24 and studying for his master of fine arts in acting. He asked one of his idols about an old role in Hurlyburly and inspired other young aspiring actors, as the Hangover star and Oscar nominee ended up being invited to the show years later.

Some full episodes of the show are available for you to watch for free online, usually on YouTube. The show is currently taped at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University’s New York City campus.

5 Things You Didn’t Know about James Lipton

  1. James Lipton is a Chevalier of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was also a pimp in Paris in the ‘50s.
  2. He turned to acting in order to finance his education, but he initially studied to be a lawyer in NYC, because he wanted to be nothing like his father.
  3. Actors Studio was born from Lipton’s intention to propose a distillation of what he had learned in the 12 years of his own intensive studies.
  4. He published a book in 1968, one in 1981 and the latest in 2007.
  5. James had a difficult financial situation after his father left his family and started working from 13. During high school he worked as a newspaper copy boy for The Detroit Times, as an actor in the Catholic Theater of Detroit and in radio.

The American entertainment industry met a spectacular development among the last century and produced several iconic movements and style eras. American television created a revolutionary home entertainment and provided countless families with broadcasted routine created by appreciated hosts. The tradition continues to this date, in spite of the threat posed by the evolution of online medium.

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