The interview with JoBeth Williams is from Ronald Rand‘s Acting Teachers of America: A Vital Tradition.
JoBeth Williams was a member of the Trinity Repertory Company and made her Broadway debut in A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking. She has starred in several televisions shows, including 24 and Guiding Light. Ms. Williams’s film work includes Kramer vs. Kramer, Stir Crazy, Endangered Species, The Day After, The Big Chill, Teachers, Switch, Dutch, Wyatt Earp, Jungle 2 Jungle, It Came from the Sky, Fever Pitch, Poltergeist, and Poltergeist II: The Other Side. Ms. Williams also directed On Hope (Oscar nomination for best live-action short film).
RR: What drew you to study with Robert Patterson and how long did you study with him?
JW: I was doing an Off-Broadway play, Moonchildren, in New York City, and several of the actors in the show kept talking about their acting teacher- Robert Patterson. They talked about how demanding he was, but they also described his method of teaching as the most concrete that any of them had ever studied. I was very intrigued. I had done theater at Brown University and then gone into Trinity Repertory Company. I had been working both in regional theater and in New York for a couple of years, but I had never really studied with an acting teacher. So I decided to sit in on his class. I was amazed at the exercises and the scene work the class was dong. I knew this was what I was looking for.
Bob demanded a two-year commitment and would not allow you to miss class, even for work. I had gotten a part on a soap opera, which allowed me to take his class at night and work during the day. There were a couple of times during the two years that I had to miss class because of a job. Bob actually kicked me out of the class for it, but I persuaded him to let me back in It was very important to me that I finish. I think the Meisner technique (which is what Bob teaches) is a brilliant method. I love the specificity of the exercises, form the repetition exercise to the scene study and character work.
RR: What were you hoping to discover about yourself and the craft?
JW: I was hoping that Bob’s class would give me a technique, a craft. I felt, as I am sure many young actors do, that some nights I was really “tuned in”, connected emotionally to the role, and some nights I wasn’t. I wanted to find a concrete way to reconnect with a role night after night.
RR: How would you describe what you learned?
JW: I think I went into the class with a natural talent, but I didn’t really have the skills I needed. When I left Bob’s class, I had a whole different way of working. I knew how to really work moment to moment off other actors, how to do an emotional preparation, how to break down a script and character. Before his class, I was already a professional actor and working, but I needed training. I didn’t know how to make things happen consistently. Bob gave me a craft, technique, to do the work.
RR: How have you been able to apply what you learned in your work?
JW: I was able to apply what I was learning in Bob’s class right away because I was working on the daytime show Somerset while I was studying with him. I even had the luck of working with Ted Danson on Somerset, who had also studied with Bob. So we had a lot of fun on that show because we had a very specific way of working together, speaking the same “language,” you could say. And to this day, I use what I learned in Bob’s class. It’s a technique you can apply to stage, film, or television.