Inside the Actor's Studio: Leading Men

Even though James Lipton is endearingly nuts, this Leading Men edition offers remarkably personal profiles of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Sean Penn and Russell Crowe. Crowe’s giddy appearance and girlish laugh are the most surprising aspects of this set. Otherwise, De Niro is shy and somewhat puzzled by Lipton’s rhetorical style, Pacino is theatrically flamboyant and Penn is cheeky and earnest. All four answer Lipton’s probing questions about their craft and careers without reservation and field queries from the audience of aspiring thespians and directors with equal courtesy. As if the televised interview sessions weren’t insightful enough, each episode contains a bonus section entitled "Great Moments That Didn’t Make the Cut.” De Niro discusses his early days as an unknown actor when he kept a whole wardrobe on-hand at a separate apartment in New York for potential film roles. He recalls auditioning for Brian Depalma for 1969’s The Wedding Party, escaping death in an action sequence in The Deer Hunter and the difference between gaining weight for Raging Bull and The Untouchables (the latter utilised a body suit). There’s a certain charm in each anecdote, particularly when De Niro remembers applying for a bus driver’s license for his role in A Bronx Tale, only to fail the test three times (he insists he passed each test). Fellow New Yorker Pacino recalls having both cars and bikes stolen from him as a young actor. He discusses his bungling of Dog Day Afternoon, which he vehemently turned down until he read the script and then strenuously fought to get the role back. Though he’s amused to watch Kevin Spacey impersonate him on a previous episode of Inside, Pacino is truly tickled when Lipton digs up trivia about his being a winning contestant on a ’60s game show, coincidentally entitled Wheel of Fortune. Lipton good-naturedly goads Penn to recount a failed prank on his first film Taps, where Penn, Timothy Hutton and Tom Cruise convinced a helicopter pilot to blast music by Wagner while buzzing golf’s U.S. Open. Penn outlines the tremendous influence of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska on his screenplay for The Indian Runner and tells a revealing tale about directing Jack Nicholson in The Pledge. Crowe reminisces about his first role on the Australian TV series Spyforce when he was six years old and fooled into delivering his one line of dialogue. He also reveals that he refused to replace a missing tooth suffered during a childhood rugby match because he thought it’d be "pretentious” to get a fake tooth. It wasn’t rectified until 1989, when The Crossing’s director George Ogilvie paid to have Crowe’s tooth repaired so that he could star in his film. Though somewhat slight, such extra anecdotes are humanising, and it’s cool to see these Oscar winners so openly engaging with Lipton and members of the Actor’s Studio. Plus: "James Lipton: Flashbacks.” (Shout)