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I finally got around to watching The Hollywood Reporter's Actor Roundtable this morning, an annual gathering of top names in the awards race and always a solid, informative, open chat. Participating this year was Alan Arkin ("Argo"), Matt Damon ("Promised Land"), Jamie Foxx ("Django Unchained"), Richard Gere ("Arbitrage"), John Hawkes ("The Sessions") and Denzel Washington ("Flight").
Much of the discussion revolved around what fame and the business has meant on a deeper level for the actors, their socio-political invigoration as a result of being public figures and how fear still feeds them even in times of success. And for Damon, who took off at an early age ("Good Will Hunting" landed when he was 27-years-old), it was jarring to witness what the transition to stardom really meant.
"I always had this theory that you kind of retard emotionally at the moment that you become famous," he says. "Because it's not that you change, it's that the world changes in its relationship to you…Your entire reality shifts a little bit and that's a really jarring experience and hard to prepare for."
Hawkes, of course, coming from the world of character acting and working on small films that mean very much to him, eschews the spotlight and is a little bit afraid of it. He said as much in our interview with him earlier this season, that he prefers a lower profile. But here he gets into why that's all the more necessary for the work.
"Any rise in visibility worries me because if I can't be somewhat invisible in a crowd and observe human behavior, if I become the center of attention, it's harder for me to be an actor," he says. "If people have preconceptions about me…I mean, I've been an unknown and coming out in films that surprise people because they believe me when I walk out on screen, because they didn't see me on Jimmy Kimmel the night before. [Sorry, Mr. Damon.] There's a down side but it's champagne problems."
On the subject of fear, Gere -- who has plenty to say in the discussion about how his time with the Dalai Lama has shaped his life -- touches on a spiritual side.
"I get afraid every time I take a job offer," he says. "There's a buzz I get before every take. There's some extra thing going on. I'm okay with it. I had a friend of mine say to me, 'You're the most curious person I know,' and it's true. I'm still trying to figure out the world, myself, people around me. And ultimately part of that curiosity is probably a fear, also, that I don't know who I am. I don't know the world. I don't know people around me. Is it possible to know another human being? Even your wife. Is it possible to really know? Is there a self? Is there a Richard? I don't know."
Adding to that, Washington notes that you attract what you fear. Indeed, you attract what you feel, what's on your mind. He speaks about his children looking to get into the business, and about how adamant he is that his daughter, who is an actress, cultivate the tools that will keep her going into her 40s in an industry that can often be hard on women of a certain age. He tells her to look to an actress like Viola Davis for her cues.
Jamie Foxx, meanwhile, feels out of his element in the group but nevertheless brings a different perspective that's interesting throughout. He actually met Washington as a fan a few times early on, moments Washington, of course, doesn't remember. He very much looked up to him and "mapped" his career by looking at Washington's trajectory. He also gets into his unique path to the music industry through a "kid" no one really knew at the time: Kanye West.
There's also some brief discussion about violence in film and the media, which shakes Arkin quite a bit.
"My sense is that it's not the violence but it's the attitude toward it that's the issue," he says. "A lot of times I feel as if I'm watching people that are reveling in it, and that disturbs me. I feel like I can feel it jumping off the screen at me when it's being loved, for the amount of blood or the graphic design of it. When it gets into the graphic design of it, I feel like it's dispassionate, which scares the hell out of me."
Finally, I personally found it interesting when Damon spoke up about a role he covets, and for a very interesting reason. "I'd like to play Bobby Kennedy," he says. "I just think that at the end of his life, he really kind of saw the matrix and spoke the truth. He said some really radical and amazing things at the end of his life and then he died."
It's a beefy, grounded discussion, well worth the hour if you can carve out the time. Take a look for yourself below.