Special Thanks to Roy London: DVD Review

by Jeff Walsh

When Brad Pitt and Geena Davis won their top acting awards, one of the people they were sure to thank was their acting coach, Roy London. London, who died of AIDS in 1993, had been a successful Broadway actor, playwright, and character actor, but he really found his passion in life teaching other actors.

This DVD is an oral biography, told through the people who knew London best: his students, lovers, and friends. He never allowed his acting classes to be recorded, never wrote down his acting methodology, and, save for two brief interviews shown within the documentary, his legacy only lives on in the hearts and minds of his students... and now this DVD.

It is telling that when describing London, the interviewees (featuring Patrick Swayze, Geena Davis, Sherilyn Fenn, and Garry Shandling) can barely come up with similar basic information about London, such as his height or weight. It becomes clear during the film that his method was about being the teacher each student needed him to be and gladly inhabiting that role to watch them grow as people and actors.

London seemed to have such an amazing life force and it is evident through the impact his life had on his students. His method was about removing the pretense of acting, and having it mirror the actor's real life. If you're upset because your car broke down on the freeway, and you're supposed to play an upbeat scene when you finally get on the set, the most effective way t act is to somehow make it about being upset and frustrated, because then you're able to bring yourself to the role. A few of the actors talk about using this method, as well as how to navigate directors who have a different vision.

At the beginning of the documentary, my sense was that the experience of watching the movie was going to be one of loss, that I was going to be introduced to someone I don't know, who is going to be lauded more than understood, and then taken away from me without any way to learn more. As the documentary goes on, though, you start to feel the power of his life and his work through everyone he touched, and how vivid the impression he left, so much so that by the end, you sort of get the sense that you got to know London. It becomes less about which famous actor said which anecdote, and more about each one adding a layer of humanity to the picture.

Overall, though, I think the DVD falls under the category of inspirational more than instructional or educational. It is about an acting coach, but I'm sure there was so much more you learned as a student. It is about a life coach, but even then you only get to glimpse his impact. The biggest takeaway is the importance of finding your voice and passion and using them fully, and that confusion is most often the sign that an artist is changing for the better.