Tuesday 17 July 2012

Wisdom & Stories from the DANNY DEVITO Masterclass at the THEATRE ROYAL HAYMARKET, LONDON

I had a three hour gap in my schedule today, and didn't know why. Then I got the invite to go see Danny Devito on Haymarket, where I already was. Sometimes you don't need to have everything decided, you need space for the universe to guide you.


He told the famous story about his audition for TAXI. He walked into the room, threw the script down and said, "Who wrote this shit?" There was a moment's silence, and then they all started laughing. He knew he'd get the role.

He says being comfortable going into an audition in 90% of the job. Mastering yourself, so that you can show them a piece of who YOU are. Even though you're a character, you're showing them YOU. When you can do that, then you stand a chance. 

He says you should go in with 'something'. Make a decision about your character.


He finishes his run on London's West End in 'THE SUNSHINE BOYS' this Saturday. Sunday he flies home. Monday he begins shooting the new season of 'IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA'

People don't realise how hard the big actors work. Not just to make it in the industry, but to sustain it.


He says it depends who you're working with. If it's a Neil Simon stage play or a David Mamet screenplay, every comma is essential. Your job is to service to vision.

On 'IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA', improvisation is king. They shoot on three cameras, so if they nail it, they have all the coverage.


I was down in the front row (of course), so got the first audience question. I said, "When you worked with Woody Allen---" and then DeVito snapped to life. Everyone has a Woody Allen story and this is his:

He got 9 pages sent in the post, with a note from Woody. It said "if you like it, keep it and we'll do it. If not, send it back and we'll work together in the future."

He kept it, but didn't talk to anyone else from the production again.

Months later, I think it was again through the post, he had to decide on costume, on a few pairs of shoes and a suit, which he did. 

Then suddenly he got the call. "We're doing the scenes on Tuesday". 

Then he was on set, in the trailer. Woody came and said hello, briefly, then went away.

And Woody only gave Danny one direction during the whole shoot, "bigger." He wanted it bigger, more over the top.

The scene where De Vito has a heart attack, they had to shoot it nine times, just so Woody could nail one of his lines.


A couple of actors mentioned that they're training in the same place he went to back in the 60's. He compared it to kindergarten. He said, "Rely on yourself to filter out the bullshit," because so much of it is bullshit. It's about finding what resonates with you.


A young actress asked the typical question, "how do I get cast? How do I make it in comedy?"

DeVito said to focus on the now. Don't get caught up in thoughts of too far ahead. Focus on THIS audition, THIS short film. He says experience is paramount. 

That's the thing with young actors -- they want to know how to make it, they want to know the shortcuts. DeVito reminded people to just do the work. It was simple yet profound.


He told us about the first time he showed "HOFFA" to Jack Nicholson. It was in the screening room at 20th Century Fox, and it was a film print, so you couldn't pause it. It got towards the big ending and Nicholson turned to DeVito and said "Danny, I really need to pee."

DeVito said "No, you can't miss the ending." 

"But I really have to pee," said Nicholson.

DeVito took him to the back on the screening room and opened the double doors.

He went and fetched a garbage can.

DeVito held the can for Nicholson to pee into while watching the end of the movie. And that's a true story.


The last question was, "do you have shit days?"

"I'm having one right now," he quipped.

He says that life is made up of good and bad, and that you can avoid neither. He compared it to flowing downstream. Sometimes you're flowing along nicely, sometimes you're hitting up against rocks.

Either way, you're still flowing down that river.

Regarding the bad stuff, he said, "embrace it, and then let it go".

Regarding the good stuff, he said: "embrace it, and then let it go."

Care to share?


  1. ahhh the wisdom that comes with age and experience. nothing beats it

  2. A wise man, indeed. Some very interesting stories and advice.