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Nina Foch

March 14, 2009

nina-amparisWhen I was at USC film school (by the way, there’s NO way to type that without it sounding pretentious), I had to take a class called, “Directing the Actor.”  I always thought acting was a waste of time and that, like Hitchcock, actors were like cattle (to his dying day Hitch denied ever saying that, but he bore the philosophy out in how he directed).  Stepping into that class, I thought it was going to be a waste of time.

Instead, it turned out great.  My teacher was a 76 year old  grande dame of Old Hollywood named Nina Foch.  She began the class by making sure we knew who she was (starred in An American in Paris, The Ten Commandments and Spartacus… she was also once married to James Lipton, now host of “Inside the Actor’s Studio”).    She then proceeded to spend the summer tearing apart our directing (how we worked with actors) and our acting (we had to act in each other’s pieces).  Brutal but, honestly… very fun.


It was fun because of Nina.  She was the embodiment of aging glamour that was rough around the edges.  Nina dressed to the nines, composed herself elegantly, spoke with distinction… and dropped f-bombs and dirty jokes at the slightest provocation.  She would blow up when some arbitrary rule of directing (or acting) was broken, yelling a bit… then would calmly return to her stasis of control, smiling with pursed lips.  A dopey kid from Texas who didn’t buy into much of the artsiness and self-importance of “the craft of acting” got charmed by this salty Dutch fading star.  It became one of my favorite classes.

Watching the Oscars this year, during their “Here’s Who Died in 2008” tribute, Nina’s picture came up.  Apparently she passed away last December at the age of  84.  She was still teaching the class, right up to her death.

Nina used to employ a phrase that I think of, and use, very often.  She used it in regards to overacting, but it works for many other occasions as well…  


“If you’re always shouting, you’re never shouting.”

nina-in-the-reedsWise woman, that Nina Foch.  As Easter approaches, keep an eye out for her playing Pharaoh’s sister — discoverer of baby Moses — in The Ten Commandments, when it airs, as it does every year, the night before Easter.

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