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Acting Naturally

Richard's Writings > Acting Naturally > Some thoughts on playing Henry Higgins

Synopsis of Some thoughts on playing Henry Higgins

This was one of my favorite roles, and one of my most challenging. Keep in mind that Rex Harrison won the Oscar for doing this role in the movie version of My Fair Lady. In this chapter I wonder why I do it at all. Wouldn't it be a lot more comfortable - and safer - to stay home and read a good book? But something calls you out and dares you to do it - and you pray you will do it well.

Excerpt from Some thoughts on playing Henry Higgins

This is a very big, challenging role. He is basically a pompous ass, but he has to be played with enough charm and droll wit to make him likeable to the audience, and he has to be unconscious of his arrogance and conceit. So I have to play him overbearing, but not intolerably so, and I have to play the ass enough for humor but stop short of making him foolish. Lots of humor in this role, adroitly delivered, very subtle.

Higgins sings six songs altogether, three in the first act, and three in the second act. These are rather small songs, as opposed to the big production numbers such as "Consider Yourself" from Oliver. I say to myself, "I can do this, I can pull this off." And in my heart of hearts, I know I can, and I very much want to do this. But then that small voice whispers, "What are you doing? You're taking on a big responsibility. Everyone is depending on you - the cast and the company and the audience…

And you can't just get it in the can and be done with it; you can't just hash it out and then re-work it until it is in an acceptable shape. This is something that has to be done in the moment, and then it has to be repeated night after night, even twice on some days. Who are you to step into these shoes? Are you crazy?" Back to that again. "Are you crazy?"

Somehow I know I will pull it all together and do a great performance. I don't know how, and I won't really be able to put it all together until performance time. Dress rehearsals will come close, but even they are not the complete experience. It's sort of like juggling - the brain does not consciously follow each and every spinning object in the air, but rather there is a sense of it all, and the hands and balance compensate automatically to keep things from dropping. You can't say how you do it, you just do it. With a lot of practice, before hand.


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