Rip Torn, What I’ve Learned


Men in Black and The Larry Sanders Show actor and comedian Rip Torn died at age 88 today. This interview was originally published in the May 2001 issue of Esquire.


I’ve never hit anybody who hasn’t clocked me two or three times.

Everybody says, You impress me as a guy who never wanted to be a movie star. I say, Everybody in the world wants to be a movie star.

I don’t give my children advice unless they ask. If I have a few things, I try to boil it down to a telegram.

I washed dishes at Bob’s, the Home of the Big Boy, Glendale, California. I went in there to get that job, and the guy says, “You’re not an actor, are ya?” I says, “Hell, no.” It was the first outfit to have photographs of the food on its menu. The guy says, “That was my idea.” I says, “And the waitresses are so beautiful.” He says, “Yes, I pick them.” I says, “This is the job for me.”

The famous saying about reviews is, If you believe the good ones, you’ll believe the bad ones. It’s better to look at ’em after you’ve finished the run.

When people used to say, I hear you’re a Method actor, I’d say, Wrong. I’m a Methodist actor.

I honor religion except when it gets into shedding blood.

Anything new is always considered the devil’s tool.

When I drove my son around to show him where I had fished with my grandfather, some of the richest land in Texas, a big condo had been built where I used to fish. I started laughing. Then I was crying at the same time. The relentless onslaught of overdevelopment. I don’t think it makes you a radical to oppose that. It makes you a conservative.

If I could just get a piece of lemon, it’d be great.

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Jeffrey Tambor, Garry Shandling & Rip Torn during 1997 Cable ACE Awards in Los Angeles.

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I said to my dad, “I don’t know why I feel so much at home here in Times Square. I feel a kinship here the same way I do about Texas.” He said, “That’s easy to understand.” I said, “How so?” He said, “Well”—we looked up and we were on Seventh Avenue and Fiftieth Street—“you were conceived on the top floor of the Taft Hotel.” I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “As sure as any man could ever be.” Maybe it’s like some of the fish, steelhead, that come back to the place where they started life.

When I grew up, people said, You’ll never be the man your dad was. And I said, Gee, I hope not.

I used to be friends with Miles Davis. He didn’t like many folks. I lived across the street from him. He would call me up sometimes—“I got some fish I wanna cook up for ya.” I went up there, and he was on a couch, looking out the window. He was just rapt. I said, “What’re you watching, Miles?” He said, “The traffic. Where are all these motherfuckers goin’?”

They don’t have Polish jokes in Texas. They have Aggie jokes.

Be your own politics, grow your own garden, and maybe you can help out more.

I think most actors are shy. I really do. The greatest actors can disappear. I had friends call me the Blend-In Man.

If you’re lucky enough to have a pretty girl love you and share herself and sleep with you, make that your secret. The best way to spoil love is by talking to too many people about it.

I get along better with animals than with people.

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Rip Torn appearing in ’The President’s Plane Is Missing’ in 1973.

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I asked Laurence Olivier what was the key to acting. He said, “Physical strength.”

Never think you’re better than anyone else, but don’t let anyone treat you like you’re worse than they are.

A lot of times, tough-guy types will see me and say, Oh, man, I always thought you were a great big guy; you’re just a squirt. I just say, Don’t make a mistake.

You can never turn your back on the ocean.

When I get to Texas, I generally go and get some good brisket. And I’ll get a selection of cabrito and lamb and some hot sausage. And a big slice of onion. And I’ll sit down and have a good beer. Shiner.

Don’t ever humiliate a man. If you’re gonna have to dress him out, you take him aside and do it that way. That’s the one thing I don’t like about Hollywood: They go in for public humiliation. You shouldn’t do that to a man.

There’s always some kind of blacklist throughout history. But the difference is, in America they usually let you live.

Garry Shandling always said to me, “Don’t get mad, get funny.” It changed my life.

I’ve got two old Volvos, two old Subarus, and an old Ford Ranger. If you’ve got an old car, you’ve gotta have at least several old cars, ’cause one’s always gonna be in the garage.

Let the other guys do the crybaby stuff. Go for the laughs.

If you read Shakespeare, you realize it was ever thus.