I’ve mentioned in this space before that one of the most striking interviews I ever did as an arts journalist was with the actor John Hurt, who gave a stunning performance in a small indie film called “Love and Death on Long Island.” I sat up late on the night before the interview coming up with questions for the actor about his character. They were pretty philosophical.
I ended up making a fool of myself, and inadvertently embarrassing Hurt. He struggled to answer my queries, and finally said, “I think maybe you understand the character better than I do.” Well, no, he was just being polite. I think what happened was that I understood the character’s philosophical intricacies better than Hurt did, but Hurt could not have played that part so breathtakingly well without a profound grasp of the emotional contours of the character’s life. I learned from that interview that there is a great difference between cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence. Hurt is a brilliant actor, but not much of a philosopher, so to speak. My error was assuming that Hurt had to be consciously aware of the meaning of his character in order to play him so well.