James Lipton scored his 20th Emmy® nomination for Inside the Actors Studio. We turn the tables on him to talk about the season and his latest invention.
James Lipton did not spend Emmy morning awaiting news of nominations. Instead, he was going about his day when Bravo Television notified him that Inside the Actors Studio received its 20th Emmy nomination for Outstanding Informational Series. This season, the show featured Jessica Chastain, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Viola Davis who went on to win an Oscar. He also interviewed the cast of Girls, speaking to cast and crew. With the exception of Gooding Jr., the show’s season featured female actresses. It wasn’t deliberate. It just worked out that way.
I got to turn the tables on Lipton who created the show over 24 years ago. We talked about this season, how he prepares, and his latest invention which he his deeply excited about.
Consider Inside the Actors Studio in your Emmy voting for Outstanding Informational Series
What’s been your highlight of this season for you?
It’s been an extraordinary year as you know. Jessica Chastain, Cuba Gooding Jr., Viola Davis who won the Oscar after appearing on the show. There was the cast of Girls and that won us our 20th Emmy nomination, so I’m very grateful.
Viola was wonderful and she won the Oscar. One of the most interesting things about this season, with the exception of Cuba Gooding Jr., all the guests were women. This was the Inside the Actors Studio season of women. It’s very rare as most shows don’t get around to that.
Cuba was great, but what we discovered was that this was our season of the women.
This wasn’t planned out?
No, not at all. As we worked our way through it with Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Girls, I realized we were doing something we were doing we had never done before which was focusing on women.
With the Girls episode, you’re speaking to the entire cast. How do you prepare for cast interviews?
A cast interview is different for the simple reason. I prepare for each person who is on that stage as if he or she were the only guest I have. The preparation for the cast and crew of Girls took weeks. Normally, it takes at least two weeks. That work is done on my computer, by me, and there’s no pre-interview. I have to be prepared for anything they say and anywhere they want to go, and I have to be ready to follow them.
It’s much more difficult when it’s several people. This one took weeks and weeks of preparation because I go into the lives and the careers of each one as if they were my only guest.
Do you have a criteria for guests for who you want to speak to?
Yes, we are a school. We are the Actors Studio Drama School. This is a master class. The question I ask myself with each person we are considering is, “Does this person have something to teach our students?” That audience out there consists of master degree candidates of the Actors Studio.
The question I have for myself is does this person have information that will be of use in their craft and in their careers? No one has ever let me down.
Has there been a particularly hard interview even with all the prepping in that you’re not getting the answers you expect?
Those are the best guests. When I don’t get the answers I expected, and we take off in a brand new direction. That’s the moment I wait for.
With no pre-interview, neither the guest nor I know what’s coming next. It forces us into a conversation and that was the purpose of this from the beginning. It was intended to be a conversation, not an interview. It’s intended as a master class, and that’s what we strive for. I’ve been very pleased with the results.
What defines a good actor?
It’s a combination of two things: talent, which is given by nature and which the artist brings to stage, and technique, which is what we teach. We teach the Stanislavski system. When you have someone with great talent but no technique, you’re liable never to know what that talent looks like. That’s something that’s not infrequent these days because of the youth of the guests and the stars who are coming on the screen.
When you have someone who brings huge talent to that moment and has the technique with which to express it, that’s my definition of a good actor.
For us, as you know, we are up there for four hours. The guests and I have compared it to walking a tightrope with no net. We are up there for four hours, and that for me is the most exciting thing about our show. When the guest takes off in a brand new direction, I’m extremely happy.
What’s your biggest fear?
I’ve never been afraid. It has a purpose. I know what we’re there for. The guests know what we’re there for. Our students know. We’re perfectly comfortable with each other.
What advice do you give your students?
Train and learn and study. Learn the technique. You may have an enormous talent, and I hope you do and this will be recognized. I tell them to train, train, train.
What’s your favorite curse word?
It’s not terribly exciting. It’s not obscene, but it’s profane. Some people are offended by that, and I apologize to them for it because they have every right to be offended by it. When I’m really upset, the two words that come popping out of my mouth are Jesus Christ. That’s my curse word.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
I would like to hear God say, “You see Jim, you were wrong, I exist. You may come in any way.”
Emmy morning. What were you doing?
I was getting ready for the day. Honestly, I never try to count on anything when it comes to the Emmy nominations. I had a call from Courtney Kugel at Bravo and she said, “Congratulations Jim, you’ve got your 20th!” That’s an achievement. We’re the fifth most nominated primetime series in the history of broadcast television, and it’s extraordinary.
We’re a school, and in 2013 we won the Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series. In 2016, I won the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Reality Show host. We’re in 94 million homes on Bravo and in 125 countries. We’re the second longest running series in cable television history. I would never have bet on that or dared to dream it. I’ve had the most extraordinary experience thanks to this show.
That is truly extraordinary. Now, talk about your latest project.
Aside from directing and producing, I have now added another category in the last few months I’ve become an inventor.
What did you invent?
Mother is the necessity of invention, and this began with a need: my need. After studying years of ballet, I wound up with arthritic knees. Anyone with arthritic knees knows that the only thing doctors and chiropractors say is, “Sleep with a pillow between your knees.” Have you heard of that?
Exactly. You’ve heard it a lot but we know it doesn’t work.
Not at all.
It migrates. Several years ago I had an inspiration and after sleepless nights, I asked myself, “What if the pillow were attached to me, moving with me, and cushioning my knee no matter what?” That launched a 3-year odyssey during which I brought my epiphany to a medical panel. Their mission was to determine whether it was safe and if it does what it’s supposed to do.
We worked for three years working on prototype after prototype and developing with breakthrough techniques, the result was something called Knees Ease. It’s not a sedative. It requires no prescription and has no side effects, and it averts pain. Dr. Daniel Richman who is the Director: Education & Research Pain Management at the Hospital for Special Surgery New York has said, “After evaluating every progressive development of Knees Ease I can say it does exactly what it’s designed to do and if there were anything like it in the world, I would know, but there isn’t.” I’m an inventor and I’m so excited by this.
Since Inside the Actors Studio was my first good idea. Now that we are in our 23rd season, Knees Ease is my second, and it’s deeply satisfying to me because this is a chance to pay back, to give back and to do good.