Temper was originally inspired by the real-life scandal at Profiles Theatre in Chicago, where the company’s Artistic Director Darrell Cox infamously subjected his actors to years of truly appalling psychological and physical abuse. But Cox, as awful as he was, is far from unique. In the process of writing Temper, I sought out all the stories of awful behavior in the arts I could find – there were so many, it was overwhelming at times, and even now in the era of #MeToo I’m certain we’re only scratching the surface.
Here’s a brief sampling of the terrible men who served as inspiration for Temper’s Malcolm Mercer:
Meisner was a prominent acting teacher known for forcing real emotions out of his actors to elicit “truthful” performances. As he says in his book Sanford Meisner on Acting, “Don’t give a performance. Let the performance give you.” Sydney Pollack had the following to say about Meisner: “You felt he knew every thought, impulse or feeling in your head, that he had an ability to x-ray your very being and there was absolutely no place to hide.” I think Temper’s Kira would say the same of Malcolm.
Another legendary acting teacher who fucked with his actors to get the performances he wanted. Rosemary Malague’s book An Actress Prepares is chock full of juicy Strasberg anecdotes, including my favorite, to which I paid direct homage in Temper: Strasberg watching an actress trying to perform a scene, then saying, with complete arrogant certainty, “I could get it out of her.” As Malague puts it, “Getting it out of her constitutes a very particular model for the relationship between the teacher/director and the student/actor; it is a relationship of manipulation and control. The actress needs him to get the performance out of her; he achieves his artistic identity by doing so. In this way, her performance becomes his.” Which is pretty much Malcolm’s whole MO.
I’ve always liked Hoffman’s movies, and until I started my research for Temper I had no idea what a raging asshole he was! Some of the most notorious stories about him come from the filming of Kramer vs. Kramer, including but not limited to: slapping Meryl Streep, throwing a glass at her head, and whispering her dead lover’s name just before the cameras rolled to provoke an emotional reaction from her.
Now this guy, I already knew was an asshole, but my research turned up all sorts of ridiculous stories about him. One in particular I borrowed for Malcolm: LaBeouf cutting his face open during the movie Fury because the wound the makeup artist made on his face didn’t look “real” enough to him.
All the Men in Take Your Shirt Off and Cry
Actress Nancy Balbirer’s memoir Take Your Shirt Off and Cry a) has the best title ever, and b) was a major help to me in getting into the headspace of my struggling actress heroine. The book is a veritable smorgasbord of stories about men in theater and the film industry behaving badly. Special shout-out to the acting teacher who hit Balbirer and then said, “A breath went through you, yes?”, which is some of the most Malcolm Mercer shit I’ve ever heard.
And finally, yet another Chicago theater dirtbag! My partner was actually in a play by this guy shortly after we moved here, and based on that script’s treatment of its female characters I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Menekseoglu is an abusive nightmare in real life. The stories about him are so out there, I think even Malcolm would be like, whoa dude, take it down a notch.
So thank you to all these men, and so many others, for being The Actual Worst and inspiring me to write a book where I get to shine a spotlight on a man like you and then make him suffer the way he deserves. We’re onto you, and your days in power are fucking numbered.
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