Marian Seldes: What We Should Do

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Don’t look at someone and think or say, Well, what they’re doing; how they’re living a life; performing a role; treating others is not how I would do it. Don’t then judge them and think or say, Well, they won’t be happy.

Instead, look at them and think, The way they’re living or behaving would not make me happy: It reminds me of how I should live my life. And then promise yourself that you’ll be there for this person if and when they realize that what they’re doing or how they’re behaving isn’t working for them.

We see things to learn what it is we should  do.

From a conversation in 2001

Marian Seldes: I Work At Being Kind

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Brian Murray and Marian Seldes in Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby, 2001.

We are all employed all the time. Primarily, the world needs our kindness and our curiosity, both of which will lead us to care for the world and each other. This may be our greatest contribution to the world–far beyond the work we find so important.

I work at being kind. I work at listening to other people. I was taught this. I was told it was important, required, and it has saved me. If I didn’t try to care for others, I would be a mess–self-centered, whining, aware of lack. Instead, I’m always hurrying to fulfill all the needs that I can take care of. I can create a little path of kindness in the world. And others are doing this as well. We’re going to take care of things.

From a conversation in 1988.

Marian Seldes on Getting Better

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Marian Seldes with Frances Sternhagen and Zoe Caldwell.

Sometimes people think getting better or stronger means getting meaner, tougher. The mean and the tough merely become meaner and tougher, and their work and their lives suffer. Getting better is a type of letting go of results–work, money, rewards–and focusing on your soul, for lack of a better word. I don’t know if we have souls, but when we lose whatever you think of as a soul, you almost inevitably turn to television. They don’t need souls there.

From a conversation in 1994

Marian Seldes: Roberta Maxwell

THE CARPETBAGGER'S CHILDREN, Roberta Maxwell, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, New York, 2002 (photo by

Roberta Maxwell in Horton Foote’s The Carpetbagger’s Children at Lincoln Center, 2002. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

My inspiration often comes from being chastened by the talent of others. When I saw Geraldine Page, I thought I had no business calling myself an actress. What she had done was so beyond me, I thought, Why bother? The world needs greatness, and she is great. I didn’t quit, but I worked harder: I wanted to attain what she had.

I feel the same way about Roberta Maxwell. I have been on the stage with her, and I have thought, I could never do what she did. I’ve seen her be brilliant in so many ways, and she devastates me. She makes me think I have no business being an actress, but she forces me to become better, to work harder.

From a conversation in 1998

Marian Seldes: Talent Is God

THE TOWER BEYOND TRAGEDY, from left, Judith Anderson, Marian Seldes, ANTA Playhouse, New York, 1950

Judith Anderson and Marian Seldes in The Tower Beyond Tragedy, at the ANTA (now the August Wilson) in 1950.

I loved what Tennessee [Williams] said about Meryl [Streep], and he said that her talent was a sacrament, or that her talent made him realize that all talent is sacramental. I agree with him. I don’t think that sacraments–or God or whatever higher power you need–is ‘out there’ or ‘over there.’ I think an unhealthy person finds God in alcohol or drugs, and I think healthy people find God in other people’s kindness; in talent we find in works of art, pieces of music, great acting. I think talent is God working through us. Life is the church, and we have to do God’s work. Your God’s work; my God’s work. We have to bring the God out in all things.

From a conversation in 1991

Marian Seldes on Her Students

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I could never promise my students employment in the theatre. No one can do that. What I offered my students was a belief in the person they were, at that time, and I wanted to know their stories; I wanted to be a part of their lives; I wanted to see them learn and grow and be happy. I could guarantee them a love of the theatre, of acting, of literature, because I would walk them through it, and show them how I fell in love with things. A lot of students from Juilliard–from all of the schools–chose not to pursue an acting career, but they did not fail: Their lives were improved by their studies. More than anything, I wanted students to know they were being seen; they were being respected; they were being loved; they were supported by someone. 

From a conversation in 1990

Marian Seldes: Judgment Day

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Marian Seldes in class at Juilliard, in 1981.

People keep waiting for God, or for Jesus to return. The big day always coming, the day for which we must always be prepared. But I think God–or joy, or peace, or happiness, or fulfillment–comes every single day, every single hour. I find it in kindness; I find it when I huddle with students and witness them growing–in talent, in kindness. We are the judgment day, the coming, the reward.

From a conversation in 1987

Marian Seldes: Imagination and Desire

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Marian Seldes in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, 1994

Our imaginations will save us. Everything is there for us. I try to tell my students that they should be working on their minds, their imaginations all the time. The mental foundation–creative and curious–will sustain them through all things, and I have to keep telling them that opportunities will arise. I believe that things are waiting for us, being created for us, as we build our foundations. And then things happen, so to speak. Imagination is the ultimate desire.

From a conversation in 1991

Marian Seldes: Improve The Planet

THREE SISTERS, from left: Kate Reid, Marian Seldes, Maria Tucci, Stratford Shakespeare Festival,

Kate Reid, Marian Seldes, and Maria Tucci in THE THREE SISTERS at Stratford, Connecticut, in 1969, and directed by Michael Kahn.

I have never been to the forests in Brazil. I doubt now that the opportunity will arise where I might go, but I know that they are there, and I know that we need to save and protect them. I do what I can, from this distance. I feel the same about mountains of ice melting high at the top of our planet: I haven’t been there, and I don’t need to go there to realize that we have a responsibility to protect them and to improve the world. This is how I feel about anger or envy or  greed. I know they are out there, but I don’t need to go there. I don’t really want to go there. But from my distance I do what I can to improve things: I do what I can to improve the planet.

From a conversation in 2005