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

Marian Seldes: The Right Time

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Marian Seldes in BECKETT/ALBEE in 2003. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Listen, we are the ones who are going to change things. No one is coming to do what we must do, but we have to cheer on the others who are making this time–this time right now–a time that others in ten years, twenty years, will look back on in amazement. Live and love and work right now. We are in the right time.

Marian Seldes: Wonder in the World

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We don’t have enough time to criticize or envy others. There is so much wonder in the world, so many people doing or trying to do wonderful things. There will never be enough time to show up for them, to support them, so I can’t waste a moment worrying or complaining of how things might be or should have been. They are what they are, and we can make it wonderful.

From a conversation in 2005