February 2008 interview with fans

Every once in a while during the years of publication of the ORACLE newsletter, René would be kind enough to sit down and reply to questions posed by members of ORACLE and our online friends at RAFL. We collected the following questions at the beginning of February 2008.

From Leatha B.
Dear Mr. Auberjonois:
When you were doing your musical turns on Broadway, I was always curious about who your music teachers were and how much time and training it took to manage eight shows a week…two matinees?

I have never, ever thought of myself as a singer. The fact is, every time I start work on a musical, I am awed and humbled by the gloriously trained voices of the other performers. I’ve never had any real training as a singer. Usually the music director of the show will sit down at the piano and teach me the songs I will be required to perform. We will lay it down on a cassette and I will proceed to listen to it obsessively until I have learned it. Once I know the music well enough, I then work on the song as an actor and treat it as if it were just another piece of dialogue.

From Miriam Krause
Please comment on the writer’s strike! (Are you a member of the DGA as well as SAG?)

The Writer’s Strike is over. That’s a good thing. Only time will tell if the gains they made are ‘real’, or worth the suffering endured by all those involved, whether directly or peripherally. My sense is that the Producers came out the “winners”…though I’m not sure anyone is ever a winner in situations like these. I do believe that the writer’s had no choice but to strike, and I supported them wholeheartedly. I am a member of the Directors Guild of America and my gut instinct is that the deal they made with the Producers basically forced the writers to settle.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was a ‘back room deal’ struck between them even before the writers walked. That’s the old Hollywood story—the writers are the bottom of the heap.

From Mary Shaver
It appears the writer’s strike addressed a number of concerns that also have a direct effect on actors. Do you think SAG will consider striking?

I’m sure SAG will consider striking…especially the hardline leaders who are now running the union. I, and many colleagues, are urging our leaders to begin talks now rather than waiting until the 11th hour when emotions are raw and running high.

None of the episodes you directed for DS9 featured Odo in a prominent role. Was that by accident or design?
That was by design. It would have been very difficult to do the kind of work necessary if I had to spend those hours in full prosthetic makeup.

You’ve told the story about the arduous audition process for the role of Odo. Do you recall if you were vying for the role against any other specific actor or actors, or were you competing against a preconceived idea for the character as initially developed by the writers and producers?
I’m sure I was competing against many other actors, though I was unaware of who they might be… especially because I was brought in by the casting director “against type”…so, yes, I was more likely competing against a preconceived idea that the writers had of the character (i.e., “a young John Wayne Sheriff Type”).

From Lynne Transue
It was such a shock to see “Grace” played by Holly Hunter on the show Saving Grace shove a gun in your mouth! Please tell us of your experiences on that show.

Well, candidly, the most shocking part of doing that scene with Holly Hunter was her decision to actually grab my crotch under the blanket when she woke me up in my room. But, seriously, I’ve admired Holly as one of our most intense and talented actors for a long time, and it was an honor, and a pleasure to work with her.

From Mary Shaver
Now that the scenes you shot for Saving Grace have aired, do you foresee this character as having a recurring role on that series?

I doubt it will be a recurring role. We are in discussions concerning my return for the season opener. I’m not sure I’m going to be available, however.

From Lynne Transue
In your long and varied career, what project do people recognize you most for when they pass you at the airport, etc.?

I don’t think it’s any one thing…people seem to recognize that they’ve seen me in many different roles for many years. That’s pretty gratifying.

From Talia
What qualities do you look for when deciding whether to work for a director? Without naming anyone, have there been projects you’ve turned down before because of the director, and finally, are there directors you’d work for regardless of the actual project?

Vision. If I don’t think the director has a vision for the piece…that’s red flag. I’m talking mostly about theater since that’s when you get to sit down with the person you’re going to collaborate with and discuss things in detail. Yes, I’ve turned down projects because I’ve felt that the director hadn’t done his/her homework, which usually results in chaos and lack of flexibility. In my experience, a director who has a very clear vision is more likely to be willing to collaborate and change as the process evolves.
And, yes, there are a number of directors, I would go anywhere to have the opportunity to work with. That’s no guarantee of a successful result, but it’s worth the artistic risk.

From Linda Burnett
Are there any directors for film or stage that you’d like to work with that you haven’t before?

Many, many…life is too short. At the moment, I’d do anything to have a chance to work with Paul Michael Anderson, the director of There Will Be Blood.

From Lynne Transue
What projects would you still like to accomplish in your performing career?

Que serra….

What projects are you most proud of so far?

That’s like asking which of my children do I love the most.

What actors today impress you?

Daniel Day Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Morse, Laura Linney….

What actors would you like to work with that you haven’t had the chance yet?

All of the above

From Linda Burnett
How difficult is it to teach acting? How do you teach someone how to act “normal”?

You can teach the craft. The art is instinctive and personal.

Acting “normal” would, in my opinion, be dull… there’s a line in an old British comedy Beyond The Fringe: “Why go to the theater to see murder, incest and lust…you can get all that at home.” I feel that way about acting “normal.” Acting “true”…that’s another matter.

Is acting an internal or an external process for you?

Both. Sometimes it’s an external image that sparks the character. Sometimes it’s nostalgia…the Greek word for “an old wound.”

From Mary Shaver
After the seminar you gave at Findlay College, would you consider teaching acting courses on a more frequent basis?

I’m not sure…I’m not sure I’m very good at it.

From Linda Burnett
When you were filming M*A*S*H, did you have any idea how immensely popular it would be?

Nope. For most of us it was our first time in a major film. We were having the time of our lives and didn’t have any idea how extraordinary and unique the experience was.

René, do you like dogs or cats, and do you have any currently?

We don’t have a cat at this time. Where we live in the hills of Hollywood, the coyotes would make short work of any small roaming critter. I’ve always liked cats and they’ve always been in my life. Some day.

Dogs—two… very old “mutts”—Riley and Cleo—who we dote on…well, mostly Judith does the doting. I grew up with animals in the country, so I tend not to anthropomorphize them to the degree that she does.

From Lynne Transue
What makes you happy?

My grandson Julian when he sees me and calls out “Hi Grumps!”