In October 1960, Jean Seberg wrote an article on film acting for the student newspaper Oxford Opinion. In the piece Seberg shows herself acutely aware of the unique challenges of her profession.
It is a very difficult craft, film acting. Understanding it intellectually means very little. Some of the most unbelievable actors are “intelligent” actors. A camera traps you, the true you—not a distorted reflection in a mirror, but a pure critical reproduction in a magnifying lens. It is difficult to lie to a camera. One’s eyes are so enormous, one’s breathing, mouth, smile are so evident…. On the screen, when an actor is false, the audience unconsciously recognizes it and refuses to give with him. We all know when an actress is really crying on the screen. On the stage, the vital question is if the actor makes you cry.
In the flush of youth, and at the height of her considerable beauty, Seberg understood that the shelf life of an actor was severely limited by time’s ruthless passing.
Perhaps, the day arrives when what he [the actor] has to offer is a la mode—the little-boy-lost quality of James Dean. Van Johnson’s freckles, the soft-hearted gangster face of Bogart. What happens? The audience identifies him with this special quality, and the movie moguls capitalize and produce it on a mass market. He has, suddenly, no self to sell anymore; he has the carefully mimicked imitation of himself as he once was. And finally the public will feel this too.
And yet, with all the challenges in acting for film, Seberg is fascinated by a
…profession which few can leave even when they know their time has come. There is too much pleasure in being the caricature of life—the good guy, the bad guy, the femme fatale, the worried housewife. It’s exciting and, oddly enough, real. For most of all there is a kind of masochistic challenge to see how far Humphrey W. Dumptey can climb before tumbling down to break his crown.
Seberg died in 1979 age 40, from an overdose of barbiturates.