This election year, Hal Holbrook is disgusted with the savage conflict between the right and the left (“if you can call them that,” he says). When the 83-year-old actor asks with a laugh to not be started on politics, he’s already halfway there.
This election year, Hal Holbrook is disgusted with the savage conflict between the right and the left (“if you can call them that,” he says). People seem to have forgotten that differing opinions within a democracy should be respected, not shot down. And he’s enraged at the handing-over of opinion making to TV commentators with “sometimes idiotic and patently self-serving opinions.”
When the 83-year-old actor asks with a laugh to not be started on politics, he’s already halfway there.
“I have a deep suspicion of actors intruding themselves into the opinion-making of the political process,” Holbrook says. “I think actors basically should keep their mouth shut and just act.
“But all of this feeds my show. Right now, with my words, I’m too vehement. But when you put it through the filter of Mark Twain’s words and wisdom — common-sense wisdom — and deliver it to an audience, no matter who they are, they listen and take something from it. That’s the whole point of this show.”
Holbrook’s referring to “Mark Twain Tonight!” and 2008 is the octogenarian actor’s 54th consecutive year of performing as, and honoring, the American satirist, author and lecturer.
In 2007, Holbrook gave his 2,000th performance of a show he never does the same twice in any given city. (After each show, Holbrook logs a full report of each experience.)
The show highlights Twain’s universal, timeless observations on politics, culture and race.
“Don’t we have the right to believe what we want? Don’t we give that right to other people although it differs tremendously from ours?” Holbrook says. “You can’t go over to tribal cultures that are still as active as they were 2,000 years ago and say, ‘We’re going to bring you something wonderful. It’s called democracy. Aren’t you happy?’ ”
Over 65 years of acting, Holbrook has won Emmys (including one for playing Abraham Lincoln in 1974’s TV miniseries “Lincoln”) and a Tony in 1966 for “Mark Twain Tonight!”
This year, he received his first Academy Award nomination for playing a kindly widower in Sean Penn’s adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book, “Into the Wild.”
Holbrook was thrilled for the nomination, and loved both the movie and the opportunity to work with Penn. But it’s “Mark Twain Tonight!” that he’s held onto the longest and with most fondness in his life.
“Even though you may not be too bright to begin with, it’s hard not to get a little wiser as you get older. Otherwise, you’d have to be an absolute idiot,” Holbrook says. “What you learn in this business — when you’ve been up on the mountaintop, down again partway and then up all of a sudden — is not to take yourself too seriously.
“In my older years, when it’s not that easy to get a job in movies, TV or whatever, not only am I grateful for the work … but even more grateful for a voice through which I can express the feelings about the world I’m living in,” Holbrook says. “That ability and opportunity, which a lot of people don’t have, is a gift. Somehow, by some strange twist of fate, this gift, this show, has never been taken away from me, and I find it’s more precious year by year.”
Nick Rogers can be reached at 747-9587. Read his blog at blogs.sj-r.com/unpaintedhuffhines.