- Historic Sites
“With Mark Twain You Can Get Away With Murder”
The man who has lived with him nearly as long as Samuel Clemens did tells why Twain still has the power to delight—and to disturb
August/September 2003 | Volume 54, Issue 4
When I got there, the park was closed, but I got out, and it started snowing, gently. The snow was falling, the woods were dark. It was spooky. I walked along the center lane of New Salem, and all of a sudden this figure burst out of the snow and went past me. I turned around, and he was gone. That night I couldn’t sleep. I drove all night. I went to Vincennes, and I stopped, and I had dinner at some local place and listened to the local people talk. I listened to their voices. I looked out at the weather, and I thought, “It’s cold out here. This man rode a horse in this weather on the circuit. I mean, this was a tough man.”
And look at his face. There was nothing beautiful or handsome about his face until he became beautiful as a human being. When we did the makeup—although, you know, they went overboard, unfortunately—I wanted people to see why he was called an ape. I wanted the ugliness to be there and the beauty to come out of the man psychologically.
Lincoln was not balanced. He did establish a certain equilibrium through discipline and his phenomenal mind and extraordinary character. But he was a deeply troubled man. What was he? Was he ashamed of his background? How did he feel?
We actors have a mission, like it or not, to show the heart of a human being, whether it’s Twain, Bucher, or Lincoln. With Lincoln I wanted to create a man who had all these things going against him so that people who weren’t beautiful and who were poor and injured could identify with this man and see that out of this kind of imperfection, perfection can grow.