Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nina Foch: An Appreciation

The entertainment world lost one of its most influential and seminal talents when Nina Foch -- respected, Oscar-and-Emmy-nominated actress, acting teacher, university professor -- passed away on December 5 at the age of 84 from complications stemming long-term myelodysplasia, a blood disorder.

In addition to working extensively as an actress in a career spanning six decades, Nina also for forty years taught a popular course at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, "Directing the Actor," which she also taught for many years at the American Film Institute.

Noted writer/director Marshall Herskovitz (Thirtysomething.) noted in her obituary in the Los Angeles Times, "She had a point of view that was so profound and so provocative that it forced you to really reassess not just your thoughts about filmmaking but your whole approach to life and relationships."

Herskovitz, who met his once and future professional partner Edward Zwick in Foch's class at AFI in the 1970s, notes that her philosophy was difficult to boil down because it stemmed from her insights into how people behave and think and what they believe.

"She had a wonderful phrase that used to torment us -- "idiosyncratic contrapuntal juxtaposition...What it meant was what happens in life is often the opposite of what you think would happen, so the way you play a scene is often the opposite of the way you would think. . . . I'm not exaggerating when I say that what she taught us comes up literally weekly in our careers. She so influenced us in our way of looking at material, directing, even writing."

In her "Directing the Actor" class, One of the first things Nina had us do in her directing class was an improv with a object. Mine was with a copy of the New International Version of the Bible. When I finished my improv for the class to see, Nina told them, "Notice the colors." The colors were something she sensed in my improv performance.

She had a prolific career as an actress, having studied initially with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. She was nominated for an Academy Award in 1954 for her supporting role in "Executive Suite," and later, for an Emmy in 1980 for a guest role on the television series "Lou Grant." She continued to work steadily in films and television, most recently as David McCallum's mother on an episode of "NCIS" as well as an episode of the TNT series "The Closer".

I remember one time mentioning to her I saw as a panelist in reruns of "I've Got a Secret" on the Game Show Network, to which she tartly noted she recently received a residual check for twenty dollars for the reruns they recently showed.

But though I had to drop her class due to other considerations, she kept the door open for me, even as others vowed to slam it shut in my face. That said a lot about the regard she held for me, and the potential she sensed in me.

My deepest regret is not learning more from you, Nina. You will be greatfully missed.

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