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Get Serious: Comic Actors in Dramatic Roles
Posted September 27, 2010 to photo album "Get Serious: Comic Actors in Dramatic Roles"
Slide 7: Peter Sellers in Being There
Soon after Jerzy Kosinski novel's Being There was published in 1971, Peter Sellers began a dogged quest to obtain the film rights, knowing that the simple-minded gardener at the story’s heart captured something essential about his own comic sensibility. The cover of a 1980 Time Magazine entitled “Who is this Man? The Many Faces of Peter Sellers” highlighted the comic actor’s chameleon talent for creating characters. A little grease paint, a pasted-on moustache, and maybe a new hat and––voila!––Sellers transformed himself. But Chance’s character in Being There was all about the absence of character, the blank reflection that gave others the permission to project onto him whatever they wanted. Sellers knew the character all too well, as he once noted to writer Kosinski, “My whole life has been devoted to imitating others.” But the difference between those hilarious comic personae and Chance is all about intention. As AMC film critic Eric Meyerson explains, “While Sellers made his cinematic fame falling down staircases and engaging in zany mix-'em-ups, this massive departure is the finest performance of his career… In Being There, Sellers creates a character that's empty, vapid, and with nothing to say, but exuding profundity, calculation, and utter Zen.”