From the celebrated film critic and author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, a fascinating look at some of the cinema’s finest actors and how they approach their craft

"Open to any page and you’ll become enthralled by the...tales of forgotten film lore, childhood memories, sexy gossip.”—Philip Kaufman, director

Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando, Anthony Hopkins, Carey Mulligan. When we watch these remarkable actors in a performance, we see only Sophie, Stanley Kowalski, Hannibal Lecter, or Cassie from Promising Young Woman. How are they able to transform our world in this way? How and why do they do what they do?

In Acting Naturally, David Thomson sheds light on the actors who have shaped the film industry. He shrewdly analyzes these stars—among them, James Dean, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Louise Brooks, Riz Ahmed, Sir Laurence Olivier, Viola Davis, and Jean Seberg—revealing how a sly smile, an extra-long pause, even a small gesture of the hand can draw in an audience. And he takes us behind the scenes to examine casting and all the other moments leading up to “Action!”

Through intimate anecdote, humor, and the insight born of a lifetime watching and analyzing film, Thomson explores the real reasons why we go to the movies and looks at how they influence our lives. This book is not only necessary reading for an insider’s view of the industry but also a surprising investigation of the relationship between acting and living.
“Passionate . . . The author nimbly ambles his joyful way through his extensive film knowledge and his reflective attitude toward the people who act in them. . . . Throughout, the author provides movie suggestions, many of which readers will want to seek out immediately. [Acting Naturally is] an informative, ‘wild party’ for movie fans and actors, veterans and newbies alike.”Kirkus Reviews

“David Thomson is a wizard, able to conjure seemingly all of cinema in one beguiling spell. Here is a fascinating series of essays on acting; he enthusiastically connects so many dots, jumping through portals and wormholes, to link a wide array of performances back to earlier eras and stars, then magically brings us to the recent past with his fantastic and always thoughtful observations!”—Ken Burns, American filmmaker

“When David Thomson, our preeminent film critic/historian, tells you:  ‘I want you to see what I have taken decades to understand,’ you oughta take the bait. Open to any page and you’ll become enthralled by the soothing, all-knowing voice of the mentor-you-never-had whispering tales of forgotten film lore, childhood memories, sexy gossip. He’ll have you hooked and aroused, so you want to travel with him across that turbulent sea of flickering images, on his mad hunt for that Great White Screen that has cast a spell on you. Have fun.”—Philip Kaufman, director

“For anyone who loves actors, or performance, or who wonders about the magic of persuasive pretending, Acting Naturally is a series of joyful stimulations. It both illuminates performances you have seen and loved and encourages you to see ones you have missed. Like his great and irreplaceable Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson’s Acting Naturally is less like an intellectual analysis of a great art, and more like a late night conversation with your liveliest, smartest and most movie-mad friend.”—Douglas McGrath, screenwriter, film director, actor