Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (1940) (via drmacro)
Excerpted from Life is a Banquet by Rosalind Russell (and Chris Chase):
[His Girl Friday director Howard Hawks] had been watching Cary and me for two days, and I’d thrown a handbag at Cary, which was my own idea, and missed hitting him, and Cary had said, “You used to be better than that,” and Hawks left it all in. It’s a good director who sees what an actor can do, studies his cast, learns about them personally, knows how to get the best out of them. You play the fiddle and he conducts. I think filming the scene is the easiest thing. It’s preparing for it, rehearsing with it, trying to get at the guts of it, trying to give it meaning and freshness so that the other actor will relate to you and think of you as his mother or his wife or his sister, rather than just reciting lines, that’s the actor’s real work. A good director knows how to help you with it.
Grant…could immediately go off into a spin and become any character that was called for. He was terrific to work with because he’s a true comic, in the sense that comedy is in the mind, the brain, the cortex. (Every actor you play with helps you or hurts you, there’s no in between. It’s like tennis, you can’t play alone or with a dead ball; and a lot of pictures fail right on the set, not in the script, where they say it starts. A group of actors and a director can wreck a good script; I’ve seen it happen.)
Cary loved to ad lib. He’d be standing there, leaning over, practically parallel to the ground, eyes flashing, extemporizing as he went, but he was in with another ad-libber. I enjoyed working that way too. So in His Girl Friday we went wild, overlapped our dialogue, waited for no man. And Hawks got a big kick out of it.
Hawks was a terrific director; he encouraged us and let us go. Once he told Cary, “Next time give her a bigger shove onto the couch,” and Cary said, “Well, I don’t want to kill the woman,” and Hawks thought about that for a second. Then he said, “Try killin’ ‘er.”