Actor John Wayne starred in a wide variety of movies, including A-tier and B-flicks. He earned criticisms over the course of his career that he was never truly acting, but just playing himself. However, there was a lot of attention that he put into crafting the rough Western image that spans much of his filmography. Wayne once explained the exact reason why he started to talk slowly in his movies.
Wayne had several aesthetics in his movies that made him instantly recognizable. For example, he had an iconic walk that gave him quite the entrance. However, that didn’t come to him so naturally. The actor had to watch himself on the screen to learn how to take his physicality to the next level because he didn’t always have the confidence of what to do with his hands on the silver screen.
However, Wayne’s characters also always featured his booming voice which commanded the audience’s attention. His particular cadence impacted popular culture, even making its way into a running gag on Family Guy teasing how he said the word “pilgrim” in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Fans of the show continue to remember the joke every Thanksgiving and replicate it annually.
According to James S. Olson and Randy Roberts’ book, John Wayne: American, the actor had his share of difficulties working between different types of movies. He found the dialogue in B-flicks to be harder to convey than in A films, where the story is told through more visual means.
Wayne explained, “Most anybody can play anger or hysteria,” but said that “boring” speeches that directly tell the audience the plot were much harder for him. He remedied this problem with two solutions, both of which were through his speech. Wayne avoided long speeches in his movies to ensure that he didn’t have to deal with these scenes. Next, he learned to speak slowly and pause at the right moments in sentences.
“‘I think I’ll … (Now they’re looking at you, and you can stand there for 20 minutes before you say) ‘go to town,’” Wayne said. “If you say normally, ‘I think I’ll go to town. Umm (pause) then we can go over and see something,’ the audience would have left you. But if you say, ‘I think I’ll go (pause) to town and I’ll (pause) see those three boards,’ now they’re waiting for you. You can take all the goddamn time you want if you choose your time for the hesitation.”
Legendary filmmaker John Ford was one of the instrumental filmmakers in making Wayne’s career in movies what it was. They were frequent collaborators, but more importantly, the director served as a mentor for the actor. John Wayne: An American revealed that Ford taught him that there isn’t such a thing as “being natural” on the screen. Rather, he needed to put his personality into the character.
As a result, the movie star watched Harry Carey and Yakima Canutt to help find further inspiration for how to allow his personality to shine through his dialogue delivery and actions.
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