Impressions of Martha's Vineyard, 2008
Last week my friend Lucy, a British ex-pat living with her husband and two daughters in Portugal, introduced me to Halfway to Hollywood, the recently published second volume of diaries of Michael Palin. You’ll recall Palin from the Monty Python troupe, from various movies and from his wonderful travel documentaries.
Palin’s an interesting guy. I’ve long admired how he moves across the creative spectrum. He acts, he writes, he directs, sometimes all on the same project. He brings charm, sensitivity, good humor and warmth to whatever he’s working on.
In this BBC radio series, which features excerpts from this new volume, Palin talks about his family, his work with the Pythons, his movies, his friendship with George Harrison and his foray into travel programs. He recounts how, after having written, directed and performed in two films that didn't fare well at the box office, he reluctantly accepted a role in A Fish Called Wanda.
He wasn’t pleased initially with his character. He didn’t want to be in another movie where Cleese played a stiff upper class Brit. But after having worked on several films in a row where he'd had so much day-to-day responsibility, the opportunity to just act, to just play the character and collect his pay, was appealing.
Once filming began, Palin found himself thrilled by Kevin Kline’s method acting practices and by Jamie Lee Curtis’ “West Coast directness.” Instead of having a dreadful time “for the money,” Palin admits that he fell in love with A Fish Called Wanda. He ultimately thought it was John Cleese's best work since Fawlty Towers.
And then he says something that stopped me dead in my tracks:
“I’m really enjoying this return to uninhibited comedy. Wanda gave me the chance to embrace the joy of showing how well I could do something.”
Many people I encounter in the course of my research work tell me they feel trapped in jobs they dislike. But for those of us who’ve been lucky enough to find work or creative pursuits that provide satisfaction, isn’t this what explains why we like what we do? We may be proud of what we produce and whatever acclaim that might bring us. But where we really get our joy is in the doing, especially when we know we're doing something that we can do well.