By casting her in his 1971 masterpiece, The Last Picture Show, director Peter Bogdanovich opened up a 40 year career for Cybill Shepherd, a career which has included playing opposite Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and the lead in the late 1980s mystery-comedy television series, Moonlighting.
But it’s a career that almost never was.
Shortly after casting her in his film, Bogdanovich stumbled upon a screen-test Shepherd had done for Roger Vadim a year earlier. Apparently, her work in it was of such poverty that it spooked Bogdanovich, and he contemplated un-casting her. Luckily for Shepherd however, Bogdanovich held his nerve. It’s impossible to know what would have become of her if he hadn’t, but we can be sure that opportunities like The Last Picture Show don’t come around often.
This is not a comment on Roger Vadim’s cinema, but surely the lesson here is that the actor must maintain a firm grip on the quality control of his work, without compromise, regardless of outside pressure, regardless of the passage of time. This is not easy, easpecially when a prolonged period of unemployment can have the actor salivating at the prospect of an audition for a bit part in a Toilet Duck commercial, but meetings, work, castings and projects must be declined if they do not meet the actor’s standard. If that means doing less, then so be it.
As the Shepherd example demonstrates, one of the twisted ironies of the actor’s life is that work he did in the past has the potential to block his progress in the future. He should ensure then, that that past work was work he wanted to do, work he believed in, work he is proud of. By compromising, he may think he’s cutting himself some slack, but that slack can quickly be turned into a noose.