The Five Worst Episodes of Inside the Actors Studio

Or, "James Lipton, Martin Lawrence, and The Craft of Acting."

by Rod Bastanmehr

James Lipton's Inside the Actors Studio starts its eighteenth season this month. It's always purported to feature serious conversations about craft, but though Lipton occasionally brings in a guest with some substance (see Kevin Spacey), most episodes are heavier on banalities and back-patting. Here are the five worst offenders from the show's long history.

5. Richard Dreyfuss (2000)

It turns out that Richard Dreyfuss is kind of annoying. I now fear being left alone with him while the friends we have in common go to the bathroom. In the episode, he answers every yes/no question by building up to his response with a seemingly endless series of long-winded talking points. As we're reminded repeatedly, he's an esteemed actor. Very esteemed. But given that the movie that made him famous, Jaws, birthed the blockbuster and effectively killed the surge of independent filmmaking we were seeing in the 1970s, it's odd that he comes off as so stuffy and aloof. ("What turns you off?" "Rock 'n roll.")

4. Tim Allen (2006)

Tim Allen is a humble man, but maybe not the first person you think of when you reflect on the noble craft of acting. Perhaps fittingly, Lipton reads off a list of emotional states and has Allen express them via his signature grunt. This results in three solid minutes of grunts, ranging in mood from "sympathetic" to "confused."

3. Charlize Theron (2004)

No one told Charlize Theron that every guest on ITAS (of course) gets a standing ovation on the way in. She stands there awkwardly for what feels like an hour. Okay, that's an understandable mistake, but what's really weird comes later in the episode, when Theron's mother (who's in the audience) gets a standing ovation herself for having killed her husband in self-defense — a truly bizarre moment confirming that James Lipton and his fans can react to just about anything as if it's the feel-good hit of the year.

2. Martin Lawrence (2006)

How Lipton managed to have a straight-faced conversation regarding Bad Boys is beyond me. He might be better off nixing guests altogether and teaching the nuances of acting himself. This episode does, however, feature a couple of Lipton's most quotable lines ever ("Let's give our audience a treat, and have a look at the incomparable Shaneneh"). By the time Lawrence gets up to do his "iconic" dance from the film Blue Streak, the episode has become a full-on minstrel show, with Lawrence running through his cavalcade of stereotypical black characters, much to Lipton's delight. ("That was a tour dé force, what we just saw!")

1. Jennifer Aniston (2011)

Jennifer Aniston is an affable guest. She's also a star of terrible movies, and her insights on acting include such gems as "I like to get all my lines down, and then I can play from there." Lipton follows that up by asking how she stays in shape (and probably by silently cursing Daniel Day-Lewis for turning down his invitation to appear on the show). Our favorite host is usually pretty smooth in his sycophancy, but he doesn't seem to know what to do with Aniston. She's not a bad comedienne, but her sense of humor falls flat on Lipton; their back-and-forth gets so awkward at times (with each making jokes that fall on the other's deaf ears) that you almost want to watch Picture Perfect instead. Almost.

Commentarium (26 Comments)

Jan 17 12 - 1:12am

The Charlize Theron episode was an extremely good one. Possibly you were having a bad day yourself. The Anniston one was indeed lifeless. Didn't see the others, but I couldn't imagine Martin Lawrence would be good and it wouldn't surprise me to discover Dreyfuss was pompous. I did see one with Cameron Diaz, and, uh...that one wasn't too good.

Jan 17 12 - 11:07am

I liked Charlize's episode, too. Did you not catch why her mother shot her father?? It was a terrible, harrowing story. After hearing what they went through and were going through in the moment, I would've applaud her mother. A drunken abuser was trying to kill them both, so the woman protected herself and her young daughter. I can't imagine the courage it takes to stop someone you once loved from killing you and your child. What's not worthy of applause there?

Jan 17 12 - 10:20pm

Your point is valid, but on the other hand, killing another human being (self defense or no) is a weird thing to be applauded for.

Unless you're a gladiator, in which case WE SALUTE YOU!

Jan 17 12 - 1:15am

Who watches this nonsense? They are paid performers. I watch them perform, not talk. Dance monkey, dance.

Jan 17 12 - 1:24am

I have to agree. Acting hasn't been a craft since, well, Fawkes' time.

Jan 17 12 - 3:06am

Writing and directing are a lot more interesting, and good writers and directors don't get enough credit for an actor's good performance.

Jan 17 12 - 11:18am
oh please

Wannabe critics who write off an entire profession because of ignorant generalizations are so pathetic. They're whiny outliers to the people trying to contribute. If you are not aware of some of the incredibly talented actors currently performing, that's your error.

Jan 18 12 - 10:07am

I don't think he was insulting actors. Just (correctly) stating that many people overlook the directors and writers who create the films, in favor of the more visible people who star in them.

Jan 20 12 - 6:50pm

I guess it depends on whether we're talking critics or average people. Yes, I think if you asked a random guy walking down the street s/he would probably care more about the actors involved, but in criticism the credit often goes almost wholly to the director, with little credit given to the work actors put in. And writers just get ignored by everyone.

Jan 17 12 - 4:24am

I'd be interested in a list of the 5 best episodes!

Jan 17 12 - 12:08pm

me too!

Jan 17 12 - 2:32pm

I think Robert de Niro was the worst interview on Inside the Actor's Studio. He hates being interviewed and always looks like he is being tortured. My favorite interviews were Alec Baldwin, Johnny Depp, and Kevin Spacey.

Jan 17 12 - 4:39pm

I haven't seen this show as much lately but one of the best episodes, believe it or not, was with Bradley Cooper. He was the first graduate to the program to actually return as the featured guest. They included clips of him in the audience at previous shows, asking questions. The professor (female) he credits most was in the audience. And he obviously knows Lipton very well. Cooper was really deeply moved by the whole thing and it took him about ten minutes before he could get out an answer without choking up. It was actually quite something to see.

Jan 17 12 - 4:40pm

We need to nod to Tommy Lee Jones. He was a great guest and Lipton was at his melodramatic worst. Q: "So how does a kid from Texas end up at Harvard?" A: (with stunned disbelief) "He went to prep school."

and the best (which I probably paraphrase incorrectly...i apologize to my Native American Bros & Sisters)... Q: Most people don't know this, but your grandmother was actually Cherokee Indian.
A: Actually she was Comanche.
Q: (flustered) Same thing.
A: Actually they're mortal enemies.

Jan 17 12 - 9:52pm

I really, really need to see this.

Jan 17 12 - 10:42pm
iltimer was

James Lipton and ITAS has to be among the worst TV ever. Pompous self-aggrandizing buffoonery at its worst.

Jan 18 12 - 3:38pm

I bet that James Lipton has the most impeccably trimmed pubic hair on the planet.

Jan 20 12 - 6:23pm

It's really weird to laugh and throw up at the same time.

Jan 18 12 - 7:24pm
Inside Nothing!

YOU should be given an award for getting thru all of that slop and whittling it down to five! What a self-aggrandizing bastard he is, and he only got the job in the first place b/c he wife is (was?) head of the French department. It was a bogus position that somehow...I don't know. Got bigger than it really was. What a joke.

Jun 14 12 - 8:47am

what you have just said makes absolutely no sense. Lipton is a legend in his own right, has worked with many of the greats and icons in American pop culture, and got the "job" due to the fact that he has a LONG history with the Actor's Studio, and was instrumental in developing the Master's Program for Acting, Writing and Directing--first at New School University, which was then moved to Pace around 2006. You know nothing of which you speak his wife is Japanese and doesn't work at either university as head of any department.

Jan 18 12 - 9:51pm

I'm amazed with all the criticism of ITAS, nobody has taken Lipton to task for trying to make every interview about HIM. If there is the slightest intersection between the guest's background or interests, Lipton starts hogging the limelight and regaling the slightly bewildered star about how he got his pilot's license, or how his wife won't let him get a tattoo, or which minor forgettable show he took part in.

The show is about them, Jim, not you.

Jan 19 12 - 1:55am

I liked the one with the Simpsons voice actors. A lot.

Jan 19 12 - 4:30pm

Can you imagine how gross it would be to 69 Richard Dreyfus?

Jan 20 12 - 6:45pm
Jim M.

What I don't get is the show is called "Inside the ACTOR'S studio" but they'll have someone like Billy Joel on??? I love his music and okay, he was a voice actor in Oliver and Company, but he's not an "actor".

Jan 22 12 - 7:08am

My favorite was Stephen Sondheim. I fell in love with Liz Callaway (brought on to perform Sondheim songs) and have bought all her albums since then. And the interview was interesting, too.

Jul 01 12 - 2:35am

I love the show but I find it very frustrating that I can not find any way to watch episodes either on DVD or online. Does anyone know how to find full episodes or a DVD set of the entire seasons?