"I'm happy to say I have learned a few lessons from the young performers with whom I've worked during the course of my 43 years in the entertainment business.
One of my best teachers was Abigail Breslin, the heartbreaking young actress from "Little Miss Sunshine."
This month we costar in "Nim's Island," an adventure tale about a little girl living on an otherwise uninhabited island with her father and e-mailing a neurotic adventure writer in San Francisco. That would be me.
When we were filming last summer in the Australian rain forest, Abbie, who turns 12 this month, taught me that although it's a good exercise to try to execute a director's vision, it's an actor's job to bring a full character to the table.
And that means defying arbitrary designs dictated by technical exigencies or a director's preconceived notion of the character.
Some things about a character just can't be decided while a director orders room service in his hotel.
The greatest gift an actor has is instinct. Sometimes that instinct has no grand intellectual vocabulary. Sometimes you just have to say "no."
Abbie knows exactly how to say "no" if it doesn't feel right. That was a lesson I wished I'd learned when I was her age.
Somehow she's learned to do it so sweetly and with such goodwill that directors don't even notice.
When she doesn't feel that the character should shout in a scene, she'll simply say, "Listen to it quiet. Isn't that better?"
My new rule for those of us actors still plagued with people-pleasing: Go with your instinct, even if it means saying "no." Los Angeles Times Magazine April 6, 2008