Shepard in June 2004
|Born||Samuel Shepard Rogers III
November 5, 1943
Fort Sheridan, Illinois, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||O-Lan Jones (m. 1969; div. 1984)|
|Partner(s)||Jessica Lange (c. 1982; sep. 2009)|
I always thought the desert was the antithesis of peace – something that attacks you. So you don't go to the desert for peace.
My son, Walker, has a band called The Dust Busters. You know, he plays banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin, so a lot of my interest in that kind of music comes from him constantly listening to this stuff. He's taught me the history of it. It's remarkable how these young kids are now turned on to more traditional old-time music.
You sometimes use the excuse, 'I'm a writer, dammit, I can do anything I want,' but that doesn't work.
I think a part of the reason that those early plays were short was that I just kept having these ideas, and I'd just go off and write them. I wasn't trying to write one-act plays – it's just how the ideas would be expressed. Every condition I was in seemed like it could be a play.
Writing for the theatre is so different to writing for anything else. Because what you write is eventually going to be spoken. That's why I think so many really powerful novelists can't write a play – because they don't understand that it's spoken – that it hits the air. They don't get that.
I feel very lucky and privileged to be a writer. I feel lucky in the sense that I can branch out into prose and tell different kinds of stories and stuff. But being a writer is so great because you're literally not dependent on anybody.
After the falling out with my father, I worked on a couple of ranches – thoroughbred layup farms, actually – out toward Chino, California. That was fine for a little while, but I wanted to get out completely, and twenty miles away wasn't far enough.
I've been so spoiled in the theater, writing plays where I can just do exactly what I want and nobody messes with me.
It's one of the great tragedies of our contemporary life in America, that families fall apart. Almost everybody has that in common.
Democracy's a very fragile thing. You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it's no longer democracy, is it? It's something else. It may be an inch away from totalitarianism.
There are places where writing is acting and acting is writing. I'm not so interested in the divisions. I'm interested in the way things cross over.
I'm a writer. The more I act, the more resistance I have to it. If you accept work in a movie, you accept to be entrapped for a certain part of time, but you know you're getting out. I'm also earning enough to keep my horses, buying some time to write.
There's no way to escape the fact that we've grown up in a violent culture, we just can't get away from it, it's part of our heritage. I think part of it is that we've always felt somewhat helpless in the face of this vast continent. Helplessness is answered in many ways, but one of them is violence.
I'm inhabiting a life I'm not supposed to be in… and at certain times in my life, I have felt a wrongness. And not a moral wrongness but a sense that this isn't what I was born to be doing.
Writing for theatre is certainly different to writing an essay or any other kind of fiction or prose: it's physical. You're also telling a story, but sometimes the story isn't exactly what you intend; maybe you uncover something you had no idea you were going to uncover.
I don't get offered leading parts. I suppose I've become a kind of character actor or sideman. I think it had to do with probably in the '90s, I refused so many leading roles that they gave up on me, or I just became unpopular, or I became old. All those reasons.
For me, playwriting is and has always been like making a chair. Your concerns are balance, form, timing, lights, space, music. If you don't have these essentials, you might as well be writing a theoretical essay, not a play.
The great thing for me, now, is that writing has become more and more interesting. Not just as a craft but as a way into things that are not described. It's a thing of discovering. That's when writing is really working. You're on the trail of something, and you don't quite know what it is.
Sides are being divided now. It's very obvious. So if you're on the other side of the fence, you're suddenly anti-American. It's breeding fear of being on the wrong side.
My dad had a lot of bad luck. You could see his suffering, his terrible suffering, living a life that was disappointing and looking for another one.
In real life we don't know what's going to happen next. So how can you be that way on a stage? Being alive to the possibility of not knowing exactly how everything is going to happen next – if you can find places to have that happen onstage, it can resonate with an experience of living.
I didn't go out of my way to get into this movie stuff. I think of myself as a writer.
I'm still very much a believer in the spontaneity of certain kinds of writing. But then you have to eventually, when you're writing a long play, make adjustments along the way – all kinds of adjustments.
Sometimes in someone's gestures you can notice how a parent is somehow inhabiting that person without there being any awareness of that. Sometimes you can look at your hand and see your father.
The funny thing about having all this so-called success is that behind it is a certain horrible emptiness.
I've come to feel that if I can't make something happen in under an hour and a half, it's not going to happen in a compelling way in a three-hour play.
I'm a great believer in chaos. I don't believe that you start with a formula and then you fulfill the formula. Chaos is a much better instigator, because we live in chaos – we don't live in a rigorous form.
My old man tried to force on me a notion of what it was to be a 'man.' And it destroyed my dad.
Personality is everything that's false in a human: everything that's been added on to him and contrived.
I feel like the writers that I'm drawn to, the writers that I really cling to, are the writers who seem to be writing out of a desperate act. It's like their writing is part of a survival kit. Those are the writers that I just absolutely cherish and carry with me everywhere I go.
The thing about American writers is that, as a group, they get stuck in the same idea: that we're a continent and the world falls away after us. And it's just nonsense.
On stage, you're not limited at all because you're free in language: language is the source of the imagination. You can travel farther in language than you can in any film.
When you write a play, you work out like a musician on a piece of music. You find all the rhythms and the melody and the harmonies and take them as they come.
I feel like I've never had a home, you know? I feel related to the country, to this country, and yet I don't know exactly where I fit in… There's always this kind of nostalgia for a place, a place where you can reckon with yourself.
It's funny, in a way the actor is a writer. It's not like the two things are so separate as to be like apples and oranges. The writer and the actor are one.
I never considered myself a movie star, and I didn't want to become a movie star, because as soon as you do, you throw away that possibility of playing character. You really do. All of a sudden you're just an entity, you know?
I got to New York when I was eighteen. I was knocking around, trying to be an actor, writer, musician, whatever happened.
To sing a song is quite different than to write a poem. I'm not and never will be a novelist, but to write a novel is not the same thing as writing a play. There is a difference in form, but essentially what you're after is the same thing.
When I just sit around my house and work, I can work two, three hours, and then I go off and ride a horse or do something that I perceive to be a lot more fun.
All of the great writers whom I admire have died. I guess the most recent one would be Marquez.
Film acting is really the trick of doing moments. You rarely do a take that lasts more than 20 seconds. You really earn your spurs acting onstage. I needed to do that for myself. I would hate to say at the end of everything that I never did a stage play.