Inside the Inside the Actor’s Studio Studio

An in depth look behind the genius of James Lipton.

James Lipton interviews movie stars, and he doesn’t ask them about soup. But what else do we know about Inside the Actors Studio, a show that’s been running continuously on Bravo for 20 years?

Every so often, an old clip of a shaggy-haired pre-fame Bradley Cooper in the audience of Lipton’s show goes viral. Pop culture ingénues seem discover it anew on YouTube from time to time. This week was one of those weeks. The clip has gone viral again, thanks to comedy nerds uncovering another old gem: Louis C.K. on Steve Merchant’s radio program The Steve Show in 2008. Louis scoffed that no audience member who ever asked a question ever amounted to any claim to fame in the acting world.

Once an acting student on the show chimes in with a question, ‘That’s it- you’ll never be famous,’ C.K. said. ‘There’s no way you ask Sean Penn a question and then you’re gonna be huge.’


In 1999, second-year acting student Bradley Cooper did just that.

Bradley Cooper vs Sean Penn (Inside The Actors… by Flixgr

Over 19 seasons, scores of famous faces have sat opposite Lipton across a coffee table and a massive tower of blue cards on the Actor’s Studio stage, and droves more students have cycled through the audiences.

The Actors Studio

The Actors Studio itself is a membership organization for actors, theatre directors and playwrights located in a converted church at 432 West 44th Street in New York. Elia Kazan and other directors, producers and choreographers founded the group in 1947. In 1951, Lee Strasberg took over leadership of the group and really got the method acting school going. Today Al Pacino, Ellen Burstyn and Harvey Keitel run the school.

Starting in 1994, the Actors Studio partnered with The New School to teach master’s-level theater students, special seminars of which were broadcast as episode of IAS. In 2005, the Studio changed affiliations to partner with The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, but the show format remained the same.


Paul Newman was the first guest of the show, in 1994. Since then, the guest list reads as a veritable who’s who of the 90s/aughts’ golden age Hollywood, from Tina Fey to Vanessa Redgrave, John Travolta to Ben Stiller. More than 200 people have borne Lipton’s carefully paced questioning, including Lipton himself.

Fun fact, Lipton was set to be the interviewee for the historic 200th episode, and he got to pick his interviewer. He picked Dave Chappelle.

The real beauty of the show is that it takes actors who are already up on a pedestal, societally, and puts them even higher up as fonts of wisdom about the acting craft. They go so high up, it almost transcends parody.


James Lipton

Still going strong at 87, James Lipton executive produces, writes and hosts the program, and let’s face it, he’s the real star of the show.

A Detroit native, he’s acted on Broadway, written soap operas, penned a novel which he turned into a made-for-TV movie, and produced Jimmy Carter’s televised presidential inauguration gala.

For a time in the 50s he was a licensed pimp in Paris.

He is a giant of our time, and if you have not experienced Will Ferrell’s loving sendup of him on SNL, do remedy that now.