Life Advice from Alan Arkin

Carlo Allegri / Corbis

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Best? The best? I don't know why we have to put things in boxes of superlatives. That isolates them. Life is fluid, and the minute you start trying to put a line around something, it will deceive you and go away. Somebody introduced that idea to me about six or seven years ago. And the more I thought about it, and the more I tried to live by it, the happier I got.

You spent some time in psychotherapy. Was it productive? Did you enjoy it?
Psychotherapy was good – it introduced me to an interior life, but enjoy is not an operative word. Digging into your unconscious can be painful and it can be exciting, but it introduced me to an interior life; it gave me the courage to keep pursuing it after I got out of psychotherapy.

What advice would you give to the younger you?
Everything's going to be OK.

How does an actor survive for so long in Hollywood?
By not living in Hollywood. Also, by just deciding you're not gonna die. Once you decide that, the possibility of having a long career becomes much easier.

How should a man handle fame?
By laughing at it. By recognizing that it's not gonna be consistent. You have to think of your career the way you look at the ocean, deciding which wave you're gonna take and which waves you're not gonna take. Some of the waves are going to be big, some are gonna be small, sometimes the sea is going to be calm. Your career is not going to be one steady march upward to glory. And it's not going to be what you think it is. No matter what your plans are for yourself, it'll end up being different from what you anticipated.

What were your plans for yourself?
What most actors' plans are for themselves, though they don't really admit it – self-respect. My manager, whom I'm crazy about, for years said to me, "These wonderful producers, they love you, they love you!" Finally, after about 15 years of that, I said, "Stella, you gotta stop telling me that. I don't want to hear any more about the producers who love me. I know who loves me and who doesn't love me. Just tell me who likes my work."

You worked with the famously curmudgeonly Peter Falk, on one of the all-time great comedies, The In-Laws. How do you work with such a grouch?
For the first week of the shoot, Peter was grousing and complaining and muttering to himself. I went to his secretary finally, and I asked, "What's with Peter? Everything seems like it's going really well." She said, "He's upset because he has nothing to complain about." So I started just needling him and needling him until he started cracking up. Then we became pals.

How should a man handle regret?
By fixing it. I don't believe there's anything in life you can't go back and fix. The ancient Vedas – the oldest Hindu philosophy – and modern science agree that time is an illusion. If that's true, there's no such thing as a past or a future – it's all one huge now. So what you fix now affects the past and the future. I've seen it happen. If you have the courage to put it into practice, it's kind of miraculous. If you have a million regrets, get out there and attend to them. It's never too late to fix things.

You once described giving an actress a bit of bad news, watching her store her reaction for later use – and being revolted by your own profession.
It was a defining moment. I had done it myself many, many times, and that was one of the things I found horrible. I don't do that anymore. Until my late ­forties, early fifties, acting was the reason for my existence. Now it's simply a reflection of my existence.

What do you think your legacy will be?
I wrote my epitaph: He started out a particle and ended up a wave.

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!