Actors who worked with Chaplin often described how he would play out each part himself to show them how he wanted it done. Many thought he felt frustrated at not being able to play every part himself in order to obtain the perfection he strove for. Virginia Cherrill, who played the part of the blind girl in City Lights, said “it felt so strange. Charlie acted out every single part, every glance, every movement, just as he wanted it played. You found yourself thinking that he was you, and that he was also that person he wanted you to be. It wasn’t easy.”
L’Estrange Fawcett, a British journalist visiting the Circus set, described how Chaplin even played the part of the lion to show its trainer what he wanted: “He moves, grunts and bares his teeth. He hunches round the cage on all fours, rolls over in the dust, feet and arms in the air, and rubs his back artfully against the bars”.
For that reason it is wonderful to find that Chaplin’s direction of Paulette Goddard in the last scene of the Great Dictator, taken down verbatim by someone on the set, differs from such reports. He leaves much to her – far less of a control freak than reported.
“If you don’t feel like smiling, don’t smile…” “Don’t be afraid to move your body”. “Relax inside”. “Forget all the technique and be Paulette Goddard.”