In Sarah Polley’s film Away From Her (2006), Julie Christie gained much acclaim for her portrayal of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease.
In an interview [some years ago], she talked about her work as an actor, and using dark or difficult human emotions and experiences.
“I think there’s just a few truly terrifying human experiences – maybe about six, I don’t know – that replay themselves over and over again in different scenarios.
“As an actor, like anyone else, you may have had some of those experiences once or twice, or even all of them over and over again. Unlike Gertrude [her role in Hamlet, 1996], I’ve never had a son, let alone a son who’s turned around and killed someone in front of me, but I’ve experienced things that I think involve the same emotions.
“So I do what I think every actor does – you go to those experiences. Sometimes you feel you’re abusing the nature of the suffering that other people go through when something terrible happens in life. It’s what I would call self-indulgent, but that is what an actor’s job is.
“Pain should be used for our own growth, not commercially. But artists have always used their pain and other people’s pain in order to do something well and be praised for it themselves. It is problematic, but if you don’t like it, and if it causes you anxiety, then don’t do it.
“But look at all those people on television now who are talking about the deepest and the most frightful griefs in the most facile manner as if it makes them special.
“That’s what worries me about being a celebrity, not that I think I am one much anymore…the confusion in people’s minds between what is real and what isn’t real.
“The mythologizing of actors is just a horrible, dreadfully frightening thing because people cease to be able to tell the difference between the stars’ private lives and their public lives.”
[Interview mag., Feb, 1997]
My article: The Dark Side of Fame
Also see multiple posts on Creative People and Trauma.