James Cagney Quotations

There's not much to say about acting but this. Never settle back on your heels. Never relax. If you relax, the audience relaxes. And always mean everything you say.

All I try to do is to realize the man I'm playing fully, then put as much into my acting as I know how.
To do it, I draw upon all that I've ever known, heard, seen or remember.

My biggest concern is that doing a rough-and-tumble scene I might hurt someone accidentally.

In this business you need enthusiasm. I don't have enthusiasm for acting anymore. Acting is not the beginning and end of everything.
-- in the early 1960s.

They need you. Without you, they have an empty screen. So, when you get on there, just do what you think is right and stick with it.

Where I come from, if there's a buck to be made, you don't ask questions, you go ahead and make it.

With me, a career was the simple matter of putting groceries on the table.

Once a song and dance man, always a song and dance man. Those few words tell as much about me professionally as there is to tell.

I hate the word "superstar". I have never been able to think in those terms. They are overstatements. You don't hear them speak of Shakespeare as a superpoet. You don't hear them call Michelangelo a superpainter. They only apply the word to this mundane market.

You know, the period of World War I and the Roaring Twenties were really just about the same as today. You worked, and you made a living if you could, and you tried to make the best of things.
For an actor or a dancer, it was no different then than today. It was a struggle.

My father was totally Irish, and so I went to Ireland once. I found it to be very much like New York, for it was a beautiful country, and both the women and men were good-looking.

I'm sick of carrying guns and beating up women.
-- in 1931

I never actually said, "Nnng-you dirty ra-at!" What I actually said was [imitating Cary Grant] "Judy! Judy! Judy!"
Learn your lines, find your mark, look 'em in the eye and tell 'em the truth.

What not many people know is that right up to two days before shooting started, I was going to play the good guy, the pal. Edward Woods played it in the end.
-- about The Public Enemy (1931).

Learn your lines ... plant your feet ... look the other actor in the eye ... say the words ... mean them.

Though I soon became typecast in Hollywood as a gangster and hoodlum, I was originally a dancer, an Irish hoofer, trained in vaudeville tap dance. I always leapt at the opportunity to dance in films later on.

One thing that troubles me is that they say that my portrayals of gangsters and hoodlums led to a tolerance of the criminal element by society. Well, I certainly hope they didn't, because I'm firmly opposed to crime.

It was just everyday living. With me, it was fighting, more fighting, and more fighting. Life then was simply the way it was: ordinary, not bad, not good, just regular. No stress, no strain. Of course, no one had much of anything, but we didn't know that we were poor.

Perhaps people, and kids especially, are spoiled today, because all the kids today have cars, it seems. When I was young you were lucky to have a bike.

If the American family has seemed in danger of disintegration, I believe and hope it will survive, and I think America will return to old values.

The 1920s were essentially the time when I learned the business of performing. It was my initiation into the world of show business.

I got a part as a chorus girl in a show called Every Sailor and I had fun doing it. Mother didn't really approve of it, though.

There were many tough guys to play in the scripts that Warner kept assigning me. Each of my subsequent roles in the hoodlum genre offered the opportunity to inject something new, which I always tired to do. One could be funny, and the next one flat. Some roles were mean, and others were meaner.

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