“Bonanza” star Lorne Greene never believed much in method acting. The late star always acted like himself while on-set of his projects. Greene never had the desire to become Ben Cartwright or inhabit the role on a deeply personal level.
Greene said he acted from the point of view of himself rather than that of the character. It was just how Greene approached the material. And it always seemed to work for the series, with Greene headlining as Ben Cartwright. As the character, the actor was both kind but also stern.
“The only way I can work as an actor is by being me,” Greene said, according to MacLeans.
When he got the scripts, Greene didn’t try to imagine what Cartwright might do in a particular situation. He just played each scene as if he was suddenly transported to the Wild West and that seemed to work for him as an actor.
“I don’t try to change me,” Greene continued. “I don’t try to become Ben Cartwright. The only way I can work as an actor is by being me. I happen to be Lorne Greene. I’m not anybody else. I’m not Ben Cartwright, Joe Blow, or anybody else. I can only react to any circumstances as myself. I don’t even have a western accent, I change stuff in a script in order to make it more like me.”
Lorne Greene Was Inspired by His Father
But Greene did have inspiration when it came to Ben Cartwright. He reportedly based some portion of the character on his own father. He saw a bit of his dear old dad in Cartwright and that’s who he tried to emulate as an actor.
“I don’t know whether I could ever match my father as a person,” Greene once said. “But as an actor I try to be like him.”
Greene’s father was a loving but stern figure in his early life, much like Cartwright. He always urged Greene to do the right thing. Fear of disappointing his father kept Greene out of trouble when he was a youth and put him on the path to becoming an actor.
Greene starred as Cartwright for 14 seasons of “Bonanza,” a role that ended up becoming one of his most iconic creations.