Contact Kathryn at:

Last Chance Harvey and Ruskin’s Improv Theater


I recently watched a movie through Netflix called Last Chance Harvey which starred Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.

Hoffman and Thompson have been friends for years according to the extra features that came with the DVD, and they said they always wanted to do a picture together.

Writer and director Joel Hopkins said he wrote the script with the two stars in mind, and deliberately left out some dialogue between them because of Hoffman’s and Thompson’s wish to improvise dialogue from what seemed to come naturally at the time.

When I was pursuing my acting career, I did improvisational theater within the confines of an acting class. The teacher would say a word and we had to respond viscerally to what felt right and try to make a story out of the word or phrase he gave us.

Additionally, he would pair us up in twos, give a scene or scenario, and ask us to improvise the situation within the confines of the context that we invented.

This was meant to teach us to think on our feet and react from the gut, not just to quote written words by a playwright.

One of the other exercises we would do involved giving a certain look, and the person we were paired up with would react with a response to what they viscerally thought the other was conveying.

Jon Ruskin was our teacher and I include a picture circa 1990 which shows me with big hair and some serious red lipstick second from left in the front row. Just behind me to the right is my good friend Nancy Baker, the blond, who had her play “Dear Mrs. Baker” produced and won an L.A. award for drama. Ruskin is the guy in the upper right behind Nancy. Nancy continued study with Ruskin years later and Ruskin had Sir Anthony Hopkins as one of his guest instructors.

At the Ruskin Group Theater Company, Dylan McDermott from “The Practice” on ABC TV is on the board of directors and was a particular friend of Ruskin’s.

In “Last Chance Harvey,” I could see there was a lot of improvisation between Hoffman and Thompson. It made for a very realistic screenplay.

Hoffman and Thompson both picked up Golden Globe nominations for their roles.

About Kathryn Spira

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland, OH who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County, New York. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site

Recent Posts