Presented as a acting/directing/writing masterclass (the studio audience is made up of Masters of Fine Arts students from the Actors Studio), at its core Inside the Actors Studio is basically a Talk Show—albeit a very highbrow talk show, with the educational setup allowing the host to probe deeper and the guests to discuss some of the more mundane and and technical topics in acting and discuss them in much greater depth.
The show is famous for its intentionally slow pacing, original host Lipton's comprehensive research on his guests (to the point of unnerving a few of them with his knowledge), and an atmosphere of almost fawning adoration towards the guests. Every interview ends with an audience Q&A and the host administering the Pivot Questionnaire, a shorter version of the Proust Questionnaire.
Inside the Actors Studio provides examples of:
- Continuity Nod: Lipton briefly guest-starred as himself on The Simpsons, interviewing Rainier Wolfcastle, who (upon getting into character for his action hero parody McBain) shoots Lipton several times in the chest. When the cast of The Simpsons later appeared on Inside the Actors Studio and Lipton began asking them in-character questions, he had to bring this up.Lipton: Why couldn't you use a prop gun?Harry Shearer: (as Wolfcastle) I'm not the prop guy. I'm the actor.
- Perspective Flip: For the 200th show, Lipton was interviewed by Dave Chappelle.
- Precision F-Strike: "What is your favorite curse word?"
- Professional Butt-Kisser: Lipton's interview style, which is composed of equal measures of shameless flattery and ludicrously softball questions (AA Gill once described the questions on the show as being "coated liberally in baby oil before being reverentially offered as congratulatory suppositories to the prone thespians"). Although it must be said that Lipton can make even the most misanthropic actor open up.
- Sophisticated as Hell: During the interview with Robin Williams:Lipton: All of us admire the lightning-fast physical reflexes of great athletes. For those of us who have not been blessed with your gift, how do you explain the mental reflexes that you deploy and are deploying tonight with such awesome speed? Are you thinking faster than the rest of us? What the hell is going on?
- Teasing from Behind the Language Barrier: In one of the issues, Natalie Portman said a line in Hebrew (at 31:06) and then, when asked of its meaning, playfully answered: "It's for me to know and you to find out".
- Young Future Famous People: A young Bradley Cooper was in the audience during Sean Penn's interview and asked a question during the Audience Q&A.note Cooper would later appear as a guest 15 years later. Considering how prestigious Actors Studio is, we can only expect to see more of this sort of thing. Incidentally, Cooper was one of Lipton's students.