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Sandra Seacat, Actress and Beloved Acting Coach, Dies at 86



Sandra Seacat, the actress and influential acting coach who as a Lee Strasberg disciple taught the craft to the likes of Laura Dern, Mickey Rourke, Harvey Keitel, Common, Andrew Garfield, Michelle Williams and many others, has died. She was 86.

Seacat died Tuesday of natural causes in Santa Monica, publicist Stan Rosenfield announced.

Seacat’s students said her innovative techniques were able to extract out of them their most truthful, powerful and naturalistic performances.

“Sandra lived by seeing magic and possibility in everything,” Dern said in a statement. “She met the discovery of character and story with equal protectiveness, irreverence, humility and grace. She taught us the practice of investigating healing through acting.

“But more than that, she invited us to know ourselves as artists and humans in ways I could’ve never begun to explore without her. She’s been my teacher since age 17, and I had the honor of acting alongside her several times. She is my whole heart.”

Seacat and Dern sat together and visited the beach in 2015 for The News84Media‘s Oscar Issue.

“The artist is a shaman, a wounded healer; We have wounds that we want to bring forth through the material,” Seacat said then. “It’s joyful, it’s painful, but not painful in a bad way. When you do that, you also heal people in the audience.”

Common got that message, saying in a statement that the teacher “impacted and inspired my life in ways that only God could have orchestrated. Her love for people, her love for life, her love acting let me know. As she would always tell me, ‘You can heal people through your work as an actor, you can inspire people through your work as an actor.’ And that truly made me see the higher purpose in the art that I do.”

Rourke told the Los Angeles Times in 1984 that Seacat turned his life around by “channeling all it was that was messing me up into something creative and challenging.”

Her students also included Jessica Lange, Marlo Thomas, Peter Falk, Aaron Eckhart, Meg Ryan, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Shia LaBeouf, Isabella Rossellini, Treat Williams, Melanie Griffith, Christopher Reeve, Don Johnson, Mary Kay Place and Martin Henderson.

The oldest of three daughters, Sandra Diane Seacat was born on Oct. 2, 1936, in Greensburg, Kansas. After graduating from Northwestern, she headed to New York to pursue acting with $69 to her name. Strasberg accepted her as a member of The Actors Studio and later encouraged her to teach.

She made her Broadway debut in 1964 with a small part in a Strasberg-directed Actors Studio production of The Three Sistersstarring Geraldine Page, Kim Stanley and Shirley Knight, and drew attention with work on other stages The Noble Spaniard, The Waltz of the Dogs and Saint Joan.

Also in the ’60s, she partnered with former teacher Michael Howard, Gene Hackman and others to launch the New York-based improvisational troupe Second City Revue. She made it back to Broadway in the 1970s A Streetcar Named Desire and Sly Fox.

Since 1975, Seacat conducted her own classes and workshops in the US and Europe.

Seacat herself showed up on the big screen in films including The Rose (1979), Frances (1982), Crazy in Alabama (1999), You Don’t Know Jack (2010) and Palo Alto (2013), and she directed the 1980 comedy In the Spirit (1990), starring Thomas and Elaine May.

Survivors include her husband, Thurn Hoffman, and her daughter, acting teacher Greta Seacat. A memorial will take place in New York and Los Angeles later in the year. Contributions to celebrate Sandra’s life should be made in her name to The Actors Studio.

One of her final acting performances came as Garfield’s mother in last year’s FX/Hulu drama Under the Banner of Heaven.

Said Garfield: “It is impossible to express who Sandra Seacat is and was and will forever be. She is a true legend in the sense that she lived the most virtuous life one can imagine. A life devoted to profound service and healing through art. She was a revolutionary, a culture-changing teacher of acting and storytelling. She is a beacon for all of us of what a life of deep meaning and beauty can look like. And she was irreverent and forever playing like a joyful, unbridled child. I feel grateful beyond words to be able to call her my teacher, my acting partner in Under the Banner of Heaven, my mentor and my friend.”

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