Thoughts on The Good Will Hunting “NSA” Monologue

I pick this monologue to make a point about the differences between a monologue that has a strong theme or central idea and a monologue that, well, does anything else. And this is one of those tricky ones that you can’t really tell.

If you’re not familiar with this monologue you can watch it here: Here is the script: from

Why shouldn’t I work for the N.S.A.? That’s a tough one, but I’ll take a shot. Say I’m working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I’m real happy with myself, cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army… in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin’, “Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area” cause they don’t give a shit. It won’t be their kid over there, gettin’ shot. Just like it wasn’t them when their number got called, cause they were pullin’ a tour in the National Guard. It’ll be some kid from Southie takin’ shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, cause he’ll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain’t helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And they’re takin’ their sweet time bringin’ the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin’ play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain’t too long ’til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy’s out of work and he can’t afford to drive, so he’s got to walk to the fuckin’ job interviews, which sucks cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin’ him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he’s starvin’, cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they’re servin’ is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I’m holdin’ out for somethin’ better. I figure fuck it, while I’m at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

Essentially there is no central idea to this monologue. If you wanted to read into it very, very deeply and bring some extra things to the scene that Will is not providing you could argue that there is a kind of “banality of evil” or “criminality of just doing what you’re told” hiding in here and you’d be right. (Think of the cliche “if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.) But you couldn’t highlight a sentence or a phrase in the actual monologue script that even comes close to saying something like that.

You could also say that the monologue’s theme is something like, “everything has consequences” or  the whole “drop in the bucket” idea. But that’s not a theme that’s interesting. That’s just an obvious statement. Obviously everything is connected; choices in one place influences outcomes and new choices in other places. I don’t think anyone would argue against that AND it’s not a unique idea to this movie. So it’s not as strong a theme (especially considering all of the work that it takes to memorize it).

Also if you think about the larger scope of the movie there’s no dominant theme about, for example, the interconnectedness of the world or the cowardice of “just doing your job” when it might cause someone else harm. So if the movie isn’t taking on those bigger issues then it’s unlikely it would bother to devote two minutes and a LOT of good writing to tackling issues that don’t really concern the plot.

So then what’s the point of the monologue?


We like this monologue because it establishes Will’s character. He’s a quick thinker who can rapidly produce details, pile them up, and deconstruct and construct arguments. He’s a fast talker. He’s a charmer. And he’s incredibly brilliant. He’s also anti-authoritative and doesn’t like to do what he’s told. To enjoy the movie the audience has to LIKE Will even though Will is sort of a pain the ass. Monologues like this accomplish that task. He’s establishing himself as a complex person and a smart ass at the same time – he’s likable but he’s duplicitous. The themes of the monologue are irrelevant because they’re really just byproducts of Will’s ability to spin yarns and wrap people up in logic. He doesn’t believe what he’s saying – he’s not making a point about the greater good – he’s just being a likable pain in the ass.

Now there are parts in the movie where he does all of this AND there’s a theme. The classic example here is the “how do you like them apples” scene where he dresses down the yuppie in the bar and comments on the importance of having original ideas over and above monotonous knowledge that might be correct but isn’t creative. There you see this theme get developed into a much stronger argument that resonates more with the audience as a kind of lesson. It’s also a lesson you’ll notice that gets repeated throughout the movie. For example, in Robin Williams’ character’s choice to become a small town psychiatrist instead of a big shot so that he could pursue his own path or Will’s decision at the end to go after the girl instead of take the awesome job.

In these moments the movie is trying to help the audience understand, in an interesting way, what life is about and if it had a theme it would be something like “your choices define you not your circumstances.” The second “apples” monologue picks up on that theme but the NSA monologue only does so very, very vaguely.

Understanding the difference between character development or plot advancement and strong thematic resonance is a difficult task and one we will keep working on throughout the semester. It makes the difference between a public speaker who is enjoyable to hear and a public speaker who is actively sought after.


An Unusual Collection of Monologues by Women

I stumbled across this very cool collection of monologues delivered by women that include the script (I don’t know if they have videos. You would want to check before selecting one). Some of them are monologues within conversations and some are just short remarks so be sure they will meet the time limit before evaluating them for a strong theme.

But these might give you some less common options. It’s also nice because the great movie monologues tend to mostly be delivered by men. Women’s monologues are often kind of lame – like the Mean Girls Prom speech. Some of these are really powerful. But, again, there’s no guarantee that any of them are a “perfect” fit. Use the criteria from the assignment rubric and make your best selection.

Ideal Rate of Speech & Your WPM

We are targeting your ideal rate of speech at 160 – 180 wpm. This is what I think is both doable and advisable—for myself and others—but it’s not a universal rate. I drew my range from a study of 9 Ted Talks in which the researcher found the average speaking rate was 163 words per minute ( The range of speech rates was 133 – 188 with 2/3 of the speakers in the narrow range 153-168.

  • Al Gore 133 wpm
  • Steve Jobs 158 wpm
  • Ken Robinson 168 wpm
  • Jaqueline Novogratz 188 wpm

Most traditional rate of speech advice (which has been around for a while) would consider 163 wpm too fast. Traditionally, the following ranges are recommended (retrieved from

  • Slow speech: less than 110 wpm, or words per minute.
  • Conversational speech: around 120 wpm at the slow end, to 150 – 200 wpm in the fast range.
  • People who read books for radio or podcasts: are often asked to speak at 150-160 wpm.
  • Auctioneers are usually in the 250 to 400 wpm range.

Whether you decide that the 160 – 180 wpm range works for you or whether you decide to move in the Al Gore range of 133 what is VERY important is that you always aim for 180 wpm or less. That is the absolutely maximum rate of speaking that is doable for a listener.

As early in the semester as you can I recommend assessing your current rate of speech or words per minute (WPM) and your PREFERRED RATE OF LISTENING to see if they match up. If they do and they are within range, congratulations! If not (which will be true for most of us) then we have some work to do. To calculate your WPM do the following:

  • Watch a video or audio recording of yourself (preferably one that you recorded not consciously thinking about your rate of speech)
  • Start approximately 20 seconds into the speech (the first 20 seconds are usually slower than your typical rate will be)
  • From 15 seconds in, do one of the following:
    • Count every word you say for the next 30 seconds (so until the video reaches 45 seconds) and then multiply by 2 to get your WPM
    • Count every word you say for the next 60 seconds (so until the video reaches 1 minute 15 seconds or 75 seconds) and that is your WPM

August 25 Class Updates: Blocking and Mining

Today we discussed delivery strategies. For monologues specifically we discussed using blocking and text mining (for emotional and visual/organizational structure) to ask questions about character, motivation, and logic of movement. Then we discussed how to cut a script into a “memorization script” as a result of blocking/mining consideration. We practiced our monologues in small groups and discussed the ideal rate of speech. We practiced (in some classes) speaking at the ideal of 160-180 wpm and I recommended the free app Speech Pacesetter Lite as an option for practicing rate of speech on your own.

For more on blocking:

For more on text/script mining: Acting and Living in Discovery: A Workbook for the Actor by Carol Rosenfeld. A limited preview of this book is available on Google Books including a mining exercise on p. 32

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What Do I Wear for My Speech?

You can read a full article and list of 6 tips here:

There are no real hard and fast rules for dressing and you will probably dress differently for each speech. You don’t need to “dress up” but you do need to “dress strategically.” That means:

  1. Wear things that fit, are comfortable, and that feel good. If it’s too tight, too short or ill-fitting you are going to fuss with it and not feel as confident. Fidgeting with clothes (especially pulling things down or out because they are too tight) are common speech distractions that affect delivery.
  2. Dress slightly better than the audience. You don’t need to wear a ballgown but you want to look like you give a crap and know what you’re doing.
  3. Dress for your character and theme. If you are discussing football coaching then a wrap dress doesn’t really seem necessary. If you’re discussing the life of a fashion mogul, put on some accessories.
  4. Don’t wear distracting things that will take away from or overshadow the speech. These can be t-shirts with strong or offensive slogans that will make the audience look at the shirt and not at you, things that are loud or clunky like a bunch of bracelets (I know, the irony), or hats that obscure your face.
  5. If you have longer hair, put it up. If you have long hair and you let it hang you WILL play with it. It’s inevitable. So pull it back somehow, even if you just comb it back with some hair spray so it stays out of your face.

Speech Pacesetter Lite (iTunes link)

I mentioned this in class today as a useful tool for helping you to help you target a 160-180 wpm speaking rate. You can use the monologue assignment as an opportunity to assess the speech of your current rate of speech but, to be clear, that does not mean your monologue needs to be 160-180 wpm – your monologue should be delivered roughly as you saw it performed though if it’s much over 190 wpm and you’d like to slow down I certainly think that’s a possibility.

Moving forward, however, every speech will aim for that 160-180 target.

Strategies for Memorizing Your Monologue

Read the full (and very short) article here:

  1. Begin by reading the script over and over again, looking for what actors call the “throughline” — the causal chain that leads one event in the play to topple into the next and the next. Memorizing the thoroughline, which doesn’t appear as such in the script, is as important as memorizing the words in the script themselves.
  2. Engage in “micro-level” processing of the material; pay minute attention to every snatch of dialogue because each word offers a hint of the speaker’s motivations and desires. The words are an expression of these motivations and desires. If you have a sense of those the words appear more naturally.
  3. Try to tie the words you speak to the moves your body makes — the finger pointing you might do during a moment of accusation, for example, or the welcoming posture you adopt when you’re greeting new acquaintances.
  4. Infuse your delivery with some real emotion.