2017: Random Roles Revisited

I’ve tried to make it an annual late-December tradition to offer up a look back at the Random Roles interviews I’ve conducted during the course of the past year. I look at it as both an opportunity to remind you of the work I’ve done for the A.V. Club as well as an opportunity to remind myself of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to converse with.

I have to admit, it’s a little depressing this year to realize that I’ve only done 11 Random Roles in 2017, but so it goes. At the very least, though, I feel like I turned in 11 solid conversations, and – more than that – a few of those conversations weren’t just the best of the year, they were among the most memorable of my career. As long as I can continue to feel that way every December, then I reckon I’ll keep doing this…and when I stop feeling that way, I’ll probably still have to keep doing this, anyway, because it’s not like I’ve got a pension to fall back on!

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll continue to do so throughout 2018!

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ROB LOWE
A New Kind Of Family (1979-80)—“Tony Flanagan”


RL: You do your research, and I’m so sorry for you. [Laughs.] It must’ve been so painful. Um… one of the great hairdos. One of the great, great hairdos. I learned a lot. My first lessons in comedy, how to construct a joke, I learned from Eileen Brennan, who had unbelievable timing. I mean, I literally knew nothing when I did that show. It was the first time I signed an autograph, it was the first time I got fan letters, it was the first time people screamed when I came out. All the shows we did pre-airdate, and I’d come out—“Rob Lowe!”—and it was [Offers bored applause.] After the show aired? I came out—“Rob Lowe!”—and the place was, like, bedlam. And then the next week, they wouldn’t let anyone under the age of 20 into the audience. And I’m going, “So that’s how it works! Okay!”

AVC: What was it like being part of the weekly series grind for the first time?

RL: Well, it was such an extraordinary time. Michael Eisner’s wife produced it, and if you see Michael to this day, he will tell you that ABC has never had since, the ratings they had on that time slot. And I want to say, “Michael, you need to let it go. You’ve done okay.” [Laughs.] But with that as a proviso, they were so unhappy that, instead of canceling us, they fired the other family that we lived with on the show, and recast them and made them African-American. But they never explained it. They just aired the shows. So that was my first sort of introduction to “network think.” And it’s all been downhill from there.


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JULIE BENZ
Hi Honey, I’m Home (1991-1992)—“Babs Nielsen”


JB: Oh, my goodness! That’s so long ago. I was a baby. [Laughs.] I was 19!

AVC: That was your first TV role as well as your first series-regular role. How did you find your way into that gig? Was it just a standard audition?

JB: Yeah. Let’s see, I was 18 years old when I did the pilot, so I was a freshman at NYU, and it was one of my first professional auditions in New York City. And I somehow booked the job. I have no idea how. I think it was a lot of luck, a lot of ego, and a lot of naiveté. [Laughs.]

AVC: It was a conceptually interesting show—a ’50s sitcom family enters a relocation plan after their series is canceled and ends up being transplanted into the world of 1991—but it allowed for the gimmick of bringing on guest stars from classic sitcoms from the past. That must’ve been surreal to be just starting out and suddenly meeting people you’d grown up watching.

JB: Yeah, you know, it was a really wonderful experience. I loved Nick At Nite at the time, and I was obsessed with watching it, so just to meet some of the more experienced stars of the older shows was a real treat and a thrill for me. I remember Gale Gordon was in the pilot, and it was one of my very first professional gigs without having an adult take me to the job. We shot on location in Orlando, Florida, so I was there by myself. And I remember I was late one day, and Gale Gordon pulled me aside, and he said, “Honey, when it says you have to be here at 10 a.m., you need to be here at 9:30.” And ever since, I’ve always been a half-hour early to my call time! [Laughs.]

AVC: That’s awesome.

JB: He scared me. I was terrified. I was, like, “Oh, yes, sir! Yes, sir, okay!” But I’m still arriving a half-hour early to my call times!

AVC: Well, when Mr. Mooney tells you something…

JB: You listen! [Laughs.] I mean, it was Gale Gordon! I was, like, “I’m so sorry, Mr. Gordon. I’m so sorry! I’ll never be late again! Never, ever!” And I wasn’t.


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RICHARD RIEHLE

Rooster Cogburn (…And The Lady) (1975)—extra
Joyride (1977)—“Bartender”

AVC: It looks like your first time in front of the camera—according to IMDB, anyway—was playing a bartender in the film Joyride.

RR: Yes, that was the first one with lines. I did appear previous to that in Rooster Cogburn (…And The Lady), shot back in ’74 in Rogue River Valley, in Oregon. But I was a glorified extra that got bumped up to being Richard Jordan’s stand-in for a while. I think I was a dead body two or three different places in there. [Laughs.] But I can’t find myself in it, so I wouldn’t expect anybody else to recognize me, either!

But, yes, the first one with lines was Joyride. It was a very interesting project. It was American International Pictures, and they had gotten a couple of kids of stars to be in it, so it was Desi Arnaz Jr., Anne Lockhart, Bobby Carradine, and… oh, who was the other one? Melanie Griffith! Tippi Hedren’s daughter. But they were all very young kids, and the premise was that they went up to the Alaskan Pipeline while it was in the process of being built and were looking for jobs to make some money. Of course, they got up there and there was nothing that they could do, so they rob the payroll office and take off, and they’re eventually captured back in the States. I was a bartender in Alaska. We actually shot in Washington state, though. I happened to be up there working, so that’s how I ended up being cast.

There are a couple of things I remember about that. In one scene, there was a pissing contest, and they wanted to take part in it and maybe win some money. So Bobby Carradine was going to be the guy, and he was pumping down beers at the bar, and the local hero was doing the same, and I was the judge, so I’d take them outside afterwards and decide who could piss the longest and the farthest. And it was the local guy, so they lost out on that deal, too. But what happened was that we were shooting in a real bar in some small town up there, and there were a bunch of locals who were there as extras, and in order to keep them for 14 hours and kind of maintain a little bit of order, they thought it would be a good idea if they went ahead and actually served them beers. So they made a deal with the guy who owned the bar, and I began handing out beers to anybody who wanted one. And by the lunch break, there were several people who decided that they had a better idea of how the scene should be shot. [Laughs.] And they eventually had to get security and get them out!

AVC: To jump back to Rooster Cogburn for a moment, as you said, there wasn’t much to your part…

RR: There was nothing to my part! [Laughs.]

AVC: Still, just being on a set with John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn must’ve been staggering.

RR: Yeah, it was absolutely amazing. Stuart Millar was the director, and he didn’t really have much of a track record at that point. I don’t exactly know how he got to do that thing. But all the people who worked on the movie had worked on the last 12 John Wayne films, and they were kind of used to the way that it was run at that time, which was that Wayne would do the dialogue and the close-ups, and then he had a double who was frightening in how much he looked like him. He unfortunately had a very high voice, so he couldn’t do anything that involved speaking. [Laughs.] Wayne was always there and readily available, but the double did most of the scenes for him until it came down to doing dialogue.

Katharine Hepburn was over in England shooting something with Laurence Olivier—Love Among The Ruins, I think—so she arrived about a week later, by which time they’d sort of gotten into their routine, and she just threw a monkey wrench into that, because she wanted to drive the buckboard, she wanted to camp out, she wanted to do everything. And the thing with Wayne was that he was a consummate gentleman, so he was always there whenever she wanted to do something. So suddenly he was doing more and more stuff. And you could kind of see the crew going, “Oh, my gosh, this is incredible! This is the way it used to be, and it hasn’t been like this in 10 years!” And the two of them were fascinating together. They respected each other’s work and they worked really well off of each other. It was a shame at that point that it wasn’t a better film for them both.

AVC: Were you on the set at all while Strother Martin was working on the film?

RR: I was not. But like I said, I became kind of the general go-to guy on the film when they needed something.

At one point, the stunt coordinator asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping with a stunt. Now, it wasn’t much of a stunt—Richard Jordan kicks Anthony Zerbe in the face over the campfire, and he ends up falling off a cliff. But both of them were going to be stunt guys when they shot it, and they’d worked out that the guy was going to take the kick, roll down about 8 feet, and then do this little drop-off, which was about a 4-foot drop. It wasn’t like there was any danger involved. It was just going to look dangerous. So they asked me if I would crouch down below the rise that he was going to go over and just be there to catch him when he went over, and I said, “Fine.”

So I watched them rehearse it, and the guy who’s taking the kick is rehearsing taking the kick, but he’s not doing the fall, the roll, or any of that. And then they get ready to shoot it, and he kind of works his way down the 8 feet to take out any rocks or anything else that’s there, and then they set up the shot. But when they shoot it, he takes the kick, and whether it was the adrenaline or whatever, he throws himself further than he’d planned, so he’s going off a different edge. Now, it was no more dangerous than if he’d gone down right where I was—it was still only about 4 feet—but he rolled off it and then landed there, and then somebody yelled, “Cut!” And the director came running up and said, “Are you okay? Were there any problems?” And the stunt coordinator came up and said, “We got it. If you want to do it again, we’ll do it again, but we’ve got it.” Talking to the stunt guy, not the director. [Laughs.]

Afterwards, I asked the stunt guy, “I’m just curious—why didn’t you practice the fall and the roll?” And he said, “I don’t do any stunt unless the camera is rolling. There’s no point in getting hurt—however much or however little—if it’s not at least on film.”


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JANE SEYMOUR
Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (1979)—“Laura Cole”

JS: That’s very interesting, because I did that and—well, first of all, I had no idea, really, about anything to do with football or cheerleaders and certainly not Dallas. I went there and realized very quickly when I went out in the evening that I would not be allowed into restaurants where the actual cheerleaders I was with would be treated like royalty. I went, “Okay, so being an actress means nothing out here. You’ve got to be a cheerleader!” And then, having done classical ballet, I thought, “Ah, it’s easy to do cheerleading.” Nope, not too much. [Laughs.] It was pretty hard. It was hard work! And then there were the skimpy outfits. Somebody pointed out to me that I was doing a T&A show. I said, “What’s that?” They said, “Tits and ass!” I said [Groaning.], “Oh, no, I’m not doing that!” So I tried to cover myself up, to no avail. And I wasn’t really sure, and I was somewhat embarrassed by the whole experience.

And then it came out, and it was the highest rated piece of television that week, the highest rated piece of television that season, and it had a 52 rating! That wouldn’t even exist in this world! More than half of everybody watching television was watching it. But I remember that day because the network executive called and said, “I’ve been instructed to take you out for a champagne brunch to celebrate.” And I said, “Well, if this is what we’re celebrating, this could be a day of mourning!” [Laughs.] But then I got over myself. Frankly, I’d always wanted to play Lady Macbeth or something, to go and do some serious classic stuff, and I found myself doing some T&A. But I watched it the other day, and it’s actually a cute little show. I can see why it was successful. It’s all those wonderful Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders!

I only have one regret: At the end of shooting, they did invite me to join the squad for one time—which would’ve been crazy—but I said no. And now, when you’re older, you look back at that and you say, “Ah, I should have done that.” Just to tell the grandchildren, you know? [Laughs.]


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LANCE HENRIKSEN
The Day Lincoln Was Shot (1998)—“President Abraham Lincoln”


AVC: How was the experience of playing Abraham Lincoln?

LH: Not good.

AVC: Really?

LH: Yeah, not good. I mean, I felt like—I don’t know, man. John Gray directed it, and he sprung some stuff on me that was really weird. And it was between seasons of Millennium, which was probably the biggest mistake I ever made, because I was so tired. We were doing 23 shows a year, so when you’re off, you better rest, because otherwise you’re gonna fall apart. I did a lot of studying, and I learned so much about Lincoln that it absolutely blew my mind. Remember, I’m one of those self-educated guys. I have to learn it as I go. So to really try and take on that kind of guy, I had to learn a lot. I wish I had had the time that Daniel Day-Lewis had when he did Lincoln, and that I had that kind of support. Because you can’t do Lincoln without that kind of work. You have to really work on it, not just jump into it.

I do remember a really beautiful moment, though. We were in the ghetto, at one of the houses that Lincoln really lived in. It was surrounded by big metal walls, but it’s in the ghetto now, because the world had completely changed around it. We were actually shooting in it, though, and I was left down at the trailers, and I had to go to the set, so I’m walking to the set in full regalia. I mean, I had the beard, I had everything. I was looking pretty much like Lincoln. And this young guy, a black kid, maybe about 20 years old, is riding his bicycle, and he started circling me. And he finally says to me, “Hey! Emancipation Proclamation! I love that shit!” [Laughs.] But it was one of the most poignant moments, because I just felt, like, “Wow. This really fucking happened.” It was a great moment.


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SKEET ULRICH
Law & Order: Los Angeles (2010-2011)—“Rex Winters”


SU: I could say a lot of things that would probably come back to haunt me, but probably one of the least creative experiences I’ve ever had. And the whole NBC-Comcast thing did a major disservice to that show. I mean, the talent involved in that show, acting-wise, was phenomenal. That cast was insanely talented, and yet we were all strangled. And then the whole firing. The only time I’ve ever been fired in the 27 years I’ve been doing this, and the reasons were just nebulous. It had a bit to do with [Bob] Greenblatt’s takeover, coming from Showtime to NBC and wanting to make his mark, and Dick Wolf’s love/hate relationship with NBC. There was a lot going on at the upper echelon that had nothing to do with the day-to-day of making that show and the results of it. And the only comeuppance I had is that they lost six million viewers after I was killed. And I was laughing on a beach in Italy when I heard.

AVC: When the hammer fell, I sent a message to your publicist and asked if there was any chance of getting you on the phone to talk about what happened. I got a very polite reply back that basically said, “No, but don’t take it personally: He’s not talking about it with anybody.”

SU: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve talked much about that experience at all. But I think Corey [Stoll] is amazingly talented and I loved working with him. And Alfred [Molina], we’re Facebook friends and chat through there occasionally. Terrence Howard, I haven’t seen hide or hair of since, but obviously he’s doing well.

But, yeah, they have their formula and that’s what they go by, and they didn’t want to hear anything outside of that formula, so there you go. That’s the result.


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DAVID WARNER
The Ballad Of Cable Hogue (1970)—“Joshua”
Straw Dogs (1971)—“Henry Niles” (uncredited)
Cross Of Iron (1977)—“Hauptmann Kiesel”


DW: Ah, yes, The Ballad Of Cable Hogue. Well, that was my first film I did with Sam Peckinpah. You know, I did three films with Sam: The Ballad Of Cable HogueStraw Dogs, and Cross Of Iron.

AVC: What did you think of Peckinpah when you first met him?

DW: Well, I’ll backtrack a little bit to start, because Peckinpah has a reputation. But I think you know that. [Laughs.] Well, if you work with somebody three times, that reputation doesn’t matter, if you understand. If you can’t stand each other, you don’t want to work with each other again. We were fortunate that we got on very well, even though we were totally different personalities. But, yeah, The Ballad Of Cable Hogue was my first invitation to go the United States. Do you know the film director Sidney Lumet?

AVC: Absolutely.

DW: Well, I worked with Sidney, and I got a phone call one day from Sidney, and it wasn’t a usual occurrence that he would call me from New York to London. But he said, “Listen, you’re going to get a phone call from a man you’ve never heard of called Sam Peckinpah. I’ve just seen a reel of his latest movie, and I urge you to work with him.” I said, “Oh! Okay.” So Sidney got off the phone, and half an hour later Peckinpah calls from wherever he is in the United States, introducing himself, and asks me if it would be okay to send me a script. I read the part, and I thought, “Oh, this is great!” It was a Western, and it was with the great Jason Robards… And what an experience to go out to America! And some friends showed me some early Peckinpah movies. This was before The Wild Bunch came out, you see, so he wasn’t quite so well known. So, anyway, I said to my agent, “I’ll do it!”

The day before I was due to fly to Los Angeles, I had a panic attack and said to my agent, “I can’t go. I can’t fly.” He said, “You know you’ll lose the part, don’t you?” I said, “Yes, I don’t care. I don’t care! I can’t fly!” He said, “Okay, I’ll let them know.” So an hour later my agent calls me back. He says, “Okay, this is what you’re going to do. You’re going to get on a train at Victoria Station in London. You’re going to go down to Barcelona in Spain. You’re going to stay the night in Barcelona. You’re going to catch a ship that’s gonna take two weeks to get to New York. You’re going to get on a train from New York to Chicago. You’re going to then go across the United States to Los Angeles. A car will pick you up and take you to near Las Vegas. And they’ll be waiting for you.” I said, “That’ll take about three weeks!” He said, “Yes! They’re going to wait for you!” I said, “What?” [Laughs.]

So this is what happened, and what I’m trying to tell you is this: with all his reputation, Sam Peckinpah had arranged to wait for an English actor that nobody had ever heard of to get himself to the desert. I couldn’t fly, and it took me all that time to get to him, and when I got to this little motel in Echo Bay Resort in Nevada, I went straight to the bar, where I was told that Sam was waiting. And he said, “Welcome to the club!” Which I think meant that he didn’t enjoy flying, either. Anyway, that was my first meeting with Sam Peckinpah. That just shows the kind of guy he was. I immediately felt so at home.

It was a difficult shoot, because it was in the desert, and it was a total culture shock for me, and it was the whole wild experience. But to meet Sam for the first time and then to get to know the great Jason Robards was something that I’ll never forget. How’s that? [Laughs.]

AVC: That’s amazing. So your next film for Peckinpah was Straw Dogs, but you aren’t actually credited in the film.

DW: No, I’m not. You want to know the story about that, don’t you? First of all, about three months before Sam asked me to do Straw Dogs, I had an accident. I won’t go into details about it, but I smashed both my feet and was in hospital, and I had a 50/50 chance of whether I’d walk again. And Sam didn’t really know too much about what was going on, but he offered me a part in Straw Dogs, and I said, “Sam, thank you, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get up and walk,” and I explained that I’d had an accident. And he said, “You’ll get up and walk.” [Laughs.] I said, “Oh, okay, if you’re the director, I will!” Anyway, I was able to hobble. If you see the film, I’m on sticks and I have a limp and can’t walk properly. Well, that wasn’t acting, that was real. And as a result of this accident, it was difficult for me to be insured for the movie. So Sam told me this, and he said, “Listen, I know you promised you’ll be okay, but they won’t insure you. But I’ll cover you, and I’ll cover the production, if anything happens.” That was a gesture of loyalty and friendship, I can tell you. First he waited for me for three weeks without knowing me, and now here he is saying that he’ll pay the insurance if anything goes wrong. That’s not bad!

But you wanted to know about the billing. What happened, evidently, was my agent thought that, having done a film called Morgan! and a couple of other movies, I was worth having my billing of the same size as Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. And that was rejected by their agents. But that’s the way that show business works. So I said, “Oh, to hell with it! I want to do the movie. Don’t have me on the credits at all. Don’t have me anywhere. Let’s not fight over it. Just ignore it.” And that was suggested to Sam, and he said, “Oh, that’s a great idea!” [Laughs.] A few critics over here hated the picture so much that they said, “Well, no wonder David Warner had his name taken off the credits.” But, of course, that isn’t true. My name isn’t even on the cast list. Even though you know I’m in it, it’s not officially on the cast list. So that’s the story of that one.

AVC: We might as well wrap up the Peckinpah trifecta and touch on Cross Of Iron, which flew under the radar at the time but has since become rather well-respected.

DW: I believe it has. I read a quote that it was one of Orson Welles’ favorite war films. Again, it was great to have been asked to work for Sam for a third time. I was a Brit in his repertory company. Because he used the same actors a lot. It was a great privilege. As I said, he had a reputation, but as far as I was concerned, there was a genuine feeling of brotherhood and affection there.

AVC: Did you continue to stay in touch with him after that film?

DW: I did, indeed. Whenever he came to England, he got in touch, and a few times after we’d finished filming, when I was in L.A., we’d meet up occasionally. But his health started to deteriorate, you know, so I didn’t see all that much of him. But he’s one of the very few directors I kept in touch with after filming was finished.


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DEE WALLACE

The Frighteners (1996)—“Patricia Ann Bradley”

DW: I could talk for an hour on that one. Well, I had to audition at Universal, and I just remember thinking, “I’ve got to go all the way, I’ve got to go all the way.” And when I went in and met Peter Jackson, I was such a huge fan of Heavenly Creatures, and I said, “Peter, just, please don’t see me with this blond hair, okay? See me with long, black hair or something. But this is not how I see Patricia.” So I auditioned and got the part, and then Michael [J. Fox] came in and watched it. He and I had met a year earlier, just in passing, so he signed off on me, and we were off to New Zealand.

We got down there, and the night before we were supposed to start shooting, Peter came over and said, “You know, Dee, we’ve decided to rewrite the script.” I said, “What?!” “Yes, so we were wondering, would it be okay if we sent you, your nanny, and your daughter on a trip through Queensland? We’ll just send you on this trip for two weeks, and we’ll have a guide for you.” I said, “Okay, well, let me think for about two seconds. Okay!”

The Frighteners was such an interesting experience in my life. I don’t know how many of your readers know that my husband died in the middle of it. Well, he had a heart attack, a severe heart attack. They flew me back, they did an angioplasty, he appeared to be fine, and he said, “Look, go back. They’re holding filming for you.” He was an actor, too. So I flew back. Four days later, he passed away from a blood clot. I flew back again, put his service on, picked up my nanny and daughter, and… [Sighs.] I flew four times across half the world in two weeks. Seriously, I didn’t know where my body was for a couple of days. But it’s some of the best work and rawest work I’ve ever done. I adore Peter Jackson, and I love that part. Talk about everything I love to do everything as an actress, playing that huge arc from Patricia the victim to Patricia the freaked-out murderer.

I remember when we were in wardrobe and makeup, discussing the difference between when Johnny comes in and takes me over and how to age me. I looked at Fran [Walsh], Peter’s wife, and I said, “Oh, no, I think I get younger. I think I’m back in what excites me. I’m back in my element.” And she looked at me like, “Oh, my god, what a great idea!” So that’s what we did. Actually, in a very strange way, it worked physically, because when Chris died, I went through so much grief and everything that I lost about 15 pounds, and that kind of coordinated with the time I was going back into the demonic Patricia.

I don’t know, I look at that part, and I go, “I don’t know where it all came from,” but between me and Peter and Patricia, it was quite a ride. And I will love Peter Jackson and everybody on that crew with a full heart until the day I die. When I got back there, everybody came around to hold me up and to take care of my little girl. They played foursquare with her. They actually built a little flying apparatus, because she was with me when I went to try out my flying stuff, and she said, “Mommy, I want to fly like Peter Pan!” So they built her a little one so she could go up, too. And at the end, I went in to settle up my money, because they said, “Look, we’ll take care of doing everything, you just go take care of whatever you have to take care of, and you can settle up at the end of this,” so I figured I was probably going to owe them money by that time, going four times across the air with three people. But I got there to settle, and the bookkeeper said, “No, this is Peter’s gift to you: We’re just going to take care of all of that.”

AVC: That’s really nice.

DW: Everything during The Frighteners was so humane and respectful, down to the best boy on the set. It was a grand experience of my youth.


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BRUCE DERN

Kraft Suspense Theater: The Hunt (1963)—“Maynard”


AVC: This is kind of an obscurity, but the cast is what makes it stand out. It was a very early role for both you and James Caan.

BD: And it was with Mickey Rooney! The only thing I remember about that… I knew Jimmy from when we played baseball together in Central Park in the Broadway show league. He was on another team than I was. He was in a play, I think, with a guy named James Luisi, and I was in Sweet Bird Of Youth. And when that ended, the Actor’s Studio had a team, and I was in charge of that. So I’ve known Jimmy since 1958, really.

On that show, Jimmy was kind of a surfer, driving through town, and Mickey Rooney was kind of a sadistic sheriff, and I was his sidekick. And he always took the belts of his prisoners as a keepsake as to who they were and what they might’ve been up to. So one day we were sitting around, and of course I wasn’t going to miss a chance to hear some of Mickey Rooney’s stories, so I was on him every day, and he was very gracious about it. And he was also unbelievably professional, considering what you hear about his reputation. He was just magnificent in terms of how professional he was.

So we’re sitting around one day and Jimmy, he’s been divorced for a little while, and he’s talking about girls he has been proficient with, if you will. This was the third day of it. And Mickey had had enough. He says, “Hey, Jimmy? Let me show you something.” And Mickey opens his wallet, and in it, the third or four sleeve of little pictures in his wallet, He says, ‘Look at that… and shut the fuck up!” It was a picture of an 18-year-old naked Judy Garland. Jimmy Caan never said another word. [Cackles.] And she wasn’t being promiscuous. She just didn’t have any clothes on!


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JIM BEAVER
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1986-1987)—Writer
Sweet Revenge (1987)—Writer (additional dialogue), “Smuggler” (uncredited)
Tour Of Duty (1988)—Writer
Vietnam War Story (1988)—Writer


AVC: [During] that period where you were writing more than acting, there’s one project back then where you did both: a film called Sweet Revenge.

JB: Oh, boy, you are… [Starts to laugh.] Sweet Revenge. Oh, my God… I like to refer to it as Martin Landau’s last bad film. I don’t know if it actually was, but it was definitely his last really bad film.

My sister-in-law [Stacey Adams] got a job somehow, weirdly, casting this picture that Roger Corman’s company was doing. I’m not exactly sure of the corporate structure, but a couple of the producers named Brad Krevoy and Steve Stabler were directly producing this thing, and it was going to be your standard exploitation adventure film shot for $4 in the Philippines. I don’t know how Stacey got chosen. She’d never cast anything in her life. I don’t even know how old she was. She might’ve been 19 or something. But in kind of a panic, she called my wife, Cecily, who at the time was interning in a casting office and said, “I have to cast this thing, and I don’t know how to do it. Will you join me?” So the two of them cast their first movie together, and then my sister-in-law ended up playing a role in it, my wife, Cecily, wound up being the director’s assistant—as opposed to the assistant director, which is a very specific job—and they all went off to the Philippines to shoot this thing, which was kind of a comedy of errors in the making of it. There were all these stories about the producers refilling the Evian bottles with tap water and everybody getting sick.

But in the midst of this, I started getting messages from Cecily that they were having real problems with the script, and was I interested in taking a crack at a rewrite? And I thought, “Yeah, I can do something with this.” So they gave me a contract for whatever was left in their $4 budget, and I took a crack at it. There wasn’t anything really worth saving in it. It was all about hot young girls getting abducted to the Philippines to serve as slaves in this empire that Martin Landau had maintained. I don’t know. It didn’t make any sense at all. But it was a chance for these girls—Michele Little, Gina Gershon, Nancy Allen, and my sister-in-law Stacey—to run around and play action hero. Martin Landau was the bad guy, and Ted Shackelford of Knots Landing was the good guy, kind of a low-budget Indiana Jones. He was really good. I really thought that if this had been a picture that anybody was ever going to see, it could’ve really established him as a leading-man hero in big movies.

But this kind of picture is made by the thousand, and most of them are worth more as banjo picks than as entertainment. It was cheap, and they didn’t have a budget for special effects. It was kind of a disaster. But I got a couple of good lines in that I thought were fun, and when they had to do some retakes back in the States, we spent one night in Bronson Canyon and I got to do a little cameo in it. But it was a weird experience, not all of it good. But 90 percent of it I wasn’t anywhere near. I just wrote pages and sent ’em to them in Manila. My wife had wonderful stories about the making of the picture, but they’re kind of outside the purview of what you’re doing here, mainly because I wasn’t there!

But right after that I started getting work writing in television, and I wrote a bunch of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the revival of that show in the mid-1980s, and because I was a Vietnam veteran, I got a lot of offers to write for Vietnam-oriented projects. I did Tour Of Duty, and an HBO series called Vietnam War Story. It’s like I said earlier: oing to Vietnam was a pretty good career move for me! But once the acting took off, I never really looked back at writing for film and television. I’ve written some stuff that I liked, but I’ve never liked the idea of writing for somebody else’s show or writing for somebody else’s characters. Because I’ve been lucky enough to act, I’ve never really made much effort to go back to writing, other than if I have an idea of my own. I’ve got a screenplay that I like that, if this was 1960, somebody would probably make. But it doesn’t have any superheroes in it, so nobody’s going to make it now. But I don’t really miss that, because compared to acting, writing is work! [Laughs.] The old expression about how “you just sit at your typewriter until little drops of blood appear on your forehead” is not too far off, at least in my experience. I much prefer acting.

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ELVIS COSTELLO
Spice World (1997)—himself


EC: I just had to do it. My admiration for the Spice Girls knew no bounds. And the chance of being in a film with Richard E. Grant was enough reason, because of Withnail & I. You know, I thought, “If I go to IMDB, I’m only a couple of clicks away from Withnail!” It’s almost like being in it, being in—what was it called?—Spice World?

AVC: Yep.

EC: And I play a barman. What year was that? Well, anyway, I’d only quit drinking a couple of years before, so I think the idea of being a barman was sort of ironic in my mind.

AVC: By the way, [with Americathon], this now makes two films you’ve been in with Meat Loaf. I don’t know that it necessarily means anything, I just felt like it should be stated for the record.

EC: Well, you know, I’ve been in two films with Courtney Love as well. Maybe we should go out on the road, all three of us, like the Main Event, with Frank [Sinatra], Dean [Martin], and Liza Minnelli.

AVC: You know, I’d pay to see that, actually.

EC: I would as well. I think a lot of people would. It’s what they’ve been calling for all these years. They’ve been calling for it more than my King Lear, that’s for damned sure!

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