The Best of 2015 rolls on with the third part of my my “highlight reel” from the 40 Random Roles I did for the A.V. Club over the course of this past year. If you missed Parts 1 and 2, then you may feel free to pop on over to the piece via this link right here and this other link right here, but otherwise please enjoy this second installment of what will – at least as it stands right now – end up being a four-part saga.
I promise you, I’m not trying to drag this thing out, but what I am trying to do is make sure that I’m not delivering too many highlights at any given time. I know these Random Roles interviews can be pretty gargantuan, but hopefully each nugget I’ve excised from these 40 pieces will prove tasty enough to inspire you to check out the whole thing or maybe even read them again.
Having said that, let’s carry on, shall we?
Alexander Siddig: Oh, yeah! That was my first proper feature. You know what? My agent, in desperation to get me out of the arid desert that is post-Star Trek work, just made her good friend and talented director Martin Campbell… She just blackmailed him. She said, “You’re taking this kid and you’re putting him in your movie.” And Martin went, “Sure. I like you, maybe I owe you, and I might want another of your actors one day. I’ll put him in my movie.” So I got in this movie through the back door. And it turned out to be a really cool experience.
It was part of the reason why my marriage failed. I mean, that’s not necessarily the cool bit. [Laughs.] That just came to my mind. But it was because I was in New Zealand for six months. And I remember that Martin Campbell and myself sat at a table at some party at the end of this movie, this long, drawn-out movie which was a million miles away from everywhere for six months, and just leaning over our Vodka Absoluts or whatever they were and going, “Both our marriages failed because of this movie.” Because his failed, too! So we had a wonderful sort of symbiotic thing that happened between us during that film, and he used to refer to me as the soul of his movie. Which was lovely, because I played this kind of sherpa dude who was the nod to the ethnic. And it began a long line of nod to ethnics that I had to play in various TV shows and movies. But I actually really enjoyed it, because it was my first experience of being grown up in feature films and not doing Star Trek or stuff like that. It was before Spooks, so it was really my break, and then I did another movie after that, and now I think I’ve done quite a lot.
AVC: It’s funny, but I didn’t realize quite how much of a cult following that film has developed over the years, but a number of people either asked about it or commented on it when we spoke to Scott Glenn for this feature.
AS: Oh, wow! Well, he was great. But he is weird, man. [Laughs.] He really is! We used to get in this old… I guess it was a Huey helicopter that had somehow survived the conflicts in Vietnam and it had been bought by this enthusiastic pilot who was probably a military freak. But it was a late ’60s model aircraft, one of those helicopters that was actually used then, and he kept it in good shape, ’cause apparently you can keep airplanes for, like, a hundred years and they’ll still work. So he had this thing, and this took us to work nearly every day, because we filmed on glaciers. People would go out in the morning and basically insure that we wouldn’t be killed by avalanches by setting off cannons. And you could hear avalanches all day, all around us, when we were on this glacier at however many thousand feet.
But Glenn would always cross his heart and mumble some weird prayer when we were in the helicopter, because that’s what he remembers about Vietnam. And then Ben Mendelsohn, who was also there and who’s one of my favorite actors and who’s just crazy and fun, would be shouting, “These things go down, you know! These things go down!” So we’d be sitting there like dejected stormtroopers, waiting to be thrown out of this helicopter at 11,000 or 12,000 feet or whatever it was, with Ben yelling, “These things go down!” and Glenn… [Hesitates.] Scott Glenn? Or Glenn Scott?
AVC: Scott Glenn.
AS: I keep forgetting. He has two Christian names! Who has two Christian names? What’s the point of that? That’s just confusion waiting to happen! [Laughs.] Anyway, he’s crossing himself and saying prayers, and with these things, it was actually quite traumatic going to work every morning!
AVC: But at least if Mendelsohn had been right, Glenn would’ve been ready.
AS: You’re damned right. Damned right! He was ready! You know what? He’d’ve survived, like, 40 years out on that glacier, because he knew survivalism. I mean, you know that guy studies survivalism, don’t you? You don’t even have to know him personally to know that he knows how to look after himself in the wild. He can skin stuff. He can smoke things. He can make sure that he can eat 50-year-old rabbit because he’s preserved it. [Laughs.] He can do all that!
Steve Guttenberg: There’s, uh, nothing like playing a pedophile, I’ll tell you that. [Laughs.] Good times, man. Good times.
AVC: You hadn’t done a stint on TV in quite some time prior to that.
SG: Well, I’d never actually done a recurring role before, but it’s all pretty much the same: a director, a cast, a crew, and a camera. So I didn’t find much really different about the experience.
AVC: Regarding Woody Goodman being a pedophile, what was your reaction when you first spotted that particular character attribute?
SG: Well, Rob [Thomas] told me. He said, “I’ve got something really interesting for you.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “I want you to play a child molester.” So I said, “When do I start?” [Laughs.] I mean, you know, every character is interesting, because every person is different and interesting, but this absolutely had some qualities of character that I’d never played before. I mean, he was despised. So that was really cool, actually, to play someone who I’d despise.
Jennifer Beals: Oh my God, this is such a fun game! [Laughs.] Okay, before Gertrude Benchley, there was a Robert Altman movie called Short Cuts, and Bob had me come in, and he had given me the script and he had said, “These are the parts that are available, and I would really love for you to be a part of this project. Choose a part.” I chose a part, and it had ended up—before they even went to picture—that they had edited down the script, and that character was cut out. He said, “I’m so sorry. You picked the character that was cut! But we’d still love to work with you.” Bob and Alan Rudolph worked closely together, and that’s how that happened.
So then Alan gave me the script for Mrs. Parker, and having clearly learned my lesson the first time… [Laughs.] I chose the character that was on the outside of the circle. I said to Alan, “I understand what it is to be outside of the circle, so I want to play Gertrude Benchley, because she was so clearly outside the circle, and it must’ve been incredibly uncomfortable at times.”
So I signed up for Gertrude and did a bunch of research, and I got to meet some people who are so dear to me, among which are Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is just extraordinary—working with her was just such a beautiful experience and an education—and getting to work with Campbell Scott. I just finished another film with him a little while ago called Manhattan Nocturne, with him and Adrien Brody. It was just a magical experience, where we were all at this hotel in Montreal.
At first I didn’t want to go to dailies. Dailies were a very social event, and I was so shy, and I so didn’t understand what it was to be in a group like that, that I couldn’t do it. Like, I loved everybody, and I thought they were all kind of these miraculous beings, but I didn’t know how. I remember Lili Taylor said to me, “You know, that spirit that you have, that sense of adventure that you have when you work? Have that sense of adventure in your life.” Not that I wasn’t adventurous—I’d go and travel to faraway places and go meet complete strangers, hang out with strangers, and take photographs of them—but to hang out with a group that seemed so accomplished and close to one another, because I think a lot of them had worked together before, it was slightly terrifying.
I took her words to heart, and I started going to dailies to watch and to go hang out with everybody, and I had so much fun. It was such a great experience. I think the only person I knew going into it was Stanley Tucci. And Alan did this great thing where you had no marks to speak of on the set, and it was really just this thing of fostering trust and spontaneity, and it was a really amazing experience. It’s where I started worshipping Campbell Scott. [Laughs.]
It started on my first day of work, practically. I was doing a scene with Campbell and Jennifer and Andrew McCarthy—we did the scene a few times, and then we did a take—and it felt like I went up on my line. It felt like forever. Then I came back in, and Alan called “cut,” and he was, like, “Okay, we’re ready to move on.” I was ready to kill myself. I’ll never forget: I walked into a corner and just stared at where the lines met in the corner and just tried to hang onto reality, because I just felt so embarrassed. I heard Campbell say, “Alan, I think I need another take.” Alan’s, like, “No, that was a great take for everybody.” And he said, “No, I think I need another take. Can I get another take?” So Alan said, “Sure.” And I looked at Campbell, and I said [Skeptically.] “You don’t need another take.” He said, “Yes. Yes, I do.” And I knew he was just being incredibly kind. I was, like, “And I now officially love you forever and will do whatever you say.” So now when Campbell calls me up to do a movie, I’m, like, “Yes, I will. Always.” So we did Roger Dodger together, and like I said, we just did Manhattan Nocturne together, and then we also did another one called Let It Be Me.
Roger Dodger was just one of those experiences where Campbell called up and said, “I have this script, and there’s this part in it that I think you’d be great for.” I think Mary-Louise Parker was doing the other part at the time. I read it, and I was going to say “yes” anyway, because it’s Campbell. I mean, really, unless it’s some kind of animal pornography, then that’s where I’d draw the line. [Laughs.] But I really loved the script. Then Mary-Louise Parker fell out, so I recommended Elizabeth Berkeley, and she signed on to do the film, and we had a great time!
I just remember how lost the character felt, a little bit, even though at the table she presents herself as being very verbal and very much in command. I remember the scene in the taxi, when she and her friend, who’s played by Elizabeth, drive away, and sort of that empty thing that can happen if you’re going out at night too many times during the week. She was sort of a party girl, so I remember that feeling. I remember Jesse Eisenberg told me that it was his first kiss, and Elizabeth, I think, said to him, “On-screen?” [Laughs.] I think there was some debate as to whether it was actually his first kiss, period. But I don’t know if it was.
AVC: Either way, I’ll bet that’s still how he spins the story.
JB: [Laughs.] I don’t know. But he’s a lovely actor.
Joel Murray: A one-off, but I was Hal’s friend, so I got to work with Bryan Cranston, a super nice guy. I think we ended up remodeling a room of this house or something like that, maybe tearing down a room in somebody’s house that we didn’t like. But it was fun hanging out with Cranston. He’s a riot.
I’ve got two quick Cranston stories. One time we were playing in a celebrity softball game with this actor—I can’t think of his name—had a titanium baseball bat in, like, a felt sack. And he would get up, and he’d hit a home run, just hammer a ball over everything, and he’d come back, he’d pick up the bat, and he’d put the bat right away back in the felt sack. And I go, “Hey, hey, hey, hey! What’s with the bat?” And he goes, [Uncertainly.] “Oh, all right, so you can use it, but pick it up right away and put it back here.” And sure enough, I get up, and I hit a home run that was rising as it was going over the scoreboard. It was mammoth. So then I turned Cranston onto it. And I said, [Solemnly.] “You’ve got to be a brother of the bat. Pick it up right away and put it back.” And sure enough, he gets up—left-handed—and hits one over this row of trees. It just kept going. I mean, thank god none of us hit it directly back at the pitcher. We could’ve killed somebody. We had a lot of fun that day, me and Cranston.
And then the other story… AMC, you know, was both Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and when Cranston won the Emmy, he had no idea. Never in his wildest dreams did he think he was going to win for Breaking Bad. So he comes up to me and goes [Does a perfect Cranston impression.] “Joel, I’m going to get my wife and children, and I’m going to put them in a car and send them home. And then you and I are going to get violently fucked up.” And we did. [Laughs.] We succeeded on that one. I think we ended up closing the Tower Bar, across the street from the Chateau Marmont, at whatever hour that might’ve been. It was a very good victory party for him that night.
Ray Stevenson: I got sent the script, and I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. I was, like, “Ancient Rome? What is this?” And I was literally finishing King Arthur, actually, and we were at Pinewood Studio, and I was hanging off sheets of ice on the back lot and killing lots of Vikings, and being killed! And then I went straight into town, straight from a day of that, and straight into the audition, where I met Bruno Heller and Anne Thomopoulos. I just dived straight into the audition, and they went, “Um…” Because I didn’t know they’d been three months looking for this character, Pullo. And they said, “What do you think of the script?” And I said, “I’ve no idea. But it’s damned intriguing! I want to read more. I want to find out more about him.” And I got it. And I embarked on a job that’s ultimately changed my life profoundly.
AVC: There was to have been another season, but the story is that HBO pulled the plug on it, but with enough warning to at least sort of offer a conclusion.
RS: Yeah, there could’ve been a third, fourth, or fifth season. It could’ve gone on. But HBO had a change of regime or whatever. Deadwood went as well. It suffered from the fact that when a new groom comes in, if they keep a show on, if it’s a success, it’s their predecessor’s success, and if it’s a failure, it’s their failure. So it’s kind of lose/lose for them, so they come in with their own programming ideas, and it’s out with the old, in with the new. And Rome hadn’t really actually opened officially! But, of course, as soon as they pulled the plug, it went ballistic. It went through the roof. I think they dropped the ball on that one. But by then, it had gotten me my representation in the States, and my movie career started in earnest, and what can I tell you? I’ve got no complaints. Also, I met my partner and the mother of my children there. So it had a profound effect on my life.
AVC: Once upon a time, there was a Rome movie script floating around, intended to follow the second season.
RS: Yeah, but I think it also suffered from too many middle-aged men trying to elbow their way in and attach themselves to what was deemed to be a potential real success. And then there were questions of ownership and all this sort of stuff, and by then the second season had been brought to a close, and actors were going on to other things. So it almost became a victim of its own success.
AVC: At one point, you described it as a series where one had to leave their dignity at the door.
RS: Well, yeah, I think you could say that’s a premise held by most actors on most things they do. [Laughs.] But in that one, you really had to commit and go for it and trust in the writing and in the people around you. And when you did, it bore great fruit.
AVC: Was there any particular moment, be it graphic or otherwise, where you just went, “Well, I’ll do it, but only because it’s my job”?
RS: Well, there was one where my wife at the time, the young slave girl, she’d been poisoned but didn’t know at the time that she’d been pregnant, and I woke up in a bed full of blood, because she’d died. And in those days, do you think I’ve got on a sleeping shirt and a hat? I’m naked! [Laughs.] Of course Pullo sleeps naked, but I have to run out into the house, yelling and screaming for help. But I’m not actually naked, I’m covered in sticky blood paint and things. It was my choice. I said, “Well, of course, I’m not going to sleep with anything, but with the enormity of the emotion that’s going on, it’s not about a nudity thing.”
It was never about titillation in that. It wasn’t about heaving gussets and all that sort of stuff. So it was right, we went ahead and did it, and at the end of the day, I spend a long time washing off blood, which makes your skin turn pink, funnily enough. And then you have to use Gillette Shave Foam. It’s a crazy thing, but you use almost a whole canister of shaving foam in order to take the fake blood off your skin. So there’s a tip for you. [Laughs.]
AVC: Simon & Simon was your first time as a series regular, but you’d certainly done a ton of guest roles by that point.
Gerald McRaney: Yeah, I had, and a lot of them were there at Universal. But the way that role came about was that I had gotten as far as testing for the studio and it was down to me and a couple of other guys for a thing called Gypsy Warriors, which was going to be a series about two Americans during World War II who go behind enemy lines in France and work with the underground at making ready for the invasion of Europe. And instead of me, they hired some guy named Selleck. I don’t know why they did, but… [Laughs.] But the producer of it and the guy who had written it, Phil DeGuere, when he had a show called Pirate’s Key [the TV movie that served as the pilot Simon & Simon] he remembered me.
The network didn’t even want to hear about me, but they had tested everybody else in creation for the role opposite Jameson, who already had his role. And nothing seemed to work, they were running out of time, and then finally they agreed with Phil that I could come and read for the thing, and they would just bring the network people to his office at Universal, because there was no time left to go through that normal process of getting me passed by the studio and then bringing me over to read for the network, and all that. There just wasn’t time, because they started filming the next week! And I went in and read with Jameson for the studio people and the network people all crammed into Phil’s office, and by the time I got home that afternoon, I found out that I’d better start packing, because we’d start working Monday… in Florida! So that was how I stumbled upon that one: they just ran out other actors, is ultimately what that was all about. They had to have somebody. So they got me.
AVC: And it seems like it was a game-changer for you, not just from an acting standpoint, but because it gave you the opportunity at various points to both write and direct.
GM: Well, it was a great school for me. It really was. We had such wonderful directors on that show and some wonderful writers, and what I’d do was just get in their hip pocket and follow them around like a puppy dog, watching them do what they did. And they were very nice. I could go and hang out with them in the editing bays and things like that. But we had guys like Vincent McEveety and Burt Kennedy and several other people, but there were a handful that I really admired what they were doing, and I basically just sort of copied what they were doing, at least to begin with. But it gave me an opportunity to direct and it gave me an opportunity to write, and of course when Major Dad came around, I was one of the executive producers on that show. Simon & Simon was a great, great launching pad for everything I’ve done since.
AVC: You mentioned “some guy named Selleck” earlier. How was the experience of doing the crossover with Magnum, P.I.? Was it weird because it was two different creative teams?
GM: A little bit, a little bit. But nothing bad. And the great thing about that was, we got sent over to Hawaii, we were there for, like, nearly two weeks, and we had to work all of five days. We had to keep putting off all the scenes that were shot at the mansion because every time we would schedule that day, it would be raining on that side of the island, so… “Okay, I guess it’s time to go swimming in the ocean again. Not a problem. We can do that.” [Laughs.] So we had a wonderful time on that show because we very rarely did anything! Being stuck in Hawaii at a five-star hotel is not bad. There are worse fates.
Oh, also on Simon & Simon, in 1984, when the Summer Olympics were going to be in L.A., Phil decided it would just be a logistical nightmare trying to shoot in competition with all the traffic that would be going on around the Olympics. And since he had an apartment in Paris, it was decided, “Let’s go shoot there!” So he wrote—or had written—a two-hour episode of Simon & Simon, and we went to Paris for a month and shot. [Laughs.] Back in the glory days when they actually spent money on television shows!
AVC: Out of curiosity, did you happen to see “The Greatest Event In Television History”?
GM: I did, indeed. [Laughs.] I did, indeed. And later on, I was at the Emmys—or an event before the Emmys, I guess—and Jon Hamm was there. And I just sidled up next to him and said [Witheringly.] “Some people just can’t wear the hat.” And he looked at me and… just sort of freaked out for a moment. But, yeah, I saw it, I don’t know why they did it, but it was spectacular!
AVC: It looks like your first real on-camera appearance was as the host of your very own talk show.
Paget Brewster: Yes, that would be The Paget Show. It was in San Francisco in… 1994? We did 65 episodes. I was bartending, and Ricki Lake had just made a ton of money for Garth Ancier and 20th [Century Fox] or something, so every production company was signing anyone in their 20s. I think there were 15 talk shows that year that came out for syndication. There was Tempestt Bledsoe, Carnie Wilson, Mark [L. Walberg]… He went on to host Temptation Island.
So I was the Westinghouse 25-year-old host to be developed locally—late night in San Francisco, at the CBS station, KPIX—and you can quote this, because all those people are gone, but they wouldn’t let me report my hours or else they said they would let people go. So I was still bartending on the weekends while my show was airing on TV, because otherwise I couldn’t pay my rent! [Laughs.] So I was hosting my show, and while I was bartending everyone wanted to put my show on, which is not great, to be on TV and fetching drinks at the same time.
AVC: So how does one go from never having been on TV to getting your own show?
PB: Well, actually, I had been doing a public access cable show called Strange America. I was bartending at a bar called The Slow Club in Portero Hill, and a guy hung out in my bar—because he lived around the corner—and he was a manager. So I said, “Manage me!” And I just kept bugging him to manage me, as I was going to acting school at the Actors’ Lab in San Francisco, and I think I plied him with a lot of martinis and free French fries, but he said, “Okay, I’ll send you on three auditions.” But I didn’t understand that he represented on-air talent like anchor people, correspondents, and journalists. So I went on three auditions to host stuff… and I got a pilot to host a show! [Laughs.] I had no intention of hosting a show. I just made a video of me at the supermarket juggling, I think, and interviewing people in the street, because I had nothing to lose. I was 24 years old, maybe 25, and I was, like, “Well, why not?” And I got a show!
AVC: That’s pretty nuts. And what was Strange America?
PB: Strange America was just kind of a sketch comedy show that these two guys… [Hesitates.] My partner was Kris, I can’t remember the other guy’s name, but they were both Sun Systems software guys. They installed Sun computer systems and made an inordinate amount of money, and they wanted to do a TV show, so that guy Kris hung out at my bar and asked me. He left town to go to a Sun Microsystems conference, and he said, “I’m going to give you my video camera.”
For the three or four days he was gone, I did stop-action claymation, and I wrote a sketch where I actually made botulism, which… All you have to do is put pork in a jar of water and leave it out with oxygen inside the jar. It’s actually, like, a serious poison. And then I was terrified because… I mean, how do you get rid of a bowl of botulism? I don’t remember what I did to get rid of it!
AVC: Can I just ask what on earth made you decide to make botulism? That’s not widely recognized as a go-to comedy bit.
PB: I had seen an episode of Quincy about a bunch of people dying after a baseball game, and he discovers they were poisoned with botulism because someone threw old pork chili into a sink and accidentally made botulism, so I figured I could do that with pork chops in a jar of water. I kept it on my fire escape and time-lapse filmed it as it got grosser and grosser. It started bubbling and festering! I think I called poison control to figure out what to do with it. I was terrified they’d hunt me down.
But when Kris came back from his conference, we ended up doing 10 or 11 episodes. But you can’t find them. And I can’t find The Paget Show on YouTube anywhere, either, which is probably good, because I looked like Ralph Macchio—I had a flattop—but they dressed me in, like, Cosby sweaters. So it was just a bad look all around. Oh, and lots of rings! [Laughs.] You know, it was the ’90s. And a San Francisco Giants hat. I mean, I looked ugly.
AVC: I feel like I need to put out an open call for anyone who might be able to provide us with some of that footage. Our readers can be very industrious.
PB: Oh, God. I hope you don’t find it!
The below segment is excerpted from “Great Job, Internet! – Nothing says 1994 quite like a video of Paget Brewster in a fur bikini”:
Brewster was right: You can’t find them. But it turns out that if you Google enough combinations of the words in the preceding paragraph, you can eventually find the names of both of the guys behind Strange America—Kris Skrinak and Dave Ridley—and, with a little more digging, you can find contact information for one of them (Skrinak) and ask if there’s any chance that he might have any Paget-centric footage in his vault.
Still, no matter how tightly your fingers may be crossed when you ask that question and hit “send,” you don’t expect the response to begin with the four bullet points that Skrinak’s did:
- “I love AV Club.”
- “I love Paget.”
- “I have awesome footage.”
- “You’re awesome for finding and reaching out to me.”
A few days later, some of that footage did indeed materialize on YouTube, and as adjectives go, “awesome” hardly does it justice. Needless to say, the A.V. Club contacted Brewster to warn her of the possibility of impending embarrassment, but in addition to being “not just impressed, (but) amazed” at our having successfully hunted down her former Strange America cohort, she added, “I want those clips!”
While such a statement could easily be mistaken for a super-villain-esque demand, it turned out to be one of legitimate enthusiasm on Brewster’s part: Upon viewing the clip, she replied, “I barely remember this, so it’s both better and worse than I thought,” and then asked, “Is it awful that I think this is so mortifying yet hilarious that I want to tweet it?”
So she did, and with our blessing:
— paget brewster (@pagetpaget) August 23, 2015
William Devane: I can’t think of the actor’s name I replaced halfway through the movie.
AVC: Roy Thinnes.
WD: Yeah! But the movie was half-done when I got there. In fact, some of the stuff in San Francisco, dragging the body through the streets and stuff, is the other actor! [Laughs.] I think I got that part because I fit the clothing! [Alfred] Hitchcock was trippy. He was a lot of fun. We had lunch every day. Sometimes he’d fall asleep between “action” and “cut.”
AVC: I remember Ed Lauter saying that Hitchcock was already planning his next film even when he was making Family Plot.
WD: Yeah, well, you know, [Lew] Wasserman was totally behind him. He could’ve done whatever he wanted to do. And it was like working at a bank, working for Hitchcock. You went to work at 9, and you were done at 5. There was no 14-hour days or any of that shit. He knew exactly what he was doing. It was all story-boarded. He knew exactly what was going on. And it was fun. It was pretty basic stuff. But I remember him saying, “Cat’s feet, Bill! Cat’s feet!” I was, like, “Huh?” He meant “pause.” He’d say shit like that.
And he’d tell great stories, ’cause his wife was, like, best friends with George Bernard Shaw. So you’d be sitting there, and he’d be telling Shaw stories! He never told a joke or a story that you had ever heard before. He was really interesting. Oh, and he loved Barbara Harris. Barbara and I used to eat lunch with him a lot and sit there by his bungalow or wherever the hell we happened to be, because he really loved her. And I liked her, too.
He didn’t get along with Karen [Black], unfortunately. He would sit there, and Karen would do something that he didn’t like, and he’d say, “Well, I don’t think you should do that.” But she would just continue to do it. And I’d look over at him, and he’d look at me and do like this. [Makes scissors with his fingers.] And I was still new enough at the time that I didn’t know at first what he was doing, but it didn’t take long to realize that what he was telling me was if you want to do something interesting, don’t do it here, because I’m cutting that shit! [Laughs.]
Blue Collar (1978)—“Bobby Joe”
Goin’ South (1978)—“Whitey Haber”
Cat People (1982)—“Joe Creigh”
AVC: It’s funny that you mention Cat People filming in New Orleans. John Heard discussed that shoot a bit during his Random Roles interview.
Ed Begley, Jr.: John Heard is wonderful. What a great actor. I’m a big fan of John Heard’s.
AVC: He indicated that he was, uh, imbibing a bit during the course of the Cat People shoot.
EBJ: I think that’s true. I think that’s very true.
AVC: He said that Paul Schrader finally put him in the penalty box, which meant that he could only drink in the bar by the hotel.
EBJ: [Laughs.] That’s funny. I did a couple of other Paul Schrader movies in the ’70s: Blue Collar and Hardcore. By the time I did Cat People, I had gotten sober, but before that I was a party-hearty wild man, and on Blue Collar… Yeah, I was definitely a party child.
AVC: Did you get to party with Richard Pryor?
EBJ: Richard did not party on that movie. He might have secretly, but I didn’t know about that. Later he got into freebase and stuff, which was quite dangerous, as we know the outcome to that. But at the time, he had his trainer, Rashon, who was there, and he worked out and was in good shape. We played poker one evening—somebody put together a poker game, maybe it was Schrader—but it was me and Richard and Paul and some other actors from the movie. I think Borah Silver, maybe Harry Northup. I can’t remember who all was there as well.
Because I was such a huge fan, and he had worked with my dad on a movie called Wild In The Streets, I thought I had an in. But he kept to himself, so my moment of giving him the praise I so wanted to came when I had him kind of captive at the poker table. So I said, “Richard, I just want to say, I’m such a fan of your latest album.” [Starts to laugh.] He knew very well what I was talking about. He said, “What’s the title of that, again?” And you might know the title of that. But there was no way I was going to say the N-word, so I immediately said, “That Black Man’s Crazy!” And he laughed. And he said, “You’re all right.” I passed the test. I didn’t get flustered. It was like I was prepared for it. So he and I spent time together after that, and he was a great talent. What a huge talent Richard was. I was the biggest fan you could imagine and still remain the biggest fan you can imagine.
AVC: Not to dwell on your party-hearty wild man years, but if ever there was a film that demanded that we stay on that topic, it would seem to be Goin’ South. Based on what’s been written, that definitely seems to have been a party film.
EBJ: I’ll just speak about myself, because I don’t want to incriminate others. It’s kind of well-known what John Belushi and I got up to, because that’s written about in a book called Wired, so I’m not giving any information on that, but let me tell you how out there I was on Goin’ South. I was 27, not quite 28 years old, so I thought I could drink with impunity. And I was on such a tear, I was trying to outdrink Jack Nicholson’s father-in-law, this guy Shorty George Smith, who was this guy who worked for the railroad in Jersey, and he was kind of Jack’s father figure, if you will. And Shorty George was a professional drinker.
I was an amateur. I was not even a journeyman at this point. I mean, I could drink a quart of vodka, but Shorty could outdrink me. And I was there trying to outdrink this man who was, like, at that point 50 years old or something. And I’m twentysomething and trying to outdrink this guy. And at some point John Belushi comes and drags me out of the bar, saying, “This is crazy! You’re gonna kill yourself! You can’t drink that much!” I was too far gone for John Belushi, is the point. [Laughs.] John and Judy Belushi—it wasn’t just John—grabbed me by each arm and took me out. We took a drive around the countryside, saw some of Durango, and had a nice afternoon. But they thought I needed to leave the bar. There was too much drinking and partying for John Belushi. So that’ll tell you all you need to know about my years of the ’70s and what I was up to.
AVC: Full disclosure: My wife and I took our daughter to see Inside Out, and I’m pretty sure all of us wept openly at some point during Bing Bong’s final moments.
RK: I’ll tell you, please look at the screenplay someday, because that is as intricate as North By Northwest. It is so intricate, the things that happen, the places they go. For instance, I don’t know how many times you’ve seen it, but in the beginning when they’re showing Riley growing up and she’s drawing on the wall, do you know what she’s drawing? Bing Bong. And when you see that he cries and his tears are candy, you go, “Oh, that’s very funny,” but then later on it’s used as a plot point. It’s not just a joke, it’s a plot point. It’s quite a brilliant movie, and they are so loyal to the precepts of psychology and psychiatry and emotional development. Believe me, they work hard on that stuff, so hard, throwing out stories and plots to make it as good as they can. You know, it was supposed to be Fear and Joy that go off, not Sadness and Joy, but they threw it away. They even had a lot of it animated, but they threw it away to make the best movie they could.
AVC: You mentioned earlier that you spent a lot of time telling people how great Inside Out was going to be before anyone ever actually saw it. Was there a particular moment when you knew definitively how affecting the movie was going to be to people?
RK: Well, first of all, the whole time I was there, I’m thinking, “This is brilliant. Am I the only one who thinks it’s brilliant?” [Laughs.] But then I’m also wondering, “Will this play? How do you introduce the world of Riley, that this is taking place in her brain, and how do you introduce those characters?” Well, if you look at the first six minutes of that movie, they set up a world that is as intricate as the rules of Monopoly. It is so intricate yet so accessible. I was in shock at how brilliantly they set up the world. They set up the emotions, they set up the human characters and their lives, and then these are the imagination lands and this is the land of family… These are concepts we’ve never heard before, this is a new world, and they do it so simply and economically and brilliantly. And all of sudden the opening is finished, and then there’s the credits, and then the story starts. It’s spectacular. Spectacular storytelling.
But I knew it was as good as I’d thought it was when, a year ago summer, I took my family on a trip up the coast of California. We started in L.A., went up past San Francisco, and—needless to say—we stopped at Pixar, because it’s one of the great points, and I was lucky enough to bring my kids there. So we go in, we take the tour, and then we sit down and we see the first 20 minutes of the movie, which was the only part that had been mostly animated at that time. So we watch it and it’s great, and then we’re walking down the hall, and we see a monitor where they’re doing some editing and stuff, and somebody comes and goes, “Oh, this is the scene where you’re down in the valley! Do you want to see it? It’s not completely finished, you’re going to see some sketches and stuff like that.”
So my three kids go in, we’re all watching, and he says, “I’ve got a good feeling about this one,” and then she goes up and he disappears and dies… and that’s all they had, so they turn it off. And there’s silence. And I look at my oldest daughter—who was 12 at the time—and she’s starting to cry. And she’s crying. And then she just turns to her mother and collapses into her arms and cries. And that is when I knew the movie was going to be as touching and resonant as it was. And I had the discussion, “Do you think she’s crying because her dad died or because Bing Bong died?” And I really do believe it was because Bing Bong died. I think they cut about 40 seconds out of that scene, because it was just too heavy. It was too much. And yet it still holds as much emotion as it does. But it was even harder hitting in one of the versions that I saw.
So it’s good. It’s really, really good. I am beyond proud of my association with Pixar, which is five movies now, that I know them, that I call them my friends, that they call me part of their family, that I know the genius of Pete Docter and John Lasseter. And I am as honored as honored can be to go down in history in that fashion. I’m just a lucky man.