The Best of 2015 rolls on with the fourth and final 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, 2, and 3, then you may feel free to pop on over to the piece via this link right here, this other link right here, and this last link right here, but otherwise please enjoy this final installment.
I promise you, I wasn’t trying to drag this thing out, but what I did try to do was make sure that I wasn’t 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 pieces in their entirety or – if you’ve already done that – maybe they’ll even inspire you to read them again.
Either way, I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate the fact that you read them at all. I put a lot of work into them because I want to please the readers and I want to produce material that makes the A.V. Club look good, because…well, I mean, that’s what you do when you write for a site, right? We’re all working for the same team, with the same goal: to make the site an outstanding place to visit and to do work that makes people not only say, “This is great,” but also to say to other people, “Hey, have you read this yet? Because if you haven’t, you really should.” Hopefully, I achieve that with everything I write for all the sites to which I contribute, but the A.V. Club has been very special to me ever since I picked up a copy of The Tenacity of the Cockroach lo these many years ago, and it still feels like a dream come true just to be able to write for them at all.
Having said all that, let’s wrap this thing up, shall we?
Jonathan Slavin: Okay, see… [Laughs.] That was one of the early jobs. UPN was a very young network, and it was an experience, for sure. I think there was lots that was funny on paper. There were challenges on that set, but nothing that I would take anyone to task for. It was just, like, you make a show called Homeboys In Outer Space, it’s funny, campy, and sort of broad, and I was, uh, sort of broad on it.
What you don’t see on it was that I was Prince Bob of Caucasia. That was the planet I was from. So I was in a giant blonde afro and a toga for the whole thing. So it was very broad. But James Doohan from Star Trek was on it! So that was amazing, to be, like, “I’m working with Scotty!” So it was a good job to get early on, but early. [Laughs.] You know, it was work!
A.V. Club: As soon as the words “giant blond afro” left your lips, this officially became a must-see.
JS: No! [Laughs.] No, I promise you, you don’t need to see it. It was before I was out, because I was so new, so I just wasn’t 100 percent comfortable. It was a very homophobic environment, with a number of the crew and a number of the cast, and it just sort of fed on itself, so it was an uncomfortable situation to work in. It wouldn’t be now, because I’d be, like, “Guys, I’m a total queer, so, like, you kind of can’t talk that way around me.” But at the time I think I was either 22 or 23 and just kind of finding my way.
So it was a harder job for me, but really only because of what I was dealing with personally. I wish I had the confidence that I do now, in just being, like, “Big homo on set! You can feel that way, but you may not want to say that in front of me!” But with that said, I don’t think anybody meant anything mean-spirited by what they said. I think it was just a different time, and it was very casual. But it wouldn’t fly now. And that’s awesome.
Tom Selleck: Gene Siskel reviewed my hair and said it was ridiculous, which I got to accost him about later. You know, I was in that movie for all of about a cup of coffee. It’s a horrible movie. The Salkinds produced it. But Marlon Brando was going to be in it! So I said, “Well, I’ll do it if Brando does it.” They said, “Well, what if he doesn’t?” And I said, “Then I’m not doing it!” [Laughs.]
So at the time I had, like, seven scenes with Brando. By the time they rewrote the script, I had one scene. I did have Rachel Ward as my queen, but it was just a big disappointment, and it was… Well, it was just unfortunate. But I’m in the movie for all of, like, three or four minutes of film, and they reviewed it like it starred me and Marlon Brando! So I caught a lot of flak for it. It’s the only picture I speak ill of. Some work out better than others, but I don’t criticize them. This one kind of was misrepresented. But, yes, I did play— and get the title right!—Ferdinand, King Of All Of Spain.
AVC: I’ll make sure it’s represented accurately.
TS: Yes, that’s very important. [Laughs.]
AVC: And even if it was cut down to just the one scene, how was Brando?
TS: Brando was conflicted. He was as disappointed as I was, because he played Torquemada, head of the Spanish Inquisition, and he was really committed to it. But once they changed the script… I thought he had become my best pal, because we would meet at night to talk about the next day. Actually, he was getting five million dollars for two weeks’ work and he wanted the paycheck, so he knew if I left—because they had financed the movie partly on our names—that might mean that he wouldn’t get a paycheck. So he kept me interested. [Laughs.]
But we had great discussions. It was really memorable. We had some great nights, and he wrote me a couple of really lovely notes, because my daughter had been born not too long before I came. So it was worthwhile from that point of view. But Brando was no longer very involved in the work. He had to play a monk, and he pulled the hood down so far that you couldn’t see his face. He was playing a lot of tricks on the producers and director, and mumbling his lines. I didn’t quite expect that. But he was the man when I grew up. When I started acting, he was the guy.
“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was a thing where Bob Evans was running Warners at the time, and he called me and said, ‘Jim! We’ve got this little role in the Pee-Wee Herman movie, and we don’t have any money, but where would you like to go?’ And I went, ‘Um…’ And I grabbed the Sunday Times from the table in front of me, and I started going, ‘Go? You mean going somewhere?’ And the whole time I’m killing time, flipping pages, looking for the farthest-away place I can find in the Travel section. Finally, I said, ‘Hey, Hong Kong! I’ve never been to Hong Kong! Can I have a week there?’ ‘All right, all right, we’ll get you first-class tickets and a great hotel.’
“So that’s what I did that for. And I think it was all of about two days, and it was a five-minute walk from where I was doing Hotel. But I made friends with Paul Reubens and found my way onto his Christmas card list, and then what also happened was that I got all these 5- to 10-year-olds who were such fans of Pee-Wee, and those 5- to 10-year-olds became adults, and to them, I’m the guy. I’m P.W.! It’s amazing how you can impress some people on film and it just sticks, while others just…don’t. When I talk with my kids about opportunities, I always talk about trout. They hang around at the foot of the falls, and when a piece of food comes down the falls, if you don’t grab it right then, it’s downstream and you’ll never see it again. Opportunities are the same way. You’ve got to recognize your opportunities.”
Carol Kane: Oh, now Addams Family Values, that was a particularly tough thing to do, those characters that require prosthetics to that extent. I have a lot of problems with the glue, and I’m kind of allergic to it all. [Laughs] But I’ll tell you, Danny De Vito gave me the greatest piece of advice, because he had just played The Penguin (in Batman Returns), and that was four hours of makeup as Granny, and Valerie in The Princess Bride was even more! But Danny said that when he had his Penguin makeup done, he rigged a TV set across from the mirror so that he could watch movies while he was getting his face put on. He said, “You can watch two movies every morning!” And that was a lifesaver for me, because to sit there for that length of time, getting all glued up, and you’re disappearing as time goes by, and your face is becoming something rubber. It’s not an easy process! I really admire people on, like, Star Trek, who are doing that for season after season. I find it very difficult.
Playing Granny, I had to wear a magnificent five-pound wig, and the brilliant Tina Aldrich helped me out a lot because first of all, the costumes were so magnificent and so detailed and right for the period they were supposed to be from. But also, because they had so much trouble with the glue, she and the makeup artist teamed up and helped me out by rigging up a system where the collars of my dresses—the high, high collars—could be secured to the neck prosthetics, so that the prosthetic didn’t have to go all the way down my neck, and I didn’t have to feel totally strangled. [Laughs.]
AVC: You and Billy Crystal had great chemistry together in The Princess Bride, even if you were both buried under makeup.
CK: [Laughs.] Thank you so much! Although I did want to say, speaking of chemistry and great people, that it was rippling through Addams Family Values. It was great to work with Raul [Julia] and Anjelica [Huston], who I’d known—both of them—since we were very young, Raul from the theater and Anjelica just through our lives together. So it wasn’t all torture. [Laughs.] Just the prosthetics.
With Billy, it was just so much fun! And he’s a genius, as we all know. He and I got to kind of talk about our back story together and improvise a few things before we shot it. And then Billy, of course, just improvised all through the scene when we shot. Which was amazing. And Rob [Reiner] is definitely a laugher. He’s an off-camera laugher. [Laughs.] And everybody in the scene, really, had trouble with that. Especially Cary Elwes, who was supposed to be mostly dead, so he couldn’t laugh. It was really one of those challenges to keep a straight face.
AVC: You mentioned the improv aspect. How are you when it comes to improv? Do you tend to be pretty fast on your feet? Not every actor is.
CK: Well, I’m not an improviser, as in someone who’s spent time doing that with another group of actors, like the Second City people or the Saturday Night Live people. But I certainly feel that I can do it, and I enjoy doing it within a scene. I love doing it within a scene that’s been written. I’ve never just improvised a whole scene. But, like, the thing about the chocolate pills? “You shouldn’t go swimming for at least… what?” “An hour.” “A good hour.” We both improvised that. You know, I have fun with it. But as I say, I’ve never been part of a troupe of improvisers.
AVC: You were in Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, bt you’d known him for some years prior to working with him on the film. How did you come to meet him?
NL: Oh, Charlie… You’re talking about a genius. That’s enough: a genius. How I met Charlie Chaplin is as follows. First of all, when I was 1 or 2 years old, sitting in a high chair, Charlie Chaplin was the most famous man in the world. Not the most famous actor. The most famous man. That figure of the derby and the shoes and the mustache and the cane, the whole thing, was known as the most famous figure in the world! So I used to have a little Charlie Chaplin that you wound up and put on the tray of the high chair, and instead of drinking your milk, you’d play with Charlie Chaplin. [Laughs.] So he made an impression on me when I was a lad. I hadn’t even grown into being a lad yet. I was still a baby! But Charlie Chaplin was already an image that was inscribed on my soul.
Well, the years go on, in the course of which I become a good tennis player, and one day I’m out here in California, and I’m visiting my friend Joe Cotten, who was with me at the Mercury. We shared a dressing room together at one point. And Joe invited me out to his house on a Sunday to play some tennis. He had a lot of people there to play. Amongst the people there was a man named Tim Durant, a superb tennis player, absolutely tremendous. He was a great gentleman with great style, really a figure out of the ’20s, but a hell of a tennis player. So we were playing, and when we finished, Tim said, “Are you free next Saturday?” I said, “It so happens I am, yes.” He said, “I would be very happy to take you over to Charlie Chaplin’s to play some tennis.” Well, I almost fell down. I mean, I was going to meet Chaplin! Overwhelming. I mean, as I say, he was a genius, what he did for motion pictures.
Tim picked me up on a Saturday, and we went up to Charlie’s house and court. I sat waiting in the tennis house, and Charlie finally walked in with his racket, all dressed for tennis. I was speechless. And Tim introduced me, and Charlie was charming, welcomed me very warmly, with a minimum of conversation. We then went on to the tennis court. We played doubles. There was a fourth, but I don’t know who it was. So I played. I was in awe of Charlie. I didn’t say a word, I just played—at Tim’s direction—and Charlie played. And what I found out was that he was passionate about tennis. Absolutely mad for tennis. So that day went well, but I didn’t really speak with Charlie. I was on the court with him, and that’s it. In the middle of the week, Tim calls me and says, “Can you make it again next Saturday?” I said, “Oh, yes, I’ll be happy to.” Which I did. This time, I chatted just a little bit with Charlie. But I’m so naturally bashful, you know.
AVC: But of course you are.
NL: [Laughs.] Did I hear you fall down laughing? So, yes, the second week we played, I was a little more overt. That is, I did say, “Nice shot, Charlie!”Or, “I think it’s my serve now,” or things like that. Again, I played with somebody—I’ve forgotten who—although Bill Tilden eventually came and played with us as our fourth. But I watched Charlie, and I observed his passion for the game. He was so involved. He loved it. But we chatted a little more. He asked what I did. I said I was an actor. He ignored that. [Laughs.]
In the middle of the next week, I get a call from Charlie’s butler, Watson. Watson was the snob of all time. He had wooden teeth, he looked like the butler in the mystery The Butler Did It, and he acted very superior to the Chaplins. Charlie at the time was married to Oona—that’s one of the great love stories, by the way—and Watson always looked down on Charlie and Oona because he had worked for Lady Mendel before he came to them, and she, in Watson’s opinion, gave much better parties than the Chaplins. So she was #1 on Watson’s list, and Charlie was put in the background. Anyway, Watson calls me, and he said [Affects pretentious voice.] “Yessssss, Mr. Lloyd, Mr. Chaplin would like to know if you would like to play tennis this afternoon.” This was the middle of the week. This was Wednesday! But sometimes there’s a virtue to being an actor: You’re out of work a lot! [Laughs.]
As a consequence, when Charlie asked if I’d come over on Wednesday—through Watson, of course—I said “Yes.” So I went over, and this time it was just Charlie and me. And we played, and as I indicated, he was passionate about the game, and we had a wonderful time playing. And then we sat down, and he asked if I’d like to have a drink, and I said, “Well, yes!” So we went up to the house, and we had Scotch Old Fashioned, which Charlie liked, and in the course of it he asked questions about me, and I refrained from lying for the first time in a long time. [Laughs.] And we had a wonderful talk about what I did, where I’d acted, my work with Orson, and so on and so forth. That was the beginning, and it got to be a very warm and great friendship. It got to a point where my wife and I would be invited over to dinner, just the four of us, with Oona and Charlie. And then he invited us out on the boat. So we were really friends.
And then finally one day he said to me, “What are you planning? What have you to do?” I said, “At the moment, nothing.” He said, “Well, if you have any ideas, I’d happy to share with them. We can go into them 50/50.” And as a consequence, I told him I had an idea about a book called They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Charlie said, “Well, go and see if you can buy it. But don’t tell them that I’m putting up the money, because the price will go up.” So I went to see the agent, who I knew personally, anyway, and I bought the book for $3,000—all the rights except live television, which hadn’t yet really gotten anywhere—and Charlie and I owned this property for 16 years. But we never got to make it, between his making [Monsieur] Verdoux and going back to London with his family, because he wanted them to see where he was born and all that. By that time, he had five kids with Oona. He said about Oona one day when we were walking up from the tennis court, “I never knew what love was ’til I knew this woman.” And, you know, Charlie had known a lot of women! [Laughs.] But when he was going over to England, the government said that he wasn’t able to come back unless he passed a moral turpitude test, and Charlie said, “Well, the hell with that. I will never go back!” So he went on to London, and then to Switzerland. He did come back once, for an Academy Award. I didn’t think he’d come back for that. It was an honorary award. But here this was the greatest actor in the world, when he was in his prime.
When Charlie did Limelight, he was beautiful, but it wasn’t Charlie. For one thing, he knew wasn’t physically the same man: his neck was thicker, his body was thicker—it wasn’t that slim reed, like his cane—and he wasn’t the same kind of actor. But it’s a beautiful, beautiful picture, and he’s beautiful in it as an old actor who no longer can really do it anymore. That’s what’s beautiful about that picture: it’s a love story.
AVC: Limelight is particularly notable because it featured Chaplin and Buster Keaton sharing the screen together.
NL: Oh, God, that was beautiful. I remember when that was shot.
AVC: You were there?
NL: Yeah. I wasn’t in the scene, but I watched them shooting it, and I’ll tell you: That was when they were in the dressing room and they were making up, but when they finally did that routine, with Charlie singing, “Love! / It’s love! / It’s love, love, love, love, love!” And Buster Keaton is trying to play it at the piano, and Charlie’s leg keeps getting shorter and shorter and shorter, disappearing up his trousers… [Starts to laugh.] And Buster Keaton is so nearsighted with these glasses he’s put on that he can’t follow the music, and the sheet music goes all over the place. Well, the two of them, here they are at the end of their lives, and they are so brilliant! It’s a fantastic routine! My God, Buster was remarkable. And he was very quiet, very respectful of Charlie. I think he needed a job. Also, in the last scene, when Charlie collapses, dead, and he’s moved onto this kind of dolly and he’s carried offstage, the camera’s on Charlie, and we’re moving back with him. That is, Buster Keaton, Nigel Bruce, Sidney Chaplin (Charlie’s son), and myself. We’re moving back with the camera, and I suddenly hear… I couldn’t believe it at first, but I look over, and it’s Buster. He was talking during the shot, and you can’t see his lips move and you can’t hear him—but Charlie could, I think—and Buster was saying, “You’re right in the center of the shot, Charlie. Yeah, the camera’s right on you. Don’t move, Charlie. Keep it that way. Yeah, don’t move. Yeah, Charlie.” [Chuckles.] That was quite a moment: Buster directing Charlie. “Stay right in the center, Charlie. Don’t move. You’re right in the shot. The camera’s right on you. That’s fine.” That was something to be remembered.
CHT: You know, half my family was from the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the other half was U.S. Army, and I was raised on Army posts during my childhood, so I pretty much began my life with a split-brain sort of thing. [Laughs.] But Pearl Harbor was very much a thorn in my side growing up. December 7 was not a wonderful day to go to school, and to have that sort of notoriety between Thanksgiving and Christmas… I mean, it could really ruin your week. In fact, there were times when I purposely didn’t go to school because of Pearl Harbor Day, because certainly there was enough media about it every year to remind everybody. So when I heard they were going to make the movie, I thought, “Oh, no, please not another Pearl Harbor mention!”
But when I found out the nature of the story, it was really a love story. They were sort of forming it around the success of Titanic and hoping for Titanic’s box office. [Laughs.] The oddest part, though, is that the casting director was in the middle of talking to us about the project, and he goes, “There really isn’t a Japanese section of the film. They really have to put that in.” And they went to great lengths to not insult the Japanese, because Japanese box office could’ve been huge. So it didn’t get derogatory, it didn’t do anything negative, so I thought, “Good, then I can play this role.”
Like I said, I don’t generally do much research at first, I kind of get into it and feel it out, but that’s one subject that I spent a lot of time reading about growing up, because it created such a negative image of the Japanese without really knowing the Japanese. To this day, Americans really don’t understand the Japanese nature, but it’s not an easy thing to understand. [Laughs.] But I’d done the research, and I knew this character was a real historical figure, so it was important to give it my absolute attention, but it was also important with certain lines to play it in a way that allowed Americans to relate a little bit better. Mako, who played Admiral Yamamoto, he was an amazing person and actor, and it was great to work with him. He was very interesting. But there were still some… moments on the film, though.
This is another part of my career, but playing Japanese characters and being in environments that are Japanese, like a character’s apartment or whatever, if you have directors or art directors who just don’t know what’ s what with Japanese culture, then pretty soon something’s just passed through. I’ve been through many times where I’ve pointed out the incorrectness of so much of what’s been done to a set. But on Pearl Harbor, I’d heard horror stories about Michael Bay, so when I got to the set and saw him going off on people and yelling and just getting crazy, I just decided, “Stay out of the way. Don’t say anything.” But I just couldn’t help it this one time, and this is actually what set me into a good relationship with him.
Like I said, they were majorly trying to please Japan, and the centerpiece of the set was a map of Pearl Harbor that was probably 20 feet across and had the longitude and latitude lines. I said, “Michael, we can’t use this set.” He said, “What do you mean we can’t use it?” And he just… I mean, he started going off! And I’m thinking, “Holy shit…” But I had to say it.
“Michael, you do not want to shoot this scene. All the writing in Japanese…”
“Yeah? What about it?”
“It’s upside down.”
So he goes, “Oh. Okay. All right.” And then he walked off. And I thought, “Oh, shit, I survived that one.” [Laughs.]
We were in Corpus Christi, which is the home of the USS Lexington, which was one of the three aircraft carriers that had left Pearl Harbor three days before the attack. There’s a whole bunch of conspiracy theories about that, because the aircraft carriers were the main target of the Japanese, so to send them out of port… It’s no coincidence that they weren’t there when the havoc went on. But they used the Lexington one day as a Japanese aircraft carrier, where the Japanese planes took off for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Then the next day they used it when Billy Mitchell took off to bomb Tokyo, which is typical Hollywood stuff to make the most use of a set. But the day we were shooting the Japanese part, they in fact had put a Japanese flag over the spot that they’d left to commemorate the kamikaze attack when this old man who was a veteran of the war—his three brothers had died in the war—was yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs, “Take that Jap shit off of that ship!” He was just going off. Finally, when he said, “I’m gonna kill those Japs!” they called the cops. And he’s an old guy, he was harmless, but it was enough to get him taken away. I felt bad for him.
There was another time when we were on the set of that ship while we were shooting the Japanese scenes, and there was a scene that was written to have a table on the deck of the aircraft carrier where the admiral and myself were sitting and having tea. We’re not English, for God’s sake. In a war situation, you do not have tea on the deck of a battleship. I said, “Michael, the Japanese will just flip out at how incorrect this scene is.” And he was, like, going [Makes growling sounds.] I said, “Michael, please trust me on this one.” And he looked at me, stared at me, and he goes, “Okay.” And we just ended up doing the scene standing up on the deck, which is at least more likely than them sitting down at a table.
It was really weird doing that film, after all the stuff that I went through growing up in the South, all the crap that I took for being Japanese, and knowing that the Japanese were not the shit people that they’d said. When I was on the deck and we were shooting the scene where I’m watching these zeroes go by through my binoculars… I mean, I got a little choked up. I thought it was amazing that they were doing a film where the Japanese weren’t looking wimpy, and I felt really proud to be Japanese. although the act itself wasn’t something to be proud of. But whatever it was about that moment on the deck, I just flashed back through my entire life and how I was always taught to be proud to be Japanese, to never surrender and all that stuff, and it all came up in that one moment. It was amazing.
AVC: So how did The Lion King come about?
MC: Lion King came about just out of the blue. My agent in L.A. was like, “They’re casting Lion King, go audition for it. Learn ‘Hakuna Matata’ and go read these two scenes. They’re doing it on Broadway.” And I was like, “How the fuck are they gonna do that on Broadway?” [Laughs.] And I was not at all interested in doing a play or a Broadway musical or anything of the kind. All I could think of was that I was trying to produce a movie at that point—I thought it was something that would launch me into a film career—so this was in the complete opposite direction. But I go there, I read the part, and I loved the scenes. The Timon character came to me very easily, and “Hakuna Matata,” I learned very easily and performed it, and I aced the audition.
I didn’t know who Julie Taymor was, except that they told me she was a very big deal in New York avant-garde theater, but she was very happy with my audition, and she asked me to come back another day to work with the puppet. And when I heard that, I was, like, “Puppet? What the fuck are you talking about?” And she trotted out this fucking contraption that I was supposed to wear. And then I was, like, “Oh, no, no. This is not for me at all. There’s no way that I’m doing this.” But she straps me into it—with duct tape, because it was actually built for somebody else: Mario Cantone, who had done the workshop and swore off ever fucking wearing the puppet ever again in life. [Laughs.] So he did not want to continue, but the puppet was made for him, so it didn’t fit me perfectly, so that’s why she had to duct tape me into it. And then she just said, “Move around with it, dance around with it, whatever comes naturally to you. I want to see what your instincts do.” I felt like such an idiot. But I just started having fun with it, and I realized I was a natural puppeteer. And she was just thrilled to pieces.
They flew me to New York to do the same routine for Michael Eisner, and then I got the role. My newly signed agents, Innovative Artists, it was the first thing I got for them, and they were over the moon. I remember I was sitting in the bathtub, having a bath, when I got word that I got the part. I was still in New York, at my mom’s apartment, and I get the call, and they’re, like, “You got it! You got it!” They were so happy. And all I could think of was, “Fuck! I want to make this movie now! This is just a big inconvenience.” [Laughs.] It’s the weirdest thing. A lot of times—although not in the last few years, but very often in the past—good fortune would come my way, and I wouldn’t recognize it. That turned out to be a phenomenal experience, but at the time, it just seemed like a huge digression from what I wanted to be doing.
TD: Now, who were the players on that? It was Stephen King, George Romero was the director, and the makeup effects were by… oh, what’s his name? Tom Savini! So it was like the royalty of horror movies, and… [Suddenly starts laughing.] Hey, uh, what kind of article is this? I’m trying to think how much I should tell you here.
AVC: You have carte blanche. There’s not much that’s off limits around here.
TD: Okay, then: two memories. One is that my scenes were mostly with Leslie Nielsen, who—and you can Google him and see him doing this on talk shows—went through a phase where he had a handheld bellows-like thing that was a fart-noise maker.
AVC: Oh, yes. I am familiar.
TD: He was relentless! Most people would do something like that, get a few laughs, and put it away. He… would not. We literally got asked to get off an airplane because we were in first class, and when we sat down, he was on one side of the aisle and I was on the other side, and every third person who would walk by, he would do his fart machine. [Laughs.] Restaurants would ask us to leave. He was relentlessly in love with his machine, with no sense of shame.
And my other memory is of my last shot in the movie. My character has been buried in the sand on the beach below tide line, so that the tide comes up and slowly drowns him. Leslie Nielsen kills him, and then he comes back as a waterlogged zombie thing. So what they’ve done is, they do the outside scene on the beach, but then they want the close-ups, so they make a little aquarium tank. I got in a wetsuit and climbed in, and somebody would reach down with an oxygen tank ventilator thingy, and I’d breathe, and then they’d take that out. And there was a yoke made out of… I don’t know, wood and fake sand, so it looked like my head was buried in the sand, underwater.
Well, since I had no oxygen in the scene, I had no dialogue, so I figured, “Well, what the heck, it’s the last shot: I see no reason why I can’t go off with Tom and smoke a doobie and then do my shot.” [Laughs.] You know, I was so paranoid that I would be screaming, “You fucker!” in genuine paranoid fear that I was drowning, I was so looped on this marijuana. That was never to be repeated ever again, I will say. You can choose to use that story or not. Okay, next!
Okay, so if you’re a devout Random Roles follower, then you know Ted Danson is the most recent installment that I’ve done for the feature. What you don’t know, however, is that there are currently two more interviews that I’ve transcribed and turned in, and they’re just waiting until the AV Club Powers That Be decide when to place them on the schedule. Since I actually did them in 2015, though, I don’t see why I shouldn’t go ahead and include a highlight from each in this here piece. (Just don’t be surprised if I select a different highlight from each for the 2016 highlight reel, as I have no problem taking advantage of a technicality.)
AVC: You mentioned working with Liam Neeson on The Mission, but IMDb doesn’t actually list you as being in the film, only as a voice.
Fred Melamed: That’s exactly right: I am only a voice. What happened was sort of an interesting thing. That was a movie directed by a man called Roland Joffé, and it was a script that had been floating around for awhile. David Putnam, the British producer, had just taken over the studio, and Robert Bolt, who’s a monolithically famous playwright and screenwriter, wrote the story and the screenplay. Robert De Niro played the main character in that, which was a somewhat strange choice—or an unusual choice—for that character. He’s supposed to be an early 18th century adventurer who becomes a monk and goes through all this stuff in South America, but very much not the Mean Streets Robert De Niro that everybody knows! [Laughs.] Much more of a swashbuckling English character. The kind of thing you might imagine a very different kind of actor playing.
Anyway, Robert De Niro played the main character in that, and I and Richard Jenkins kept getting called in to audition and re-audition and re-audition for Roland Joffé. We each got called in three times, and he had us do various improvs together and all these things. And then my agent was told, “Well, he wants you to play the villain, Don Cabeza, in the film,” and I thought, “Okay, that’ll be great.” But then it turned out that after three auditions… I talked to Richard Jenkins about it last year when we did this film called Blood Tomahawk, and he said that after three he refused to go back anymore. [Laughs.] He said, “I’d had enough!” But I kept wanting to do it, and I kept going back.
Eventually, I found out that I wasn’t cast in this role. They cast an actor called Chuck Low as Don Cabeza. If you’ve ever seen Goodfellas, he plays Morrie, as in “Morrie’s wigs don’t come off.” [Laughs.] So Chuck Low played the villain in this movie, and Chuck Low was a friend of Robert De Niro’s. He’d actually been a real estate agent. But he was a friend of Robert De Niro’s, they cast him in this role with Robert De Niro, and I guess his accent, they thought it was a little New York when all was said and done. Or maybe it was his style of speech. But they were not happy with it, so they had me come in and voiceover his whole part, to ADR his whole role, which I did.
You know, when I look at it today, it hurts the film. I don’t think I was… If I could redo it now, I would. [Laughs.] I wish I could redo it! But it’s quite an interesting film. Something of a failure in certain respects, but an interesting one. So, anyway, I wound up voicing his whole performance in the movie, and…that’s a touchy thing for an actor, obviously. And he’s a good actor, and I enjoy him, but for some reason they weren’t happy with the way it came out, and I got to do that. But in the course of doing the ADR, which is when you voice stuff after it’s already been shot and match it up, I had to do that with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons and various other people in the movie, including Liam Neeson, just to get conversations right, because you overlap one another when you talk and that sort of thing. So I actually got to act with them, even though it was only as a voice.
GG: Oh, my God, yeah. [Laughs.] Well, that was insane, as it says right in the name. And then awhile later I was invited to do the festival or whatever of the Juggalos.
AVC: I believe it’s less a festival than a gathering.
GG: Right! The Gathering of the Juggalos. I was involved in that. Now, what I remember about that was that my agents were saying, “Well, you know, take the money and just hope for the best.” [Laughs.] So I flew out there and I was at a hotel, and they picked me up to drive me to the event. And they’re driving a long time, and then all of a sudden we just wound up driving up a dirt road, and I remember thinking, “Oh, they’re just going to take me somewhere and kill me.” And then when I saw the event, what it looked like, and everyone’s there in these weird, scary clown outfits and stuff, and all other kinds of weird people, like a rock festival taking place in Hell…
AVC: You were still convinced they were going to kill you?
GG: Yeah. I thought, “Well, this is it. This is where I die.” [Laughs.] And I’d heard so many horror stories about it that the idea that I did as well as I did… I mean, I don’t know that I’d put it on my reel. It wasn’t so much that I did well that I survived it and didn’t die! I once heard something where someone’s advice when they were in the Army and going into battle was, “Just don’t die.” And I didn’t! They seemed to enjoy it, actually.
I remember that where they had me staying, it was a trailer with no bathrooms, so I’d have to go outside and pee against the side of the trailer. [Laughs.] And I also remember that whenever I would say a name, they would say… Well, it was basically a “fuck them” thing. If I said something about whatever, let’s say Frank Sinatra, they’d say, “Fuck Frank Sinatra!” They’d all start chanting that. So I started putting names there where I’d just go, “Hey, anybody here watch The Merv Griffin Show?” And they all started chanting, thousands of them, “Fuck Merv Griffin!” And then I said, “He used to have on Zsa Zsa Gabor a lot.” And again, thousands of these people start chanting, “Fuck Zsa Zsa Gabor!”
AVC: You sure you don’t at least want that on your reel?
GG: Okay, yes, maybe that part. [Laughs.]