Intervju med Linda Miller

För ett par år sedan när jag satt och kollade på King Kong Escapes blev jag fundersam över dess huvudrollsinnehavare Linda Millers öde. Tydligen var jag inte den enda som skänkt en tanke åt henne, då fans av japanska monsterfilmer, kaiju, tydligen hade försökt leta rätt på henne i flera år och bara ganska nyligen hittat henne. Efter återupptäckten har hon börjat dyka upp på mässor runtom i världen till fans stora förtjusning och har dessutom en officiell fansida på Facebook.
Jag har varit i kontakt med Linda ett tag och delade med mig mina tankar om en temavecka kring King Kong och hon gick genast med på en intervju, där hon delat med sig ovärderliga anekdoter från sin tid i Japan och medverkan i King Kong Escapes. Hennes historia är en intressant en, jag hoppas ni tycker det med. Håll till godo!
For those of my readers who are unfamiliar with you, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and how you came to live and later work in Japan as a model?
My father was in the Air Force and in my senior year of high school they stationed him in Japan, so that's the reason I wound up in Tokyo. The day that I arrived my father told me that a little girl I used to live next door to when we lived in France also graduated the same year and that night was having a graduation party. I went to the graduation party and I met a girl there who was shorter than I am and she said that she was making extra money by modeling. I got the information from her and went to the modeling agency and started working right away.
You then had a brief stint as an actress where your very first role was that of Lieutenant Susan Watson in King Kong Escapes. How did that go about?

I had a contract to be on the cover of a young woman magazine every other week. Arthur Rankin, the producer of King Kong Escapes happened to have seen my cover and found out that I lived in Japan and he called me. He told me he thought I would be perfect for the part of Susan Watson. So it was completely by accident and a hand of fate that I wound up getting the part of Susan Watson. I had no acting experience and I was very unsure of myself, but I did the best that I knew how to do with lots of help from Rhodes Reason.

Had you seen the original King Kong when you made the movie, if so what were your opinions of it?

I saw the original King Kong on TV when I was a little girl. I thought it was great. It was in black and white and I thought it was just kind of throwing.

Did you know what you were getting yourself into at that point, meaning had you seen any other Kaiju movies before, like Godzilla, Mothra etc?

I had heard of Godzilla and Mothra and those kind of movies because I lived in Japan. But I was so busy working as a model and doing a TV show called English for Millions that I rarely watched TV or went to the movies. So when I got the part in King Kong Escapes I had no idea the historical significance it would have one day.

Your voice was dubbed by someone else in the movie. Did you know your voice wouldn't be used and what did you think of this new voice of yours?

I had no idea and I was not ever told that my voice would be dubbed by someone else. Arthur didn't mention that when the film went to the states the actors would have to read up their own voices so I just assumed I would be doing my own. But because I lived in Japan and I did not have a union contract like I would have if I had been in the states they did not let me record my voice. When I saw the American version of King Kong Escapes and heard that voice I was horrified. I was not happy, I was embarrassed and I couldn't believe they chose that voice for my character. Sounded more like a cartoon than a real person. So that's something that I've never been happy about. I will say that anytime you hear lieutenant Watson scream that's my voice. They used my real voice for the screens. LOL

You starred alongside veteran TV-actor Rhodes Reason. Did being the only two prominent American actors help create a bond between the two of you? What was your relationship like off-screen during the making of the movie?

Yes being the only two Americans on the set did create a bond between us. He was very instrumental in helping me with my role. Because I had no training whatsoever, he stepped in and became sort of like a coach and teacher for me. We became very good friends, his family and my family and when I returned to the United States he was instrumental in helping me find an acting school and an agent. He also was very helpful in telling me what people to stay away from, which was almost more important than anything else he did. We stayed good friends until the late 80s early 90's when we left California. Last time I saw Rhodes was when he was doing Annie on Broadway.

I love that King Kong Escapes has a mix of both kaiju and the spy genre, which was very popular back then with the success of the James Bond franchise as well as TV-shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy. One of your co-stars, Mie Hama, actually played a Bond girl that same year in You Only Live Twice and was a very experienced actress. This being your first movie, did she help you during filming, give you pointers or anything of the sort?

Unfortunately she and I had very little contact. I guess you could say she was out of my league is more correctly. She was not unfriendly, she was just not overly helpful because we had so few scenes together.

Naturally, you can't have a semi-spy movie from this era without someone playing the part of an evil genius with high ambitions of either getting rich or conquering the world, sometimes both. Hideyo Amamoto played that kind of villain to a tee as Dr. Who. With the kind of commitment to the part he was displaying, I'm curious to know what he was like off-screen. Do you have any anecdotes you want to share with us?

Boy he certainly did play his part perfectly, didn't he? Off screen he was very funny and very charming and very friendly. Because I spoke Japanese good enough to have conversations he and I would talk from time to time and I just found him to be delightful. Completely opposite of the way he looked, except he looked a little offbeat and he really was a little upbeat in his personality but very endearing. After we wrapped King Kong Escapes he invited my mother and I to come see him in a play in Tokyo and afterwards we went out together. He was a very nice man.

Your director was the legendary Ishiro Honda, who is most famous for his work in the Kaiju genre and specifically for having directed the very first Godzilla. What was it like working for him and what was he like as a person?

Honda-san was a very quiet director. He spoke softly and was not intimidating at all. But he was very serious and you could tell by the expression on his face whether he liked what you did or he didn't. But he never made you feel bad or feel like you were disappointing him. He would just offer a suggestion in how to do the scene again. He seemed very accomplished and was a very gentle man. When we went on location we would all have dinner together, he just seemed like one of the nicest people in the whole wide world

Kong's look differs a lot from how most people were used seeing him look like in the original from 1933, where he was seen through stop motion whereas a suit was used for this movie. What did you think of Kong's look in King Kong Escapes? Does it look goofier to you now, 40 years later?

(Laughs) Yes it looks a little goofy I think but at the same time I think it was better because he was able to move more naturally. I also thought the expression he had was better and changed from when he saw an enemy that he was going to try and annihilate or when he was trying to save me from the serpent. I actually got to meet Nakajima-san when we were filming and he was in his suit. In fact I think there are some pictures of him, Rhodes, Arthur Rankin and I at that time that we met.

Some of my favorite scenes in the movie are those between you and Kong, a lot of which has to do with the beautiful music that accompany them made by one of my favorite composers, Akira Ifukube. What are your thoughts on the movies' musical score?

I hadn't seen the movie for many many years but about two or three years ago some friends came over and we watched it and I agree with you, I believe the music was so important to the movie and the mood it intended to create. I think the music was definitely first class.

Speaking of those scenes with Kong, in a lot of them you are sitting on his giant hand and I've always wondered what they made the hand out of. Could you shed some light on that?

Well, the hand was huge and it was attached to a device that raised it up and down. I was sitting in front of a blue screen as I did my scenes pretending to be talking with Kong. The hand was not very comfortable, it was kind of hard but they had lots of hair-looking material over it so I was able to be seated right in the palm of the hand. The worst part for me is that they would raise the hand up off of the floor and I'm a little bit afraid of heights, so when I was holding on to his hand in the film believe me, I was really holding on to his hand because I did not want to fall!

Did you find those scenes hard to do, having to act against a giant ape you actually didn't see? Did it ever seem humorous or surreal being in that position, sitting in a giant ape hand and shouting lines?

It felt strange sitting in his hand up in the air against the blue background pretending that somebody else was there that you were acting against. This is one area that Rhodes helped me with quite a bit. He gave me tips on how to imagine and how to play it out. The first time or two was really awkward but then I became more comfortable and more confident.

The movie looks like it was shot mostly on various sets built specifically for the movie. which I personally think look great. What were your impressions of them when working on the movie and how do you feel they hold up today where so much is shot in front of a green screen?

Yes we had a whole sound stage devoted to King Kong Escapes. We had the interior of the ship, the Tokyo Tower and some more that I can't quite remember. The exterior shot when I'd jump off the ship that was filmed on the lot but not in the sound stage. We only went on location two times. The first time is when we went to Mondo Island and you see those exterior shots are actually on location. Then the second time is at the very end when we're at the dock saying goodbye to Kong. We actually shot that on a doc outside in the Tokyo harbor somewhere. I found it much easier to act in the real environment than a pretend environment, but I think that had to do with my inexperience as an actress. Actually the ship seemed very, very real and in scale so I think they did an excellent job.

Did you get to watch any of the filming of the fight scenes between Kong and Mechani Kong? I'm sure it must have looked goofy.

Unfortunately I did not get to see any of the fight scenes at all. Those were filmed by another unit separate from what we were doing. But I was able to go to another sound stage where I saw miniatures of the jungle, I also saw the helicopter scene where Kong gets sedated and they tie him up and the helicopter is lifting him up to take him to the ship so he can help them mine out. Everything was miniature but to scale. It looked so real and I was very impressed with the skill those artists had.

How long did it take to shoot the movie and what were your feelings when shooting had wrapped? Were you exhausted from the long hours or was it not that intense?

If memory serves me we started either in May or June and we were done by August so it was around three months. Even though I had to get up super early every morning I did not find that I was exhausted. When we wrapped I was excited because I had accomplished something and I was sad because I knew that I would not see these people again. So it was bittersweet.

When did you see the movie for the first time? Was it at the premiere? What did you think of it back then?

The first time I saw the movie is when it premiered in Tokyo in Japanese. There were lots of lights and cameras and it was all very very exciting. The boys said they chose to dub me and the Japanese was perfect and I was very pleased with my voice and with Rhodes' voice. In some spots I thought the movie was a little silly but I was very proud and grateful that I had the opportunity to be part of the experience. When I saw it in the states after they had dumped my voice I was not so thrilled. If they were going to dump my voice I wish they would have used someone else.

There are two versions of the movie, the 8 minute shorter US version with some alternative footage and the original Japanese version. Which one are you most familiar with and which one do you prefer?

I know this sounds hard to believe but I wasn't aware that the Japanese movie was 8 minutes longer. I really can't answer that question because I haven't seen the Japanese version in a long time and I'm not sure what they left in compared to what the Americans took out. But I have such a high regard for the artistry of the Japanese that I probably would prefer their version.

 Linda Miller tillsammans med Haruo Nakajima och Akira Takarada

When released, King Kong Escapes was a great success, especially in Japan but also in the US. Was the success so big that you'd get recognized on the streets of Japan, the US or anywhere else you went?

I wish I could say yes but the answer is no. In Japan before King Kong Escapes I did get recognized because of the modeling work I had done and the TV-show I did. The TV-show was piped into the junior high schools as an English lesson so when I would go anywhere in Tokyo and there would be junior high school students they would recognize me and asked for my autograph. King Kong Escapes came out I think in September 1967 in Japan and I left Japan in February 1968, so I was not able to experience the full impact that the film made.

It's interesting because when I returned to the states I did not experience anybody recognizing me. In fact I did some work here in the states after I returned, one of them being an episode on a TV show called My Three Sons. It was a very popular show and I've had people tell me I look so different in that that nobody would connect the Linda Miller from King Kong Escapes and the Linda Miller that was in My Three Sons. In fact I did not use the name Linda Miller when I did My Three Sons because there already was a Linda Miller who was a member of The Screen Actors Guild. When I went to get my union card I had to find another name and my agent came up with Leslie Michaels. A name which today does not feel right.

Toho Studios are one of the giant film companies in Japan, having been involved in everything imaginable from Godzilla to Akira Kurosawa. Do you have any recollections of your time working with Toho Studios that you'd like to share?

Walking through the gates of Toho Studios at that time was like a fairytale. I remember seeing many faces that I recognized from billboards and movies and many of them very famous. I never ran into the director Kurosawa but I did see Toshirô Mifune. I was in the commissary one afternoon having lunch and he walked into the commissary and I have to tell you he was as impressive and powerful looking in real life as he was in the films. That was a big thrill for me

You followed up King Kong Escapes with a part in The Green Slime. How did you get to be in that movie?

King Kong Escapes wrapped in about August and then I did The Green Slime very shortly thereafter. My girlfriend had a very small part in the film and asked me to come with her and when I showed up they asked me to be in the film as well, so I just did it to have something to do.

Back in the US you had your final acting part in My Three Sons. Why did you decide to stop acting so early in your career? I'm sure you would have been a welcome addition for Toho when they needed parts for American characters in their movies.

When I came back to the States pretty quickly I got the spot on My Three Sons which I enjoyed doing very much. However I was not a big fan of the Hollywood system and felt that it was not for me. I enjoyed acting very much and I would have continued but I did not like how business was done. It was disappointing but it was the right decision for me to make.

Up until recently, Kaiju and Kong fans had been looking for you, seemingly in vain, for many years to hear your story. Not really knowing anyone had been searching for you, you were finally found, alive and well. Did you have any idea King Kong Escapes had such a huge cult following among fans?

I was extremely surprised when I got the phone call from Brett Homenic saying that he had been looking for me. I had absolutely no idea that there was a Kaiju Fan Club out there. in fact, I never really mentioned to anybody that I was in King Kong Escapes because my life had changed so much it just didn't seem to be relevant. Since Brett got a hold of me there's been a whole new world that's opened up and it's been a lot of fun. I've met some very interesting people and had some wonderful experiences, but no one was more surprised than me to find out the people had been looking for me.

Since being rediscovered, you've been appearing on conventions, meeting fans and signing things for them. Do you enjoy this new part of your life?

Boy do I ever enjoy it. I'm always excited when I get invited to a convention because it gives me an opportunity to meet with the fans. Fans have been very nice and I enjoy meeting them almost more than they enjoy meeting me. Sometimes I see some of the same fans and sometimes I get to meet new ones so it's always something I look forward to. I appreciate the fans so very much.

King Kong Escapes celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. What do you think of it all these years later?

When me and my friends watched it two or three years ago I was able to really enjoy it. Typically in the past I was so critical of my acting that I didn't really enjoy it. But now that I'm older I can appreciate what a wonderful opportunity it was to be a part of the film and so I was able to really, really enjoy it.

King Kong Escapes cast & crew

Finally, do you have any message to your fans and lovers of Kong and the Kaiju genre who will be reading this?

My message to my fans is thank you for your love and your support after all these many years. I realize that none of these wonderful experiences that I've had recently would be possible without the fans. I appreciate you and I love you all and I hope we have the opportunity to meet and talk in person sometime in the near future. I wish all of you as much joy as you have given me..

Dōmo arigatō, Linda Miller!
Akira Ifukube - Akira Kurosawa - Akira Takarada - Annie - Arthur Rankin Jr - Dr. Who - English for Millions - Godzilla - Haruo Nakajima - Hideyo Amamoto - Ishiro Honda - James Bond - Japan - Kaiju - King Kong - King Kong Escapes - Leslie Michaels - Linda Miller - Mechani Kong - Mie Hama - Mothra - My Three Sons - Rhodes Reason - Screen Actors Guild - Susan Watson - The Green Slime - The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - Toho - Toho Studios - Toshirô Mifune - You Only Live Twice

Intervju med Dee Wallace

För snart två år sedan satt jag och frugan en kväll och kollade på TV-serien Supernatural tillsammans. Jag hade bara bloggat några månader då och hittills intervjuat två personer. Dee Wallace dök helt plötsligt upp i ett avsnitt och jag tänkte för mig själv att det vore väldigt roligt att intervjua henne. När avsnittet var över begav jag mig ut på internet och lyckades hitta ett sätt att kontakta henne. Jag skickade iväg ett mail med mina tankar kring en temavecka och frågade om det skulle vara möjligt att få intervjua henne. Någon dag senare fick jag ett trevligt mejl tillbaka där hon meddelade att hon gärna ställde upp på en intervju.
Det tog ett ganska bra tag innan intervjun blev av på grund av flera anledningar, livet, karriären och vissa onlinetjänster som inte alltid fungerar som dom ska. Men kontakten bröts aldrig helt och hon samt hennes assistenter var alltid trevliga och tilmötesgående. Dom skickade till och med varma hälsningar åt mig och min familj när våran son, James, opererades för invagination förra året. Till slut föll bitarna på plats och intervjun gjordes. Av allt att döma är Dee Wallace en oerhört jordnära och trevlig person som jag är väldigt glad över att ha fått intervjua här på bloggen. Trevlig läsning!
The Hills Have Eyes started it all for you in the horror genre. What was it like working with Wes Craven on his mere third feature? Did he show the makings of a great director?

Yes. From the very start. Wes was very quiet, but very focused and creative.
It’s hard to predict which movies will work and which ones won't. Did you suspect that this particular one had that extra something that could elevate it to what it's considered to be today - a highly revered horror classic?

It was a shock to everyone. We thought it was just....another horror film. See how much actors don’t know.
The Howling is widely regarded as one of the best werewolf movies ever and brought such a refreshing new take on the subgenre. Its success enabled it to become a franchise that spawned no less than seven sequels. What could you tell us about working with Joe Dante, and did you happen to run into his mentor Roger Corman, who had a cameo in the movie?

I adore Joe. Fun, creative, caring and brilliant. He took the film to a whole new creative level. Yes, I got to spend some moment with the great Roger Corman!
In the last scene of the movie, your character transform into a werewolf. Were you happy with the final look of the transformation? Because in my eyes it has always come off as looking more like a cute dog than a werewolf.

I thought it was creative. It is an animatronic and my only request was that she look more vulnerable than the others because she had fought so very hard against it for the good.
You starred in E.T., a phenomenon that went on to become one of the highest grossing movies of all time. Did that movie change the way you were able to go about your days? Was it hard for you to go to the store without being swarmed by fans wanting an autograph or people yelling "Phone home!"?

Ha! Not at all. Of course, it enlarged my popularity a lot, but it really didn’t change my life much, except that I was much more in demand.
Cujo is one of those movies people are familiar with even if they haven't seen it, thanks to the numerous references towards it whenever there's talk of a mean dog in a movie, TV-show or even real life. I think that's one of, if not the best performance of yours, where you put your maternal side to great use. Was it a particularly challenging part to play, having to spend all that time in a car and acting terrified of a rabid dog?

Cujo was, by far, the most difficult role I ever tackled. It is also my favorite. It was a challenge to play all that emotional range and keep it real and yet intense. And thanks for the compliment.
Roughly how many days did you spend in that car during the shooting of Cujo?

Too many! Over half the shoot.
Did you get to meet the author of the novel Cujo is based on, Stephen King? I know he has nice things to say about you, once mentioning that he feels you should have gotten an Oscar nomination for your work on that movie.

He was on the set the first day. I met him. Very nice, very quiet and unassuming. I liked him immediately.
One of my personal favorites of yours and in general in the horror genre is Critters. That seems to have been a fun movie to be a part of. Did you enjoy working on that movie?

Yes. We had lots of fun. We shot a lot of nights, which was challenging, but we all had fun doing it!
The Chiodo Brothers created the stars of the film, the Krites. What were your impressions of their creations and did you get to spend any time with the brothers on the set? Doing what they do for a living, I get the feeling they are quite the characters.

Yes, they are interesting characters! Of course they were on set, wrangling the little suckers. Rolling them onto the set, actually. Sometimes it was hard to stay in the drama and not crack up.
For what looks like to have been a fairly complicated movie to shoot, I think first-time director Stephen Herek did a very good job, succeeding in creating a horror movie vibe and injecting just the right amount of humor to it. Did other, more experienced crew and members of the cast give him some guidance during the shoot, or was he just a natural?

Wow. I have no idea. I just remember feeling I was in very good hands and he knew what he was doing. 
Your son in the movie, played by Scott Grimes, was the only family member who appeared in the sequel. Were you ever in talks of returning for another installment?

I was approached, I think, but chose to decline.
Your career is filled with varied roles in lots of different genres in movies and on TV, but you are most known for your work in horror movies, where you’ve no doubt become an icon. Taking guest spots on horror-themed shows like Grimm and Supernatural and cameos like the one in Abominable all these years later, it seems like you've embraced it. Are you indeed comfortable with the status you've earned among the genre's fans?

I am proud to be a scream queen, baby! Love to do the emotional stuff!
You've been fortunate enough to work with a lot of talented directors in your career, including some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Which one did you learn the most from about filmmaking and is there a director you've yet to work with that you'd really like to?

OMG. Sooo many directors I would love to work with. And I REALLY want to work with Anthony Hopkins! As far as learning, it would have to be Blake Edwards, whom, I did 10 with.
You've recently produced your first full length feature, the horror movie Red Christmas, which you also star in. What's the story behind that and could you tell us a little bit about the movie?

I was actually gifted that credit because of my input on the film. Thank you, Craig Anderson. I can’t give away the story! Go see it. If you are a horror fan, you’re gonna love this very original film.
How would you describe working on a Hollywood movie backed by a big studio with a big budget compared to working on an independent one? Is it more of a team effort when working on a smaller movie?

Of course. Sometimes I think the big budget movies take almost TOO much time. But really, it depends on the mood of the set, and that is set by the director.
Based on the fan mail you receive, the interactions you have with fans on conventions and what they want you to sign for them, which movie seems to be the most popular one?

It’s a toss-up between Cujo, E.T., and The Howling.
So, you've come up against deranged, cannibal serial killers, outer space creatures, werewolves, Bigfoot and an alligator, to name a few. What kind of horror movies do you personally like? What scares Dee Wallace?

The world. What we are doing to ourselves through the lack of love. Nothing is more terrifying that man’s inhumanity against man.
What is your opinion on the horror movie genre today compared to when you started out in the 70's and 80's?

There aren’t many real horror films with detailed stories and defined characters. Call them slasher films. And those you can’t compare to the real deal.

Out of all the roles you've played in movies and on TV, can you name one or a few performances that you're particularly proud of and why?

Cujo, hands down. A movie of the week called Texas Cadet Murders, and Red Christmas.
Your daughter, Gabrielle, seems to be following in your footsteps. Not only is she a working actress, she also does a lot of work in the same genre you've made such a big mark in. Did she always want to become an actress like her mom?

Yep. Definitely started in the womb.
My final acting-related question for you is simply; how would you like to be remembered as an actress?

One part of your life that people may not know about is that you have another career as a healer. Could you tell us more about that and how it got started?

It began in my acting studio, when my husband Chris dies. I asked for a way to heal ourselves, and information started pouring in. I am a channel, and reach into people’s energy to uncover their blocks so they can move forward.
Dee tillsammans med hennes dåvarande make Christopher Stone 
Depression is still something a lot of people are not comfortable talking about, whether it's themselves or a friend or loved one suffering from it, so I really respect the fact that you talk a lot about the importance of peoples' self-worth, that we have to love ourselves. Have you always had good self-esteem and that positive outlook on life?

Pretty much. That being said, I work on loving myself more every day!
Dee med BuppaLaPaloo, den interaktiva teddybjörnen hon skapade för att hjälpa barn få ökat självförtroende och känna sig älskade.
Being a very busy woman, working both on film and TV, how do you manage to make time for your other career? Do you sometimes have to turn down parts in order to make room for your work as a healer, or does your film and TV-career always come first?

No. I hold the intention for it all to work out, and it does. I also love everything I do, so it isn’t work!
Finally. is there something else you'd like to share with my readers? Any lesson or words of wisdom? The floor is yours.

Just that we are the only ones in our way. We literally fight against what we say we want. Sometimes it’s our upbringing and our little child says,” No! You can’t do that.” Wherever it comes from, our job/opportunity is to integrate ourselves so ALL of us want to come on board and play.
Stort tack till Dee för intervjun! För att läsa mer om Dee, hennes karriär som helare, ta reda på hennes framtida events eller köpa en av hennes böcker kan du göra det på hennes hemsida,
Abominable - Anthony Hopkins - Bigfoot - Blake Edwards - Chiodo - Chiodo Brothers - Christopher Stone - Craig Anderson - Critters - Cujo - Dee Wallace - Dee Wallace-Stone - E.T. - Gabrielle Stone - Grimm - Joe Dante - Krites - Oscar - Phone home - Red Christmas - Roger Corman - Scott Grimes - Stephen Herek - Stephen King - Supernatural - Texas Cadet Murders - The Hills Have Eyes - The Howling - Wes Craven

Intervju med Sheldon Lettich

Precis som Sam Firstenberg var Sheldon Lettich självskriven att tilläras en temavecka här på bloggen. Likt Sam är han väldigt vänlig och givmild med sin tid åt fans, att jag dessutom hade varit i kontakt med honom några år tidigare gjorde valet bara lättare. Genom att ha jobbat med barndomsidolerna Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone och Dolph Lundgren har han stått för mycket underhållning genom åren och varit en bidragande orsak till varför jag älskar den sortens filmer. Därför är det jättekul att få presentera min intervju med denna eminenta herre. Mycket nöje!
Rambo III is a movie that instantly pops out when looking at your writing credits. What's the story behind you getting to work on that script together with Sly?
I had written a spec screenplay titled Firebase, which was about a fire support base in Vietnam coming under a fierce enemy attack. Sly was looking for a co-writer. My agent sent him the script, which he read and liked. This led to a meeting with Stallone in his office. Not only did he like the script, but he liked the fact that I was an actual Vietnam veteran, and he must have figured that I would likely have some special insights about Rambo’s character, his military skills & training, and also his Vietnam back-story. Besides all that, the two of us hit it off personally.
The script you and Sly wrote received a Razzie nomination, most likely because they did and still do have it in for Sly. He was used to it by then, but this was your first (and only) Razzie nomination. How did you react when hearing about it, and would you have accepted it if you'd won, like some others have in the past?

At the time the movie came out, Ronald Reagan – a conservative Republican – was the President. I’m sure everyone is well aware by now that film critics generally lean to the Left politically. That goes for much of Hollywood as well. Sly was not only making a patriotic movie about an American war hero singlehandedly kicking ass on the Soviets (in Reagan’s words, the so-called “Evil Empire”) but he was well known as a staunch Republican and a personal friend of Reagan’s. That’s what that Razzie award nomination was all about: Stallone’s political leanings and the movie’s flag-waving deification of an American soldier. There were far worse movies which came out that year, so I didn’t take it personally, but it did irk me to some degree.
The movie ends with a dedication to the brave Mujahideen fighters of Aghanistan, but after 9/11 the dedication changed to the gallant people of Afghanistan. What is your opinion on the change and were you consulted before it was made?

As I’ve mentioned many times, the Mujahedeen leader that Rambo links up with is named “Massoud.” He was based on an actual person with the same name, who was the leader of Afghanistan’s pro-Western Northern Alliance. Massoud is the guy who was assassinated by Al Qaeda two days before 9/11/2001. I did my research, which is why that rebel leader was not named “Osama".
Let's talk Bloodsport! How did you get involved with writing the screenplay for one of Cannon Films' biggest cult classics?

I had been introduced to Frank Dux a few years earlier, by an agent who felt the two of us might be well-suited to work together. Frank was full of wild stories about his martial arts and military background, nearly all of which turned out to be fantasies that he’d concocted about himself. At the time, however, there was no Internet, no search engines like Google, no way to easily check these stories out. Frank showed me an article about this so-called “Kumite” that he participated in, which was published in Black Belt Magazine. He even pulled the wool over their eyes. If the editors at Black Belt felt this story was bona fide, how could I or anyone dispute it? Frank told me that because these Kumite fights were so brutal and bloody, a nickname for the event was Bloodsport. Well, when I heard that name I felt like I heard a choir of angels singing. I told Frank that’s a great title for a movie, and in fact this entire story he had been telling me about the Kumite would make a great movie!

I didn’t write any of this down, but the idea kept percolating. A few months later I met Mark DiSalle, a low-budget producer who was looking for a writer, specifically to write a martial arts movie for him which was to be titled Kickboxer. I listened to his pitch, and then I pitched him my idea for a martial arts movie, which was Bloodsport. He loved the title and the idea, and a couple weeks later I introduced him to Frank. Mark eventually hired me to write the screenplay, and he signed a contract with Frank for the rights to use parts of his “true life story.”
Did you have a lot of interaction with Golan and Globus during the writing stage? What were they like to work for, any interesting stories to share?

Golan and Globus were not involved until well after the screenplay was written. Mark sold it to them, and they financed the movie. I have plenty of stories about them, a few of which you can hear in the documentary about Cannon Films, Electric Boogaloo.

At the end of Bloodsport, it says that the movie is based upon true events in the life of Frank W. Dux. About how much of the story is actually true? It's no secret that Frank Dux has a tendency to embellish things.

Nearly everything in the movie was a figment of Frank’s wild imagination, or else a gross exaggeration. Turns out that he actually was in the U.S. Marine Corps, but only served part-time in the Reserves, and never saw any overseas duty at all, or any combat. Despite all his wild tales about being in Special Forces, working undercover, assassinating people (with his Ninja skills), being awarded the Medal of Honor, etc., his official service record shows that his Military Occupation Specialty was a “Wireman” for a Reserve artillery unit.

A website titled “Military Phony” did an expose on Frank recently, and they posted his actual service records for all the world to see. Here’s a link to the site. Unfortunately the U.S. government does not keep records of “Kumite events” so it’s not quite as easy to unearth the bullshit that comprises Frank’s martial arts claims. But there has yet to be one person who has stepped forward to say “I was there at the Kumite, and I saw Frank Dux knock out all 56 of those opponents!”
Jean-Claude Van Damme med Frank Dux
Since Van Damme wasn't attached to the project when you started writing it, did you picture someone in particular for the role of Frank Dux when you wrote the screenplay?

I had no one in mind, no mental picture of any particular actor. There was no Caucasian martial arts actor at the time who fit all the parameters. Chuck Norris was in his 40’s, and we needed someone who was in his 20’s.

This was your first of many collaborations with Van Damme. At what point did you first meet him and did you just click right away?

My first conversation with Jean-Claude was via a phone call from Hong Kong. Frank and JC called to let me know that Mark DiSalle was making changes to the screenplay, none of which they were happy about. Frank put JC on the line with me. We hit it off right away, and he promised to come by to meet me as soon as he was back in L.A. He kept that promise, and when we met face-to-face we clicked right away. He brought his wife, Gladys, along with him. She was pregnant (with Kristopher) at the time, and my wife was pregnant too. Quite honestly, our wives hit it off even better than we did.
Both of you have some uncredited work as editors on Albert Pyun's troubled Cyborg. What's the story behind that?

While JC was in Thailand finishing up the filming of Kickboxer, Cannon Films did a test screening of Albert Pyun’s finished cut of Cyborg. I attended that screening, which was a complete disaster. Out of 100 people in the audience, a survey afterwards found that only one person liked the movie. The audience was actually laughing hysterically at the final fight between Gibson and Fender. I got on a phone right away and told JC he needed to return to L.A. immediately and try to do something to turn this situation around. Seriously, his career was on the line.

JC got on a plane the next day and returned to L.A. Cannon screened the film for him, and he was outraged and furious at what he saw. The film was already scheduled to open in theaters. Posters were made and trailers were already playing. But JC convinced Yoram Globus to push back the release date and let us have six weeks to re-cut the movie. That’s how the two of us ended up being the uncredited editors of that movie. I reworked all the dialogue scenes – wrote new dialogue (and the prologue) and then looped it over the backs of people’s heads. JC totally re-cut all the fight scenes. We saved that movie. It became such a big success that there were four or five sequels made afterwards.
In 1990, you got to direct your very first movie, Lionheart, which you and Van Damme wrote together. Having only been a writer before, who made your transition to director possible and was it something you'd always wanted to do?

What made the transition possible was a short film that I wrote and directed a few years earlier, a Vietnam story titled Firefight. It had battle scenes, explosions, and a military helicopter, and it was filmed at the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, California, over the course of a couple of very grueling weekends.

It was the very first film to feature the actor Brian Thompson. Philip Rhee and Simon Rhee (Best Of The Best) were both in it. Frank Dux was in it too. Amusingly, years later, Frank used a still of himself taken on the set of that film, and put it into a book that he wrote about his heroic exploits as “the CIA’s finest covert operative.” The book was titled “The Secret Man,” and the photo’s caption reads: “Down in the trenches in 1983.” And sure enough, there’s Frank, in military combat fatigues, holding a .357 Magnum, the sidearm which, according to him, “distinguished special forces personnel.” Just outside of the frame were cameras, a crane, and a director (me) with a bullhorn. “Down in the trenches,” my ass.

I shot that 20 minute movie on 16mm film, and at extra expense had it blown up to 35mm. That little movie got me my very first directing deals, with Menachem Golan and with Dino De Laurentiis, and much of that may have had to do with the fact that they were able to project it on a big screen in their 35mm screening rooms. In order to convince Sunil Shah to allow me to direct Lionheart, JC also screened that movie for him. Sunil was impressed enough that he took a chance on me.
Only a few years had passed between this and your other collaboration with Van Damme on Bloodsport, but his acting and English had improved a lot by the time Lionheart was made IMO. Did he work a lot on his acting and pronounciation during that time in his career?

No. But I knew JC well enough by then that I was able to tailor the dialogue to his manner of speaking, and to avoid words that he would have trouble with. And we made his character French, so the accent didn’t need any corrections or any other explanations.

There's a scene in the beginning of Lionheart that actually has Van Damme fighting both Tong Po and Mr. Tae Bo, Billy Blanks. That's pretty damn awesome. That being said, having world champion Billy Blanks as an opponent in one of the street fights would have been interesting and, I'm sure, memorable. Was that ever considered?

No. When we sorted out all the fighters who had auditioned, we decided to make Billy one of the Legionnaires. We had no idea at the time to he would go on to found Tae Bo and become quite famous himself. There’s also a small cameo in the film by Jeff Speakman.
As a huge Charles Bronson fan, I can't help but notice the similarities between Lionheart and Hard Times. Was it a big influence on this movie?

Hard Times was definitely an inspiration. JC and I are both huge fans of that movie. Walter Hill was ribbing me about it a few years later. “So, I hear you ripped off my movie.” I replied that it was a respectful hommage.
Prior to this, Van Damme had fought memorable bad guys like Chong Li, Tong Po and Fender. Was it challenging for you guys to come up with a good final opponent for Lyon in Lionheart?

The fighter we used, Abdel Qissi, was the brother of Michel Qissi. Both had trained together with JC at the same dojo when they were growing up in Brussels. JC suggested we use Abdel, and then he used him again in The Quest, and we used him in The Order as well. Michel Qissi, of course, is famous for playing Tong Po in Kickboxer, as well as one of the Legionnaires in Lionheart.

Next up was fan favorite Double Impact, with Van Damme playing twin brothers Chad and Alex. Did he struggle as an actor with playing two characters so different from each other, and did it take a toll on him, physically?

As with his character in Lionheart, JC and I created these characters specifically for him, and we tailored them to different aspects of his own personality. The hardest part about playing these two brothers was having to change his hair, makeup, and wardrobe a few times a day when he was playing both characters in the same scene.
Did he seem to have a harder time playing one character over the other?

He didn’t have a hard time playing either one. Both came naturally to him.

Could you explain how the scenes where both Alex and Chad can be seen in the same frame could be made possible? It looked quite good back in the day.

This was back in the days before CGI, so we had to use the old fashioned “split-screen” technique. This is a “twinning” technique that was done as far back as the early 1940’s, when Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. played twins in The Corsican Brothers, a movie that Double Impact is very loosely based on. You basically shoot one brother doing the scene on the left side of the frame, then that actor changes hair, makeup, & wardrobe and you shoot the same scene again, but now the actor is playing the other brother, on the right side of the frame. Then you combine those two sides in postproduction, using an optical printer. The TV series, The Patty Duke Show had actress Patty Duke playing cousins who were identical in appearance, and they used this same technique. So did actress Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap. Double Impact, in fact, may have been the last movie that used this old fashioned technique for “twinning” shots. Jackie Chan’s movie Twin Dragons used CGI.
Bolo Yeung, who played Chong Li in Bloodsport, is once again the main bad guy. What made you choose Bolo again instead of going with someone new?

The movie took place in Hong Kong. Seriously, how could you pick anyone else besides Bolo Yeung to play the chief henchman? We also reused Philip Chan, who played “Inspector Chen” in Bloodsport. A few other locals were also recycled into Double Impact.
Taking place in one of the most beloved cities for action film fans - Hong Kong, what was it like shooting a movie there compared to America?

They had a saying over there: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.” In other words, since it’s difficult to obtain proper permits, just do whatever you’re planning to do, then if you get caught simply apologize to the authorities. For example, that foot chase we did through the streets of Hong Kong was done without permits, and without paid extras.

JC and Alonna Shaw just ran through crowds of real pedestrians, followed by a camera crew. For some of the other street scenes we did have paid extras and stunt people, but a lot of it was guerilla filmmaking.
Out of all the movies you've made, I'd say Double Impact is the most fun, yet still has a seriousness to it. Was it hard to walk between that thin line where it couldn't be too much humor or too much action?

We tried to do the same in The Order, but I think we veered too much towards seriousness in that one, especially in the third act. In Double Impact we managed to maintain just the right balance. I love that long, crazy foot chase through the streets of Hong Kong and across the moored boats in the harbor. We had a similarly crazy and humorous foot chase through Jerusalem in The Order. If we could have kept the same tone of that foot chase throughout the movie it would have been another winner.

It was the first of a surprising amount of times Van Damme played two parts in a movie. Do you think it was coincidental that so many were made with this concept or did you indeed start this twinsploitation trend in his career with Double Impact?

We definitely started that trend with Double Impact.
Both you and Van Damme have expressed interest in making a sequel to Double Impact. It has yet to be made and may never will, so for those who are curious, could you share some of the things you planned for the sequel?

We were planning to flip some elements of the first film. In the sequel Chad gets himself into trouble with Chinese Triads in Los Angeles, and Alex has to come over from Hong Kong to help him out.
1993's Only the Strong stands out in your career, but I'd say also with regards to the martial arts genre as a whole, since it deals with the martial arts style of Capoeira like no other movie before or since that I am aware of. What made you decide to write and direct a movie centered around this martial art?

JC and I were in Paris with producer Samuel Hadida, and we all saw a demonstration of Capoeira at an event called Budofest. It was Sammy’s idea to anchor a martial arts movie around Capoeira.
Was it hard to cast the movie with good actors who also knew capoeira and did the two main actors, Mark Dacascos and Paco Christian Prieto, perform most of their own fight scenes?

We found a genuine Brazilian Capoeira maestre in Los Angeles named Amein Santos. Mark trained with him for a couple of months in L.A. before we went to Miami. Paco already knew some Capoeira, which he displayed in the swimming pool fight in Lionheart. He received some additional training from Amein as well. We were fortunate to find an actual troupe of Brazilian Capoeiristas living in Miami, and we put them on display at the beginning and end of the movie. JC used one of them, named Caesar, in The Quest.

To answer your other question, Mark and Paco did their own fighting and their own stunts. I think the one time we used a stuntman for a Mark was when his character gets kicked into some metal trash cans in the chop shop.
Having directed Van Damme doing what he does best, was it a challenge to plan and shoot the very different, more acrobatic fight scenes in Only the Strong?

Not really more challenging than working with Van Damme, but different. I loved all the acrobatics in Only The Strong. Those high-flying somersaults would not be very practical or realistic in a real street fight, but on film they looked beautiful and impressive. Of course the same can be said of JC’s famous “helicopter kicks.”
In 2000, you made The Last Patrol with my fellow countryman Dolph Lundgren. Does he live up to the nickname he's been given as 'The friendly giant'?

He was friendly and intelligent and always a gentleman. A real pleasure to work with.

Swedes are known for having a hard work ethic and always being on time. Did you find those qualities in Dolph when making this movie?

Absolutely. He always showed up on time, had all of his lines memorized, and spoke English like he had been born in America.
It's one of only three movies you directed, but didn't write yourself. Do you find it harder to direct movies you haven't also written?

In almost every case, the movies I’ve written have turned out to be better movies. I thought the script for The Last Patrol was mediocre, but I wasn’t allowed to make any changes to it. Although there are aspects of it that I like, of all the movies I’ve been involved with it’s my least favorite.

10 years after making Double Impact, you reunited with Van Damme on 2001's The Order. It's a very light-hearted action/adventure movie, like King Solomon's Mines with a dash of martial arts thrown in. Was the intention to try and appeal to a broader audience in hopes of securing a hit for Van Damme, who was struggling at the box office at that time?

We were trying to find some of the same magic that we created in Double Impact. My goal was to steer it in the direction of Hitchcock’s more light-hearted thrillers like The Man Who Knew Too Much and North By Northwest. Like I said earlier, had we maintained the light-hearted tone throughout, the movie would have been far more successful.
This time his co-star was none other than Charlton Heston, one of my all-time favorite actors. What could you tell us about your experiences with him, what was he like as an actor and person?

Mr. Heston showed up for a weekend rehearsal wearing a suit and a tie, with his script tucked under his arm, all of his lines highlighted in yellow marker. If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought it was his first movie and he was trying to impress the director and the other actors. He was an absolute pleasure to work with.
Being Jewish yourself, did the irony ever hit you that the movie you got to film with 'Moses' himself happened to take place in Israel of all places?

And don’t forget Heston starred in Ben-Hur too. It didn’t feel so much ironic as it felt like a blessing, like I had won some kind of an impossible once-in-a-lifetime lottery.

Speaking of Israel, how would you describe your experience making movies there?

I’ve directed two movies there. The crew people are the chattiest I’ve ever witnessed on a movie set, constantly chattering away to each other or on their cellphones, even while actors are trying to deliver dialogue and sound is being recorded. My voice grew hoarse shouting Skeck-et! (In Hebrew, “Quiet!”). I would lecture them between takes, explaining that it’s not only rude, but it’s difficult if not impossible for actors to concentrate on their performance when people are loudly chattering away in the background. But this did not usually work either. Many times I resorted to simply shouting at them “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!” I’ve heard that Italian crews are even worse. The most respectful and considerate, quite honestly, are American and British crews.
Another familiar face we get to see is Brian Thompson, marking your fourth collaboration with him after Firefight, Lionheart and Perfect Target. Being pretty much the stereotypical bad guy personified in so many movies I've seen over the years, I'm curious to know, what's he like when the cameras aren't rolling?

Brian is one of my best friends, and has been for well over 30 years now. He’s sensitive, intelligent, erudite, and generally soft-spoken. Quite the opposite from the characters he usually portrays on-screen.
You did one last(?) movie with Van Damme in 2006, The Hard Corps, this time for the DTV market. Besides the budget obviously being smaller, what else would you say is the biggest difference between making one of those compared to a theatrical movie?

Ironically, the budget for The Hard Corps was bigger than for some of my theatrically released films. On paper, at least, it had a bigger budget than Lionheart and Only The Strong. The major difference for me between low-budget and high-budget is the number of shooting days available. Less days can create a lot of headaches for a director who’s trying to make a good movie.

Was it always your intention to work in the action genre, or was it one of those things that just sort of unfolded naturally?

My first paying gig as a writer was a project I co-wrote for Motown Productions called The White House All Stars, a college football comedy that Michael Schultz was supposed to direct. I wasn’t necessarily focused on action movies at first, but since Bloodsport and Rambo 3 are the movies that really got my career rolling, that’s where I got pigeon-holed – action, martial arts, and military. In the 80’s and 90’s I was hired by studios and producers to work on a lot of action scripts, particularly with military-themed stories. For example, Warner Brothers hired me as a writer and director for G.I. Joe, and I wrote a few drafts of the military helicopter movie that was released as Firebirds. You haven’t mentioned Legionnaire in this interview, but that was another one.

As the years have passed, several of the movies you've made has reached cult status among movie fans around the world. Why do you think that is and what in your opinion is it that elevates a movie to that status in general?

People fall in love with these movies and watch them over & over again. I have met people who have claimed to have watched Bloodsport over a hundred times, and many who have claimed to have seen Lionheart, Double Impact and Only The Strong dozens of times, or more. People actually quote favorite lines of dialogue to me. I hung out with a couple of Wall Street bankers in New York City a few years ago, who could quote nearly every line of dialogue from Double Impact.

You haven't directed another movie since The Hard Corps, while the last movie you wrote was Max from 2015. Do you hope to direct again or do you want to focus more on your writing?

A few years ago I was prepping a movie I was hired to direct, titled Metro Dog, a project I also co-wrote, which we were going to film in Moscow and Belgrade. I spent nearly two months in active pre-production on that one – casting, locations, storyboards, etc. – but ultimately the producer decided to shelve it. There were a few others like that too. I’m currently doing some early prep on a project titled Cop War, which I also co-wrote, and which has been close to being produced a few other times already. Wish me luck!

Best of luck, Sheldon, and thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!
*Batteries Not Included - Abdel Qissi - Albert Pyun - Alonna Shaw - Attila - Ben-Hur - Best of the Best - Billy Blanks - Black Belt Magazine - Bloodsport - Bolo Yeung - Brian Thompson - Cannon Films - Capoeira - Charles Bronson - Charlton Heston - Chong Li - Christian Prieto - Chuck Norris - Cop War - Dino De Laurentiis - Dolph Lundgren - Double Impact - Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - Fender - Firebirds - Frank Dux - G.:i Joe - Golan & Globus - Hard Times - Hayley Mills - Hitchcock - Jackie Chan - Jean-Claude Van Damme - Jeff Speakman - King Solomon's Mines - Kumite - Legionnaire - Lionheart - Mark Dacascos - Mark DiSalle - Menahem Golan - Metro Dog - Michael Schultz - Michel Qissi - Motown Productions - North by Northwest - Only the Strong - Perfect Target - Philip Chan - Philip Rhee - Rambo - Rambo III - Razzie - Ronald Reagan - Sam Firstenberg - Samuel Hadida - Sheldon Lettich - Sly - Sunil Shah - Sylvester Stallone - Tae Bo - The Corsican Brothers - The Hard Corps - The Last Patrol - The Man Who Knew Too Much - The Order - The Parent Trap - The Patty Duke Show - The Quest - The Ten Commandments - The White House All Stars - Tong Po - Twin Dragons - Twinsploitation - Walter Hill - Yoram Globus

Intervju med Roger Spottiswoode

Normalt sett när jag bestämt mig för en temavecka så har jag först gjort klart med en person som ska intervjuas till den, vare sig det är temaveckans huvudperson (som i fallen med Sam Firstenberg och Luigi Cozzi) eller någon annan som på något sätt är kopplad till temaveckan (Andrew Leavold, Robert Reneau, Josiah Howard). Den här gången blev det inte så utan jag bestämde mig direkt för att under årets Black History Month hedra Sidney Poitier med sin egen temavecka.
Jag stod därför inför ett dilemma: Vem skulle jag intervjua? Karln själv, då 90 år fyllda, kunde jag tyvärr räkna bort. Jag funderade och funderade medan tiden började rinna ut. Jag kom till slut på en som hade varit perfekt att intervjua och gjorde vad jänkarna kallar för en hail mary och skickade ett brev på ren chansning, bära eller brista. Ett knappt dygn senare fick jag ett snällt svar tillbaka där min begäran om en intervju entusiastiskt beviljades.
Mannen jag kontaktade var Roger Spottiswoode, som regisserade Poitier i filmen Shoot to Kill. Andra filmer han regisserat är bland annat Turner & Hooch med Tom Hanks, Air America med Mel Gibson och Robert Downey Jr., Stopp! Annars Skjuter Morsan Skarpt med Sylvester Stallone, 6th Day med Arnold Schwarzenegger och inte minst Bondfilmen Tomorrow Never Dies med Pierce Brosnan. Det är inte varje dag man intervjuar en regissör vars meritlista gett mig otaliga timmars underhållning från att jag var sex år gammal (första gången jag såg Stopp! Annars Skjuter Morsan Skarpt) fram tills nu.
Eftersom det är till Sidney Poitiers temavecka jag intervjuat honom är det filmen Shoot to Kill samt hur det var att jobba med honom som fokus lagts på den här gången. Men vem vet, kanske kommer det en Temavecka Roger Spottiswoode någon gång i framtiden, med en mer karriäromfattande intervju? Den som lever får se. Nu till intervjun!
How did you get the job of directing Shoot to Kill?
I think it must have been through the kind suggestion of Dan Petrie to Jeffrey Katzenberg that got my name onto the list of directors. I really liked the script, although I think I would have worked with Sidney whatever the script had been, he was a childhood hero. Growing up in England, I was in a home where mainly European films were seen, except for some special exceptions. Cassavetes, and a few other film makers, and anything Sidney or Paul Newman was in.
I'm sure most directors would love to get the chance to work with Sidney Poitier. That said, despite being an established director at that point in your career, was it intimidating to direct someone of his stature?
I’m sure I must have been a little intimidated, but meeting him in person one quickly discovers he is the most engaging and fascinating person, just as one had imagined and I quickly forgot to be intimidated.
One thing I find very interesting about Shoot to Kill is that it marked his return in front of the camera after an 11 year absence. Do you know what it was about the project that made him return to acting after being away so long?
I’ll tell you a rather long story that answers this question, but I think you will probably need to trim it down. We filmed in Canada, in the foothills of the rockies. Wonderful locations, very steep, dramatic country. About halfway through the schedule we came to a scene that had taken an immense amount of preparation. Sidney’s character was following Tom Berenger’s mountain man up a steep, in fact it was vertical ’chimney’. This was a slight indentation in a vertical rockface, which was possible but difficult to climb 200 feet below where they climbed was a glacier. Access to this rockface was only by helicopter and we had to build landing platforms for the choppers which ferried the crew and the gear necessary to put the actors safely on the rockface.
This was before the advent of CGI. When the filming day arrived, the cameraman and I went down on ropes to about fifty feet below the top, and we set the camera position and made sure all the attachments and wire arrangements that would secure Sidney regardless of whether he held on or not and we checked everything was prepared and safe. As we were doing this, one of the helicopters flew in and the 1st AD radio’d down to us that ”Sidney had arrived’ and was ready for camera. I replied, ”Great wire him up and send him down.” That meant he would be put into a safety harness hidden inside his clothing, a safety wire was attached and he would climb down the ladder we had built into the rockface, hidden from the camera.
The camera operator and I were both hanging from wires, and we waited for Sidney to appear coming down the rock face towards us. And we waited some more. 5 minutes went by, then ten. I radio'd up, ”What’s happening?” ”I think you’d better come up” was the reply. This was something of a performance of course, it meant getting off the wire, onto the ladder, then re-wiring again for the climb up. Anyway, five minutes later I climbed over the edge and saw Sidney sitting on a large flat rock, not far from the helicopter and some way back from the precipitous edge. He was sitting quietly, alone. So I went over and sat down beside him. We both stared at the mountains for a while. Eventually, he spoke up, in his usual calm, quiet voice. He said,
- ”You know when Jeffrey sent me this script, I really liked it a lot. A very good story set in a beautiful place. But I also knew that it would be impossible to actually film it in the mountains, it was all too difficult to do in the real mountains, in the actual Rockies. so the big vistas would be done by a 2nd unit, and we would be shooting in Los Angeles, right at the studio, on sets. Just down the road from my home. Because no one in their right mind would come out here with a film crew... No one! And that thing there... (He pointed over his shoulder to the helicopter) That thing which I had never been in before today, and will never go in again after I get off this mountain... would be no part of my Life. So I’m not going down the rockface, I’m not even going to go over and stand on the edge... We’re going to shoot this on the stage like regular people."
And that’s what we did, just those few shots of Sidney on the rockface. Everything we done in those mountains. So Anders, there you have it. That’s the story Sidney told me, and I tend to believe what he says. He took the film because it meant shooting close to home and he liked the script.
Being a director himself, did you feel he was more hands-on in the making of the movie compared to other actors who doesn't have that experience being behind the camera provides? Did his experience as a director make it more difficult or easier for you to give him directions?
Being a director himself makes Sidney a particularly thoughtful and helpful person on the set. For the director, he knows exactly what you are dealing with and how to make your life as easy and pleasant as possible. Sidney is wonderfully prepared, gracious and thoughtful to his fellow actors. He does everything he can to make life easier for the director.
I think the chemistry between the two leading men, Sidney and Tom Berenger was great in the movie, they worked really great off each other. Did they seem get along well when the cameras weren't rolling?
Yes they got on fine and I think their differences helped the story. Tom is rather from the ’in the moment’ school of acting, while Sidney is very well prepared and very good at adapting his performance to work for the camera. I think the only difficulty Sidney had was when his Big City character had to seem out of place in the wilderness of the rockies. Sidney has an extraordinary grace and ease however difficult the terrain (except when helicopers are involved) so trying to look clumsy required extra attention.
Sidney got to play the fish-out-of-water for most of its running time. Granted, he was no stranger to comedy, but were you surprised just how well he pulled off the comedy bits where he acted like a buffoon for many of the scenes? I mean few other actors possess gravitas the way Sidney does.
He was delightful in this respect, particularly when it came to working with moose and the bear. a full grown grizzly. We had the bear specially trained for the scene and the Italian trainer and bear had some six weeks of preparation. After filming was complete that day, I asked the Italian trainer how he had prepared his bear to chase Sidney up the hill towards the cameras. ”How did I train him?” he replied… ”You can’t train a grizzly for that, there’s only one way he does itHe was very, very hungry. I not feed him for a couple of weeks before the shoot.
Berenger on the other hand played the tough, no-nonsense character with no time for buffoonery. He often plays these very tough guys, does he just happen to play them well or do they reflect parts of his actual personality?
I think those characters appeal to him.
Then there's the character of Sarah, who is kidnapped by the killer and played by Kirstie Alley. What was she like to work with?
Kirstie was very good company, she was always fun on the set, she loved the mountains, her husband was along, she didn’t have a whole lot to do, she was in great spirits.
The movie does a good job keeping the audience guessing who the killer is. Was it a deliberate choice to have known bad guy actors such as Clancy Brown and Andrew Robinson a part of the cast, while leaving open the possibility it could be one of the harmless looking guys?
Absolutely. And of course Clancy Brown was convincingly innocent, while Richard Masur, Andie and Kevin did their best to suggest they might be the killer.
It looks to have been a pretty hard movie to direct, with so much of it being shot on location in the wilderness in your neck of the woods, Canada. Would you say it was?
Do difficult locations make a film harder... not so much, I think. It may be a struggle to find remote locations and to get the crew and cast to them, but when it comes to the actual filming, there are huge benefits, everything works better. The cast understands the story better, they see how their characters would be affected by their surroundings... everything makes for a deeper good sense. Adversity also encourages collaboration. Many of our locations had no road access at all. Everything had to be hand carried across rivers, hills or Mountains. We had a rule that no one could get on or off those locations without carrying equipment. It was amazing how few were the complaints.
The actors sure seemed to have fun playing their parts. Was it a happy shoot?
Yes, a very happy shoot. Sidney of course is a charming and fascinating person, crew and cast were in love with him. In spite of expecting a studio film, he quickly adapted and loved the Mountains... so long as helicopters and vertical cliffs were not involved. Or bears... For very good reasons he had great respect for large grizzleys. When we prepared the scene where he and Tom almost literally bump into the grizzly, I remember explaining to Sidney how the scene would work, which direction he should run - up hill – and that it was important for him to check behind him as he ran up through the tall grass towards the four cameras in the distance. And Sidney asked me a question (with a bit of a smile because he was asking a Tom kind of question about motivation…)
- ”Why exactly am I looking back, Roger? What’s the motivation?
- ”Two motivations, Sidney. The first is that being an FBI guy out in the mountains the first time, you’re not sure how fast grizzlies can run up hill... so you need to look back and check how the grizzly is doing. And the Second motivation is for Sidney Poitier, the person, Sidney an actor in the film, trying to stay ahead of a grizzly. You Sidney, and as a matter of fact, me the director we also don’t know how fast this grizzly can go up hill. And that’s because we don’t know how fast it will go at all. We haven’t seen it run. Apparently it doesn't much like running. It’s kind of lazy. The trainer says he thinks the hill will slow him down, ’Quite a bit’, whatever that means. But personally, as the director, I’d sure be a lot happier if while you’re running you check back over your shoulder to see whether the trainer’s right about the bear not being great on an uphill slope. And by the way, we’ve had a team of local workers going over this ground and getting rid of all the rocks and stones that might trip you up, and they tell me it’s all clear.
And of course, I knew as I said that, the phrase itself, ”All Clear" had a bad reputation for inaccuracies. After all the usual delays, and checking that the bear had seen the little string that pretended to be an electric fence, we finally got all the cameras running. The bear stood around looking slightly irritable, and I called action, and Tom and Sidney started running. I must say, Sidney was always rather fleet of foot. I believe he plays a lot of tennis. And today he was quicker than ever, getting an early start ahead of Tom. But the bear, as it was released by the trainer took off like a rocket!!!! After 50 yards Sidney was still in the lead, but not by so much, and it was at this fateful moment that he looked back, as suggested by myself, the ’director’. And yes the bear was gaining on him, getting rather close... but just as he looked forward again and tried to speed up, his foot hit that one rock that had not been moved... and Sidney went flying. He hit the ground hard and in an instant the grizzly was standing over him all four paws surrounding his body.
Tom was there less than a second later and immediately sharted shouting, yelling, waving the gun he was holding, distracting the bear from the meal at his feet. The crew was rushing over, also yelling and shouting, the bear was momentarily distracted and then the trainer arrived with the biggest raw steak I’d ever seen which he offered to the bear. The bear gave Sidney a last look, shrugged at us, swiped the steak away from the trainer and ambled off with his meal. We helped Sidney to his feet. I apologised profusely and wondered if he would ever forgive me. Sidney was very understanding but a little shaken up. I’m not so sure his wife Joanna ever did. Yes a happy shoot, and at times quite unusual.
Roughly how long did it take to shoot the movie and did you feel you had a large enough budget to make the movie as it was scripted?
When Disney decides to make a film, they do know how to do it well. Their production department was always very good and both the budget and schedule were fine. We did have to build the shear rockface that Sidney could not face climbing down. And as I suspected it was almost as tall as the real one because of the rear projection and lights. But it was on a stage and looked just as good as the real one.
Since it was Sidneys return to the big screen after such a long time, did the marketing department highlight that when promoting the movie?
I expect they did, I don’t really recall. We were all rather sideswiped by the sudden change of title that marketing insisted on. The script had been named, ’In the Halls of the Mountain King', and after working in those ’Halls’ for six months, the title seemed beautifully appropriate. While the new title which the publicity people favored was Shoot to Kill and it felt rather ugly, inappropriate and not the film we had made at all.
What were your thoughts on the movie after having seen it for the first time in its entirety and has your opinion changed on it over the years?
Like many of my films, after working intensely on them for a couple of years and seeing them endlessly during post production, I seldom see them again. I will take a look for the first time, after I send this off to you.
Do you remember what Sidney had to say about it, was he pleased?
I do think he’s pleased with it. We’ve spoken a number of times over the years, it was a memorable experience. And for all of us, beyond the stunning mountains and amazing world we lived in for those months, working with Sidney was the very best part of it.
What about the critics, how was it received upon its release?
I think they were OK but not glorious. It’s not their kind of film. And the new title proved damaging, it put a lot of people off the film.
Lastly, what can you tell us about Sidney Poitier, the man, and what is your favorite memory of working with him?
Near the end of the shoot we were filming in Vancouver. One day we had a scene with a character who appeared in only one scene, a scene that would take a day to film. When we got to the set to rehearse the scene, before lighting began, I introduced Michael (MacRae) to Sidney. As we started to read through the scene we quickly discovered that Michael had been sent the wrong draft of the script by mistake. It was a simple production error but it meant that Michael had learnt a four page scene which was completely different from the one we were shooting. ”I have to go learn this new one, before I can rehearse,” he said.
Sidney immediately suggested we should help Michael learn the lines by reading together. So we sat in a motorhome and started reading the new version of the scene. In one of these new lines, there was a reference to ’a meeting in Robson Square’, a well known square in Vancouver. Each time we would come to this particular line in the script, Michael would misread the line and say, ”We are going to meet in Robeson square.” He pronounced the name of the square as if it was the name of the famous American singer, Paul Robeson (with a long ’o’, not the short ’o’ in Robson.)
The first time Michael did this, Sidney very politely stopped him and coreccted him… ”Robson, not Robeson.” Michael thanked him for the correction and we finished the scene before starting again. The second time, and Michael instinctively made the wrong pronounciation again... He was used to the name of Paul Robson and its pronounciation, while this square in Vancouver and its pronounciation, was unknown to him. Sidney stopped him again, very politely. He gave Michael the correct reading and we finished the scene. We had a cup of coffee and then read the scene a third time.
Once more, Michael, poor fellow, made the same small but grave error. Very firmly this time, Sidney said ”Stop”. You cannot confuse the name of one of the truly Great Americans, with a square in Vancouver. You just must not! There was a little pause and then Sidney lit up with that great smile, ”Let me tell you a little about Paul Robeson... What a man!... ” And for the next hour or so, Sidney seemed to be once more the young man full of love and enthusiasm who month after month had started his days in a Deli with his pal Harry (Belafonte), and talked to this wonderful celebrated athlete, actor, singer, civil rights activist who had become their friend and mentor. And when the stories ended, Sidney stay quietly for a moment and then became again the older person we were working with. He looked at both of us and said, ”Lets try the scene again, shall we?” Michael pronounced Robson the right way and it was the most fascinating hour I spent on the film. I suspect Michael remembers it as well.
On the last Sunday during production, I went looking to find a small gift with which to thank Sidney for his kind and generous collaboration. I wandered through a number of second hand book stores, all of them empty on this rainy Vancouver day. The last one was also the largest. It seemed cavernous, and I was rather lost not even certain where to be looking. The owner saw my uncertainty and came over to chat, and I explained I was looking for a gift for someone, and eveentually it came out, in fact the owner guessed, who the gift was to be for. He looked at me quizzically, then said, ”D’you know I’ve been waiting for you for a long time. Come with me...” He led me over to a door with record labels on it and explained, ”We also sell old records, we have just the one room, but they’re all rather special.” We went in and he went straight to a shelf which was behind a locked glass partion. He unlocked the glass and took down an unopened box-set of 78s - by Paul Robeson: The Ballads.
A big thank you to Roger Spottiswoode for these invaluable stories about the making of Shoot to Kill and his memories of Sidney Poitier!
*Batteries Not Included - 6th Day - Andrew Leavold - Andrew Robinson - Arnold Schwarzenegger - Clancy Brown - Dan Petrie - Harry Belafonte - Jeffrey Katzenberg - Josiah Howard - Kirstie Alley - Luigi Cozzi - Mel Gibson - Michael MacRae - Paul Newman - Paul Robeson - Pierce Brosnan - Richard Masur - Robert Downey Jr. - Robert Reneau - Robson Square - Roger Spottiswoode - Sam Firstenberg - Shoot to Kill - Sidney Poitier - Stopp! Annars Skjuter Morsan Skarpt - Sylvester Stallone - Tom Berenger - Tom Hanks - Tomorrow Never Dies