Eric Roberts on The Dark Knight, Shelley Winters, John Waters, and more
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Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Eric Roberts is one of the hardest-working actors of his generation, as evidenced by his 14-page IMDB résumé. Roberts began his career in theater, but after a short-lived stint as a soap-opera actor, he earned his first feature film (King Of The Gypsies) in 1978 and hit the ground running, appearing in dramas (Star 80, The Pope Of Greenwich Village), action films (Best Of The Best, The Specialist), and even earning an Academy Award nomination for 1985’s Runaway Train. Roberts can currently be seen in The Whole Truth, which was recently released on DVD.
The Whole Truth (2009)—“Yaro Maroslav”
Eric Roberts: This movie’s basically about an acting coach named Angela Masters who has a very unusual client list: criminals that are going down for life—or the chair or the gas chamber. They’re the heavy hitters. And she has a perfect track record, in that she makes them sympathetic to juries and she gets [them] off. I play a Russian mobster, and my sidekick is Rick Overton. Rick kept me funny in this, because I am not innately funny. [Laughs.] But Rick is, so I would turn to Rick and I’d say, “Rick, how do I do this scene?” And he would show me how to do it! He is one of my examples in life and comedy. What a guy. I also got to work with a cool director: Colleen Patrick. I love working with women—I love women—and we need more women directors. We need more feminine sensibilities in movies. So I was proud to work with her. The only other thing I have to say about the women on this project is that Elisabeth Röhm is funny. I didn’t know that up ’til this movie. She’s a really great chick to work with.
The A.V. Club: What sold you on doing this film: the two completely different but equally ridiculous hair pieces you had to wear, or the courtroom scene where you cry your eyes out and quote Spencer Tracy?
ER: Hey, dude, don’t make fun of my hair! [Laughs.] Look, the stage direction was, “He wears a blonde wig that doesn’t quite fit.” And when I read that, I was sold. I had to play the part, because what fun! Only a Russian mobster who’s completely self-absorbed would even think that that was a disguise. So it’s already funny. And then I had a great insurance policy, because I had Rick Overton as my sidekick. I had a great comic to help me be funny. So I had it made, pal. I had it made. And it was fun to do. But what honestly sold me on playing the part was that ill-fitting blonde wig.
Another World (1977)—“Ted Bancroft”
The Young And The Restless (2010-2011)—“Vance Abrams”
ER: Yeah, Ted Bancroft, that’s the only job I’ve ever been fired from. Unemployment.
AVC: What prompted the firing?
ER: I, uh, think I sucked.
AVC: Well, that’ll do it.
ER: I think that was part of it, anyway… Well, I got called into the boss’ office a couple of times, and I was asked, “Are you a writer?” And I’d say, “No.” And they would say, “Then why are you rewriting your dialogue?” I was only 19 years old, so I’d say, “But I’m not changing other actors’ cues.” And they would say, “That’s not the point. You can’t rewrite your dialogue. We pay writers.” I’m like, “Okay, okay.” But I’d get this dialogue that I thought was embarrassing, and I would change it. They finally called me in one day and fired me. But a month later, I got my first feature film, King Of The Gypsies, so I was rescued from myself.
AVC: What was it like to go back to the world of soap operas a few years ago for your stint on The Young And The Restless?
ER: Ah, it was fun. It was the same producer who fired me originally on Another World [Paul Rauch] rehiring me, but this time to help the ratings on The Young And The Restless. [Laughs.] Hey, shit happens.
King Of The Gypsies (1978)—“Dave”
AVC: Given how many films you have to your credit at this point, it’s a little odd to look back at King Of The Gypsies and see the credit, “Introducing Eric Roberts.”
ER: Yeah, I had a couple of auditions for it. They asked me to screen test and I forget the exact date, but it was something like the third week of January 1978, and there was a huge ice storm in New York that closed down the city. The only things running were the subways, but they were running at something like 10 percent of their usual. There wasn’t a car to be seen on the road. And I walked from the Upper West Side, which at the time was a slum. It had not become the hip place that it is now. I walked down to Columbus Circle for my screen test. They were three hours behind, so I went in there and I went to sleep. When they woke me up, they said, “It’s time for your screen test, Eric,” so I got up and went to hair and makeup. They combed my hair, they powdered my nose, and then I walked in front of a camera… I got lucky. I got my first movie. Thanks to Frank Pierson. He wrote King Of The Gypsies, Dog Day Afternoon, Cat Ballou, and a lot of other great movies. He also directed King Of The Gypsies; he and Dino De Laurentiis hired me and changed my life.
AVC: You worked with a lot of great people on that film, but you’ve mentioned before that you were particularly thrilled about getting to work with Sterling Hayden.
ER: Yeah, I’d already been shooting on the film for about three weeks, and we went into night shoots in the fourth week. My first night working with Sterling Hayden was his first day on the film. I’m in my trailer, and I get a knock on my door, and the second assistant director says, “Mr. Hayden would like to meet you and talk to you about the scene tonight.” I’m like, “Cool! I can’t wait!” So I go over to his trailer and knock on the door, and I hear him say, “Come in, come in!” I open the door and—whoosh!—hashish smoke in my face. [Laughs.] He is smoking hash in a pipe!
He says, “Have a seat, young man!” I have a seat. He asks me if I want to get high. I say, “No, because I can’t talk when I get high, and I have to act tonight.” He goes, “Okay, okay. So let’s talk about what we’re doing tonight! What are we shooting?” I said, “That would be Scene 87, sir.” He goes, “Oh, I know the number. But what the f--- happens?” And it’s a very pivotal scene. I’ve run away, and he comes and he nabs me off of the street and takes me home, blah blah blah. It’s a big-deal scene. So I told him that, and he goes, “Okay! How are you at improvisation, young man?” I said, “I’m okay with it.” He said, “Okay, ’cause that’s what we’re doing tonight.” So all our stuff together is all improv, and it’s all extraordinary, because he was extraordinary.
AVC: You’ve also been quoted as saying of your experiences on the film, “I learned everything not to do on a movie set from Shelley Winters,” although you didn’t elaborate.
ER: [Cackles.] That was rude of me, wasn’t it? Shelley gave me my first real “oh, my God” start on a movie set. Like, let’s say it’s 11:25 a.m. right now. Shelley would say out of nowhere, “What time is it? I have to be in a car leaving at 11:30.” And everybody would say, “Uh, it’s 9 a.m., Shelley,” or whatever. And I would think, “God, they’re lying to Shelley Winters! I wonder if I should tell her the truth.” Then I realized that that was just what she did. That was her humor. But she made me a very nervous young actor.
Best Of The Best (1989) / Best Of The Best 2 (1993)—“Alex Grady”
ER: That was maybe the most fun physically I’ve ever had making movies. It was like boys’ camp. I got to go work out the body at the gym every morning, then you’d go do the goju and get ready for the moves of the day, and then you’d go to the set and shoot a karate movie. It ended up being a wonderful movie about triumph. And I’m very proud of that first film, Best Of The Best. It’s a really good movie.
AVC: Given that you clarify that you’re proud of the first film, how do you feel about the sequel?
ER: Well, it was still an absolute boys’ camp, and it was still fun, but the only thing I was really sad about was Best Of The Best 3 and 4. They’re like home movies. They’re really bad. We had a really good franchise going. I would’ve loved to have stayed with the kind of quality we had on the first film… and a little bit on the second film. I wish we could’ve stayed up there.
The Dark Knight (2008)—“Maroni”
ER: That was a dream come true. I’m the only actor in that movie who’s in a main part who had to audition. I auditioned for Chris Nolan, and then two months later I get a call. I thought I didn’t get the part, ’cause it took two months to hear from him, but he calls me and tells me he wants me in his movie, and it was a dream come true. I got to work at Pinewood Studios, which I’d always wanted to go to, and we shot the exteriors in Chicago. It was just such a groovy experience. Gary Oldman and I are old, dear friends, and I love him dearly. He’s one of my three favorite actors in this planet. I just love him.
AVC: What was your experience with Heath Ledger on the film?
ER: Heath was one of the easiest-going cats there was. I’d been told, “Watch out for Heath, man, he’s in character. Look out.” Not at all. He was just a guy playing a part. He was a wonderful cat. The first day we worked together, he had a big, long monologue, and he went into the monologue, then he turned and looked me right in the eye and said, “How am I doing?” [Laughs.] I said, “You’re doin’ great, guy! You’re doing great! That was a great take!” He was just really sweet, really warm, and really unpretentious. And he was an actor’s actor. He’s gonna be sorely missed for forever and a day.
Justice League (2002-2004)—“Mongul”
Danny Phantom (2005)—“Dark Danny”
AVC: In addition to The Dark Knight, you’ve contributed your vocal talents to a few animated series, including Spawn and Justice League. Are you a superhero fan?
ER: I sure am. Why wouldn’t you be? It’s fun. Those guys clean the planet up for us, pal! What fun that is, doing voices. I would do them every day if they wanted me to. It’s so much fun to go to work and not shave and wear your tennis shoes and your gym clothes. As opposed to having to shave, shower, go to the gym, look good, get ready, go to makeup and hair, and all that stuff. I love doing voices. It’s just so relaxing.
The Specialist (1994)—“Tomas Leon”
The Expendables (2010)—“James Munroe”
ER: That was just pure, unadulterated fun. I got to play a badass, I got to work with Rod Steiger as my father, I got to work with Sylvester Stallone, and it was really cool. Sly says to me one day, [Doing a passable Stallone impression] “Hey, Eric, I realized we don’t have a scene together in this!” I say, “Yeah.” He says, “Okay, I’m gonna write a scene. How ’bout this? It’s gonna be a scene about a knife. You’re gonna put a knife to my eye.” I said, “Cool, dude!” He wrote that scene overnight, and we shot it the next day, just out of the blue. It was just… I mean, who wouldn’t want to have a scene written by Rocky with Rocky right there? And that’s what happened. I was in heaven.
AVC: Did the two of you stay in touch between The Specialist and The Expendables?
ER: We did. That’s why I’m in The Expendables. [Laughs.] Yeah, he’s a very loyal, good cat. And if you’re a real actor, he knows it, ’cause he’s a real actor. By the way, he’s a great director, too. Go watch The Expendables. That’s a cool movie. That’s a director’s tour de force, especially in the editing. He’s the real deal.
Runaway Train (1985)—“Buck McGeehy”
ER: I was offered that movie, so I fly to L.A., and we had five days of rehearsal before we started to shoot, then they were going to ship up to Colorado. But we had those five days of rehearsal, so I met Andrey Konchalovsky, our director, and I met Jon Voight. But then I realized that my character wasn’t likeable. And if you’re going to play a criminal, one who’s in jail for statutory rape, you have to make him likeable. Because if you don’t, then he’ll be despicable. And if he’s despicable, who wants to fucking watch him for two hours?
So I said to Andrey, “I hear by your Russian accent that you’re not going to understand what kind of accent I’m doing, but I want to play this kid from the South, so he’s sweet and he’s vulnerable and he’s likeable, and he made a mistake and went to prison for it. But he’s not a bad guy who has pathological crime habits. I don’t want to play that, because he lives at the end, and so I want to give the audience hope for a new beginning for somebody, since Jon’s character dies. So he said, [Russian accent] “I love what you said! Very good! Play whatever you want! You are a genius!” I said, “Okay, cool!” [Laughs.]
So I changed him. He was a New York street kid, and I changed him to a Southern agrarian guy who was just a sweet guy who made a mistake. [In a Southern accent] He was just a sweet guy who made a mistake. “You know, she looked 18! I didn’t know she was 12!” [Laughs.] So that’s what I played there. And Jon… Jon is truly an actor’s dream and a great human being. He’s a wonderful man. He was a real friend to me in that movie, and he and I made real friends. We still see each other, we still talk. I’m not big on his politics, he’s not big on my politics, so we always avoid that, but I love Jon, and I will love that experience for the rest of my life.
AVC: And why wouldn’t you? Your performance earned you an Academy Award nomination.
ER: Yeah, and so did Jon’s! Who knew? [Laughs.]
AVC: That had to have been at least a little bit of a surprise, given how few action films get Oscar recognition.
ER: Yeah, but the reason why it was so unexpected was that it was a Golan-Globus Production, dude. Those things don’t get nominated for anything except Best Joke. [Laughs.] And here we were with three Academy Award nominations: me, Jon, and the editor [Henry Richardson]. We just kicked ass, us three. I’m very proud of that movie, and I’m very proud of that character. I based that character on my oldest friend in the world, a boy named Irwin White, from Atlanta, Georgia. [Adopts Southern accent again] He’s just a real sweet Southern boy who talks like this. And I based the character on him because he’s just so nice. I wanted the character I played to be nice, since Jon’s character was so bad. I wanted to be a dichotomy to his character, not just a younger version of him.
The Ambulance (1990)—“Josh Baker”
ER: That was… I put myself in Larry Cohen’s hands for that, because I liked the script. It was kind of like The Whole Truth, actually, because I said, “Since this is kind of an action-comedy, I need you to guide me. And I’m gonna do what you tell me and how you tell me to do it, so if there are any mistakes, they’re gonna be yours.” And he goes, “Okay, here we go!” [Laughs.] So he just told me what he wanted, where he wanted it, and how he wanted it, and we had a great time making that movie. That movie was a huge hit in France. It made a lot of money in France. It, uh, didn’t do well in the U.S., though. Not until it had been out on DVD for about five years, at which point it became kind of a cult classic.
The Pope Of Greenwich Village (1984)—“Paulie”
ER: The greatest acting experience of my life, as far as character work. I took every chance an actor could, and I think I made him work. I’m very proud of that piece. Mickey Rourke and I became lifelong friends. I love him. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing a character.
AVC: How did you find your way into that particular role? Did they come looking for you?
ER: Yeah, they offered me that part. After Tennessee Williams died, I was in Hartford doing a production of The Glass Menagerie, playing Tom Wingfield, and I get this script called The Pope Of Greenwich Village, based on the book. I read it, and… my character was a tough guy. He’s a not-too-smart, not-too-educated tough guy. A badass. You don’t want to mess with him, because he wasn’t very smart, and he might hit you. And I realize, “Hmm, that character has been portrayed like that in a thousand movies. I’ve done it five times already myself! I have to approach it differently.” Since I was up there doing the play, I had lots of time to think about it, lots of time to read and re-read it, and I finally realized, “Ah, here’s what I’ll do! I’ll play a mama’s boy who wants to be a tough guy but isn’t.” So I used all the same dialogue. I didn’t change any of the dialogue. I just changed how he dressed, how he looked, how he talked, and how he walked. And I permed my hair and lost 30 pounds, so I’d be a string-bean walking spaz attack. [Laughs.] And the result was one of the most satisfying experiences of my career.
AVC: Was Michael Cimino still on the film when you and Mickey Rourke came aboard? There seems to be some uncertainty about if and when he was actually slated to direct.
ER: Okay, here’s the deal. We had a director who was supposed to direct that film—I will leave him nameless, because he got fired—and when he was brought on, I showed up with my permed hair and my loss of 30 pounds, and he says to me, “Why did you lose all this weight?” I said, “I want to be a walking spaz attack.” He said, “No, this guy’s a tough thug.” I said, “That’s how he’s written, but that’s not what I want to play.” He said, “Why’d you perm your hair?” I said, “Same thing: walking spaz attack.” He said, “Eric, I don’t agree with you. I would like you to resign.” I said, “Okay, well, let me think about it.” I had no intention of resigning. And I walked around the Mayflower Hotel one time, on Columbus Circle, and I went up to Mickey Rourke’s room, and I said, “Mickey! The director asked me to resign!” He said, “Well, forget about that!” And we called the producers, and we told the producers, and they fired that director. And they brought in Stuart Rosenberg, who directed Amityville Horror, Cool Hand Luke, a lot of good movies. They brought him in, he loved my portrayal, he allowed me to do it that way. Now, as we’re waiting for him to become our director, there was some talk about Mike Cimino. So he came into town, and he met us, and he talked to us. But I think—and this is only conjecture, I don’t know this as a matter of fact—he wanted too much control for our producers’ tastes. And they said, “No, we can’t give you all that control.” And they brought in Stuart Rosenberg, who made a great, true classic film.
AVC: Has there ever been any serious talk about doing a sequel, or is that just people’s wishful thinking?
ER: Well, there has been, but—oddly enough—Vinnie Patrick, who wrote the book and wrote the first screenplay, he won’t write another screenplay. So that’s the holdup: We’re waiting for a good screenplay. We have lots of writers working on it, and we keep getting drafts, but they keep not being really strong enough. But here’s how it opens up, no matter who writes it: I’m on the beach in Miami, and suddenly here comes Charlie out of the hotel, and he goes, “We gotta go.” I say, “What’s up?” He says, “We gotta leave town.” “What’s up?” “They want the bill paid at the hotel.” “Okay, we’re on the road!” So it becomes a road movie. That’s how it has to start. And then we’ll have an adventure from there. So if anybody’s reading who’s a writer, write it up, send it to us, it will be read. [Laughs.]
A Talking Cat!?! (2013)—“Duffy”
AVC: You provided the voice to the title character in a recent little indie film called A Talking Cat!?!
ER: Hey, it is what it is, pal. [Laughs.] As opposed to having me mess it up by a lame explanation, you have to see that movie, because it’s special. And it’s weird. If I talk about it, it’ll be anti-climactic and odd. So people will have to see that one.
AVC: It’s a sweet little family movie, but what I wanted to ask about isn’t actually a spoiler, per se, if that helps.
ER: Okay, shoot.
AVC: Where did you record your voiceover?
ER: I don’t remember. Why?
AVC: Not that it’s your fault, but the recording quality makes it sounds like you were in a cave… or possibly a closet under a waterfall. It’s bad.
ER: Oh, what a shame! I haven’t actually seen it yet, but… man, I don’t know why that is. I guess they had a not-so-great audio engineer, huh? I’m so sad to hear that, because I really liked the script, and it sure seems like it’s a cute, sweet film. Johnny Whitaker [who voices the character “Phil”] is a good guy.
Less Than Perfect (2002-2005)—“Will Butler”
ER: You know, I was not a big fan of my work in that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not humble. I’m probably one of my three biggest fans on the planet. [Laughs.] But I didn’t like me in that. I didn’t think I was very good in that kind of comedy. In fact, we had a read-through of the new scripts on Monday mornings, and I walked in there one Monday morning after having a thought. I said, “You know, I had a thought over the weekend: Patrick Warburton should play my part.” And they brought in Patrick the next week! And he basically replaced me, so… I don’t think anybody disagreed with me that I was not up to my usual standards in my portrayal of that role. But I’ve got to say, I met Sherri Shepherd, who I love dearly, and Andy Dick is one of my true friends. I love him with all of my heart.
AVC: Presumably you liked Zachary Levi well enough, too, since you did an episode of Chuck a few years later.
ER: Zach Levi and I are pals. Zach Levi is gonna be his generation’s Dick Van Dyke, as well he should be.
Cecil B. DeMented (2000)—“Honey’s Ex”
ER: Well, that was just having fun as an actor. That’s all that was.
AVC: How was the John Waters experience for you?
ER: You know, it was not weird, weirdly enough. [Laughs.] It was very cut and dried, very 9 to 5 and “let’s go to work and knock it out.” It was not very odd or peculiar or even particularly unique. It was a day’s work, but it was a blast.
It’s My Party (1996)—“Nick Stark”
ER: The performance was heralded, which was certainly great, but the movie wasn’t a big-enough hit for my tastes. What was the AIDS movie that Tom Hanks won for? Philadelphia. I thought It’s My Party was what Philadelphia should’ve been. Now, that’s not positive-sounding, I realize, and I’m not knocking down Philadelphia. I am, however, saying that It’s My Party is better than Philadelphia, in that… it doesn’t deal with the issue in a drastic visual way, like with sores on my skin. It deals with the issue emotionally, and it deals with it in a way that everyone can relate to and everybody can understand. You know, we’re only here once, and we’re only here for a minute, and if you have to go, you might as well celebrate it. I was so proud to be in that movie because of all the great actors in the cast. I mean, Lee Grant playing my mother? Oh, my God, she was perfect. Wasn’t she? As an actor, for me to have her play my mother, that was an event. And for her to be brilliant playing my mother, it was a gift. And I will love her ’til my last breath.
AVC: Word has it that the horse in the film actually belonged to you.
ER: Yeah, that was my horse! Yeah, that was Silk. Silk has since died. She got a twisted intestine and she died. But I have her oldest boy—his name is Sagan, after Carl Sagan—and he’s not as tall as she was, he’s not as white as she was, but he’s beautiful just the same.
Doctor Who (1996)—“The Master”
ER: Well, when I was in school in London—I was the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art—I got hip to Doctor Who, ’cause everybody else there was watching it. Then I come back to the States, I become a movie star, and I forget about Doctor Who. One day, out of nowhere, somebody says, “Have you ever seen Doctor Who?” And I said, “Yeah, I love that campy thing! It’s so much fun!” They said, “Well, they want you to play The Master.” I said, “I’ll do it! But on one condition. He’s always a campy monster. I want to play him where he’s spooky to look at.” They said, “You want to be really frightening?” I said, “Yeah, I want to scare the pants off of people.” They said, “Give us an example.” I said, “I want to really drool. I want people to go, ‘Ew, what is that? Oh, my God!’ I want to scare you.” They said, “You can do it. Go with it.” So they allowed me to be gross in beautiful costumes. [Laughs.] And I did it, and it was so much fun. It was like being 8 years old again.
Raggedy Man (1981)—“Teddy”
ER: One of my favorite performances, because of Jack Fisk, the director, who’s also Sissy Spacek’s husband. He’s one of my favorite people. He had been an art director up ’til that time, but he turned director, and he gave me a shot. I hadn’t made a movie in over a year when I did that. That was my third film. I did King Of The Gypsies, then Paul’s Case [for PBS], and then Raggedy Man. And Raggedy Man, we shot it in Texas, and we discovered the E.T. boy, who played one of Sissy’s sons. Henry Thomas. Jack Fisk and I must’ve read 200 boys for that part just in Texas alone, but Henry got it. The other boy was pretty incredible, too. So we launched a couple of great careers there.
Entourage (2008)—“Eric Roberts”
ER: Well, you know, I played myself only by name. That’s hardly me. And I’ve never sold mushrooms. [Laughs.] But how I got on Entourage is a great story. I loved that show, and I watched that show, and after about the fourth time I heard them say my name on the show, I called my lawyer, who handles all those writers, and I said, “If they’re gonna talk about me all the time, have them write me in the show!” And he called back in five minutes and said, “They want you on the show! But there’s one hitch.” “What?” “Will you sell mushrooms?” “That’s not a hitch! I’ll sell mushrooms!” So that’s how it came about.
Heaven’s Prisoners (1996)—“Bubba Rocque”
ER: Bubba was one of my more favorite characters. He and Paulie in The Pope are probably my two favorites. Bubba went to high school with Alec Baldwin’s character, they knew each other, and then they go their separate ways. He becomes a good guy, I become a bad guy. I become a criminal, he becomes a cop. But we always have a respect and affection for each other. And then I end up having to save his life, and, of course, if you’ve seen the film, then you know my wife kills me, ’cause it turns out that my wife is running all the underworld. [Laughs.] It’s not really me. I’m just the front man.
Heaven’s Prisoners was probably one of the best location shoots I’ve ever had, too, because it was down in New Orleans, and we were down there for probably 10 or 12 weeks, and it was just a blast. Oh, and one little story that people might like: It was my first night there, I wasn’t shooting but I was on the set to say hello to Phil Joanou, our director. Alec had this scene where he had to jump into the water—a pond, really—and swim across it. They’re getting ready, they’re all set up, Phil says, “Here we go! Alec, you ready?” “Yeah!” And suddenly alligator eyes appear on the water. Everybody freezes. “There’s a gator! Oh, my God!” Alec says, “It’s cool. I’m going in.” The stuntman goes, “You’re not going in!” Alec says, “Roll the camera!” They roll the camera, Alec jumps in, crosses the pond, gets out. “Okay, we got the shot?” And we moved on. I couldn’t believe it. He’s got the balls of a dinosaur, dude. [Laughs.] It was wild. True story! He really did that. It was cool!
Star 80 (1983)—“Paul Snider”
ER: Well, that was the most difficult experience of my acting life. I went out for that part because Bob Fosse and Hal Ashby were my idols, so I really went after that because I wanted to work with Bob Fosse. And after half a dozen auditions, he says to me, “Will you walk around the room for me?” So I walked around the room. I said, “What’s up with that?” [Laughs.] He said, “I was told you were a cripple.” I said, “Who would’ve told you that?” He goes, “Well, I heard that’s why you dropped out of the Broadway production of Mass Appeal you were doing.” I said, “No, I dropped out because of artistic differences.” He said, “Oh, well, they’re saying you’re a cripple. Since you’re not, though, you wanna play this part?” “Yeah, dude!” So after six auditions and a walk around the room to apparently prove I could walk, he gave me that part. And it was probably the hardest, most intense, most emotional, most strenuous, most satisfying experience of my life.
The Mark (2012)—“Cooper”
Lovelace (2013)—“Nat Laurendi”
AVC: It’s hard to imagine there’s any other actor on IMDB who can compete with you when it comes to the number of films you reportedly have in production.
ER: Oh, you know what? I’m gonna tell you a secret: They aren’t all real. What happens is, when they offer me these movies, they then put them on IMDB as if I’ve said yes, to attract other actors. So it’s all a show-business game that goes on that you just have to live with. It would be impossible for anybody to be in that many productions in the same year. Impossible. But I make a lot of movies, and I work probably 200 days a year, at least, so I am a heavily working, thankful actor. But I’m not a superhero. [Laughs.] I couldn’t possibly do all those movies.
AVC: Of the upcoming films that actually are real, are there any that you want to make particular mention of?
ER: Well, I actually have two. One’s called The Mark, from Pure Flix Entertainment. It’s an interesting little action flick. And then there’s a great movie called Lovelace, with Amanda Seyfried.
AVC: Not that they’re identical stories by any means, but there are certainly some parallels between the lives of Linda Lovelace and Dorothy Stratten in Star 80.
ER: Yeah. Lovelace is very different from Star 80, but they do both have a statement about how show business isn’t necessarily pretty. And Amanda is unbelievable in this movie, dude. She’s, like, a tour de force. She kicks its ass. You know, I’m a dependable actor, I give dependable performances. But, seriously, she’s outstanding.
Sharktopus (2010)—“Nathan Sands”
ER: I was offered that script, and from the title alone, I said, “I’m not even gonna read it. Are you kidding?” And they said, “But you said you always wanted to work for this man [Roger Corman]!” And I said, “Yes, but I’m not gonna make something quite this bad!” [Laughs.] And then he called me, and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and, believe me, it was not money. He does not give money.
Corman said to me, “How many friends do you have?” I said, “I dunno, half a dozen.” “How many family members do you got?” “I don’t know, 10.” “Okay, they can all bring a friend, and they can all stay in Puerto Vallarta while you make this movie for a month. Everybody’s free while you’re down there working.” So I brought everybody I ever met, everybody I’ve ever been related to, and we all had a great time in Puerto Vallarta while I made a bad movie. [Laughs.] That’s the long and short of it.
AVC: Given how many films you’ve made, how on earth had you never worked for Roger Corman until 2010?
ER: I don’t know. Ask him! [Laughs.]