John Rhys-Davies on Indiana Jones and almost passing on Lord Of The Rings
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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: John Rhys-Davies was well on his way to carving a niche for himself on the U.K. television landscape when his appearance in the blockbuster miniseries Shogun put him on Steven Spielberg’s radar for a part in his upcoming film about a globe-trotting archaeologist/adventurer. Playing the role of Sallah in the Indiana Jones films—which have just been released on Blu-ray—further raised Rhys-Davies’ profile, securing him a lifetime’s worth of film and television roles. Many of which, he does not hesitate to admit, he has not gone out of his way to watch.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) / Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)—“Sallah”
John Rhys-Davies: Steven Spielberg had seen Shogun, which was a terribly successful miniseries. When I say that it was successful, I mean the streets of New York were cleared at night when Shogun was playing, because everyone was at home learning how to say [utters a few Japanese phrases] and all these other things. It also introduced sushi to North America. Basically, there weren’t any Japanese restaurants where sushi was served, aside from a few places. Anyway, it was hugely successful. Next to Roots, I believe it was the most successful miniseries of all time. Steven had seen it, and he asked to see me. And I said, “This character is a 5-foot-2-inch skinny Egyptian, and I’m a 6-foot-1-inch, 265-pound, very un-skinny Briton. What are you looking for here?” He said, “Well, what I want is sort of a combination of that character you played in Shogun—Rodrigues—and Falstaff. I want you to bring him to life.” So those were the guidelines I took. I didn’t want to make him just a comic figure or some sort of caricature, so I tried to develop him as an intelligent man who was an opportunist yet was also tremendously loyal… a survivor like Indy, but someone who, above all, puts a value on loyalty and friendship.
The A.V. Club: Given the success of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, was there ever any talk of having Sallah turn up in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom?
JRD: No, there was never any mention of Temple Of Doom. I guess the character is confined by geography, though, isn’t he? I mean, you could put him into Temple Of Doom, because writers can do anything. [Laughs.] But they obviously wanted to go with… you don’t want to get too locked into certain characters, because then they’ll demand more money, and you’ve got to drag them on from picture to picture. So, no, nothing like that was ever mentioned. But I was delighted to get the summons to do [Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade], although it was a slightly different character, really. All the background that you’d assumed in the first one… I suppose you carry it with you in the third one, but he’s more comic relief in his own way, because the focus of the film is now on father and son engaging in the ultimate quest, for the Holy Grail. And you accept that, because that’s part of your job.
AVC: Yet you passed on the opportunity to make a brief appearance at Indy and Marian’s wedding in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.
JRD: Yes, I did. I guess it would’ve been rather sweet to be in that last little thing, and they did offer to bring a camera crew to me in order to film a bit of blue screen where you would’ve seen me clapping for the happy couple. But that’s all it would’ve been. I don’t know, I suppose I felt as though it would’ve cheated the audience just a little bit. I like to think the audience has some fondness for Sallah, and just to give him an appearance as brief as all that, a quick cutaway… well, that’s sort of short-selling him, isn’t it, really?
The Black Windmill (1974)—“Fake Military Policeman” (uncredited)
JRD: Good lord, yes. The very first film I was in. With John Vernon being really rather wonderful. I met John many years later, and it was only those many years later that I realized just how talented and how marvelous a man he was. I miss him terribly. I so enjoyed meeting him and working with him later on. A good fellow.
AVC: In addition to Vernon, the film was also filled with numerous British actors of note, including Michael Caine, Donald Pleasence, and Joss Ackland.
JRD: Dear old Joss. Joss is actually the most successful man I’ve ever met. I think he has something like 36 or 37 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And that is the real measure of a man’s success.
The Living Daylights (1987)—“General Leonid Pushkin”
JRD: [Affects Russian accent.] Ah, yes. Comrade Pushkin. A great character who should be back in the Bond films again: intelligent, refined, sort of sophisticated. Spying is a like a game of chess: Sometimes you have to withdraw, sometimes you have to sacrifice one of your pieces to win, preferably a knight rather than a king or queen. Not that I think Pushkin was a queen. [Laughs.] Though I thought Timothy [Dalton], while being devastatingly handsome, was a bit too thin, a bit too skinny for Bond. In that opening sequence, he really does have to stand twice in the same spot to cast a shadow. I think Bond is a slightly more solid figure, in a way. He’s a man who… I mean, I think Daniel Craig is doing a grand job, and of course Sean [Connery] did a grand job, but, you know, there’s a slight sort of street-thug about them as well, which is rather interesting and probably not what [Ian] Fleming originally intended. And I thought Pierce [Brosnan] did a very good job as well. I think he really sold it quite well. But I think Craig’s doing a great, great job.
Sliders (1995-1997)—“Professor Maximilian Arturo”
JRD: [Sighs.] Oh, don’t get me talking about this. I shall be sued for all the scandalous and slanderous things I say about it. It could’ve been the Fox network’s Star Trek franchise—you could go anywhere in space, anywhere in time—and we had… oh hell, I’ve got to be very careful how I say this: I felt that the writing was sometimes not up to the challenge. [Laughs.]
AVC: You’ve been practicing that precise phrasing, haven’t you?
JRD: No, no, I just thought I’d find the element of diplomacy in the whole thing. You know, you don’t really forget those moments of insanity where it’s like, “Well, John, with this week’s episode, we really have checked it out with the astronomer.” Hmmm. You have three pulsars entering the solar system. “Yes, well, the astronomer says they can come in clusters.” Cut to the astronomer or astrophysicist thinking of a cluster in terms of hundreds of light years. [Laughs.] You do realize, guys, what a pulsar is? “Yes, they spin a lot, and they give off radiation when they do it, and every 24 hours the earth is going to be bathed in this radiation.” Well, you do realize that they spin a little bit faster than that? I think the slowest ones might spin in about four seconds. The other ones spin even faster than that. Milliseconds. What you’ve got is something four times the density of the sun, condensed into something like 20 miles in diameter. Now, does this not suggest to you that it brings another problem? I mean, do you understand how gravity works? And what do you think will happen to the plants? Add to that that it’s not just the one. There are three! Wow. I think that death from 24-hour radiation is the least of our problems! [Laughs.] Oh, it was just insanity.
You know, it’s not hard to get people to take a premise and accept it. “What if a star went nova?” Or something like that. You’re allowed a McGuffin. But from there on, the logic and the science must be pretty good. We accept, for instance, that Bruce Willis picture, Armageddon, and the idea of drilling and splitting the thing because you’ve been warned how if you set off a firecracker in your hand and close it… [Makes an exploding sound.] But, of course, they recently determined that the fire of the atom bomb inside the darned thing was quite inadequate at the point of impact to have done anything. But, you know, that’s subsequent calculation. I love science, I love science fiction, and when you have a responsibility like a television series, where you can introduce young children to interesting things… of all the passions that we are most ashamed of, intellectual passion appears to be one of them. But the object of the good teacher—and of the smart actor, when he’s given the chance—is to show that intellectual passion is a glorious thing. And that’s really what I was trying to do with poor old Max Arturo.
JRD: Eric Bercovici, who’d written Shogun, said, “You’re in town? I want you to do me a favor. It’s a piece of shit that I wrote, but I want you in it.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Why? I gave you Rodrigues in Shogun and you’re asking me why?” I said, “No, no, no, I didn’t mean it quite like that…” “Good!” he said. I said, “Give me why I can play this thing.” He said, “For one line: ‘When the loading is finished, bring me his other eye.’” [Long, loud laughter.] I said, “I love it. I love it!” Eric is one of the great adapters and writers. The script of Shogun was so tight that you could not take a word out of a sentence, you could not take a sentence out of a scene, and you certainly couldn’t take out a scene without putting ripples right through the back or the front of the overall story. Just brilliant.
I, Claudius (1976)—“Macro”
JRD: Yes, well, I got to kill Sejanus, didn’t I? [Laughs.] Oh, it was an incredible experience. What an exceptional bunch of people they were. It was one of the few times I think my first-born son really started to worry about his father. Because when he saw me walk in with the head of a small boy… I think he saw it at school, or something like that, and it worried him for some time, he says.
Incidentally, Jack Pulman, the lovely writer of that, he’d been given a commission to write the thing, and he said, “Oh, good, yes, this will be lovely fun.” He read it, reread it, read it and reread it again, sat down at his typewriter, and… nothing. And nothing the next day. Or the next. And occasionally the BBC would phone up and say, “How are you coming along?” “Oh, yes, well, I’ve just managed to sort of do the outline of one or two…” “How is it coming on now, Jack?” “Yes, I’ve got the outline of the first five or six of them all done…” “So how’s it going, Jack?” “Well, I’ve started writing one, and… I’ve got them all sketched out now, and I’m actually into the writing.” And he hadn’t done a thing! [Laughs.] I mean, he was at the point of saying, “God, I’ve got to send the money back! I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t have the line into this.” And then a mate of his called him up and said, “Come have lunch.” So they were at lunch, and the question was asked, “So what are you doing?” “Well, I’ve been asked to adapt I, Claudius.” And his friend said, “Ah, what a wonderful thing. They’re a great Mafia family, aren’t they?” At which point, Jack looked at him and said, [breathlessly] “Thank you!” And he got up, went home, and immediately churned out every one of them. Sometimes a writer just needs a hook.
Star Trek: Voyager (1997)—“Leonardo da Vinci”
JRD: By the way, my son, the same one who was a bit concerned after I, Claudius… oh, he must’ve been well into his 30s when he called me up and said, “Well, Dad, I guess you’ve finally arrived.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I’ve just seen you in Star Trek: Voyager. If you’re in Star Trek, you’ve really cracked it, Dad.” [Laughs.]
The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) / The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002) / The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)—“Gimli”
JRD: I spent 30 years trying to be recognized. I really wanted to bury myself in a full prosthetic like that, didn’t I? [Laughs.] I said no. I basically said no to my then-agent, who now is one of my co-managers, and he said, “John, if you’re not prepared to do Gimli in The Lord Of The Rings, I don’t think we can continue to represent you.” Which was a bit of a squeeze. And then my son—he of the Star Trek plaudit—said, “You know, Dad, forgive me, but if you turn this down, I think you’re nuts.” I said, “Why is that, son?” He said, “Well, think about it: In every library and every bookshop throughout the world, you’ll find two feet of book space devoted to Tolkien. Think of what that means in terms of an audience base.” I thought, “Well, that does make sense…” But who would’ve thought that a chap [Peter Jackson] who’d made a couple of small films in New Zealand would have… I mean, how stupid do you have to be to imagine that you can turn The Lord Of The Rings into a film script? Not only did everyone else think it was unfilmable, but Tolkien himself had thought it was unfilmable. That’s why he originally sold it for about 110 quid, because he owed the England revenue some money. And besides that, it’s a cast of thousands. Anyone can direct a four-hander if you’ve got six weeks and a couple of cameras. Anyone can do that—and, unfortunately, they do do it. When you’re talking about 22 or 23 leading characters, a cast of thousands, all the special effects… come on, in New Zealand? [Laughs.] Give me a break.
I said, “This is going to be a total waste of time. However, I will go there because I have to go there, I will check it out, and then if I’m convinced, as I am pretty convinced that it’s just a no-hope thing, I will go to Peter Jackson, and I will say, “Peter, I am terribly sorry, I can’t leave my family that long.” And he would’ve had to replace me, because you can’t do something like that unless everyone is marching to the beat of the same drummer and headed in the right direction. So I went down and I spent two weeks, a morning and an afternoon in every different department, and to my horror, I discovered a level of expertise that I would only expect to find in perhaps only two or three of the great film capitals of the world. Slowly it dawned on me that this funny little New Zealander had actually created an entire film industry just to service The Lord Of The Rings. But I still held out hope that I could find an out. [Laughs.]
But when I went to watch him direct, I saw the ease and authority that he had with his crew and cast, and it was clear that this guy really knew what he was doing. And within a few days of my starting to shoot, I was one of the very first to stand up in front of a bunch of very skeptical New Zealand journalists and say, “Gentlemen, you have really no idea what is happening here. I shall make three prophecies: 1) These films are going to be amongst the biggest grossing pictures of all time. 2) These pictures are going to be bigger than…”—George [Lucas] was just doing the new set of Star Wars films—“These pictures are going to be bigger than Star Wars.” Oh, I mean, the laughter was risible. Peter Jackson buried his face in his hands. “And 3) When you look back in 20 years’ time, amongst the great and extraordinary pictures and favorites of that time will be The Lord Of The Rings.” Boy, did I get a caning in the press. [Laughs.] But, you know, when you’ve been around the big ones and the catastrophes, you get the smell of them. If you’re around Shogun or Raiders Of The Lost Ark or one or two others, you get the flavor in your nostrils for the extraordinary. And for The Lord of the Rings, I had it in buckets.
Grizzly II: The Concert (1987)—“Bouchard”
JRD: Was it called Grizzly II? I thought it was a rather good performance that I gave. Unfortunately, it was a bit grisly in the sense that the special effects were disastrous. And since the whole thing was based on a “devil bear” that was supposed to be 12 to 14 feet high, everything falls down from there. What other memories do I have? Oh, I have some classic memories of it, but I don’t think I can actually repeat them without being sued for something or other.
AVC: Laura Dern was similarly evasive. The best we could get out of her was, “I’m 16 years old, it’s six weeks in Budapest, Hungary, at the exact second Communism is ending, and it’s me, George Clooney, and Charlie Sheen. I’m not gonna say another damned thing.”
JRD: [Momentary silence.] You know, I think we’re talking about a different film. Because I don’t think ours was ever actually released.
AVC: It wasn’t. But there are clips on YouTube nonetheless.
JRD: Oh, really? Well, if it’s the same film… Can you remember Staying Alive?
AVC: I can.
JRD: Do you remember [who plays] the choreographer in that?
AVC: That would be Steve Inwood. And, yes, his very next film credit after Staying Alive was, in fact, Grizzly II: The Concert.
JRD: I want to know what happened to the first Grizzly. [Laughs.] Now, as far as Steve… well, to begin with, is he still alive?
AVC: He appears to be.
JRD: Oh, all right, very good. Has he done anything since?
AVC: Very little. A pair of small films and a few TV episodes, but his most recent credit is from 1997.
JRD: Poor fellow. He was very handsome, very strong, but he had one or two problems, and I guess coming off the near-superstardom of Staying Alive, it made him… perhaps overvalue his contribution a little bit. And the whole thing was a real eye-opener. Sometimes you learn more from films that aren’t terribly successful and, indeed, sometimes you learn more from real disasters than you do from the ones that succeed. But it was a howlingly funny production. Personally, I remember standing on a hill for 45 minutes in the cold, waiting to turn up the hill and run. And, of course, like an idiot, I did stand on my mark for 45 minutes and, when camera was called, I did turn and run up the hill, which when you’re standing facing downhill, your Achilles tendon is in its shortest position, and when you start to run up the hill, it is fully extended. And I heard both of mine go [makes a twanging sound]. Oh, I was in agony. But that was my fault. In those days, I thought I was unburstable and immortal, anyway. But now here we are, many wounds later… So, yeah, it was a shame, that film. It could’ve been quite a good little movie. I think it’s probably still on Arnie Kopelson’s shelf somewhere, but I guess its time came and went. Surely the music from the concert’s out of date by now. [Laughs.]
The Untouchables (1993-1994)—“Agent Michael Malone”
JRD: Ah, yes. Dear me, why do I have such trouble with American television series? Basically, my miff with that was that, you know, the guys really sort of started glorifying [Al] Capone, who was an utter little shit. An asshole. It was that terrible state that writers can get into. When the writers themselves are a bit out of control and their lives are collapsing around them, they seem to rejoice in misery and celebrate the wrong sort of things. In truth, the destruction of Capone was a very good thing for America, and Eliot Ness did become a mess, but he wasn’t always. And to denigrate justice and its officials always upsets me, frankly, possibly because my father was a policeman himself. Sorry, I tend to have a warmer spot for them than perhaps the rest of mankind. [Laughs.] But I’ve seen societies where the law has been completely corrupt, and it’s a nightmare. Just a nightmare. So I’m all for the thin blue line, myself. And Chicago? The great American city and the great American small town rolled into one.
AVC: William Forsythe, who played Capone, is returning to Chicago to film his new series, The Mob Doctor, and he worked out that his new character, who’s just been released from prison, completed a sentence that was the exact number of years that it’s been since Capone was put behind bars in The Untouchables.
JRD: All right! How is Bill? Is he behaving himself these days?
AVC: At the very least, he seems to be in good spirits.
JRD: Oh, good. Good, good. Because he was not a happy man when we did The Untouchables.
JRD: Wasn’t that fun? Yes! Great fun, wonderful cast, and a great director. So, yeah, I had a lot of fun on that. The only time I’ve ever played a werewolf. I particularly liked the touch that I insisted on, which was that as his hands were gripping the desk, you could see the blood developing around his nails as the nails began to grow. I thought that was a nice touch. Actors: We’re stupid men, aren’t we? [Laughs.]
The Lost World (1992) / Return to the Lost World (1992)—“Professor Challenger”
JRD: I think it’s a damned good performance. I think The Lost World could’ve been a successful movie except for the fact that it pre-dated the good special effects and computer graphics. So our dinosaurs were just really ridiculous and pretty under-par. But if somebody re-mastered the dinosaurs, I’m sure the film could stand by itself as a pretty good portrayal of [Arthur] Conan Doyle’s book. By the way, I thought I’d found something quite remarkable the other day. I found another Professor Challenger story in a little junk shop in Auckland, and I thought, “Oh, gosh, I bet no one else has seen this! I bet we could make a film out of this!” And as I read it… [Sighs.] I realized why we couldn’t. It was just so bad. It was really, really Conan Doyle on a very off day. I can’t even remember what it was called now, but, my God, it was hokey.
Never Say Never Mind: The Swedish Bikini Team (2003)—“Hakim”
JRD: [Explosive laughter.] Well, that was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? I loved those beautiful women. Yep. Russ Lyster, my then-agent, who was much loved and is dearly missed, got me into that one. “You gotta take this, Johnny. I wanna come along and see the girls.” Actors take jobs for all sorts of reasons, you know. I mean, as you recall, the Eric Bercovici one—“When the loading is finished, bring me his other eye” —that was purely because Bercovici just needed me to play this damned part and I owed him. We often do that. We often do things for friends. We return favors and give favors. And what the heck, let’s not take our lives too seriously. That’s what friendship is for. That’s what life is for. I don’t recall that I ever actually saw the film. But, oh, how I felt it… [Laughs.]
The Great White Hype (1996)—“Johnny Windsor”
JRD: Yes! And I’ve just seen Mr. [Peter] Berg’s Battleship. The same man. What a nice chap. We got on very well. I played the belligerent, racist London Cockney boxing coach. [Affects Cockney accent] Yeah, y’know, think one of those East End actors without much character, that sort of thing, right?
Aladdin And The King Of Thieves (1995)—“Cassim”
Cats Don’t Dance (1997)—“Woolie Mammoth”
Spongebob Squarepants (2001-2002)—“Man Ray”
AVC: You’ve done a fair amount of voice acting in your career.
JRD: Have I? I suppose I have. The problem with animation is that you don’t get to see or hear the end results very often. I’ve never caught either of Man Ray’s episodes on Spongebob [Squarepants], for instance. Then again, I can’t say that I’ve actually made it my life’s purpose to seek them out, either. But, of course, now that I have a 6-year-old daughter, I ought to do something like that, I suppose. I liked playing Woolie, the mammoth in Cats Don’t Dance, and… lord, I must’ve done something else. Oh, yes, indeed: Didn’t I play Aladdin’s father in The King Of Thieves? That’s right, yes.
AVC: You also played Tympannini on an episode of Animaniacs.
JRD: Did I? If you say so. [Laughs.] I’m sure I did, but I have no clear recollection of that one. You know, you go into a studio, you’re tired, you’re jetlagged because you’ve just flown in, you do what’s required of you, you go home, and you go do the next job the next day. So, Tympannini, yes, that rings a bell, but I’m not conjuring anything up at the moment. I’m not visualizing it. But doubtless it was wonderful.
Fantastic Four (1995) / The Incredible Hulk (1996)—“Thor”
AVC: You’ve also had a presence within various superhero series. For instance, you played Thor on both Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk.
JRD: Yes, I did. And I also played Macbeth in Gargoyles, which has developed quite a cult following over the years. I don’t know if you know, but historically speaking, the researchers on that show did more service to the real Macbeth than Shakespeare did. It’s a far more accurate portrayal of Macbeth than Shakespeare’s. It’s not often that you can say something like that.
AVC: In the wake of playing Sallah, you turned up in several films that could be said to possess more than a little Lost Ark in their DNA.
JRD: Well, yes, I suppose they do. I mean, Sahara with Brooke Shields was… well, it was a lot of fun. [Laughs.] It’s not often a cat gets to lead a cavalry charge, really. That was one of the joys of that one. Although I must confess that I got it absolutely right. Our director was a splendid fellow, and he said, “John, I really need you in this cavalry charge because you’re one of my few actors who seems to be able to stay on a horse.” I said, “Yes, that’s fine, but listen: With 80 Spanish stuntmen and 400 Arab extras behind me, I really want to be well ahead of them so that I have a chance, at least, of getting up if I fall off.” He said, “No problem, it’ll be long shots coming across the plains, so give yourself 100 yards ahead of them, and it’ll be bunched up by the time we shoot it with a long lens.” So I duly did that, and then we got all of those wonderful shots in, and he said, “Now, I really want to get to get it from the side, so I really don’t want you more than 20, 25 yards in front of them.” I said, “Boss, if you’ve got me from the front, you’ve seen my face. Can you possibly use the stuntman for this?” And he said, “No problem, John, no problem.” Now, my Spanish stuntman has been born in the saddle, and he’s a better rider than I will ever be. A better anything. But they charge off, a stray horse cuts across him somehow, and his horse throws him and he goes down… and 400 extras ride over top of him. I’m seeing it happen, and I’ve gone out of my seat in horror, and part of my brain is saying, “Oh, my God!” But I must admit that the other part of my brain was going, “Called that right, didn’t I?” [Laughs.] I went and visited him in the hospital, and, you know, he had bones sticking out of his legs and arms, cracked ribs, fractures, but doing the bravura stuntman thing that they do. Poor fellow. I hope he was all right afterwards. Dear me…
Brooke was wonderful, by the way, although I’m hard pressed to remember who else was in it at the moment. Oh, John Mills was in it! Johnny Mills. One of the later things he did in his life. It was very sweet. We weren’t that far from Eilat, so we got him some oysters with pearls in. So we gave him the pearls for his birthday, and he ate the oysters as well. [Laughs.] What a lovely man and a great actor. A lot of vast experience.
Firewalker (1986)—“Corky Taylor”
JRD: I liked Chuck Norris immensely. I thought he was really, really good. And it was being directed by a dear director friend of mine, J. Lee Thompson, who was a wonderful, wonderful director. One of those old-school directors who’s forgotten more about directing than people who’ve come out of film school will ever learn. J. Lee Thompson had had three productions in the West End of London before he was 20. Because, you know, he’d been a writer as well. He also directed The Guns Of Navarone. A terrific, terrific director.
Shogun (1980)—“Vasco Rodrigues”
King Solomon’s Mines (1985)—“Dogati”
JRD: I actually met Lee Thompson on King Solomon’s Mines. That’s where we got to meet. I loved Lee. But I also enjoyed the opportunity to work with Chamberlain again, because we’d done Shogun together. So working on King Solomon’s Mines with Richard… I love Richard. He is such a complete professional. I’ve met and worked with wonderfully professional actors, but I think just in terms of watching and copying a professional, Richard probably taught me as much as anyone else. Wonderful discipline, wonderful courage, wonderful focus. I mean, the first day we went to sea when we did Shogun, it was about 170 degrees. The humidity was vast, the ship was rolling, and the sun was absolutely merciless. Everyone was sick. And Richard would sit down between shots, take out his fan, fan himself, and just talk cheerfully. And if somebody vomited in his eye line, he would just move his head slightly and just keep talking as if it was the most normal thing in the world. The director had taken three Dramamines and was lying on the deck directing. The cameraman, Chuy Elizondo, a tough man and a good guy, was vomiting between takes. And Richard just… if Richard had actually said, “Oh, come on, guys…” I mean, morale at that point was so low. We’d overstayed, we’d gone three weeks, maybe even five weeks, too long in Tokyo, which had cost a bucket of money. And if Richard had actually said at that moment, “This is above and beyond the call of duty, this is ridiculous, everyone’s vomiting here,” I do believe there was just a chance that the production could’ve actually collapsed at that point. But because he absolutely refused to pay any attention to anything unpleasant going along at all, he just treated it as if it was a normal day, all of us had to get through it. And the next day it was a little bit easier, and the next day easier still, and so on. But for a demonstration of what it is to be a leading man, of taking that burden and that responsibility to hold a company together, it was magnificent. Just magnificent.
So it was a great joy to meet Richard again in Africa, of course, and with marvelous Herbert Lom as well. Lomsky and I got on terribly well. Lom was a great sort of actor. Extraordinary, really. He was Inspector Clouseau’s senior officer, who develops a tic in his eye as a result of working with Clouseau. Lom was a wonderfully sophisticated man, though. I think he was Czechoslovakian. I think he trained in architecture, too, before the war, but he fled just prior to World War II and established himself in England. But he was so good. Witty, urbane, a wonderful fellow. And then there was Sharon [Stone]. Sharon Stone in Africa. That was an interesting thing to behold. [Cackles.] I must say, I have a great fondness for Sharon. I think she’s a damned good actress. Perhaps not so much in Solomon’s Mines, but certainly in one or two things that I’ve seen her do subsequently. Very impressive, indeed. What a nice bunch of people I’ve worked with over the years.
Budgie (1971-1972)—“Laughing Spam Fritter”
JRD: [Affects Cockney accent] Yeah, well, he was Charlie Endell’s hench-mench, really. I mean, Budgie Bird, played by Adam Faith, he was a stroppy little twat, wasn’t he? Sometimes you’ve got to keep these guys in line, you know? Like, sometimes you’ve got to raise things so that all their trousers will need shortening to the knees. Know what I mean? Nothing personal… [Laughs.] Hmmm. I think he may have been related to the fellow in The Great White Hype.
In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)—“Merick”
JRD: I like Uwe [Boll]. Uwe was… [Long pause.] He was a very mercurial fellow in those days. I saw him the other day at the film festival in Santa Monica, and he seemed very subdued. His hip was hurting him, giving him some real problems, and the tide of his type of films has turned. The German economy had slightly turned, and they changed the tax or something like that. So he was slightly on the defensive the other day when I saw him, and one saw his vulnerable side, which always touches your heart, really. But I wish him well, and I think he’ll bounce back. His idea of direction was that of an organizer rather than a sensitive conductor of an orchestra, but there’s great virtue in producing. A man who can raise money and make films is really worth his weight in gold. I’ve never been able to get money for a project, and I’ve certainly seen friends of mine with magnificent projects that are just stymied by real rotten guys who just get in the way of things because all they want to do is take a good project, give you money, and have you go away so that they can take the credit and do things their way. One hates those people… and hopes that the afflictions of Egypt will fall upon them.
Victor Victoria (1982)—“Andre Cassell”
JRD: Oh, yes, well, not a bad little cast, is it, when you look at it? [Laughs.] Not a bad little director, either: Blake Edwards at just about the height of his powers. Just magical. It was, actually, the first time I really believed that I could hold my own in that august sort of company. You know, Shogun, it was good, but it was television. I, Claudius, The Naked Civil Servant, all that sort of thing, it was good and they were wonderful actors. Great stage actors, good television actors, but no one with a really great film cachet. So I suppose Victor Victoria really was the first time when, you know, you found yourself having to cope with extraordinary filmic talents, above all Julie [Andrews] and Jim [Garner].
Julie, I love her to death. She’s just terrific. And underrated, because she can do… well, she used to do so much. I mean, she was a great dancer, a good actress, a good stand-up comedienne, a good singer… You know, we’re sort of a bit suspicious of all-arounders, aren’t we? We rather adore our specialists. If you can do too much, it rather raises the question of whether you can do one thing brilliantly, and it really begs the question as to whether you’re serious enough to focus. Oh, God, what awful people we are. [Laughs.] But Julie is just a great all-around show-woman, performer, and artist.
And Jim Garner is just about the easiest man in the world to be around. I loved working with him. I learned so much from him. And the rest of the company weren’t too shabby, either! The chap who played the inspector [Peter Arne], who comes in at the end to inspect and see whether he’s a she or whether she is a she or… oh, I’m almost completely lost now. But he was an interesting man. He’d been in the Royal Air Force, I think, as a fighter pilot in World War II, and about 18 months after we had finished the film and it had come out, he was murdered by his lover. Which was really rather sad, because he was a good actor and an awfully nice fellow. That was a period when it seemed as though there were a lot of gay men being murdered by their lovers. [Sighs.] “For each man kills the man he loves… the coward does it with a kiss…”
Cyborg Cop (1993)—“Kessel”
JRD: Um… yes, I think we shot that in… [Hesitates.] Didn’t we shoot that in Sri Lanka or someplace like that? I think I played that in a Yorkshire accent. I rather fancied doing it. I saw him rather as sort of a David Hockney type. If that is, indeed, the one I’m thinking of.
AVC: Well, Cyborg Cop was actually shot in South Africa.
JRD: Ah, okay, wrong one. Wrong film! Yeah, I did something else in Sri Lanka, then. Which means that I can’t say as Cyborg Cop rings too many bells. You do realize, of course, that about 40 percent of these I’ve never actually seen. [Laughs.] But let’s simply attribute that to the fact that they’ve been released while I was working on the next job, shall we?
AVC: To bring things more or less full-circle, you recently played a museum curator in an episode of Psych entitled “Indiana Shawn And The Temple Of The Kinda Crappy, Rusty Old Dagger.”
JRD: [Laughs.] A nod toward Dr. Jones, to be certain. What fun. And what nice boys. That reminds me: They said they might have me back. I must get my agent on the line.