Random Anecdotes from Early Interviews (Part 3 of Several)
Stories from Bryan Cranston, Ian McKellen, Ed O' Neill, Anthony Michael Hall, Bill Kinison, Chris Lemmon, and Bill Paxton
During my five years as assistant writer/editor for Bullz-Eye.com, I talked to a veritable plethora of fascinating folks, and my experiences there were invaluable, but I think it’d be fair to say that the majority of the traffic that frequented Bullz-Eye was not coming specifically to read my stuff. As such, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you probably haven’t read the majority of the anecdotes I’m going to offer up from that era.
If you’re of a mind to check out any of these interviews in their entirety, you can do so by clicking on each person’s name. If you do so, though, just please be forgiving: I was still learning my craft. (Just ask my editors. I was an ellipses abuser of the highest order, and it will haunt me for the rest of my days.)
I’m just curious if you remember anything about your first TV appearance, on CHiPs.
BC: Yeah, I remember…that I had this ridiculously bad Southern accent. [Affects overwrought accent.] I was talkin’ like this, almost like Gomer Pyle! [Laughs.] And, y’know, they don’t really care. It’s not very discerning. It wasn’t a good show, like a lot of those shows back then weren’t good. Murder, She Wrote and things like that. I did ‘em all because you’re an actor and you need to pay your rent, and for your pictures and resumes and your acting classes and things like that. You work because you need to work, and I didn’t really have much judgment on it back then, because you get offered a job and you take it.
But I worked with a Playboy Bunny on that. Her name was Kathy Shower. Pretty girl. She and Erik Estrada, they found each other very interesting. They were very fond of each other, shall we say. During, uh, lunch and stuff. [Laughs.] And I was, like, “Okay, whatever.” You know, it was…the wild and wooly ‘80s. It was a wild time. It was that “me” generation, and there was a lot of stuff going on that…I remember one time doing an audition, and the callback was on a Saturday, at a major studio. And I walked into there, and there were only, like, three guys, and we were spaced out like an hour and a half apart, so we never even saw the other two guys who were up for this role. And nobody else was there on this weekend, and I remember walking into this room, and there was cocaine lined up on the glass table. And the director’s, like, all hopped up, and goes… [Snorts.] “Hey, man, oh, hey, glad to have you back. Hey, want a hit?” And I go, “Uh, no, I’m okay, that’s all right.”
It was definitely crazy. Crazy times. And out of crazy times, some bad shows were created. [Laughs.] I don’t know, it was an interesting, odd experience when I look back on it. I don’t think I had much of a thought about it when I was doing it, but now I look back and I go, “Wow, weird stuff.”
You’ve come so far.
Thank God! [Laughs.] I don’t think I’d want to go back. Some people say, “Oh, I’d love to go back and do this over again and do that right.” I wouldn’t. I like where I am right now. I wouldn’t change anything.
When you did Richard III, whose idea was it to do the reinterpretation to be in a fascist state: yours or Richard Loncraine’s?
IM: Well, I think that we could both claim that it was our idea, because we made the decision together, in the company of Bob Crowley, who was the designer. The three of us met on a number of occasions in Richard Eyre’s office at the National Theater, where I was then -- where we were both working. We would just talk through the play and read it out loud, and without almost anybody making the argument, it was agreed that we would set it in a period as close to our own time. Dublin House, I think. It’s not as bad as Julius Caesar or Coriolanus, where everyone is indistinguishable because everyone is wearing sheets; you can’t work out who anybody is. But, then, can you set a play about an English king in the late 20th century? Because there isn’t a king, and isn’t it confusing to suggest that there is?
But if you set it just a couple of generations, back at a time when it is not incredible that an English king might have been running a fascistic state, as it was happening in Spain and Germany and Greece and other places at the time. And if you can put people in a modernish dress whereby you can easily distinguish what somebody does for a living; whether they are in the military or they’re aristocracy or they are civil servant or what are they, you would be able to tell by what they are wearing. You can’t always tell if you put people in Elizabethan dress. So that’s my defense for putting these plays -- setting them out of their own time. And Richard Eyre and Bob Crowley would have no problem in imagining a Shakespeare play brought up to date. But who actually first said it? I don’t know.
I can accept that. Do you find that there is a dividing line between those who can accept the modernization or the adaptation of Shakespeare versus the absolute purists?
Well, what does that mean? [With mock concern.] Who are these purists?
The ones who feel the plays should be done in their original manner, as in Shakespeare’s own time.
Yeah, but you will say to them that, presumably, there won’t be any women in your production, because Shakespeare purists would want an all male cast. And they would be doing it in the open air, of course, and there will be no scenery, no lighting. Only afternoon performances. I mean, where do you draw the line? You certainly don’t draw it under the setting, the period. And, actually, a purist would know that Shakespeare’s own productions were not historically accurate; they were done in modern dress; well, what for him was modern dress. And that’s part of the experience of seeing Shakespeare: that you may be watching a story set in olden times, but the characters are bang up to date and that remains true 400 years on.
So I’ve never met a so-called purist in the professional theater, where the sort of conversation we’re having about it and the points that are being made have long since been accepted in the professional theater. And I don’t know that I can remember a time when I did a play in the so-called authentic period. Macbeth has been sort of updated; in Hamlet, I wore jeans; Iago was sort of set in late 19th century; Richard III we talked about; Coriolanus was a mishmash of costumes; Romeo -- Romeo we may have done sort of Renaissance.
In Richard III, whose idea was it to incorporate the Al Jolson song (“I’m Sitting on Top of the World”) into the ending? I grew up listening to Jolson, my father is a big fan, so I was rather tickled by that.
That was the director’s. It was Richard Loncraine. And I resisted it, and I had to say because, basically, I had done the script and it bothered me that it wasn’t by Shakespeare. Everything else, including the song that opens the film, “Come Live With Me and Be My Love,” has been attributed to Shakespeare. Probably he didn’t write it, but he certainly didn’t write “I'm Sitting on Top of the World!” Warren Beatty was around because his wife was in the film, and I was saying to him, “And Richard wants to end it all with an Al Jolson song,” and he said, “Well, what do you think about that?” I said, “No, it doesn’t seem right to me.” He said, “So you keep making the point that Shakespeare can belong in the cinema, and that soliloquy spoken to an audience in the theater can work particularly well on the screen. You’re determined to discover everything that’s filmatic and cinematic about the play and express it on the screen -- and you don’t want the support of the man who was the first person to ever speak in a movie?” Well, that comforted me totally. [Grins.] And there we are.
The Simpsons obsessives on our staff wanted me to say “Macbeth” in front of you to see if anything fell.
[Looks up abruptly, then laughs.] No, we’re all right.
Macbeth has always been a lucky play for me. I was in a wonderful production of it and I’m one of the few actors who doesn’t mind saying “Macbeth.” So far, it hasn’t been…
At this point, McKellen suddenly grasped his side and gasped, giving the PBS publicist quite a start. When he realized that she didn’t realize that he was doing a bit, he laughed and quickly waved her off, saying, “No, no, I’m only joking!” To this day, it remains the single funniest moment I’ve ever experienced in an interview.
Were you surprised when you heard about ABC deciding to do the four-comedy line-up [with Modern Family] on Wednesday nights?
EO: I was, because…you wouldn’t know this, but about four or five years ago, I did Dragnet for ABC, the Dick Wolf show, and I got kind of called in on that at the last minute. They had an actor quit or whatever. What was his name? Oh, God. Who’s the great director, did Treasure of Sierra Madre? John Huston. It was his son, Danny Huston, playing Joe Friday, and for whatever reason, he quit, and they had the show up and running without a Joe Friday, so they went to me at the last minute. And I didn’t want to do it because…I thought I was going to do Deadwood for HBO. And that kind of got pulled out from under me.
What part were you going to play?
And it was written for me by David Milch, who I had worked with on Big Apple prior to that. Because, y’know, Swearengen historically is from Chicago. But that’s another story…and, by the way, Ian McShane was fabulous and is a friend of mine. But I was sort of up in the air, and I thought, “What am I going to do? I don’t want to do this show. It’s too much work. I know it. I see it. It’s a procedural hour-long, you follow these guys around…” Anyway, I did it. Waylon Green was the show runner, and he’s good, and Dick gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. [Laughs.] And that damned near killed me. I mean, that was 14 hours a day, 5 days a week, show after show, for a season and a half. I mean, life is too short to work like that. We worked like a fucking…I mean, it was like building pyramids!
Did the John from Cincinnati gig come about as his way of saying, “Sorry we couldn’t make the Swearengen thing work out”?
Well, I did Big Apple with Dave. We did eight one-hour episodes, and I guess I was the lead. [Shrugs.] I mean, I was number one on the call sheet. And then Deadwood didn’t happen, but with John from Cincinnati, I think he just had me in mind for this particular part that I played. And that was a joy. That was a sheer joy. I mean, I loved everybody in that show. I’m crazy about Dave Milch. I mean, Dave Milch, he’s an unusual man, but he is a spectacular guy to work with, do you know what I mean? He’s so talented, and as an actor, if you don’t mind winging it…and some do…you’re in good shape with him, because every scene that you get on paper, he’s going to make better on the day, right there.
I have to ask: did you understand where he was going with the series?
You know, I kind of did, because I would hear him waxing on it. John wasn’t God, and he wasn’t from another planet, but what I think he had in mind was that he was from another system. Like, another dimension. He had come from a different dimension, but he didn’t know if it was an accident that he’d gotten there, but he couldn’t get back, and he was trying to figure out how to get back. And the powers that he exhibited were…they were more or less afterthoughts. Like, not even mistakes, but he would think something and it would happen, and then, you know, Milch said, “Because that would happen if a civilization was a million years beyond this one.” So that’s where he was kind of going.
As opposed to Big Apple, which was a pretty grounded show.
Well, yeah, because that was for CBS. That was a wonderful experience. We shot the eight one-hours, they aired five, and we finished the last one after we were canceled, so we were able to wrap the show up. So it’s actually a mini-series. An eight-hour miniseries.
BE: Did you ever hear anything back from Mutt Lange after you played him in Hysteria?
AMH: No, but I need Shania’s phone number now that he’s not involved with her. [Laughs.] Actually, he’s sort of reclusive, I’ve heard. All I had when I got to…I actually shot that in Montreal, too. This is going back however long ago it was, five or six years ago. I had just finished this movie, All About the Benjamins, with Ice Cube, I took part in that, and I went to Montreal. It was so funny, because the wardrobe and makeup people, all they had to go on was this one single photo. It looked like that old cover of Frampton Comes Alive! Like, he came from the ‘80s with long curly locks. A lost member of a metal band. So there was literally, like, nothing to draw from, Will. We also found out that he went out of his way to literally have himself edited out of videos where he appeared, in Def Leppard videos or whatever. So he’s a very interesting guy in terms of not wanting his image out there, but I didn’t have anything to draw from, I just knew that his wife was hot.
BE: Well, that’s good inspiration, anyway.
AMH: Yeah, exactly.
Another music related note: you played Doc in Six Pack.
[Laughs.] Oh, my God.
So what’s Kenny Rogers really like?
You know what? He’s a gentleman. I can say that he was like a dad to all of us. He had this huge ranch down there, and we made this film, and he threw the wrap party there. In that era, if you recall…I don’t know how old you are, Will, but in that era, he was Garth Brooks.
I’m getting ready to hit 38.
Yeah, okay, we’re around the same age, so you know the deal. When we were little kids, he was Garth, man, he was like a superstar. He really is a great guy. It’s interesting, because he goes as far back almost as far as Willie Nelson, so Kenny has had a long, great career. Real lovely man. I remember as a kid, the impression he made on all of us was really wonderful. He was very paternal and very nice, you know? And, as I say, he threw the wrap party there. That was also with Diane Lane. Diane Lane was in the film, and I remember flipping out because, as a kid, I had seen A Little Romance, and she was so beautiful; very nice lady. So yeah, it was like the first feature I did, 1980. Man, 28 years ago. Damn, I’m old.
Bill Kinison on his brother - you guessed it: Sam Kinison - being excised from Three Amigos and Billy Idol being a bad boy during the “Wild Thing” video
I know his scenes were deleted, but I read that Sam originally had some scenes in Three Amigos.
BK: Yeah, we shot it in Arizona, and he had actually had several scenes. He played a mountain man that just wouldn’t die. They shoot him and he wouldn’t die; they stab him and he won’t die; they drown him in a river, from which Sam caught pneumonia, and he won’t die. But Chevy Chase, after seeing the dailies and everything, said he wouldn’t finish the movie if Lorne Michaels left Sam in, because he felt like Sam stole the movie. So they still had to pay Sam but he was never in any scenes that was released. I told Lorne, “What, Chevy Chase runs your business now and everything?” And he goes, “Bill, we’re into this movie. What am I going to do?” But, yeah, I guess no one will ever see that footage, but it was hilarious at the time.
Were you on the set when they did the filming of the “Wild Thing” video?
[Laughs.] Oh, yeah.
That seems like that would have been a party.
Oh, I had my hands full. Had my hands full. The worst one out of control was Billy Idol.
Yeah, and Sam was going to beat his ass. He was spitting on Jessica Hahn when they were, like, on this ramp around this mat where Jessica and Sam would roll around; and this idiot keeps spitting on her. So Sam had told him to quit. And then Slash was drunk off his feet. At the end of that video, if you remember, Slash always tried to break the guitar, but he’s so drunk that I went and got a prop guitar so that he didn’t trash a good guitar…but he didn’t know it. So if you notice at the end of that thing, he’s beating the floor with this guitar that won’t break, and he eventually falls into this box and none of that was planned; it just…that was Slash being out of control and literally falling in the box. But it was so good we left it in. And the other thing is, we only got to interview about 140 strippers for the girls in it.
There are worse jobs.
Oh, yeah. [Laughs.] Oh, yeah.
Chris Lemmon on his famous father - yes, that’s right: Jack Lemmon- and his favorite stories that didn’t make it into his book, A Twist of Lemmon
So were there any stories where, after you went to press, you remembered them and went, “Oh, man, I can’t believe I forgot about that one?”
CL: Yeah, there are a bunch of them! And I joke with friends and say, “How the hell would I ever write the sequel?” I mean, the boat has kind of left the dock, hasn’t it? But I’ve got a ton of stories, and a bunch of them that just wouldn’t fit. But what am I going to do, have Pop come down from Heaven and say, “Hey, schmuck, you forgot this one”?
There’s one that’s one of my favorite stories, called “Fore!” It’s actually about me, and it was a round of golf I played in Peter Jacobson’s tournament, the Fred Meyer Challenge. Actually, it was in its first year. The celebrities were thin that year, so Pop played with somebody else and I played with Paul Azinger, who you know is a Connecticut boy like me. And just to give you a synopsis, in the course of 18 holes, I managed to hit three different spectators. And Paul, his ability… He ended up shooting nine under par in 18 holes, yet still comforted me as I was going through the travails of basically assaulting the spectators on pretty much every hole. And that was one I really wanted to sneak into the Pebble Beach part, too, but Chuck put his foot down and said, “No.” So maybe one of these days I’ll write it up for a golf magazine.
There was a wonderful one that I really always wanted to put in the end, and obviously the end of the book… Well, the whole structure of the book was very musical, but especially the ending, with the whole “I love you, Pop” and the flashbacks and everything. But there was one that just…it was one of the few tussles that my editor Chuck and my agent Mitchell Waters, who was such a creative part of it all, had.
It was a wonderful memory I had of being in Cuba together, and Pop and I were at Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s house, which is kind of a “wow” right there, but let alone the fact that [Fidel] Castro ended up showing up and talking for… He showed up at 11 p.m. and talked until 3 or 4 in the morning solely about buffalo mozzarella cheese. He did a five-hour diatribe about buffalo mozzarella fucking cheese, pardon my language. And Pop finally grabbed me by the arm, pulls me out on the balcony, turns to me, and said, “Is that the most boring thing that has ever happened to you in your entire life, or is it just me?” [Laughs]
And I just thought it was such a wonderful memory, and it happened to write itself out of me very nicely, and the words just fit really nicely so it was a real knee slapper. And, obviously, as Pop was so good at doing in his films and what I really tried my hardest to do, was to have you laugh hysterically and then suddenly be in tears. Or the other way around. It was a device I wanted to put in there as an homage to Pop. And I think I succeeded in a number of areas, and that was one of them. But Chuck said, “You can’t put it in there, because all of these other things were things we talked about during the course of the book, and that’s kind of a flat out-of-the-blue.” And I said, “Aw, Chuck, so what?”
Sissy Spacek coming into [Big Love]… That’s got to be a real thrill.
It was a total thrill, for me particularly and personally, because I started out in this business back in the 70’s, working for her husband Jack Fisk, when they had just gotten married. Jack was a promising young art director and I was kind of a protégé of his, as his set dresser, to the point where…my God, I ended up living in their house when they went away, up in Topanga. They finally got enough money together for a honeymoon about 18 months after they had gotten married. They met on Badlands. Jack had done the art direction on that. I met them about a year after they finished that. So for me, that was quite a circle to come around. That we’re actually acting in a show together kind of blew my mind. And we had a lot of fun.
It was great because we had kind of lost track of each other. Sissy and Jack moved up to Virginia years ago. By the end of the 70’s, they were pretty well ensconced in Virginia and I really just didn’t see them much over the years. I did have the occasion to reference Sissy, though, when I got to host Saturday Night Live at the beginning of 1999. In my monologue…after I had worked for Jack for about two and a half years, I was 21 years old, I wanted to go to college. I went to NYU. And that was about the time that Sissy was really blowing up.
That fall, I got to school in New York and Carrie came out. And she was hosting Saturday Night Live which was in its very first season. I was invited and I took my sister who was going to school in Washington at the time. She came up on the train and we both attended, we were in the audience. It was kind of an amazing night. We got to go to the after party. They always have an after party. It was up on Columbus. It was the first time I saw people waiting across the street, you know, my first hand of paparazzi. I was so fascinated and kind of freaked out by the idea of people waiting on a cold night, across the street, just until Sissy and the rest of the cast came out of the restaurant.
And so I used that in my monologue. I talked about being in this audience 20 years ago, or however long it was, I was watching a friend of mine become a huge star. So backstage, when I’m doing that, Will Ferrell and all of them are going, “Oh, God, is he talking about Sissy Spacek?” So they do a whole Carrie number on me and they dump a bucket of blood on me in the monologue and all of that. So it was kind of funny because I hadn’t talked to Sissy or Jack in years, but I had to call Sissy to say, “Oh, God, I hope you’ll tune in on Saturday night. I’ve got kind of a surprise for you.”
And what did she think?
She loved it. Oh, she loved it. She’s a sweetheart. God, she’s just the same. You know, it’s so funny: time changes everything, but it doesn’t change people’s feelings for each other and how people relate to each other. I was nervous to be working with Sissy as an actor. We were at the Emmys this year, there was a big HBO party, and I couldn’t go because my call time was about 5:30 AM and I was starting the next morning. I was starting my work with Sissy and I was very nervous. And very quickly after we started shooting the scene, I realized how much fun it was going to be. And I realized, God, it was like no time had passed. We were talking about a lot of old times.
And then a couple of nights later, I went to see their daughter Schuyler, who is a folk singer, perform at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. And I hadn’t seen Jack in a long time, and Jack was there. And I sat with him and we caught up. Here I am, sitting at a table watching their daughter…and I’m looking up at the daughter, and she’s the age Sissy was when I really knew her and Jack. So it was kind of wild how time changes but doesn’t change. A new generation comes along and I could see that Schuyler’s kind of a chip off the old block there. Very talented young gal. She’s just finished a part in Gus Van Sant’s new movie. She goes by Schuyler Fisk. You know, that’s her family name.
Oh, and I do just have to tell you in closing that my daughter is four years old, and she won’t stop singing “Fish Heads.” So, uh, thank you, I guess…?
Oh, she’s going to be a handful. [Laughs.]
She already is.
God, that’s so funny: we were just talking about “Fish Heads.” It came up in something we were…I think SNL is putting together a show of their greatest short films, and it was included in that. It’s funny, because…how old are you?
Oh, okay, so it was a little before your time, but Billy Mumy was the guy who wrote that song with his partner, Robert Haimer, and Bill Mumy, when I was a kid growing up, was on a huge hit series called Lost in Space, with June Lockhart.
And he also had appeared in a couple of Twilight Zone episodes, which made him uber cool. I got to meet him through Sissy, and…okay, I’ll give you this last anecdote. [Laughs.] Sissy’s best friend when she moved to Hollywood with Jack was a gal named Janit Baldwin. Janit was an actress, and she and Sissy had co-starred in a movie with Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman called Prime Cut. You’ve got to dig that one out. It was about the meat packing business in the Midwest and white slavery. I mean, who would have figured?
And so I got out here, I got to know Jack and Sissy, and they introduced me to Janit…and that’s how I met Billy. And him and his partner were writing these novelty songs, Dr. Demento had given them huge airplay, and they talked about making a video for that. This was back around ’79 or ’80. And I said, “God, would you give me a chance to make it?” Because I had been making short films. And so he let me do that, and that summer, I kind of put that whole thing together.
Ultimately, I took it to New York, and I literally had to wait in the waiting room at Rockefeller Center for two days before anybody would even see me. And then finally they came out to take the ¾ inch tape, one of those big honking fucking things, and I started to get up with them to walk in the back, and they said, “Uh, no, you stay here.” [Laughs.] I was like Rupert Pupkin! And then, God, they must have put it in the machine right away, and obviously they played it, because they came out five minutes later and said, “Come on back, we want to put it on next week’s show.” And I’m suddenly in like Flynn.
The next week, I was back in L.A., and I got together with a bunch of friends and all of this, and we were going to watch it live. We had a hotel room…well, somebody had a hotel room at the old Hyatt Riot House…up on Sunset, and we watched it, and that night when I went to bed, I thought, “Oh, my God, that thing…” I mean, I had plugged into the main cable for five minutes. That thing was shot out to Canada and Hawaii and across the United States and Alaska. And I thought, “My God, maybe next year I can make another one of those!” It’s funny how you build your career. But it’s all been kind of a journey of innocence in some ways for me. Innocence and naïveté!