The Greatest Stories Never Told
George Lucas’ producer Rick McCallum on fending off an amorous Oliver Reed
Oliver Reed was one of the greatest people you could ever meet — a larger-than-life, beer-swilling, polar bear of a man. I know not everyone who met him loved the guy, but when we worked together on Nicolas Roeg’s Castaway I became a huge fan of Oliver’s.
I still remember the day he came down to the set to help the crew pack up their equipment. It was the only day off Oliver had over the course of the entire production and he chose to spend it helping out the grips. As for Oliver’s wild side, I can’t say I ever saw that, but there was one night that I’ll never forget. Nic Roeg had just become a father again and he and his wife, Theresa Russell, had brought this absolutely stunning nanny to the desert island where we were filming. Oliver was infamous as a ladies’ man and he became rather smitten with this particular member of the Roeg entourage — it’s no exaggeration to say he followed her about like a puppy.
Because we were shooting on remote islands — Cousin and La Digue in the Seychelles — we were all sleeping in tents. So there I was one night, dozing off after a hard day’s filming and I suddenly feel someone’s hand caressing my legs. Then I hear an inebriated Oliver Reed cooing, “Oh, Melissa, you have such smooth skin.” “Oliver!” I screamed at the top of my voice — I was very awake now — “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry Richard,” came the reply. “I see that I’m in the wrong tent.” And with that he bade me goodnight, unzipped the tent, said “Good evening” for a second time and toddled off to create more havoc elsewhere.
The next morning, I remember being rather concerned that he might have tracked down the Roeg’s nanny — given Oliver’s heroic alcohol intake, I imagine he could take some fending off. I was even more worried when I ran into Oliver at breakfast and he was sporting an incredibly smug smile. And then I saw Melissa the nanny.
“Hi, Melissa,” I said, unable to disguise my concerns. “Oliver didn’t pay you a visit last night by any chance?” I was relieved to hear this wasn’t the case, but also intrigued as to why Oliver was looking so pleased with himself. One of the grips had the answer. It turned out that, in his drunken state, Oliver had enjoyed a night in the “arms” of the production dog. It was a nice dog, mind.
Jason Isaacs meets the Liverpool underworld
“Most people don’t know that I come from Liverpool. I’ve got this RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company] accent, so they assume I’m from the Home Counties. However, when I go back to Liverpool, my strong Scouse accent soon returns. In 1997, I was there shooting a film for the BBC called The Fix. I’d been cast as Tony Kay, the former Everton footballer who caused a storm in the 1960s when he and a number of other players took bribes to throw games.
Playing Tony Kay was a big deal for me, but it also posed a problem because I’m a die-hard Liverpool fan. There was one scene where I was meant to be driven through the gates at Goodison Park and we managed to rig it so that I didn’t have to set foot within the stadium grounds. If I’d done that, some members of my family would never have spoken to me again.
“The other thing with playing Tony, who was working on the film as a technical advisor, was that he’d got involved in some ugly business after he was kicked out of football. One story I’d heard was that he’d sold some Mr. Big a cubic zirconia [synthetic diamond] and the guy had put a bounty on Tony’s head. Whenever I go to Liverpool, I always stay in the Britannia Adelphi Hotel. I was in the sauna, when these two guys come in, both covered in gold and tattoos. “You’re that Jason Isaacs, aren’t ya?” says one of the two in the thickest Scouse accent you’ve ever heard. “You’re playing Tony Kay in that thing, right? Next time you see Tony tell him [the names have been deleted to protect the not-so-innocent] says ‘hello’.”
“The next day on-set, I saw Tony having a cup of tea and said ‘Hi, Tony, I met a couple of your friends at the Adelphi.’ When I mentioned the name he turned albino white, bolted his tea and rushed off the set. And that was the last I ever saw of Tony Kay. He’s still alive I believe. Presumably those gentlemen have still to catch up to him.”
Eric Bana on nearly killing Peter O’Toole
For me, movie legends don’t come bigger than Peter O’Toole. The guy’s amazing. Not only are the films and the performances incredible — Lawrence Of Arabia, Becket, The Stunt Man, My Favourite Year — but the stories are incredible, too. When we were filming Troy, Peter told me stories about him and Richard Harris tearing it up in the West End that absolutely defied belief. These guys would hit a pub the moment it opened and keep on drinking until the curtain went up on the show they were in that evening — I have no idea how they remembered their lines.
Naturally, working with Peter was one of the big attractions of appearing in Troy. Midway through the shoot, Peter celebrated a birthday. I’m not sure how old he was, and I don’t think he was too sure either. Anyway, everything stopped for Peter’s big day. Now, one of the many things I love about Peter O’Toole is that he’s cricket mad — I doubt there are many Irishmen who know as much about cricket as Peter. Knowing how much he adored the game, I’d had a special gift shipped over for him from Australia — a bottle of wine from a vineyard owned by Shane Warne. The look on Peter’s face when he unwrapped the package was wonderful — I don’t think it’s overstatement to say I’d given him one of his favourite gifts that year. Then, with the bottle open and everyone enjoying a sip, I broke out my Shane Warne impersonation. Before I became an actor, I was best known in Australia for my impressions. And since I’m also from Victoria, I had Shane down pretty good.
Peter certainly loved it — he was guffawing as I did Shane talking about the famous “Gatting ball”. He laughed so hard in fact that he started to choke on his lunch. So there we were, me doing Shane Warne and Peter O’Toole collapsing to the floor, looking for all the world like he was about to die. And we still had weeks of shooting left. Fortunately, we had a superb nurse on-set and it wasn’t long before Peter’s lunch was no longer in his windpipe and he was chortling about what so very nearly was. “I can see the obituaries now, young Eric,” he laughed. “Peter O’Toole, star of Lawrence Of Arabia and eight-time Oscar nominee died today, from choking on a chicken sandwich while some bloke you’ve never heard of did an impression of the legendary spin bowler Shane Warne. Priceless!”
Director Julien Temple saves Malcolm McLaren from a naked Sid Vicious
I grew up a lot during the making of The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle — I had to. In my experience, rock stars do not make good actors. There’s nothing about being a musician that prepares you for a life on screen. What made things even rougher was that John Lydon — who went on to become a pretty good actor — wouldn’t have anything to do with the film.
John had quit the band when they came back from the U.S. — he’d had enough of Malcolm McLaren’s bulls*** by then. So that left me with Steve Jones and Paul Cook — lovely guys but unlikely to give Laurence Olivier reason to lose sleep — and Sid Vicious, who was coming off the rails quite spectacularly. Sid was with Nancy Spungen by then, which was bad news, and he was really into heroin, which was even worse news. The scene everyone remembers from …Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle — of Sid singing “My Way” — very nearly didn’t happen.
The production had moved to Paris, and I seemed to spend all my time reporting back to Malcolm from the theatre where we were filming that Sid didn’t want to do the song. To his credit, Sid was much more interested in trying to learn the bass back then — I think he’d cottoned on to the fact that, if you’re a musician, you really ought to know how to play your instrument. We were there then, wasting money night after night. In the end, Malcolm grew tired of it. He picked up the phone in his hotel room and started screaming at Sid about what a useless junkie he was.
What Malcolm didn’t know was that Sid, who was staying on the floor above, had handed the phone over to Nancy and left the room. The next thing me and Malcolm know, the door of Malcolm’s room files off its hinges. There’s Sid wearing nothing but his swastika underpants and his motorbike boots and this incredibly sick grin. Malcolm knew that he was in trouble and dived under the sheets. That wasn’t going to stop Sid, though. He simply dragged Malcolm out of bed and started hitting him — really pummelling him. Then Sid set off after a naked Malcolm McLaren, intent on further beating the s*** out of him.
It was fortunate for Malcolm that I managed to tap-tackle Sid and he turned his attention to me. Sid and I got on pretty well and he calmed down after that. But I dread to think what might have happened if he’d cornered Malcolm. There’s every chance we’d have been mourning the death of Malcolm McLaren a good thirty years before he actually passed away.
Oliver Stone meets the real Men In Black
“Among the cut scenes from JFK is a sequence where Kevin Costner’s character, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, receives a visit from an enigmatic businessman known only as Mr Miller. Miller has arranged to meet Garrison with an eye to helping fund his case against Clay Shaw, the local businessman played by Tommy Lee Jones that Garrison believed had tried to hire an attorney for Lee Harvey Oswald following the assassination.
As Miller talks, however, it becomes clear that, rather than bankrolling Garrison’s case, he wants Garrison to drop the matter in return for a big promotion and a salary bump. A man of principle — Jim had fought the Nazis — Garrison showed Miller the door and told him that whoever had put him up to the stunt should know that it’s an offence to try and bribe a public official. The scene’s a real piece of work — I couldn’t have been happier with the writing or the performances. But while I’ve no doubt that it happened — Jim Garrison was a consultant on the film and I have no reason to doubt his words — it felt like the sort of thing you’d find in a John Le Carré novel and, as such, was at odds with the movie I was making.
The amazing thing is that, while some people might have a hard time believing that things like that happen, it happened to me just before JFK was released. I was sitting in my office at my production company and two gentlemen were shown in. While they didn’t say as much directly, I was given the very clear impression that it’d be better for everyone if my film JFK just went away. There was no suggestion that I should destroy the film as happened to Orson Welles after he made Citizen Kane, but that visit left me under no illusion that people in positions of real power would be much happier if I just let JFK come and go with little fanfare. As you might know, I didn’t let that happen — JFK did pretty well at the box-office and picked up Oscars for Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia’s editing and Bob Richardson’s cinematography. But I can’t deny that it shook me up a little.
Of the many other stories I’d like to tell, I think there’s a great film to be made about the U.S. government’s involvement in the Central American drugs trade in the 1980s and ’90s.
I have no doubt that, for years, the White House was directly responsible for propping up Manuel Noriega’s regime in Panama. But while the story’s fascinating, someone else will have to tell it, because if I get too close to it, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’d be killed.”
Robert De Niro’s nose takes a hammering from Robin Williams
I can think of lots of people who wouldn’t put me and Robin Williams together as close friends. Robin has this well-deserved reputation as an anarchic comic genius and, rightly or wrongly, I’m seen as this intense, “serious” actor. When we made Awakenings, though, Robin and I got on great. To be around someone with Robin’s energy fourteen hours a day, it’s impossible not to be tickled by him. I got the impression a lot of directors in the past had simply wanted Robin to show up and do his shtick. But Robin’s a really good actor, he’s very serious about his craft, and you could tell from our discussions that he really relished the opportunity to talk about acting. Oliver Sachs, the neurologist that inspired Robin’s character, had spoken to both of us at length and we were so impressed with his work that we both felt we owed it to him to do justice to his amazing story.
So there you have us — two actors who get on well and are very committed to the movie they’re making. And then one of them goes and breaks the other one’s nose. And it’s not the guy who played Travis Bickle who breaks the nose, it’s Mork. What happened was, we were filming a scene that called upon Robin to be at his most animated. As you probably know, the guy never sits still anyway, so there was Robin pacing up and down and throwing his arms around, and there I am playing his catatonic patient. More than anything else during that scene, I was trying not to move. Because of the way I prepare for a role, I’d got the part down pretty good — so good in fact that, when Robin Williams’ elbow collided with my nose, I didn’t really flinch. It was only when the blood started to spurt out and the director Penny Marshall screamed “Cut!” that I realised how much damage had been done. Of course, Robin was mortified — “Oh, Robert, I’m so sorry! What have I done?”
The thing is, I’d broken my nose before when I was young and when Robin whacked me, he straightened it back out again. I like to think it says a lot about Robin Williams that, when the guy breaks your nose, he leaves you looking better than you did before. Thanks, Robin, a professional couldn’t have done a better job.
Richard E Grant finally gets revenge on a school bully
Fame does strange things to people. Not just the people who become famous but people they know or previously knew. I was thirty when I made Withnail & I, and going nowhere fast. If I’d been a smarter person, I’d probably have found something else to do, but instead, I squandered day after day waiting for a break.
When Withnail… came out and did well at the box-office, the press began talking about me as some sort of overnight sensation. So, on the one hand, the public had this misguided notion that my career had taken off at a moment’s notice, and on the other, people started coming out of the woodwork wanting to bask in my late-flowering “success”. Now, I might be wrong, but I think that if you’re a long-time friend of someone and you’ve been there through times both good and bad, not only do you feel elated when they finally make it but you also earn the right to celebrate their success — “I knew him when he was nobody,” that kind of thing. But there are people, who clearly have no sense of shame, that have no problem getting in touch the moment you hit “the big time” and assume they have a right to share their life with a person they had next to no time for during the brief period they were acquainted.
This is precisely what happened to me in 1988. I was at home and the phone rang and a vaguely familiar voice came on the other end of the line. “Richard? Hi, Richard it’s…” well, I won’t give him the oxygen of publicity. So he goes on to tell me that we were at school together, and then he starts talking about how much he loved Withnail… which was nice enough. And then he asks me what I’m up to the next Sunday and whether it would be okay if he brought his wife and children over for lunch.
That struck me as abnormally forward. And that’s when it hit me — this guy, this person from my past, was the boy who made my school days a living hell. He was the Flashman-like bully who made me intensely miserable. Alas, the problem with bullies is that they leave marks so indelible, they’re still there long after you’ve stopped wearing short trousers. So I took a moment, and then I said, “I don’t know how you got this number but as it isn’t nice to hear from you, I owe it to myself in no uncertain terms to tell you to F*** RIGHT OFF!”
I never heard from him again.
Writer-director James Toback is asked to take care of some rather special business
I have a reputation for violence that I think is unjustified. I have made some violent films, but I see myself as a pretty benign force. In 1999, I wrote and directed a film called Black And White, about the way white culture had embraced black culture in America. It was produced by Oliver “Power” Grant, founder of The Wu-Tang Clan, who also appeared in the film, playing a slightly exaggerated version of himself.
I mention all of this because I assume it had something to do with the strange thing that happened to me after the movie wrapped. During my time in the movie business I’ve met some pretty powerful people. One of these people, a big exec, dropped by for a chat, keen to talk about a problem. I could see a few ways to straighten out the matter, but none of them seemed to meet with his approval. Then I started to see between the lines. All this talk about how I was “in touch with the street”, was all pointing to whether I’d be willing to arrange a hit for him! He assumed the “class of people” I consorted with did things like that on a regular basis.
In The Outsider [a film about Toback] Robert Downey, a good friend of mine, describes me as a “revenge specialist”. Am I good at revenge? I guess so, but let’s be straight about this, there’s revenge and then there’s revenge. Chastising someone who gave you a bad review is one thing. Shooting someone for anything is quite another.
Oscar nominee William H Macy on playwright David Mamet’s unique funeral etiquette
Would I have an acting career if it wasn’t for David Mamet? Possibly, but I wouldn’t have this career. David is the great man of American letters. He’s a writer without equal. No one else can do what he does, and nobody else does it in quite the same way. David’s the only playwright I know of who writes with a metronome next to his typewriter — that’s how important rhythm is in his work.
For someone who’s so associated with manly themes and very strong language — I don’t know how many “f***s” there are in Glengarry Glen Ross — he’s actually a really sweet guy. His great passion when his kids were younger was to go into his wood shop and make toy animals for them. That’s an image quite at odds with the bruising, brooding genius behind American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow. I’ve worked with David a number of times. If you just want to talk about movies, we’ve collaborated on Edmond, Spartan, State And Main and Oleanna. It’s a body of work I’m incredibly proud of. But if he isn’t quite the brawling bad-ass some might paint him as, David’s certainly a different cat.
You want proof of that? Look at what happened at his father’s funeral. David’s Jewish and Jewish tradition has it that that the spouse and siblings of the departed symbolically shovel earth onto the coffin. Actually, I don’t think that’s unique to Judaism, but it’s what happens at Jewish funerals. What doesn’t usually happen, however, is that one of the children takes off their jacket, picks up the spade and spends the next hour or so literally burying their father. Why he did it, I don’t know. He didn’t talk about it afterwards. It was quite a feat, though, not only symbolically but physically — it was a scorching hot day and there was an awful lot of earth.
Whenever I read that David Mamet’s either bizarre or odd, it’s not the memory of that day that comes to mind. While it certainly isn’t behaviour you encounter on a regular basis, I see what happened as personifying how David Mamet sees the world. It’s like when David describes his hometown of Chicago as “a city where people work”. Everything David writes reflects a very specific worldview. When he picked up that shovel, you could say he was addressing that view through a different medium.
Director Peter Bogdanovich shares homes with two Hollywood legends
At different times in my life, I’ve lived with Orson Welles and Quentin Tarantino. When Orson moved into my place, my career was going pretty well — I think this was around the time The Last Picture Show was taking shape — and he was on his uppers. For me, Orson was the greatest of all filmmakers but he had a hard time finding the money to make movies. That’s why he appeared in so many appalling films — he’d use his salary to fund his own projects. If only he’d had a patron, someone to write the cheques and bankroll the films for him, we’d have been spared the sight of this great actor in dreck such as Necromancy and Butterfly.
One time when Orson was low on funds, I suggested he move in with me. For all the time we were together, I never quite got used to living in the same apartment as a legend. I’d get up in the morning and there’d be the director of Citizen Kane sitting in my kitchen. What made the situation even more bizarre was that my girlfriend at the time, Cybill Shepherd , was living there too. Much as they admired one another, I don’t think Cybill and Orson got on particularly well. It was like a sitcom where the wife and the lodger are at loggerheads. Cybill took particular issue with Orson’s hygiene — she was forever finding cigar butts and pizza crusts wedged behind the sofa. I don’t think Quentin Tarantino would have stood for that sort of thing, either.
Now, when I moved into Quentin’s pool house it was because I was having money trouble. I’d met Quentin at various premieres and, being a good-hearted soul, he suggested I might like to set up home with him. He knew all about how I’d shared an apartment with Orson and, being a movie nut, I think he rather liked the idea of keeping the tradition going. That time at Quentin’s turned out to be a really positive experience. I got my career back up and running — I made a film called The Cat’s Meow which I was really proud of, and I started playing Dr Kupferberg in The Sopranos — and I spent some nice times with Quentin just talking movies.
His knowledge of film is quite extraordinary. Sometimes he’d stop me and say, “Peter, have you ever seen Jess Franco’s The Treasure Of The White Goddess?” and when I said I hadn’t, he’d be really disappointed. I’m so delighted there are still people with that passion. Hollywood lore is a big love of mine and now I know that, when I’m gone, Quentin Tarantino will be there to pick up the slack.