Jeffrey Alan Fiskin is the writer of CUTTER'S WAY (1981), a film now regarded as a masterpiece, and which won Fiskin an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. His first credit was the biker exploitation pic ANGEL UNCHAINED (1970), and his other credits include Tony Scott's REVENGE (1990) with Kevin Costner, Louis Malle's heist caper CRACKERS (1984), and the action comedy THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER (1981). Fiskin's work for TV includes episodes of From the Earth to the Moon (1998) and Faerie Tale Theatre (1983), and the TV movies THE '60s (1999) and THE '70s (2000). His work is fascinatingly textured, melodramatic and resonant, and in the second part of a three-part interview I spoke with him about his experiences making CUTTER'S WAY and CRACKERS.         

Part one of the interview.  

What attracted you personally the most to CUTTER'S WAY? 
It was the relationship of the three lead characters. The moment Mo (Lisa Eichhorn) dies is so tragic, and nobody is going to recover from it. The way Cutter has to focus even more now. That's what it was always about. Paul Gurian had never produced a film before and a mutual friend said to him ''You should talk to Fiskin, he's a good writer. '' He called me and asked me if I could read the book. I said ''Sure. '' At the time, I was absolutely flat broke, so going to the store and buying a book was absolutely not a possibility. So I went to the store and I pinched it. I did take it back when was done. Somebody somewhere bought that copy and on page 152 there's a coffee ring, and I apologise for that! I called Paul, and I wanted the job but I told him ''We have a problem here. Everything that it builds towards is perfect until the last third, when it turns into a bad version of EASY RIDER (1969). It's the same thing – a sheriff with a gun in the back of a pick-up, blah, blah, blah. You can't have that. '' He said ''You're right. You're my screenwriter. '' I said ''You know, just because a mutual friend put us together, my name does nothing for you, you know. '' Paul said ''What did I say? You're my screenwriter. '' This is the passionate insanity that makes Paul wonderful, but on more than one occasion it did rub some folks the wrong way. Still, he's a genius.

He somehow got UA to make the film. It was David Field who took a flyer on us and said ''OK.'' I remember seeing David years later. I was having lunch somewhere with my Mom. I asked him to come over and I told my Mom ''This is the guy who put his ass on the line to get the film made. '' And David looked at her and said ''I will never make that mistake again!'' I remember David always wanted to know how the script was going and I never knew. I like to just start writing and let the characters take me wherever they will. Sometimes that approach works, and sometimes not so much, but that's the way I like to do it. 

I always think there are two types of viewers of the film – those that need to know what exactly happened to Mo, and those who appreciate the ambiguity. 
Well, it can't be anything good. The details don't matter so much. I feel that way about most of the characters. Some people have asked why Ann Dusenberry's character didn't appear much, and the reason was that she was a new actress with very good instincts but not a lot of control yet. Some of her scenes just didn't work. So they were cut. One of the things that Ivan liked about our film was that we could do that, because some characters are there and then they are not. Like life. 

What was it like making the film? 
It was just absolutely magical. Jeff Bridges is a sweet, kind man and a superb actor. Caring and never pushy. He's always ''If there's anything I can do to help, let me know, but otherwise I'm gonna go to bed. '' John Heard was a little too much in character for some people on set, but he was perfect. Ivan Passer was glorious. I remember the first shot we did, which was John walking down a pier. It didn't actually make the movie. Passer would explain each shot to me as he went. He said ''Look, the first set-up for a shot, you don't worry about it. It's gotta be something you throw away because nobody's ready. '' And John comes storming down this pier singing The Sailor's Hornpipe as he goes. In that instant, I realised ''He owns this movie. He's got it, and we at least have something of interest. '' And we did. Even though what I had always longed for, to be reviewed by Pauline Kael, was a case of ''Be careful what you wish for'', because she hated the movie. '' But I was happy anyway. ''Alex Cutter is a one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged, walking literary conceit. '' Yeah, I can live with that!''

Did you have any interaction with Robert Mulligan or Dustin Hoffman when they were attached to the movie? 
Robert Mulligan and I met on it and we actually worked on something else that didn't get made later on because we liked each other. My memory of it is that Dustin would get engaged in a lot of different films and didn't necessarily follow up on any of them. It began to look like that was going to happen.

How did you feel about the idea of Ivan Passer directing the film? 
We finally get the film going forward at United Artists, and Paul says to me ''I want you to see a film by Ivan Passer. '' I said ''A woman director?'' He said ''No! Not Yvonne. Eevahn as in Ivan. '' I had never heard of him or seen his film INTIMATE LIGHTNING (1965). He showed me the film in a small screening room and I said ''Holy crap! He was right there with Ozu and all the greats. How did I miss this guy?'' Paul said ''He wants to do it. '' I said ''And you convinced United Artists to let him?'' And he had. He actually pulled it off. Paul is a great storyteller. He has the patience of a saint, and passion and intelligence that not every producer has. And he never stopped pushing. He would pay attention to everything. But he's also a genuine madman. Passer would never block anyone from the set but he blocked Paul! On the first day, Passer called the entire crew together and said ''If you have an idea about anything, I don't care what it is, you come and tell me. It takes all of us to make this film. I mean, Craft Services. If we don't have the right coffee in the cup, that sucks, and that's a bad start to the day. So, let's all be together. '' Passer was just easy. 

How did Jeff Bridges get cast as Bone? 
UA thought they had an ace in the hole. They said ''We just saw the dailies on a film that is going to be huge. It's called HEAVEN'S GATE (1980). If you get someone from the movie, say Kris Kristofferson or Jeff Bridges, you got a movie. '' We had already cast John Heard in the carpet chewing lead role. We had seen him play Mercutio in Shakespeare in the Park and he was terrific. But why would anybody want to play the supporting role of Bone? Nevertheless, Jeff did agree to the meeting. We went out to the Santa Monica Canyon where Jeff has his ranch house. Paul started to get out of the car and this dog came running up. Passer started to get out of the car but he said ''I don't like this dog. '' The dog was barking like crazy, and was crosseyed. Paul, having read the Salesman's Handbook that says ''Make friends with the pets and the children'' says ''No, I know dogs. Come here, puppy. '' And the dog came up to him, leapt in the air, and took a bite out of his cheek.

Jeff took the dog, took him inside, slammed the door and said ''Damn it, he keeps doing that. Look, there's a plastic surgeon on the next ranch over. '' So he took Paul over there. The guy sews him up and Paul is lying flat out on his back, everyone has left, and says to me with a huge smile on his face ''We got Bridges. '' Jeff didn't really have a choice! It was a situation of ''Jeff, would you like to work with us for ten weeks and get paid $750, 000, or would you like to work for me for the rest of your life for nothing?'' We got him, and he was wonderful.

Did you spend much time on the set? 
On every film except REVENGE, I have been there virtually 24/ 7. Passer loves actors, but not so much their intelligence as their instincts. He would have me rewriting every scene through the middle of the night, and he would tell everybody that that was what I was doing. He'd tell the actors ''You'll get the new pages when you show up. '' So nobody could work on the scene at night. It wasn't until maybe the fifth or sixth day that I realised he wasn't using any of the changes I had been writing. He said ''No, the script's perfect. Why would I write anything else? I just don't want the actors working on it overnight. '' We would hand out the exact same pages the next day but they hadn't been memorising them because they didn't know if the lines were going to be there. It worked perfectly. 

CUTTER'S WAY can be interpreted as a sad farewell to the counterculture idealism of the 60s and 70s. Were you very much a part of that movement? 
As my daughter says ''Dad, you went straight from beatnik to hippie. '' At least in my mind I was part of the movement, but I am not sure I was enough for other people! When three kids, Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, were killed in the South doing voter registration, we all thought the same things but my friend Bob, who still plays music with me and my friends every Thursday, got on a bus and went down there and started registering people. In my mind, he was really part of the counterculture. I was an onlooker. I was a conscientious objector and I marched against the War. I never did many drugs. They just weren't my thing. On the other hand, I've got pictures of myself with more hair than you can imagine, wearing bell bottoms and velvet shirts. I was a confused person with maybe a decent heart. 

What was your experience like on CRACKERS with Louis Malle? 
It was actually wonderful until the film came out and nobody came to see it. Nick Meyer and I started out at the same time, and knowing my Francophilia, he said ''You ought to meet my friend Louis Malle. '' So we got together and Louis said ''You know what I want to do? I want to remake BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET. '' He was fearless about remaking it, and we argued for some time. I said ''It's crazy. The film is perfection. There's no way we'll make a better movie. '' I mean, there's a little moment where the wisened old man comes out wearing tennis togs from a thrift shop, and a character says ''What are you dressed as?'' And he says ''Sportivo. '' I told Louis, ''There's no way to translate that. '' He was very persuasive and so I wrote a script and he liked it. The studio wanted to work with him and the film wasn't expensive. We cast it, and we just had a wonderful time. He was the antithesis of Ivan Passer. Ivan was like this reed that bent but wouldn't break. He let the film come to him. He didn't want to make decisions necessarily, but he knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it. But it didn't require a great deal of energy from him. With Louis, every movie was a bull and he had to grab it by the horns and somehow wrench it to the ground. Which he did, quite beautifully very often.

Louis could rarely get the same cinematographer twice because it was very clear after the first ten minutes that Louis was going to be the one sitting behind the camera most of the time. He began as a cinematographer for Jacques Cousteau on LES MONDS DU SILENCE (1956). Louis was incredibly intelligent, and almost perfectly bilingual. I think one of his problems was a problem that anyone has working in a second language, no matter how great their English is – humor is a problem, especially the kind that depends on feel, which is how I work. At the end of CRACKERS there's a scene where Jack Warden is holding a big box of what presumably are roses, but which was supposed to be a side of lox, and he says ''She looked at me and her last word of appreciation was 'Lox'. '' At that time, lox was also the word for something that was inanimate, useless, that just lay there on the plate. Louis changed the line to 'smoked salmon' because that was what props had been able to find and put in the box. Things like that happened more than once. On the other hand, the opening of the film is this remarkable scene set in the neighborhood of the Mission District in San Francisco that has no cuts in it and introduces every character in the film. It was in his head, he saw it, and he made it happen. 

How did Louis Malle and Sean Penn work together? 
They got along fine. Louis is a very good collaborator. He loves actors. I don't remember any problems at all. I remember giving Sean some guitar lessons during the filming. He was a very sweet kid. There was none of the anger or surliness that would come later. I saw him at a Springsteen concert last year. I hadn't seen him in maybe twenty years. He didn't recognise me but as soon as I introduced myself he could not have been nicer. There haven't been a lot of difficulties on the films I have made. The most difficult would have been John Heard because he was drinking too much. After Passer commented on it, John said ''Listen, I'm probably going to be three sheets to the wind tomorrow. Let's make a deal. We'll look at the dailies, and if you don't like the work, I'll stop for the rest of the film. '' John himself didn't like the next day's dailies so he stopped. Everybody usually wants to help if they can, because making movies is difficult. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


Matthew Wilder is the writer of DOG EAT DOG (2016), an adaptation of the Edward Bunker crime novel, directed by Paul Schrader and starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe. He also wrote and directed the Philip K. Dick-inspired sci-fi comedy YOUR NAME HERE (2008), and has worked extensively in the theater. I spoke with Wilder about his experience writing the film, working with Paul Schrader and working with the actors during the rehearsal process.  

What were some of the projects you worked on after your directorial debut, YOUR NAME HERE? 
I spent a long time on a project that I was going to direct called Inferno, which was about Linda Lovelace. We had Lindsay Lohan in it, and then we had Malin Akerman. Anyone that is interested in that project can Google it and read about the whole tawdry saga in slow motion. It was a great script. I hope that one day, when people forget about the other movie (LOVELACE), I can dig it out again. 

How did DOG EAT DOG come your way? 
Someone asked me if I knew about the Eddie Bunker book. I loved his books, and the films STRAIGHT TIME (1977) and ANIMAL FACTORY (2000). I thought it would be a good fit for me because it's a very odd, gnarly character study but it's also a movie about three guys with guns, which is something people don't have any problem paying to go see. I thought we could do something really interesting, and partly because it's male-driven and action-oriented, it had a better chance of getting made than some of the things I had been working on that hadn't gotten made and were female-driven. And sure enough the film got made. 

When you did your first draft was it a straight adaptation? 
I was pretty faithful, but there was one intervention that I did because I think it's too stifling to watch only guys for a hundred minutes or so. In the book there's a hooker here and a stripper there but I thought we needed a little bit more than that so there's a little break in the middle of the movie where, after their first heist, they go to a casino, walk around and pick up women. Each guy spends the night with a different woman, and you get to know the women, and also the guys through their dysfunction and the ways they are unable to connect and what ruins their evenings. I never thought about it before, but it's a little bit like HUSBANDS (1970), where you have three guys on a night out where they are not getting it together.

There's a scene in that section of DOG EAT DOG that I think is the best scene of the movie. Kent Jones, who writes for Film Comment, saw the film and said he didn't really like the film but that that one scene was killer. It's a scene where Diesel, who is the muscle guy of the group picks up this hipster girl in a bar and takes her back to his room and they're hitting it off, but he blows it because she starts asking him all these questions like ''What's your favorite movie? What kind of music do you like?'' And he gets angry and says ''I don't fucking know any music. I don't fucking know any movies. I don't know any bars around here. I don't know anybody. I don't know anything. '' He finally confesses that he's been in prison. He starts breaking things, and she freaks out and he chases after her. He tells her ''Wait. I don't want you to freak out. '' But it's too late, he's scared her. I think it's a really heartbreaking scene. Chris Cook, who plays Diesel, is incredible in the scene, as is the actress playing the girl.

The great thing about the book is that although you could say it's like FARGO (1996) – it's all about 'best laid plans', there's a big score and you know they're going to fuck up – the way that Eddie Bunker structures it is that the characters fuck it up in the most absurd and unpredictable ways. The way it happens makes perfect sense but you never see it coming. It's dazzling. 

Where there any particular films on your mind when you were writing the script? 
There were some '70s films I was thinking about like THE OUTFIT (1973), THE NICKEL RIDE (1974), and HICKEY & BOGGS (1972). Those '70s crime movies that were a little more lo-fi, rusty station wagon, R-rated Rockford Files movies. Another influence was a movie that kind of sums up the genre, which is JACKIE BROWN (1997). Our movie doesn't have that movie's winking Elmore Leonard thing but it has that kind of grunge. But what was a surprise to me was when Paul Schrader said ''Hey, I don't wanna do a neo-'70s movie. I invented the '70s! I don't need to go down that road anymore. I want to make this very 2016. '' And what he made was a very Godardian playground that the movie takes place in. I think our public life is so surreal now in America that that approach seems very appropriate. You feel like this movie captures the insanity of America right now, especially when it comes to guns. 

How much of a spectre was Tarantino when you were writing it, given that he has come to dominate what many perceive to be the modern crime film? 
I wasn't thinking of Quentin too much to be honest. Some think there are some Tarantinoesque moments in the script but I think if I have someone sitting on my shoulders it's Scorsese more than it is Quentin, and there's a little of him in this. The thing about this script was that Eddie Bunker was a guy who was really in jail and he knows that world of criminals and criminals getting out of jail very well. The challenge was in whittling down the script to a simple narrative because he has a lot of crazy anecdotes and mini-vignettes in the novel. 

What do you love the most about Bunker's work? 
The thing that is so great about him is that of all crime writers he's the one who is least interested in showing off that he is a tough guy or that he knows crime and jail. He just knows the stuff. He came from that world and he somehow learned literature. He went at it backwards. When you read an Eddie Bunker book you never have that feeling that you get from almost every other crime writer that you're being persuaded that they know something. Even in an Elmore Leonard book you feel a little bit like what you're reading is the result is of all the research that he did and all the interviews he did. You can also feel it in James Ellroy a little bit. When you read Bunker, he's the real deal. 

The French title of STRAIGHT TIME translates as The Recidivist. That always seemed to sum up Bunker's work to me – he's concerned with the criminal who can just not stop repeating the same mistakes. 
I was talking to a friend the other day about STRAIGHT TIME, and I told him that there is a scene in the movie that you couldn't do today. Dustin Hoffman is unfairly busted by M. Emmet Walsh and thrown into the tank for a night and there's this old, skinny rummy sitting on the bottom bunk. Hoffman walks up to him and says ''That's my seat, partner. '' The old guy gets up and sits on the floor because he knows otherwise he would get punched in the face. That's the way it would really be. Nowadays people would say Dustin Hoffman's character wasn't likeable enough. 

To what extent did Schrader change your script? 
If you watch the film, he shot my script word for word about 90%. The only differences were things that were tweaked to be set in Ohio rather than L.A., and the tone is much more playful and absurd and surreal, than it is gritty. It's more BAND OF OUTSIDERS (1964) than it is THE NICKEL RIDE. 

When Schrader expressed an interest in doing the film did it all come together quite quickly? 
I was going to direct the movie and then the producer disappeared for about eight months. One day the phone rang and I picked up and I heard ''Hi Matt, this is Paul Schrader. I'm directing your movie. '' I said ''It's kind of sad I'm not doing it, but if it's not me doing it then I'm glad it's you.'' 

Were you a big fan of Schrader before you worked with him? 
Even before I wrote my first script I had a little shrine to him. Every screenwriter has their hero when they're starting out. Some people might have a shrine to William Goldman or to Robert Towne. Mine was to Paul Schrader. 

What is it you like the most about his work? 
I like what he calls 'the monocular movie', the one-character movie. And all of his films are a flip or a critique of a genre movie. I'm thinking of PATTY HEARST (1988) and the daring of having twenty minutes of the movie take place in a closet. That to me was an incredibly brave thing to do. It's not your typical 'well made' screenplay. Nobody teaching screenwriting classes would say ''You're doing a movie on Patty Hearst? Put her in the closet for twenty minutes and then close the door on her, and leave her in the dark. '' He always goes against the grain in a way that I love. 

How did the experience of working with him compare to how you thought it might be? 
He had my back all the way through and particularly in terms of me getting the sole credit as writer. He knows from his own experience that things are seen a different way when you share credit. He held very tight to that and I am very grateful to him for that. He was a pip. We did some really fun stuff. He had me write scenes based on Eddie Bunker's autobiography, which amounted to about forty pages. They didn't appear in the movie but we staged them in rehearsals and they gave the actors a backstory as to what their friendship was like – how they bailed each other out of jail, how they hung out together and what they told each other, stuff like that. That was a great treat to write that and see it come to life with all those incredible actors. 

Did you get the sense that Schrader was hungry to get the experience of DYING OF THE LIGHT (2014) behind him? 
I think he was more feisty than hungry. Part of the engine that powered this project was him being given the freedom to do what he wanted and have final cut after having his freedom curtailed on DYING OF THE LIGHT. Rather than just focussing on a lot of violence, he took a directorial stance that was very ballsy, and very much not what people want from a Video On Demand, Nicolas Cage holding a gun on the cover movie. I think he really wanted to bust heads with this movie. 

Did you spend much time on set? 
I was there during rehearsals and up until the start of the movie. If you went to the production office it looked like a college dorm room. Everybody was about 20 years old. He ran that thing like the captain of a ship. He got everything from everybody exactly as it was needed. It reminded me of the theater. You're not in some giant infrastructure where you have lots of support behind you. You have a room full of kids, many of whom are doing the job for the first time. He made them feel like they were working on something important and they all pulled it together. 

As a director yourself, what did you learn the most from him? 
He is a supreme pragmatist and supremely efficient. People sometimes have these images of directors as Napoleonic Michael Cimino figures shooting the train coming through the meadow for four days. But Schrader is really the opposite of that. He's really about figuring out a way to do it and getting it done. Despite all that, and the low budget we had, he got really bravura effects and it's a really ballsy movie where you're very much aware of the artistic choices at all times. He was not hampered by the lack of time and money, which came from being very specific and from the experience of knowing how to get stuff done. He really is a master. I'll take from him the idea of being aware what you have and what you can do with it. He's a guy that doesn't talk to much to the actors on the day and on YOUR NAME HERE I talked a lot more. Sometimes casting well and having people do the right kind of stuff is enough. 

Was Schrader resistant to acting in the film? 
Yes! At one point I was going to do it, but someone vetoed that. He was also going to have Scorsese do it, Tarantino, Abel Ferrara, Herzog, or Rupert Everett. He went down the laundry list of everybody he had ever worked with. I was trying to get him to get Helen Mirren to do it. Finally he did it himself and he's great. 

How was watching Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe act opposite each other in the early parts of the production? 
I spent a lot of time with them in rehearsals and I would act out the bit parts. There's a mutual delight between them when they are working together. If you've seen WILD AT HEART (1990), you'll know what I mean. Here Cage is much more of the straight guy and Dafoe is the screwball, but I think the extreme screwiness of Dafoe's performance leaked into him a little bit and he does some riskier things as the movie goes on. 

Was it always going to be Cage and Dafoe playing those roles? 
Cage was originally offered Dafoe's part but he had played a similar role recently so he wanted to play the straight man, and so Dafoe took the Mad Dog part. 

What was your reaction to seeing the film for the first time? 
I was amazed because the tone is so different from the script, but I loved that. In the theater you would work with people and if you did something stylistically that was out of the vein of what they were doing they would get pissed off. I always felt the contrary. I like it when people can take something that has been written and find different things in it. It's a ballsy film and really fun, and I dig it. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


Jeffrey Alan Fiskin is the writer of CUTTER'S WAY (1981), a film now regarded as a masterpiece, and which won Fiskin an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. His first credit was the biker exploitation pic ANGEL UNCHAINED (1970), and his other credits include Tony Scott's REVENGE (1990) with Kevin Costner, Louis Malle's heist caper CRACKERS (1984), and the action comedy THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER (1981). Fiskin's work for TV includes episodes of From the Earth to the Moon (1998) and Faerie Tale Theatre (1983), and the TV movies THE '60s (1999) and THE '70s (2000). His work is fascinatingly textured, melodramatic and resonant, and in the first of a three-part interview I spoke with him about breaking into the film industry and his experiences writing ANGEL UNCHAINED and THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER.        

What were some of your formative filmgoing experiences growing up? 
My memories actually are of the Crest Theater in Long Beach. For 25 cents, you could see a double feature, a newsreel, six cartoons, and a Superman serial. It was the best place to be every Saturday for I don't know how many years. Some of the films are long since forgotten. The only Superman serial I remember well is SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN (1951),  which had the Mole Men coming out from the underground at some point and they creeped me out. The film I remember best, because I sat through it three times and my Dad actually had to come to the theater to find me because I had never ever not been home on time, was Burt Lancaster in JIM THORPE - ALL AMERICAN (1951). I adored that film. A couple of the scenes hold up amazingly well, and have become tropes of their own in other films. For example, there's a scene where Burt Lancaster is late for class and he has to run, and he starts running just as a gun fires and a track team takes off as well. And he leaves them in the dust. I can see it quite clearly. It was a glorious moment, especially for a ten year old. They are my earliest memories. I went all the time. 

Are there any particular films that influenced your own writing? 
Probably all those films I saw at the Crest, American films of the 50s. But certainly the French New Wave, Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. Saying I like Kurosawa and Leone is like saying ''I love American Westerns. '' Which I do. I was very saddened when somewhere around UNFORGIVEN (1992) everybody decided Westerns were 'unforgivable' and stopped making them for a while. 

At what stage did you think you might become a writer? 
I think I was about seven years old. We lived in a blue-collar neighborhood and my next door neighbor in Long Beach, California, was a kid named Jimmy. One day I saw that he was playing outside and he had the coolest thing that I had ever seen - he had an army helmet. Of course I asked if I could play with it and he said no, it was his. So we played but I didn't get to play with the helmet. When we finished playing, I watched as Jimmy put the helmet away where he always put away his toys, outside in a toy chest. He went inside, and I ran outside, grabbed the helmet and ran to my house. I put it on and I was marching around the house like Audie Murphy. My Mom said not a word but my Dad came home from work, looked at me and said ''Nice chapeau. '' I had no idea what that meant but I said ''But what about this?'', pointing to the helmet. He said ''Yeah, where did you get that?'', and I made up a story. He said ''We have to go in the bedroom. '' I knew that that was very bad news because the phrase ''go to the bedroom'' meant I was going to get a spanking. My mother later assured me she would never let my father touch me. Evidently I would start crying the minute he had me over his lap and I would 'remember' how badly he hit me to bring on the tears. Anyway, we were headed to the bedroom and as he put me over his lap and just before I started crying, he said something off-handedly like ''It's too bad you're not a writer. I could give you 25 cents for a story that good. '' I thought ''You mean there's a business where you can get money for lying? This is my life!'' And it stuck with me. It never went away. 

What were some of the first scripts you wrote before ANGEL UNCHAINED? 
I took an MFA in Painting at Berkeley, after I graduated college. I studied with Mark Rothko. I also got married. At the hotel we stayed at that night, before the honeymoon, around 2am, my friend Charlie comes rapping at the door, drunk as the Lord. He had a huge box, and he staggered in, and dropped it on the floor. He spotted a bottle of champagne we had just opened, grabbed it and started swigging away while he said ''You know how after every movie we see, you say you could do a better one than that?'' I said ''Yeah?'' He said ''Well, get busy. And he proudly opened the box. I had no idea what it was, except that it was some kind of a camera. Turned out to be an old rack over Bolex that he had, in the Berkeley phrase of the day, 'liberated' for me.

I went back up to Berkeley and while I was continuing my Masters with Rothko, I started making movies for the Cinema Psychedelica at Berkeley throughout 1966-67. That would have been late 1966. When I saw GREETINGS (1968) I realized I wasn't the only one using a movie camera for similar purposes, though I acknowledge that I didn't do it near as well. When I came back to L.A. from Berkeley with my degree, the family sent the hippest member of the family to find out what I was going to do with my 'fancy' education. Cousin Richard was a voice-over artist. You would know him as the voice of the robot in Lost in Space, the one who says ''Danger, Will Robinson!'' So we go to lunch and Richard says ''Well, what do you want to do?'' I said ''Actually I've got a job teaching drawing at Chouinard (what is now Cal-Arts), but I think I'd rather make movies. '' We finished lunch and he said ''OK, meet Friday, and I'll introduce you to your agent. ''

I was very innocent and I had no idea at the time how the world worked. I was introduced to Stu Robinson, who very clearly owed him a huge favor. Stu turned out to be a wonderful man and a terrific agent, in that order. He said ''Do you have any samples of your writing?'' I said ''Well, here's a short story that was an Honorable Mention in a literary magazine, and here are some poems that were published. '' I gave him the stuff very proudly. He looked at it all and said ''You know, somehow I don't see anybody knocking down my door to publish your next sonnet. Have you got anything that is more like a movie or a TV show? In fact, a TV show might really be the best thing. Do you like TV?'' I said ''Yeah, but it's not a patch on movies. '' He said ''Well, let's start here. Is there a TV show that you like?'' I said ''Yeah, there are a couple. I Spy with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, Mission: Impossible, Run for Your Life with Ben Gazzara, and The Fugitive with David Janssen. Any of those. '' He said ''Pick one. '' So I picked I Spy, because I knew I could write in both of them doing W.C. Fields impressions. So I wrote a script and Stu said ''This is actually not bad. Let me send it over. '' Stu then called back and said ''It's not going to get read. The show has been cancelled. Pick another one. '' So I chose Mission: Impossible. Stu said ''OK, do that, but I know it's coming up for renewal. We have a good writing sample with the I Spy script so just write a treatment. '' I said ''What's a treatment?'' He explained that bastard form. I wrote something that revolved around a Russian cellist who had escaped to the West but without his cello, and now he realised he couldn't stay without it. The team's mission was to go into one of those made-up Balkan countries they're always going to and 'Get that cello'. I met with the producer and he said ''I'm not sending my guys out for a fucking cello. '' I said ''It's fiction. They're going to come back OK. '' He said ''I don't think you actually understand this. '' Of course, he was absolutely right. So I didn't get the gig, and it wouldn't have made any difference anyway since that show wasn't picked up either.

At this point, I needed to get some sort of job, so Stu sent me over to see a movie producer called Sandy Howard, who needed a reader. He gave me like 25 scripts to read and said ''See you next Friday. '' What I didn't know was that he had thrown into the mix the script for A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970), which he had already bought and was making. I told him that every one of these scripts was terrible and he said ''OK. We have discovered one thing. You cannot be a reader for me, since you don't like the scripts I like. So I have another idea. '' He gave me this thick old book called The New York Times Book of Film, which had Bosley Crowther's reviews of the top ten films of the last 50 years. He said ''Read through this and find something that we could make a movie out of now. '' I went through the reviews and I was surprised by how many I had seen. I recognised THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946) and I said to Sandy ''This is easy. You could make this today about three guys coming back from Vietnam. '' He said ''I'll pay you $500 to write the first draft. '' I thought ''Holy crap. That's more money than there is in the world!'' I went home and two weeks later I said ''Here you go. '' Sandy read it and said ''This is good, but this character you wrote is not someone you can root for. '' I said ''Yeah, well that is sort of the point. '' He said ''I think we can make this, but you have to make some changes. '' I told him I wasn't prepared to do that, and he said ''Well, we are co-owners of this script since I paid you $500 to write it. So you give me the money back and I'll give you the script. '' So for my first three months in Hollywood I was as broke as when I started. Stu sent the script over to the film producer Harold Hecht, who was getting a little long in the tooth at that time. Harold was worth it just for the stories he told. He had worked with everybody, and since he had produced JIM THORPE ALL-AMERICAN I just thought nobody could be better than this guy. He also knew Burt Lancaster in person! Harold loved the script and paid $2,500 for a six-month option. He tried his best to get it made, but nothing ever happened to it. 

How did ANGEL UNCHAINED come about? 
Stu decided to start sending me out on meetings now that I had a script and the TV samples. He set up a meeting at AIP (American International Pictures) with Sam Arkoff. I said ''What am I supposed to talk about?'' He said ''You're not supposed to talk about anything. You listen to what he wants and you go home and come up with an idea. Then go back and tell him that idea. '' I thought ''This is too easy. '' So I walk into Sam Arkoff's office and he is standing behind his desk with a stogie stuck in his mouth. He does not say hello or introduce himself, he just says ''So, what's your idea?'' I look around the room for something I could crawl under, and what I see on the table I am about to crawl under is the TV overnights in Variety with a headline that reads something like 'Mag 7 Clicks For 7', meaning THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) showed on ABC and did well. I looked up and said ''How 'bout THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN as a motorcycle film. '' He thought about it for maybe twenty or thirty seconds and then he said ''Go home and write it. I'll make a deal with your agent. '' If you look under the hood of ANGEL UNCHAINED, you will indeed see it is THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Since then my so-called career has been up and down and up and down and around. 

Did Arkoff give you any stipulations about the inclusion of sex and violence? 
No, not at all, he just said ''Write the script. '' Dave Madden had been a commercials director in Detroit. His son, Dave Jr. now runs television at Twentieth Century Fox. He shot the film in 24 days. Sam Arkoff got in there in the editing room. This was always the point when he'd say ''Right, this is the way we want to do it. '' He would get antsy and say things like ''The scene is too long. Gotta cut it. '' I heard a story that is almost certainly apocryphal but it tells a clearer truth. Sam is in the editing room of a picture and he says ''He should take the gun out from under the pillow and shoot him. '' And the director says ''Yeah, but who put the gun under the pillow?'' And Sam says ''I just did. '' I remember we couldn't actually have any nudity in the picture. There's one little scene on a pickup truck where the slats hide Tyne Daly. 

How was the experience of working on THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER? 
I thought ''This is really going to be fun. Steve De Jarnatt, both a very good guy and an excellent filmmaker, was going to direct. This is going to be a fabulous film. '' And then the studio says they want such and such an actor for the lead, and Steve says ''No, we can't do that. '' He was right of course. I don't know if they fired him for being right or for refusing to do as he was told. So then John Frankenheimer came on. John was having some problems with the bottle those days. It was clear early on that although he was a wonderful storyteller, his mind was on other things and he wasn't going to last through the movie. That's when Buzz Kulik came on, and he shot almost a whole film.

We had a meeting at Peter Guber's house, which had been built by the film crew in about three weeks. EST, Erhard Seminars Training, was very big at that time. It was this pseudo-religious, psycho-analytic hoohah that was very popular. I think this was the origin of ''There is no try. There is only do. '' That was where Peter's head was at the time. He began the meeting by saying ''We've been having some problems with how this movie is going. We all agree that it can be great, but it isn't yet. Everybody has to open up in this meeting. What we say in this meeting does not leave this room. You are free to say anything about anybody you want. We will get to the bottom of this. '' I am not believing a word of it, so I am quiet. Buzz Kulik, on the other hand, says ''Well OK, you guys did wrong on this, you guys messed up on this, and you were terrible on this. '' Peter said ''Thank you for speaking up Buzz. '' And the next day he was out! That's when they brought in Roger Spottiswoode, who did his best to see what he could do. One can always find moments that are good in any film, but this one had too many masters.

I do remember Kathryn Harrold when she came in for her first audition. She talked about her character and how she would use her body as a weapon of control. It was a wonderful take on the role, way more than was on the page. It wasn't a difficult casting decision. She was intimidatingly gorgeous and a good actress. But once she got the role she decided sexy wasn't the way to go. She felt ''No, she's a mountain girl, she's going to wear a Pendleton. OK, maybe, shorts for a little part of one scene. '' She was very good and certainly didn't hurt the film at all in any way but I think she was right the first time. 

Did John Frankenheimer shoot any footage? 
I don't believe John ever shot footage, except possibly audition tape. I never saw dailies so I don't know who shot the most footage in the final film, but I have always presumed it was Buzz simply because he worked on it longer. 

With the different directors, did the script change a lot in tone? 
Yeah, because I don't think there was a real tone. It turned out more frothy. It was always intended that there would be dirt underneath everybody's fingernails and that the characters couldn't be good all the time. No matter how hard they try, they will always fail, usually in a big, bad way. But at the same time, there should be a lightness. Though these people understand that that rock they've been pushing up that hill is going to roll right back down to the bottom, they also know that they are going to have to go right back down to the bottom and start up again. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


Nancy Allen broke out in the 1976 with her memorable role in Brian De Palma's CARRIE (1976). She was a charming, naturalistic, beautiful presence in high-profile films such as Spielberg's 1941 (1979), Robert Zemeckis's debut I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978), and a further three films with De Palma (whom she also married in 1979) - HOME MOVIES (1980), DRESSED TO KILL (1980), and BLOW OUT (1981). Her career has also seen her work on such cult favorites as ROBOCOP (1987) and its sequels, POLTERGEIST III (1988), STRANGE INVADERS (1983), THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT (1984), Paul Bartel's NOT FOR PUBLICATION (1984), Abel Ferrara's THE GLADIATOR (1986), and Steven Soderbergh's OUT OF SIGHT (1998). In the second part of a two-part interview I spoke with Nancy about her experiences making the ROBOCOP series, THE GLADIATOR, NOT FOR PUBLICATION, POLTERGEIST III, and OUT OF SIGHT, and also her activism for cancer charities, and how she feels about her legacy.  

Part one of the interview. 
What was it like working with Paul Bartel on NOT FOR PUBLICATION?
I love him. He's so sweet. He had just done EATING RAOUL, which I had seen twice. I loved it. That's how sick I am! I sat down with him and he told me about how he had been sitting on this project for forever and how it was his passion piece, and how we were going to have singing and dancing and all this silly stuff. It was fun making the movie but needless to say the film turned out a little disappointing.

How was working with Abel Ferrara on THE GLADIATOR? 
I like him. I think he's a very hip and talented guy. I remember Ken Wahl and I went into Abel's trailer to discuss the movie and he said ''So, what are we going to do with this piece of shit?'' He was great. That for me encapsulates the whole experience! I wish I had been able to do something a little better with him because I do think he's really talented. 

Your father was a Police Lieutenant. Did that inform the way you approached playing Lewis in ROBOCOP? 
When I read the script I felt like I knew the territory. I felt pulled to it and I knew I could bring something to it based on my own life experience. I took away things like the relationship between partners and how important that is. My father died a few years later so it was great that he got to see me in the film. Making ROBOCOP was a great way to honor him.

I remember when we shot the scene where Peter and I are chasing the bad guys in the car. I was driving and Peter is shooting at the bad guys, and we had a bit of a disagreement. Peter said ''You should give me your gun in the scene. '' I said ''No. A police officer never gives up his gun under any circumstance. '' Peter said ''You need to call up your father and ask him. '' I was absolutely certain I was right, but when I spoke to my father it turned out I was absolutely wrong. He said ''Of course. Under those circumstances you'd have to give up your gun!'' I hated that Peter was right!

What was your first reaction to the script? 
As soon as I got the script I called my agent and said ''They're going to change this title, right?'' I thought it was the stupidest, cheesiest title. I said ''OK, I'll look at a few pages. '' I picked it up and I couldn't put it down. I had never read anything like this before. It was unique and really smart. It was funny in the kind of way that I like. It's very emotional in places. It really touched on so much - the humor, the humanity, the political landscape at that time. It really was way ahead of its time in many, many ways. So I asked ''Who's directing it?'' And they said Paul Verhoeven. I had seen SOLDIER OF ORANGE (1977), and I knew this guy was really really good. I desperately wanted to do the movie. 

How was working with Verhoeven? 
I adore him. He's like a mad genius. He did something wonderful. He brought on Jost Vacano, who had done DAS BOOT (1981), as the cinematographer. He rigged this kind of Steadicam with a Gyro on it, and they lit it with these big banks of fluorescent lighting which gave the film the right look. On DAS BOOT that camera was able to follow everybody everywhere on the submarine. It gave you a lot of freedom to play out a scene. Paul wasn't used to some of the American things like the sound guys wanting to wire the actors. He would walk on the set and say ''Why are we not shooting? What are we waiting for?'' Paul is like someone like Steven Soderbergh. Whether you like the film their films or not, you can see them in the film. He's very passionate. He's very specific and yet he wants to see more. There could be four actors on the set and he would act out every role like a crazy person. He'd be jumping around and grabbing things from the ceiling. Then he'd say ''But don't copy me. I can't act. '' There are subtle things that he did in those quiet moments between Peter and I that really touched the heart of the matter that could have been easily lost.

Did you enjoy working with Peter Weller? 
We had a good time. We started shooting the Murphy and Lewis scenes first, so everything was kind of cool. And then it was the day of the arrival of the Robocop suit. He was meant to get it two weeks before we started shooting the film, to rehearse in, but he didn't. Ten hours later I thought ''Either they're shutting us down or we're going to be here for the next ten years shooting this movie. '' I think acting in that suit was a little challenging for him, and he went 'in' a little bit. I always called him Murphy. I never bought into this whole ''Call me Robo'' thing. I just felt my character wouldn't do that. We had a good working relationship and I have a lot of respect for him, and the discipline it took for him to do what he did was amazing. 

It must have been helpful for you as an actress to have such a strong actor inside the Robocop suit to act opposite. 
You couldn't really see his face with the helmet he had on, but you could see his eyes through the slit and the challenge was to do my best to connect with him, however barely.

Did you miss Verhoeven on the sequels? 
That's a gross understatement! ROBOCOP 2 (1990) was the worst experience of my life. Irvin Kershner didn't like me, and he made that apparent, moment by moment, day by day. It was torture. He was awful. In my opinion we had a great script that he destroyed. Everything that was in the script that had humor or heart he pulled out. The only reason I did ROBOCOP 3 (1993) was because the character had such a big fanbase and you feel sort of loyal to the character. I really feel bad for Fred Dekker in a way because I came onto the film after such a terrible experience on the second film and I was very guarded and really not looking forward to doing it. I guess the only vindication that I have is that he said it was a big mistake to bump me off in a recent article! They made it a PG, which wasn't what it was. You couldn't make the original ROBOCOP today. It's so incredibly violent and bloody. I was in and out on ROBOCOP 3. It was just about showing up. I had fifteen days on it and I tried to make lemonade out of lemons. 

How was the experience of making POLTERGEIST III? 
Shooting in Chicago was terrific. It's a beautiful city and the locations were fantastic. I enjoyed working with Heather, Lara Flynn Boyle and Zelda Rubinstein. It was challenging physically. It was a difficult shoot due to the fact that Gary Sherman, the director, designed the special effects to be shot on set. That was a brilliant concept but not very practical. We worked with doubles and had to rehearse many of the moves so that we could be in sync. The other difficulty was that we were wet for a good portion of the film. Not fun. That said, a lot of people like the film, and in the end that's what really matters.

How did you get cast in Soderbergh's OUT OF SIGHT? 
I got a call from my agent and he said ''There's this movie, and it's a small part, and you're probably not interested. It's a Steven Soderbergh picture. '' I told him ''Steven Soderbergh? I'm there. I don't care what it is! What do I have to do?'' I really just thought he was amazing. I went and they put me on tape, and I did my thing, and I was cast. I was so excited. He would always be standing next to the camera, and I loved that, because to me that is where all the action is. There was this great intimacy and immediacy. There are always two people I look at after I do a scene. The director, of course, but also the camera operator because you want to know what they saw. It was a fairly loose set. He cast it well and then just let the actors do their job. I had a very good experience working with him. He wrote in some extra stuff, such as a little exchange between Albert Brooks and me at the bottom of the stairs. I thought it would never make it into the movie. You're going to start looking at the relationship between two new characters at the end of the movie? But it stayed in. George Clooney couldn't have been nicer, he was so welcoming. The actors were a great bunch of guys. I came on at the end of the picture and they had all bonded, but I connected with them right away. 

Had you had much interaction with Albert Brooks prior to the movie? 
No. I had met him many years before at a Thanksgiving with Steven Spielberg and Amy Irving in 1976. He was friendly with people in our social group and I would see him from time to time, but I didn't really know him. But I'm a big fan of his. 

How did you get involved with cancer activism? 
I worked with Wendie Jo Sperber on I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND and 1941, and we became very close. She was diagnosed with cancer in the late 90s, and a few years later she had this notion of opening a Healing Center. She first contacted me to be a celebrity golfer in a fundraiser she was doing. That was fun. About six months later she called me and told me that she had found this perfect place for the Healing Center and wanted me to come over and see it. She asked me to help and I said yes, and I had no idea it was going to be life transforming for me. We began, and it was her, her sister, her cousin, who is a licenced clinical social worker, and me. We started by contacting everyone we knew for donations. Then she wanted me to teach the yoga class, which I did. It developed from there and we brainstormed about what else we could do. We talked about guided imagery and all the different modalities and all of the complimentary and alternative healing practices. In 2001 they didn't really have any data or any evidence that these practices were effective. It was fun, and having lost both my brothers I was trying to heal myself probably. I felt really good working with Wendie, and it was exciting, working with all these people who were creative in a different way. Being in their presence, I had this same internal, creative feeling that I got on movies, but just in a different environment. It got to the point where I didn't feel good about the acting I was doing and I was missing the work I was doing at the Center. I said to my manager ''Here is the list of people I want to work with. When they call I am ready to go to work. '' People like Stephen Frears and Woody Allen are on that list. I must admit I do miss that magical feeling of being on a set sometimes. 

How do you feel about your legacy? 
I feel pretty good about it. I feel better about the work now than I did years ago. I was very critical of myself. Now I feel proud of the work. I spent some time with Piper Laurie recently and we talked about CARRIE. I did an interview with Keith Gordon for the Australian Blu-ray release of BLOW OUT, which has become this new phenomenon. Who knew that years later we would still be talking about these films? You just don't expect it. I was talking with someone the other day about all the movies I didn't get and was really disappointed about at the time. Where did those films go? I feel fortunate that I worked with the directors that I worked with and on the films that I did. I look back and I think ''I could have done that better''. I'm too much of a perfectionist.

I'd like to do one more thing that is a good piece of work, only because as you live your life you have a richer perspective and a bigger depth to your being, and it might be fun to touch on those things. I love film noir and I would love to do a film like that at some point. Right after we finished BLOW OUT somebody gave Brian a book called Getting Away with Murder. It was set up a couple of times and it almost got made, but it fell through. That's the way it happens sometimes. After STRANGE INVADERS, Bill Condon and I developed a script. We worked on it for a while. Walter Coblenz was interested. Gary Lucchesi put us together. We met with Kevin Costner, who wasn't hot yet. The studio didn't want to make the picture with Kevin, and it all kind of fizzled. That was a big disappointment. You had two guys and two girls, and it was set around a newspaper. The wife of the older reporter seduced the younger cub reporter, who was having a relationship with another female reporter on the paper. What I loved about the piece, and about film noir in general, is that it's about human beings, and everybody, like I said, has that shadow side and nobody is as exactly as they appear to be. I love that line from CHINATOWN where John Huston says '' ... most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything. ''
Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.