AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD RUSH (PART 3 OF 4)

Richard Rush is the celebrated director of THE STUNT MAN (1980, Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor: Peter O'Toole) and FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (1974). A true cinematic rebel, Rush broke his teeth directing exploitation pictures for American International Pictures in the 60s, and began exploring characters who are multi-faceted and capable of being different things at different times, and live on the outside of conventional society. His debut TOO SOON TO LOVE (1960) was described as the first American New Wave film, and featured one of Jack Nicholson's earliest appearances. In films like HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967) and PSYCH-OUT (1968), Rush helped to develop the persona that made Nicholson one of Hollywood's most iconic and acclaimed actors. Rush also directed the counterculture comedy drama GETTING STRAIGHT (1970) with Elliott Gould, and the erotic thriller COLOR OF NIGHT (1994) with Bruce Willis and Jane March. In the third part of a four-part interview, I spoke to Rush about how FREEBIE AND THE BEAN came his way, working with Alan Arkin, James Caan and Valerie Harper on the film, and the film's legacy; and about his most acclaimed film THE STUNT MAN - the themes of the film, working with composer Dominic Frontiere, and casting and working with Steve Railsback and Barbara Hershey.

Parts one and two of the interview. 

What excited you the most about the opportunity to make FREEBIE AND THE BEAN? 
Well, actually, at the time it was offered to me it didn't intrigue me. I turned it down several times. It was a treatment written by Floyd Mutrux that the studio had about two corrupt cops who ride around in a police car, quarreling with each other like an old married couple. You were never sure which one was the wife and which one was the husband. They became interchangeable. There was also the somewhat clumsy, rough skeleton of the plot concerning a criminal that they must keep alive to testify while assassins are contracted to kill him, which survived through our final film screenplay. I liked these ideas idea but there was nothing else there to make a movie work. John Calley, who was the head of the studio and was the only great executive that I have ever met in my life, asked me ''Why don't you want to do the movie?'' I said ''I want to make a Dick Rush picture. '' He said ''Why don't you turn this into a Dick Rush picture?'' He was very generous and promised the studio would be very agreeable. It was the kind of offer that you can't refuse.

Filming Freebie and the Bean.
So I called my writing partner and we wrote a new screenplay about two bickering cops that became a prototype of the buddy cop movie. I put a lot of meat on the bones, with the unstereotypical wife of Freebie tormenting him with jealousy and the comic relief of their relationship. I also enjoyed holding a Funhouse Mirror up to the audience to let them examine their own attitudes towards violence. I shot the film partly in a Tom and Jerry style, with lots of car chases and car crashes, and the heroes are being indestructible. The audience is laughing and enjoying themselves and suddenly Freebie would drive around the corner into a marching band of kids, and just sloughed through them. The audience thought ''Wait a minute. What am I laughing at?'', and the style of the film had changed to stark realism. There was a lot of game-playing in the picture. At the time, we were in the middle of the Vietnam War, and we were watching villages being napalmed at dinner time on the TV set. Violence was engulfing our culture and it impacted upon our morality. At the same time, we were human beings with families and pets. It seemed to me that it was the time to play some games with the audience in a way that would help the picture and not hurt it.

Did Floyd Mutrux have any other involvement in the film? 
No. He did not participate in any further writing or production or post-production work, just the original piece of material that the studio handed me. I was later hired by the financier of THE STUNT MAN, Mel Simon, to supervise the filming of a film Mutrux was directing entitled Pinball, but I got busy directing THE STUNT MAN, so I hired a young director named John Theile to supervise the film instead.

There was friction between Alan Arkin, James Caan and yourself during the shooting of the film. Do you think it helped the film in any way? 
No, but thank God it didn't hurt the film too much. I had never had trouble with actors in my life before that film and I have never had problems since. The main factor was Arkin. Caan was a copycat. He was Arkin's buddy and would do anything Arkin did. When I told John Calley I wanted Arkin for the role he warned me''Arkin is a director killer. We just did CATCH-22 with him and he put Mike Nichols in the hospital. '' I said ''Hell, I've never had any troubles with actors. I'll take my chances. '' It was kind of a stupid mistake on my part. Arkin needed conflict as part of his method, and it was horribly disruptive, but it didn't show in his work. I found myself having to erase my own laughter from the soundtrack because the work Arkin and Caan were doing was so funny.

How much of the film was re-written on the day or improvised? Did you devise any new action sequences during filming? 
The film was thoroughly written on paper, including all the action and the dialogue, but of course Arkin and Caan kept up a habitual banter talking over each other, arguing and contradicting each other, which I strongly urged. The adjusted dialogue somehow emerged through this banter and therefore sounded completely hilarious and spontaneous. Of course there was spontaneous action. I had never seen the location or equipment when I wrote the stunts. It's all generated from what you have on hand. Getting a studio to approve a car off a freeway into a building involves a monumental campaign.

I love the scene where Alan Arkin confronts Valerie Harper about her possible infidelity. 
That's my favorite scene. It's a wonderful scene, beautifully written. Valerie Harper is a dream, and of course she was made for that scene.

Do you think there's an element of repressed homosexuality at all in the relationship between Freebie and Bean? 
Of course. And since Arkin and Caan are such rugged, masculine characters in reality and in their own minds, it makes their dependence on each other more poignant and funnier.

FREEBIE AND THE BEAN inspired so many other buddy cop movies, but few if any had parts for women like your film did. 
No, they didn't. Most of the copycats never 'got' what made the movie work, except for a few, like Dick Donner with LETHAL WEAPON (1987) or BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984).

FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is outlandish at times, but it still stays grounded. 
The film shows how life can resemble a cartoon at times, but it's still very real and actions have consequences. I consider my major value as a filmmaker to be my ability to walk the tightrope between comedy and drama and deliver without falling off.

I have heard people describe THE STUNT MAN as either a very serious drama or a comedy, and I always insist it's both. 
You're right!

Particularly on THE STUNT MAN, it strikes me that a theme in your work is that the angle that people see things, the information that they are privy to or not privy to, determines the way they see the whole world. 
Yes, that's very much a quest I've been on since I've been making movies. We all have a right to put the 'camera' in front of anything, and the angle with which we place it will determine how something seems to you.

Peter O'Toole and Rush on set.
I get the impression that if any of the major characters took a few steps back to look at a situation differently, we'd get a very different film. 
Exactly, and that's why I shoot whenever I can in a subjective reality. THE STUNT MAN was shot completely that way. You see the whole picture through the eyes of one character. You know only what that character knows, and you're thinking the same way as the character, as opposed to Hitchcock where he'll take you back to the ranch to show you the bad guys plotting.

I find it amusing that Eli (Peter O'Toole) probably isn't trying to kill Cameron (Steve Railsback), but that doesn't mean he wouldn't allow him to die in order to get his shot! 
Yes, although Eli doesn't know that himself!

You were connected to THE STUNT MAN, famously, for a decade. Did your vision for the film evolve a lot over that period? 
Only slightly, because time was eroding the screenplay and the Vietnam War was receding into history. Our young fugitive (Francis Cameron), who was recently from the Vietnam War, was growing older. In the final rewrite of the screenplay I added the scene at the dinner table where Eli says to the writer ''War is not the disease. It's only one of the symptoms. Name the disease. What is the disease?'' And so the main thematics of the film become an active part of the plot - Name the disease. 

Rush and Railsback on set.
Prior to THE STUNT MAN, Steve Railsback had played Charles Manson in HELTER SKELTER (1976). Was it your idea to do reverse casting by having him play the much more innocent Cameron? 
Actually, no-one had seen HELTER SKELTER. Steve had just shot it and it was still in the cutting room, so I didn't know about the ferocity and brilliance he had exhibited in the role of Manson. When I called him to read for THE STUNT MAN, it was clear he was that innocent, West Texas kid with the naivete that the part needed, as well as the dark, lethal underside that terrifies Barbara Hershey about going into the woods with him at night.

People don't often talk about how great Barbara Hershey is in the film. What do you feel she brought to the movie? 
I think she is seriously under-rated in the role, although she did get some great reviews. She was asked to play a dumb young actress who, if you opened her refrigerator, you'd probably find a wilted orchid and half a bottle of flat champagne. She played a shallow young actress and she captured her perfectly, while physically projecting the qualities of the universal dream girl.

Frontiere.
It's interesting that you have Railsback's drifter figure moving into another kind of drifer community led by O'Toole's filmmaker. Filmmakers are themselves kinds of drifters. 
Yes, they're all rebels who relish their own strangeness of character.

The tone of your films is quite hard to put a finger on, but your frequent composer Dominic Frontiere is always completely in sync. What has your working relationship been like? 
The relationship that I have developed with him is a fortunate one for me. First, the man is a tunesmith, and haunting melodies come drippingly off his fingers as he sits at the piano and we discuss a scene in the movie. That is how we work. Also, he is an articulate man. Not being a professioanal musician, I can express an idea in words which he can turn into music. We have done three films together and I am perpetually thrilled.

Part four. 

Rush's THE STUNT MAN site. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD RUSH (PART 2 OF 4)

Richard Rush is the celebrated director of THE STUNT MAN (1980, Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor: Peter O'Toole) and FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (1974). A true cinematic rebel, Rush broke his teeth directing exploitation pictures for American International Pictures in the 60s, and began exploring characters who are multi-faceted and capable of being different things at different times, and live on the outside of conventional society. His debut TOO SOON TO LOVE (1960) was described as the first American New Wave film, and featured one of Jack Nicholson's earliest appearances. In films like HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967) and PSYCH-OUT (1968), Rush helped to develop the persona that made Nicholson one of Hollywood's most iconic and acclaimed actors. Rush also directed the counterculture comedy drama GETTING STRAIGHT (1970) with Elliott Gould, and the erotic thriller COLOR OF NIGHT (1994) with Bruce Willis and Jane March. In the second part of a four-part interview, I spoke to Rush about PSYCH-OUT and GETTING STRAIGHT and the counterculture movement, working with Elliott Gould and Harrison Ford on the latter film, being influenced by Ingmar Bergman, and how and why he developed the 'rack focus' technology that became so much of the Richard Rush style.

Part one of the interview. 

PSYCH-OUT and GETTING STRAIGHT dealt with the counterculture movement. How much a part of it were you personally at that time? 
I was watching it up close and I was very emotionally involved. I spent a little time at the barricades, but my contribution to the counterculture movement was really GETTING STRAIGHT.

Even in PSYCH-OUT you can see that the movement is starting to change and become much darker. 
I think that's true, yes. That was about pretty much the same movement – the hippie movement, which matured into the movement against the War.

Did you feel like you had a comrade in arms having Elliott Gould on GETTING STRAIGHT? 
I actually spoke to him this morning! He called me and I was delighted to hear from him. He was great to work with. He turned out to be such a pliable, flexible actor. He had a remarkable quality of being able to do no wrong. If you asked him to change the character a shade for a particular scene, he would do it brilliantly, and yet it would be every bit as authentic and as correct as his original version of it. So I could modify the character in any situation as much as I wanted to and he would never change the quality of the work. He was brilliant to work with.

GETTING STRAIGHT is such an alive film, it's incredible. 
It was screened about a year ago at the Laemmle and it was amazing. It played absolutely in a contemporary way and it didn't have a sense of having aged at all. There was a lot of commentary in the audience about ''Why don't you re-release it?''

I read that you said that there are three films you make – ''... the one you write, the one you shoot and the one you cut. '' Which one of your films has evolved the most through these different processes? 
It's difficult to say, but offhand I'd say probably GETTING STRAIGHT. When I got the location of the University with all the glass walls we had to suit what was happening inside with what was happening outside, and it opened up enormous opportunities. Also, I'd never shot a riot before with tear gas and policemen beating up people. When I suddenly had the equipment to do that, with the tear gas and the paddy wagons and the helicopters, it became a different version of the movie than I had originally pictured in my head as I had written it. That said, though, the subtleties brought by the actors to THE STUNT MAN brought enormous changes to the film that I hadn't anticipated. When you work with someone like Peter O'Toole, for example, you're going to get invention and style, and you're going to get additional meaning that you might not have intended when you wrote the words.

What memories do you have of working with a very young Harrison Ford on GETTING STRAIGHT? 
Harrison Ford was a handsome young, inexperienced actor that was sent to me by the Studio Casting Department, who very well fit the part. So I cast him. I was quite happy with the result. His character had a distinct attitude I liked. And he was original.

Ingmar Bergman called GETTING STRAIGHT the best American film of the 70s. Did you ever meet him? 
I never met Bergman, to my sorrow, because I know how strongly he influenced me. There is something wonderfully illusional about Bergman films. He frequently makes us work to distinguish truth from illusion. I feel we invent a great deal of our own reality because we are unable to distinguish what the hell is happening around us, i.e. THE STUNT MAN. Also he has made it mandatory for me to stage processions.

Both GETTING STRAIGHT and THE STUNT MAN make great use of the 'rack focus' you created. What inspired you to develop it? 
Somebody had given me an 8mm camera with a 10 to 1 zoom lens. It was a birthday present. That summer I was hanging around the poorl playing with the camera when I realized that with the 10 to 1 zoom lens you could create poetic effects and transitions that seemed to mix near, far, past, future. With the long end of the lens you could de-focus an object, like a flower in a tree, and switch your focus to an object that was a different distance away. The first object would disappear and the second object would suddenly appear, and it made the relationships between the two objects much closer. I then found out that you could do the same with faces as well, and that same evolution seemed to exist, a relationship between the faces, the objects, time and place that was strangely intimate, much more so than a cut or a dissolve. I came up with the term 'rack focus'.

When did you begin to first use it in a film? 
I went to Laszlo and showed him my tests and said ''Do you think wecould do this on 35mm?'' He said we should do some tets before we do our next film, and they turned out well, so we tried using it on SAVAGE SEVEN (1968). We developed it a bit more on PSYCH-OUT, and then I went full-blown with it as a camera style on GETTING STRAIGHT, whereI began blocking the actors and the camera at the same time. I developed a technique I called 'critical focus'. For example, I would start on a close-up of a face, which might be thirty yards away but because of the long lens appeared as a close up. As the character walked towards the camera I would keep him in focus and keep the head size the same so it seemed like the world around him was getting bigger, until he got to right in front ouf the camera and then that became the establishing shot. With a close-up, you'd see all of his surroundings. Someone would walk up behind him, and then it would become an over the shoulder shot. In the meantime we handled focus changes invisibly so the shot remained true to what it was at the time. One thing would develop into another. It was a very interesting way of shooting for me and I have used it as my process ever since.

It definitely has a psychological effect on the viewer. 
Yes, I think so. I think it sucks them in.

Many zoom shots, no matter how brilliant they may be, call attention to themselves and remind the audience they are watching a movie. Yours make the audience lose themselves in the story and in the moment unravelling onscreen. 
I would agree! It strangely enhances things and key moments.

It was perfect for THE STUNT MAN, where you were dealing with paranoia. Would you also say you have a psychedelic way of looking at the world? 
For me it's not psychedelic, it's pure reality! I think I might have a goofier way of looking at the world than other people, but recent events have proved dangerously close to the way we used to look satirically at the world. I saw the new movie MARK FELT (2017) the other day. Liam Neeson plays Mark Felt, who was the real Deep Throat who helped bring down Nixon. I bet when they made the film they had no idea it would be such a relevant film for right now. Every scene and every shot seems like something out of the Trump world we are living in. 

Part three of the interview. 

Rush's THE STUNT MAN site. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD RUSH (PART 1 of 4)

Richard Rush is the celebrated director of THE STUNT MAN (1980, Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor: Peter O'Toole) and FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (1974). A true cinematic rebel, Rush broke his teeth directing exploitation pictures for American International Pictures in the 60s, and began exploring characters who are multi-faceted and capable of being different things at different times, and live on the outside of conventional society. His debut TOO SOON TO LOVE (1960) was described as the first American New Wave film, and featured one of Jack Nicholson's earliest appearances. In films like HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967) and PSYCH-OUT (1968), Rush helped to develop the persona that made Nicholson one of Hollywood's most iconic and acclaimed actors. Rush also directed the counterculture comedy drama GETTING STRAIGHT (1970) with Elliott Gould, and the erotic thriller COLOR OF NIGHT (1994) with Bruce Willis and Jane March. In the first of a four-part interview, I spoke to Rush about the road that led to his debut, his experiences working for AIP and working with Jack Nicholson, Adam Roarke and master cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, the kinds of characters he likes to explore, and his connection to EASY RIDER (1969).        

Growing up, what were some of your most memorable experiences watching movies? 
I remember there were some early Humphrey Bogart movies that got me. One began to learn how to dress, how to smoke, how to talk to people. I think so much of who we become is a result of what one learned from watching movies. I saw MILDRED PIERCE (1945) fifteen times when I was working as an usher at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. It played there for a couple of weeks. It was about a woman who opens a successful restaurant after fighting to become successful. There were a lot of affairs and intrigues. That's where I learned how to make movies, watching good movies over and over again and realising how they were made. When I saw A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), it was such a powerful experience. I was struck by the huge close-ups George Stevens put up on the screen, where you could actually read what a person was thinking. It was so much more powerful than just having dialogue.

When you started on the UCLA Film Program, what did you find yourself the most interested in pointing your camera at? 
Strangely enough, I was there for the very beginning of the Program. It started in wooden bungalows. It was easily the most beautful campus I had ever seen. This was an experimental program, and there was barely any equipment. I can say clearly I didn't learn a damn thing about film, but the Theater Department was wonderful. I really learned about film later on after years of trying to find a crack in the great theoretical world of Hollywood. After graduating I made propaganda TV programs about the Korean War for the Military, and after that I started up a production company and made commercials.

Was making the TV programs for the Military a particularly useful experience in your development as a filmmaker? 
It was certainly of some use. It was an opportunity to go out with a camera and shoot things. But the most interesting part of the whole experience was when the TV unit sent us out to watch the big classic, three camera live television shows and we got to watch a lot of them being made. It was a valuable experience spending time in the booth and on the floor. Although I never made a three camera TV show, the experience came in handy. I sometimes used up to five cameras on my films when I was shooting action sequences.

What did you learn from making your first feature, TOO SOON TO LOVE? 
Everything. I learned that all the things I had been thinking about and planning to do really worked! After I finished it and and it was in the theater, an old-timer said to me ''I've got to tell you a couple of things. You've got to match your close-ups. '' I've been so meticulous about that ever since with my cameramen. 

TOO SOON TO LOVE was described as the first American New Wave film and Truffaut was a fan of your work. Did you ever meet him? 
Yes, I met him briefly many, many years later. When I met him, it was a rushed brush by each other with a quick "Hello" and time for a passing smile and nod that said, silently, "I really love your work". That's all. I had an important experience with him, though. He was in New York being interviewed and he was asked ''Who is your favorite American filmmaker?''. He said ''I don't know his name but last night I saw his film THE STUNT MAN. '' That quote did me more good than I could possibly imagine. It was used by the Head of the AFI when she introduced the film to the Congressional Affiliate in Washington, and it's always used to advertise the film. It gave me a status that I hadn't had up until then.

Was Truffaut someone you looked up to? 
Oh yes, I certainly admired his films.

Where do you think your rebellious and anarchic streak, that can be seen across your work, comes from? 
I'm really not sure, but I certainly think that's why AIP, which distributed teenage films, was attracted to me as a filmmaker and made and distributed my early films. They recognised rebellion as the trademark of the American teenager. He's fighting society and his parents and the world, as I was as a teenager. I don't know if I ever stopped.

How important was your time at AIP to improving your craft? 
All of those films were made in 13 days for around $100, 000, and that meant we were working 24/7. It was just about what a human could stand! It was mind-bending , back-breaking and soul-scorching, but I guess it was character building. It certianly gave us all a familiarity with the tools and the language of cinema. 

How much do you credit your cinematographer on six films, Laszlo Kovacs, for the success of them? 
He was extremely instrumental. He was very good at what he did. Laszlo was not only a great Director of Photography. He was also the best handheld cameraman in the world. He could hold a huge camera on his shoulder and handle focus changes, all the time being quiet, which others couldn't do at all. He could get into intimate, close situations like no other. He had never made a movie when I hired him. He had escaped from Hungary with the footage of the Russian tanks invading his country. The footage was extraordinary. I liked him and thought I would give him a shot. We did a number of pictures together and we developed as filmmakers together. I was very demanding of him, and my editors too, because I set up all the shots and I make all the cuts, and still do. I need great cameramen and great editors.

One thing that is remarkable about your films is that you seem to favor characters who are multi-faceted and neither good or bad. Do you like such characters because they reflect how you see people in general? 
I think it probably is. It's interesting that you say this because I met the actor Larry Bishop, who had appeared in my film THE SAVAGE SEVEN (1968) and he said ''I'm working with Quentin Tarantino right now and you are his favorite director. I'm working with him because SAVAGE SEVEN is one of his favorite movies. He has a poster of the film in his home theater. '' When I met Tarantino I was sure he was going to say THE STUNT MAN was his favorite of my pictures but no, he said SAVAGE SEVEN. He said he liked it because the characters switch from White Hat to Black Hat, like you just said. I thought that was a fascinating observation so I went home and screened the film and saw some things in it I hadn't seen before. I began to respect it much more than I had. It's about the head of a motorcycle gang who on the one hand was helping a businessman destroy an Indian village but in the end he really had a heart of gold and did good deeds.

Adam Roarke's character was fascinating. You never knew whether you liked him or not, but he was so compelling. You never knew where he was coming from or what he would do next. 
Yes, and neither did he!

What did you like about working with Roarke? You did four films together. 
He was a very genuine actor who had a very solid background with the Actors' Studio. He was very real and very good, and had both lightness and a heaviness to his character at the same time. It gave him stature. It made him perfect to play the leader of a gang in SAVAGE SEVEN and HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS. He comes across as a guy who would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.

You also worked with Jack Nicholson on three films. Before his success with EASY RIDER (1969) he worked with such extraordinary filmmakers as yourself, Roger Corman, Monte Hellman, and Bob Rafelson, and wrote and produced pictures as well. Are you surprised that, as well as becoming a hugely acclaimed actor, his directing career never really took off? 
I'm not, no, because one day he came up to me, and he looked depressed. He said ''Well, Dick. I guess I'm going to have to settle for being an actor. '' He had had aspirations to write and direct but Roger Corman had put him under contract as an actor. He was a very good writer. I don't think he really had a chance to show he could direct, but he was a really bright guy.

During this time, how well did you know the likes of Corman, Rafelson, Hellman, Bogdanovich and the Schneiders and others? 
I knew them, but we weren't really close. Bert Schneider came to me once and said ''I'd like to borrow your Biker Trilogy'', which was HELL'S ANGELS, SAVAGE SEVEN and PSYCH-OUT. PSYCH-OUT really wasn't a biker flick but it was the same cast and the hero rode a motorcycle. He said 'I'm going to make a biker picture and I'm modelling it after yours. I'd like to show your films to my old man to see if I can get him to back the movie. '' His father was Abe Schneider, who at the time was the Head of Columbia. The film got greenlit and was made as EASY RIDER. On the day before the cast and crew left on the buses to go to the first location, they invited me to a cast and crew screening of my Biker Trilogy. They also used a lot of my crew, including my cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs. I was flabbergasted when Bert said ''I'm going to make a Dick Rush film. '' I wished him luck. I have no other connection with it. He made a movie that turned out to be a phenomenon. I didn't like it much when he first showed it to me but after they continued to edit it it improved a lot.

Part two of the interview. 

Rush's THE STUNT MAN site. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH DARRYL PONICSAN (PART 3 OF 3)

Darryl Ponicsan is the author of thirteen novels, including his debut, 1970's The Last Detail, which was made as a classic film by Hal Ashby, with Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. Ponicsan recently adapted his sequel, 2005's Last Flag Flying, into a new film, directed by Richard Linklater and featuring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne. His list of credits as a screenwriter are staggering - Mark Rydell's CINDERELLA LIBERTY (1973), which he adapted from his novel; three films with Harold Becker - TAPS (1981), which featured early appearances from Tom Cruise, Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton, the inspirational sports drama/ romance VISION QUEST (1985) with Matthew Modine and Linda Fiorentino, and the drug drama THE BOOST (1988), with James Woods and Sean Young; Martin Ritt's intense drama NUTS (1987) with Barbra Streisand; Robert Mandel's sports drama SCHOOL TIES (1992), which featured early appearances from Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Brendan Fraser, and Chris O' Donnell; and Sydney Pollack's romantic drama RANDOM HEARTS (1999) with Harrison Ford and Kristin-Scott Thomas. In the final part of a three-part interview, I spoke with Ponicsan about the female characters in his work, the making of THE BOOST and NUTS, his contributions to RANDOM HEARTS, and the road that led to the novel and film of Last Flag Flying, and what we can expect from the film version.

Part one and two of the interview. 

The likes of Nancy Allen in THE LAST DETAIL, Marsha Mason in CINDERELLA LIBERTY and Linda Fiorentino in VISION QUEST are women who have been knocked around by life and have hard edges but still have heart, warmth and spunk. Are you inspired by and attracted to such women? 
Yeah, I guess I am. I've never been attracted to privileged women, wealthy women or debutantes. To this day, I'm turned off by the concerns of wealthy women and I think some great women change when they become wealthy. I've always been kind of drawn to girls who have been dealt bad hands in life and managed to somehow prevail.

THE BOOST, which you made with Harold Becker, concerns an L.A. couple (James Woods and Sean Young) in the mid-80s who become addicted to cocaine. Dealing with Hollywood as a screenwriter, did you encounter much drug-related behavior that impacted upon your writing of the script? 
I didn't, no, because I never really went to many parties and I've never been one to snort lines of coke at a party when I did go. The people I knew in Hollywood for the most part worked too hard to have a coke habit. The hours you work, especially when you're making a film, are just too long. I never used it myself for pretty much the same reason. My focus is somewhere else, and you can't let anything get in the way. It was ironic that I wrote the screenplay to THE BOOST really. Warren Beatty called me up once to feel me about a project and to talk about THE BOOST. I had never met him previously. During the course of our conversation he said ''Are you clean and sober now?'' I told him that I had always been clean and sober! 

Have there been any pitfalls that you have had to try and avoid in your career? How about ego, when your career has been riding particularly high? 
I've always been pretty good at controlling my ego. There have been times in my life and career, I'm sure, when I have acted like an asshole and have thought I was hot stuff, but I think for the most part I have come in with a sense of humility and come out with a sense of humility. Finally, screenwriting is hard work and luck and doing the right thing.

How did your acting roles in NUTS and THE BOOST come about? 
I actually had a speaking role in THE BOOST. I had a scene with Jimmy Woods, running on the beach. That was fun. Barbra Streisand actually wanted me to play the role of the psychiatrist in NUTS, but the original director, Mark Rydell, was having none of it, and then when another director came on, it had already been cast with Eli Wallach. Martin Ritt, the new director, said ''Why don't you sit at the bar and bark at Barbra when she comes in?'' It was just a little cameo.

With you and Alvin Sargent originally writing competing drafts for NUTS, and then Barbra Streisand insisting you write as a team, was the film the most 'nuts' you worked on? 
It was certainly the strangest experience of my career. Nothing is all bad or good though. There are a lot of memories of that film that I cherish and were good, and then there is the shoddy stuff. It's all yin and yang, it all balances out.

In the end, did you enjoy collaborating with another writer (Alvin Sargent) on the screenplay? 
Alvin has been a dear friend for years and years, and still is. He was one of my first friends in the business, and one of my last friends in the business. It was fun to work with him. He has always been in his own world and his way of working is unlike most people's. He takes an awful long time and he's a quietly brilliant writer. He has no ego at all and he suffers from a lack of confidence in his life. I wound up being the drill sergeant of the two of us, the one who had to crack the whip. I loved getting inside Alvin's head. He's a remarkable human being.

What did you find to be the most brilliant thing about working with Streisand? 
She surprised me because she had this reputation of being a ballbuster but I found her to be funny, smart, hardworking and just great to hang out with. I really enjoyed my time with her. She's driven, very focused and she is one of these people that lets perfect get in the way of good. I've always had a difficult time with perfectionists. I've always felt it comes out of a sense of insecurity because in truth nothing is perfect and they keep beating themselves over the heads to be perfect. But there's nothing I don't admire about her. She's a wonderful lady.

With RANDOM HEARTS, how different was your original script to the rewritten Sydney Pollack/ Harrison Ford version? 
I saw the Harrison Ford film once and didn't like it. I'm sure my script was different but I have a hard time remembering how. I was working with Ivan Reitman and writing for Dustin Hoffman, who was playing a Congressman, and Harrison Ford played a cop in the Sydney Pollack film, which makes it a different kind of picture. Sydney Pollack was a wonderful director and had terrific taste, but unfortunately this was one of his stinkers.

Why did you decide to write a follow-up to The Last Detail (Last Flag Flying) after so much time had passed?
The executive producer of the film of LAST FLAG FLYING, Tom Wright, and I have been friends for a long time, and he was such a fan of THE LAST DETAIL. He kept after me to make a sequel and I kept telling him I didn't want to because it didn't make much sense. But over time, as we got involved in Iraq and these endless wars, and paranoia swept over the country, I couldn't help but start wondering what these characters would be doing now. If they had to somehow duplicate the journey that they did, how and why would they do it, and what would they think about what was going on in the country? I became obsessed with George Bush and Dick Cheney, and the stupid war they led us into, and so once I sat down to write the book, it went real quick.

Was it a cathartic experience revisiting your first success? 
It was not only cathartic but it gave me a sense of coming full circle, which was very gratifying. The Last Detail was published in 1970, and the film of Last Flag Flying and the new edition of the book, is coming out in 2017, 47 years later. That in itself is incredible. I'm enjoying this sense of closing the circle.

When you were writing the book was the LAST DETAIL film on your mind a lot? 
Oh sure. The movie informed the characters in the book. The characters evolved from the Last Detail book into the film version and then into the Last Flag Flying book and then the film version. It's really a strange process for any writer I would think.

What do you admire the most about Richard Linklater? 
I think he's got tremendous heart. He's at peace in his own skin. He knows what he wants out of a film. He's not going to imitate anybody else. I think he trusts the people around him. He's a special guy, and people recognise this. Anytime he releases a film, anybody who knows about movies wants to see it. They're not always great but they're always honest to the filmmaker himself.

Were you disappointed that Jack Nicholson chose not to return? 
You know, it's the best thing to ever happen, really. I’m sure it would have been a terrific picture with Nicholson, but we made the movie at what it would have cost to get Nicholson, and then the other two would have wanted equity. It’s economics. At the time it looked like it wasn't going to happen, I had other things, health concerns, on my mind, so it was easy for me to just brush it off. The film happened because Rick never gave up on the project and held on to it. He was off doing BOYHOOD (2014) and other films but he never gave up. Then one day I got an email from him saying ''I told you this day was going to come. Amazon is going to finance the movie. '' I said ''Wow!''

What kind of performance can we expect from Bryan Cranston? 
He doesn't do an imitation of Jack Nicholson. He's incredible in his own way. The movie isn't technically a sequel to THE LAST DETAIL. It's an adaptation of a book that continues the story of the book and film of The Last Detail, but it's not actually the same characters. It's similar guys on a similar mission to the original film and book, and the story echoes that book and film. 

Darryl's website.  

LAST FLAG FLYING opens in the US on November 3rd. 

The trailer to the film. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH DARRYL PONICSAN (PART 2 OF 3)

Darryl Ponicsan is the author of thirteen novels, including his debut, 1970's The Last Detail, which was made as a classic film by Hal Ashby, with Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. Ponicsan recently adapted his sequel, 2005's Last Flag Flying, into a new film, directed by Richard Linklater and featuring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne. His list of credits as a screenwriter are staggering - Mark Rydell's CINDERELLA LIBERTY (1973), which he adapted from his novel; three films with Harold Becker - TAPS (1981), which featured early appearances from Tom Cruise, Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton, the inspirational sports drama/ romance VISION QUEST (1985) with Matthew Modine and Linda Fiorentino, and the drug drama THE BOOST (1988), with James Woods and Sean Young; Martin Ritt's intense drama NUTS (1987) with Barbra Streisand; Robert Mandel's sports drama SCHOOL TIES (1992), which featured early appearances from Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Brendan Fraser, and Chris O' Donnell; and Sydney Pollack's romantic drama RANDOM HEARTS (1999) with Harrison Ford and Kristin-Scott Thomas. In the second part of a three-part interview, I spoke with Ponicsan about how his screenwriting influenced his novel writing, some of his unmade projects, his three films with Harold Becker (and their unmade version of Johnny Handsome), and his experience as the original writer on the voice-over for a little science fiction film called BLADE RUNNER.

Part one of the interview. 

Did your screenwriting experiences influence the way you wrote novels? 
It cut both ways. With my novel of The Last Detail, some of the critics said ''This isn't so much a novel as it is a screenplay. '' They probably said the same thing about Last Flag Flying. It's because I wrote them in the present tense. They're short books and I thought having them in the present tense would be a more dynamic way to tell the story. As you read them, you do sense that they are cinematic. They're a lot easier to visualise being set in the present tense. I think I brought a cinematic stance to the books, rather than the other way around.

The way screenwriting affected my novel writing is that it really taught me the discipline of rewriting - doing serious demolition and changing a lot of things. When I wrote some of my first novels, a lot of the work was from my first drafts and I didn't change things at all. But things are different now. I've been working on a novel for four years now and I have been constantly rewriting it.

You wrote a series of mystery novels under the pseudonym of Anne Argula. Was that a freeing experience for you, writing under a different persona? 
It was really accidental. I had an idea that I thought was great and by that time I hadn't been working on films for a few years and I didn't want to do the idea as a screenplay, so I did it as a novel. But I didn't think it was a literary novel. I felt it fell into the mystery genre, which I know very little about. I wasn't particularly a mystery fan and I wasn't well versed in how to write one. As I started writing it, it wasn't my plan but I found myself writing in a woman's voice. She was a minor character to begin with, and that kind of changed. I published the book (Homicide My Own) with a small New York publisher, and this was the first time they had ever published a mystery. They had been doing non-fiction, poetry and short stories. The book got nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and that was how it got revealed that I was the real author. I was then pressed to do another one, and I ended up doing four, but I'm done with them now. I enjoyed writing them, and when I re-read them I'm kind of happy with the way they turned out. Unfortunately, they had no distribution and no advertising and so they pretty much fell through the cracks. I don't think many people have read them but I am hoping that somewhere down the line they'll find a second life.

In the eight years between CINDERELLA LIBERTY and TAPS, how many other projects came close to being made? Which project disappointed you the most that it didn't get made? 
I wrote a lot of screenplays but nothing really got that close. There were directors attached but we didn't have people cast. During that time I wrote four novels, including 'Tom Mix Died for Your Sins', for which Fox owns the film rights to. I would have liked to have seen that produced but at the time it turned out way too expensive and there was no way to reduce the cost. Economics are always central to making movies.

You made a number of films with Harold Becker, starting with TAPS. What was your working relationship like? 
It was sometimes great, sometimes contentious. The only directors I didn't have fights with were Rick Linklater on LAST FLAG FLYING and Robert Mandel on SCHOOL TIES. Harold and I had a long relationship and we did a number of movies together. It was similar to the relationship I had with the producer Stanley Jaffe – it was a love-hate relationship. He would hate me until I did something that he loved, and then all would be okay. I ended up doing three pictures with Stanley.

Harold Becker 
How close did you and Harold Becker's version of Johnny Handsome come close to getting made? 
We were going to do it with Al Pacino. I worked pretty intensely on it. Al wasn't part of the development process and didn't have a whole lot of input. He would read the script as it came in. We met several times and I liked him very much. He's a very nice guy. He hung with it for a while during development but eventually he just decided it wasn't right for him. Harold and I fell away from the project, and it ended up getting made with Mickey Rourke and Walter Hill.

Was your version of the story a lot different than Walter Hill's? 
It was a lot different but I don't remember any details. I was very disappointed in the final film when I saw it. I felt the material had much better potential.

VISION QUEST.
You've proven adept at telling stories about groups of young people and from their point of view. Were these screenplays in any ways particular challenges for that reason? 
No. I was a teacher for several years, so I was in touch with young people and I saw them in a different way to Hollywood, which saw them as superficial and always on the town and carousing and all that kind of stuff. I saw the kids as serious in nature. They dealt with the same big problems that everybody else did. I think I had a greater respect for them than was seen previously in movies. TAPS, VISION QUEST and SCHOOL TIES treat kids with respect and grant them intelligence and character.

VISION QUEST, for example, was sweet and inspirational, but never succumbed to sentimentality. Was avoiding sentimentality something on your mind? 
Yes, it was. It was based on a book and was just a very decent, sweet story, which is so rare to find. Nothing was manufactured. There wasn't any imposed conflict or anything. It was a rite of passage in the best possible way. It's not easy becoming a man and to watch a guy take it on like that was really something. As I told Matthew Modine at the time ''This is the closest we're ever going to get to Catcher in the Rye. '' In many ways Matthew's character was as open as Holden Caulfield. The picture didn't do well but has more fans now.

What do you remember of the call to ask you to write the voice-over for BLADE RUNNER? 
I got a direct call from Bud Yorkin, one of the producers, with whom I had worked on a project called Lethal Gas, an absurd look at the prison system. (His new assistant was a nervous kid just out of Harvard named Andy Borowitz, who is now one of the country’s major humorists.) Lethal Gas was another project I wish could have been made. Bud and I became friends, and he was calling as a friend in need. So of course I didn’t think twice about going into LA and helping. He told me the situation and led me into the screening room. He never said a word about what the movie was about, or anything else about it.

What was felt to be the problem with the film? What did you think of the cut they showed you? 
The producers felt it was too opaque and that nobody was going to understand it. Ridley Scott said ''If you give me the money to shoot two more scenes, everything will become perfectly clear. '' They said ''No, we're already over budget. There's no more money. '' So they brought me in and I took a look at it. I loved it. I thought it was fantastic. It was such eye candy to begin with, and I loved the characters. I thought that if there was any confusion, maybe a voice-over would help. I don't feel that films normally require narration, but I saw BLADE RUNNER as being in a long tradition of noir and even futuristic or imaginative fiction and they have a tradition of first-person narration. I also used it in VISION QUEST, but you have to use it where it works and not as a crutch.

How long did you work on the film? 
I worked on it I think for about a week or ten days. I left after my father died.

Is the voice-over in the theatrical cut all your work? 
Who knows if anybody messed about it with it after I was gone. I watched the film again and again, and we tried to pinpoint where a voice-over would add to it. I did the same with the script in front of me. There were some technical issues as well. I would suggest to Ridley little transitions that we could do to help the picture that didn't involve reshooting anything. It was all done with sound. There was something with an intercom I remember.

Did you attend any of the looping sessions with Harrison Ford? 
No, I did my thing and went. I'd never been involved before with anything like that. I don't how long after the movie was released, but it didn't do well and it wasn't until later that people discovered it. Now it's considered a classic. It's happened before. I don't think anybody was crazy about CASABLANCA (1942) or CITIZEN KANE (1941) when they came out.

When you finally saw BLADE RUNNER, what did you think of the film and what did you think of the voice-over? 
I saw the rough cut alone in a screening room. I was blown away. I was sure it would become a classic. I thought the voiceover was a good idea. When the film was released I was invited to the premiere where I flirted with Joanna Cassidy, who was so memorable in that movie. Her running away from Ford is a classic cinema moment. I thought the voiceover worked fine. Many disagree.

What was it like working with Ridley Scott? Did you speak to Scott about the finished voice-over? Was he gung-ho about the voice-over when you came on? 
I like Ridley and I liked his brother, with whom I spent a lot more time. Ridley was not happy. He didn’t want a voiceover, he wanted more money to shoot a couple more scenes, and he told me so. But we made the most of it. I never spoke to him after I did my work, so I have no idea what he thought about the VO. 

Did you ever speak to Harrison Ford about his experience recording the voice-over? 
Years later I was invited to Harrison Ford’s home in Jackson Hole, Wyo. to confer on a script I was rewriting. He was to star in the movie. Over dinner I told him I’d done the VO on BLADE RUNNER. He told me matter-of-factly that he hated it and deliberately did his least on it. I’m not sure how his best would have made it different. 

How do you feel about the arguments between fans about which cut of the film is best? 
I’m amused by it when I pay any attention at all. Rick Linklater called me after he read an interview I’d done and said, “Hey, I didn’t know you did the voiceover. I liked it, and I’ve seen every cut.” So with that I’m ready to put the matter to rest.

Part three of the interview. 

LAST FLAG FLYING opens in the US on November 3rd. 

The trailer to the film. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.