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.

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.

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