AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL DEELEY (PART 2 OF 2)

Michael Deeley produced some of the biggest classics of the last fifty years - ROBBERY (1967), THE ITALIAN JOB (1969), THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976), THE DEER HUNTER (1978) and BLADE RUNNER (1982). Beginning his film career in the cutting rooms, he became a producer with the successful comedy short THE CASE OF THE MUKKINESE BATTLE-HORN in 1956, which was an attempt to translate The Goon Show to film and featured members Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Dick Emery. Deeley's long career has also seen him work for the UK sales division of MCA Universal, and collaborate with Woodfall Films (TOM JONES, LOOK BACK IN ANGER). He was also the managing director of British Lion, which released such classics as THE WICKER MAN (1973), DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. When British Lion merged with EMI Films, Deeley and Barry Spikings became co-managers of the company, and their productions included THE DEER HUNTER, THE DRIVER (1978) and CONVOY (1978). He is also the Honorary President of the British Screen Advisory Council, which he co-founded. His 2008 book Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off – My Life in Cult Movies (co-authored with Matthew Field) is one of the most fascinating, entertaining and candid film autobiographies there is, and it has recently been re-released with additional content. In the final part of our two-part interview. I spoke to Deeley about what he enjoys about the development process; the role of a producer; what he enjoys the most about producing; the part luck and serendipity has played in his career; how he has dealt with friction between himself and the likes of Christopher Lee, Sam Peckinpah and Michael Cimino, and how he feels about his legacy as a producer. 

Part one of the interview.    

Deeley and Sean Young
Do you enjoy the development process of making a movie? 
Yes, it's enjoyable, but one is pretty passive at that stage. I mean, you may have things you want to say about the script, but hopefully not too many. Once a director comes on, you know there are going to be further script changes. In the case of BLADE RUNNER and Ridley (Scott), there were major script changes.

I find the development process of BLADE RUNNER, as you outlined in your book, fascinating. I loved reading how small comments Ridley made would bring enormous changes to the production. 
The main change Ridley brought was to move the story outside. Just the opening shot of the movie justifies that decision straight away!

What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about what a producer does? 
In a way, Harvey Weinstein is the arch-typical view of a film producer. He behaves the way he does, sometimes makes films, but who knows what he really does.

How would you define what a producer does? 
Deeley on the set of BLADE RUNNER.
A producer is a person who causes a film to be made. The producer is always the first person on a project. He starts off in a creative role, and he's fooling around with the material. I once even made a film about a song, called CONVOY. There was no script initially on that. A producer then has to be fairly constructive and careful in how he raises the money. After that he has to cast people. Once he has done all that, and the first day of shooting comes, he's no longer doing anything except serving the director. His job is to deliver what the director needs even if it's moving the Taj Mahal two inches to the left. The director, under the Guild rules, also has the right of first cut. Very often, studios don't have enough respect for producers. They should at least realise that the package came to them because the producer put it together, but they don't because they are always dazzled by the director. They feel that the producer may go off and do other projects with other studios whereas the director and the cast are key to the film's success. This is why they fall over themselves to do what the director and cast want. The producer is edged out of that conversation.

What do you personally love the most about producing? 
It's a pleasure to get a film made and pull it off. It's several weeks of your life and at the end of it you have something that the public likes or they don't. After that, you have to go out and find another project.

How important has luck or serendipity played in your career? BLADE RUNNER, for example, has its roots on the set of THE ITALIAN JOB. 
Yes, I met Brian Kelly on that film. He was the boyfriend of Maggie Blye at that time, who appeared in the film not inconspicuously, and we became great friends. He had been in the television series Flipper and was about to be the lead in a big film for Columbia when over a holiday weekend, he had a motorcycle accident. The gears jammed on his bike and he and his passenger were chucked off. Brian fell into a grass verge but unfortunately he hit his head on a stone where it could do the most damage and it paralysed his right arm and leg. The picture was abandoned, and he was injured for the rest of his life. It was very sad. Brian always talked about producing films but didn't know anything about the process. But it was him who came to me with the idea of adapting the Philip K. Dick book, and it turned out to be a nice bit of business for me and Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the script.

Luck definitely played a big part in my career, but I also made some pretty serious mistakes. For example, a young writer came to me with an idea for a film about the assassination of De Gaulle. I read it and it was very well done but I had to say ''I'm sorry but I can't do it. It doesn't work as a film. Everybody knows De Gaulle is alive, so how can there be any suspense as to whether he is going to get killed or not?'' He took it to the producer John Woolf, who was an old hand at the time, and he made the picture, which turned out to be THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973). I had missed the point entirely. The film wasn't about anything remarkable, it was about how they stopped an assassin from killing De Gaulle.

Peter Yates
There was another one I missed too. Paramount weren't too happy about the way the script was going for MURPHY'S WAR (1971), and Bob Evans, who was a terrific studio head, called me and said ''I don't think we are really going to get along with MURPHY'S WAR, but I have this book I want you to read. '' Peter Yates and I were on pay-or-play deals. I read the book, and I thought it was fantastic. I called Peter to get him to read the book as well. He read it but he said ''I've just done a crime film with BULLITT (1968). I'd rather stick with MURPHY'S WAR. '' It was the luckiest day for Bob Evans because I had to call him and tell him that Peter Yates wouldn't be directing THE GODFATHER (1972). He wasn't happy at the time but Coppola did an amazing job on the picture.

As well as detailing the successes of your career, your book also covers the disappointments, the problems and the backstabbings that went on. How did you manage not to become disillusioned at times? 
I think life's like that generally. I'm not going to be disillusioned with life so there's no point being disillusioned with the film business!

Did you take it in your stride when the likes of Christopher Lee or Michael Cimino criticised you or told versions of events that differ from yours? 
As far as Christopher Lee is concerned, it was a simple story. THE WICKER MAN was meant to be released by the Rank Organisation and when it came to it, they refused. The reason for that wasn't that it was a dreary, silly little piece or anything but that it wasn't a fashionable film of that period at all. There was also a falling out between the producer Peter Snell and the person who did the bookings for Rank over one of the cast members. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

So there we were at British Lion with half of our money in THE WICKER MAN, and the other half in DON'T LOOK NOW and no release. ABC Cinemas wouldn't take it because it had been turned down by Rank and the film had been besmirched. The same thing happened on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH when Paramount turned it down. The only way I could get THE WICKER MAN on the circuit was by insisting it play alongside DON'T LOOK NOW. Everybody, including Rank, wanted DON'T LOOK NOW, so the price they had to pay was to take THE WICKER MAN as the B picture. It meant THE WICKER MAN had to be shortened, but that was a good thing anyway. Eventually what we cut out was a big, long, rambling scene with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward talking about apple farming. Christopher Lee got cut out completely in the last LORD OF THE RINGS and he didn't go on about that the way he did with me. My argument about THE WICKER MAN has always been that it might not have been the version that the filmmakers wanted to be shown, but at least the film DID get shown. And at least British Lion got its money back.

Which of your projects surpassed your expectations with how they turned out? 
THE DEER HUNTER, definitely, although I was disappointed with how long it was. The first part of the film in Pennsylvania was meant to be 15 minutes long, but Cimino made it 45 minutes and he convinced Universal to keep it that length. So that was that. In a way, THE ITALIAN JOB surpassed my expectations because it was a boring caper script really until we cast it. By having characters like Noel Coward and Benny Hill pop up throughout the picture it gave it a levity that made people smile. It became something different. The writer, Troy Kennedy Martin, wasn't very fond of the picture at first, but he eventually came around. BLADE RUNNER was incredible the first time I saw it but I knew what to expect because we did a lot of the model work towards the end, and it all came together chink by chink.

When you look back at CONVOY and the problems Sam Peckinpah gave you, do you regret hiring him? 
No, the film has some good looking things about it. I had understood he had stopped drinking, but what I hadn't known was that he had substituted it with cocaine, which became the difficulty. I wasn't meant to produce that picture but he was so able to easily bully the guy who was meant to be producing it.

Looking back at your career, how proud you feel? 
I feel good. I made one or two mistakes, though. When Barry Spikings came in with me at EMI Films, he had had no experience putting movies together but I put his name on every film that I made. It was foolish because he really wasn't qualified and it diluted my credit. It felt like the right thing to do at the time to give your partner a co-credit. After I left EMI, he changed the credits around to give himself first credit and he also allowed Cimino to take a producing credit with us. Cimino took that producing credit to United Artists and it helped him get to produce HEAVEN'S GATE (1980). I was amazed nobody at United Artists ever called me up to find out what it was like to work with him. I would have told them.

The updated edition of Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off – My Life in Cult Movies by Michael Deeley with Matthew Field can be ordered from the publishers and Amazon UK.  

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


AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL DEELEY (PART 1 OF 2)

Michael Deeley produced some of the biggest classics of the last fifty years - ROBBERY (1967), THE ITALIAN JOB (1969), THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976), THE DEER HUNTER (1978) and BLADE RUNNER (1982). Beginning his film career in the cutting rooms, he became a producer with the successful comedy short THE CASE OF THE MUKKINESE BATTLE-HORN in 1956, which was an attempt to translate The Goon Show to film and featured members Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Dick Emery. Deeley's long career has also seen him work for the UK sales division of MCA Universal, and collaborate with Woodfall Films (TOM JONES, LOOK BACK IN ANGER). He was also the managing director of British Lion, which released such classics as THE WICKER MAN (1973), DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. When British Lion merged with EMI Films, Deeley and Barry Spikings became co-managers of the company, and their productions included THE DEER HUNTER, THE DRIVER (1978) and CONVOY (1978). He is also the Honorary President of the British Screen Advisory Council, which he co-founded. His 2008 book Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off – My Life in Cult Movies (co-authored with Matthew Field) is one of the most fascinating, entertaining and candid film autobiographies there is, and it has recently been re-released with additional content. In the first part of our two-part interview. I spoke to Deeley about how he entered the film industry and became a producer, how his experiences doing National Service in Malaya and cutting films influenced his producing choices, how many geniuses he has worked with, his attraction to working with risky material and innovative filmmakers, and his thoughts on BLADE RUNNER 2049.           
  
Have you seen BLADE RUNNER 2049 yet? 
No. I haven't had a chance or the inclination for the moment. I've read reviews of it, particularly the Hollywood Reporter review, and he said the first hour was boring and the thing was so long that they could only have two shows a day in the theater, which strikes me as being crazy. You're losing a third of your money. Another guy told me he nearly fell asleep, although he did admit it was late night screening. I'm not rushing to see it. I don't want to be disappointed.

How did the idea come about for you to write Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off – My Life in Cult Movies? 
I was approached by Matthew Field, who was just about to leave University, and was writing a book about THE ITALIAN JOB. He had liked the movie since he was six years old and he felt he could do a good book. He hadn't written a book before and after I met with him, I introduced him to Michael Caine and others, to help him get what he needed. When it was being published, we used to go and do these Q and As to promote the book. We would be hanging around waiting to go on, and he would ask me about all the films I had made. He said ''You know, you ought to write a book. '' I said ''I can't write a book. I can't type!'' To cut a long story short he volunteered to do the book with me. Over a long period of time, where he'd come over and stay with me or we'd have dinner in London, we eventually got the thing together and had a book.

It's a fantastic book. I've read it five times. I find it fascinating, and very entertaining and candid. 
It seemed to me that nobody knows what producers do, and it would be interesting for people to learn. My main aim, though, was to dig out some stories about some of my films that people had seen and try to pull out some human experiences that went into the making of them.

It was also a chance for you to tell your side of the story. When stars or directors complain about producers, most people are inclined to believe their version of events. 
Producers don't always have a very pretty look to them, and of course Mr. Weinstein is an example of that.

What were some of the films that made you fall in love with cinema growing up?
I don't know about falling in love with cinema, I fell in love with girls! I do remember seeing FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (1943) in Paris at the impressionable age of fourteen or fifteen and being very taken with it. My mother was in the film business so I knew some film people, but I never planned to enter the film business myself. When I was doing my National Service in Malaya, right at the very end I was suddenly struck with meningitis in the jungle and I ended up in a hospital in Singapore. When they eventually let me come home, I stayed at my mother's house whilst she was in Switzerland making a picture. A friend of the family called wanting to speak to her, and he happened to ask me what my plans for the future were. It was November, and I told him I needed a job before going to Oxford in September the following year. He told me he would give me a job and that I would start on the Monday, working in the cutting rooms at Douglas Fairbanks' office. I earned the same money in my first week as I had earned as a Second Lieutenant shooting at Chinese people in Malaya. Very quickly I was having such a great time that I had no desire to do anything else but work in the cutting room.

Did your experiences in Malaya instill in you a sense of drive and ambition? 
It was vital for me because I had been institutionalised. I had been in boarding schools since the age of six, and certain aspects of my upbringing had sheltered me. The Army was a magnificent segue from frankly being a kid to sort of being grown up. Just the issue of life and death. People were being shot. It was a useful growing up process.

Do you think these experiences influenced the kind of films you were attracted to make? 
I don't think so really. All I was ever trying to do was make something original, although one doesn't always succeed. For example, the absolute original thing about THE DEER HUNTER was that it was originally about Russian roulette. That was something I had never seen on screen before.

How did you first get into producing? 
About three or four years into working into the cutting rooms, a fellow named Harry Booth and I were working on the Robin Hood TV series at Walton Studios. We realised we could do our work in roughly an hour every day because the show was so sparsely covered, it was just a case of topping and tailing. We had to figure out what we could do with the free time. We couldn't go on the floor and watch the shoot because we had to be in the cutting room. We had a good location because we had an office, a cutting room, and a telephone, and we decided the only thing left for us to do was to try and produce something. Which we did. We got together 4, 500 pounds from three different sources and made a half hour film with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan called THE CASE OF THE MUKKINESE BATTLE-HORN (1956). We tried to recreate The Goon Show, which of course was impossible. We took some of the footage out and cut it in the form of an American TV show. We thought it was incredibly good, but when we ran it for our American friends from the Robin Hood show, they were so stony-faced throughout that I don't think they realised it was meant to be a comedy. In the end we put back the footage we had taken out and released it as a kind of 'C' feature in cinemas, and it did very well. It played a lot on television later on.

Curiously enough, I've made a lot of money from it in recent years. When Peter Sellers died, Dick Emery and Spike Milligan began playing clips from the film without paying me royalties. They said they didn't know who or where to reach me, which is a bad argument since until very recently I've always had my name in the London telephone directory, I am a member of BECTU, which is the biggest film union, I'm in Who's Who, and I'm a member of the Academy. In the end they had to pay me a considerably bigger amount than they would have if they had come to me upfront. The picture made about 150, 000 pounds, which is a huge number from 4, 500 pounds.

Reading your book, it's clear that you never made it easy for yourself with the projects that you chose! 
Well, the curious thing is that in my experience I never had a single experience that wasn't excellent with my actors. Two directors were far from that because I couldn't in my mind abrogate total power to the director. Of course I wasn't going to sit around telling a director how they should shoot a film, but I was certainly keen to have the project be what I understood we had agreed it was going to be like. I lost the battle on that with THE DEER HUNTER. I wanted a less lengthy film, but the director had more influence with Universal than I did as it turned out. It's just the way it goes. You win some and you lose some.

Do you think you are attracted to risky projects? 
They were risky in the way that they couldn't be demonstrated with a pitch where you say for example ''It's like LOVE STORY set during World War II. '' Some filmmakers are masters at making films that can be described that way and make careers out of them.

Did your experience in the editing rooms influence the way you chose projects? 
Well, it was the very best training for anybody making movies. David Lean is a very good example of that. One piece of advice I give at lectures or Q and As is to not get into the film industry from film school, but somehow as a tradesman. It doesn't really matter which one. It can be in the cutting room or the camera department. Once you've worked on a film you will have gained respect for the process and people will recognise that you do know something about the process of making a movie.

Would you say you have worked with many geniuses in your career? 
There are a few people who got pretty close to it. Nic Roeg is an example. He loves to leave these dangling questions in his films which isn't unique, but he's very good indeed. Jacques Tati, whom I worked for on practically my first job was something of a genius. He had tremendous control of film. MONSIEUR HULOT'S HOLIDAY (1953), for example, was beautifully controlled work.

It's interesting that your productions have often been innovative in certain ways – the car chases in ROBBERY and THE ITALIAN JOB, the editing in DON'T LOOK NOW and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, and the special effects in BLADE RUNNER. 
The great thing about ROBBERY's car chase is that Peter Yates got the job on BULLITT (1968) from it. I wanted him to direct THE ITALIAN JOB but I couldn't get him through Paramount's door. Charlie Bluhdorn, who was at that time the head of the studio, wished Peter Collinson to do it, who I didn't think was experienced enough. In truth though, Peter Yates wouldn't have been a good director for THE ITALIAN JOB because what he is the most brilliant at is mechanical things – he did a bicycle movie once (BREAKING AWAY) and an ambulance movie (MOTHER, JUGS AND SPEED) for example. But when he did the drama JOHN AND MARY (1969) with two of the hottest stars at that moment, Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, it was a colossal, hopeless bore. He wouldn't have had the light touch to do THE ITALIAN JOB, so I was lucky in the end.

Part two of the interview. 

The updated edition of Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off – My Life in Cult Movies by Michael Deeley with Matthew Field can be ordered from the publishers and Amazon UK.  

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

AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD RUSH (PART 4 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 final part of a four-part interview, I spoke to Rush about casting and working with Peter O'Toole on THE STUNT MAN; Stanley Kubrick's love of the film; his experience writing and developing the film that became 1990's AIR AMERICA, and working with Sean Connery; his not yet filmed screenplay The Fat Lady, which has parallels to the Tom Cruise movie AMERICAN MADE (2017) and covers the Iran-Contra scandal; making COLOR OF NIGHT and working with Bruce Willis, and how he feels about his legacy. 

Parts one, two and three

Did the experience of working with Peter O'Toole change your life in any way? 
Peter O'Toole was the best thing that ever happened to me. Having your favorite actor in the world play the best character you have ever written is almost too much to ask for.

And not only that, he really wanted to play the role of Eli! 
That's right. Once he read the script he called me from London and said ''Richard, I've just read the screenplay and if you don't let me play the part, I'll kill you!'' It was about the best response you could get.

I read that you finaigled an invite to a Hollywood party becaue you knew he'd be there and it would be your chance to give him the script, but you were too nervous to bring up the film.Yes, I was too chickenshit. It was ridiculous. But luckily fate intervened, and he quickly came back after leaving the party and had started walking to his car. He came up to me and said ''Somebody told me you did the movie FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. I really liked that picture. '' So I said ''Well, I've got a screenplay for you. '' I finally found the courage to bring it up.

Stanley Kubrick also loved FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. Did you ever have much interaction with him? 
I never met him but he sent me a message telling me how much he liked the film. He was quoted as saying it was his favorite film that year and I really appreciated that immensely. I'm a huge Kubrick fan.

You were the original writer and director on AIR AMERICA, which was eventually made by Roger Spottiswoode with Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. How different was your vision for the film? 
I knew how to do biker movies. I knew how to treat gangs. A motorcycle club is a gang. Air America was a gang of roughnecks in airplanes rather than on motorcycles. I know how to do these kinds of movies so that they are fun. My main character was on the other side. He was a Vietnamese spy who had infiltrated Air America. At the end he got to give a great speech where he says ''Wait a minute. This is my country. I was born here. That's the river where I used to jump in and swim as a kid. Don't act as if you own my land. '' It was a very powerful speech. As a third act climax it was magnificent, and was certainly the best piece of writing I had ever done, even better to my mind than THE STUNT MAN, which I love.

I enjoyed AIR AMERICA but I felt the filmmakers worked very hard to try and reconcile whether the American characters were good guys or bad guys, when having characters who have duality is something you can convey very easily. 
Yes. My script is very different but there are still the same major incidents. They still drop counterfeit money over the country to try and destroy the economy. They dropped oversized rubbers as well to try and convince the Vietnamese that they had bigger dicks.

Was the final movie more action-packed than your script? 
No, I think my version would have had even more action, since I can do that in my sleep!

How did you feel about the Vietnam War yourself? 
There was no logic to the War. We were killing and napalming these people, but they weren't really our enemies. The people who were fighting on our side that we were supplying arms to weren't necessarily our friends, just enemies of our enemies. It was all arbitrary political strategies that were deciding if a War should be fought. It wasn't based on any real animosities or angers.

Sean Connery was going to star in your version of the movie. What was it like working with him? 
It was heavenly. My way of casting people is to read with the actor and try and determine what their character could be like in the movie. It was a surefire way to cast actors for me, but you're not allowed to do it this way with stars. You're supposed to go by their former work and reputation to gauge what they can do. When I first met with Sean and he said to me ''Richard, can you sit down with me and read the script with me out loud?'', my jaw dropped and I said ''Hell, yes!'' He would come over twice a week to my house and we would sit for an hour or two and read the script together. He was brilliant because I'm not just auditioning him, he was auditioning me! He was finding out what it would be like to work with me. It was ingenious and unexpected for him to do that. Sean was wonderful. When they kicked me off the project, he immediately resigned. I'm sure nobody anticipated that.

Who were some of your choices for Connery's co-stars in Air America? 
My first choice for Connery's co-star was Kevin Costner, and he wanted to do it, badly. The company wouldn't accept him. I also wanted at one point, to do it with Patrick Swayze. And, although I had never met him, that almost happened.

Your passion project is The Fat Lady, which is about Barry Seal, who is also the topic of the Tom Cruise film AMERICAN MADE. The story is definitely in the vein of AIR AMERICA. I'm guessing the Air America story has never left your blood? 
Yes, the story attracted me because I never got to do Air America. The same people that ran Air America on the ground and in Washington D.C. ran the Contra supply program for Reagan in the 80s, and the same people that flew for Air America flew for the cartels afterwards.

What has the closest you have gotten to getting The Fat Lady made? What have been some of the stumbling blocks to getting it made? 
I was rarely present during the negative decision making on The Fat Lady. However, in one case a powerful producer told me, "In your second act climax, you lose the leading man. The picture can not survive the loss. " I took him seriously and did a re-write. Unexpectedly, it came out brilliantly. The story is about an airplane that avenges the death of it's owner by going after the people who caused his death. The Fat Lady crashes in Nicaragua and sings out loud and clear, causing the Iran Contra scandal and almost toppling the Reagan government. There is a magical or supernatural element to the story. I increased this element of the story and brought back the leading man in an unexpected and delightful way. At the same time I picked up more loose ends.

AMERICAN MADE is really entertaining but I'd love to see your version of the story, which I expect is more political. 
I was completely surprised by AMERICAN MADE. They are telling a completely different part of the same true story. They cover the major events of my story as sort of a throw away at the end. Somebody probably told them to stay away from the Iran Contra Scandal, too political. Otherwise, Tom Cruise is captivating as always. The story is sort of fun to watch, but in no way extraordinary like The Fat Lady, which has a weight to it and is also very political. The true story of what happened is the best story I have ever heard. The script is what I usually do – it's an action comedy, against the background of a political mystery.

What attracted you to COLOR OF NIGHT? Was your vision significantly different from that of Matthew Chapman and Billy Ray? 
It was never a contest. I was given a project, COLOR OF NIGHT, and I did it my way. A story about a boy who seduces every member of a therapy group regardless of gender without anybody knowing that they were not the only one. But it turns out that the seducer is a girl. At the same time it's a murder mystery. It was a fantastic idea to try and make work, and I think I did it.

How do you feel about the poor critical reception that the film originally received? 
People who say it's a terrible film only saw the theatrical cut. The film was cut to the bone by a crazy producer and the theatrical cut was not a good picture. I have a tendency to shoot scenes like they were shaggy dog stories. My films are long stories with a punchline at the end that changes where the story is going. The producer went through the movie and cut out all the punchlines from the jokes, so that it was just one big shaggy dog story. I can understand why the critics didn't like that version of the film. I'm very happy with the director's cut that went out on home video. I even got to put back all the dirty stuff in the sex scenes that the MPAA wouldn't let us keep in. I had who I consider to be the top three critics in the country see the director's cut when it came out on home video, and all three of them gave it rave reviews, which was gratifying for me but it was too late.

I feel the film was misunderstood. People took the film much too seriously, perhaps because they didn't know how to respond to the sexuality. 
Yes, the picture hopefully is a comedy, which is my forte.

What was Bruce Willis like to work with? 
Much better than I expected. He's a good actor, and was very serious about his acting. I was very happy with the performance that we developed. He did have some idiosyncracies that he had developed, which are almost mandatory if you've been the star of a television series that has run for four years. He also had a tendency to secretly try and direct the other actors in ways that would have been good for him, but not the movie.

You had a heart attack around the time of the film. What did it teach you about the way you were living your life and approaching your work? 
While lying in a hospital bed, a heart attack clearly taught me the true meaning of final cut. It's the one they make in your chest for the bypass surgery.

Tennessee Williams
Looking back at your career and your legacy, do you have any regrets? 
I have a couple. Both are because I wasn't smart enough to stay in the deal. One is that I didn't get to do AIR AMERICA, and the other is that I didn't get to do THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED (1966). Before I directed my first picture, TOO SOON TO LOVE, some of the last things I directed were one-act plays of Tennessee Williams in a little theater in an alley behind Melrose Boulevard. They were very significant for me because secretly, and I didn't know it at the time, directing these plays made me realise I could direct pictures. After I made TOO SOON TO LOVE I took one of these plays, This Property is Condemned, and expanded it into a three-part structure. I got it to Tennessee Williams and he liked it. He gave the play to me as a present, which was impossible, him being the toast of Broadway at that time, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof running on Broadway and already having had the success of A Streetcar Named Desire, and me meanwhile, having only made one picture! Anyway, I was smart enought to get a movie version packaged and get a studio deal with it. I had been put together with Kim Novak for the leading role because she was part of my Agency, but there was another young director, Sydney Pollack, who wanted to do the film with Natalie Wood, even though it was my picture. Sydney had the office next to me at Columbia, and we were friendly with each other. The studio decided they wanted to do it with him, and I wasn't clever enough or worldly enough at that point to stay in the deal.

If a line of dialogue from one of your own films could sum your approach to film or life, what would it be? 
''Probably all that we know is that we shall die ... of nothing more important than wrinkles. And it makes us so scared, so crazy, we'll do anything – fight wars, fight windmills, go off bridges, anything. '' Said by Eli Cross in THE STUNT MAN. 

Rush's THE STUNT MAN site. 

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