“He Believed That His Mobile House Was Standing Over an Indian Burial Ground.” Michael Deeley Interview P2
Read the second part of our interview with Michael Deeley the man responsible for iconic movies The Deer Hunter, Blade Runner and The Man Who Fell To Earth …
The MALESTROM: You were around with such giants, movie greats. Nowadays, are there any that compare with the past?
Michael Deeley: Maybe… probably not, I’m not sure I really know. It used to be that every star, you could calculate their value in terms of box office, they could guarantee you how big an opening week you’d have.
TM: What about Tom Cruise, surely he’s the only one?
MD: Well, not now… I mean Jack Reacher, did you like that? That was actually cruelly miscast, I mean Jack Reacher, the guy is 6’2” and rather rough looking and that’s the character… it’s written that way, so this short, pretty fellow buys the rights and goes to Paramount and says I want to be the star, and Paramount are stupid enough to say, “yes, okay.” This guy has thirteen books optioned. Paramount paid through the nose!
TM: One of the biggest stars back in your day was Warren Beatty. Tell us about the story connected with another one of your famous films, Don’t Look Now?
MD: Well, it was late one night while we were making the picture, there was a knock at the door at my home in Belgravia and I thought, who the hell can that be? Standing there was Warren Beatty… he’d got straight off the plane from LA and straight to my door…
TM: What for?
MD: Well, he was going out with Julie Christie at the time and of course she was in a… a very famous scene with Donald Sutherland.
TM: THE sex scene?
MD: Yes, but it was a little bit more complicated than it seemed because Julie Christie was probably the one who was pressing him because she was his girlfriend and he wanted to get it cut for her… for his own reputation he wanted to protect his girlfriend…
TM: What, she was pressing him to cut the scene?
MD: Yes, but the point was we couldn’t cut that scene because it was vital to the popularity of the movie… integral.
TM: But she had agreed to the nudity?
Of course she had yes, but the other interesting thing… Donald Sutherland, what we believed was the thing Beatty didn’t like was the idea of his girlfriend actually being f****d on screen by Donald Sutherland. In a previous picture when Jane Fonda was Warren Beatty’s girlfriend… Sutherland had intimate scenes with her on a film called Klute in Canada… so he didn’t like the idea of the same fellow rodgering two of his girlfriends (laughs).
If it had been a Hollywood picture then maybe there was something he could do about it… and I would have yielded to the prince of Hollywood acting, which was Beatty because I wouldn’t want to not ever be able to hire him again, but it was a British production, so there was nothing he could do about it.
TM: What do you think they say to each other when they see one another now?
MD: Oh! I wouldn’t think they see each other very much (laughs)!
TM: What kind of figure did Warren Beatty cut back then in the 70’s?
MD: Huge, hugely important, he was a whopping star, he had done of course Bonnie and Clyde and he had done lot’s of other stuff and he was very big, a lot of control and was probably the highest paid actor in Hollywood at that time.
TM: But he never reached that iconic status of say a Redford or a Newman, and he’s not looked back on as a great is he?
MD: No, I suppose not really… but he did have immense personal charm and he went to parties and he was about the place and he just had a lot of friends in Hollywood, and he was a big star,big enough to write and direct in Reds which was a total waste of time.
TM: No one ever really looks back and says, ‘that great Warren Beatty film’ though do they?
MD: No, I don’t think so, except Bonnie and Clyde.
TM: What are your memories of working with David Bowie on The Man Who Fell to Earth? He was quite a troubled soul back then…
MD: There were clearly signs of some bizarre nature… I mean he had visions. He would have visions and things. At one point he was sure he was being poisoned… in the milk he was constantly drinking, and another occasion, he believed that his mobile house was standing over an Indian burial ground, which was causing the spirits to disturb him… and of course we had to move the beastly thing, but he was almost entirely handled by Nick Roeg, who was himself an eccentric, but incredibly good at dealing actors and Nick had managed to get a performance out of Mick Jagger earlier in ‘Performance’… and he just handled him beautifully, and he understood him and sympathised with him and Directed him beautifully too.
TM: Any memories of Nicholas Roeg? Where do you place him amongst the Directors you’ve worked with?
MD: Oh, magic to work with, working with him on two occasions, excellent. He was complicated, because he didn’t want the audience to be left without them guessing, he longed for them to be baffled and sometimes he would move a scene into a direction that is just not simple, straightforward and it’s a hint of something else.
TM: Out of all the Directors you’ve worked with, do any stand out at the best or the worst?
MD: Well, the worst, the one I’ve told you, Michael Cimino and the other was Sam Peckinpah, who was a cocaine obsessed monster… and who would do everything wrong, eventually I had to fire him.
TM: What film was that on?
TM: How do these people get in the positions to direct films?
MD: I tell you what happens is, the same with actors, Sam Peckinpah was on a television series, a western that he directed very well and then he made a couple of pictures, one which was written by Walon Green, The Wild Bunch… which was a spectacular piece of work and then he did a lot of interesting work, I mean half a dozen really good pictures, then he had a tremendous lull.
So with Convoy I need a star Director or a star actor and Peckinpah in foreign territories still had a tremendous name, forget all the bad films, they only remember the good films of his, so he was a big selling point and I knew he could shoot it… and when I met with him beforehand I got the impression he was really quite calm and he was when he wasn’t working – but when he was working he had relied very heavily on cocaine… and it didn’t make him very easy to deal with. He would shoot enormous amounts of cameras in the hope, the expectation that one of them would produce something good. Frighteningly expensive. In the end he had to go.
TM: There are just so many famous films to your name. In later years did you ever have anything tucked up your sleeve left?
MD: Well, no, not really, but I was working on a film for MGM a good number of years ago… came to me as a one-page idea and developed it into a very interesting and good script. MGM paid for it and paid £125,000 I think… and it was finished. Then a little later I was told the heads of all the studios got a call from Steven Spielberg… who is still one of the Princes of Hollywood and he said listen, I don’t want any of my friends to make a picture with a dinosaur in it, because that’s what I’m doing and I don’t want them muddled up.
MGM thought it was important enough to please Spielberg that they put my script with the same subject aside and said that’s the end of it and that’s that… in any event I wanted to buy that script back again many years later for a director I knew starting out, very competent… would have been excellent to direct this picture and I thought I’d buy it from him and this was a few years later now, and I went back to MGM and they said its on our books at £127,000 cost… but the sum you’ll have to pay for it is £600,000, that’s roughly the interest. That had been running for many years since Spielberg’s first dinosaur movie, must be about 1990 or so and it had multiplied to that degree.
TM: That’s crazy!
MD: … I said to them you’re f*****g crazy… ahem through my lawyer of course (chuckle), it’s crazy, nobody else is going to buy this thing… and they said well, we will give you an option if you pay £100,000 now… but we have first rights on the project if it gets off the ground, which you can’t do, as you’ll be trapped into a relationship with a distributor who may or may not want to spend the money you want to spend on it, and that was the end of that! But that’s another example of how the interest does run up in Hollywood. If every dollar coming in is yours and you haven’t got to share it with Producers or actors… it’s a very nice business.
TM: That’s fascinating. Any producers stand out today?
MD: Well, there’s two very good Producers, very efficient, run Working Title Films, they’ve been around for about 30 years… it knocks out two or three films a year and some of them are good, and some of them are terrific, but it’s a regular steady job. They’ve long been bought by Universal, so they’re more nestlings than anything, but they do produce the films, first class!
TM: These are great stories. Do you ever look back and think, ‘Boy I’ve had a charmed life?’ Think of all the things you’ve experienced, all the fascinating people you’ve met, I mean it’s not an ordinary life?
MD: Well…(laughs) I’ve never had a different one… so I can’t really compare (laughs).
In Part 3 of The MALESTROM’s interview with Michael Deeley … His recollections of making Blade Runner and thoughts on the upcoming sequel.
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You can read more fascinating insights into Michael’s life in film, in his book Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies.