Interviews With Cast And Crew - Non-Bond Films

CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent
edited April 3 in Off Topic Chat

Following on from the similar thread featuring interviews with cast and crew of Bond films, I have created this companion thread which will feature interviews with cast and crew of non-Bond films, but also interviews with Bond personnel who are not talking specifically about the Bond movies.

The first interview will be with Vladek Sheybal and will appear here soon…

Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.

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  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent
    edited April 3

    Vladek Sheybal is interviewed by David Del Valle in Psychtronic #31

    Vladek Sheybal was born in Poland in 1933. The history of Poland is long, complex and tragic. When the future actor (originally named Wladylaw) was around six years old, his country was invaded by the brief unholy alliance of Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany.

    The Nazis occupiers finally left in 45, followed by decades of Communist rule."l decided to be an actor when I was about four or five. My first part was as a mushroom in a school play, dancing and singing songs, it was very funny. I was nicknamed, at school, Aaor. My father was a professor at the Academy Of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and was a painter. He wanted me to become an architect. My Mother wanted me to become a doctor. And I was very much tempted to become a doctor because I'm born under the sign of a Pisces, to heal people and to be good to them. Suddenly, one day after the war, I walked into this drama school and I became an actor. The first jobs were theater, traveling in the south of Poland. Very old fashioned, very good theater. (One day) somebody twisted an ankle, so the director said, 'Vladek will play the part.' It was French comedy. I played the leading part, a young lover in a white powdered wig. A very good beginning. Then I was playing a considerable amount of big parts in the Warsaw theater. (Roman) Polanski was playing tiny parts. I remembered him because we were in the same dressing room for about one week. He was not talking about being a director. He wanted to be an actor then. He would look up to me then as a sort of already big star. He is now in Paris. I am still in touch with him (I shouldn't say that in this country!). I don't estimate him very highly as an actor. I saw him on the stage as Mozart in Amadeus, in French. He wasn't bad, but I couldn't believe in him as Mozart. He was technically very good. His main talent and genius is his fanatic ideas and observations of the lives of people, his scripts and as a director." Polanski, born the same year as Sheybal, acted in Polish fiims and directed his first shorts in 1959.

    His first major England language feature was FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (63), the classic second James Bond film. His friend Sean Connery convinced him to accept the role. Terence Young directed in England and Istanbul. "It was my first international film. I was playing Kronsteen the chess player. I was an accomplice of Lotte Lenya, a fantastic lady that I adored." In 65 he had a similar role as the as manager of a chess club in RETURN FROM THE ASHES, a serious WWll drama starring Maxmillian Schell, Samantha Eggar.

    British TV work included roles on series that were also broadcast in America: SECRET AGENT (starring Patrick McGoohan),THE SAINT (starring Roger Moore) and THE BARON (starring Steve Forrest).

    Sheybal was in the all-star Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE as a representative of Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in the casino scenes. He then played Dr. Eiwort in BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (67), the third of the Harry Palmer spy movies starring Michael Caine. It was directed by Ken Russell (in Helsinki and in Latvia) and featured Francois Dorleac, Karl Malden, Ed Begley, and Oscar Homolka. In 68 he played Dr. Delgado in DEADFALL, directed by Bryan Forbes (partially in Madrid and Majora). Michael Caine stars as jewel thief "in love with a woman who is married to her homosexual father." He also appeared on the spy series THE CHAMPIONS that year. JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN was a 69 sci fi feature starring Ian Hendry, Roy Thinnes, and Herbert Lorn. Producers Gerry and Silvia Anderson' were known for their "Supermarionation" TV shows (THUNDERBIRDS, SUPERCAR...).

    PUPPET ON A CHAIN, based on the Alistair MacLean drug traffic novel, starred Sven-Bertil Taube and Barbara Parkins. The memorable speed boat chase sequence in Amsterdam was directed by Don Sharp. THE LAST VALLEY, directed by novelist )ames Clavell starred Michael Caine as a 17th century warrior, Omar Shariff, and Florinda Bolkan."! spent two days in the studio with Omar Shariff and Michael Caine." MOSQUITO SQADRON was a WWII drama starring David McCallum as a Canadian RAF piiot. Sheybal played Lt. Schack.

    “I usually play in American films. The bulk of my films are cast from London. I'm always working for MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount... I love it because I fly first class jumbo jet and I stay in the first class hotels."

    During 70/71 he was a regular (Dr. Jackson) on Gerry and Silvia Anderson's UFO TV series which was syndicated in America. SCORPIO ( 73 ) was a spy movie directed by Michael Winner with Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon. "Alain Delon, I worked with him only one day, very professional very polite. I got to meet Burt Lancaster. We acted together for a split second. A charming man." The same year, THE KISS OF DEATH was an Italian feature with Martine Beswicke (also in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) as a devil worshipping drug taking gypsy witch. Sheybal plays her reptilian assistant. S*P*Y'*S* (74) was an unpopular comedy with Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland as CIA agents. THE WIND AND THE LION (75) was John Milius' romantic historical adventure starring Sean Connery. Sheybal piayed an Arab called The Bashaw, the brother of Connery's character. THE NIGHT OF THE MARIONETTES was a 1977 episode of the BBC show SUPERNATURAL"! was playing the proprietor of an Austrian inn in the mountains with Gordon Jackson.Very spooky, very strange things going on. There is a very snobbish Dracula Society, The Gothique, I received a letter saying I was being awarded for the best Gothique performance of the year. They invited me to a fantastic sumptuous dinner. They handed me a scroll which I have framed on my wall. One of the first awards was Christopher Lee. They are very rich people, country squires."

    SMILEY'S PEOPLE (82) was a BBC mini series starring Alec Guinness as a spy in the 3rd of part of a John Le Carre trilogy. Sheybal was Otto Leipzig."! am very hard working for each part. I do my homework. I don't believe in talent or intuition. I believe in very hard work, then intuition takes over. When I'm in front of the camera I try to forget about my learned lines and start fresh. All this material that I worked on is already inside of me. I iiked very much, old fashioned theatrical actors like John Barrymore. I loved him. And nobody can equal Greta Garbo. She was very intelligent. She was working very hard. My very favorite actor on stage is Raiph Richardson. I didn't work with him but I worked with Sir Alec Guinness, on SMILEYS PEOPLE. I never understand these spy scripts. In Hamburg we were filming and I asked him 'What is our relationship?” he said 'I don't know. I only know that you are one of my men.'"

    RED DAWN (84) was John Milius' American teens vs. invading Commies feature. "It's science fiction about America being invaded by the Cubans and the Russians. I play the Russian general. I play the part in Spanish and Russian. I portray these Russian generals in a way that the world should tremble. I'm giving a big warning by piaying this part!" In JIGSAW MAN (84), Michael Caine is a British spy who has plastic surgery and defects. Lawrence Olivier, Susan George and Robert Powell costarred and Bond veteran Terence Young directed.

    Some of Sheybal's last roles were in features that few people saw.

    "After so many big stars, I could become completely cynical. For instance, I happened to know Bette Davis very well, we were close friends. I'm not a cynical man though. After so many films I've done, technically, one is so prepared. I shut off the noise, people walking around, the camera. I've learned it iong time ago. I'm always getting in close with the cameraman. He's my friend. I know all angles of my face. I have to have technical knowledge. I know quite a lot. I would rather direct. I'd rather not to watch myself on the screen because I get angry and ask why did I do that?.”

    END OF INTERVIEW

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent

    Interview with RICHARD KIEL in Starburst #12 - In conversation with Tony Crawley.

    Richard Kiel is a pain in the neck. Looking up at him for an hour or so plays sheer havoc with the neck muscles. He’s rather tall, you see. Even when he’s sitting down, he’s tall. Ultra tall.

    He’s seated now, finishing lunch in Kensington. The wine bottles are open. He doesn’t have to use his steel teeth. But seated, he’s the same height as the waiters buzzing by with open mouths. Like me, they’re trying not to stare. But he does take some getting used to. Richard Kiel is used to people trying to get used to Richard Kiel.

    Richard Kiel weighs around 315 pounds. He wears size 17 shoes and a 19-inch collar. “It gives you a forced motivation,’’ he remarks about his enormous height. “I’m aiming for success in movies to support my life style.”

    If acting falls through for Kiel he has a sideline career to fall back on. Real estate. He I daren’t risk becoming unemployed. His frame , couldn’t take it. “I tried it once,” he remarks.

    Starburst: Having lately completed two sf movies — two-and-a-half, counting the high space quotient of Moonraker — I wonder what interest you might have in science fiction, per se.

    Kiel: I love it. I have nothing against it. I’d like to do other things as well, though. Like Force Ten From Navarone, and more comedy. I did a family-type comedy in the States. But it’s true, I’ve done plenty of science fiction, right back to The Human Duplicators in 1964. And I’ve written science fiction, in fact.”

    Such as .. .

    “I write short sf stories. One was called Strange Worlds Within, about the potential infinity within the atom. It dealt with Einstein’s mathematical theories; the idea that if you go far enough in one direction, you’ll end up back where you started from. Plus the fact that when I went to school, the atom was composed of three particles of matter: the electron, the proton and the neutron. Now, there’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds'. And they all have elipitical orbits of the North and South Poles, even though they travel at the speed of light. That’s not unlike the universe and the galaxies and our earth going 400,000,000 miles in a year. Einstein said that if you were going close to the speed of light you’d appear to someone not going that fast, to be infinitesimal in size; yet inside the space craft, of whatever, you’d appear normal size to the people with you. So who knows? And I just took it from there. . . .

    I have a feeling you've turned down some sf or fantasy work, though. The Incredible Hulk, for example. Surely you were offered that series ?

    Well, yes, I was under contract to do The Hulk But I had some other things I wanted to do. First of all, I’m a family man. Then, I’m an actor. And the movie business is a business. I’ve been an actor for almost 19 years. I think The Hulk is wonderful. My two kids love it. But it’s not my thing. American television is a grind! But I was going to do it, because of the money, you know. For the family. I left by mutual agreement. Marvel Comics wanted a guy with more muscles, and I think it worked out to everyone’s benefit.”

    You mean you didn't want to turn green every week on tv, hmm ?

    “I don’t have any interest in playing somebody behind a mask. I like to make people cry, make people laugh, make people afraid, make people sad. Every actor has a big ego, of course, and part of the enjoyment of acting is not being Jaws, but being Richard Kiel playing Jaws. When you get into a part where you lose your identity completely, that isn’t any fun. Not for me. For some people, it’s fine. For the guy doing The Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, it’s great. I’m sure. He’s new. So this can only be a very gratifying experience for him.”

    But it's not your thing, as you say?

    No, it’s not for me. I’ve worked on Rifleman, Gilligan 's Island, I Spy and Barbary Coast. “Having played giants, psychopathic killers, retarded customers many times, I’ve run into the situation where the directors think I’m really like that. And the general public, through miscasting or whatever, seems to think the big guy has got to be a dullard. A big dummy. Of course it upsets me. I’m blessed with a pretty good aptitude. I could read Readers Digest when I was five. So I used to react when directors said they wouldn’t ask me to do anything too difficult. Now I see the funny side of it. I tell them; Look, I can walk and talk. If you want me to do something, just ask . . . though I realise it’ll be a big surprise to you!”

    Kiel prefers Intelligent directors. Top of his list — the current 007 boss, Lewis Gilbert. “He can see that I’m a human being.” It wasn’t always that way. His first film, Eegah!, in 1961, had Kiel playing ... a cave man. Since then he’s completed about twenty features including Otto Preminger’s Skiddoo, Robert Aldrich’s The Mean Machine (he was a fellow convict of Burt Reynolds), and he has just completed the thriller Silver Streak with Gene Wilder when he got the call to glory — the world’s favourite villain. Jaws.


    Were you offered the films of Conan or Thongor ?

    I have a very close rapport with my agent.He's been with me since the beginning. He knows  what I want to do. He doesn't even tell me about any offers for things I wouldn’t want to do. He knows that, for me, the play's the thing. Naturally, if I wasn’t doing anything, he might start looking at such offers differently. As of now we're looking for more sensitive roles, with all the facets of the emotions. A Cuckoo’s Nest, say. We're in a great time for actors like me. You don't have to look like Robert Redford anymore, or Dustin Hoffman. Alan Arkin and the guy that did Taxi Driver. De Niro. Films now can have different types of people in them. Sometimes it makes them more interesting.”

    Is that why you're in The Phoenix— made inTaiwan, of all places.

    “I guess they wanted to capitalise on the Bond . . . They certainly wanted me to make it very, very badly.”

    I can see the Bond connection: you play Steel Hands, right?

    “But when I got down there they wanted me to wear steel teeth . . .! I just told them: "Wait a minute, guys, I can't do that, you know." We shot it in Taiwan. With wooden cameras. I'm not kidding . . . ! A big part and a lot of work. They got 14 months work out of me in two weeks. Really incredible. I had to work hardest on staying alive — stopping them doing all the stunts with real swords.”

    What's the film about?

    “Ah! I play the protagonist. Can you imagine a 7ft 2ins houseboy with a sword and a top-knot thing on my head? And I think he's taken over by women’s libbers ... or something. I really don’t know. They didn't have a script in English. All I can say is that it helped me buy my house.”

    How do you cope without an English script? I managed. My feeling was that most Oriental films don't make the American market, unless they're quite good. My agent and I rationalised that if this turned out bad, well, it would never show up.”

    It couldn't harm you. then?

    “I'm not knocking it. I'm sure it will be a very interesting film. It's not that I'm not proud of it or anything. It was interesting to work on, and I feel it's a special Sinbad type film fantasyy for all the family. Probably it will run in the summertime in America as a children's programme — with a Disney or a Spiderman movie.”

    Italy's The Humanoid, therefore, must rateas a much better production ?

    “Oh yeah . . . ! The Humanoid is a $5-million film. It's very charming, a good story that nobody can mess up. It's such a strong story; a robodog and a little boy. . . . The Wizard of Oz in outer space. Kind of what Star Wars might have been.”

    Might have been? i thought that was Oz, exactly.

    “I'm not really comparing the two films. I'm Just saying The Humanoid has maybe a stronger storyline than Star Wars.”

    Every new sf film claims that.

    “The Humanoid's strength is not based on special effects alone. The effects are there.They're done by some of the people who did Superman and Star Wars. They spent a lot of money on them, but they're not relying on the effects. Here's where you have a good story, surrounded by special effects, rather than the effects being the entire film.”

    Your title role of Golob. sounds at first, more deadly than Jaws. But you're not a  robovillain, all steel from head to toe, I understand. You start off as a reasonably average chap and you're zapped into being this humanoid creature.

    “Yeah, he's victimised. I'm a protagonistagain. . . .”

    With your build, what else?

    “Golob is a space sailor, just doing his job-up there in outer space, with a robodog to keep him company. He has this big brother image: not the 1984 image, more like any kid's big brother. When he’s changed, his world isn't totally taken from him. The leaders of his world remove the sensors implanted in his wrist by the villain— the control— and then Golob is on their side and ends up being a major factor in overthrowing the evil forces.”

    He even sacrifices himself in the end, to save them, doesn't he?

    “Not now. We changed that. It ends now with a full sunset shot, walking off to the sequel bit. It's another family film, really. It has fantasy and everything, and there’s a kind of subtle romance between Corinne Clery and myself. At the end, I think you’ll feel that maybe Golob isn’t going to be so much of a loner. He’s found friends. It's a very good part for me.”

    And for another alumuniis from both The Spy Who Loved Me and Force Ten From Navarone. . . .

    “Yeah. Barbara Bach plays the evil one. Lady Agatha. She chose the more dramatic of the two female roles. It required more acting than just being another beautiful heroine again.”

    Who took over Donald Pleasance's role of the inevitable power-crazed villain ?

    “Arthur Kennedy. He's very good.”

    You sound high in the film. Yet Italian movies, and particularly those of an sf nature — Starcrash, jor instance — can he one hell of a mess during shooting.

    “Absolutely! The big difference here was not my control, nor Arthur Kennedy's, nor anyone's in the cast. It was the Titanus company's interest in getting into the English-speaking market. It's difficult to make a film just for Italy these days and still make any return (or break even) on the original investment. So this film was pre-sold to a major television network in America, it was pre-sold to Columbia for European release and to American-International in the States. And that meant a lot of conditions. It was not to be a typically spaghetti Star Wars. It had to have a quality that the American and English audiences expect.”

    And has it ?

    “I've seen some of the film and, again, it's not an effects movie. The effects are just there. This is a story. It's about people. And it happens to take place in the future. So it needs special effects to achieve that look, and it looks pretty good. We had some difficulties. For instance, we tried to shoot it with direct sound, which is a departure for the Italians, who post-synch all the dialogue in their films, as you probably know. Very difficult to shoot direct sound. You tell an Italian that he can't make a noise on the set and he doesn't understand.”

    You mention your control before . . . Can you ec-lain that ?

    “My conditions were having total script approval. But I'm not an unreasonable person, so I didn't have any problems in that area. The director. George B. Lewis (his real name, by the way, is Aldo Lado) is keen on becoming a world-wide director, not just another Italian film-maker. When I gave him a four-page synopsis of my feelings towards my character of Golob, he jumped up and down with joy. There were a lot of ideas he hadn't considered, some of these sparked him off to other ideas— and they fitted in with what I had in mind. We got on fine. He was just delighted that, you know. I cared.”

    Apart from the Bonds, do you have a particular favourite among your films?

    “The Human Duplicators was a good role. It could — it should!— have been much a better movie. But I don't think the people set out to make a Day The Earth Stood Still. They set out to make money.”

    Who are "they" ?

    “The Woolner brothers, Murray and David Woolner. They didn't take the care it needed. There was a lot of miscasting and things like that.”

    A British critic said it had all the panache of Roger Corman re-making Metropolis, minus cohesion and coherence. Your character, Kolos, dropping in from an alien galaxy, started cloning everyone in sight, I seem to remember: George Nader and company.

    “Hmm. I preferred the other side of the visitor. That gave me an opportunity to be sensitive. I had a relationship with the blind girl in it. Dolores Faith, restoring her sight before departing, defeated and obviously returning home to destruction as a failure. I liked the role. But like I say, the film should have been better. It was good practise for me, put it that way.”

    So was The Spy Who Loved Me, a full thirteen years later. All your new films are a direct result of your immense triumph as Jaws. How did you net that part ?

    “Because of a television series in America, which came about because of a film I did with Burt Reynolds; The Mean Machine (US title: The Longest Yard). They were the small steps that led to Jaws. Barbary Coast was just another unsuccessful tv series sold to Britain . . .! We made only thirteen weeks of it. Westerns just weren't in and we had a lot of competition on the other networks. You know, over there you can have 11,000,000 people watching and it's not enough — 18,000.000 is the bottom line! It's all numbers. Even the actors have ratings.”

    You're joking ?

    “No. They're called TVQ— television quotients. Alan Alda, of MASH, has been leading the list of 365 names for years! They put your name into a computer to decide if they'll cast you. It's all based on your commercial appeal. And I couldn't even get an interview for Barbary Coast. Who knows why? Some political or financial thing with the casting people, or my TVQ didn't measure up, I don't know. I eventually sent a registered letter to the producer asking to be seen, feeling I was right for the show. His secretary had seen The Mean Machine and i think she persuaded him to see me. So I did the series, all thirteen weeks. BBC, I think, bought it here and Lewis Gilbert's continuity script supervisor saw it, mentioned me to him, suggesting that he and Cubby Broccoli should see me for Jaws. That's how I got it.”

    Did you see right off what the role might do for you ?

    “I was a little frightened of it to start with. It has all the ingredients for a cartoon character. It could have been just a little too much ... I met with Cubby, we had lunch, and I told him I'd like to bring more of Richard Kiel into the part. Rather than play a stone-faced killer, I wanted some humour, humanism, perseverance, to give Jaws a child-like quality, that made him forgiveable no matter what he did. The kind of things that Boris Karloff brought to the original Frankenstein monster.”

    It sure worked. Though my little daughter will never forgive you for terrifying her.

    ” I've seen that Bond film in about thirty countries. I've yet to see the audience not applaud and cheer Jaws. They shot two endings, you know. They didn't know what to do with him. It was Lewis Gilbert who had his hand on it more than I did. I tried to do something different, but I never realised how important it was to do a Bond film.”

    Well, until you came along it was more usually the girls who made good out of an 007 caper. Now you're back again in Moonraker — and on Bond's side this time?

    “That's right. I have a girlfriend as well. But I'd rather not talk too much about Moonraker. There's too many surprises in it. Let's just say the implication is that next time we see Jaws, he'll be pushing a baby carriage.”

    With his teeth, you mean !

    END OF INTERVIEW

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    That was a very good read, thanks CHB.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent

    This is the first of a whole bunch of Hammer interviews in the coming weeks. Francis Matthews in Hammer Horror #2 1995 Interviewed by Adam Jezard.

    You never know who you’ll meet when interviewing Francis Matthews. One moment the actor, who starred in Hammer's The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Dracula Prince of Darkness and Rasputin the Mad Monk (both released 1966), is a charming, amusing man - the next, his eyes are bulging, his face is contorted into a strange expression and his voice is faultlessly mimicking a personality or two. It’s all part of the actor’s craft, but the scope of his imitations is so vast - one moment an American producer, the next Peter Cushing - that he might have been a successful impressionist.

    Now in his mid-60s, Francis presents a dapper figure, even in jeans and T-shirt. He recently completed an episode of The Detective’s, with Jasper Carrott, Robert Powell and George Sewell. “I played the Earl of Connemara, and Idid it like Rex Harrison," he says, changing voices in mid-sentence to give his Impression of the My Fair Lady star.

    Following an initial Hammer outing in 1958’s The Revenge of Frankenstein, Francis returned to the company in 1965 to co-star in Dracula Prince of Darkness and Rasputin the Mad Monk (directed by Terence Fisher and Don Sharp respectively). Hammer, in a bid to reduce costs, made the two films back-to-back on the same sets with the same stars. What did Francis remember most about the films? “Barbara Shelley was a wonderful lady. So was Suzan Farmer. We did our job, we had giggles at lunchtime, a drink after the day’s shooting and we were great pals, wonderful pals, on the shoot. Christopher Lee was fun - a bit stiff, but my goodness, he was good as Rasputin."

    The filming of two movies back to back might seem a complicated business, but Francis says, for the actors at least, it all worked very simply. “Four of the cast of both films were the same; Christopher, Barbara, Suzan and myself.

    "When we had finished the interiors, the cast went off to Black Park [near Slough, around 30 minutes away from Bray by car to film the scenes with the horses and in the woodman’s hut. While we were doing that, the crew at Bray had started to revamp all the castle sets [which occupied the whole of one sound stage], turning them into the interiors for Rasputin.

    "They were the same sets. The crew probably just moved the staircase over a bit and then re-papered the walls and changed all the pictures. It was all very well organised. We filmed Dracula’s death scene [in the castle moat] last, then started shooting on Rasputin. We did it in ten weeks, five for each film. On Friday you finished shooting one and on Monday you came in and started filming the next, with a different director and different costumes. Then, while filming on the Rosputin interiors, the outside of Dracula's castle was transformed into the Winter Palace."

    In addition to the sound stages, the house was still used for interior shots. The inn from the Dracula film, in reality a corridor in the house, is the same as the St Petersburg bar in Rasputin, but with different decorations and seating arrangements.

    Francis has particularly fond memories of filming the end of the Dracula film, as his younger brother (actor Paul Shelley, currently starring in Granada's Revelations) came onto the back lot and shot an 8mm home movie for the family archives. Much of the footage was seen in the BBC’s Fleash and Blood documentary last year.

    A day at Bray could last a long time. If you were on first call, you would be in make-up before 6.30am and on the set within an hour. In between scenes, actors played games, rehearsed and “had wonderful lunches."

    “We had wonderful potato cakes and bacon butties made by a lovely lady who ran the . . . well, you couldn’t it the canteen, you couldn't even call it a restaurant. It was a room in the house. There was a kitchen and a little hatch to put food through. It was just like being at home, and the food was wonderful out of this world. The mashed potatoes left over from lunch she would make into fried potato cakes for breakfast. You ate all day long and got very fat. And you would sit together with the crew. There was none of that class thing that you got in the commissaries of the big studios, where the directors, the executives and the money men would sit in a separate area, the stars in another and the supporting players in another. The crew wouldn't even be able to afford to eat in the commissary, it was too expensive, so they’d go to the canteen. But at Bray, everybody ate and worked together. It was like a family - there were no temperaments, no hold-ups, no dramas, no disasters, no union problems. It was film-making at its best, even though you weren’t making Lawrence of Arabia, because the actors were all friends and the stars didn’t come the big ‘I am’. You knew everybody. 1 knew the technicians and even the man who designed the sets would come and chat to me. It was a lovely time.

    Script revisions were apparently rare - “an occasional word or two" - and the filming schedule was planned down to the last detail, as you would expect from a studio renowned for turning out low-budget movies on time.

    In the 1987 BBC documentary, The Studio that Dripped Blood, Tony Hinds said Hammer made the films back-to-back to keep the costs down at the request of the money men. This struck Francis as incredible. “They were terribly cheap already, God knows how much Columbia [the distributing and backing company] made out of them. I've got a picture hanging in the loo of when the money men came to visit. One of the men from ABC [Associated British Cinemas, part of the distribution chain] came to be photographed with Tony Hinds, Tony Nelson Keys and the cast.

    “Tony Nelson Keys was the associate producer, which meant he was on set all the time. He was a gorgeous, funny little gingerhaired man. Tony Hinds was more distant, but he had more problems on his back. He was in association with Carreras, the studio head, he was very friendly but pre-occupied. A very nice man as far as actors were concerned - he’d give you the time of day and he'd have a chat and a coffee. Most of the time he had people talking to him about money, the next script or the next set. He was also writing the scripts (under the pen-name of John Elder] so he was involved in many other films. Tony Nelson Keys was usually keeping the actors happy, keeping everyone Jolly, and coming onto the set and saying;

    ‘Are we going to shoot now, Terry? We’ve got to turn the film out . . . ’ "

    There were differences between the direction of Fisher and Sharp. "Don was a much more hands-on director, a real director - God forgive me, this is nothing against Terry. But Terry smoked his cheroots and drank his coffee and just said; 'It’s lovely, lovely. Are you ready Jack? Francis. Peter, come on let's have a look.' Then he’d say; 'Lovely, let’s shoot’.

    “Some of my acting in that is quite awful. If you pick up the film from the scene when I find my brother with his throat ripped out, then I see my wife being attacked by a man with strange teeth and my sister-in-law tries to bite me, and something else dreadful happens . . . Then Andrew Keir takes me back to his monastery and I have this chat with him, and my performance in that is quite awful. A man in those circumstances would have either fainted or died of a heart attack.

    He would say nothing. Instead, I’m doing all this tense acting; ‘What am 1 going to do? What are we going to do?' When I see it now. I keep thinking 'don't do this’.

    "But why didn’t Terry say, 'Francis, just don’t do anything’? You know, get more out of doing less.

    Like Hitchcock, Terry should have just put me in front of the camera and said ‘don’t do anything’.

    “Now Don’s much better at that - a very lively, very interested director, very busy. He was a marvellous action and second unit director. My part in Rasputin was my smallest, but my favourite for Hammer because I made the role of Ivan into a character."

    In the film, Ivan eventually agrees to help Rasputin’s enemies destroy him and, in a scene which gave Francis much enjoyment, he decoys the monk into an ambush. I made Ivan camp in that scene. I said to Don; 'Can I make him look a bit as though he fancies Rasputin?' and Don agreed.

    “When we were running up to filming Rasputin, Chris wasn’t in Dracula so he kept popping into the studios, preparing for the role. He had all these books on the histories of the Tsars, so we spent a lot of time during breaks in filming reading the books. Chris would give me a book and say ‘you’d better read that if we’re going to do it properly', so I knew the whole history."

    Francis says that, due to legal problems, Hammer couldn’t tell the real Rasputin story. In 1932, the man who killed Rasputin, Prince Yousoupoff, successfully took out a libel writ against MGM for their film, Rasputin and the Empress (ironically, this was released in Britain as Rasputin the Mad Monk).

    Francis’s grievances regarding the film lie elsewhere. "The saddest part of that particular movie for me, my great regret, was that I spent three days doing a fight scene. It was wonderful, that final scene with Rasputin. He should have been poisoned with cake but for some daft reason we gave him chocolates. Anyway, we filmed it pretty much more or less as Yousoupoff describes. Of course, we changed the name to Kesnikov because of the legal situation, but then they left it all out. It’s a terrible cut. I come into the room beautifully dressed, all smart and neat, and see Rasputin, poisoned but not dying. Then Richard Pasco [as another would-be assassin. Dr Zargo] comes in. The next thing you see is us chucking him out of the window, and I’ve got cuts and bruises everywhere. I’m covered in muck and my hair is all over the place . . . and you think; ‘Oops, what happened?’

    “It took us 3 days to film that fight. Not with Christopher, he wouldn’t do it. I did mine because that was what I enjoyed about movies - action scenes. So I did the fight with [Lee’s] double. I was slamming him and he was slamming me. It was wonderful. I’ll never know why they cut it. The end of the film now is so truncated and disappointing.

    You’ve worked up to this moment of us poisoning him, but he doesn’t die, then I come in thinking we’ve got him, but he’s survived the poison and we go into the fight. The whole film’s built up to that moment, but they cut it."

    Looking back on his work for Hammer, how does Francis view it now? “I have to be honest," he sighs, "none of us took those films seriously at all. I don’t understand the cult success of them. It’s like Captain Scarlet [Francis provided the voice for the indestructable hero] which I knocked off in a week 27 years ago, and all I get now is people requesting my autograph on a picture of the puppet! It's ridiculous. All my other work, my important work, which I care about and have respect for, is ignored.

    'T’m not knocking these films, they're very good of their kind, and very successful. But there was a great snob thing about them then. You didn’t tell people you were doing them."

    Francis also played in a number of cult television shows, including two episodes a-piece for The Avengers and The Saint. Of his Avengers work, he says: “In the first [The 13th Hole, broadcast in 1966] I played a golf professional. I had to learn to play the game, because I had never hit a golf ball in my life and I was supposed to be playing a club pro. The first ball I hit did a 180 yard drive. It was incredible, and the trainer we had thought I was a natural, but I’ve never hit a golf ball since.”

    In his second episode (Mission . . . Highly Improbable. 1967), he is an enemy agent named Chivers who shrinks Emma Peel and John Steed down to size with a stolen weapon.

    “I was miniaturised or something. I had to handle a big black frog in that one, and I hated it, and there was this frog chasing me. Urrgh!

    “In one of the Saint episodes I played a Frenchman who got very angry and had a fight with Roger Moore [ 1967’s To Kill a Saint, directed by Robert Asher, brother of Jack, the director of photography on The Revenge of Frankenstein]."

    Francis also appeared in a 1969 film Crossplot, produced by the same team which made The Saint television series and starring Roger Moore. He played a hired killer attempting to kill Moore, an innocent advertising man caught up in a Hitchcock-style plot. "Roger was, and is. the nicest man in our profession, a lovely man."

    In 1969, Francis took the leading role in the BBC’s Paul Temple. Temple was the total opposite of girl-hunting characters such as the Saint and James Bond. To start with, he was married and wrote books on criminology. While Temple was sometimes called upon to engage in fisticuffs, he mostly solved his mysteries with his wits rather than with car chases and gun fights.

    The series, currently being repeated on satellite staion UK Gold, was a huge hit and ran for 52 episodes. Despite this, Francis looks back on the show as a wasted opportunity. Although supposed to last 5 years, the BBC ended the show’s run early, much to Francis’s dismay.

    “It’s the thing, more than the horror films, which made me well known. It’s also the worst thing I’ve done, except for some scenes in Dracula, but it was the most popular. It made me high-profile. I don’t know why the BBC dropped it. It was good for me in a way, it forced me not to get stuck in the character, but it was sad because it was so well-liked by people."

    However, at the moment Francis is best remembered for providing the voice of Captain Scarlet, a fate in which, ironically, his one-time idol Cary Grant played a hand.

    “Gerry Anderson heard me on some Interview doing an impression of Cary Grant and he rang me up and asked if 1 would do the voice for a new series, so I said yes.”

    He and the other cast members (including Charles Tlngwell, who co-starred in Dracula Prince of Darkness) went into the studios at Denham in Buckinghamshire and recorded 4 or 5 episodes a day. “They just played your voice through the electronic voice activator, which moved the puppet’s mouth. We'd spend 5 or 6 hours in the studio and did them just like radio plays." Only on the last week of shooting did Francis go to Anderson’s Slough-based studio to see the puppets in action. But he did take his two eldest sons to see a preview of the series which gave him an early sign of the success it was to have with children everywhere.

    “The thing came on with the two eyes and you heard; ‘This is the voice of the Mysterons’, and my first son, Paul, went ‘aargh' and ran out of the previewing room and started crying, The producer said; ’Oh my God, we’ll be sued!’ But Dominic, the pop star, a much more sanguine boy, loved it. I said: 'For every child who runs out, you'll have one who'll adore it.’ " 

    END OF INTERVIEW

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,154Chief of Staff

    Francis Matthews! Fantastic! But he doesn't mention what was surely the highlight of his career ....


  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,105MI6 Agent

    And coming up soon…

    I wonder if he was ever paid in the end?…

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
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