KRIS GILPIN'S INTERVIEW WITH DON GORDON
You've seen the face for the past 30 years. Don Gordon worked with the late Steve McQueen (they were good friends) in three films, including Bullitt. He was Dennis Hopper's drinkin' buddy in The Last Movie and Out Of The Blue. He's played rednecks, bad guys (as in his early Twilight Zone episode "The Four Of Us Are Dying") and a slew of cops, the latest one, seen in Exorcist 3. He's appeared in the TV shows Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Outer Limits, The Wild Wild West, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and The Invaders and got his head ripped off in The Beast Within, which he gets a big kick out of talking about. He's been around a longtime; one of our best, most natural character actors, he was the original Joe Cool. And he's just as nice a guy as you would expect him to be. Many thanks for finally meeting and speaking with Don Gordon in the late summer of 1990 and to Crank and the usual gang of idiots at ToG Headquarters for transcribing all this for me and Greg Goodsell for finding it in a dumpster for your viewing enjoyment.
Kris Gilpin: So what you got coming out?
Don Gordon: Exorcist. It's going to be called Exorcist 3. Because William Peter Blatty who wrote the first Exorcist had nothing to do with the second one. He hated that movie so he wanted to do this one. It's got George C. Scott, me. . . it should be out now.
KG: What do you play?
DG: A cop. So does George C. It should be an interesting movie.
KG: You've played a lot of cops haven't you?
KG: Ever get tired of it?
DG: NO. . . played a lot of cops and a lot of heavies. It doesn't matter, I just act.
KG: OK, what's the most fun part you've ever had and why? Does any one part stand out?
DG: Yeah. I think the role I had in Bullitt. I played Steve McQueen's partner. I loved doing that movie. We were three months in San Francisco, didn't shoot in any studio because McQueen had his own company and we just had fun. We worked hard--we worked slowly but it was a very elegant way to work. We'd spend an entire day on a scene, just to get it right. That's nice.
KG: I saw that movie ten or twenty times when it first came out in like 1967, now it's like a classic cop flick.
DG: You know it was the father, the grandfather, the sire of the car chase movie that's so common today. Before Bullitt, no one had ever seen a chase like that. Steve and I were good friends. He was probably my best friend. We drove motorcycles together. One night, we were firing down a hill. He took off on a bike, hit a bump on a hill, got airborne, came down, looked back and said, "That's what I'm gonna do in this movie. I'm gonna do that in a car!" He did his own driving in Bullitt.
KG: So all that was his idea?
DG: Yeah, he came up with the idea.
KG: What was the toughest shoot you ever had to go through?
DG: The toughest shoot was The Last Movie with Dennis Hopper because it was in the Andes.
KG: That's one of my favorite movies because it's so fucking weird, What did you think when you read the script?
KG: So he had a linear story line with an ending included and he just wanted to do something else with it?
DG: That's what I'm saying.
KG: Cause the film literally has no end. . . the last shot of the movie was this long assed improv of you guys sitting by the camp bitching at each other. . .
DG: Well that's taken out of context. There were about seven of those campfire scenes. Each one was improvised and ran about ten minutes each. We're talking over an hour of us sitting around bullshitting. That actors that saw them loved it. Did you find the movie disturbing?
KG: (pause) I wouldn't call it disturbing, purposely disorienting maybe, I thought it was "Hopper's Satyricon", But I like alternative weird stuff.
DG: I think that movie is meant to be felt and perhaps a year later, thought about. I think Dennis did an incredible thing. He wanted the audience to feel a certain way and did it. It's like "what is reality and what is the dream world?"
KG: The shots, especially of you two drinking and laughing . . . it looked like a big party, You guys actually must have partied for days to get that footage, right?
DG: Yeah, it was like a party but you must remember that it was very professional. Once we got on the set, there was no fucking around. Everybody was there to do a specific job and you'd better know what you're doin' because Dennis is a very tough taskmaster. He's a professional man and he's always been professional . . . wacky sometimes, but who isn't? We did party but it was hard work too. It was physically the hardest shoot.
KG: You must have some crazy anecdote working with all those characters?
DG: I was there for about a month when Dennis and I got into a car and started driving up high in the Andes. We were up about 17,000 feet and we would drive along and the crew would be behind us in trucks. When Dennis would see something, he'd grab Laslo Kovacs, who was the cameraman, we'd stop and go running across and shot a scene. One night we didn't know where we were gonna sleep, so we were driving along and saw this little building. You have to understand we were in the Andes on top of the world . . . there's nothing up there! The sky is incredible! There's this little church. Now we all go to sleep in it and it's cold. On the alter, there's this glass box. In that glass box is the head of Christ--very weird. I go to sleep and somebody shakes me, "Hey man, wake up!" It's Dennis. I ask what's the matter? He says, "Come here, I wanna show you something", so we go outside. Up in the air is a comet. Very freaky right? He says, "Now come here. How many people are in the church?" There were 13 of us--12 apostles and Jesus Christ make thirteen. So I got very freaked out!
KG: So would the guys from Universal be runnin' around saying "What the fuck it this?" what are you sending us? Were they freaking out?
DG: I don't know. It's amazing to me that pictures get down as well as they do today with these guys who are in there with their shiny shoes and their machines. Why don't they leave the movies alone. Let directors make their movies and let producers produce their own movies, maybe they'd come out with some great product. Everybody wants to make 200 million dollars the first week.
KG: Absolutely, now, in the 9 years between The Last Movie and Out Of The Blue, did you see any kind of change in Dennis; his style or the way he directed?
KG: Obviously he tried to keep this one more in check, he hadn't made a film in years . . .
DG: Let's get this straight. Universal went after him after he did Easy Rider. They pursued him and asked him to please do a movie. They're the ones who said, "You can do anything you want". They did.
KG: The scenes of you two drinking for hours and bullshitting really looked real. You guys must've been wasted when you were doin' the scenes, right?
DG: No, I don't drink.
KG: Wow, that was really incredible. You looked like you two were friends for a hundred years and were just shit-faced.
DG: Well, we'd been friends for a long time but Dennis doesn't drink when he's working.
KG: OK, you started out in the early days of really fun half hour episodic series like Hitchcock, Outer Limits, The Invaders, what were those like?
DG: They were fun to do. I started out in live television . . . live! It was like doing a play and a movie at the same time. I used to do Robert Montgomery Presents . . . two shows. One at ten o' clock New York time and another at midnight; we'd do it again for the West Coast. They didn't tape in those days. You'd do it, go out and eat, come back and do it again! No audience, just cameras.
KG: How did you like getting your head ripped off in The Beast Within?
DG: Yeah, it was great. It was freaky watching it!
KG: So they used you up to the last moment?
DG: Yeah. First of all, they made a full cast out of my body and my head,which was a pain in the ass. So when you saw my head getting ripped off, it was my body and I got to watch my own head being torn off. It was shot in Mississippi. A weird place, Mississippi. Great people but a lot of ghosts there.
KG: Ghosts? Literally?
DG: Yeah, you could feel 'em. There was a lot of shit going on. We shot in an insane asylum and my wife and I were taken to a ward to see these people by a doctor. These were homicidal maniacs, all walking around inside. Now within, where these guys are walking were cells. And there were some that were bad, they were kept locked up from the other maniacs in the same area. We passed this one guy and he starts looking at my wife. And I suddenly realized, he wasn't looking at her sexually. He was looking at her as though she were a pork chop! And I asked the doc about him and he says "Oh yeah, the guy's a cannibal". Yeah, he stabbed somebody and started eating them. The reason they kept him locked up was that one of these homicidal maniacs had a pet pigeon and this one got ahold of the pigeon and ate him!
KG: Wow! Are you a genre fan? You know, science fiction, fantasy, horror?
DG: No. I used to be. I was a Ray Bradbury fan but that's about it. I was a fan of 2001. I was a fan of The Day The Earth Stood Still, but I gotta be honest with you. I don't like science fiction now with a lot of tits and ass. I mean that's not science fiction, you know what I'm saying? Or when they show these broads very seductive. It used to be that it was all left to the imagination . . . and it was better.
KG: How did you like doing blaxploitation with Slaughter or The Mack?
DG: Well, I thought I was doing something that would help and not hurt people, but I think black exploitation films are just that! I liked doing Slaughter--that's not a blaxploitation film to me. I love Jim Brown, a terrific man.
KG: You mean you think blaxploitation hurts people? How come?
DG: I think they exploited the black audience. I'm talking early on . . . I don't know about now.
KG: Yeah, I interviewed Richard Roundtree for DRAMALOGUE and I said, "What were the early days of blaxploitation like?" and he leaned back and almost got pissed off with the term. He said, you know, you don't ask people what "white-ploitation" is like and I said you're absolutely right. So he doesn't even like the term.
DG: I don't blame him. It's just another movie.
KG: In summary, what do you want to do from here? Direct?
DG: No, I'm an actor. I'm too old to direct--these guys want 25 year olds to direct--but I'd love to. I'd like to be in a TV series. I'd like some young guy to be the lead with a girl and I'd be the third guy. I love working and TV is steady work.
KG: Any particular role you'd like?
DG: A cop. I love playing a cop (I loved the racist boob fondling cop, he played in The Mack .ed)
KG: You're the best Don!