Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Exclusive Interview With Frank Doubleday

Interview with actor Frank Doubleday
By Kris Gilpin
Frank Doubleday was an intimidating actor but a very nice guy in person, he kept shrugging, smiling & saying, "Banana, banana," like it was a friendly catchphrase of his. I got him for a science-fiction fan-fiction mag (with frustratingly poor printing) which frankly never realized/appreciated what I was doing for them, when I got Herschell Gordon Lewis for them & they didn't even mention him on the cover, well, I quit them shortly after that...
   On the evening of April 21, 1985, I had the chance to speak with actor Frank Doubleday (from Escape From New York, Assault On Precinct 13, The First Nudie Musical, Avenging Angel) in a Beverly Hills at The Beverly Hills Cafe. 
Despite his intense screen appearance, Frank is quite soft spoken in person.

Kris Gilpin: How did you get your start in acting?

Frank Doubleday: Professionally, I got my start with an industrial film; that got me my card. From that I just started doing TV, and then film, and it fluctuated up and down through the years. Before that, I had about 10 years in theater.

KG: One of the biggest shocks I've seen on film is when you blew away (then) little Kim Richards in Assault On Precinct 13. Did you or John Carpenter have any qualms or problems filming that scene?

FD: No, they knew the intensity they were creating; Carpenter's a very good director.
My attitude with that event was not to show good or bad, but apathy, and that's the most dangerous; it's like blind authority, you can't see it and you can't control it and you can't stop it and it doesn't care.

KG: When your character was later shot to death in that film, he just stood there and took it. Why?

FD: He was the type of man who had a sense of immortality; his apathetic approach to life made him greater than human in my eyes, and less than human in ours. So when he took the bullets, he was surprised that they went in, and then--boom--he falls; that was the moment; he just couldn't believe the event.

KG: He took the bullets but his expression  never changed.

FD: Right. He was dead [apathetically in his mind] before the reality. He died twice. Normally, either organs fail and stop the brain or the brain fails and stops the organs; very rarely, unless it's in an accident, does a person die completely.So he was dead, and that was his immortality standing there.

KG: What is John Carpenter like to work for? Are you guys old friends?

FD: I did two movies for John; Assault was his second movie out of college. Yeah, I love him, because he gives you a path and lets you go down that path as you choose; he gives an actor an awful lot of freedom, but not uncontrollable freedom.

Carpenter directing Halloween a few years after Assault

KG: How much freedom is too much, from a director?

FD: Personally, it depends on what we're doing. If I have a lot of resource for the character in question, then I don't want a director giving me more; but if I'm low on something, I want a director out there who can say, "X, let's concentrate on X", and go that way. I don't think any actor can play all roles; you're limited because of your personality, so in some regards you really need a director to guide you through. And I've had directors do that. There was one time I did a Western, for a TV show The Quest, in which the high moment was when I got shot, and the director was mirroring me off camera--as I was going down, he was doing exactly the same thing at the same rhythm. Because I could see that, it become a gracious moment and stopped everybody.

Frank and Diana in The First Nudie Musical

KG: I thought it was hilarious when you simply laid your chains across the railing on Diana Canova's thug boyfriend when she was flirting in The First Nudie Musical. How do you find doing comedy, as opposed to drama?

FD: It was a trip. I'm gonna have to think about that one. It was a low budget movie and I wasn't sure what my character was going to be in the end; I didn't have him all the way. It was a fun thing to do, but not a high moment in my acting career. Do I like comedy better than drama? If it's better written; I'm a sucker for character. Ed Begley Jr., originally had that part, but he was going to do something else, so he called me up and I went over and picked the part.

Romero the deviant street punk from Escape

KG: You were the first guy, the punked-out  one with the spiked hair, to come and talk to Kurt Russell in the street in Escape From New York. How much of that character's wild appearance was your creation?

FD: It was all mine; they gave me the costume, and from there I said I wanted the hair straight. They also gave me the teeth, but I don't know if they were defined as well as they should have been, or whether it was even necessary. But that image was what I saw.

KG: It looked like more of an actor's creation, as opposed to a writer's or directors.

FD: Yeah, but that's what's good about Carpenter. We filmed it in St. Louis, and a week before we went he called me over to his office and asked me if I had any ideas at that time of what I'd do, and I said, "Yeah, but I probably won't know until I get there." He trusted me since we had worked before; he knew I'd come up with something.

The inspiration for Escape From New York's iconic punk Romero

KG: Was that hiss you gave Russell at the end of that scene your idea too?

FD: (Nods) The Witch Witch of the West was where that came from. She was destroyed by water and, for my character in Escape, that hiss was his way of being watered upon--all the air leaves the body.

KG: How did you get the part of the suited son in Avenging Angel?

FD: I went in for the part of Stardust, and I went in a direction that the director didn't have in mind, but was very interested in; one thing led to another and he just wanted me in the film. The director said that he wanted my eyes for the son, because the son was shot and he had large eyes that wouldn't move at all. [He gets shot between the eyes.] Basically, I had to sit in the chair and concentrate on not moving my pupils. They did it twice. I could do it if I was going in a straight line, but any kind of vertical change was damn near impossible.

KG: Do you ever tire of playing villains?

FD: Yeah,sure. But in Tinseltown you get type-cast, and since I don't look like the guy next door, they're gonna cast me in another direction. But I get to choose my own plays, so that's how I compensate. [Frank has won two best actor awards for his stage work, in Waiting for Godot and Bird Bath.] I don't mind playing a bad guy if it's a real bad guy, but more of it is cartoon. I think Romero in Escape from New York was believable; I don't think that 85, 90% of the television bad guys that I've played [in T.J. Hooker, Charlies Angels, Starsky & Hitch, Police Story are really bad]. They wear the black hat and they carry the gun and they're in the car being chased and that's that. I don't really think I've enjoyed doing any television at all; I just don't care for it. They take three shots, and that's it; in other words: hit your mark, tell your joke and pick up your check.

KG: What stage work have you done?

FD: Mostly drama. I've done Shakespeare, O' Neill, Williams. I've done off-beat plays, like Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place [Which Doubleday also directed]; I like that play. I love to do Hamlet, and one that I'm working on now: Dylan Thomas; I love that character. I may be doing an O' Neill play, Hughie in a few months.

KG: Is it more draining to do plays or a film?

FD: A play. Because with a film you may be drained for a day, and the next few days you may have off, or you may just be doing some simple pick-up shots. But theater of more draining.

Frank's wife Christina as one of the hookers in Charley Varrick

KG: Your wife is also in acting

FD: Yes; she is Christina Hart (Charley Varrick, The Mad Bomber), an excellent actress. Basically she's done what I've done a lot of episodic television, a lot of theater; not much in the last year, though, because we just had a child, a girl. She's  doing a play right now in Beverly Hills, and he last TV movie was about a year and a half ago, about this cop in San Francisco who is shot and he lost his hearing and went after the bad guys anyway, she turned state's evidence. I met my wife in acting class.

KG: What part did you play in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, The Early Years?

FD: Just on of the gang members; I just had a few scenes in that, more of an establishing more of an establishing gang character who played with spears; and stuff like that. My experience with Richard Lester, the director, was that he was very conscious, very alert at the moment; if you saw something that you thought would work, he's instantly go for it. There was one shot where he was rounded up by the deputies and walking out of the cave in which the gang lived, and the guy playing the deputy behind me poked me a little too hard and I kind of backlashed on him just for a moment. Then the director ran down the hill and said, "That's good. Now push him, and start to run". So he was very much there.

KG: Who were you in Jack Lemmon's film, Alex and the Gypsy?

FD: It was an opening scene; (laughs) I forgot what I did; I think I burned my girlfriend for cheating on me. That film was death to do; Jack Lemmon said on Carson there were a couple of movies which were his worst, and that was one of them. The reason that film didn't work was that it should have gone comedic; Lemmon is phenomenal to work with, he is just a fantastic actor and individual. He saw that also, but it just never got filmed that way. For the record I'm gonna blame John Korty, the director for that.

Frank's split second role in The Big Fix

KG: What did you do in The Big Fix?

FD: I was some hit guy; there were two of us. No character to speak of; I don't think I had any dialogue at all; it was just run with the gun and stuff like that. I lost my eardrum making that movie; there was a scene where the two of us break into--I think it was--Dreyfuss's room, and they're waiting for us and they blow us away. I went down against the bookshelf, which they'd squibbed [with little explosive blood packets], and a squib went off in my ear and one burned my chest; I had my ear patched and went to the nurse's station. When I got back to the set, the only other bad guy in the movie had his ribs smashed by the actor, and they were taking him away in an ambulance. Now, I can't go below 7 feet of water, or travel in air unless it's depressurized, or it'll blow again!

KG: You're in an upcoming film called Nomads.

FD: That's just an extra part; they paid me a lot of money, but I just race around. I don't know much about it; I didn't read the script.

KG: What types of parts have you always wanted to do, but haven't had a chance yet?

FD: There're several characters that I'd like to do. Theatrically, I want to play Willie Loman; I'm most interested in the sinner; in the story Billy Budd, Budd is all good, yet he destroys more than Klagert, who is evil. I think sinning is part of the human psyche--I'm not saying we should go out and do wrong, but I don't think our wrongs can be swept under a hep psychologist's couch, or things like Est or Scientology. Yet it seems that, in our society right now, our humanity is being lost and we've got to sin; we have to err. We have to pay for it, we have to regret it, but I'm most interested in the character who sins and knows that he sins, but tries to compensate for that in a way. And the Good Guy image that you have, on TV especially, bores the shit out of me, and I think it's inhuman. And I think that's dangerous; that's where the danger is, when you think that the cop is God.

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