Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Ed Lauter is one of many actors who got his start in the New York theater before making the move to Hollywood, but few have accrued such a huge and diverse list of credits. Having appeared in more than 90 feature films, including The Longest Yard, Cujo, Born On The Fourth Of July, and True Romance, as well as more than 100 different television series and TV movies, ranging from Mannix to Shameless, he is the textbook definition of a character actor. Most recently, Lauter was part of the ensemble cast of The Artist, now on DVD, and will soon be seen working alongside Clint Eastwood in Trouble With The Curve, due for release in late 2012.
The Artist (2011)—“The Butler”
Ed Lauter: Butler and chauffeur. [Laughs.] I was talking to a casting lady, and she said, “Ed, we’ve got this movie, and it’s just about all cast, but there’s a couple of parts left.” And she told me who was involved with it, and I said, “Gee, a silent movie? Wow, that’s something different.” So I went ahead and they put me on the tape, and the director, Michel Hazanavicius, as soon as he saw me, he said, “I want that guy! I love that guy’s face!” So that’s how I landed it. And it was a joy to behold. We won so many awards, and it put a lot of people on the top list, so to speak.
The A.V. Club: So how does one go about auditioning for a silent movie?
EL: Well, the eyes… Montgomery Clift said, “First you see, then you hear.” You can do so many things with your eyes, and the great actors that I’ve either worked with or just watched, from Fredric March to [James] Cagney to Montgomery Clift, knew that. So with silent movies—without overdoing it, if you’ll just be true and don’t get too hammy—you can do some really wonderful things. Of course, we had Mark Bridges giving us the great costumes, and we had the captain of the ship, Michel, to take us through everything. Everybody was so cooperative and enthused about it, with the French contributing a great deal along with the Americans, so it was a joy to work on. It was also the 100-year founding of Hollywood, and here we were making a movie about Hollywood in Hollywood. And it was also the 125th anniversary of France giving us the Statue of Liberty. So there was a lot of synchronicity involved. Plus, we had John Goodman, we had Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. And I think it helped a lot that people didn’t know these two French actors, so the audience was swept right along with the story. Everything was in place… Then there we were, getting all those awards.
AVC: Not that you can ever really predict how a project is going to do, but presumably it was a heck of a surprise that the film received as much acclaim as it did.
EL: Yes, it was! [Laughs.] It really was. With all that’s going on in the world, you go to the theater and… There’s enough gore and tragedy all over the place. When you come out of [The Artist], you feel entertained. You feel happy. It’s a good feeling. So I guess that motivated people to go see it. There’s some people that haven’t seen it, but then you’ve got others who say, “Oh, I saw it twice! I loved that movie!” So it was really a blessing for all involved.
EL: Oh, sure, Mannix. Now that’s going back. [Laughs.] When I first came to Hollywood, I did a play in New York called The Great White Hope, and [casting director] Lynn Stalmaster saw me and said, “When you get to Hollywood, look me up.” I got there, and he put me in The New Centurions. But I also met an agent named Pat Amaral, and she said, “Ed, nobody knows you out here, so we’re gonna get you to do these little bits and get you around the studios.” So I worked on Mannix and Longstreet. And Pat was good because she’d get me around to all the studios to know all the studios’ casting people. But, yeah, Mannix was one of the first things I did out here. It wasn’t the very first thing I did, but it was the first TV thing I did. I think I’m gonna go back and do some stage work. I haven’t done it for years, but I love the stage.
I’m putting together a little comedy act, too, actually. Richard Pryor told me one time, “Man, you’re funny!” He saw me doing comedy on a stage in Greenwich Village—Robert Klein was there, and Gabe Kaplan—and they went on before me and did their bits, and then I did mine. He said, “Hey, man, you’re funny.” And Robert Klein said, “What about us, Richie? Aren’t we funny?” He said, “You guys are funny… but Eddie’s really funny.” [Laughs.] But I didn’t want to be a comic. It looked like too hard a road for me. Little did I know they’d soon be picking these people off the stage and making them TV stars. When I started, they weren’t doing too much of that. So anyway, I’m gonna pull some stuff out that I used to do, some impersonations and some songs, and get a little act going.
AVC: There’s actually a video of you doing impressions that’s making the rounds on YouTube.
EL: Oh, yeah! You know who did that? Michael Bender, who was one of the writers on Not Another Teen Movie. Yeah, Michael’s a big fan of mine. Him and his brother, Chris, who’s a big producer. Who knows? Maybe all three of us will end up working together on something.
AVC: You spoke of maybe returning to the theater. Are you back in New York now, or are you still based on the West Coast?
EL: I live in L.A., but I have an apartment with my sisters in New York. I started with the stage, and… well, I just love it. I did two plays on Broadway, but the one we won all the awards for was The Great White Hope. We won a Pulitzer, we won the Tonys for Best Play, Best Actor, Best [Featured] Actress. It was great being in that show. Then I did the  revival of The Front Page, and that was fun, too. John Lithgow was in that one. John’s a good pal of mine. Richard Thomas was in there, too, and Julie Hagerty. We just had a lot of fun.
The Front Page is also when I met Walter Cronkite. It’s about newspapermen in the ’30s, when they’d kill their own grandmother to get a story. [Laughs.] I come out of the theater, and—I was living in Northport, Long Island, which is a 52-mile ride every day to go into the city to do the show, and my wife was pregnant at the time, so I figured, “Oh, I gotta get back to her.” So I go to get in my car, and I see Walter Cronkite standing there with his wife, Mary. So I went up and I said, “Hello, Walter! Hello, Mary!” But then I decide I’m going to throw all my attention to her, because I figure she probably gets brushed aside all the time. So I say, “Oh, Mary, you know, your daughter’s a friend of an actor friend of mine,” and we start talking and talking. Pretty soon, Walter says, [in a Cronkite impression] “Ed, would you like to have a cup of coffee or a cocktail with us?” And like an idiot, because my wife was pregnant, I say, “Jesus, Walter, I really gotta get home. Maybe I can get a rain check?” And I never had that drink. What a jerk I was, missing out on a chance to have a drink with the great Walter Cronkite. [Laughs.]
It’s crazy, though. Things like that happened to me all the time, where I meet these famous people, and I don’t always know how to handle it. I remember Barbara Stanwyck standing next to me at a drugstore one day, and I should’ve said “hello” to her, because she was all by herself, but I didn’t. Same thing with Gregory Peck. And one time I was in Penn Station, and I see Jackie Robinson standing all by himself, but I was only 19 then, and I didn’t have the chops to go over and introduce myself.
Dirty Little Billy (1972)—“Tyler”
AVC: So you said Mannix wasn’t the first thing you did when you came out here. What was?
EL: The first film I ever did was Dirty Little Billy, the story of Billy the Kid, with Michael [J.] Pollard. Stan Dragoti directed that, and it was, believe it or not, Jack Warner’s last film that he produced. It was in conjunction with a couple of other companies, but I remember sitting and having lunch with Jack Warner on the set in Tucson, and I said, “What was Errol Flynn like?” And he said, “Oh, my God, he’d come in, and if he was annoyed at something, he’d come and he’d pound on my desk. He broke the glass on my desk a couple of times!” [Laughs.] It was great. I mean, here I was, a kid from Long Beach, Long Island. My mom was an actress, and I’d always wanted to be an actor since I was about 7 or 8 years old. My mother told me these wonderful stories, because she’d worked with Al Jolson and Frank Morgan and all these great character actors on Broadway. And there I was, talking to Jack Warner over lunch. I was like, “Oh, my God…”
AVC: Not bad for your first film.
EL: Not bad at all for my first one. [Laughs.] And then I just kept moving along from there.
The New Centurions (1972)—“Galloway”
AVC: In 1972, besides Dirty Little Billy, you also appeared in Rage, Bad Company, Hickey & Boggs, The New Centurions, and The Magnificent Seven Ride!
EL: Well, I’ll tell you: When I was doing New Centurions, Pat said, “I’m trying to get you in George C. Scott’s new film, because there’s a nice part in there, the part of Simpson, but the casting people don’t know you.” So I thought, “I didn’t say goodbye to George when I left, so let me go over there, and I’ll ask him.” And sure enough, I said, “George, she can’t get me in there.” And George, he was always for the underdog. Always ready to help an actor. He said, [Growls] “I’ll see what I can do.” The next thing you know, my agent called up, she said, “You’re in it! George wants you in it.” [Laughs.] It’s that ball that keeps on rolling and picking up speed. You latch onto something else, and the next thing I knew, I had a couple of things going.
Acting was something I’d wanted to do all my life, and I was pretty good with rejection, because when I was struggling in New York and pounding the pavement, my mom would always say, “Well, you miss that one, you’ll catch another one.” She was very positive.
The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972)—“Scott Elliot”
The Magnificent Seven (1999)—“Hank Conley”
AVC: In addition to being in The Magnificent Seven Ride!, you were also in an episode of the Magnificent Seven TV series. Was that a case where they knew you’d been in one of the films and were trying to do a callback for the audience?
EL: No, I don’t think so, actually. They just put me in. I don’t think they had any idea. As far as doing the movie, you know how it is: Work gets you work. But I did that, and I was able to work with Lee Van Cleef and a bunch of other fine actors. I don’t remember what I did after that [film], but I know things were rolling pretty good for me right about then.
Family Plot (1976)—“Maloney”
EL: Oh, now that’s a great story. Burt Reynolds’ agent… There was a part in the film that eventually went to William Devane, but it was open, so they sent over the film that I’d just finished with Burt, The Longest Yard, for [Alfred] Hitchcock to look at. Now, prior to this, he had told his secretary, Peggy Robertson, “I’m not going to do this film until I get Maloney cast.” So time went on, and he went in to see the Burt Reynolds scenes in The Longest Yard, and—Peggy told me this later—she said, “For things like that, Hitch normally went in there for about 15 minutes and then would come out, having seen what he needed to see, but this time he was in there for 45 minutes. He came out and he walked into the office, and he said, ‘Well, he’s very good, isn’t he?’” And she’s thinking he means Burt Reynolds, and she says, “Yeah…” But then he says, “What’s his name again?” And Peggy’s confused. I mean, everybody knows Burt Reynolds! And he starts saying, “Ed…” And she said, “Lauter?” He says, “Yes! Ed Lauter! We’ve got our Maloney!” [Laughs.] So much for agents: Mine didn’t even send me over, and I still got the part!
AVC: So what was the story with you and The Short Night, which was to have been Hitchcock’s next film? The story goes that you were considered for a major role. Did he actually discuss it with you?
EL: Oh, yeah! I was going to be in it. They were having a gala honoring Hitchcock, and I was invited to it. And my wife and I were a couple of tables away, so I brought her over to introduce her to him. He looked up at me from the table—he didn’t get up so much by then—and he said, “Oh, Ed! This is my wife, Alma.” I said, “Hello.” Then he said, “By the way, I want you for my next film. It’s called The Short Night, and you’ll be getting the script. We’ll be going to New York and then to Norway. You’re going to play the part of…” Well, I forget the part, but I was gonna be the third lead.
AVC: The character’s name was Brand, reportedly.
EL: Yeah, that sounds right. It was gonna be Sean Connery, Liv Ullmann, and then I had the third lead. Then Hitch’s health gave out, so he never made that film. It sits there somewhere, that script. It would’ve been nice. I would’ve had two Hitchcock films in a row. But Lenny South, the cinematographer who did Family Plot and worked with Hitch on a bunch of other films, I saw him at a gathering one time, and I said, “Hitch wanted me for his next movie.” And Lenny said, “Oh, geez, Eddie, you woulda been in his next 14 movies. He thought you were great.” [Laughs.] He told his secretary I was the best character actor he ever worked with. So whenever I’m down in the dumps and out of work, I think of that. It always picks me up a little bit.
Born On The Fourth of July (1989)—“Legion Commander”
EL: Oh, yeah. Oliver Stone was on a big roll, so I went into New York to read for that part. I wasn’t too enamored of him at the moment, but I read the part and I really nailed it, I thought. He said, “That was great!” And I looked him in the eye and said, “Well, I watched a lot of Spencer Tracy movies.” And I threw the script down on the desk and walked out. The next thing you know, I got the part. [Laughs.] What a funny business. But it was fun to do that because Tom Cruise was hot. And it was a true story. It gave me a chance to emote because I got to talking about kids dying and… I took my belt and wrote inside my belt the number of people who I’ve lost in my life—my mom, actor friends like Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan—and I said, “Hey, folks, I’m gonna go out here and do this scene for you.” I don’t know how I figured that out, but when I went out and did the scene, it helped me. Because it was like they were up there in front of the camera with me. It was like I had a little team behind me. But actors do funny things to get to that kind of moment. I did it 10 times. [Stone] wanted to take it 10 different times. I called Rod Steiger afterwards and said, “Rod, I could only cry about six of those times.” He said, “Eddie, don’t worry about it. I could probably have only cried about four or five times myself.
Gleaming The Cube (1989)—“Mr. Kelly”
True Romance (1993)—“Police Captain Quiggle”
AVC: You mentioned working with Tom Cruise as he was hot. Have you ever worked with an actor who wasn’t yet hot at the time, but you knew that he was going to break big?
EL: Yeah, well, Christian Slater, we did a movie. A couple of movies, actually, but the first one was the skateboard movie, Gleaming The Cube. I said, “This guy’s got a voice.” As it turns out, he was doing a Jack Nicholson voice, but, hey, whatever gets you there, man. [Laughs.] And then we did True Romance, but when I first saw him, he was still just this young guy. I know there are more than just him that I’ve probably thought that about, but you do as many movies as I have, it starts to kind of blur.
AVC: Since you brought up True Romance, you’re not actually credited in that film, but you still manage to make an impression. Obviously, there’s no such thing as a small part for you.
EL: No, no, no. I love to act, and I was talking to David Wayne one time. He was telling me about Spencer Tracy, and I said, “How is he so great, David?” He said, “Because Spencer learned the capacity of the camera, what it would really reveal, and how to respect it.” And I delved into that in my head, and even if you get a small part—like in True Romance, I have to acquiesce to these guys and give them permission to put on a wiretap. It’s Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn and me, just the three of us. And it was a nice scene. People still come up to me and say, “Hey, good fucking movie!” [Laughs.] Because I say that in the scene. It’s one of these things people pick up on, along with “Game ball!” People yell that at me because of The Longest Yard.
You catch a lot of people over the years. I was backstage at Radio City Music Hall; we were doing Night Of A Hundred Stars, and I saw Jimmy Stewart sitting across the room from me, all by himself on a couch. I walked over to him and introduced myself, and I mentioned how we had something in common, that we’d both worked with Hitchcock, and then I said, “I was reading something in an article about how you were doing a movie out in the Midwest, and you had a work habit where, if you didn’t have to be in a scene but knew you might be called pretty soon, you would sit near the camera. And you were hanging by the camera one day in Iowa or somewhere, and some farmer came up to you and said, ‘You know, you did a movie on time where you talked about glowworms. You were reeeeeeal good.’ And he walked away.” [Laughs.] And Jimmy Stewart said, “That’s what it’s about: touching people and letting people know they’re not alone.” So when you said that thing about small parts, there’s always somebody out there who liked that scene or wants to see you because of it. I get a lot of different fan mail, and I’m astounded by some of them. They’re very sweet, from all over the world. You just never know who you’re gonna influence with what.
I’ve got a lot of stories about a lot of great people that I’ve worked with who’ve influenced me, too. When I started in the business, when I’d get on the soundstage for the first time, I’d look around and see who the gray-haired people were. They were usually the old-timers, who’d been grips or done the sound or the cinematography, and I’d try to get them aside and talk to them and get information from them, because they’re the ones who’d seen it all. I learned a lot from those people. Of course, it helps that I just love acting. I remember when I was doing a Broadway show, and we ran for a year and three months, but after about six months, the guys were complaining. I was like, “You guys are crazy! You’re the same guys who, six months earlier, were out of work, and now you’re complaining about working? I don’t get it.” It’s a great life, man, and I’m enjoying it.
The Longest Yard (1974)—“Captain Knauer”
The Longest Yard (2005)—“Duane”
EL: It’s funny: I went into Robert Aldrich’s office, and I didn’t have to read, because by that point I guess he’d seen me in something. And he said, “Listen, we’re just gonna go down to the park and throw the football around a little bit.” He wanted to see, since I was playing quarterback, if I could throw the football. So I went down with him and another producer and a couple of guys, and one of them was a former All Pro football player, Pat Studstill. Pat was from Shreveport, Louisiana, and he and Bob were talking, and Bob says, “Pat’s gonna go out for a pass.” I said, “Well, go out there for a little buttonhook, about 10 or 12 yards, and see what happens.” So I go out, I throw a nice spiral and hit him right in the chest, and he dropped the ball. And Robert Aldrich said, “That’s it, get in the car. You got the part.” [Laughs.]
That was a great part for me to do. There’s a scene with me and Burt in a room, and I’m interrogating him, and I have to hit him in the back of the legs and stuff, and I was flipping this stick all around. Well, how I learned how to do that was that I was a Pinkerton Policeman at the World’s Fair a few years before that, and I met an old cop there. I said, “Charlie, we got these nightsticks. Can you teach me how to flip one of those things and twirl ’em and all that?” He says, “Yeah!” I said, “Good, because one of these days, I’m going to use this in a scene.” And that was the scene. [Laughs.] You never know when you’ll pick up something you can use later. Cagney would do stuff like that, stuff he’d seen on the street corner that he could bring into scenes. Jack Warden would do that, too. He’d use things that he learned in the service and bring them to his characters.
Yeah, Captain Knauer put me on the map. A lot of people said I should’ve—I didn’t have a publicist at the time—people said I should’ve pushed for an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. But I never did.
AVC: So when Adam Sandler did the remake of the movie in 2005, did he come looking for you?
EL: No, actually, I was over at the lot one day and noticed they were doing it, and I walked in the room and said, “Hey, is Adam here?” And Adam came out and said, “Oh, Ed, man, you’re the greatest! You gotta be in this movie! We gotta put you in this!” So that was a case of being in the right spot at the right time for that one. [Laughs.] Actors got that sniff or something. They know when there’s something out there for them. And it’s always good to keep on that merry-go-round, because you never know when that brass ring’s gonna come along and you get something like The Artist. Or The Longest Yard or Family Plot, for that matter. There’s a lot of parts out there, and there’s too many actors, you know?
The White Buffalo (1977)—“Tom Custer”
Death Wish 3 (1985)—“Richard Shriker”
AVC: You’ve worked with several actors on repeat occasions during your career.
EL: Yeah, I worked with Burt Lancaster a lot over the years. But Lee Marvin was probably one of my all-time favorites. He was such a great guy. And Robert Ryan, too. A lot of these guys had been in the service and seen some action in the service, and they were great guys to hang around with. Really sincere. And they could spot a phony pretty easy. [Laughs.] But it was just wonderful to be associated with them. Charlie Bronson, he’s another one.
AVC: Yeah, you were definitely in more than a few films with Bronson.
EL: I think I did about four movies with Charlie. When he was doing Death Wish 3, I called up Michael Winner, because I had met him one time in an interview, and he said—Michael’s very British, and he said—[adopts British accent] “Oh, yes, as a matter of fact, I’m having dinner with Charles”—not “Charlie Bronson,” but “Charles”—“I’m having dinner with Charles tomorrow night to discuss the script, and we’ll talk about you.” So sometime in the next couple of days, I get a phone call, and he said, “I’ve spoken with Charles, and he says you’d be wonderful in the part.” So that’s how I got that part: Charlie helped me get it.
AVC: What do you remember about The White Buffalo?
EL: Oh, God, you wanna hear this business? I’m in Yorkshire, England, I get a call from my agent. “They want you for White Buffalo! They’ll pay you X amount of dollars!” I said, “Jesus Christ!” He said, “Yeah, it’s only one day’s work, but they’ll fly you over first class. They want you to play Custer.” I said, “Oh, wow!” because I didn’t even have the script. So I fly all the way over from Yorkshire, England, the deal’s set, I’m gonna do this one day’s work, and I get there… and the script’s not there. I get there on a Wednesday. Now, I’ve flown something like 15,000 miles to get over here. All they have to do is deliver the script across town to my house. Wednesday, no script. Thursday, no script. Friday, end of the day, I get the script. I have to work Monday. And I say, “Wait a minute: This is Custer, but this isn’t General Custer. It’s his brother!” [Laughs.] I said, “Jesus Christ…” What a business. But I couldn’t turn it down, because I’d committed to it, and they were paying me a lot of money. So I did the part. Pancho Kohner, one of the producers, was like, “I’m sorry! They never told you?” I said, “No, they did not.”
The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)—“General Stevenson”
A Bright Shining Lie (1998)—“General Weyand”
Thirteen Days (2000)—“General Marshall Carter”
EL: I can’t quite remember how Thirteen Days came about, but I know I wanted to be in it because it was a historical film, and I like doing those. I liked doing that one, too. It was a good part. There was another general I played around that same time, in an HBO movie with Bill Paxton called A Bright Shining Lie. I think his name was Weyand, but he was the general who took over for Westmoreland. That was a nice part to play because I had a little more to do in that. Plus, of course, Bill Paxton was in it. That was a good cast all around.
AVC: You’ve played more than a few generals over the years. In fact, you played another one for HBO, even: General Stevenson, in The Tuskegee Airmen.
EL: Oh yeah, that was a great one to be in. That one really should’ve been a feature, frankly. But it was really good, and it got a chance to tell a story that nobody really knew. I’ll talk to some young black people, and I’ll say, “You know who the Tuskegee Airmen were?” And they’re, like, “No, I think maybe, but…” “You don’t know who the Tuskegee Airmen were and you’re a black American? You’ve gotta know their story!” Of course, they just told the story again with Red Tails. But that was a nice part to play. John Lithgow was in that. And Larry Fishburne, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Andre Braugher. We had a good cast.
Seabiscuit (2003)—“Charles Strub”
AVC: Based on what you said about Thirteen Days, you obviously make a point of keeping an eye out for historical pictures.
EL: Yeah, I do. In fact, I’m keeping my eyes open for a Civil War story. I hope one of those comes around for me one of these days, because I love the Civil War and American history in general. I just read David McCullough’s book, The Greater Journey, about the Americans going back to study in France in the 1830s. A fabulous book. Oh, and what’s the other one I just read? Unbroken, a wonderful history by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote Seabiscuit.
By the way, I know I’m partial, but I think we should’ve won Best Picture that year with Seabiscuit, but Peter Jackson had lost the year before, so… A lot of politics get into the Academy Awards sometimes. But ours was a true story, it was gripping. He picked the country up, Seabiscuit. People would say, “What’d the Biscuit do today? What’d the Biscuit do?” Even people who didn’t have any money were betting on the Biscuit. [Laughs.]
Bad Company (1972)—“Orin”
Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973) —“Hawk Feather”
The Last American Hero (1973) —“Burton Colt”
King Kong (1976)—“Carnahan”
EL: You know, speaking of Seabiscuit, you talk about guys I’ve done more than a couple of pictures with, Jeff Bridges has gotta be right up there. Bad Company, Lolly-Madonna XXX, The Last American Hero, King Kong… I think there’s a couple more, too. We’ve had a great little journey together over the years.
AVC: We actually did a piece not long ago where we looked back at King Kong.
EL: Well, I certainly haven’t forgotten it. Sometimes when I call up to Jeff’s house, if he’s not there, I leave a message saying, “You tell him Carnahan called.” He knows who it is. [Laughs.] Yeah, I went in to see Joyce Selznick, she was casting that. A lot of people were intimidated by her, because Selznick is a big name in the business, and she was a formidable woman who certainly knew the business inside and out. But she liked me, and she got me up to the group of people for King Kong, and there I was, off and running again. She died too young. She should’ve been around for a lot longer. But when your number’s up, your number’s up, I guess.
AVC: How was Dino De Laurentiis? He always seems to be portrayed as quite a character himself.
EL: Oh, I got a great story about Dino. Just don’t ask me why I did this. I don’t know why, but I just figured I’d kind of put him on the spot and see what happened. When we were about two or three weeks into the filming, we were on the soundstage, and he came in with the other suits, they’re all walking around, and I said, “Dino, I read this article in Life magazine about you. Is it true that you bottled water, put fake labels on it, and told the GIs that it had been blessed by the Pope?” [Laughs.] He just looked at me. He couldn’t believe I was doing this to him in front of the other suits. And he just kind of smirked and walked right by. I thought, “Oh, geez, I’m gonna be fired off this movie.” But I wasn’t.
Funnily enough, though, Dino’s son, Federico, took a shine to me. He was an up-and-coming producer, and he and I really got along, and we used to see each other all the time. But then, of course, he died in a plane crash over in Alaska. When I did another movie for Dino called Raw Deal, we were down in Wilmington shooting on the soundstages down there, and I hadn’t seen Dino since his son had died. He was only 26 years old, Federico. He would’ve stepped right in and been right where his dad was. So I wanted to say something to Dino about it, but we were in a group, so I said, “Dino, can I talk to you about something?” And he says, “Sure!” So we go into his office, and I close the door, at which point he reels around with a look like, “Oh, geez, what’s this guy gonna do to me?” [Laughs.] But I just told him how sorry I was about Federico, how nice he was to me, and how deeply saddened I was. And he sighed, so I gave him a hug, and he said, “Eddie, that was the tragedy of my life, losing my son.”
A lot of these things happen, and in Hollywood circles, you find yourself appreciated by people who don’t really know anything about you and vice versa, but I try to keep pretty level-headed with people and let them know that I’m out there, and I try to keep up with what’s going on with them. I had Peter O’Toole come up to me one time out of nowhere and give me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek just because he recognized me as a fellow actor—I didn’t even know him—but then we just started talking about a lot of people that we were friends with or had worked with, like George C. Scott. I guess it’s like a pyramid: As you start to move away from the bottom and work your way up, you get into that group of guys who are always working, and suddenly everybody’s got all these people or projects in common. I’ve got a nice letter from Cagney that I have somewhere in the house. One from Jonathan Winters. And Stanley Kubrick, too. He actually wrote me a couple of notes. He was a giant, that one.
AVC: When did you work with Cagney?
EL: I never did! I just wrote him a letter, and he wrote me a nice letter back where he told me his technique about acting. He said, “Plant your two feet on the ground, look the other guy in the eye, and tell the truth.” [Laughs.]
Raw Deal (1986)—“Baker”
Extreme Justice (1993)—“Captain Shafer”
AVC: You talked about your conversation with Dino, but what was the actual experience of filming Raw Deal like?
EL: That was all right, but pretty much cut-and-dry, as I recall. I think Schwarzenegger was an FBI guy, and I was in charge of a group of cops that come in there, and I’ve done that before and since. I did a thing with Yaphet Kotto and Scott Glenn [Extreme Justice] where the role was kinda like that, and it’s not that far from what I did in Death Wish 3, either, really. A squad leader, basically. So I can play those kinds of guys easy enough.
It was fun growing up close to New York City, because you could go and study all these types of people. I grew up in a resort area, and we had a lot of cops who’d come down there on vacation and hang around in the bars. I worked as a lifeguard, and all of the bars were right on the beach, so we’d go and mingle with these guys. I met a lot of real characters like that, and I guess I still keep ’em in my head. One of the things that an actor uses is his imagination, and I use mine a lot. I was the youngest in the family, and I was a latchkey kid, because my mother was working, and my sisters were all grown up. So I used to do all these little imaginary scenes with different characters and everything. [Laughs.] I guess being left alone worked out as a tool for me as an actor.
Plus, I pick up on other actors I watch and the stories I hear about them and from them. Cagney, but also Montgomery Clift. And Lee Marvin, he told me, “Eddie, when you play a heavy, give the audience 30 seconds or a minute once in a while where you do something kind of nice. It throws them off. They’ll be, like, ‘Hey, this guy, I don’t know about him, he seems all right. Oh, wait, he just shot that guy! He’s bad!’” [Laughs.] The audience picks up on even the little things. You can do so much with a gesture or a glance. And those guys I mentioned, boy, they could do that.
Shameless (2011)—“Dick Healy”
EL: Yeah, I played a guidance counselor on there. They wanted me back for another episode, but I had my big vacation to New York planned, and I didn’t want to spoil my vacation, so I turned it down. But it was a nice part, so maybe they’ll be able to use me when I come back.
B.J. And The Bear (1979-1980) / The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (1979)—“John Sebastian Cain”
EL: Oh, Jesus. [Laughs.] That was a lot of fun to do. Greg Evigan… You ever seen a guy so good-looking in your entire life? I said, “Greg, how do you wake up in the morning looking like that? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” He’s a great guy. He’s from New Jersey. I did a couple of those. What, three or four, maybe? Went to Vegas one time, shot a couple of others elsewhere. And doing those Sheriff Lobo episodes, I got to work with my old buddy Mills Watson, who I met back when I did Dirty Little Billy. He played the deputy to Claude Akins on the show. Millsy and I did that Stephen King movie together, too. Cujo. So we go way back. We’re tight, me and him. [Laughs.]
Cujo (1983)—“Joe Camber”
Golden Years (1991)—“General Louis Crewes”
AVC: How was it working with the St. Bernard in Cujo?
EL: Ah, you know what? There’s a sad story in there. They used a St. Bernard, of course, and they had something like four dogs. They had one that was perfect for it, big dog that looked the part. Then they had a smaller one, and then they had, like, a German Shepherd that they would doctor up and use for something or other. I don’t know what the hell that was about. But this one main dog, about two-thirds of the way through making the movie… When a dog that big works hard in front of a camera, barking all day long, they’re not resting as much as they ought to. And that night, whoever was looking after him, they fed him, but I guess they fed him too fast, and if you feed a dog like that too fast, he’s gonna gulp it down. And his stomach reversed or something, and it killed him. So the next day, we didn’t have the poor thing with us anymore. But when you see the dog in the movie, jumping on the car and whatnot, that was him. He was definitely the best of the bunch. It’s just a shame he didn’t make it through the movie.
But aside from that, I loved making the movie and working with Stephen King. I did another thing with him, too: Golden Years, a TV miniseries. He was the bus driver in that. I was talking to him and carrying on like I’m talking to you, just having a great time, and then that night or maybe the next, they invited us to a private dinner with the director and stars of the production. I had to work a little late, though, so I was about an hour late getting there. Apparently, Stephen King went up to the director and was going, “Hey, where’s Eddie? Where the heck is Eddie? I wanna talk to that guy.” I finally showed up, and it was nice to hear that Stephen King had missed me. [Laughs.] He’s a good guy.
Timerider: The Adventure Of Lyle Swann (1982)—“Padre”
EL: Oh, Jesus. I don’t remember how I got that part. But that was a nice thing to do, too. That’s actually my wife’s favorite picture. She said, “You know, I don’t remember seeing you in that?” I said, “Well, that was a long time ago.” [Laughs.] She’s a lot younger than I am. But I always thought that we did a pretty good movie there. Lots of good people: Tracey Walter, Peter Coyote, Richard Masur, directed by Bill Dear, who stole my cowboy hat. I wore that and loved it, and then one day I went to the wardrobe guy and told him to hold it for me, and he said, “Aw man, sorry, Bill came by and said he wanted that hat, so I had to give it to him.” [Laughs.] It was fun filming that out in New Mexico. And I believe part of the money for that film came from Michael Nesmith, didn’t it?
AVC: It did.
EL: Oh, what a nice guy. He actually loaned me his plane so I could fly back for something during shooting. He said, “Eddie, take my plane.” I mean, I didn’t fly it personally, but he loaned it to me. A very gentle, nice fella.
Real Genius (1985)—“CIA Man David Decker”
Trial By Jury (1994)—“John Boyle”
EL: Real Genius? Oh, you’re really pulling ’em out now, aren’t you? Speaking of westerns, there’s a guy [Val Kilmer] who went on to star in a couple of ’em. That was interesting. Another CIA guy for me. [Laughs.] I worked with [Kilmer’s] wife, Joanne Whalley, a couple of years later, too. We did a movie up in Canada, in Toronto, Trial By Jury. I had a nice part in that. Gabriel Byrne and Armand Assante were in it, too. William Hurt and Kathleen Quinlan. William Hurt and I talked about Lee Marvin together, because we were both big fans of Lee’s. I know that Lee was very nice to William when they did Gorky Park together. William was having a little trouble with the crew, they weren’t being really cordial to him, but Lee straightened that out real fast. [Laughs.] He got that all straightened out real quick.
The Amateur (1981)—“Anderson”
Youngblood (1986)—“Murray Chadwick”
EL: I did a couple of movies up there in Toronto, come to think of it. I did Youngblood up there, and I did The Amateur, with John Savage and Marthe Keller. We just did a little part of that one there, then we went to Vienna. In Youngblood, I played the hockey coach, and Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze were really riding high right about then. One day, Patrick was late for work, and he was just coming up on Dirty Dancing, and Rob was already hot, both of ’em had the teenage girls yelling and screaming at ’em all the time. But Patrick was late by probably half an hour, and the next time he came in, he was late again, and it seems like it went to three in a row. Anyway, I got in the backseat of the car with him when we left the hotel for the set, and I said, “Patrick, you’ve got a great career ahead of you, you’re doing great things, but this is a nasty little town. You don’t wanna get a reputation for being late.” I remember saying, “I know we’re not doing Shakespeare here, but…” [Laughs.] But he liked me and respected me enough that he appreciated it, and he was never late again.
I think it’s good for an actor to recognize that sort of thing, though. Time is money. I always try to be there on time. And when they give you your wardrobe, I’ve seen a lot of actors go in their dressing room, and they’ve got their clothes all over the place when they’re leaving for the day. I heard about William Holden, who always put his clothes right back on the hanger the way he got ’em in the first place. I mean, it makes it easier for the wardrobe people. They don’t have to stoop around and pick up things. It makes their lives easier, and they’re trying to help you, so why can’t you help them a little bit? So it’s stuff like that that you try to do.
Death Hunt (1981)—“Hazel”
EL: I remember another time I learned a lesson like that. I was doing a movie called Death Hunt with Lee Marvin, and we were inside a cabin and there wasn’t much room in there. I didn’t have any lines in this particular scene, but Lee had some, he had a little speech to do, so I asked the first assistant director, who was from England, “Charlie, do you need me in this scene? Because it’s hot as hell in there, and there’s not much room.” He said, “No,” so I said, “Okay, then.” Sure enough, though, the scene gets over, and Lee comes out and growls, “Where were you guys? I was looking for you.” In other words, Lee was saying, “Always ask the actor, because he’s the one doing the scene, not the AD.” Some actors key off on other actors, even if it’s just a look. And that’s what Lee was telling me. So I said, “Aw, Jesus, that’s the last time I do that…” It makes sense to me; I just never thought about it before then. But I’ve told that story to a lot of other actors since. It’s always nice to try and help other actors.
I remember Robert Ryan, when we did Lolly-Madonna, I was standing in front of him, and he had to give this big speech to the actor next to me, which was Rod Steiger. And when he came in the two-shot, he was really kind of big with it, and then when he did the close-up, he took it way down. So I realized what he was doing, but I wanted to just talk to him about it, so I said, “Bob, I noticed in the two-shot you had it up on another level, and then when you went to the close-ups, you took it right down.” He said—and I almost fainted when he said this—“Well, Cary Grant told me years ago, ‘On the two-shots, you’re playing to the 15th row, but on the close-ups, it’s the first two rows.” It’s a good way to put it, I think.
EL: Oh, yeah. I was supposed to slap Ann-Margret’s face in that. [Laughs.] We’re having an argument in the bedroom—six months before that, she had broken her jaw from falling off something in Vegas. So Richard Attenborough said, “Well, Eddie, instead of hitting her, could you just throw her down on the bed?” I said, “Sure!” So I did that, and we really hit it off. I haven’t seen her in years, but she was always very sweet to me. And Richard Attenborough was great to work with. Of course, Anthony Hopkins, he’s another one I hit it off with. Anthony and I are great with doing voices, impersonations of people. So he was like, “Lemme hear that Bogart again. Lemme hear that Cagney!”[Laughs.] He does people like Jack Hawkins and Richard Burton, Charles Laughton, guys like that. He’s another one I haven’t seen in quite a few years. He’s going a bit of a different road than I am.
The Godchild (1974)—“Crees”
Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise (1987)—“Buzz Mussinger”
Camille (2008)—“Sheriff Steiner”
EL: Revenge of the Nerds II, that was funny! Yeah, I had fun on that because I took my hair, or what hair I had, and … You know how some guys comb their hair to the side to make it look like they have more hair? Well, I did that, then I said to the director, Joe Roth, who’s actually a big producer now, “Look, because I’m always trying to flirt with these girls that come into my office, especially this one girl [Courtney Thorne-Smith], is it all right if I keep a mascara pencil in my vest pocket, I try to pencil in my hair before she comes in, and then quickly put it back in my pocket?” He said, “Oh, my God, that’d be funny! Do that!” And they left it in the movie. My character was such a jerk, I wanted to do something to make him more funny. I mean, it was a comedy, anyway, so it wasn’t like I was taking any tension away from the film. [Laughs.]
Working with Robert Carradine and all those guys was fun. Bobby’s a really good friend of mine. I’ve worked with both of his brothers. I worked with David and Keith both. Keith and I did a TV movie called The Godchild back in the ’70s. And then with David, it was one of the last films he did, one called Camille. Al Ruddy produced that. He and I go way back. We’ve done a lot of things together, starting with The Longest Yard. He was also part of Death Hunt, too. Al’s a great guy and a great producer to work with. Oh, and I also managed to meet John Carradine at one point, too. I shook his hand. Man, he had some gnarly hands. [Laughs.] I also worked with all the Bridges at various points. Lloyd, Beau, and Jeff. Beau directed me in a TV movie. So, yeah, I’m pretty entrenched with the Bridges clan.
The Rocketeer (1991)—“Fitch”
EL: That was kind of interesting. We thought that thing would really take off, and that it would have sequel after sequel, but it didn’t happen. It had some wonderful, colorful characters in there, though. I remember someone said, “Hey, you and the other detective, you guys are hilarious together! They’re gonna spin you off into your own movie!” Of course, that didn’t happen, either. [Laughs.] That director, Joe Johnston, he was very good. But he’s kind of off in left field, doesn’t really go to the parties and mingle with the Hollywood types. A great guy, though. Really a nice man.
School Ties (1992)—“Alan Greene”
EL: There was a scene in that movie that I had with Brendan Fraser… He comes home on, like, Easter break or something, and the scene’s not in the movie, but he goes into the kitchen, and he’s crying in his beer, that kind of thing. He’s sorry about himself and how he’s handled the situation. He told me what he did, saying that he wasn’t Jewish. And I give this big speech to him; it’s really a nice speech, where I tell him, “When you get to know people, tell them you’re Jewish. Don’t beat around the bush. If they’re your friends, they’ll be your friends. If not, forget about it.” More or less that kind of thing. And I say, “I’m surprised I have to tell you this, I never thought you’d do what you were doing.”
The next thing you know, I go see the movie, and the whole scene’s out. I said, “What the hell happened to that scene?” They said, “Well, we wanted Brendan to be stronger, and he wasn’t as strong as we wanted him to be in the scene.” I mean, he was acting strong. He’s a good actor. But they didn’t want him to be that sympathetic. They wanted him to be more individualistic. Well, anyway, they took the scene out. So I went, “God, I’d like to get that for my reel,” and the director said, “Nah, that’s all thrown out.” But I didn’t believe him. So I went to another guy and another guy, and I finally got to the head of editing who said, “Yeah, we got it, we’ll get it to you.” It took four months, because he had other projects he was doing, but I finally got it.
Sherry Lansing, when she was the head of Paramount, that was her favorite movie of that era. She loved it. She’s the one who put it all together. Her and Stanley Jaffe. So, yeah, that was a great one. A lot of happy memories from that one.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby (2006)—“John Hanafin”
EL: I said, “You don’t have to credit me. I’ll just do it for kicks.” They said, “Okay.” It was fun to do it, though. I wanted to be around Will Ferrell just because I love comedy.
Wagons East (1994)—“John Slade”
EL: John Candy, that was his last movie. We had a lot of fun with John on that. I remember we talked about being altar boys, and we would trade our Latin prayers with each other. I had a break in the filming, and we were down in Mexico, so I wanted to go back to L.A. for about four days. I hear this voice up in the mountains yelling down at me on the prairie, and it’s John. He’s yelling, “Hey, Eddie! Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison!” And as a good altar boy, I’m supposed to yell, “Christe eleison! Christe eleison!” [Laughs.] He’s up there, waving his hat, and we’re having fun with Latin. Then they called me three days later and told me, “John’s dead. He died of a heart attack.” That really took the wind out of all of us. And I think the movie… I think they were hoping that John would go around selling it. But… oh, boy. Hey, at least I got to meet John. He was a great guy, a funny guy. We were really getting along well. I’m sorry he’s gone.
Guyana Tragedy: The Story Of Jim Jones (1980)—“Jim Jones, Sr.”
EL: Oh God, yeah. Jesus, that was with Diane Ladd, wasn’t it? Yeah, she played my wife in that one. That was a strange one. They were trying to show Jim Jones’ early life and how messed up he was, killing cats and whatnot.
The X-Files (1993)—“Lt. Col. Marcus Aurelius Belt”
EL: I don’t really have a lot to say about that, except I thought I did a nice job, and that it was nice working up there in Vancouver with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Oh, actually, the guy who directed that, Billy Graham, he used to ride motorcycles with James Dean, when they were nobodies in New York. I met him back when I did the Jim Jones movie! He directed that one, too!
Girls Just Want To Have Fun (1985)—“Col. Glenn”
EL: Oh sure, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt. When I did that, all the teenage girls were just like, “Oh, I loved you in that film! You let her win at the dance contest!” [Laughs.] I kept telling my agent, “You know, I’d be perfect on Sex And The City as her father!” Did anyone ever play her father on that? I don’t think so. I always thought it would’ve been neat for us to work together again, but I never got the call.
Trouble With The Curve (2012)—“Eddie”
EL: I love baseball. And that’s a thing where The Artist caused a ripple effect. An agent was talking about me in the office there with Clint [Eastwood] and his producers and director, and they said, “Yeah, and he’s also in The Artist.” “Oh, yeah? The Artist, too? Let’s get this guy in, then.” So they got me in, put me on tape, and the rest is history.
AVC: So what’s your character’s name in the film? That information seems to be nowhere on the Internet.
EL: Well, the character’s name was Max, but I said to the director, Rob Lorenz, “Rob, since they don’t actually use my name or call me by name, anyway, can we change it to Eddie?’ Because that’s my name, I’m a big baseball fan as it is, and I loved playing this scout. Can I just be Eddie?” He says, “Sure!” So I hope he remembers he said that and makes me Eddie. [Laughs.]
AVC: Was this the first time you’d ever worked with Clint Eastwood?
EL: Yeah, but I met him a couple of times, and what a joy he was. Just a nice guy. I wrote him a letter, and I said, “I know one of your favorite actors is Cagney, and one of his philosophies is, ‘No sweat, no strain.’” That’s the way Clint is, too. He’s just very even-tempered, he certainly appreciates the actors, and all the crew is handpicked by him, and they know all his nuances. That’s why his films always work so smoothly, and they all come in under budget and on time. He also loves jazz, so we talked a bit about music. He’s been playing the piano since he was probably 10 years old. He’s just fun to work with. I hope I get to do something more with him.