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John Boorman Talks Almost Making 'Lord Of The Rings,' Working With Marcello Mastroianni, What He's Doing Next & More

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by Jessica Kiang
December 17, 2012 11:02 AM
5 Comments
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But the person who taught him most about film acting was Lee Marvin.
"He had this ability to communicate an idea or a thought or emotion, with a gesture. He never wanted to talk about a scene, he would show me something, just do it. And I could either take it or not, he would offer it."

"There was one occasion during 'Point Blank' where Lee Marvin is looking for his wife who has betrayed him with his friend and he bursts in and he shoots the bed, but of course Reese, the former friend, is not there," Boorman continued. "And he sits down and he’s completely emotionally spent. And then there’s a scene with the wife -- a completely conventional scene where he says 'Where’s Reese? When did you last see him? Who brings you the money for this place?' -- very conventional stuff. And we run through the scene, and the actress says her line and Lee doesn’t respond. So she says her next line, and he still doesn't ask a question, and of course it was clear [the character] wasn’t in a condition to ask all these questions, so I quickly rewrite the scene so that she was answering unasked questions, so she'd say 'Reese? I haven’t seen him in months' 'The money? A guy brings it' and it turned the scene into something emotionally true and interesting from what was really a conventional scene that I had written."

Marcello Mastroianni was maybe the most laid-back actor he’s worked with.
"Mastroianni, he could do anything -- the most malleable actor you’d imagine, he could do anything you ask. He’d constantly make dialogue irrelevant, and he’d make a gesture an expression, you didn’t need the line -- marvelous," he said about the actor he worked with on "Leo The Last." "One occasion I’d said, 'Can you manage to get around to the other side of the actress without making it look awkward?' and he said 'Can I do that? I made four movies with Sophia Loren. She only wanted to be photographed on one side of her face, I was constantly dancing around her.' And he was so relaxed! I did this scene where he was in bed, so we put him in the bed and set up and we’re ready to shoot and he's fast asleep. And I wake him up, 'Marcello? Marcello, can we shoot the scene?' 'Oh sure.' I change the angle for another shot and he’s back asleep again. I had to wake him up to act being asleep."

And Jon Voight credits Boorman with saving his life.
"When I was trying to get [Voight] to do ['Deliverance'], he was very depressed, he'd just made a film called 'The All-American Boy' and they couldn't put it together. He'd been working with the director for months trying and he was so depressed and was considering giving up acting. And I was trying to persuade him to come and do this film. It went on for so long, that finally, I was on the phone to him and I said, Jon, look you've got to give me a decision, I'm going to count to ten, and you've got to say yes or no at the end of ten," Boorman said. "And he said 'Why ten? Why does it have to be ten? Why not 30?' So I said, 'fine, thirty.' And I start the countdown but he's saying "this is not the way to make decisions…" he's talking all the way through my thirty '…twenty nine…' 'John, this is not the way to do it…' 'thirty…' bang! [he hangs up]. So ten minutes later he phones up and I say 'I've got someone else.' And he says 'What, in ten minutes?' and I say 'There's always someone waiting behind you…' And suddenly he's all 'I'll do it, I'll do it.'

Boorman added: "He always told people afterwards, 'You know, John saved my life. I was suicidal. John saved my life by putting me in this film and then spent eight weeks trying to kill me.'"

The contrast between Voight and Burt Reynolds was startling.
"Seeing Voight and Burt Reynolds together was interesting. Jon's a very method actor; Burt is the type of actor who just looks at it and says 'I know how to get through to the end of this scene without making a fool of myself… I'll chew a match or something.’ So Jon, of course, wanted to talk every scene to death and Burt just wanted to do it and get through to the other side. In a way they actually worked together well because he forced Jon to be quicker and Jon make him think a bit. At the end of it Burt said 'I'm in this film under false pretenses … I can't act.' I said 'You can't? Well, what were you doing out there then?' And he said "I was faking it."

Someone else who owes him a great deal is Peter Jackson.
“I was always very interested in Arthurian legend, the Grail legends, and I went to United Artists in 1969 with this idea, and they said ,'Well, we have 'The Lord of the Rings,' why don't you do that?' because Tolkien drew on Arthurian legend quite heavily," Boorman revealed.

"And so we went off… devising techniques for miniaturizing Hobbits because there was no CG back then, but by the time it was ready UA had run out of money," he continued. "So I went to Disney with it and couldn't get it made. And really I'm so pleased we didn't because if I'd made it, rather clumsily at the time, it would mean that Pete Jackson's fantastic trilogy would not have been made. So he owes a lot to me."

"Getting the picture in on budget and in time. That's my reputation."
He may be pushing eighty, but he's not hanging up his directorial spurs yet.
"One project I have is called 'Broken Dream' which is 25 years old and every time I finish shooting a picture I bring this script out and I rewrite it and start to try and make it and I can never get it off the ground. But I always look at it - it feels like a lost film…It's a comedy about the end of the world, and I can't say more than that because you'll only steal my idea," he said. "[Next] I'm making a sequel to 'Hope and Glory' which was about my childhood during the Blitz in London, set ten years later when I went into the army at 18 for two years, and I won the Korean War and fell in love."

As acerbic as Boorman is about many things, he is similarly unsparing when it comes to an assessment of his own work and talents.
Asked what his greatest asset as a director is, Boorman replied self-deprecatingly, "Getting the picture in on budget and in time. That's my reputation. But to quote Billy Wilder again, whoever went to the box office and said 'Give me a ticket for that picture that came in on budget'?"

At the conclusion of the talk Boorman gets reflective for a moment, almost rueful. "A lot of people I grew up with were more talented than I was, but they didn't have the drive or tenacity you need to make films. It's a very tough business to put a picture together and to make it work is hard, and it probably needs tough people to do it. Whereas the more sensitive, delicate characters can't put it all together…" With his trademark impeccable timing, he undercuts the melancholy of the sentiment. "… eh, fuck 'em," he says, and brings the house down.

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5 Comments

  • Mark | January 2, 2013 6:16 PMReply

    John Boorman, Gabriel Byrne, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson and more in a documentary on the making of "Excalibur"
    http://indiegogo.com/excaliburdoc

  • Mark | January 2, 2013 6:13 PMReply

    Boorman and the main cast feature in a documentary being released this year- "Behind The Sword in the Stone" a look back at the making of Excalibur. Check this out-
    http://indiegogo.com/excaliburdoc

  • Alan | December 19, 2012 4:32 AMReply

    This guy sounds awesome. There's almost a hint of absurdity in even his greatest achievements as a director, but Boorman always sounds super-intelligent. His relationship with Voight is interesting, too: Voight gave Boorman notes on an early draft of The Exorcist sequel, and came in at the last minute to appear in The General to replace Ciaran Hinds. The two sound tight, and I would like to hear more about their relationship.

  • Rob Roy | December 17, 2012 6:32 PMReply

    Great stories. we need more of this stuff from the old class directors

  • Drew | December 17, 2012 4:44 PMReply

    I wish somebody WOULD ask Boorman about "Zardoz." That movie was so off the wall and truly a lot of fun in a crazy sort of way, it deserves some much needed attention. Heck, even "Kill List" director Ben Wheatley uses the stone head from it as his Twitter profile photo.

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