Cinema X interview
Vol. 2, No. 1, circa 1969/70
reputation well-suited to the title role of THE
MAN WHO HAD POWER OVER WOMEN, Rod Taylor is Hollywood's sole Australian
star. He's a man's man who refuses to censor his own conversation, cheerfully
assaulted with four-letter expletives. This, again, befits his usual screen
image – the reason he was so surprised when Antonioni asked him to star in
ZABRISKIE POINT. (Yet, apart from say David
Hemmings in BLOW UP and Marcello Mastroianni on LA NOTTE, the Italian tends to
go for the craggy kind of actor: Richard Harris in THE RED DESERT, Steve Cochran
in IL GRIDO).
No one, not even Taylor, has seen the finished film to date. Yet the controversy
about ZABRISKIE POINT has already begun. The
rumours insist it will make BLOW UP look like a Disney offering. Adding much
fuel to this story was the recent issuing of Grand Jury subpoenas to people
concerned with the shooting, alleging violations of America's sacred Mann Act.
This is the law which forbids transportation of people across state boundary
lines for "immoral purposes."
Until now, the law has only affected pimps luring girls from one state to
another to work as prostitutes, or even a fellow driving his bird across the
line for a night at a motel. Is it now to be immoral in America to bring stars
from one state to another for location scenes which may require nudity,
simulated love-making and so on? If it is, it seems to have been discovered a
bit late in Hollywood's home location history…
Apparently hippie sequences of wholesale nudity seem to have triggered off the
inquiry into the shooting of ZABRISKIE POINT.
However, other reports bring it down to a political level – the secret grand
jury hearing being part of a move to ban Antonioni's film from U.S. cinemas
because it is, or might be (no one has seen it, remember), outrageously
anti-American. Indeed one observer in the Sacramento courtroom was later quoted
as opining: "If this picture ever is shown in this country, they'll hang
Antonioni in effigy on every street corner in America!"
Antonioni's aim? "I do not want to look at America as an exotic, strange place.
I want to capture its deepest and truest aspects."
Cinema X: What is your reaction to the grand jury hearings in
Sacramento and the result of their findings being passed to the Justice
Department in Washington?
Rod Taylor: I don't know very much about it all – the hearings or even
the sequences in question. I'm not annoyed by it… I'm shit-scared about it! I
read the reports and I think: "Aha, OK, Antonioni, Taylor got fucked again!"
Thing I don't like was way down at the bottom of one of the press reports: "The
star of the film, Rod Taylor, happens to be in London; the director,
Michelangelo Antonioni, happens to be in Rome." Looked like we both held hands
and fled, you know!
CX: How did you get involved with the film?
RT: He came after me. I felt that my kind of funny image – you know,
rough, tough, kill 'em, punch 'em, fuck 'em! – didn't seem to go along with
Michelangelo. But he seemed to feel I was right. He'd been to see… oh something
way out, something dreadful like THE MERCENARIES
and said, "That's the son of a bitch for me." He kinda wooed me over three
lunches. I kept saying: "Shit, I'm no good to you in this." But he convinced me.
Never had a script, just said: "Rod, we just talk together. We do things
together. We do script together. And we don't tell anyone what we do." So I
said: "OK, you're the fucking genius; let's see."
CX: Not your usual kind of film deal.
RT: Hardly! It's not the sort of thing I would have agreed to with many
people. But no, I admired him, been intrigued by his work for a long time. And
so I thought if the man can do something creative, artistic and also make 22
million dollars, OK, baby, I'll go. Because I believe in entertaining people. So
I went along, kinda eyes wide open, to see what kind of man he was.
CX: With what result?
RT: I finished up loving him, I love him and I wanna work with him again.
But I still had the same kinda feeling as when I did a picture with Doris Day.
You know the feeling? "What the fuck am I doing here? Cary Grant, sure. Rock
Hudson, sure. James Garner, sure. But me – a fire-plug with funny hands and a
broken nose?" I felt the same way around Michelangelo. But he had in the back of
his mind that he needed some kind of strength in terms of… (wild laughter; "I'm
sounding like a poof")… the solid masculine type of man who can take care of
CX: No doubt he had felt the same with Richard Harris. But as Harris told
me "the love affair soon ended."
RT: Well Richard told him to fuck off, didn't he? He gave him the elbow.
I certainly didn't give him the elbow because I know so much about the other
side of the camera and I admired what he was doing immensely. Not that I saw any
of this crap with, you know, the Mann Act… I wasn't scarpering around nude or
anything. I didn't know this was going on. Though I sure as fuck heard about it
later. Like everyone else.
CX: Where and what is Zabriskie Point, by the way?
RT: It's a place in Death Valley. I was never there, because I play the
Establishment, which is the area of the film shot in enormous offices and
beautiful country house and all that. The film is the Establishment versus all
these punk kids who are sucking and fucking.
CX: Who wins?
RT: Well, I'll tell ya. The last shot I did was with this little kid (Daria
Halprin), who I am obviously attracted to. She's my secretary, who has been
messing around with all the beatniks and the hippies. Last shot in the picture,
she comes to my house and I tell her, you know, very gentle, to go and clean up…
because she's been fucked and sucked and carried on with, and looks a little
haggard. Well, she walks out of the house and down the road, looks back and
boom! The house blows up. That's the version I saw and I think it's a fairly
strong (laugh) comment.
CX: How much of the film have you seen, in fact?
RT: Only my stuff. I didn't see any of the other scenes, most of which
was being shipped to Rome as soon as he shot it. I don't think anyone saw it.
CX: From what you've seen – and the script – would you call the film
anti-American, or is it strictly an Italian's eye view of America today?
RT: I really don't know… I didn't let him do anything in my scenes that I
didn't believe was right. I played a good, strong, young, clean-cut businessman
and he didn't try to warp my character at all. But (laugh) he sure had fun with
the beatniks, I tell you. As for the script, it was arriving daily in pages.
CX: Apart from you, the cast is purely amateur, do you object to this kind
RT: I think if they are in the hands of a so-called genius like
Michelangelo, it's fine. I was literally the only kind of pro he talked to on
the set. We got on very well. So well I never even bothered to work out my
billing in the film. That may be unprofessional of me, I don't know. Still,
truth is, I don't know if I'm starring or guest-starring. I don't mind either. I
enjoyed the experience and I want to work with Antonioni again. So does he! He
told me: "Rod I want to make another film with you. Somewhere where I talk the
CX: As an Australian, you should be concerned about another big screen
controversy. How do you feel about Mick Jagger playing Ned Kelly?
RT: I cringe a little, I must admit. It's like getting Mick to play Jesse
James. Kind odd, that's all. I don't think an Australian necessarily should play
Kelly because, let's face it, there were no Australians then. They were all
English. I mean if I played Kelly – as I might have done in the Dino de
Laurentis film, THE IRON OUTLAWS cancelled because of this Tony Richardson film
– I wouldn't be allowed to do it with an Aussie accent. Because there was no
such thing then. So, I'm not against it from that point of view. It's just,
well, Ned Kelly was a tough sonofabitch and I don't know if Mick is.
CX: He could knock you down with a shake of his hair!
RT: In a flurry of talc!
CX: What are you doing next, instead of your Kelly film?
RT: I have another film, WHERE THE LIONS FEED to do for Joe Levine in
Africa towards the end of 1970. In the meantime, I go to Florida and Nassau –
how does that grab you with your English weather? – for
DARKER THAN AMBER. This is one of a series
of books by John MacDonald about a character called Travis McGee. Rough, tough.
The usual Rod Taylor bullshit.
CX: Why denigrate yourself?
RT: Well, that's all they give me to do. This movie,
THE MAN WHO HAD POWER OVER WOMEN is a joy
because, I don't shoot anybody. I only deck one person. It's fun to play against
title, too. He's really a pathetic, warped Walter Mitty-type charcter. And I've
never been so well dressed in my life. Look at all these suits... and all those
poofy shirts… Now, how about some beers?
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