Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Can You Dig It? A Reunion: The cast of Walter Hill's The Warriors talks with TV STORE ONLINE



The cast of Walter Hill's seminal cult classic The Warriors: Michael Beck, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, David Patrick Kelly, Terry Michos and David Harris come together to talk with TV STORE ONLINE about making the film, it's cut scenes, and the violence that the media blamed on the film when it was first released into theaters in February of 1979.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did  each of you get cast in THE WARRIORS (1979)?   Did you go into an audition or was your role offered to you?

(L) Terry Michos (C) David Harris
(R) James Remar

TERRY MICHOS (VERMIN):  I went in to audition.  I was a young actor at the time and I had done a lot of off Broadway and off-off Broadway shows by then.  Just before, I had gotten a role in the national tour of Grease.  That was when I realized that I could support myself as an actor.  Most of us had agents in New York City even though we had little or no film or television experience.  So when Walter Hill, Larry Gordon and Frank Marshall came to New York to audition people for these nine roles I was one out of thousands that went in for THE WARRIORS.

MICHAEL BECK (SWAN): 
  I was living in New York City at the time and my agent submitted me.  They submitted me to the casting agency Feurer-Ritzer. I went in to see them and I couldn't get past that meeting.  They couldn't see me as a New York street kid because I had trained in England and my casting agents had put me up for several plays at the time that were these very classical English plays.    So I never got to audition for Walter Hill.   Walter Hill had screened a film that I had done in Israel called MADMAN [1978] with Sigourney Weaver.   He was screening it because he was working on ALIEN [1979] at the time.   I played the lead in MADMAN and he saw me in that film and called me in to audition for THE WARRIORS.  

Deborah Van Valkenburgh as "Mercy"
DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY):   I auditioned. THE WARRIORS was my first movie, and when I was auditioning I didn't think that I was what they were looking for.  I thought that visually they had something else in mind.  I thought that they would hire a girl that was more ethnic looking or a girl that was more curvy or buxom even.  Or a girl that had an accent.     So when I went in...I'm Dutch and I'm petite and my accessories are very different from what I thought that they were looking for.  So when Walter Hill hired me I was really happy and I thought that it was so great that they were going against what I thought that the character should or might look like.

TERRY MICHOS (VERMIN)
:   I was sent over to read for Walter Hill.    They gave me some pages of the script.  I remember Frank Marshall saying to me, "Well, we're looking for some certain types of people..."   I think that what he was saying was that he didn't think that I had the right look.  I hadn't even read yet.   So I pushed and asked them to look through some of my other head shots that I had brought and there  were some more edgier shots in there.   Walter Hill said, "OK, go ahead and read then..."    I didn't get the part.   I was very disappointed.  I can remember now going to get a glass of wine with my girlfriend at the time and having tears in my eyes.  I really wanted to be a part of THE WARRIORS but then so did everyone else.   Then a week later my agent called me and said, "They want to see you again for THE WARRIORS..."   So I went back in and read again and afterward Walter Hill said, "Well...I don't know what role I want you to play..."  My heart jumped!

(L) James Remar as "Ajax" (C) Brian Tyler as "Snow"
(R) David Harris as "Cochise"
DAVID HARRIS (COCHISE):   I was one of the last actors to be cast in THE WARRIORS actually.  I had been out of town in Minneapolis doing a David Rabe play called Streamers. I had a lot of Broadway and off Broadway shows prior to that.   When I got back to New York City my agent called me and said, "Walter Hill is casting for this movie called THE WARRIORS and they're looking for someone for this role "Cochise" and they haven't found him yet."  So I went in to see Walter Hill and by the time I got there they had already cast the film and fitted all the actors with their costumes.   So I went in and read a couple of lines and Walter Hills said, "Go down to wardrobe."  It was just like that and I think that I might have been the last of THE WARRIORS cast.

DAVID PATRICK KELLY (LUTHER):   I went in to see them at The Paramount Building on Columbus Circle in New York City.  I went to see them a couple different times.  I have no conformation on this, but I think that they may have been considering me for one of The Warriors.   I had long hair at the time because I was in this play called Working where I played a character named "Charlie Blossom".  It was written by Studs Terkel.  Walter came and saw me in the play.    In the play my character was a homicidal Ex-Hippie who wants to shoot everyone down.   It was a break-through for me an actor.  I had to dig deep and channel a lot of painful memories to play that character and it was like an out of body experience for me.  I think that because I played that homicidal character in that play is the reason why I got cast to play Luther instead of one of The Warriors. 

Actors Michael Beck & Deborah Van Valkenburgh
with Director of The Warriors Walter Hill
DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY):   You either cast someone who is famous or someone who is the stereotype and I just really appreciated that Walter Hill, who when working with someone like me, who was on their first outing chose someone for the role who as he put it, "Wasn't the obvious choice for the part..." 

TERRY MICHOS (VERMIN):   I found out that the reason why I got called back to audition for a second time was that Tony Danza, who had gotten a part,  had dropped out because he had taken a part on the television series Taxi [1978-83].    So he left and they had to recast the role.  It was a break for me because I got another chance to read.   I think that Tony was cast in the role of "Cowboy" originally and I'm not sure how Tom McKitterick was cast in that role eventually but it worked out for me.

TV STORE ONLINE:   One of the most memorable scenes in THE WARRIORS comes right near the beginning of the film when The Warriors go uptown for the big gang meeting.  What are your memories of shooting those scenes with all of the other gangs?

DAVID HARRIS (COCHISE):  It was done over several nights and it was kind of intense because there were guys there that were actually gangs members.   There were a few fights that broke out but for the most part it was a pretty controlled environment and most of the extras did well.  It was a fun and crazy couple of days shooting that though. 

The showdown at Coney Island
"The Riffs" will take care of Luther
TV STORE ONLINE:   What was the group's experience working with Walter Hill the director?

DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY):   There are some film directors that have a rehearsal process but that's not Walter's flavor.   He expects you to know your lines and to just jump in and know who you want to be as the character.    With me, he would give these growly little notes quietly and he wasn't verbose.  He was playful with me.   He opened up in me a kind of Panadora's box of surprises in me.  I think that helped get the job done for me.  I don't know how he was with the guys though...

DAVID HARRIS (COCHISE):   He was low-key.  He gave us actors a lot of room to move.  He didn't give us a lot of line readings or direction, and this was everyone's first movie with the exception of Michael Beck and James Remar.   Walter's the kind of guy that trusts his actors.   He really believes in his actors too.  Thats what made it work.

TERRY MICHOS (VERMIN):   Well, I had never done a film before so I didn't really know if a director was giving me a lot of direction or not.   Walter just expected you to know your lines and your character.   For me, Michael Beck and James Remar had the tough leading roles.  The others guys had tough roles too.  For "Vermin",  I didn't know what to do with them.   Then I remembered seeing this cartoon series from years before called The Mighty Hercules [1963-66].   There was a character on there that was half-man and half-animal and he used to run around and he would say things twice. He would go around saying, "Hey Herc! Hey Herc!"   So I started doing that.  I started talking in a slightly higher voice and I would repeat things like, "We're going to get Japped!  We're going to get Japped!"  Or..."You've come to the right guys. You've come to the right guys."   Walter really liked that and he started to give me more lines.   He would give you suggestions here or there.  He would suggest a line or tell you, "Try this thereYou're giving me too much here."    

MICHAEL BECK (SWAN):   Walter isn't the kind of director that gives his actors emotional direction.  He would give you direction in regards to staging because he knew what he wanted THE WARRIORS to look like.   He knew where he wanted you to be positioned in that landscape.   He didn't say much though and I always figured that if Walter didn't say much to you that he must have liked what you were doing.

"We fought all night to get back to this?"
Swan and Mercy hit Coney Island
TV STORE ONLINE:  So how did the each you find your respective characters in THE WARRIORS?

MICHAEL BECK (SWAN):    I think all of us thought that we were making some sort of naturalistic or realistic street gang movie...laughing     After I was cast and read the script, I picked up a copy of  Sol Yurick's book and read it.   At the time I was living on the Upper West Side around 79th street and there was a local gang that used to hang around the neighborhood and I would just sit and observe them.   I've never really been one that does a lot of research for a role.  Acting is pretending really.  You read the script and you do it.

DAVID PATRICK KELLY (LUTHER): 
  The chant itself that I did at the end of THE WARRIORS came from a neighbor of mine who may or may not have been a gangster.  He was a scary guy.  When I would see him in my apartment building I would say to him, "How are you doing?"  He wouldn't even say anything to me but "Daaaaavvveee?  Daaaavvveee?   Daaaavvvveee?"   It was the creepiest thing I ever heard.  Those were the kinds of things that I chose to put into Luther.   I just put in things that creeped me out.   Actors are like anthropologists in that they have to observe life and their surroundings and use it in the characters that they play.

DAVID HARRIS (COCHISE):   When I read the script for the first time I said to myself, "This guy has to have a really unique look."   If "Cochise" was going to be a black Indian then Walter Hill was John Ford.  He really is a Western filmmaker.  He's the closet thing to John Ford that his generation has.  I went down to wardrobe and I spoke to the wardrobe lady and shortly afterward Walter came to check in on me and we all started to bounce around ideas about what he would wear and that's how Cochise was really born.

TERRY MICHOS (VERMIN):  I've never been a method actor.  I know that there are actors that take that approach but for me I just responded to the action and worked off of the other actors.   I didn't really go in-depth as some of the other actors did like Tom Waites for example.   He was really into method acting.

Behind The Scenes on the boardwalk at Coney Island
MICHAEL BECK (SWAN):   Swan was quiet and he didn't have a lot of say.  He expressed himself physically and not verbally. I also saw him as someone who was more caring that he let on.   It was important to him that those guys made it back to Coney Island safely.  He wanted to get them home.  He made sure that no one was left behind.   Andrew Laslo was the Director Of Photography on THE WARRIORS and one day about halfway through the shoot he said to me, "You're playing this guy like he's Gary Cooper..."  I didn't see Swan in that light then but now I can sort of see those archetypical characteristics in those Gary Cooper characters in Swan as I've gotten older.

DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY):   I read a bunch of different books.  It wasn't for research as much as it was me trying to get lost in the atmosphere that I was going to be living in for the  couple months that we were going to be shooting for.   I read Sol Yurick's book and it was very dark and disturbing.  The first thing that happens to Mercy is that the guys pull a train on her and they rape her and leave her for dead.

DAVID HARRIS (COCHISE):    My agent had told me before I went in to meet with Walter that the character was named Cochise.   I imagined him as if he was the great great great grandson of the famous Cochise of the American West.   I knew before I even met Walter that I wanted to play him in that way.

I wasn't trying to play her as if she belonged to any certain
type of ethnicity....  Deborah Van Valkenburgh on Mercy
.
DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY): I remember when I read the script...It was very spare.  Walter didn't spend any time describing the characters in the film in the script.   I liked that because it allowed me to imagine the characters. It allowed me to feel and see the characters.  He wrote it like a book and for me Mercy was a composite of anyone who I had ever interacted with in the urban landscape.     I wasn't trying to play her as if she belonged to any certain type of ethnicity.  She was a collective of the young women in my mind.   Mercy was protecting herself by using her sexuality.  It was as if she only knew how to connect with someone on a sexual level.  It was really like false intimacy.   When she met Swan it really opened her heart and I think that she did the same for Michael Beck's character and they both expanded each others sense of life.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Michael....If it came down to a fist fight between Swan and James Remar's character "Ajax" who would win?   

MICHAEL BECK (SWAN):   Swan would kick Ajax's ass.  James Remar would disagree though...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:
   Deborah, were you ever concerened with the sexuality of the character itself?  Your outfit is extremely revealing in the film...

DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY):  Laughing....I really wasn't concerned with it.   I think that if I had any worry at the time it would've been that I wouldn't look voluptuous.   That might have been my only concern.   I didn't want them to put me in that outfit and then be disappointed.   After some fittings Walter approved the outfit and he was happy.    That was important to me.  He's such a great guy to work for. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  What about some of the scenes that didn't make the movie?  There's Walter Hill's Director's Cut DVD then also a television version of the film that airs occasionally that contains some daylight scenes at Coney Island with The Warriors...

One scene that didn't make Walter Hill's Director's Cut:
Original opening of TV Version of The Warriors
DAVID HARRIS (COCHISE):  Right, there were quite a few scenes that didn't make the final cut.  If Walter would've shot the original script it would've turned THE WARRIORS into a mini-series.   As is, a lot of the stuff that Walter shot had to be cut.   We originally had an 8-10 week shooting schedule and ended up shooting almost 5 months.   We shot big scenes in Chinatown that aren't in the movie.   Originally we were supposed to start out in the daytime at Coney Island and we shot scenes where we talked about the background of the gang and also about who "Cyrus" was and why were going up to the meeting in the first place.

MICHAEL BECK (SWAN):   A lot of things didn't make the final cut.  The actor Thomas Waites was asked to leave the film. He was cast originally as "Fox".   That changed the whole story arc.   Waites character was originally supposed to end up with Mercy.  Swan was originally supposed to be captured by a gang called "The Dingos" and he was to get tortured but ended up escaping and meeting back up with The Warriors later on.  Once Waites left the picture, Deborah and I were informed that our characters would be the love interests of the film.

TERRY MICHOS (VERMIN):  There was one scene that I remember where all of The Warriors were working out on gymnastic bars before they left from Coney Island.

DAVID PATRICK KELLY (LUTHER):   The scene "Warriors....Come out to play-yay..." wasn't in the original script.   I remember sitting around with everyone at the first script reading and we were going through it and one of the actor's said, "What's the purpose of the table reading?"   Larry Gordon the producer of THE WARRIORS responded, "To find out who we gotta replace."

TERRY MICHOS (VERMIN):  The original opening of THE WARRIORS took place in the daylight and Sidney Portier's daughter Pam Portier was one of The Warrior's girlfriends and there was a scene or two with all of us standing around talking about whether or not The Warriors should go up to the meeting.

TV STORE ONLINE:  It's been reported that when the film first came out it caused such a stir in New York City that fights were breaking out in the theaters...Is all of that true?

Character Actor Paul Greco (R) plays the leader of
the NYC gang "The Orphans"
MICHAEL BECK (SWAN):   Yes... I think there were actually two killings that were attributed to THE WARRIORS.  I think there was one of the East Coast and then one on the West Coast as well.   A bunch of newspaper and magazine paper articles started to come out about it and after about two or three weeks Paramount pulled the plug on the publicity and the film pretty much dropped off at that point.   The media was blaming the film for all of these fights and killings!  It's awful when you think that you're associated with something that might have been responsible for someone losing their life.   One guy was shot in a bathroom at a drive-in screening of THE WARRIORS in Los Angeles.   Why was a guy let into a theater with a gun in the first place?   How did a movie force someone to shoot another person?   I find that logic skewed.  It was a film about street gangs and who did they think was even going to see it?  Street gangs!   I think what happened was that rival factions met each other in the theater and bad things happened.  I don't think the movie drove anyone to violence.  When you look at the film now it pales in comparison to anything.  It's a comic book movie.

Can You Dig It!   Behind The Scenes on The Warriors
DAVID HARRIS (COCHISE):   I heard about all of that.  Being from New York City...I can't remember hearing now about anyone that lost their life.   I think that the kids that saw the film when it came out where hotheads who saw the movie and they were just nuts.   Maybe a kid got a bloody nose or something like that but I don't think someone got stabbed in a theater.  A lot of kids wanted to be like The Warriors.   It wasn't about gang colors.  It was about nine friends who were trying to get home to Coney Island.   As actors, we did a lot of running and fighting and our hearts were beating fast.  Maybe that caused some kids in the audience to feel the same way?

MICHAEL BECK (SWAN): 
  Even at the time we made THE WARRIORS...It was comic book violence.  It wasn't naturalistic violence in any way.   You could almost see the "Kaboom" and the "Pow" in the little bubbles appear over our heads in the film.   At the time that this happened it was shocking, but now in retrospect the whole thing doesn't wash with me.   There is no way THE WARRIORS caused anyone to be moved to violence against anyone.   It was a movie about gangs and I'm sure gangs went to see the film and they ran into others gangs and things happened.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Speaking of the gangs in The WARRIORS....There was the gang "The Orphans"....Deborah...More than any of the other actors in THE WARRIORS you worked the most with actor Paul Greco who played the leader of the gang The Orphans. What was he like to work with?

DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY):  He was great.   I'm sad that he's no longer with us today.    I stayed in touch with him over the years after THE WARRIORS.  He was a great guy and he had a big heart and it was really disappointing when he couldn't catch the break that he deserved because he was a really great actor.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Michael & Deborah...The two of you have a great chemistry in THE WARRIORS, and the relationship between your characters is something that is a favorite for many fans of the film...Could the two of you talk about that chemistry and the relationship of Swan and Mercy?   It really seems to come to fruition in that great scene with the two of you down in the subway walking alone together...

DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY):  As I said earlier...She wanted to connect with him, and that scene was her lame attempt at trying to connect with him sexually because that was the only way she knew how to connect with any guy.  Both Swan and Mercy are protecting themselves from something and I don't think that they even knew what they were trying to protect themselves from in that scene.

MICHAEL BECK (SWAN):
   That scene was written that way.  To be honest, I think Swan was more interested in finding the guys and going home than he was in getting laid down in the subway.

DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY):   I remember when we were preparing to shoot that scene...It was very interesting to be sitting down in that subway tunnel and not having to worry about being hit by a train.  It was like being in an urban cave.  I was sitting there waiting for the shot and the lights to be set up and I can remember now thinking that I wanted to make myself feel alone.  I was trying to focus in on that idea.   Michael walked up to me and said, "Are you OK?" and I told him that I wanted to feel like I was alone.  He said, "Don't worry.  You are alone."   He walked away.   We would do funny stuff like that to each other all the time and it really added all of this extra friction that you needed to get the job done.

TV STORE ONLINE:  David...Could you talk about shooting that great scene where you character Luther and his goons go into the candy store?  That intensity is incredible...

DAVID PATRICK KELLY (LUTHER):  You know...At that time I was someone who had to learn how to express that type of stuff.  I had a very peaceful and wonderful childhood, and I'm not saying that there weren't rough times as a kid or fights or whatever here or there, but as a child growing up I was a peaceful person.   I think that going through the '70s as a struggling actor and seeing the competition out there, going to countless auditions and going through various relationships and stuff like that...That scene was really an extension of what I had learned while I was doing that play that Walter Hill saw me in called Working.    That scene in the candy store in THE WARRIORS is directly related to that.  It was the way I learned how to express myself and express that frustration.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I know you've mentioned the scene a couple of times David...But could you tell me about shooting the "Warriors...Come out To Play-yayy" scene itself?

DAVID PATRICK KELLY (LUTHER):
   Walter told me to come up with something.  He said, "I don't know, why don't you sing them something..."    Walter gives me total credit for the scene but I think he actually suggested some of the words himself.  That's the way I remember it.   Then I found the bottles and we did two takes of it.  We rehearsed it, and then we went again and his direction was, "Bring the bottles up slow.."   I was really surprised that they didn't cut the scene from the movie because it's just so wacky.    Before I had found the bottles I had picked up a dead pigeon...laughing    Walter said, "That's not going to work."

TV STORE ONLINE:  Michael & Deborah...What happens to Swan and Mercy once they get back to Coney Island?  Do they stay together after the credit's for THE WARRIORS have rolled and the audience has left the theater?

DEBORAH VAN VALKENBURGH (MERCY): 
   In my fantasy they do.  I think they go on some big adventure together.  He wanted to get out of there and so did she.   I think that she opened herself up to him and I think that the two of them go off and explore a bigger world together.  I don't how long it's going to last, maybe they stay together for the rest of their lives but I don't know.

MICHAEL BECK (SWAN):   And they have six or eight children...laughing    I think they do stay together.  I'm not sure where they go.  Maybe they move to upstate Vermont...laughing

The behind the scenes photographs in this article are courtesy of WarriorsMovie.Co.Uk.   Please visit their site HERE.