Thursday, January 30, 2014

INTERVIEW: Steve Railsback talks about playing Charles Manson, working with Elia Kazan and The Stunt Man (1980)




TV STORE ONLINE:  Steve, could you talk about how you got your first acting break with the help of Elia Kazan?

RAILSBACK:  That's right, I did THE VISITORS (1971) with Kazan.   At that time, I was living in New York City, but I had been out on the road doing some plays.    I'm originally from Texas, and when I went out on the road I ended up staying out there for about three-and-a-half years.   That Christmas, and I can remember it clearly still today, it was on a Wednesday, and New Years Eve was the next day Thursday.  My phone rang and on the other end of the line a guy said, " Steve Railsback there?"  I said, "Yeah."  He said, "This is Kazan calling from New York."   I thought it was a friend of mine playing a joke on me.   So I let him speak for about twenty minutes and then finally I stopped him and said, "OK. OK.  Who is this really?"  Then he said, "Quit busting my balls, this is Kazan. I'm calling you from New York."   Even thought I couldn't see myself in the mirror, my face probably changed about three different shades of color.

I had admired Kazan from Texas my entire life.   I had never met him though, not even in New York.   He said, "I'm doing this little film, and somebody mentioned your name to me."   He never told me who had mentioned my name though.   He said, "When are you coming back to New York?"  I said, "I can come back tonight!"  He said, "No, No, No.  Spend the holidays with your family and fly back on Friday.  When you get to to town give me a call.  I'll be at home watching the football games."  So I flew back on Friday and called him.   He said, "OK, let's meet at my office tomorrow."    I was really worried about going in to his office to meet him.  I didn't know what I should wear.  So I borrowed a sports jacket from a friend of mine.   I went up to his office and knocked on the door.  When he opened the door, he was standing there dressed in fatigues. (Laughing)    He looked me over for about five seconds and he said, "Railsback?  Kazan."  He shook my hand and we stood there for a second, and you could tell that he was still looking me over some.   Then he said, "You don't dress that way all of the time do you?"  (Laughing)  I said, "No, No. I just didn't know what to wear!"   From there, we went to The Actor's Studio.

When we got there, we went right to work.  All Kazan told me was, "There is a girl in the next room waiting for you.   She knows where Electra is... Electra has left you, and you need to go in there and get this girl out of this room and have her take you to see Electra."  Then Kazan left and went into the next room with the girl.

I didn't know this at the time, but before we started, Kazan had told the girl that no matter what I did or said to her when I walked in, she wasn't to leave the room no matter what.  So I walk into the next room and the girl is sitting in the room doing some kind of Yoga and Kazan was laying on the couch in the room smoking a cigar as he always was.   I walked in and the girl said, "What do you want?"     I said, "Well, I need you to take me to see Electra."  I didn't know what to do really.   I'll never forget this...There was a stool in the room.  I walked over to the stool and sat down and looked at the girl.    I looked at Kazan, but he didn't make eye contact to me.   I started rubbing my finger nails.   I said to myself, "Steve, you'll never get a chance like this again in your entire life."   So I stood up and walked over to the girl.  She was standing in front of a brick wall.  I went up to her and said, "This is the most important day of my life, and so help me God....   If you don't take me to see Electra...I'm going to knock you right through that fucking wall."  I looked at her, and she was shaking.     I carried on with her.  I said, "OK, here's your jacket."  I handed her a jacket.  I said, "OK, now we're going to go  and we're going to walk past a secretary, and you don't need to say anything to her."   I had her out of that room in four minutes time. 

 I, again, had no clue that Kazan had told her that she couldn't leave the room.   That was me sitting on that stool and telling myself that this was the chance of a lifetime that caused me to do this.   We left the room and afterward, I walked back in to see Kazan. He walked up to me and gave me a big hug.    From there, I went back home to Texas and a week later, on a Wednesday, he called me to tell me that I had the part in THE VISITORS (1972).   He gave me an opportunity that changed my life.   I loved that man.  I got to know him, and we spent time when we weren't working just walking and talking around the city and at his house in Connecticut.    I will always be very grateful for the opportunity that he gave me.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I once read...That when you were preparing yourself to play Charles Manson for the television film HELTER SKELTER (1976) that you actually would lock yourself up in a dark closet and sit down for hours...

RAILSBACK:  Well, that story has been so exaggerated over the years...I think I told that story once in a magazine article....It's just gotten exaggerated.    What I did for Manson....I love doing research on characters.  I did a lot of things for Manson.  I read the Helter Skelter book.  I studied his speech. I watched him speak.  I did that to look for any contradictions.   I listened to his music.   I thought it was awful by the way...(Laughing)      What I did with the closet...Manson had been in several institutions for well over half of his life.    He went in at age 11 and he didn't get out until age 33.   I don't truthfully know if locking myself into a dark closet helped me with the character.  I really don't know.   But, I was thinking about how Manson would be put into solitary and have only himself.  So I would get into a dark closet for about forty-five minutes and just sit in there and talk to myself. I wanted to see what that feeling of solitary confinement could feel like.    I had to try it, because I myself, have never been placed in confinement actually, and I thought it might help me feel something.

TV STORE ONLINE:    What about THE STUNT MAN (1980)?  What were your first thoughts on that script when you first read it?

RAILSBACK:  That screenplay was so layered.   After I read the first forty-pages I put it down and picked up the phone to call Richard Rush about it.   I knew right away that this was a very special project.  I called Richard and said, "There's something special here.  I can't really put my finger on it now, but I know that there is something very special here."  He said, "C'mon on over and let's talk about it."

TV STORE ONLINE:   After reading it...What was your approach in regards to how you would play that "Cameron" character?

RAILSBACK:  Well, we knew a lot about Cameron.   We knew were he came from, how he had just come back from the war. I went out and talked to a few Vietnam vets about their experiences in the war.   I also talked to them about that feeling of loneliness that one could have when they come back from war and discover that the girl that they thought that they were going to marry is now with someone else.     I put a lot of thought into who was chasing that character too.   Then I made my choices around those thoughts.   I loved playing that character and I could go on and on about working with Richard Rush.   THE STUNT MAN belongs to Richard Rush.  Richard is my son's godfather.  I love Richard Rush, and I know that Peter O'Toole did too.   I couldn't wait to get to that set everyday, and all of the actors felt that way as well.
  
TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you learn anything from Peter O'Toole as a younger actor working with someone of his caliber and experience on THE STUNT MAN?

RAILSBACK:  Of course.  How could one not learn from someone like Peter O'Toole?  The man was a brilliant man.   He was a very giving actor, and he was a very giving man.  Acting is about giving.   Acting isn't about waiting for your cues and saying the lines.  You give when you make choices as an actor.   Every time we'd finish a take on THE STUNT MAN, Peter and I would run off and walk around and talk about acting.    Peter and I did a play in New York City at Lincoln Center that was directed by Arthur Penn a few years after THE STUNT MAN, and one evening Arthur Penn, Peter and I were talking about acting and Arthur Penn said,  "Choice is art."  What he meant, was that the choices we make are what creates the art that we do.   When he said that, I looked at Peter and he said to me, "Yes, art is choice!"   Working with Peter O'Toole was the biggest thrill of my life.


TV STORE ONLINE:    You did a fair amount of your own stunts on THE STUNT MAN....Any reservations now looking back at these years later at the danger you put yourself into?

RAILSBACK:   No, because what you didn't see in the film was all of the stuntmen that were always surrounding me.  When I was running on that roof in THE STUNT MAN there were stuntmen all over the place protecting me.   All of those stuntmen were incredible guys.  They were amazing.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Looking back now all of these years later...Do you think that THE STUNT MAN will be a major part of your legacy after you've gone?

RAILSBACK:   I was a very fortunate man to just have been a part of that film, and to have worked with Richard Rush and the others that worked on that film with me.  That film stands so strongly on its own and it plays better today than when it first came out in 1980.   We shot THE STUNT MAN over a four-and-a-half month period, and I wouldn't give that experience up for anything in the world.     Richard Rush is a brilliant man, and THE STUNT MAN is a film I'm very very proud of all these years later.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more with Steve Railsback please visit his official website HERE: