Thursday, April 24, 2014


M. Emmet Walsh talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his work in THE JERK and BLOOD SIMPLE.  Walsh would win a Independent Spirit Award for his role as "Loren Visser" in the latter.

TV STORE ONLINE: I think THE JERK (1979) is the greatest comedy of the last thirty plus years.... 

WALSH: I was in that!  And I was in SLAP SHOT (1977) too.  The greatest Hockey film ever made.  I do everyone's greatest film and then they never hire me again...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:   Laughing...Can we talk about THE JERK?

"Die Gas Pumper"
WALSH:  Sure... Well,  it was Steve Martin's first big movie I believe and I got that after I was called up and asked to go down and meet with Carl Reiner at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel down on Sunset.  I had never met him before.   I went in and he hired me on the spot.  He was a very pleasant guy and everyone that worked on THE JERK told me that they were hired kind of the same way.   Usually, you go in to a meeting like this one and they say, "What do you need?"  Then you give them a number for the salary that you're looking for and then they counter that with another offer, but that didn't happen here.  I went in and Carl asked me how much money I wanted, I told him what I needed and he said that that was fine.   Everyone that worked on THE JERK told me the same thing happened to them.

Everyone that worked on THE JERK was incredibly happy while we were shooting it.  It was the kind of project were you found yourself on the set on the days that you weren't supposed to be working.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So let's talk about the Gas Station scene where your character tries to shoot Steve Martin...

WALSH:   The thing I remember the most about that was when they had to shoot the portion of the scene where they have the ropes hooked up to that church and it's pulled away with that car.   They had scheduled that to take three days to shoot but we ended up shooting it on the first take early in the morning on the first day...laughing    Carl Reiner worked so fast. 

Steve Martin is a very funny guy.  I remember sitting and talking with him and Carl Reiner as we were waiting for a shot to be set up. They mentioned to me how much they had liked my work in STRAIGHT TIME (1978) and Steve went into telling us about how he had just played a benefit in Joliet, Illinois for a prison thing and how there was a guy that performed that just killed it on the Harmonica.  He said, "This guy was incredible.  He just tore the place apart.  He was spectacular. He was fuckin' amazing..."   He went on and on about this guy for several minutes.  I didn't realize it at that time but he was setting Carl and I up for a joke.  He continued to carry on about this guy, this inmate, who played the harmonica and finally Carl said, " Who in the hell was he?"  Steve said, "He's in for life...  I mean, this guy was brilliant. I've never seen someone play the Harmonica..."  Carl said, "Wait... What's he in for?" Then Steve casually said, "Oh, Murder.  He butchered his wife and this guy and everyone else...."   (Laughing)   It was all in the build-up.  Steve is so great at building comedy bits.  He built a punchline out of a murder...laughing

We were shooting the scene where I have to track Steve's character down.  It comes after the "Random Son-A-Bitch" scene.  My character is a private detective and he tracks Steve's character 'Navin Johnson' to this little apartment.   My character pulls up and he has his car windows down.   I thought it would be funny if my character got out of his car, shut his door, then locked it by pushing that little plastic lock knob down while the windows were still down...laughing    Then, my character confronts Steve.  Steve does a thing where he tries to fight me off by making a crucifix out of two wooden stakes.   I thought it would kill the audience if I had my Detective badge up under my Fedora hat.   I thought it would be funny if I took my badge out from under the hat to show it to Steve's character...laughing   I really thought that these two bits were strokes of genius...laughing   But no one has ever mentioned them...laughing

When I was chasing Steve Martin through the alley, I thought that the character should have a unique way of running... I saw him as running as if he had the " clap " or something like that...laughing   I just remember after shooting that, Carl Reiner said, "Gee, that's a hell of a run you got there..."  (Laughing)

TV STORE ONLINE:   So was that dialogue....The "Random Son-Of-A-Bitch, Run-Of-The-Mill- Bastard..."    What that scripted or was that something that you came up with in the moment?

WALSH:   You know, I can't remember if it was scripted or not now.   I know that it was really embellished though. It was Carl's film.  He was one of those guys that would say, "Show me what you can do..."   I mean, I'm profane enough to have come up with at least some of that. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   That dialogue from THE JERK has to get quoted to you all of the time...

WALSH:   It's amazing.  I do get that back.  There are scenes that I paid no attention to at the time that I was doing them that people come up to me and quote now.   Everyone quotes "Dr. Jellyfinger" from FLETCH (1985), or SLAPSHOT (1977),  or my lines to Rodney Dangerfield in BACK TO SCHOOL (1986)..."Get your trunks Melon... It's time to do the Triple Lindy.." 

TV STORE ONLINE:  I can't imagine people come up to you and quote your dialogue from CLEAN & SOBER (1988) or RED SCORPION (1988)...

WALSH:  They definitely don't quote RED SCORPION....CLEAN & SOBER was a picture I was attracted to because I came from a long line of drunks.   It was an interesting project to me because I felt I knew so much about that.   STRAIGHT TIME too.  That Dustin Hoffman picture was of interest to me because I also come from a long line of civil servants too.  I was trying to play a cop that was just trying to do his job.  I didn't see it, but the filmmakers tried to make me out as if that character was a total asshole. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  People don't quote BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) to you?  "If I see him, I'll give him the message..."

WALSH:  Oh Yeah.  That was the Coen Brothers' first film.   Then I did RAISING ARIZONA (1987) with them.  For that,  we went out to lunch in New York.  I said, "I don't care about the money.."    "If I seem him, I'll tell him..."  That guy had an image of himself.   He was a private investigator.  In that final scene where my character finally gets his hand out from under that window he goes down out of frame and when he comes back up he takes the time to put his cowboy hat back on.  I came up with all that because of the image that I thought that he may have had of himself.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Whose idea was it to put you in that amazing yellow suit that your character wears in BLOOD SIMPLE?

WALSH:  That was this little costume girl [Sara Medina-Pape] who came up with that down in Austin, Texas.   We just had a reunion down in Austin and the Coens were there and we showed the film and I met her again.  She's married now and has a couple kids.   That costume was all to her credit.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did BLOOD SIMPLE come to you?

WALSH:  Well, I was down in Dallas shooting SILKWOOD (1983) at the time.  I wasn't getting along with my agent. We had an altercation.   I had found out that I had been offered some things but they had turned them down on my behalf.  This really pissed me off, so I told them that moving forward I wanted to read every script that was sent in personally.  They sent me a script that these two kids Joel and Ethan Coen had written.  Most of it took place at night.   They were planning on shooting it down in Austin.   I saw the character as a Sidney Greenstreet kind of guy.    He had that hat.  I thought that I could take this kind of character and flesh him out and then in fifteen years when I was doing a really important movie I'll be ready with him.  I had no idea what BLOOD SIMPLE was going to turn out to be...  

I went down to Austin to meet with Joel and Ethan Coen.   They showed me this trailer that they had recently cut but I wasn't impressed with it.    I went to see my agent the next day and said, "What do they have?"   My agent said, "Well, they have no money.  But they'll give you one percent of the film's profits..."  I said, " Zero times X is zero...laughing   There aren't going to be any profits on this thing..." (laughing)   The next day I went to meet with my agent again and they said,  "OK... They've come back with another offer.  You've went from one percent of the profits to two percent of the gross...laughing   I said, "You're a fuckin' brilliant agent. You've went from profit to gross..." (laughing)    So we shot the film and I still get checks for it.   I own part of the movie all of these years later yet.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I love that whole setup....That beginning scene with you and Dan Hedaya at the bar...

WALSH: Joel Coen calls me up in Dallas.  I was finishing up SILKWOOD and he said, "Can you blow a smoke ring?"   I said, "Joel, I don't smoke, but I'll work on it."  So I gave it a try and I just couldn't do it.   I worked and worked on it but I started to make myself sick.    I went back to Joel and told him.  He said, "Don't worry we have this kind of bellows smoke machine that will blow a smoke ring..."  So, we're shooting in this little roadhouse outside of Austin.  My character is there with Dan Hedaya and I show him the pictures of Frances McDormand  and John Getz in bed.   My character is supposed to be blowing these smoke rings at him while Dan is looking at the pictures.  So they set up this smoke machine next to my head and when we go to shoot the scene the machine won't work.    After messing with it for a few minutes, the script girl says, "Give me a damn cigar.  I grew up with five brothers smoking behind a barn..."   So they give her a cigar and she starts making these incredible smoke rings.  I said to myself, "My God...This is how you make a movie!"    Later on, I went outside and saw her puking her brains out.   That was BLOOD SIMPLE.

Look for M. Emmet Walsh as the voice of "Cosmic Owl" on the animated series Adventure Time as well as in the upcoming films CALVARY (2014) with Chris O'Dowd and the upcoming SCORPION KING 4.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung