Actor Tom Citera (Robert Downey Sr.'s UP THE ACADEMY (1980)) talks with Justin Bozung for TV STORE ONLINE about Paul Morrissey's not-quite-released FORTY DEUCE (1982).
TV STORE ONLINE: I'm a huge fan of [director] Paul Morrissey...
CITERA: Me too.
TV STORE ONLINE: I know that before you shot the film FORTY DEUCE with Paul Morrissey you had been part of the ensemble of the play off-Broadway of the same name that the film was based on...
CITERA: The play was written by Alan Bowne. It was directed by Tony Tanner. Up until that time I had only done some television commercials and UP THE ACADEMY. I had a great agent at that time and they advised me not to audition for the Alan's play because of the subject matter. They said it was too avant-garde. I love the avant-garde so I decided to go in and audition for the role of "Crank." I got the part and it was my very first stage experience.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did you audition for Crank solely or did they read you for any of the other roles?
CITERA: Just Crank. When I read that dialogue I said, "I'm from Brooklyn and I know what street language is..." I went in and just threw it all out there.
|Kevin Bacon, Orson Bean, and Mark Keyloun|
rehearsing FORTY DEUCE at the Perry Street Theater
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you realize the character of Crank? Did you talk to Alan Bowne regarding the character? Did he give you any input or did Alan and Tony Tanner just let you put your spin on it?
Alan was there but he was quiet. He'd put his two-cents in when he had too. Tony did a lot of talking when it came to formulating the characters. I just used my gut instinct. The process was also natural for me because I was able to feed off of the other actors like Mark Keyloun and Kevin Bacon... Who were both incredible
TV STORE ONLINE: I spoke to Mark Keyloun recently and one anecdote he shared with me about the time the two of you spent in the play FORTY DEUCE was how during rehearsals Tony Tanner would yell at everyone to speed their dialogue up...
CITERA: That was a great learning curve for me. The group of actors in FORTY DEUCE were phenomenal. Tony gave us very good direction--but Mark Keyloun, myself and Kevin Bacon basically just did what we wanted. We'd go out on the streets, down in the Village, late at night to get a good feel of the lifestyle. We'd go out at two in the morning and have a couple of drinks where you normally wouldn't dare to go have a drink at back then.
|Morrissey split-screens the final 45 minutes of FORTY DEUCE (1982)|
TV STORE ONLINE: How did Orson Bean fit into that equation?
CITERA: Well, Orson Bean was great. We were all up-and-coming actors back then and for all of us to work with Orson Bean--he epitomized the character in the play and later, in the movie, that he was playing. He was very off the beaten path in comparison to the characters that the three of us were playing. Alan promoted a dialogue that was unknown. It wasn't just street language it was also a made up language too, so, the play and the film really needed him to level it all out.
TV STORE ONLINE: One of the things that makes FORTY DEUCE attractive to me as a play but also a film is how it can sort of be construed as belonging to the idea of the Theater Of Cruelty... It's sort of nonsensical for those outside of that milieu--but then all of the characters are very very desperate in their situation. The dialogue at times almost sounds like gibberish with that rapid-fire delivery--so you could also suggest elements of absurdity in there too...
CITERA: You're absolutely right. But that wasn't vocalized. But I think most of us understood that aspect of it. We knew that what Alan Bowne had written was high art. That dialogue, when you have something that is almost made up, it becomes almost like an acting exercise. I can remember back when I was in acting class--you'd go in and just muddle nonsense just to raise your emotions. It was very freeing in that way. You're focusing on the emotions--you're not focusing on the dialogue.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you find out that the play was going to be turned into a film by Paul Morrissey?
CITERA: Well, Paul approached Tonny Tanner about it. Paul Morrissey approached us later on and said that he wanted all of us to play our characters from the play in the film version.
TV STORE ONLINE: Just as Tony Tanner was directing you in the play and giving you and the other actors ideas pertaining to the characters....Did Paul Morrissey bring his own set of ideas to the project and the characters...the delivery of the dialogue etc.?
The thing I remember most about working with Paul, and I worked with him twice, was that he was very intense and very critical of himself. Paul was a real thinker. You could never really look him in the eyes because you could see that his mind was always moving and working. He wouldn't say anything until he was ready to point you in a direction. He worked very differently from Tony Tanner. When the film was reviewed, there were some great reviews, and then there was one really awful one. I remember talking to Paul about it. I said, "You're only focusing on the one bad review
..." I mean, when we went through the reviews you could tell that that one review ruined his evening. That's how much he cared about his work as a director. I mean, I'd probably be the same way too. Working with Morrissey--because he was so intense-- made you work harder.
TV STORE ONLINE: You had been familiar with Morrissey's work prior to working with him like HEAT (1972) or TRASH (1970)?
|Filmmaker Paul Morrissey|
CITERA: Yes, I had seen them all.
TV STORE ONLINE: You mentioned earlier...You've worked with Morrissey twice... You were in FORTY DEUCE and then years after in Morrissey's SPIKE OF BENSONHURST (1988)...
CITERA: Right, but he just wrote me in for that little part. I heard he was making it and I'm from Bensonhurst. I called him up and asked if I could be in it. That's the kind of guy he is.
TV STORE ONLINE: What do you remember about the shooting of the film FORTY DEUCE? Your character opens the film up--he sets the story up in a way...
CITERA: I just remember how real it all seemed to me while we were doing it.
TV STORE ONLINE: I have to ask you about that opening scene with you and that Asian boy who's standing on the street soliciting himself with "Coke, Speed, Cock..."
|Tom Citera as "Crank" with Yukio Yamamoto.|
CITERA: (Laughing) He [Yukio Yamamoto] was Paul Morrissey's assistant during the shooting of the film.
TV STORE ONLINE: You shot the film in five days....
CITERA: It was very real to me. To explain: I remember a scene where I had to run and jump on a subway train. It wasn't like it was blocked and timed out. The train wasn't stopped for me. There were no police there in case a crowd formed. It was like I would wake up, show up, and then I'd be told, "Okay, let's go and jump on a subway train." I was dumbfounded. I said, "Wait. What are we doing?" It was reality in that way. Morrissey would say, "Okay, get ready. The train is coming down the tracks. When the door opens jump on it." That's how simple it was, and how simple it was to be in that character. I didn't know the extras. You'd thought that someone was just pulling people off the street and asking, "Hey, do you want to be in a movie?"
TV STORE ONLINE: One of the major themes running across Morrissey's films is this idea of family. These characters, as example, in FORTY DEUCE are drug addicts, hustlers, thieves, and pushers--yet, you get the sense that not one of them would harm one of their own, and, there is a familial hierarchy in place. They make up a family unit...
|L to R: Esai Morales, Mark Keyloun, Tom Citera, and Kevin Bacon|
CITERA: Absolutely...When I was doing, first, the play and then the film--that idea was what kept me in character and consistent. What made my character real for me was that feeling of intensity for family. My character was motivated by that. That family unit was all Crank had. That idea really resonated with me. Paul Morrissey never said anything to us about that, but I don't think that he had to. I think we all understood that about the characters in Alan's play as well.
TV STORE ONLINE: Some of the scenes in the film: like the dialogue between yourself, Mark Keyloun and Kevin Bacon down in the subway, where you're all standing in front of those giant movie posters and the set-up of the plan around that pool table go on-and-on forever.. What do you remember about the shooting of those big scenes? Was there any aspects of them improvised out?
CITERA: I'm sure there was. Probably on the behalf of Kevin Bacon and Mark Keyloun. And that was what was great about Paul Morrissey too. You'd do something like that and all he would say would be,' That's great." (Laughing) In particular, around that pool table, again, I just remember that being real. It was like we were those characters and a camera, by chance, was following us around. There were times when I had to sort of shake it off and say, "I'm just an actor." It was amazing in that way. That pool table scene was weird for me because of that. It was all over, and I doubt if there were any extras in that bar with us. Those were all the patrons of that actual bar.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did you shoot all of FORTY DEUCE around the Times Square of the late '70s?
CITERA: Yeah, we did. We shot most of it right on 42nd Street in Times Square and a couple scenes downtown and then at Port Authority. It was all before it was converted to Disney. Those were real scenes to me. Paul purposely filmed us walking around there late at night. And as we were doing it you'd be worried about the people you were walking by.
|FORTY DEUCE was shot hastily in five days in New York City.|
TV STORE ONLINE: So that opening in FORTY DEUCE in the bathroom was actually shot at Port Authority?
CITERA: Yes. Kevin Bacon was in there filming a scene of his character puking with everyone and anyone that had to use the bathroom at Port Authority freely walking in on it all.
TV STORE ONLINE: That scene is very humorous to watch when you realize that there is that strange guy fixing his suit in the mirror next to Kevin's character as he's throwing up in the sink...
CITERA: Right. I didn't catch it while we were shooting it. It wasn't till after I saw the film that I caught that. (Laughing)
TV STORE ONLINE: How about shooting in that hotel room? Was that on a sound stage someplace in New York?
|The hotel room set in the film was the same used at the Perry Street Theater |
No, that room was the same set that we used on the stage for the play. That room, in a way, really became our life. Again, that was all very real to me at that time. Everything went in-and-out that room. That room kept us all grounded in the movie
. In the play--everything took place in that room. That was their safe place.
TV STORE ONLINE: Was the dead boy in the bed part of the play? I don't see him listed in the credits for the film? I thought that was interesting, in that, it gives it all that much more of a reality when we don't know the actors name behind the character...
CITERA: He was a great actor. I don't know if it was intentional or not but he never talked to any of us during those scenes for the film. When we weren't rolling, occasionally, he's just walk around the set. I thought that was real interesting--especially how Mark Keyloun's character [Blow] reacts to him when he comes to the room and finds him dead in the bed...
TV STORE ONLINE: With that room and the reality you felt--how much of an effect did Paul having two cameras in there for that third act, if you will, have on you for that final sequence?
TV STORE ONLINE: Right.
CITERA: Well, I don't think any of us were conscious of the cameras during that. We had done the play for so long. Paul never talked about what he was trying to do with the film. He just did it. It was a quiet direction. But, that was what great about working with Morrissey.
TV STORE ONLINE: I think the play and the film were ahead of their time--and to Alan Bowne's credit really--both pre-date Gus Van Sant's MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991) by twenty-years.
CITERA: That's right. I'm really proud of the play and the film.and it kills me that the film FORTY DEUCE was never really released.
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung