Actor Mark Keyloun talks with Justin Bozung of TV STORE ONLINE about the 1984 cult Warner Brothers maudit MIKE'S MURDER and it's much-talked about cut murder sequence as well as the 1982 Paul Morrissey film FORTY-DEUCE, based on a stage play by Alan Bowne.
TV STORE ONLINE: Before we get into Paul Morrisssey's FORTY-DEUCE and MIKE'S MURDER--I thought I might ask you a bit about your background. I know you were born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y...What made you want to get into acting?
KEYLOUN: Right, but before we did the Morrissey film, we, well, almost all of us, were in Alan Bowne's play, off-Broadway...
TV STORE ONLINE: Right, yeah..I wanted to ask you about the Alan Bowne play as well...
KEYLOUN: Sure. Well, to answer your first question....The best I can track my interest in acting--My mother, got my two brothers, and myself, into doing commercial television. We were all just kids. That was short-lived. I re-invested myself into athletics. To my mother's dismay, I was more interested in sports. Lacrosse and Wrestling. That kept me busy year round. It was in the theater of wrestling--in winning, you get bigger audiences watching you and you go to the state tournament. There is a lot of crowd interaction. I thought I was a good wrestler, and I always knew that I would win. So I made it into a bit of show--just to entertain the audience. That drew me into entertainment. Later--I was an on-and-off again college student. I went to Georgetown and was an accounting major. And I just couldn't stand it. I got involved in the Mask and Bauble Society. I did a couple plays there. It was the director, Don Murphy, who had been involved with the Mask and Bauble Society for many years who said to me, "I think you've got something. You should try your hand..." I was pretty relieved to hear him say that to me at the time--because I had no clue what I was doing. I didn't want to be an accountant. So I split. I left. I dropped out to Georgetown and moved to New York City. I had some parental pressure on me so I did a stint at New York University after moving into the city. I switched from Accounting to Psychology and Biology. (laughing) None of it was working for me in the end. Then I met, who is now my wife, Jennifer. At the time she was a theater study at Circle in the Square. I saw her in a couple plays and she was pretty passionate about acting. That rubbed off on me. Fast-forward to Backstage--that rag that comes out in New York. I would read
that for auditions. I ended up getting a lead role in a play, and
through the play I got an agent named Stephen Draper--who was an agent
of many great actors. Stephen, was six-foot tall, and very elegant. He
was exotic. He had been around the block. He signed me and from
there things started to move. I did FORTY-DEUCE on the stage, and
then we shot Morrissey's movie, and from there I took off with Jennifer
TV STORE ONLINE: Right, but weren't you cast in projects prior to FORTY-DEUCE before you left New York?
KEYLOUN: Well, I did a played called Rebel Without A Cause that was way way off-Broadway, and then I was a blip in the Michael Pressman film THOSE LIPS, THOSE EYES (1980).
TV STORE ONLINE: That's a great film. Written by David Shaber, the screenwriter of THE WARRIORS (1979).
KEYLOUN: Then right after that I went in to audition for FORTY-DEUCE. I auditioned for that role several times, and I was glad when I got it because to make ends meet I had been working construction in Connecticut. The play had a good run, even though it was controversial. Tony Tanner, the Brit, was the director.
TV STORE ONLINE: What do you remember about performing in the play?
KEYLOUN: One thing that comes to mind, is how while we were rehearsing it, we went for a very long time doing it in a very naturalistic and realistic pace. One day, Tony got up on the stage and said, 'Look, this isn't working." Then he read us the riot act about how we needed to speed it up. He argued, that because it was street-poetry really, because it was this hard-language--we needed to speed it up. To make it more palatable to the audience. I agreed. But at the time that he said it--I was shocked! Because all he had told us before was to go slower. I remember how during one performance, Kevin Bacon--who has an incredible sense of humor--set up a pair of shoes in a toilet bowel. My character, in one sequence in the play, is supposed to go into a bathroom and find his character dead. When I walked into the bathroom during the last night, during the closing performance, Kevin had set up a pair of shows on the bowel, as if his character had been flushed down the toilet and all that was left were his feet. (laughing) The audience couldn't see the bathroom, but I had to take a couple moments in there to regain my composure. All the actors were standing there just laughing their asses off.
TV STORE ONLINE: Was Orson Bean in the play with you? He is really great in Morrissey's film version...
KEYLOUN: Yeah, he was. He gave every member of the cast a Bronze lighter. I'll never forget, during the opening night of FORTY-DEUCE, we were in the middle of a scene and this little old lady stood up in the audience and said, "Orson? Is that you, Orson?" It was his grandmother who had come to see him in the play! (laughing)
TV STORE ONLINE: How did Paul Morrissey approach you to shoot the film version of the play?
KEYLOUN: You know, I can't even remember. I just remember that we shot it fly-by-night. It was a rag-tag production. It had French money behind it. We shot it with no permits. I've never understood why the film was deep-sixed. I think there was a lawsuit or something and that's why it wasn't ever really released. Right after we finished shooting with Morrissey was when my wife and I left and moved out to California. There was a quiet period there. I had to take a job as a cook working in this restaurant called Straight From Philly. It was in Venice. It was there, that I received a call telling me that FORTY-DEUCE was screening in Los Angeles at the Film X. I got a call from my agent saying that Jim Bridges and Debra Winger wanted to meet me for a role in MIKE'S MURDER. They had seen FORTY-DEUCE. And what happened to MIKE'S MURDER, basically, is that when it came time to test-screen the film, the studio put it in front of an audience in some some upscale Northern California county. Because of the blood and sex--the film didn't receive a favorable review. I think, that Bridges and the producers ran scared. They went back into the editing room and cut out all of the good stuff. They cut out all the stuff that made the film great. They re-oriented the film, from a point-of-view that sanitized the whole thing. The irony of that--Pacino's SCARFACE (1983) had just come out. There's a scene in there with Pacino and some guys cutting up a person in a bathtub with a chainsaw. The producers and Bridges cut out my character's murder--where he was cut-up with a knife in a apartment with blood flying all over. They cut out the butchery, and the sex. There was a bunch more sex in the film that was cut out, and how do you a sell a film without the violence and the sex? (laughing)
TV STORE ONLINE: I have an early draft of Jim Bridges's screenplay which has much of what you're mentioning...Mike, as character--as he appears in the script is very sexual and arrogant. But that's not how you portrayed him in the film...How did you see him as a character?
KEYLOUN: The words on the page of that script were a little cold and sparse. I just approached Mike as someone who I thought needed to be likeable and sympathetic. I didn't see him as a cocky or arrogant guy. I saw him as foolish. Only naivete and stupidity can make a young guy like Mike get killed in the way that he was. He had to be likeable and sympathetic in order for the audience to believe that Debra Winger's character could be in love with him.
TV STORE ONLINE: In going through a few of these scenes in the script...
KEYLOUN: There was a phone sex scene. It was a masturbation scene, where my character was talking to Debra on the phone by a pool. That was cut.
TV STORE ONLINE: And there's a scene with you and Debra's character "Betty" walking along the beach.
KEYLOUN: There was so much cut. Around the time that the film had that Marin County test screening--I mean, I was told that women at the screening were crying there. By that time, I had gone back to the East Coast because my father had had a series of heart attacks. I was back there taking care of him--he passed away while I was there. The day after, I got a call asking for me to return to Hollywood because some re-shoots needed to happen. I got back, and Darrell Larson and I went and shot that scene that opens the film today. The drug deal. That scene where Darrell and I walk into that burger stand, and I talk a little Spanish to the guy behind the counter... Jumping over that fence in that sequence took me a few times. We didn't do it in one take.
V STORE ONLINE: What was your experience working with Debra Winger?
KEYLOUN: She was great. We had a great chemistry, I thought.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did you spend any time talking to Paul Winfield about the Mike character? After all, this whole film was based on a actual person that Winfield knew....
KEYLOUN: You know, not that I can remember. I think, his approach to it all was that his memory of the real Mike was going to be different from whatever was portrayed in the film. Winfield was a very nice guy. He had a great energy.
TV STORE ONLINE:Going back to FORTY-DEUCE for a second...What do you remember about the shooting of that entire final sequence of the film with Morrissey and his choice to use two cameras Ala split-screen?
KEYLOUN: That was a great and unique approach to it I thought. What I remember about that is that we didn't rehearse it much. I think any rehearsal that might have been done was for blocking. It was important for us to not be on the same side of the stage at the same time. That's about all the direction Morrissey gave us, and I think he was fine with that because we had run the play so long on the stage as the actors.
TV STORE ONLINE: You play "Blow" in FORTY-DEUCE...Who was that character to you? He's tough, independent, but also--he has empathy for the boy who ends up dead in the bed. It seems like he might feel responsible for that boy. He brings him that t-shirt....
KEYLOUN: Exactly as how you described him. I stuck to my guns on that too. While we were doing the play, Tony Tanner and I talked about that a bit. Tony saw him as a homosexual, and I saw him as a hard-ass. Outside of the bi-sexually of the character, I just played him as if he was Mark Keyloun. How could an audience have any empathy for that crew of boys if they were all psychopaths? I felt bad and awkward about having conflicting feelings about the character apart from Tony Tanner, but I had to play him as I felt it should be.
TV STORE ONLINE: Your character Blow has the best line in FORTY-DEUCE, "I sell dick, I sell dope, I come and I go..."
KEYLOUN: (laughing) You know, my wife--whenever we've had these really intense moments in life--moments were we're completely at our wit's end, she's turned to me and said, "I sell dick, I sell dope, I come and I go..." (laughing)
TV STORE ONLINE: To get back into MIKE'S MURDER...What was Jim Bridges like to work with?
KEYLOUN: He was laissez-faire with me for the most part. There's that scene, near the beginning of the film where Winger drops Mike off in the driveway at Paul Winfield's house and then he walks away. We did a couple takes of that and he let me go. When we got ready to do the third take, Bridges pulled me off to the side and said, "Mark, I want you to think about this: live animals don't feel sorry for themselves..." What I took that to mean, was that in the previous takes--I had been foreshadowing my own death. What I was doing by looking back at Winger in the scene was effectively conveying to her and the audience that I was going to be dying at some point in the next couple scenes... What Bridges was saying, "c'mon, be a little more matter-of-fact as you're skipping away down the driveway..."
TV STORE ONLINE: Could you talk me through the cut murder sequence? How was Mike murdered? As we know it in the film now--two men sort of hurry Mike into his apartment building and that's kind of the end of it...
KEYLOUN: Mike was stabbed in the chest. It was very graphic. There was cow blood being spewed all over the walls. Mike was stabbed and his throat is cut. He got stabbed multiple times and blood was spraying all over. That was the most-effective part of the sequence. They filmed me flailing around on the floor in slow-motion with blood squirting out of my chest.
TV STORE ONLINE: What's great about the trailer for MIKE'S MURDER is that it's made up of these micro-snippets of scenes that were shot but never used in the actual film...How about the sex scenes that you mentioned that were cut out? There's that shot in the trailer of Mike on top of Debra's character and he has a lit cigarette in his mouth and he lowers himself down onto Debra and the cigarette almost touches her lips...
KEYLOUN: I sort of remember doing that, but not fully. They were sex scenes. One of the sex scenes that we shot that was cut later, Debra and I elected to shoot it doggy-style.
TV STORE ONLINE: Darrell Larson and you have a great chemistry in the film as well...
KEYLOUN: That scene in the bar, where Darrell takes the phone out of my hand, when I'm talking to Debra was something that we did during the re-shoots as well.
TV STORE ONLINE: Going back to that scene where Debra's character Betty drops Mike off in the driveway at Paul Winfield's house...I like how you can see the fear in Mike's eyes... Was that something that you talked with Bridges about?
KEYLOUN: No, we didn't talk about that. I hope that the reason why Bridges chose me for the role was because of that though. We all have a duality in us, and Mike, I think had quite a bit of that in his life.