Cinema X Talks to Rod Taylor
This interview was first published in Cinema X vol.2 no1 circa 1969/70. It is reproduced here as published.
By reputation well suited to the title role of THE MAN WHO HAD POWER OVER WOMEN, Rod Taylor is Hollywood ‘s sole Australian star. He’s a man’s man who refuses to censor his own conversation, cheerfully assaulted with four-letter expletives. This, again, befits his usual screen image – the reason he was so surprised when Antonioni asked him to star in ZABRISKIE POINT. (Yet, apart from say David Hemmings in BLOW UP and Marcello Mastroianni on LA NOTTE, the Italian tends to go for the craggy kind of actor: Richard Harris in THE RED DESERT, Steve Cochran in IL GRIDO).
No one, not even Taylor, has seen the finished film to date. Yet the controversy about ZABRISKIE POINT has already begun. The rumours insist it will make BLOW UP look like a Disney offering. Adding much fuel to this story was the recent issuing of Grand Jury subpoenas to people concerned with the shooting, alleging violations of America ‘s sacred Mann Act. This is the law which forbids transportation of people across state boundary lines for ‘immoral purposes’.
Until now, the law has only affected pimps luring girls from one state to another to work as prostitutes, or even a fellow driving his bird across the line for a night at a motel. Is it now to be immoral in America to bring stars from one state to another for location scenes which may require nudity, simulated love-making and so on? If it is, it seems to have been discovered a bit late in Hollywood ‘s home location history…
Apparently hippie sequences of wholesale nudity seem to have triggered off the inquiry into the shooting of ZABRISKIE POINT. However, other reports bring it down to a political level – the secret Grand Jury hearing being part of a move to ban Antonioni’s film from .S. cinemas because it is, or might be (no one has seen it, remember), outrageously anti-American. Indeed one observer in the Sacramento courtroom was later quoted as opining: ‘If this picture ever is shown in this country, they’ll hang Antonioni in effigy on every street corner in America ‘!
Antonioni’s aim? ‘I do not want to look at America as an exotic, strange place. I want to capture its deepest and truest aspects’
Cinema X: What is your reaction to the Grand Jury hearings in Sacramento and the result of their findings being passed to the Justice Department in Washington ?
Rod Taylor : I don’t know very much about it all – the hearings or even the sequences in question. I’m not annoyed by it… I’m shit-scared about it! I read the reports and I think: ‘Aha, OK, Antonioni, Taylor got fucked again!’ Thing I don’t like was way down at the bottom of one of the press reports: ‘The star of the film, Rod Taylor, happens to be in London ; the director, Michelangelo Antonioni, happens to be in Rome ‘. Looked like we both held hands and fled, you know!
CX: How did you get involved with the film?”
RT: He came after me. I felt that my kind of funny image – you know, rough, tough, kill ’em, punch ’em, fuck ’em! – didn’t seem to go along with Michelangelo. But he seemed to feel I was right. He’d been to see… oh something way out, something dreadful like THE MERCENARIES and said ‘That’s the son of a bitch for me’. He kinda wooed me over three lunches. I kept saying: ‘Shit, I’m no good to you in this’. But he convinced me. Never had a script, just said: ‘Rod, we just talk together. We do things together. We do script together. And we don’t tell anyone what we do’. So I said: ‘OK, you’re the fucking genius, let’s see’.
CX: Not your usual kind of film deal.
RT: Hardly! It’s not the sort of thing I would have agreed to with many people. But no, I admired him, been intrigued by his work for a long time. And so I thought if the man can do something creative, artistic and also make 22 milion dollars, OK, baby, I’ll go. Because I believe in entertaining people. So I went along, kinda eyes wide open, to see what kind of man he was.
CX: With what result?
RT: I finished up loving him, I love him and I wanna work with him again. But I still had the same kinda feeling as when I did a picture with Doris Day. You know the feeling? ‘What the fuck am I doing here? Cary Grant, sure. Rock Hudson, sure, James Garner, sure. But me – a fire-plug with funny hands and a broken nose’. I felt the same way around Michelangelo. But he had in the back of his mind that he needed some kind of strength in terms of… (wild laughter; I’m sounding like a poof’)… the solid masculine type of man who can take care of himself.
CX: No doubt he had felt the same with Richard Harris. But as Harris told me ‘the love affair soon ended’.
RT: Well Richard told him to fuck off, didn’t he? He gave him the elbow. I certainly didn’t give him the elbow because I know so much about the other side of the camera and I admired what he was doing immensely. Not that I saw any of this crap with, you know, the Mann Act… I wasn’t scarpering around nude or anything. I didn’t know this was going on. Though I sure as fuck heard about it later. Like everyone else.
CX: Where and what is Zabriskie Point, by the way?
RT: It’s a place in Death Valley . I was never there, because I play the Establishment, which is the area of the film shot in enormous offices and beautiful country house and all that. The film is the Establishment versus all these punk kids who are sucking and fucking.
CX: Who wins?
RT: Well, I’ll tell ya. The last shot I did was with this little kid (Daria Halprin), who I am obviously attracted to. She’s my secretary, who has been messing around with all the beatniks and the hippies. Last shot in the picture, she comes to my house and I tell her, you know, very gentle, to go and clean up… because she’s been fucked and sucked and carried on with, and looks a little haggard. Well, she walks out of the house and down the road, looks back and boom! The house blows up. That’s the version I saw and I think it’s a fairly strong (laugh) comment.
CX: How much of the film have you seen, in fact?
RT: Only my stuff. I didn’t see any of the other scenes, most of which was being shipped to Rome as soon as he shot it. I don’t think anyone saw it.
CX: From what you’ve seen – and the script – would you call the film anti-American, or is it strictly an Italian’s eye view of America today?
RT: I really don’t know… I didn’t let him do anything in my scenes that I didn’t believe was right. I played a good, strong, young, clean-cut businessman and he didn’t try to warp my character at all. But (laugh) he sure had fun with the beatniks, I tell you. As for the script, it was arriving daily in pages.
CX: Apart from you, the cast is purely amateur, do you object to this kind of casting?
RT: I think if they are in the hands of a so-called genius like Michelangelo, it’s fine. I was literally the only kind of pro he talked to on the set. We got on very well. So well I never even bothered to work out my billing in the film. That may be unprofessional of me, I don’t know. Still, truth is, I don’t know if I’m starring or guest-starring. I don’t mind either. I enjoyed the experience and I want to work with Antonioni again. So does he! He told me: ‘Rod I want to make another film with you. Somewhere where I talk the language!’
CX: As an Australian, you should be concerned about another big screen controversy. How do you feel about Mick Jagger playing Ned Kelly?
RT: I cringe a little, I must admit. It’s like getting Mick to play Jesse James. Kind odd, that’s all. I don’t think an Australian necessarily should play Kelly because let’s face it there were no Australians then. They were all English. I mean if I played Kelly – as I might have done in the Dino de Laurentis film, THE IRON OUTLAWS cancelled because of this Tony Richardson film – I wouldn’t be allowed to do it with an Aussie accent. Because there was no such thing then. So, I’m not against it from that point of view. It’s just, well, Ned Kelly was a tough sonofabitch and I don’t know if Mick is.
CX: He could knock you down with a shake of his hair!
RT: In a flurry of talc!
CX: What are you doing next, instead of your Kelly film?
RT: I have another film, WHERE THE LIONS FEED to do for Joe Levine in Africa towards the end of 1970. In the meantime, I go to Florida and Nassau – how does that grab you with your English weather? – for DARKER THAN AMBER. This is one of a series of books by John MacDonald about a character called Travis McGee. Rough, tough. The usual Rod Taylor bullshit.
CX: Why denigrate yourself?
RT: Well, that’s all they give me to do. This move, THE MAN WHO HAD POWER OVER WOMEN is a joy because, I don’t shoot anybody. I only deck one person. It’s fun to play against title, too. He’s really a pathetic, warped Walter Mitty-type charcter. And I’ve never been so well dressed in my life. Look at all these suits… and all those poofy shirts… Now, how about some beers.