The following interview is taken from issue 89 (Feb/Mar 2001) of The Dark Side Magazine. It is reproduced here with kind permission…
The Man From The Morgue
One of the most prolific of 70’s Italian action stars, actor Ray Lovelock is best known to Dark Side readers as the star of the cult horror flick, Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue. Josephine Botting talked to him recently on our behalf…
Italian actor Ray Lovelock is keen to point out that his English name is not an invention to satisfy the demands of local producers (as in Stan Cooper, aka Stelvio Rosi) but the result of his having an English father, now resident near Barnstable . Despite his Anglo-Saxon roots, Ray speaks very little English and prefers to be interviewed in Italian. I visited him in his sixth floor flat not far from the centre of Rome, where he sat surrounded by photos of himself with some of the actors he’s had the pleasure of working with.
While not a big star, Ray has worked consistently, first in film and now as a familiar face on Italian television. A modest person, he prefers to talk about his many co-stars rather than himself, and hasn’t lost the sense of awe he no doubt had when he first met them. He obviously hasn’t been seduced by the showbiz life and is happiest at home with his family.
When Ray began his cinematic career, Rome was the place to be. The 1960’s were an incredibly active period in Italian cinema history. Cinecitta was dubbed ‘ Hollywood on the Tiber ‘ and the Via Veneto was awash with US stars and technicians. In 1966, at the tender age of 18, he landed his first speaking part. Se sei vivo… spara! Starred the legendary Cuban actor Tomas Milian and actually remains Ray’s only Spaghetti Western.
“Up until that moment” he says, “I had been studying and playing football, which was my passion, and every now and then I worked as an extra here in Rome . But that was the first time I had a proper part. At that time one of the studios in Rome, Elios, had a ‘Western’ village built specially for shooting spaghettis, and it was filmed there and also outside Madrid.
“From there, everything started. After that film I joined a pop group formed by Tomas Milian, called The Tomas Milian Group and we sang in bars. One night, while we were playing, an agent asked me if I wanted to take up film acting seriously. I gave him some photos and the first job I got was with Carlo Lizzani who was preparing a film called Banditi a Milano. I played one of the guys in the gang and the film did very well, even winning the Golden Globe from the Foreign Press Association. I received several offers after that and I didn’t know what to do because up until that point I hadn’t taken it too seriously: it’s not as if I had the ‘sacred flame’.
“After that I went to London to spend four days working on an Italian film. With the money I made I was able to spend a couple of months with my brother, who lives in London . My agent rang to offer me work but I kept turning it down, so in the end e said to me ‘Listen, if you want to get on you’ve got to do something. Come to Rome , there’s a German producer coming here to make a film.’ It was a rather complicated story (Haschen in der Grube, 1969) directed by Roger Fritz and we filmed it in Spoleto during the festival. From then on I took it more seriously.”
Ray carried on working in Italian films but then got the chance to make his first big budget Hollywood movie: Fiddler on the Roof.
“The way Fiddler on the Roof came about was very strange, Lynn Stalmaster was here to cast a film – they were looking for an Italian actor for a film about the race at Indianopolis. So I went along and when she saw me she said she was also casting another film called Fiddler on the Roof which I’d never heard of. She explained that it was a big musical and that she thought I’d be good for it. I was asked to learn a scene from it and she went to call Los Angeles. Then she asked me if I could go to the States, in fact she said ‘What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?’
“It was strange because I was about to go to Tokyo to do some publicity for an Italian film called Il plagio which had been sold to Japan . So they suggested that I return from Tokyo via Los Angeles. I learnt the scene and travelled to La where I met Norman Jewison. I didn’t do a screen test but just recited the same scene that I’d done in Rome. Jewison thanked me, I went back to Rome and a week later my agent told me I’d been chosen for the part. So you see how these things happen.
“I was 20 when I made Fiddler on the Roof and as I started out so young I didn’t go to college. I was lucky to have an agent who was a bit like a big brother to me: only now do I realise how good his advice was. He told me to make the most of this job as it was also a chance to learn. The experience I had on Fiddler on the Roof was important for that reason.
“I worked on it for three months and the filming method was completely different to that in Italy. I played a young Russian and as it was filmed with direct sound I had to speak English with a Russian accent. So I found a Russian teacher here in Rome, went along with my lines and did recitations and exercises with her. I learnt a lot”
Il plagio (1968) was a strange experience for Ray. “Il plagio was incredibly successful in Japan – not so much in Italy because it was rather a bizarre story. It was the story of a very rich young man who falls in love with a couple who are at college with him. He ‘plagiarises’ them in the sense that in the end he manages to go to bed with both of them. But the young man has problems – there’s a suggestion that he killed his parents, who were so much in love that he felt excluded.
“It’s quite hard to understand but the story takes place in 1968, a time of revolution, of student revolt. There were two nude scenes, not vulgar mind you, but they led to the film being confiscated. Then it was released abroad and was bought by Japan and they asked me to go over for two weeks to promote the film. And the film turned out to be the biggest hit of the year in Japan. In fact I went back a year later with the film Il delitto del diavolo which they also bought and it was a success. I even had a fan club.
“Il plagio really was a very special film: in fact I almost regret having made it so early in my career, perhaps I was a bit too immature for the character, which really was a great creation: maybe if I’d had a bit more experience I would have been better equipped to do it justice. I was completely guided by the director, Sergio Capogna, who had also written the story. At a certain point, the money ran out and most of the crew left rather than work for nothing. Only 12 of us stayed on so for a week we made the film ‘on the road’ with just the director, the cameraman and the actors. I even had to operate the clapperboard!”
Lovelock has worked with some of the legendary Italian gialli directors. Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci.
“I made five films with Umberto Lenzi. The first was a giallo, with Irene Papas and Ornella Muti. I think it was Ornella’s second film. It was called Un posto ideale per uccidere. Lenzi was an excellent director of gialli: the second one I did with him was a crime film, made in the mid-70’s, Milano odia: la polizia non puo sparare. Then there were two war films (Il grande attacco and Da Dunkerque alla vittoria ) and a comedy, Scusi, lei e normale? (Excuse me, are you normal?)
“Lenzi is a director who shouts a lot but when you get to know him he’s OK. At first I was a bit nervous of him, then on the second film we had a squabble. He did call me again though, so despite all of the shouting he was a nice guy. After that we got on fine because I realised he must think a lot of me. We had a good relationship. He was quite a demanding director but that’s the way it should be. He was rather impatient and would get annoyed very easily if something didn’t go right. We only had the one row and that was it, there weren’t any more problems.
“I made only one film with Lucio Fulci – Murderock. He was one of the masters of film – of horror films and gialli. A bit like Lenzi in the 1970’s I’d say. I believe he’s very well thought of in France. We got on well on set but off set we didn’t associate very much. We filmed in Rome and also spent 10 days in New York , where the action takes place. It had music by Keith Emmerson.
“In general I’ve always got on well with directors, some better than others. I was, and I still am, a bit reserved which sometimes created difficulties forming relationships with people. The directors who understood this were easier to work with but on the whole I’ve never had many problems.”
In 1971 Ray made the film Il delitto del diavolo (Queens of Evil) for director Tonino Cervi, in which he is seduced by three gorgeous women; Haydee Politoff, Silvia Monti and Ida Galli. The plot is so bizarre that even Ray has trouble explaining it. “It’s a very strange film, the story of a hippy who arrives in a place where there are three women who turn out to be witches. He has an affair with each of them in turn but it all leads to a crime committed by the Devil.”
His role in Queens of Evil was a prototype for another motorbike-riding hippy – the character of George in the 1974 Spanish-Italian co-production No profaner el suefio de los muertos (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, etc).
“We filmed in Manchester and in a village near Nottingham called Castleton. (My atlas doesn’t show a Castleton near Nottingham , although there is one near Whitby). I have good memories of the shoot and I had a good relationship with the director, Jorge Grau. In fact, I kept in touch with him for some time after we finished. There are some directors who just say ‘hi’ when you come on set but he was always keen to explain things.
“There were lots of effects on that film too, done by some excellent Italian special effects men (Giannetto de Rossi and Luciano Bird). I remember in particular having to wear red contact lenses for the final scene, which were really uncomfortable. 1970’s contact lenses were not like the ones you get now, they were much harder and made my eyes water terribly.
“The things I remember about that film are not very interesting. Just personal anecdotes. I remember the motorbike I had to ride, a Norton, which was incredibly heavy. I prefer cars myself but I had to ride this bike and when I got off it all my thigh muscles ached. But I have really happy memories of making that film. I think I saw it twice when it came out but not since. I gather that it’s on TV every now and then late at night but I haven’t managed to catch it yet.”
Ray obviously wasn’t going to dish any dirt about the directors he’s worked with so I tried a few actors.
“One problem I did have was with George Peppard: well, it was my problem really. I had to play his son in the film Da Dunkerque alla vittoria : when we did it I was 28 and I think he was about 50 or 52, so I could have his son. But when he met me, he went to the producer and the director saying that he felt I was too old to play his son. Lenzi and the producer, Edmondo Amati, already knew, since we’d worked together before, and they didn’t think there was a problem. But they told me about his doubts and instructed me not to drink too much so I didn’t look raddled. I was a bit depressed and I suffered a lot because of it. In between my scenes I used to just sit alone thinking a lot: I had to get away for a while.
“George Hamilton, also in the film, was a really nice guy though and he noticed something was wrong. I told him how I felt and he told me not to take it to heart, that George Peppard was like that and that I shouldn’t take any notice.
“On the last day of filming we were in Rome. I went to say goodbye to everyone including George Peppard, and he said he had to talk to me. I was a bit taken aback but he took me to one side and said a whole lot of nice things to me about my performance. While he was talking to me I said to myself ‘If you’d said these things before I would have made this film in a completely different state of mind.’ It was really nice of him though, as compliments from other actors are very important.”
In 1973, Ray worked on the film Days of Fury, directed by Antonio Calenda and set in 18 th century Czarist Russia. One of his co-stars was Oliver Reed and the mention of his name brings a smile to Ray’s face.
“Working with Oliver Reed was a strange experience, but very good. I had to play his son in the film: I was 22 and he was only 35 but he looked old enough, with the beard that he had. When we met in Bulgaria, in Sofia, they gave a big lunch for the whole cast, and he began to eat the light bulbs. He had an enormous bodyguard named Reginald who sat wrapping stones in a napkin, giving a yell and crushing them with his fist. The whole meal was spent like that. I said to myself ‘I’ve got to work with this man for three months, madonna mia!’ But gradually I got to know him and we established a friendship.
“I saw him again at the press screenings of the film, at San Vincent. We were sitting next to each other at lunch and he told me he was bored and wanted to go and find somewhere to drink. I told him I’d take care of it and we crept out so no one would notice us. We hired a car and drove to a place in the mountains where we found a bar and had a few drinks. By the time we got back for the screening of the film we were good friends.
“Later I was making a film for Raphael Gil in Madrid (El major alcalde, e rey) and I heard that close by was the set for The Three Musketeers, which Oliver was filming, and I persuaded a Spanish friend to take me there. We asked at the entrance for Signor Reed and then I heard a voice calling ‘Raymond!’ and there was Reginald, the bodyguard, who gave me a big hug and took me up to the tent where Oliver was.
“They were filming and Oliver was there with five or six other people, sitting at a table with bottles of red wine all over the place. Oliver came over and hugged me, then took me back to the table. To everyone’s surprise he introduced me as his son and all afternoon kept asking me, ‘How’s your mother?’ He continued this performance while we drunk red wine and ate raw onions. Finally I felt so ill that my friend had to take me back to Madrid , rather the worse for wear.
“Oliver was great though and gave me loads of advice. It was strange, although he drank a lot, when he went out onto the set he was brilliant. It’s just as well we got on, otherwise it could have been a bit difficult.”
Ray, it seems, has never been tempted by Hollywood.
“When we made Il grand attacco, we went to Los Angeles. Before I left an Italian woman rang me, she used to sell films abroad, and she said she’d seen one or two of my films and that she knew an American lawyer who was starting up as an agent. I looked him up and he said he thought I could make a go of it in America . I would have had to live in New York for a year to see how things went but I didn’t want to. My wife was happy about it but I had a six-year old daughter and I was too attached to home: the idea of a year over there didn’t appeal. I think I was lucky to have ties in Italy because, you know, cinema is a very unusual thing. It’s a passion, and when you are torn between two passions you have to make a choice. Probably, if I hadn’t been married I would have gone but as it turned out I had plenty of work in Italy.”
Having worked with some of the great actors and directors, it’s difficult for Ray to single out any one period of his career as the most satisfying.
“I started my career at the end of the 1960’s and in the first few films I made, I had the good fortune to work with some of the masters of Italian cinema – Carlo Lizzani, Mario Monicelli and Alberto Lattuada. During this period, the successful films, the ‘B-movies’ allowed producers to use the money to make more worthy films, films a bit more politically and socially aware. At that time, there was still a certain kind of filmmaking in Italy , then in the 1970’s it was about police films and erotic comedies.
“So, in terms of cinema, I’ve done a bit of everything but it’s a shame I’ve never really made one of those films which really made its mark on history. I’ve had some great experiences, films like Fiddler on the Roof and The Cassandra Crossing, and worked with three great Italian directors. Then, since 1994, I’ve done some television work which has been a great success, two or three which have had good audience figures. And I’ve witnessed a generational change. Because when I started I was lucky enough to work with one of the fathers of film of the 50’s and 60’s and then with the new generation.
“I have no regrets, no cause to say ‘Oh dear, what a pity…’ Even the worst things I did were done for a reason, to live, to earn money. A couple of times, if I liked an idea, I tried to buy the option on it. It came off once and we made a television programme called A viso coperto and it also did very well.
So what is he currently involved in and what does the future hold?
“At the moment I’ve just finished two things: a two part serial with Barbara de Rossi which will be on in October. And I took part in a soap, the first one on RAI 1, every day for 20 minutes, 200 episodes. I did a film last year in Czechoslovakia, a giallo with Marisa Berenson but I don’t know when it’s going to come out.
“Next year I might do some more theatre as part of the Spoleto festival. I’ve already done an Arthur Miller play, The Last Yankee. I have very little stage experience, just a couple of plays and being in the pop group of course. But I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done: when I was first asked to do it I had doubts but I really like the professional atmosphere. When that kind of mechanism works, working becomes a holiday, you find something new inside yourself, there’s a kind of alchemy – which is important if you work a lot”