Get Carter director Mike Hodges reveals his intriguing encounters with Michael Caine, Stanley Kubrick and Muhammad Ali. More gold from the Jack mag archives.
On A Prayer For The Dying I only had five weeks of preparation, but I admired Mickey Rourke so much that I decided to take the gamble. What the producers didn’t tell me were all the conditions of the contract with Mickey. He had approval on director – thankfully Nic Roeg had put a good word in for me – and also the actress to play (the priest) Bob Hoskins’ blind niece. Mickey was very attracted to leggy Californian models, which clearly wouldn’t look right in gloomy presbytery, so eventually we decided on Sammi Davis as someone who could be believable in the part. I enjoyed shooting the film and Mickey worked incredibly hard to master the Belfast accent, which is very difficult tomaster. In the interests of seeking reality for his role, Rourke also wanted an IRA tattoo on his arm. We suggested he have a harmless transfer but Mickey insisted on the real thing. Sadly it went septic, presaging the fate of the film.
He was a complex and strange character but he was a great writer. He could be a difficult sod but I loved the guy. He was in Flash Gordon as well as Get Carter. Casting villains is always very difficult. Heroes are fairly straightforward, but to make the villains believable is difficult, especially ones that go against the concept of what a villain is. My agent suggested John Osborne and I thought it was a really interesting idea. So I met him and took a chance casting him as Cyril Kinnear in Get Carter. So John comes to do the first scene and he’s wearing these glasses and he never mixes with anybody and he’s very quiet. The sond man comes up to me and says, “John’s too quiet.” And I said, “He’s come to me like that and that’s how I want him.” So if you watch that scene I just get closer and closer with the camera to capture that quietness. John was great, there was a lot of menace in that quietness. He made a great villain.
Stanley Kubrick said, “Mike, do you believe everything you read in the newspapers?” and I said, “Well you are meant to be a recluse.” He says, “That’s bullshit.”
I thought Michael wouldn’t want to play Jack Carter because the character was such a shit, but I was really lucky to have Michael in my first feature. He is a very meticulous actor, he knows a lot about the process of film-making. Caine is a very good technician, very professional. By the time I’d got to work with him he knew more than me. I wouldn’t have to tell him anything – he’d intuitively know where to stand, where to move. It’s an odd film though, and I was surprised Caine took the role. Carter himself is psychotic, he is a sick man. But there are moments when he’s redeemed, moments when you know he is sick, and that’s when Caine is at his best. There is a scene on the ferry when he is coming back and he sees the mother and daughter standing on the dock side, and he looks at them and he knows that he will never have a family like that and he will never be normal that way. Carter knows that. And there is another moment shortly after when Glenda is in the boot of the Sunbeam Alpine as it is pushed into the water, and again he gives that look like, “Yes I’m sick and they are sick.” I think they are the redeeming moments in Carter. There is also a moment at the end when he’s walking down the beach after he’s bludgeoned Eric Paice (Ian Hendry) to death, and this was Michael Caine. We did a number of takes but the one we kept in is when Carter suddenly giggles crazily, he suddenly laughs like he is mad. I remember when Michael did that I thought it was weird, but in the end I used it and it works.
I met Kubrick because of Malcolm McDowell – according to Malcolm, Stanley was a fan of my films. Kubrick recommended me to to Federico Fellini to make the British version of his film A Ship Sails On. It was 1982, I had just had this serious operation, I was sick, I had no money, I had no home – I was absolutely bereft. And I get this phone call from Fellini and of course it was a perfect job. Because I had been sliced during the op from the neck down to my navel, the job was perfect because I could sit down and do it. Kubrick and I spoke onthe phone quite a lot after that. He had a look at a film of mine called Black Rainbow which we were having difficulty finding a distributor for. Stanley watched the film and gave me some advice, and we would talk about this and that. I said to him one day, “Do you ever come to London? Shall we have dinner in London?” Stanley said, “Mike, do you believe everything you read in the newspapers?” and I said, “Well you are meant to be a recluse.” He says, “That’s bullshit.” But of course he was a recluse. The idea of having dinner in London, in a restaurant, or any other public place for that matter, with Kubrick was absurd.
We were in LA looking for locations, this was before he knew that he had Parkinson’s so it would have been around ’78 or ’79, and we ended up at Ali‘s house as a potential location. About 20 of us pile into a bedroom, and there is Ali lying on the bed holding a phone up to his ear as though he is listening to someone, and he doesn’t acknowledge us. And we are there for about ten minutes thinking about possibly using his bedroom as a location and talking the usual nonsense about what were are going to do with the scene, and I keep looking around at Ali and he just doesn’t move, he is there with his phone. I couldn’t hear anyone on the end of the line and I came to the conclusion that he didn’t know we were in there – he just didn’t bat an eyelid, he didn’t do anything. On the way out I said to somebody, “He’s not right is he?” He’d obviously been for a jog and I think something was seriously wrong.
I had bad memories working on Damien: Omen II, but working with Holden was a great experience, he’d always been one of my favourites. I’d flown to meet him in Palm Springs before shooting and I had a terrible hangover and the plane had to go over these mountains and there was an awful lot of turbulence – the flight was terrible. Thankfully we got there in one piece and we had a terrific meeting with William. When we are about to get back on this horrible little plane to leave, William points to a mountain that we are about to fly over. “See that? That’s where Frank Sinatra’s mother died,” he said. I remembered Sinatra’s mother’s plane had hit a mountain and I thought, “Thanks very much, Bill.” After I had finished on the film he rang me and said, “It was great working with you, Mike, would love to work with you again but maybe on something a little less violent.”
When I came to do The Croupier with Clive he had the same sort of instinct as Caine. In Croupier there is a lot of voiceover, and normally to do a film with a narrative you record it afterwards. So Clive and I talked and we decided he should learn the voiceover. He never says it on camera, but if he is thinking he whole process, if he knows what the voiceover is, his face changes. It meant that it gave me great fluidity in terms of camera movements and the simplicity of shooting scenes, knowing the voiceover would fit. When I came to editing it all the joins just fitted perfectly, so the process of working with Clive was just great. He wants to be a star – what is the point of making films if you don’t want to be a star?
“I thought Michael wouldn’t want to play Jack Carter because the character was such a shit”
Mickey Rooney was exhausting to work with. I thought it would be like working with Caine – Pulp was only my second feature – but he was the antithesis, he was the wild card, he never did anything conventionally. I learned that you couldn’t rehearse with Mickey, you had to shoot from the top. There’s this one scene which is based on an old Hollywood tradition where they used to hire these guys to go in as waiters at various dinner parties, and as an awful practical joke they would pour wine over someone else’s lap. As a joke I put this into Pulp with Mickey. So he repeats this gag with waiters and the wine and when he did it the first time it was perfect, but he never came near to repeating it again. It was all improvised, you could not rehearse with him, you just had to shoot, so that was kind of illuminating, and then you would do conventional scenes and he would be tap dancing or playing the drums on his legs.
I’ve known him for about 40 years. We tried to set up a film together in ’74. It was a script I’d written, but I could never get the money for it – I’ve never been great at hustling. The movie was about a PR man in an American seaside resort and this mind-bending force turns up who is involved in leadership dynamics, a sort of new age guru. It was before all those mind-expanding courses became fashionable. Jack Nicholson was going to play the part of the American guru. Then Thatcher came into power and of course exactly what I’d written the film about happened. It was extraordinary. So Malcolm and I had never worked together until I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. It’s not a big role, but Malcolms does it very well, he’s very contained.
I never used a lot of music in my films, but George composed the music for my second feature Pulp, and he suggested I wrote some lyrics for a song called “Pulp” which Sacha Distel was going to sing. It wasn’t for the film, but it was going to be released as a single. The film was made for United Artists, so I’d written it and I went to see this guy at UA. I give him the idea and he says, “‘Pulp’! What the fuck is ‘Pulp’? Why have you written a song called ‘Pulp’?” And I say, “Well it’s the name of a movie with Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney.” He says, “Who chose that fucking title?” and I say, “I did.” So he says, “Who the hell are you?” I tell him, “I wrote and directed the film. Is that OK?” And he just gave me a look like I was a piece of shit. That was it – the song was never released and I never heard another word.
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