Monday, September 7, 2009

"Saddle Up! - Part...I Don't Know, It's Been So Long"

Actors who played classic roles in westerns great and not so great remember their experiences for posterity as imagined by me because I never met any of them and the best I can do is make it up.

Today:


THE TOWN DRUNK

“I’ve been a drunk all my life. I figure, ‘How hard can it be to play one in a movie?’ I go to my first audition, I get out my first few lines of dialogue, the director says, ‘I’m not buying it.’

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I’m not convincing as a drunk? I am a drunk. I came drunk to the audition! I breathe in the guy’s face, he nearly keels over.”

“The director tells me two things that start me on a long and distinguished career as a movie drunk. Number One: Never go to an audition drunk, which I knew, but I got there early and there was this bar across the street and what are you gonna do, you know, I’m a drunk. Rule Number Two – and this really opened my eyes:

‘Drunk’ in real life is not the same as ‘drunk’ in a western.”

In fact, it’s the opposite. The last thing a real drunk wants is for people to know he’s a drunk. In westerns, that’s the whole idea.”

“I wangle my way into a studio screening room and I do a whole this marathon. I study every drunk who ever appeared in a western, from the highly respected Thomas Mitchell (in Stagecoach) to a fellow named ‘Banjo.’ At first, I got terribly offended. ‘They’re ridiculing my people.’ But after watching maybe a hundred westerns, I realize, ‘They’re ridiculing everyone: Indians, Mexicans, heavy people. Why not drunks? Are we any better than anybody else? Of course not. We’re drunks.”

“I stole bits from just about every movie drunk I saw – that kind of pinwheel look in their eyes, the wildly swaying gait, the way they ‘shlurred’ their words. I thought, ‘That’s not “drunk” to me. But if that’s what they want, I’ll sure as heck give it to them.’

“I went whole hog on the thing. I mussed up my hair and grew scraggly whiskers. I had a ‘drool vest’ made up – that’s a vest with fake drool sewn into it. I bought a spittoon and practiced stepping in it by mistake.”

“The best town drunks were ‘crazy like a fox.’ Pretending to be ‘three sheets to the wind’, they’d secretly gather information, leading directly to the triumph of justice. Drunks like that made all drunks stand a little taller. There was nobility in the degradation. They were doing their part. Sometimes, they got killed for their troubles. It made us all proud.”

“I liked to add an undertone of sadness and self-loathing to the role. Injecting those ‘colors’ made my town drunks feel richer and more layered than those of my competitors.”

“A drunk pretending to be a sober person pretending to be a drunk. Now that’s acting.”

1 comment:

diane said...

Was your interview with a relative of Foster Brooks? He always explained his routine as a drunk pretending to be sober. Always made me laugh.