Richard Linklater and Christian McKay talked about their new film Me and Orson Welles for nearly an hour after a preview screening in San Francisco on December 2.
In the excerpt below they recall some details of Welles's production of Julius Caesar, related to them by the only two cast members of the play who are still alive, Norman Lloyd and Arthur Anderson. Mr. Anderson was the inspiration for the character played by Zac Efron in the movie and his memories of working with Orson Welles, taken from his introduction to The Best of the Old Time Radio Starring Orson Welles, follows.
In addition, Matt Enlow has posted a recent interview with Arthur Anderson at his Atom Blog where Mr. Anderson praises Me and Orson Welles, noting it "portrays Orson very well. He was charming, he was a damn good actor, but he wanted things his own way. Usually he knew what was right… what was creative."
Mr. Anderson also reveals he has an autobiography coming out early in 2010 titled An Actor’s Odyssey: From Orson Welles to Lucky the Leprechaun.
RICHARD LINKLATER: Zac Efron’s character, Richard Samuels is loosely based on Arthur Anderson. He’s about 86 now and still lives in New York City. He’s one of two people still alive who appeared in the original production. Norman Lloyd who played Cinna the poet is also still with us. Christian has talked with Norman and now they are best friends. I talked with Arthur a couple of times on the phone. We don’t know if they have seen the movie or not, but it must be bizarre for them. I think they may have a weird relationship to it, because just imagine somebody doing a movie about your life from 72 years before! I hope we have captured the spirit of the show. That’s all you can do, is try your best.
CHRISTIAN McKAY: Norman Lloyd said to me, “Did you have a red wall (for the back of the stage), and I said, “yes… did you remember the smell of the paint?” – and I could see Norman going back 72 years, remembering and he said, “The Smell? The theatre Stank!!”
RICHARD LINKLATER: We were trying to be faithful to people's memories, even though Norman remembered the Mercury theatre with a curtain, but it famously didn’t have a curtain. He remembers his scene (Cinna being killed) as the pivotal scene in the play, and Welles cut it out of the play and then he put it back in, so we honored his memory of the event and we tried to do that with everyone who wrote about it.
Arthur told me he really did set off the sprinklers in the theatre. That really did happen. He was like a little Gremlin kid, who was only 15 at the time. He was also the only one who had his name changed. In the novel Robert Kaplow changed Arthur's name to Richard and he fictionalized him, so he was loosely based on himself and his father. Arthur also didn’t get fired on opening night. That was part of the fiction. He actually finished the run of the play and was in a lot of additional Mercury Theatre radio shows. Whenever they needed a kid, they would call him up. He ended up having a really long career in radio and voice work. He also had a long gig doing the little Leprechaun in the Lucky Charms cereal commercials.
RECALLING ORSON WELLES
By ARTHUR ANDERSON
"Go home, dear boy."
It was November 1937, close to two o'clock in the morning. The Mercury Theatre actors had been wearily rehearsing over and over some fine points in the new modern-dress production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, ignoring Actors' Equity overtime rules in order to satisfy Orson Welles, their 22-year-old director. I was the youngest member of the Mercury, and when Orson by chance noticed me, yawning in one of the theatre's orchestra seats, he at once dismissed me until the following day. Whatever truth there may be in descriptions of George Orson Welles as self-absorbed, autocratic, skittish, undependable and unreasonable, it is also true that he showed only kindness to me.
My first encounter with Orson (I called him "Mr. Welles" in those days, as children were taught to address adults) had been in 1936 on Peter Absolute, aired Sunday afternoons on NBC's Red Network. I had the title role of a little orphan boy in the days of the Erie Canal. Orson played Rex Dakolar, an English actor with a waspish temper who despised the hardships of touring in the American provinces. He was excellent, and very amusing. I was thirteen years old.