Richard Linklater and Christian McKay talk about their new film, ME AND ORSON WELLES opening in 44 cities across America on December 11Friday, December 11th, 2009
Frank Lloyd Wright said architecture was the cathedral of the arts. I think the cinema is.
Richard Linklater's new movie Me and Orson Welles will open in 44 cities across America on December 11 and for anyone interested in the arts, it should be a sheer delight. As Nicholas Ray notes, the film combines poetry (John Keats Ode to a Grecian Urn), theatre (Julius Caesar), photography, music, literature, fine art, and of course the cinema.
Perhaps what is even more important is that it is easily the most important film to have been made about Orson Welles work as an artist since he died in 1985. As such, it can have an enormous effect on future Welles projects, such as finishing The Other Side of the Wind, if it should meet with even a modest commercial success.
Which is why I would urge anyone reading this to try and go and see the movie this weekend if you possibly can. If Me and Orson Welles becomes an art house hit, it can only help to open up the logjam of Welles projects and material that has yet to see the light of day!
A listing of the cities and theatres where Me and Orson Welles will be opening this weekend appears after part one of my interview with Christian McKay and Richard Linklater.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You first played Orson Welles in 1994 in your one-man play, Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles, which I understand was written with you in mind.
CHRISTIAN McKAY: It was actually written with me! What happened was we were looking for a one-man show to do and (director) Josh Richards suggested Orson Welles, but I didn’t want to play Welles because I thought they were having a go at my weight. While I was at RADA somebody said I looked like Orson Welles in The Third Man, but I was ignorant of the earlier Orson Welles at the beginning, being someone from my generation who only knew him as this gargantuan 350 lb. man, “that ton of humus” as Falstaff says. I had only remembered him from his Sherry adverts and his appearances on Michael Parkinson. Then, because I thought they were having a go at my weight, I didn’t want to play him. So I was suggesting we do Peter Sellers or Winston Churchill, Churchill being my favorite, my great hero, but I had never played a real life person before, I had always played fiction, so I thought it was an intriguing idea to do a one-man show and felt it would be a good theatrical lesson to learn. But it kept coming back to Orson and so I started reading about him and then of course, you get obsessed, don’t you?
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Yes, that can happen quite easily.
CHRISTIAN McKAY: I needed to know everything about him and at some point I found Wellesnet which was a great aid to me in the research I was doing and that I continued to do while I was doing the play and of course, when I did the film. There is one thing I won’t read though. I notice on your discussion page there is something about Me and Orson Welles. That is the only thing I won’t look at, although I’m very tempted, but it’s the only thing I can’t read on Wellesnet.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Of course there’s a real danger of becoming too identified with Orson Welles, although I think it would be wonderful if you could play Welles again one more time in the screenplay Welles wrote about all the incredible events surrounding the staging of The Cradle Will Rock.
CHRISTIAN McKAY: Yes, but I don’t want to play him again, although I do have a very lucrative offer to do Rosebud. Rick and I have dreamed about re-visiting Welles again in about 20 years, as a bookend. We’ve talked about that and I really owe Rick so much, because it would have been so much easier for him to have just found a famous Hollywood actor and he could have made the film in America. The producers kept saying to him “get rid of the unknown limey! Who the hell is this guy” Richard just kept saying, “no, this is my Orson Welles.” They were even talking about doing a comedy skit, for publicity purposes and I said, “No, I can’t play Orson, no way.” It’s all right for Orson to do Dean Martin, but I couldn’t play him on Dean Martin, no way. It’s extraordinary because somebody asked me how he thought I would have gotten on with Orson and I said, “We wouldn’t have gotten on.” I really assert that. We wouldn’t have got on. I loved playing him and I feel very close to him, and I feel very protective of him. I’m not an apologist for him, but I will stick up for him.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Richard, you worked with Vincent D’Onofrio on The Newton Boys, and Christian says he suggested several Hollywood actors to play the part when you first met, although he wouldn’t say who they were. Did you ever consider Vincent D’Onofrio to play Orson Welles?
RICHARD LINKLATER: No, because although I know Vince, that scene he did in Ed Wood convinced me all the more to go with an unknown actor. Look at how you see the one scene Vince did in Ed Wood. You are saying, “Vince is looking kind of like Welles, but he’s not quite like him,” so your critical antennae is going up, because you are judging the performance and you are not really experiencing the performance. So I thought the magic of the cinema could only take place if we used an unknown actor to play Welles. I felt it would happen more naturally if we went with somebody who was unknown. I thought you might more readily think you were hanging out with Orson Welles in 1937.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Had you seen Ed Wood when you cast Vincent D’Onofrio in The Newton Boys?