Things were hardly going smoothly on the set of Agency, a Canadianproduced feature film, budgeted at $5 million, recently shot in Montreal. Valerie (Superman) Perrine was in her dressing room throwing up, a victim of a virulent flu bug. Lee (Six Million Dollar Man) Majors was also closeted in his dressing room, with what seemed like a case of bad temper. Meanwhile, Robert Mitchum (whose $500,000 fee and 100odd film credits made him the ranking star) was comfortably ensconced in the chair with his name on it, enjoying a little badinage with the makeup girl and script assistant. Which is not to say that things were going smoothly for him, either. It had just been discovered that he had been working with the
wrong script for the past four weeks. Consternation. Will it mean going back and re-doing scenes? Mitchum snorts derisively. Will it mean re-thinking the characterization? After a long baleful glare, Mitchum resumes his convèrsation with the ladies. Will it mean staying up all night learning new lines for tomorrow’s heavy day of shooting? “No way. They take their chances.” Six words. A veritable paragraph, coming from Mitchum.
Robert Mitchum is the undisputed king of the laconic one-liner. “Hello, how are you?” is invariably greeted with “Worse.” An interview segues as such:
Q: Was there anything about Agency that attracted you to the project?
A: The money.
Q: Do you ever get excited about films, about scripts?
A long pause. A very long pause.
A: I think Midway (1976) was the last one I was really excited about. The Longest Day (1962) wasn’t bad. Just worked 10 days, then I had six weeks off with pay and a healthy expense account. Then I came back and worked another week in Paris, so that was kind of exciting. Midway I just worked one day, in bed. That was kind of juicy.
Q: Do you watch your films?
A: Naw, not often. (Pause) That’s not in the contract.
All this with not a trace of a smile—a flawless deadpan. It’s unnerving to talk with him. At 61 he remains the quintessential screen heavy, big (six-feet twoinches, 195 pounds), dark and craggy. The shoulders and back are broad and powerful, the lips and jaw severe, the eyes heavy-lidded and icy, muted menace on the hoof. Called upon to crash through a closed door and break up an illicit liaison, Mitchum, a gun peeking out of his fist, gives the door a shoulder shot that would make linebackers think twice about taking him on. The characters inside the door don’t have to act surprised. Bystanders are impressed; appreciative murmurs swell as director George Kaczender, satisfied, hollers “Cut!”
“He’s an intelligent actor,” says Kaczender, “not an intellectual actor. He likes basics. He’s easygoing, professional and unpretentious. Never falls out of character. He’s the easiest guy to direct.” But Mitchum has been known to polish off some directors for lunch. Of his work in the 1975 version of Farewell, My Lovely, he mumbles, “Goofy director. First shot in the picture he said ‘Cut’ instead of ‘Action.’ We used to lock him in a closet. Great fun when you work on a picture and the makeup man and the assistant prop man tell the director, ‘You don’t know what you’re doin’, dummy!’ ”
“He’s a total outcast, outside the Hollywood system. He has no agent, probably the only major star who doesn’t, and you deal directly with him,” says producer Robert Lantos, a Mitchum fan since he was 12. “He gets you fabulous distribution deals. He’s huge in the Far East, big in Europe, big in Latin America and strong on television.”
In an afternoon of watching Mitchum at work, it quickly becomes obvious that he’s much more at home with the crafts people of the film industry than with the other stars, financiers and assorted hangers-on. “He’s a sweetheart,” says pencil-thin script assistant Linda Brown. “Every day he’s on the set we go through this routine. He arrives, sits down, says ‘Hi Slim, what’re my lines, heard any good jokes?’ ”
The interview lumbers on:
Q: Ever had any interest in
A: Well, the thing that chilled me on it was the fact that you gotta get there before the actors do in the morning.
Q: Do you get any particular bang out of making films?
A: Yeah. (Pause) Learn a lotta new jokes. (Pause) Lotta free lunches.
Q: Ever take an acting lesson?
A: How the hell do you take acting □ lessons? It’s like goin’ to school to learn £ to be tall. gj Say good-night Bob. 1 Wayne Grigsby
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