AC­TOR, 77

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

The veteran movie ac­tor and wild man of Mal­ibu gives us his nuggets of wis­dom hard-earned from a life ex­tremely well lived

mal­ibu is quite bor­ing. Af­ter you live here for about 10 years, you start to miss the sea­sons. I’ve seen one frost in my 50 years here. That doesn’t mean I want to spend a win­ter in the North of Eng­land or Water­loo, Iowa. You can have enough of snow.

i like to grow my own food. I made a smart de­ci­sion about 30, 40 years ago to build waisthigh planters on the prop­erty. You don’t have to bend over.

when i wake up in the morn­ing now, I am quite of­ten re­minded of overdoing things the day be­fore. Lit­er­ally, a rude awakening. They say old age creeps up on you, but it moves quicker than that.

on the set of the deep, the great English direc­tor Karel Reisz came to watch me work. We were film­ing a stunt I wasn’t needed for, so I got into a lit­tle foam game, let­ting off fire ex­tin­guish­ers with the prop guys. Karel wanted me for his next film, but I didn’t know him, and when we were in­tro­duced later, I re­alised I’d pissed away the day in front of this phe­nom­e­nal direc­tor. Karel said, “Do you mind if I give you a lit­tle cri­tique? When you work, I don’t think it’s good to spend so much time en­ter­tain­ing the crew.” From that day, I used my en­ergy on set for act­ing, not goof­ing off.

peo­ple talk about “tak­ing risks”. They’re not re­ally talk­ing about risks. If you live in the mo­ment, it’s not a risk at all, you’re just liv­ing in the mo­ment. It takes all the weight out of the de­ci­sion. Once you can do that, things don’t be­come so heavy on you.

when i was sell­ing fake draft cards I don’t think it was an in­ten­tional crim­i­nal act. It was stu­pid­ity. I was driv­ing a hearse at the time; the en­gine gave out and we rolled it off a cliff. It landed on the ninth green of the coun­try club golf course, and the pack of 1,000 fake IDs I’d left in there fell out. That’s how I was caught. The judge sen­tenced me [in 1961] to 45 years, sus­pended. It was fate. All meant to hap­pen. it is only through fail­ure that you learn. Fail­ure re­ally puts bite to a task, and you will ex­am­ine all the el­e­ments that con­tribute to fail­ure. Noth­ing is ex­am­ined when you suc­ceed, so you try to re­peat the suc­cess with no idea of what re­ally made it hap­pen.

what do women see in me? Not much, I think. My mother was a strong, lib­er­ated woman be­fore women’s lib. She stressed the im­por­tance of the in­di­vid­ual, and a per­son’s cre­ativ­ity, so I saw that from a young age. I never had a “type” when it came to women.

i have a 10-year-old daugh­ter and it’s a bless­ing. For her, it’s rather dif­fi­cult. She calls me Gran­dad, be­cause all her friends’ dads are about 30 years younger than me. It’s the right time for me, though. I have the time and the pa­tience for her. It’s a pre­cious gift.

on the sub­ject of drugs, I told my son that he can ex­per­i­ment, but not to go past the ex­per­i­men­tal phase. It hasn’t come up with my daugh­ter yet. When my son was a teenager, some of his friends from Mal­ibu High were liv­ing with us. There was an ed­i­to­rial in the The Mal­ibu Times about a “surf mafia fa­ther” and “drug king­pin” tak­ing care of these kids. It re­ally up­set me. All ru­mours. We just had par­ties there be­cause that’s where all the kids were. And I never surfed! Where are those kids now? They all went to col­lege. A cou­ple are doc­tors, one works at Ap­ple. My son is nearly through med school.

the pos­si­bil­ity of war is smack­ing hu­man­ity in the face right now, but it is much harder for a world war to break out than it once was. But, given the sorts of pres­i­dents we can elect, I don’t know how fool­ish they can be.

we all have bi­ases we do not ad­mit to. They lay in there, even if you’ve worked hard on them, and you’ve got to flush them out. My mother told us we would have a black per­son liv­ing with us. So we did. As a fash­ion buyer, she had young fe­male as­sis­tants, al­most al­ways black, and they would live with us. i just started a pa­leo diet. No car­bo­hy­drates, no sugar, no al­co­hol. Smok­ing’s gone, too. The weight just dropped off. Cut it back to eat­ing out of your own gar­den, ba­si­cally. Wild meat: buf­falo — no beef. No an­tibi­otics. I’m not in ter­rific shape quite yet, but I will be.

a dou­ble-bill of my best work would be Af­flic­tion and Down and Out in Bev­erly Hills. No, wait, maybe Who’ll Stop the Rain and The Prince of Tides. The first thing I did, Rich Man, Poor Man, I played [a char­ac­ter who ages] from 16 to 44. That was pretty good. I’ve done a lot.

i like to read ev­ery day, and not to es­cape. I’m read­ing a great book, Be­have: The Bi­ol­ogy of Hu­mans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M Sapol­sky. It’s about the brain, and un­learn­ing all you think you know about it. You have to learn a lit­tle ter­mi­nol­ogy, but I don’t mind that. I sub­scribe to New Sci­en­tist. Have done for years. It’s so much bet­ter than Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can. It touches on ev­ery­thing go­ing on.

i don’t watch films or go to the the­atre any more. What gets my artis­tic pas­sions up is work­ing with mar­ble. My sis­ter started do­ing it. It took her seven years to carve this 12-by-12by-six-inch-thick piece. You get a piece of mar­ble, from Amer­ica or Italy, and you get the kit with the ham­mer and the carv­ing tools, then just have at it. The stone chips out right along the line you want. You have to screw up good to make a mis­take. You might not know ex­actly what you’re carv­ing. It’s that old con­cept: if you don’t know where to be­gin, just start.

if i had one trip in a time ma­chine, I would go to the fu­ture. The changes the fu­ture holds! How are we go­ing to deal with gene edit­ing? That’s just one scratch in the amount of new knowl­edge com­ing.

re­tire­ment doesn’t seem to be in my vo­cab­u­lary. What would I re­tire from? My­self? If I had to work ev­ery day, it might be an is­sue. A three-month run isn’t a dif­fi­cult thing. A three-month run of no work is kind of hard to do. You’ve got to fill your days.

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