“… But at Resting Place the mood was getting darker. Ned Beatty no longer played the happy fat boy around the set. He was getting harder to talk to, brooding, concentrating. The day of the shooting, Burt and Ronny weren’t called. The press, even the studio’s photographer, was barred from the set. The hair stylist and the nurse were asked to go watch the river. There is a full rehearsal which tells us what’s to come. One of Boorman’s great talents is the way he orchestrates the movement of his actors through the frame, and the movement of the camera around his actors. His cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, sets up a master shot in which the actors go through the entire scene, and the camera takes it all in. Ed is pushed up against a tree and strapped there by the neck with his own web belt.
McKinney takes a big hunting knife Ed carries and asks him how he’d like his balls cut off, then cuts a line across Ed’s chest just to watch him bleed. Bobby is standing at a distance. McKinney tells him to drop his pants. Cowboy points the shotgun at him and gives a big grin that is no less horrifying for being so ludicrous, so hungry. When he’s stripped to his jockey shorts, Bobby panics and tries to run. McKinney chases him, Bobby is trying to scramble up a steep hillside on all fours but the earth and leaves slip away beneath him. McKinney grabs him, pushes him up the bank for a few feet, then follows him, pawing him, squeezing Bobby’s ass and his breasts, sliding and falling back down into the rotting leaves. He grabs Bobby by the ear and the nose like a pig and half drags him, half rides him to a decaying log, forces him to lie over it, and rapes him.” —From Christopher Dickey’s memoir, Summer of Deliverance
After directing three huge stars in your previous three films, what were the challenges you faced working with the four leads in ‘Deliverance’? Two stars and two first-timers…
John Boorman: Warners had no faith in the project, they said there had never been a film without women in it that had been a hit. They agreed to do the picture if I could find two stars, so I got Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando to agree, before they finally became too expensive. Then they said I would have to make it with unknowns, so I went all over America looking for unknown actors. Eventually I found Ned Beatty, who’d never been in a film or on television, but I still struggled to find the two lead roles, until I managed to persuade Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight. Jon had just made a film called ‘All American Boy,’ which was a complete disaster so it was never released. He was ready to give up acting altogether and was in an incredibly depressed state, so it took a lot of work to get him to do it. He’s always said since that John saved my life and then spent eight weeks trying to kill me.
That must have been a pretty tough first gig for Ned Beatty.
JB: He was incredible, he just knew that role. I had to help him technically but he never put a foot wrong. I almost never had to correct him in terms of the acting.
Didn’t Kubrick want to use Bill McKinney [who plays the rapist] for a film at one point, but was too afraid to meet him?
JB: Stanley called me to ask what he was like. I told him he was a marvellous guy, a tree surgeon when he’s not acting and a wonderful man, really into his meditation. Kubrick said it was the most terrifying scene ever put on film, and that surely he’s got to have that part in him somewhere to be able to play that character. I said of course not, he’s just a marvellous actor. So Stanley cast him in ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ When Bill was at Los Angeles airport he was called over the tannoy. Kubrick didn’t want him to come, he’d recast the part because he couldn’t face him.
Were you and Kubrick close?
JB: Yeah, we spoke on the phone for years. We were both working at Warners. His method of communication was flat-out interrogation, he would just ask a series of questions, constantly on the look-out for information. He never wanted to go anywhere. I remember coming back from doing ‘The Heretic’ and we went out for dinner. I’d told him that I’d meet him at the restaurant so asked him where he wanted to go. “I’ll let you know” he said, “I’ll pick you up.” He was worried I might tell someone else which restaurant we were going to. It was all pretty paranoid. So he picks me up in his new Mercedes but before we go anywhere he says, “Watch this,” and he activates the central locking. It was something every car had fitted as standard by that point but he was very impressed with it. For someone who gathers all this information, there’d be little things like that of which he had no idea. He didn’t know about ordinary life really. He was so cut off. —John Boorman: Kubrick, Connery and the lost Lord of The Rings script
James Dickey and John Boorman’s screenplay for ‘Deliverance.’ (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Photos (c) Christopher Dickey.
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