Interview in Marbella – 1995 (III): Conversations with Deborah

 

Continued from PART I

Let’s get back to your views on the new ways to appreciate your old films. Did you feel when you were doing them that they would last in time, that new generations would also like them? Or do you think we are just plain insane?

No, “An Affair…” was well welcomed and I still get letters referring to it. It’s a film that women particularly enjoy and, sometimes, they stop me at the shopping centre to tell me how much they enjoyed watching it. Some women tell me they have watched it fifteen times.

How did you feel when you were making it? Did you think it’d be that good?

I always thought it was a good film. Same with “Tea and Sympathy”. It was a very emotive film.
And one of the films were you are more beautiful. Was the camera man John Alton?

He was one of the best cameramen MGM had.

Before shooting the film, you played it in Broadway.

Yes, I did it on Broadway for a few years along John Kerr, like in the film.

Some thought you were related.

It was a coincidence that we had the same last name.

Another of your complex roles was “God Knows Mr. Allison”

Yes, it was complex. Some saw it as a simple character but I found it very rich. It’s a work I did that I liked, besides, I liked working with Mitchum who is so intelligent. And another way to make her different, sicne Sister Angela has nothing to do with my other nuns – I played three nuns. I remember that one as a charming film.

How was your relationship with Charles Laughton in “Young Bess”?

We had a scene together that was extremely small. He was an excellent actor. He played a splendid dying man. Honestly, I have to say that I had a wonderful working life and there are not more than two persons that I didn’t really get along while working. But I insist that I really enjoyed doing all I did. Sometimes, some people didn’t like what I did, but others did like it. It’s interesting when they tell me which ones they liked and didn’t like. Some liked “The Innocents” better than “The Night of the Iguana”… but “Marriage on the Rocks” is one that just didn’t work. As a Sinatra/Dean Martin movie it does it’s job, but my character just didn’t fit and the film was quite stupid but I had great fun making it.

We believe you enjoyed your work and so even in those film that aren’t that good, your performance irradiates this pleasantness that makes us think you believe in what you are doing and you have fun doing it.

It’s true, I always try to move on.

What film would you have liked to do but didn’t do?

That is quite hard…

[Peter] I know one…

You remember everything.

[Peter] “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne” that Maggie Smith did in 1987 by Jack Clyton.

Another one I would have liked was “The Pumpkin Eater”, also by Clyton, that Anne Bancroft did. He had promised it to me but in the end I didn’t do it.

According to John Houston memoirs, “Only God Knows…” was a tough one to make.

Yes, it was quite hard physically.

But it seems you behaved quite bravely.

All who worked with Houston had to be braves. In that one we were eaten alive by the mosquitoes, there were snakes, the temperature was quite high, there were also some dangerous fevers in the area… everything about it was complicated.

When you’re acting, do you put anything of yourself into the characters?

You can’t help adding some of yourself to the part you play. I think it happens to most of the actresses. They put a bit of themselves into the film or play they are doing. In my case, there is some bit of me in every nun, in every woman I’ve played. I can’t help it. It’s there. When the camera focuses on me, the truth is there and I can see it.

We would have loved to see you work with John Ford. And above all, that you had done “The Quiet Man”. The humour in that character would have suited you fine and you, like Maureen O’Hara, were a red-head.

Back then there were many red heads. Rhond aFleming, Arlene Dahl, Greer Garson…

Maybe it was good for Technicolor…Would you have liked working with Ford in a western?

The opportunity never showed up and on western, the closest thing I did was “The Sundowners”, which I think is among my best works.

You and Mitchum were great in it. What Hathaway called “the chemistry of the cast” worked quite well in that film.

[Peter] Back to Ford, the truth is he had a small group of actors that hardly ever changed.

You also did Gary Cooper’s last fim, “The Naked Edge”. How was he?

I wanted to do that one cause I had gone to see all his films since I was a school girl. Gary Cooper had the charm and fascination that you can see in all his films. That’s why I wanted to work with him. I knew he was very ill and it was very touching to work and eat with him almost every day. He was also making a list of the films he had done and the people he had worked with, rebuilding his past. I remember that as something terribly sad. I had wished to work with him and I made it.

The legend says Gary never performed, but when they looked at what had been done in the end of the day, his performance was there. He was a better actor than people thought.

He sure was. “The Naked Edge” was not an exceptional film but it worked well as a suspense story.

[Peter] Maybe Cooper was not the right actor for it, it was hard for people to really believe he could be the killer.

Was he very spontaneous?

He had something that’s quite rare to find in the film industry and that was his natural manner. That’s why I liked him.

What was the difference between him and, let’s say, Montgomery Clift?

Clift was quite the opposite. A Method actor.

And Cary Grant?

Cary was above all a professional. Cold, but very professional.

You’ve worked with Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Robert Taylor, Yul Brynner…

Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton…

… the big names of the twentieth century. The actors now, we won’t say they are not as good, but they lack a bit of that magnetism they had.

What they don’t have is personality. They all do the same parts nowadays. It’s all about crashing cars and violence…

[Peter] I think there are better actresses than actors in the movies nowadays.

Do you still watch films? What do you like of the movies nowadays?

Peter brings films at home but I don’t see many of them.

“Out of Africa” was a film that you could have done so well…

I have not seen it.

Do you like “White Hunter, Black Heart”?

I liked it. But I don’t think Clint Eastwood is the man to play Houston. Although Clint has something interestingly quite attractive.

[Peter] He’s got magnetism.

Yes, of course. And John Houston was a splendid actor. In some occasion where I was working with him, he said: “Get into the room and do this and that and then say…” Well, I’ve forgotten what he told me to do. But the thing is I did it and he came and said “Darling, it’s not exactly that.” So we did it again, and again he said “This is not what I wanted” and so I finally told him to do it himself so I could see it. He did. And it was great. He was much better than me doing that scene.

The directors you worked with were ones to give the actor freedom or did they indicate the actor the tone and movements?

Some did…

Why do they say Cukor was a great director of actresses? What differences were there between him and other directors?

I think it had to do with his way to explain what he wanted, whet he thought we should be feeling, it was his way of directing. It’s hard to explain. It’s easier to talk about Elia Kazan, cause he always took the actors away to give them directions, never told them in front of the cast or crew. He’d say “Do it this way… but don’t show me now, I want to see it inside the story”.

[Garci] I like talking to the actress, tell her things like “You’ll be in a close up so do talk softer and don’t move too much..:” things like that. Did the directors tell you that?

Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. Depending on the director you were working with. Some directors left it completely to the actor to decide. Zinnerman, for example, was very precise with all the explanations of what he wanted. Houston, on the other hand, never gave much previous thought to all his scenes. Sometimes you’d get two pages of dialogue at night of something to do in the morning but it was never too clear what is it he was going to do with it.

[Garci] I think what Cukor did was make a wise choice of the cast and then let them play.

Yes, that is true. But I only worked once with Cukor.

How was working with Minnelli on “Tea and Sympathy”?

It was hard cause Elia Kazan had directed the play wonderfully on Broadway. With Minnelli, it wasn’t that good. And it took a lot of work from me to play that character in a different way that Kazan had asked me to.

[Peter] Why didn’t Kazan make the film himself?

He didn’t want to. He thought then that he would not do any more films.

You also took part in a James Bond film, “Casino Royale” with multiple directors and many complications. How was it?

I don’t know how we did it but I do know it made a lot of money.

Don’t you think your character in “Tea and Sympathy” has a lot in common with Candida by Bernard Shaw, a part you also played on the stage?

Yes, they are very similar. Candida is a wonderful part for an actress.

What did you enjoy the most, cinema or the theatre?

When I am working in a film, I like it a lot. And when I am working on the theatre I feel like I could never quit. I think I like the theatre because it’s wonderful for an actor but I like the possibilities of cinema. It’s like joining bits. Like a puzzle.

Do you ever watch the on set daily recordings?

I never went to those projections. Maybe once to see how the costume fitted me, but I found it horrible to think that I might see something and think “I didn’t do it right, I need to do it again”.

[Peter] Cary went to see them everyday. He did it with Hitchkock, with Donnen, with Hawks…

Yes, of course. That way he could see if among the extras there was a woman with red luggage…

Is it more difficult to play a comedy or a drama?

Comedy is a lot more difficult.

Do you find it very different to play for a film or in the theatre? Cause some actors think it’s the same but others find that being aware of camera angles or having to project the voice makes a lot of difference.

Those are the differences. In the theatre, one has to control the audience. In the cinema, you can get emotion from jus closing your eyes or a small gesture. The theatre requires that you project your voice and quiet the audience or make it laugh. There is a stronger feeling of power in the thatre, in a film there are a lot of people involved and in the end the editor will mix it all to the liking of the director. But in the theatre one is up there all alone, there is no one to make the puzzle pieces fit. You have all the power and that is a very strong feeling. I love that. For instance, having a restless audience and having to calm them down.

When I was playing “Tea and Sympathy” one night, there were two drunk men on the first row that didn’t stop talking aloud. I thought they were ruining the scene between the boy and myself. So I took a step closer and yelled “Shut up!” I almost had a heart attack, but I went on with the scene cause in the theatre that is something you can’t absolutely do. One never, ever, talks to the audience. I was horrified but the audience responded quite nicely, they applauded.

[Garci] I think a good actor’s job is more complicated in the cinema because you must keep the character for ten weeks. Even when it’s all cut in tiny pieces you must maintain the whole sense of the emotion in it so it will work.

That’s what I meant when I said the cinema is like a puzzle. And my mind then was better than it is now.

Why did you chose to live in Spain? Is the climate like the one in California?

The climate in Marbella is quite nice. I love the sun and we don’t have that in England. Here the weather is wonderful. Everything they say about it is true. It’s a great place to live in. A great place to rest and do nothing. The world’s best profession is doing nothing.

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