Wednesday, February 11, 2009

David Warbeck interview


Jason J. Slater introduction & interview in Harvey Fenton (ed.), David Warbeck: The Man And His Movies, Guildford, FAB Press, 1996 pp.5-49

I have always been fascinated by the main stars of these Italian movies. Mostly of British bloodstock, such as Ian McCulloch and Catriona MacColl, they fulfilled a short film contract of three-or-so movies before working in television. However, one exception who has worked consistently in Italian exploitation is David Warbeck. Born in Christchurch, New Zealand on the 17/11/41 he has proved a versatile actor who top-billed as a machine-gun-totin' commando in Antonio Margheriti's VULTIMO CACCIATORE, and as a family doctor against the living dead in Lucio Fulci's L’ALDILA - Warbeck has remained a consistent feature actor in Euro horror movies. He has remained a high profile actor, proving that it's not necessarily a career nose-dive to work within the European horror film and even the soft pom/sex film industry (for over a decade he was a reserve James Bond). Warbeck has broken many acting taboos in the process, including the old adage that you can't be both a model and actor. Even though David is best remembered for his action roles in Italian cinema, he has achieved higher financial rewards and profile through his modelling career, after being expelled from drama school (the main reason for changing his sumame from Mitchell to Warbeck).

Compared to his Italian acting career, where he eams approximately E4000 for each movie, David has made much more money through his modelling career, including E300,000 for two commercials, which he promptly invested. Model actors used to be a bit of a joke in the film industry, personalities like Michael Sopkiw - who made a handful of trash movies for Lamberto Bava and Sergio Martino - used to come and go after a short picture deal. However Warbeck has had his cake and eaten it, and proved himself a success and entrepreneur in a number of fields. While modelling, Warbeck (along with actors like Alain Delon and Franco Nero) also signed contracts for a number of photoromances. Thickly illustrated with a simple narrative thread, these photoromances have become extremely popular in South America (of all places!) and Warbeck has earned himself a cult status, much to his wry amusement.

Following a successful career and shrewd financial investment, everything had changed for the young Warbeck who had left New Zealand for England, and after failing his studies at drama school, had drifted into television roles before landing fairly decent parts in movies such as TWINS OF EVIL, THE SEX THIEF, BLACKSNAKE, CRAZE and VOICES in the early 70s. However, Warbeck's first taste of Italian cinema was Sergio Leone's excellent A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE, which finally put David's name on the Continent. Unfortunately, the movies that followed fell into video obscurity and Warbeck moved onto Gerry Anderson's UFO a moon-based cavalier who slid down tunnel and drove a tank-like vehicle for some reason or another. Warbeck also appeared briefly in a fistful of television cameos such as the highly successful Minder. Although Warbeck played mainly bit-roles he was in high demand. However, it was the Italian influence, and more importantly Giuseppe Perrone, who gave Warbeck the opportunity to work as a lead actor extensively in Italy. Warbeck's first contract package was to work with Antonio Margheriti, an imaginative veteran director who made Italy's first ambitious science fiction films, such as IL PIANETA DEGLI UOMINI SPENTI, which were sold to America in the 60s.

The first film to be released was L'ULTIMO CACCIATORE, an unrelated rip-off of THE DEER HUNTER which ironically owes more to the previous APOCALYPSE NOW. An absolutely wonderful inventive little action film shot in the Philippines, L’ULTIMO CACCIATORE was a huge success at the box-office and became an ideal vehicle for Warbeck's solid acting capability. In fact, director and star found the experience a valuable one as both worked as a creative team making the best of a low and restricting budget. The success of L'ULTIMO CACCIATORE prompted FUGA DALL’ ARCIPELAGO MALEDETTO, I CACCIATORI DEL COBRA D'ORO and I SOPRAVVISSUTI DELLA CITTA MORTA, a series of action adventure movies from the Margheriti and Warbeck stable. Although these movies were more impressive than the usual Cinecitta productions of the time, they didn't match the success and popularity of L’ULTIMO CACCIATORE.

Q: You made films in Japan?

Well no, these were all Philippine jobs. We did all those... THE LAST HUNTER and TIGER JOE, all that lot.

Q: I think that TIGER JOE is a weak picture compared to THE LAST HUNTER. It was promoted in some territories as a sequel of sorts but materialised as a poor unrelated action film.

Sort of, yeah... yeah.

Q: And Tony King came back for TIGER JOE. What was Tony like to work with on both films?

A pain in the butt! Sorry Tony (laughs). Tony was alright, he was abight, he photographed well and he was very keen and wanted to be terrific but sorry America, he had a lot of really stupid attitudes. It's not necessarily him or America, you get the Italians, the English, the whole lot and Tony sadly had this problem... how can I explain? I'll tell you the very first time I met him was on my first shot of THE LAST HUNTER and it was my first major Italian action movie in the Philippines. Whenever you do your first shot everyone dresses up in suits virtually and sort of shakes hands and it's all very formal to get the first shot in the can. Then everyone has a little drink and says "Well, we've got the first one, now can we get going for the next four weeks, two months or whatever". So I was muddied up because it was a shot in the middle of the film somewhere and we had everything set up, lighting and all that lot, and Margheriti, I think he was actually wearing a shirt and tie in all that heat... It was a shot between me and Tony. I went over to Tony and said "Shall we just run the lines so the guys know where to get the camera pauses?" and his immediate response was, to everyone's horror, "I don't do that kind of shit!" We all took our breaths and we all tried not to look at each other and I said, "Fine, what would you like to do?" and he said "I know you English actors are into that racket, it's crap and I don't do it!" So we thought "What would you like us to do?" and he said "I suggest you lay it on me man, and I'll come back.”. I looked at Margheriti and he said "Okay, why not? Everyone ready for the shot? Okay David and action”. It was all very polite so rhubarb, rhubarb to Tony and we wait for him to come back but he didn't so I waited and waited and there was a cut and the director, Margheriti said very politely to Tony, "Is there anything we can help you with here?", and Tony said "I don't like those lines anyway!" (laughs) That was the first shot! He was an idiot! (laughs) SO if you're reading this Tony... if you're still reading this, that's why you ended up on the floor. Sorry Tony King you are an arsehole! (laughter) I saw, of all films, CONGO the other day, because I like action, special effects and that stuff, but CONGO was appalling. In it the black guy says, "Who do you think you are, John Wayne?" to the girl, and in TIGER JOE, Tony King had to say that line "Who do you think you are, John Wayne?" and he said "I'm not saying that line!" So we said "What's the problem?" and he said "He was never good to our people!" Well, I couldn't quite get round what he was getting at so I think we ended up saying "Who do you think you are, Ginger Rogers?" or something. Just taking the piss (laughs). Do we say Ginger Rogers?

Q: I think you do! (laughs)

Well there you go. (laughs) I thought, I'll take the piss then. He was really into Black Power and all that crap. He was going around trying to be the mega-star; he had T-shirts printed up saying "I am Tony King"...

Q: Was this one of the first movies he'd made?

Oh, he's made a few, I think I've got the T-shirt around here somewhere... I had T-shirts made saying "I am the Tiger in TIGER JOE" (laughs) That was the front, but on the back of the T-shirt I had "The Tiger is a big pussy!" (laughs) which was terribly confusing! So we've had a few people like that... Oh boy!

Q: Was THE LAST HUNTER the first time you met John Steiner?


Q: Tell us about hat amazing scene that opens THE LAST HUNTER, where you're all in the bar

Wow yeah, I'd forgotten about that!

Q: The pre-credits sequence where you walk out and the whole lot goes up behind you! Where was that shot, the Philippines, presumably?

No, you won't believe this story either! Francis Ford Coppola...

Q: Oh, the APOCALYPSE NOW sets!

We used all their sets! I had Marlon Brando's luxury suite! And the reason it was a luxury suite; this hotel had bare floors everywhere, it was crap! The reason it was a luxury suite was that it had a mat beside the bed that you could put your feet on!

Q: That’s what I call luxury!... A mat, rather than something that moved! (laughs)

Well yeah, but I'm sort of sending it up. It's a place in one of the tourist centres out of Manila. It's a couple of hundred miles out of Manila and we used most of their locations, it's where the helicopter crashed when it got caught in the wires and stuff. It's ironic that our plane was nearby for a later film, similar territory, anyway.

Q: Were most of the Filipino films done on these sets?

Yes, it's not so much the sets really, there were no sets as such, it was just jungle, the only bits of sets were the Godheads, but we faked some of those up anyway.

Q: I was saying before that one the things that drives me mad about Italian films is that they never have proper character lists at the end so you must learn to recognise people because you rarely get to know who they are unless you compare movies... quite often I wonder who various people are?

Yeah, I have the same problem sometimes... But that opening sequence in THE LAST HUNTER was fab! The business of the gun in the mouth, you know how they did that? Hang on, this is it guys, this is the essence of the Italian film industry, just the straight out sheer fucking fun of it all... that sequence is one of the most horrific sequences I've seen on screen and it still works a treat; we had people fainting in almost all the audiences I saw when he blows his head off. You don't actually see much, you see the mouth light up and the goo flying around but that's it.

Q: It’s actually the light that gets people because you can't believe it.

It was done like this... This really nice American guy, he's a student who didn't smoke, and before the shot (laughs), he took a drag on a cigarette, kept his mouth shut and on “Action!” he pointed the gun, and inside the gun was a torch, so he opened up his mouth, turned on the torch and the torch lit up the smoke! That was it!

Q: There was a whacking great big sound effect.

A big bang, that's it, and off you go, shot done! (laughs)

Q: I saw it again recently and I could not believe my eyes. I don't think that's ever been done in another film.

And then the snake in the water, that gets the audiences going as well, but the funniest one was the rats in the cage... You know what the rats were? They were dish mops! (laughs) You know, those furry dish mops!

Q: How could you keep a straight face?

We didn't! And you know the close-ups of the rats actually biting the stomach flesh. You know whose stomach that was? Margheriti's! (laughs) No one else would do it! He's got a bit of a gut! But I didn't finish telling you about this remote tourist centre where we were filming... it's got famous waterfalls, that's why everyone goes there, but it's got a darker side too. It's a very small jungle village and it's where all the old transvestites go to die. All the Filipino transvestites, and there's a lot of them in Manila. We used them to wash our socks and do our laundry and come and be extras. They were all terribly nice, and all their bras were made out of coconuts. All the Italian boys were always taking the piss and knocking on the coconuts and stuff. Real piss-taking stuff. One of the cruelest things that Margheriti has ever done was during TIGER JOE, it was the sequence where the refugees and nurses were running away from Khmer Rouge. We were going to be napalmed and bombed, so we divided into about five groups and it was like, Group One when we blow the whistle you die there and when we blow Group Two's whistle the bombs go off there and half of you escape and run this way and that way etc; it all had to be worked out and choreographed. It took almost a day setting up all the cameras. Off we went and we said the bombs are going to be this big, and we did a demo bomb so they weren't too scared, well most of the nurses were transvestites that we'd dolled up as Red Cross girls!

Q: Oh brilliant! You know we're going to go off and review all these films?! (laughs)

Every shot gets stories going behind it, because it's all made up, that's the fun of it, it's all just amateur stuff, which is where I'm from, New Zealand Amateur, you know there's nothing better to do than get together and do amateur dramatics... But you invent and this was the thing about the Italian stuff, you were always grabbing what you could to invent and so we had all these transvestites running around... So, on "Action!" off went the bomb for Group One and they all died, then number two, number three... and then the shot was over, "Cut, cut, cut!" The noise level after the cut was huge, with everyone very excited and tons of loud mad Filipino chattering, it was deafening. Margheriti was saying, OK, great, fantastic, have a break of about ten minutes and then we're going to do it one more time. And this is the cruelest part of Margheriti; he turned to me and said, now don't tell anyone, but we've put the charges up ten times! (laughter) It was going to be like the Atom Bomb going off and I said "Oh you can't, you can't, not with these poor old trannies, you'll blow their fucking ear drums out!" So when we came to "Everyone standing by!" they were all very excited again, more mad chattering because they've done it once and they're going to do it even better this time (laughs), when the first bomb went off, Group number One, not one of them died! They were all off like rockets! (laughs) Sheer pandemonium! So that was slightly malicious...

Q: I'm going to watch that scene again later on and have a bloody good laugh!

Look at TIGER JOE next time. The swollen river, that muddy swollen river was lethal, bloody dangerous, and those canoes we were in; we could have died any second and the thing about filming is you get carried away. One of the canoes did go over with the cameras and we managed to save things, and obviously we didn't die. So I eventually got to the shore with my boat crew of little Filipino guys and I saw this guy sitting on a chair. I noticed his entire skull was tattooed and I said "Oh, that's interesting", and there were lots of sheepish looks. Now, me being a dumb tourist, I was saying "Oh, how nice" you know. My instinct should have told me to shut up and look at the trees, and I found out later that this is the way in the Philippines... all the guys that were tattooed were murderers! They'd all been in for killing someone, and some of them had killed more than once, and when they were sent back into the jungle, part of the tattoo indicated their clan or their gang I suppose. The gangs kept very separate because of the drug deals and the gun-running, because a lot of that was going on under Marcos. But it was hair-raising stuff, the stories I could tell you; we were held up twice in the jungle with rifles!

Q: What, the entire crew?

Well, most of the crew had gone, but me being stupid again saying "Oh, I think I'll just stay in the jungle" (laughs) " I can be held up!" For fuck's sake... With Tisa Farrow. Tisa's got beautiful boobs and she is a magic girl... did you know she used to be a taxi driver in LA?... and she's got a glass eye; during that film she had to spy, look at the Last Hunter. There's a very important sequence where she has to look though the crack of a door, and Margheriti made her use the glass eye! (laughs) Isn't that bad, isn't that bad! I fell about! Sorry Tisa, sorry!

Q: Did you know that the shooting title for THE LAST HUNTER was THE DEER HUNTER 2?

Yeah, it was sold as that in South America, Argentina I think. My name was put as Jack Nicholson, according to the stories I've been told, I suppose if you're going to work under a pseudonym that's not a bad one! And you know, while we shooting THE LAST HUNTER, Tisa nearly got raped! Well, I'm not wanting to sound like I'm against Tisa or anything, but she flew direct from LA to the Philippines, and she came over with the Italian football team! (laughs) She had a wonderful time but after the flight she was totally exhausted. The first shot - if you look at THE LAST HUNTER, she is the reporter and we're being machine-gunned and I keep saying to her "Get down!", and I'm throwing her down and shooting over her - and she came straight from the plane to do that. I promise you she kept literally falling asleep, because you know by the time you've got the cameras and stuff set up it's just five minutes of grace and Boom! So when she had finally had some sleep she met one of the crew members and they had a really nice time together, but it was really odd because he almost sort of said to me "Is it OK if I go with the leading lady". I said "Oh, please!", now I think she's gorgeous but that's one thing I won't do on set, I've seen it go bad too many times! Anyway, one day she decided to go down to this local river for a bit of a morning dip and she came back a bit distressed, so I said "what's up", and she told me. I said, "Oh, you silly cow", because she was in fabulous shape and six guys came down to have a chat and things and it started to get a bit out of hand. She is a lovely girl...

Q: What about Bobby Rhodes?

Ah! Now Bobby Rhodes, he's an absolute sweet heart. He's an Italian black.

Q: Really? Does he speak English?

Oh, he speaks very good English. I bumped into him outside the railway station not so long ago. Great big guy.

Q: He’s massive isn't he? Looks like a killer!

He's a pussycat, he's so sweet.

Q: He’s always in Margheriti’s films... And he recently made that Western with Castellari, JONATHAN OF THE BEARS. He's dressed just in white and he’s big and powerful, on a horse, shiny black head. He looks so imposing.

Oh he's a sweet guy. He knows what to do and he's so modest, almost embarrassed all the time and quiet and gentle. He is a lovely guy, a real sweetheart. But one of the reasons I don't work in the States is because of the Tony mentality. I find them just so fucked up out there, just so staggeringly fucked up and I offend people so many times so quickly it's exhausting. I do come from the Colonies, you know that I was brought up in New Zealand so I am a Colonial but I haven't got a chip on my shoulder about it. But I think that there's this great American hang-up, that if they know or suspect you're from Europe - the font of all creativity and knowledge and talent and artistic know how - they feel that they're very second class citizens, struggling to catch up with us, who've got the quiet cool know-how. So this sets up this terrible sort of antagonism and God do I hate that! To this day they still have it. I just want to have a laugh and a good time. It's like poor old Hugh Grant, I don't know him at all but it's a pathetic scenario, I mean so fucking what?! It's a real American media circus and then you've got O.J. Simpson on the other channel for heaven's sake!

Q: With films like THE LAST HUNTER, how long does a movie like that take to make? I mean you're in virtually every shot. How many weeks were you out there?

I think it was about five, six weeks or something.

Q: Is that all?

Yeah, well most films take about six weeks now, unless of course you're doing big special effects films like JUDGE DREDD or something.

Q: You worked with Massimo Vanni on that movie as well, the guy that gets the coconut out of the tree... the one who has to run the gauntlet sort of thing, you know, you're all in the cave and John Steiner says, "Bennett get me that coconut!”

Yes, yes that's right, oh yes, good looking guy, oh yes. We shot that sequence on the beach in Rome!

Q: But there are palm trees everywhere!

Yeah, there a little bamboo grove. Well that's the magic of film really, and all that cutting around, it's wonderful, and these caves and big gods and things, well the Pope has a Summer residence up in a volcano behind Rome; the Pope's palace on a big lake, and opposite the Pope's palace are these caves and I don't know how many films I've shot in these caves, I forget what they're called...

Q: You also worked with Alan Collins.

Now, Alan Collins, he's magical.

Q: He’s Antonio's good luck charm it seems, he's in everything.

We've done a lot of things together and he is the sweetest guy. I'll tell you why Margheriti brings him along on all of his films; I've often made the joke about Italian movies that really the reason for them is to go and have an Italian picnic and take a camera along with a bit of film. (laughs) You see Alan's job is, he's got his own spaghetti maker and he knows how to make pasta and whatever kitchen of whatever grotty hotel we go to, Alan's job is to make these pasta feasts. The Italians - and I really do miss this - in the middle of the jungle, will still insist on having a really good pasta blow-out, and Alan is always managing to cook up something really good... Anyway, I just remembered I was going to tell you about Margheriti and the railway line! That's what I was going to tell you before I started jumping all over the place!... It sums up the Italian film industry, what it's all about... When we were making THE LAST HUNTER yeah, well we found this old railway siding. This railway hadn't been used for a hundred years, it was a bit rusty and stuff, so Margheriti himself got all the paint and actually painted it all silver on the strips so at night time you could see the track! Isn't that magic?!...

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