July 2017 | by Carl Marsh
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You are an actor, a screenwriter, a director, a producer and a jazz vocalist, where does your heart really lie if you had to choose one of them?
Well the music… the music… the singing is where I am able to use all of myself. I love all of the art forms but for me the music where you are singing in front of an audience with a band and you are communicating and using the totality of who you are, and not just a section of who you are in terms of a character if you are playing a character. The immediacy of that experience, the communication and the communion that you have with an audience, it’s just so satisfying to have 5,000 people in Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Hungary, Australia, China, Italy, the USA, and to see the response from around the world. There is a transformative power of music that just generates from person to person, so I would say that is why I say the music.
Is that why you and Luke Goss get on so well then because he started off with music and then went into acting, so for yourself, were you the same with the singing before you got into acting?
It was concurrently as I was doing the singing and the acting at the same time. I was winning awards for both and I think that whatever it is that gives you the ability to act or to sing or to perform and play music, there is another layer of our friendship that is transmutable beyond the physical, if you know what I mean, it’s another common ground, its that artistic sensibility.
Was that one of the reasons why you got the role in The Goonies because of your ability to sing as the character you played sang operatic songs to his brother, was that all in the script?
No! That wasn't anywhere near part of the script! It was an improv that I said to Richard Donner and Stephen Spielberg, I said I’d like to make this character a frustrated opera singer and the only person that who listens to him is his brother in the basement called Sloth when he feeds him. The way that scene was originally written was very sadistic when I brought the food to him, and taunted him with the food by keeping it out of reach and taking it away. I said that it was kind of heartless but what if I bring him the food but I sing, and he listens to me, and if he listens to me well, he gets the food but he doesn’t listen, just like Mama and Francis. It was all improvised and that was the theme that we kept throughout the whole film.
That’s interesting to hear as that opera singing scene was probably the most memorable from that movie. I know improvisation is one of the best things in a movie and to hear you did that with that character in The Goonies, then that is fantastic.
Thank you, that was all my thinking as I thought how does one in such an iconic film, with all those kids and with you putting yourself in the genre, and here being a pirate ship and treasure hunting, and you are all big kids with dreams. And Jakes dream was to be this singer but he was a counterfeiter. It’s almost like me as an actor where the sustenance was the acting but my art form was the singing.
Is it rare for a film or TV script to really impress you now that you’ve been doing it for so long?
Good work always gets good work. You will always find some great pieces in films but because my focus has been wanting to express through the music. Most of the genres, and most of the stuff you kind of say to yourself that I’ve been there and I’ve done that in some form or another and so you look for something that is unique and different for a character for me to play, so yes, I am looking for that and even if it is not a huge part but there is just something in there that I can respond to. I’ve done the TV series thing where all the shows are basically the same beat over and over again but where they just mix it up a little bit.
Yeah, I know what you mean and it was something I was going to ask you about as you have been in probably every single US TV show of the last 40 years but do you still get a kick out of the TV shows or do you prefer the movies, even though I know you have already told me about the music?
Well if it’s a good show and there is the right exposure but I’ve noticed though, and this is my own personal taste, some of it has gotten exquisite whilst some of it has become mundane and very pedestrian. I did a show called Profilers back in 1996 to 2000 which was a hit show for NBC, we created what the crime drama is today if you know what I mean, back then we were the forerunner of these shows, and I don't want to mention any of these shows that are on the air today but we were the first one to use a certain style and how they were approached. I watched a show the other day that was just so formulaic and the acting was substandard but some of these shows are very good and can be groundbreaking and very interesting.
You have also directed movies, so are you equally as fulfilled or not?
I have a book I have optioned and I’m planing on working on the script and maybe directing that but when I directed The Dukes, that took me a while to get up and running due to the nature of it and with the other things you have going on but directing is another aspect of being able to ‘open the book’ so to speak of who you are and express more fully than just being a part of a film where you are playing a certain character, and I like the auteur aspect of film making where you are able to make a personal statement and point of view, I enjoy that process.
What other projects have you got coming out in the next 12 months?
There are a bunch of projects that I’ve got coming out but firstly I will be touring Europe with my music in October as I’ve got a load of shows in places like Armenia, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania. I’ve got a film comedy coming out called Deported which is with a load of social influences such as these kids that are big on Instagram. I’ve got another comedy film called Bachelor Lions. There is also Davi’s Way which is a documentary that Leonardo Di Caprio’s company helped produce, it’s about me preparing a 100 year birthday tribute to Frank Sinatra by putting on a concert to honour him, with the hope of it being at Madison Square Garden to recreate that main event that he did in the 1970’s. It’s a cross between Curb Your Enthusiasm and This Is Spinal Tap! That will be out in October/November time, and that’s very funny. I then haveYour Move which I am very excited about that Luke Goss directed. It’s his directorial debut and I play a Mexican detective and I’ve seen some of the film and all I can say is that it’s his eye, it’s his sense of framing, and the storytelling is just absolutely astounding and I’m very excited about that as it’s a different character than that I’ve played before, so that’s exciting. Then there is this film called The Mob Priest that we are going to be shooting in August and September, and again with Luke Goss but with both of us just acting in it. I am very excited about that as it is a very unique story as it is a gangster film mixed in with this religious accent.
I know about The Mob Priest as I have spoken to the director Gavin Rapp about it who tells me your character has got stigmata!
Yes the character has got the stigmata and he is a monsignor and he has sworn allegiance to protect humanity by whatever means necessary. He is a decorated and battle hardened war-time Priest who served in Vietnam. Currently he is the leader of the Stigmata Seven who travel the world being involved in secret activities for the Catholic Church, to maintain the balance of power between good and evil.
It sounds like a good role to be honest and also a good film, one that I am looking forward to watching.
Yes it is. I am a big supporter of Padre Pio who himself was born with stigmata, and I am also part of the Saint Pio Foundation, recently going to Italy and his birth place in Pietrelcina and also his resting place of where his remains now lie. I was cured by him when I was a young boy of 16 so it was very interesting to play a priest that has stigmata.
Are you still able to take risks with some of the roles you play in the bigger budgeted films over those in the smaller budgeted ones?
I think you can take risks anywhere depending on who is directing and the people involved, whether that be a independent smaller production or mainstream larger one. That’s inherent in the project overall, the philosophy of those that are involved in the project. Marlon Brando was a friend of mine and he was brilliant at it. Richard Donner tells a brilliant story where in Superman Brando wanted to have this thing around his character Jor-El which was like this ring like you get around Saturn. This green glowing thing. It was funny because Brando was perhaps half-joking with them but he was also this guy that always had at the forefront of his imagination thought about the way it had never been done before, that how he would approach parts and roles, the way it’s never been done before.
You say that but let’s say for example when you did The Expendables 3 movie, there were so many faces in that film, were you allowed much freedom with your role in that?
Well first off, my part and what they used of it, that was cut down. My son is a huge fan of Sly Stallone and of the Expendables films and Sly and I have been friends for many many years and he actually wanted me to do Rambo 2. I was signed up to do Rambo 2 and The Goonies came along and I had told my agent that Spielberg and Donner wanted to meet me about The Goonies. My agent just said that I could do both of them in that I could fly back and forth, as they do this all the time, so I took the meeting, and after the meeting they wanted me to appear in The Goonies and I just needed to now work out the dates with the Rambo people. As I was trying to work out the dates with the Rambo people, nobody was getting back to us and then one day my agent calls up and says “Hey, you were released from Rambo 2”. I told him that this was not what I wanted but he said that he had done this 6 month deal with The Goonies film and the Rambo 2 deal was only for a month but I still would have had time to do both. I could have worked something out but what happened in the interim was that I was trying to reach Sly to tell him that my first responsibility was to Rambo 2 as that is what I was hired for first and I was never able to reach him, then I get released from Rambo. So then for a couple of years there was a bit of a misunderstanding from that point of view because he had never gotten then messages from me saying that this is what I wanted to do. We finally buried the hatchet on his 40th birthday and he asked me to do Rambo 3 with me playing an Afghan rebel leader. So I started to learn Pashtu, got the accent and got into shape but it didn't work out for whatever reason but because I had prepared for something of that nature, I got this other film called Terrorist on Trial: The United States vs. Salim Ajami. By doing that piece, Cubby Broccoli was asked to watch it by one of his friends who told him that this guy was his next James Bond villain, referring to me! They called me in the next day and said you are going to be the next Bond villain in Licence to Kill. So I am kind of lucky to have been in one of most iconic and successful series of films of all time in what is James Bond by playing a Bond villain.
You were also in Die Hard though, the original and best action film, you can’t get any bigger than that film.
Yeah, everyone looks at Die Hard as one of the top action genres that everyone tries to recreate. The thing is though, as is Bond, over the years, I can’t testify enough as I would be on set and producers would be watching the Bond sequences of all the Bond films so as to reference them on set! It was very interesting. This is the big producers and the big directors that closely watched them. I was with them! As a matter of fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dear old mother when I was in Licence to Kill she said to Arnold “Why don't you do films like Robert Davi?” referring to the Bond films, and this was at a time when he was doing Predator and Terminator! He told me this one day and I thought it was funny.
I bet you have never replicated any filming experience than that you experienced during and after the Bond film?
Even after filming, I got to spend 4 and a half months travelling around the world promoting the film, it was a real family experience with Cubby Broccoli and the rest of the cast and crew. Timothy Dalton was wonderful, he is not ego-bound, he is just a great person and was/is a great friend.
Are you still highly ambitious, or are you happy with where you are?
Well if you see the documentary Davi’s Way you will see that I am very dissatisfied, I don't feel I have accomplished anything.
Seriously. And people say to me are you crazy but that’s just how I feel. Carl, I feel unfulfilled and still maybe that’s a good thing. There is a burning furnace of, let’s say as the Bard says “a vaulting ambition”.
Occupation: Actor / Musician
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