Monday, January 26, 2015

John Lithgow – On the set of 2010

John Lithgow is a Broadway actor who has achieved star status on the silver screen. Equally at home in front of an audience as well as in front of the camera, he is thrilled to be a part of the 2001 legacy.

John Lithgow may have been born into circumstances that made his acting career more or less an inevitability, but it did not really pan out that way. Not at first anyway. Even though he was immersed in the world of the stage from a very young age, he could never envision himself choosing that career.

Born 1945 in Rochester, New York, to actress Sarah Jane, and Arthur Washington Lithgow III, who was both a theatrical producer and director. John's father was born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, where the Anglo-American Lithgow family had lived for several generations.

His father founded and managed theaters and Shakespeare festivals, so John and his family moved frequently. Not until he was 16, and his father got a permanent position as head of the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, did the family settle down.

John Lithgow anno 1962.
But for John, however, the theater was still not a career option. Partly because he resisted the family tradition, ever since he was a kid he wanted to be a painter and a print maker. He won a scholarship to Harvard University, and in his own words "fell into the theater gang". After Harvard John was off to London on a Fulbright scholarship. After he returned, he put his training to the fullest use, and subsequently received a Tony Award in 1973 for The Changing Room, and got a second nomination for Requiem for a Heavyweight. But despite the awards all was not well, and in the mid 1970s, he and his wife divorced. In 1982, however, his life started in a new direction: the movies. He received an Academy Award nomination in 1982 for his portrayal of Roberta Muldoon in The World according to Garp. A second Oscar nomination followed in 1983 for Terms of Endearment.

On the set

John Lithgow sat down during shooting to talk about his involvement in 2010.

Lithgow has an extensive background in stage work and is an experienced theater actor. He mentions how different, however, acting for the camera and acting for the audience can be. “Movie directors tend not to direct you much at all,” he says. “They're much more into staging and the camerawork.”

While it certainly is true that movie directors are more involved in the production as a whole, Lithgow seems to be of the opinion that a lot of the responsibility of the acting is placed squarely on the shoulders of the actors. “More often than not, you arrive, and you’re expected to start acting immediately,” Lithgow observes. “The director hardly has a word to say to you. You’d be amazed. Some of them are very candid about it. Peter [Hyams] said, ‘Boy, these guys who direct plays, and they have four weeks of rehearsal? I wouldn’t know what to do.’ And he doesn’t.”

According to Lithgow, movies are mostly made with little to no acting preparation. “You arrive, the camera rolls, and you start acting,” he says. “It’s as simple as that.”

There are, however, perks in the movie-making world that are simply not available to a stage actor. One such thing is the machinery used to shoot the scenes that require the actors to be weightless. Lithgow fell in love with the machine immediately.

“This guy, Bob Harmon, this English flying wizard,” says a smiling Lithgow, “he has worked out this amazing system. It takes three men to fly one: one to move you this way [moves hand horizontally], one to move you this way [moves hand vertically], and one to move you this way [spins hand]. And then you move yourself every other way just by shifting your weight. You're spun around, and twisted and turned.”

Lithgow found the experience of weightlessness exhilirating. “I just loved it, traveling about twenty miles an hour across the soundstage!”

Walter Curnow (John Lithgow), floating in space.

“I just loved it,” he says. “It was like the ultimate amusement park ride.” At some point during shooting it appears Lithgow was perhaps enjoying his flights across the soundstage a little bit too much. “Yes, they kept telling me, 'John, just calm down up there! Astronauts in space don't clown around!' [laughs]”

The production of  2010 is MGM’s largest production of 1984, and besides being impressive, the sets have an effect on all the participants, including of course the actors.

“Acting in the film,” Lithgow explains, “is really being a small part of an enormous, technological wonder. I mean, just look at all these sets, and all this machinery around us! I’ve never been a part of anything like this. It sort of dwarfs the day-by-day challenge of acting it, you know? [laughs]”

Ultimately, regardless of the setting the nature of the acting craft is not that different, Lithgow notes. “Of course,” he says, “when you come down to it you have to be there, you have to provide a character – the characters and the story is what it’s all about – but you do feel slightly dwarfed by the magnitude of the project.”


One of the plot devices in the film, as well as in the book that serves as foundation for the script, is the co-operation – or lack of it – between the Russian scientists and the American scientists in the Russian-American crew on their way to the Jupiter system in the spaceship Leonov. The plot presented new challenges for movie director and producer Peter Hyams.

Lithgow explains. “Well, the plot of the film, involving a Russian-American voyage, Peter has gone and geared up these marvellous Russian actors,” says Lithgow. “This guy who plays Max, the person who becomes an instant friend of Curnow's, we become instant friends!”

Lithgow and Russian actor Elya Baskin, who plays Soviet engineer Maxim Brailovsky, struck up a quick friendship during the shooting of the film.

“Elya [Baskin] and I, we sit around, and he teaches me how to say 'cow', and 'horse' and 'cat' in Russian,” muses a visibly entertained Lithgow.

“I'm taking advantage of this situation,” interjects Baskin. “I never teach him dirty words.”

“You see,” laughs Lithgow. “The two of us represent detente in this movie!”

The plot of the film, as a continuation of the plot in the first one, involves extraterrestrial intelligence, manifest most dramatically in the mysterious monolith. Whether humans will ever make contact with alien intelligence is something that will by necessity remain in the realm of philosophy and metaphysics. Never the less, all involved in the making of the film have their own thoughts regarding the topic.

“I certainly think there's a chance of different forms of life existing out there,” Lithgow philosophizes. “I certainly hope so.”

Images copyright ©1962-1984 Princeton High School and MGM.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Space Wars

Or how Steven Spielberg almost ended up directing 2010, and how MGM-UA had to invoke legal action to outfox their rival. Averting space war occurs - it seems - in courts.

Close Contact.

Before Arthur C. Clarke's book 2010: Odyssey Two was even published, the major movie studios in Hollywood were already jockeying for position regarding the rights to the title.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, then rather recently combined with United Artists, were - according to the Hollywood magazine - expected to hand over a rather hefty and very handsome seven-figure sum to the semi-failed-recluse author for the screen rights.

As late as November of 1982 - and all throughout the very tail end of the year - the erstwhile MGM, now MGM-UA, were adamant: they were to be the producer, and none other than Stanley Kubrick was to occupy the director's seat.

After a lunch meeting with author Clarke and Clarke's lawyer Lou Blau, MGM-UA studio president Freddie Fields went as far as stating that anything else would simply be impossible, and "that anyone who buys the second book has to deal with 'em [Kubrick and MGM]".

"We're joined at the hip to Kubrick," he said, "we can't make the movie without him, he can't make it without us." He mentioned that "such a deal was made at the time Metro bought the rights to [Clarke's 2001] A Space Odyssey."

That is what MGM thought.

21st Century Fox

Producer Julia Phillips.
Meanwhile 20th Century-Fox had other ideas. Knowing full well that MGM had become, in the words of MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian, "primarily a hotel company", Fox proceeded to place a bid for the screen rights to Clarke's representative Scott Meredith. Manager Sherry Lansing's last executive decision as production president at Fox was to announce the production of the "film version" of 2010: Odyssey Two. This revelation was met with slightly reserved though somewhat enthusiastic nods of approval since it was widely known in the business that MGM studios were in dire financial straits at the time.

Producer for the movie, Lansing said, was to be Julia Phillips - the Oscar-winning producer behind The StingTaxi Driver and the Steven Spielberg-directed movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind - who had recently been hired on a two-year, five-movie contract by 20th Century-Fox. Phillips had been hired by none other than Lansing herself, who called the sequel "an auspicious beginning" of the Phillips-Fox deal. The movie was likely to be "a big budget production," Phillips said. She also said Fox would be in no hurry to make the movie. "Effects have to be developed and that takes a long time. I don't mind waiting. Close Encounters took four years to make," she reminded.

Originally MGM and Stanley Kubrick had "first film" rights to any possible sequel(s) to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but according to information from Twentieth Century-Fox the strapped-for-cash movie studio MGM had "passed on the costly project", and that Twentieth Century-Fox were simply bidding for the screen rights in the absence of any other serious contenders.

Like clockwork, in Mid-December of 1982, the Hollywood trade paper Variety reported on its front page that Twentieth Century-Fox would produce the "sequel to 2001". The article in the paper stated that Julia Phillips had left MGM and been hired by Fox to produce five movies, the first of which was to the "sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey".

Exciting news in and of itself, but nothing extraordinarily uncommon. No-one in the industry thought anything strange of it, but rather saw it as 'business as usual'.

Until Freddie Fields heard the news, that is.

Fields of Honour

Producer Freddie Fields.
Upon hearing Twentieth Century-Fox's disclosure, production chief Fields erupted in volcanic fashion. "We are shocked over the blatant publicity ploy perpetrated by Miss Phillips," the former boxer thundered. "It is astonishing that either Fox or Miss Phillips believe that they have acquired the rights to 2010: Odyssey Two from Arthur C. Clarke since Mr. Clarke and his representatives are fully aware of the fact that by written agreement those rights are clearly owned by MGM/UA and Stanley Kubrick's Polaris Productions."

Surely not a communique you would want to be at the receiving end of.

But Fields wasn't done with Fox yet, and especially not with Phillips. He sent out a fuming public bulletin all over Hollywood but addressed directly to her, stating in no uncertain terms MGM "intends to take all actions necessary to protect its clearly established rights with regard to a proposed production by Miss Phillips and Fox of the sequel to MGM's hit 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey" and any possible sequels and spin-offs. Fields said his company "has no intention of refusing the chance to zoom into production with 2010."

20th Century-Fox and Phillips had foreseen this reaction and took the proclamation in stride, and responded publicly later the same day with a carefully worded prepared statement, read by producer Phillips herself.

"A cornerstone of my career has been my integrity, and I've never done business by 'publicity ploys' in my life," she said. "Twentieth Century-Fox and I were both assured repeatedly by Clarke and Clarke's representative Scott Meredith that these rights are free and clear. A sizeable offer has been made and accepted, and we have absolutely no reason to believe that the situation has changed in any way. We have no further comments at this time." She had also previously stated MGM "did nothing to acquire the project".

It was there, in a dubious legal wasteland, that the matter was left to languish for the remainder of the year.

Legal Limbo

During the next months a multitude of incompatible reports and strange news tidbits would trickle down to the press and subsequently be found in the Hollywood newspapers and magazines. Both MGM and Fox published information that they were 'the studio which was going to produce the movie, and that's final'.

Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford visiting Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka. 

Meanwhile Steven Spielberg himself was meeting with 2001 sequel author Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka in January of 1983. His official business was to do location work for his own sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Seemingly there were other items on his agenda, as well. At least that was the talk of Tinsel Town.

Perhaps in response to the rumors, in mid-January MGM production manager Freddie Fields made another announcement which was published in the Hollywood magazine in February. "The entire situation is straightened out," he said. "The film won't be made at Fox. We're making it here. The property was always ours. It still is." He also said the rights to the sequel were always acknowledged by MGM, most recently in 1981. "We therefore take exception to Miss Phillips' comments that MGM did nothing to acquire the project," he said.

Unperturbed, Fox proceeded to maintain they were still in the game. By this time it had become apparent that Kubrick was not interested in directing any sequel, regardless of who would produce it. However insiders in Hollywood were already talking about Spielberg's personal interest in directing the film. This seemed a fitting match, since Spielberg was already by then a director associated with sci-fi and fantastic tales. Further, in such a case the sequel would again unite Spielberg and Phillips who lastly produced Close Encounters of the Third Kind together, merely five years prior. This factoid was again met with reserved nods of approval.

By now it appeared the scale was tilting in favor of Fox. The only thing left for MGM-UA to do, it appeared, was to call in the lawyers.


Among those following the case it was assumed it would linger in court for a long time, and that it would be another drawn out affair like the USA vs. Paramount case, especially considering the property hailed from the halcyon past known as the 60s. In a surprisingly quick decision, however, the screen rights were awarded - or rather acknowledged to be the property of - MGM. With a stroke of the judge's gavel Fox, Phillips, and Spielberg were out of the game. Just like that.

2010 plus 1

Actually, the case never even proceeded to the bench. After consulting the fine print in the ancient documents, the lawyers agreed: MGM executive Frank Yablans now had total ownership of the movie rights.

In the aftermath, the parties involved were predictably both elated the debacle was over and filled with a sense of 'I-knew-it-all-along' verve.

"Fox never had a chance," MGM production chief Fields mused. "That announcement was like a joke."

Clarke's representative Scott Meredith was also very non-apologetic, and gave off the impression the entire thing was only a big misunderstanding. A befuddlement. A faux-pas. He said that Fox had simply "jumped the gun" and that Clarke's "preference had been MGM-UA all along, because they made 2001". So no hard feelings, right?

"My only question to Freddie was 'Can you [afford] a $50-million picture?", the reclusive author's agent said. "He said he could."

"I am sorry, I'm afraid I cannot let you phone home."

After all of the announcements and bids and legal wranglings had transpired we ended up with the movie we have today. The events do raise some rather interesting ruminations, though. Some might even offer considerable pause for thought.

Such as what would 2010 have looked like, had it been produced by Fox? Moreover, how would a director like Steven Spielberg have handled the source material? We know how he handled alien contact in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and we know how he pictured extra-terrestrials in E.T., but how would he have fared with the legacy of 2001?

E.T. made contact, after all.

Images ©1979-2004 Fox Entertainment, ©1983 Arthur C Clarke Foundation, ©2015 Odyssey Archive.

Monday, January 12, 2015


In the Odyssey Universe, SAL-9000 is the "twin" of HAL-9000. But what of the other members of the family?

Designed by computer scientist Dr. Chandra, SAL-9000 is considered the virtual "twin" of HAL-9000, and both computers are evidently from the same 9000 Series.

SAL-9000 mug shot.

HAL is unquestionably male, and is often referred to as "he". SAL, on the other hand, is certainly a "she", and to emphasize the difference even has the red and blue colors reversed. Both in the novel 2010 and the movie 2010 SAL has, of course, a female voice (in the movie voiced by Candice Bergen, credited as Olga Mallsnerd, perhaps the worst kept secret of the film). However, in the novel SAL has a somewhat peculiar Hindu accent, which the machine is mentioned to have picked up from Dr. Chandra himself.

In contrast with the movie, in the novel Dr. Chandra is still Dr. Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai. In the movie he is simply Dr. R. Chandra. The novel's Chandra is of Indian extraction, and thus his accent has had an influence on SAL's own accent, making the computer change it's vocalizations accordingly. In the movie Chandra is so totally not Indian.

While SAL does not have nearly the same presence as her brother HAL has, the computer's role and participation in the events must be seen as rather important. Pivotal, in fact.

Before the rescue mission to the Jupiter system commences Dr. Chandra uses SAL as a test bed, disconnecting and re-connecting the higher cognitive functions of the computer in order to establish what, if any, damages might occur when doing so. This was done by Chandra in order to copy the actions of Dave Bowman, and to learn how to successfully re-connect the higher functions. It is obvious he managed to re-connect SAL successfully, based on his subsequent triumphs with the "twin" HAL.

Will I dream?

HAL has two birthdays, half a decade apart. In the novel HAL is activated at the HAL Plant in Urbana, Illinois, January 12, 1997.

A sunday.

In the film, however, HAL's "birthday" is January 12, 1992.

Also a sunday.

In the real world, the date was presumably changed to 1992 when Douglas Rain was recording the voice for HAL. Notes suggest audiences may have thought 1997 - as it is in the novel and the script - to be "too far" in the future, and the year was changed, by Kubrick himself, to 1992 during the recording. There are a couple of issues to be addressed regarding this. Having an activation date in 1992 would make HAL 9 years old at the time of the first Discovery mission. Sending a 9-year-old system into space does not seem reasonable. An activation date in 1997 makes HAL only 4 years old, which is a much more reasonable central Operating System age for such an important mission.

SAL-9000 looking
as good as possible.
Presumably SAL - being the "twin" of HAL - shares the same birthday. This makes SAL either 18 years old - or 13 years old at a minimum - in the year 2010. How many 9000 Series units exist is never disclosed. During the first Discovery mission in 2001 Mission Command analyzed the data regarding HAL's fault prediction of the AE-35 unit using "both our own nine-triple-zeros", which obviously means Mission Command at Houston had two 9000 Series units at their disposal. When HAL is disconnected by David Bowman the computer discloses that it is "HAL Nine Thousand computer Production Number 3". While it would lie close at hand to assume production number 1 and 2 would be the HAL units at Mission Command, nothing in the novel states so.

It is reasonable to assume SAL was used by Dr. Chandra only, and his exchanges with the unit indicate he can interact with the machine in ways that no-one else can. Such operations would hardly be possible if the machine was housed elsewhere. It is thusly fairly reasonable to assume SAL has at least three "siblings", HAL being one of them. A sensible assumption is that there were three HAL-9000 units made in succession at the Urbana HAL plant, the first two being used at Houston and the third being placed on the Discovery, and that a fourth unit - the experimental SAL-9000 - was created at the same time by Dr. Chandra for his own use. It is not known whether the other units in the 9000 Series were also designated HAL, though the series itself is designated "the HAL-9000 series".

Arthur C. Clarke never disclosed what SAL stands for. HAL stands for Heuristic Algorithm, but there are not many concepts within AI research that could be the immediate explanation for the "S" in SAL. The only serious contender is Systematic Algorithm, based on Shelly Chaiken's Heuristic-Systematic Model of Information Processing, or HSM for short. It should perhaps be mentioned HSM was popular during the time Clarke wrote 2010: Odyssey Two.

To make the matter even more mysterious, Clarke later revealed that the name HAL was not even his idea. "It wasn't me," he said in an interview in 2002, "it was Stanley!" Clarke was given no explanation by Kubrick as to why the computer was now named HAL, and he had to come up with a reasonable explanation for the name. "Don't ask me when he changed it to HAL," Clarke said. "I've been apologizing to all my Harold friends ever since."

It seems Kubrick chose the name HAL merely because he liked it, without any thought as to what it might mean. Keeping this in mind it is rather warranted to suppose Clarke did the same with the name SAL.

Doctor Who?

PAL-9000 doing what he does gladly.
In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL's first instructor was Dr. Langley, in the novel the first instructor was none other than Dr. Chandra. The inconsistency has been explained in various ways. One explanation states in no uncertain terms that the doctors are, in fact, the same person, without offering any further motivation as to why. Another explanation states that HAL was, in fact, activated twice: once in 1992 and the second time exactly 5 years later in preparation for the Discovery mission. For this second activation programming accuracy was obviously paramount, therefore HAL's designer himself was called in to do the final programming quality control.

Yet a third explanation makes the issue disappear in a puff of irrelevancy by quoting Kubrick: "who cares?"

As an aside, when Hyams and Clarke set up their intercontinental link-up to discuss pre-production of the 2010 movie, they designated their system the only possible name: PAL.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Douglas Rain - The Immortal Voice

The man behind the voice - by which every malevolent piece of self-aware machinery will be for ever measured - is, perhaps not surprisingly, utterly unlike any of the Hals he has played.

Rain at Stratford in 1968.
Born in 1928 in Winnipeg, Canada, Douglas James Rain is a classically trained actor and director, and he was for a long time 'a regular' at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival at Ontario. Aside from being a successful theatre actor, performing all the classics from Shakespeare to Molière, he is noted for his melodic tenor voice and his "elegant perfection". Having had his first encounter with radio acting at the ripe old age of 8, Rain soon found himself studying the stage arts at the then newly reopened Old Vic in London under the tutelage of legendary French theatre actor Michel Saint-Denis, and after returning to Canada working with legends such as Alec Guiness. Venturing forth to become an accomplished and acclaimed stage actor with more than 100 plays on his resumé - and appearances in over 50 TV series and television movies - he has lent his voice to several Academy Award -winning movies. While he has never played a character role in a cinema film, he has one of the most well-known movie lines to his name: "I am sorry, Dave, I am afraid I cannot do that".


Barry Morse, the English Canadian actor who worked for both BBC and CBC remembers Mr. Rain from his early years in CBC's radio theatre. "Dougie Rain has had a great career in Canadian television and theatre," remembers Morse. "But well before that, he worked with us in radio and was one of the youngest in that group of 'repertory' actors. He went on to become quite famous as one of the leading actors in the Shakespeare Company at Stratford, Ontario and also played at the Shaw Festival in Niagara in more recent years." Rain remembers the early years at CBC, as well. His diminutive stature required some arrangements to be made at the studio in order for him to record his performances, but finally they found the right tool for the job. "With the aid," he remembers, "of one of those awful, wooden crates that I had to stand on in order to be in striking distance of the microphone."

"Shakespeare is of course more demanding." - Douglas Rain

Rain 1946.
Right from his earliest years Douglas Rain was destined for the stage. A member of the Winnipeg Sea Cadets, the John Holden Players (previously known as Good Companions), the Good Neighbors' Club, and appearing quite regularly at the Sunshine Revue, Rain - "a little boy with a grown-up manner of self-possession" - was rather well known as a "boy elocutionist / monologist" in Winnipeg by the time has was 13 years old. After graduating from Kelvin High School in 1946 he enrolled at the University of Manitoba, and joined the University of Manitoba Dramatic Society. He also studied acting in Alberta, at the Banff Centre for Continuing Education - before 1970 known as the Banff School of Fine Arts - and received a grant to study abroad. The grant led to a scholarship in 1950 at the Old Vic Theatre School in London for an 'intensive two-year course'.

When the time came for him to focus on acting as a profession Canadian theatre seemed a very closed circuit, and was to some extent semi-amateurish. "I hoped to do something about my craft," he says. To pursue his acting ambitions, Rain had to look for opportunities elsewhere, and the Old Vic in London was precisely the opportunity he was looking for. After graduating from the University of Manitoba his eyes were set on the Big Smoke on the Thames. "When I left Canada in 1950," he says, "there was nothing here."

John Colico, Barry Morse,
and Douglas Rain at the radio.
While he did not initially plan on ever rebounding to Canada, his stay in London did not turn out to be an easy ride. "It was two years' hard work," he says. "The Old Vic wasn't in the best shape then." The two years were a difficult time for the aspiring actor. "I was very depressed by the stagnant atmosphere which pervaded the school," he said, "and all of the English theatre. I felt that England had lost all feeling of the true essence of theatre - perhaps as much as 200 years before - and I was almost ready to leave the theatre altogether." Rain did his best, and managed to soldier on for two years. "But then in 1953 the situation at the Old Vic became appalling, and I was prompted to return by Guthrie's proposed theatre at Stratford, Ontario."

He returned to Canada in 1953 and became one of the founding members of the Stratford Festival Company, spearheaded by a very ambitious director: Tyrone Guthrie. "Guthrie was a theatrical man," Rain remembers. "He couldn't put on a production of Mary Had a Little Lamb without it being the most dynamically theatrical thing you've ever seen."

Canadian theatre has progressed a lot since those early days, and now Rain holds French-Canadians to be among the best audiences to perform for. "With them," he says, "good theatre is as much a family affair as going to church."


Rain in As You Like It, 1959.
On a perhaps unrelated note Rain is not the only Stratford Shakespeare Festival Company alumni to become part of the Odyssey Sequence: William Sylvester - who played Heywood Floyd in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey - and Rain were both part of the company and were presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on July 2, 1959, when the royal couple attended As You Like It. Completely unrelated is the fact that another Canadian science-fiction heavyweight was also part of the Company: USS Enterprise captain Kirk, William Shatner.

Coincidences were seemingly the norm around Kubrick.

The Second HAL

We can read in Arthur C. Clarke's fascinating The Lost Worlds of 2001 that HAL 9000 was initially conceived as a mobile robot. However, Kubrick rightly suspected having HAL roam the space ship at will would mercilessly date both the computer and the movie, thus the ever-present, immobile red eye was chosen instead. This, however, only settled the visual aspect of HAL. The voice was still an unresolved problem. The first drafts of the ship's computer had no HAL at all, instead the central computer was to be named Athena, after the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, and was to have a female voice. This was not to be, and HAL soon got his name and imaginary gender. Due to an unrelated sequence of events, Gary Lockwood's wife Stephanie Powers may technically have been the first HAL, since she rehearsed the lines in the script with Lockwood, who was the first of the astronauts to have his scenes shot. Without having settled on a voice, principal shooting nevertheless began. For the shots with Keir Dullea assistant director Derek Cracknell supplied the lines of HAL. According to Dullea "it was like working with Michael Caine". For Gary Lockwood's scenes, Kubrick himself supplied a lot of the lines. As a result, no one in the studio ever heard HAL's voice.

Douglas Rain with
Maggie Smith in Macbeth.
When Kubrick was looking for the voice of HAL in post-production both actors Nigel Davenport and Martin Balsam tried and failed. "I am not actually seen in the picture at any time," Balsam said, "but I sure create a lot of excitement projecting my voice through that machine. And I'm getting an Academy Award winner price for doing it, too." This was not to be, and before long Rain was hired to record the lines. "I was originally employed," he says, "to do the narration. Stanley had seen the National Film Board movie Universe." Most of the crew on 2001 were familiar with the Canadian production, made by filmmakers Colin Low and Roman Kroitor, all having seen it at the early stages of 2001's production, it being "required watching" at the insistence of Kubrick himself, who had seen the documentary "almost 100 times", "until the sprockets wore out," 2001 special effects supervisor Con Pedersen remembers. The narrator is none other than Douglas Rain.

"It was a very low-budget affair with ping pong balls," Rain later commented on Wally Gentleman's SFX for the movie, "and the sun, as I recall, was played by a tomato - actually, it came off as very impressive on the screen."

Kubrick had initially planned 2001 to be narrated, and that the narration would be supplied by Mr. Rain. "I think he's perfect," Kubrick said, "he's got just the right amount of Winston Hibbler [sic], the intelligent friend next door quality, and yet, I think, an arresting quality." But eventually Kubrick decided narration was too much, too plain. "As more film cut together," Kubrick told Clarke in November of 1967, "it became apparent narration was not needed." After finally excising the narrator altogether, he simply made Rain the voice of HAL, liking his "bland mid-Atlantic accent". The decision was entirely Kubrick's, who had become concerned with the character of the computer. "Kubrick was having," Rain says, "a problem with the computer. 'I think I made him too emotional and too human,' he said. 'I'm having trouble with what I've got in the can. Would you consider doing his voice?' So we decided on the voice of the computer."

Kubrick's notes from the recording session still remain in transcripts in his archives. With instructions such as "try it again a little quicker and more professional", "sound a little more like it's a peculiar request", "even softer and kind of in the depths", "a little more concerned", and "just try it closer and more depressed", Rain managed to create a distinct personality for HAL. According to the audio engineers present, Rain did the recordings with his bare feet resting on a pillow, in order to maintain the required relaxed tone. This added just the right amount of uncommitted anodyne to his voice, precisely the "unctuous, patronizing, neuter quality" Kubrick was looking for. "A cool, soothing voice, " Rain said. The Canadian actor was truly a consummate professional.

Tony Van Bridge and Douglas Rain cool
down after the opening night of Henry V.
The lines were recorded in one quick session at the very tail end of 1967. Rain was at the time tied up in the production of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. While working with Arms and the Man, he was at the same time rehearsing for the 1968 summer program at Stratford. To be able to do it, Rain and his recently wed wife Martha Henry commuted by light aircraft between Niagara and Stratford. "We've been led to believe," he said, "that no other Canadian actors have been able ever before to afford such luxury in commuting between two Canadian theatres."

Rain nonetheless managed to take time for what turned out to be a quite brisk New York affair. "It took a day and a half to record," says Rain. "I wrapped up my work in nine and one-half hours."

Though Rain is familiar with the metropolis, and has appeared on several stages in the Big Apple - even being nominated for a Tony Award for his New York performance in Robert Bolt's Vivat! Vivat Regina! - he has no thirst for revisiting the city. The industry part of the entertainment world has absolutely no appeal to him. "I have no desire to return to New York," he says, "which is a complete rat-race and where you are dealing with big business."

The Real Hal
"Above all, be original." - Douglas Rain

Rain as Hal. No, the other Hal.
In a roundabout way, this was not the first time Rain had played HAL. Or rather a Hal. In 1958 as part of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival Company he played Prince Henry in Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part 1. As stage play aficionados assuredly are aware, in the play Henry, the Prince of Wales is also called, you guessed it, Hal.

Obviously Rain is principally a stage actor. "It is not that I haven't wanted to do movies," he says, "it's just that I've never been approached. People seem to think that when you do classical things you can't do anything else." Even though he is a stage actor, he does not go to see plays himself. "I don't enjoy going to the theater because it is my business," he says. "I find it very difficult to disassociate myself from the techniques and become genuinely involved. The last time I was able to do so, was when I saw [Laurence] Olivier in Osborne's The Entertainer."

Equally at home with classics as well as modern plays, Rain has no particular bias one way or the other. "I have no preference between Shakespeare and modern theatre," he says. "Shakespeare is of course more demanding. You are dealing with fantastic emotional and political thought. But after doing the Bard for six months, I find that I like to do something modern." His forte is, however, the oeuvre of the Stratfordian playwright. "I don't think any playwright can beat Shakespeare," Rain says matter-of-factly. "If you can do Shakespeare," he says, "you can do anything."


Interestingly, a story appeared that Rain had provided the voice for yet another mortiferous computer in Woody Allen's 1973 science fiction comedy Sleeper. A further rather curious story is that Rain apparently even parodied himself as the broken abacus, lending his voice to HAL for a third time in a 1982 special edition of the Merv Griffin Show, adding in the words of Jeff Robbins "immense value" to an otherwise somewhat silly slapstick comedy bit with Rick Moranis playing Merv Griffin. Later it turned out that the story, though certainly interesting, is fatuous. "For those of us that know his voice well," his sons Adam and David Rain disclosed, "this is not Douglas Rain speaking but another actor doing an attempted imitation of HAL’s voice." It's hard to find people who would know a father's voice better than his own children. "We do admit," they added, "it does make a very nice story."


Rain as Shylock 1996.
His execution of the sinister apparatus has become so iconic it has inspired countless actors and actresses in their own pursuits. Sometimes the influence of Rain's handiwork stretches into territories where one would least expect to find it. Surprisingly Anthony Hopkins based his chilling dramatization of Hannibal Lecter on "HAL, the computer in 2001." Unsurprisingly Kevin Spacey did the same for his portrayal of the computer GERTY in the movie Moon.

Rain is not one to rest on prior achievements, and he does not make noise about his olden days. Other professionals in the field of stage acting know this, too. "We have never met, never spoken," says actor Keir Dullea. "Apparently, he doesn't like to talk about 2001 in interviews. He's a classical actor in Canada. This is not a quote, but I'm told that his attitude is, 'I've done Shakespeare and the classics for 50 years, and all anyone wants to talk to me about is a film that I worked on for two days'."

The Fourth HAL

For 2010, director Peter Hyams nevertheless managed to get Mr. Rain to recrudesce his portrayal of the ship's computer. After a "lengthy" search - the Screen Actors Guild and British Equity decided to be unhelpful - Rain was contacted in October 1983, and he agreed, allegedly somewhat reluctantly, to reiterate his role. When 2001 was made, HAL's dialogue was recorded last. For 2010, Hyams wanted to do it the other way around. "I wanted to record all of the HAL dialogue," he explains, "in advance of shooting." Hyams said it first took Rain a while to "get into" the voice of HAL after the 16-year pause. "It just wasn’t right at first, he was just talking like a human being," Hyams recalls. "I said to him 'Say it like you’ve been lobotomized.' When Rain spoke again as HAL, the sound recordist jumped in the air as Rain nailed it. HAL was in the room." Again the recording was a quick, two-day affair. At the end of January 1984, the Canadian actor was in and out of MGM's studios before as much as one second of shooting had been done.

Rain's return was not unmerited. As a testament to the extraordinary sway Rain's portrayal of the computer holds, preview audiences erupted in spontaneous applause when HAL's voice was heard for the first time.

Regardless, it has been said Mr. Rain has "had a not-too-pleasant association with the [2001 & 2010] film(s)". Whether this is due to events associated with the actual productions or whether it is due to the undue weight given his performances is at this point anybody's guess. By all accounts, however, Rain and Kubrick struck up a rather personal and cordial rapport during the recording of 2001. "Kubrick is a charming man," says Rain. "Most courteous to work with." However, Kubrick never showed him a single picture from the movie, and Rain conveyed all of his dialogue the way the director had written it down for him 'without knowing where it fitted in'. He recorded the voice line by line, "with Kubrick sitting four feet across from me, explaining the scenes to me, and reading all the parts", with no visual cues to work with at all.

Rain did not think all too highly of his performance. "If you could have been a ghost at the recording session," Rain recalls, "you would have thought it was a load of rubbish."

"He was a bit secretive about the film," he adds. "I never saw the finished script and I never saw a foot of the shooting." Rain, along with everyone else, saw his own work at the movie theater. "I never saw the film until after it was done," he says. "They were scared stiff of Kubrick. He had control of everything. MGM was frightened, since they hadn't been shown a foot of film."

Post HAL

Rain in 1998.

In 1998 Douglas Rain finally bid farewell to the venue that had made him famous - the Stratford Festival - by playing Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, to universal acclaim. He still had one more performance in him, however. Closing a career lasting more than half a century he took his final bow in 1999 at the Shaw Festival stage in Niagara, after performing his last role as Captain Shotover in George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House.


He has consistently refrained from repeating his HAL performance for frivolous reasons, though he is regularly asked to do so. In 1999, computer company Apple asked Rain to voice a Superbowl ad for the widely feared Y2K bug, but Rain again graciously declined the offer - as he had all previous such offers. "He was an artist," ad director Ken Segall later disparagingly huffed. "And artists don't do ads."

Douglas Rain in 2000.
He is not that enthusiastic about the business side of his craft, nor is he eager to repeat roles. It is the characters that draw him to the stage, and the true spirit of acting is not in repetition but in creation, to give life to words. "All the clues are in the text," he says, "and you must strive to illuminate it, rather than illuminating your virtuosity." Therein lays the essence of his endeavour. "Above all," he says, "be original."

A gentleman at heart, he has always politely declined requests for interviews and comments about both of the movies, and has consequently responded he is "not keen" regarding participation in such events. Having (almost) never broken his silence about the 2001 and 2010 movies, Mr. Rain prefers not to refer to his performances as HAL in any fashion.

His silence should not be taken as dismissive, however. He rarely gives interviews and has never talked about any of his other roles, either. His performance as HAL, while probably his most ubiquitous rendition, is merely one among many. Also remember that endlessly blathering about past work is a rather new phenomenon. In the great tradition of stage acting, roles are performed, not talked about.

Kubrick never talked about HAL, either.

Douglas Rain passed away November 11, 2018.

[PS: As an aside, the fact that Rain had played Hal, the Prince, before he played HAL, the CPU, has sometimes been touted as the genesis of the cracked calculator's name. This is, of course, merely lore, as is the "hearsay that will never die": the interminable "fact" that HAL was christened after IBM, or rather before, one letter removed. Myths. We like them.]

Images copyright©1956-2000 CSTC.