Monday, May 18, 2015

Keir Dullea - Man and Star-Child

Beyond the ultimate voyage, off on a time warp into the past, a veteran actor returns for another space odyssey in the year we make contact, 2010.


The twisted reality of a dream, with its blurred lines between illusion and substance and its co-mingling of past, present and future, ungulfs him as he stands in the twilight darkness of the Discovery pod bay. His familiar, sharp features are hidden by the furrowed and withered visage of a man who has lived millennia.

"I don't believe it," he whispers to himself, "I'm back."

In a few moments, actor Keir Dullea, aged by layers of skillfully crafted makeup, will become David Bowman, an astronaut doomed by a malfunctioning computer to undergo an unexplained alien regeneration and suffer an eternal existence in a mystifying netherworld.

This is novelist Arthur C. Clarke's continuing vision of our next century, captured first in director Stanley Kubrick's epic telling of 2001: A Space Odyssey and now again in the sequel, 2010, a movie produced, written and directed by Peter (Outland) Hyams. It stars Roy (Blue Thunder) Scheider, John (Buckaroo Banzai) Lithgow, Helen (Excalibur) Mirren, Bob (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) Balaban and Elya (Moscow on the Hudson) Baskin.

For Dullea, his 2010 cameo role was simultaneously a "lonely exhilaration," a "time warp to the past," and an "exciting new experience." It was also three of the strangest working days of his career.

"To walk on the set was really like stepping into a time machine," Dullea says. "It was like 18 years had never passed."

It meant once again being alone, with HAL, in the hollowness of outer space. "The most emotional scene for me was when I worked with the voice of HAL, a Canadian actor named Douglas Rain whom I have never met. We are, in a scene, taking this journey together," Dullea says. "It was a remarkable and moving experience to work with HAL's voice again. It wasn't even being filmed, it was all done off-camera. In the particular scene, I'm a totally disembodied entity. You just see the empty halls of the Discovery with these two voices bouncing off the walls."

The Star-Child

Despite the passage of nearly two decades between the films, Dullea had little trouble becoming David Bowman again.

"In the original film, the character was fairly close to myself. It wasn't like I was doing a characterization the way you would do in the theater or in some films," he recalls. "It was just a matter of being truthful and honest under slightly different circumstances."

What is the meaning of David Bowman's words in 2010,
that "something wonderful" is going to happen?

This time, he isn't so much playing a person as he is an entity. "The audience will see some remarkable visual effects on me because I change form constantly right before your eyes as I talk to Heywood Floyd [Roy Scheider]," he says. "I go through all the aging processes, shifting from fetus to old man to myself, all in one scene."

2010, Dullea believes, is a worthy companion piece to 2001. He read the book "out of curiosity" and was delighted to find "that it wasn't a copy of the first, it really was its own entity and didn't read like an excuse."

Likewise, he thinks the screen version "dovetails with 2001 very well. It has a different style and there's more plot than in 2001. It's certainly a nice attempt at answering the questions posed by 2001."

Not that he knows the answers.

"I'm as confused as everyone else," he laughs. "I tell everyone that 2001 is a giant Rorshach test. I only knew my part of the story. Stanley worked with Gary Lockwood [who played Bowman's ill-fated partner Frank Poole] and I as if we were the two astronauts. And all we needed to know was what they knew. What happened at the end is a total mystery to me. So, in terms of the ultimate, deep, philosophical meaning of 2001, my conclusions aren't any more valid than anyone else's."

He didn't start forming those conclusions until he saw the film. And he, like most moviegoers, was stunned and surprised by what he saw.

"It was a wondrous, totally new experience," he says. "I hadn't been around for any of the Dawn of Man sequence or the central part of the film with Heywood Floyd [played in 2001 by William Sylvester] going to the moon. Of course, all the special effects were added later, too, as was the voice of HAL. It was just as wondrous for me as it was for the audience."

He enjoys being the link between the two films and isn't worried about being typecast as "Mr. 2001."

"If this had only been a few years after 2001, maybe it would worry me to get involved. Look, if 2001 is going to follow me around, it will follow me around regardless of 2010. One could do worse that be identified with a classic," Dullea says. "I would be in worse shape if I, say, all people knew me from was Friday the 13th. 2001 isn't the actor's vehicle that one's ego would everyone to know you've done. But, it doesn't bother me. As a matter of fact, it was a surprise how much fun this cameo was."

"It was like being reunited with one's old friends in a weird way," he adds. "Also, the character I play has been so transformed by his experience with the aliens that what I express in the film is quite different than the concerns Bowman had in 2001. In that film, he was basically an astronaut. Now, he has been transformed and he's on such a different plane that I really had something new to play."

2010 is not a sequel in the conventional sense and, Dullea says, it's certainly not an excuse for whole string of 2001 pictures.

"The only other film I can think of that compares is Psycho II. But, the similarity lies only in the many years between original and follow-up," Dullea says. "Other than Anthony Perkins and the set, there really wasn't much in common with the original. 2010 is based on another book by Clarke, I'm back and so is HAL, and I think that gives it some legitimacy. And Peter is repeating what Kubrick did - Kubrick was also co-writer, producer and director."

People who haven't seen 2001 won't feel hopelessly lost when they go to see 2010.

"It really is a different movie, it will have a different visual appeal," Dullea explains. "The cinematography, which Peter is handling, has a totally different quality. It will look more like Alien in terms of its look than like 2001. The first film had a clean, sterile look to it. This ship will look dirty, full of recycled air. Peter is using a smoky stage which diffuses light and adds depth of field."

Keir Dullea reprises his role as David Bowman in 2010. He is seen here aboard
Discovery, looking much as he was seen at the end of 2001.

Although Dullea's career became inextricably bound to science fiction, he is not a fan of the genre. But once he was. Back in 1951, when Dullea was in high school, he was an ardent fan.

"I read every year's Best of Science Fiction anthology and I subscribed to the classic magazines like Astounding and Galaxy. I once had first editions of each of them," he recalls. "Wish I kept them." He pauses. "Boy, do I wish I kept them! Anyway, in Astounding, I think, there was a short story by Clarke called 'The Sentinel', the germ of the idea of 2001 [recently reissued by Berkley Books as the title story of a trade paperback collection]. I must have read hundreds of stories in those years, but, you know, that one stuck with me. When I was cast in 2001 in 1966, I remembered it clearly, all those years later."

Why is he no longer an SF enthusiast?

"My interest waned because I eventually stopped being isolated. I had no brothers or sisters, I went in and out of many schools and I was very alone. And, I didn't have much self-esteem because I was fat," he admits. "I was an unhappy kid, not in terms of my family, but socially. I had no friends, I didn't date throughout high school. Science fiction represented a great escape. When I discovered theater and drama, that replaced science fiction. I could escape on stage, the greatest escape of all. That gave me the courage I needed to do anything in life."

He trained for two years at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse and toiled for several years at the Totem Pole Playhouse in Pennsylvania before making his Broadway debut in 1956 in a revue called Sticks and Stones. After working for several years on stage, he made his screen debut in 1961 in The Hoodlum Priest and embarked on a movie career that included Mail Order Bride, Madame X, The Fox and David and Lisa, the critically acclaimed story of two mentally disturbed teenagers.

2001 was the film, however, that vaulted Dullea into the international spotlight. Then, he became disenchanted with movies and virtually dropped out of sight.

"I quit the acting business for a period of time. I was very cavalier and at the end of a marriage and I guess it was very convenient to blame if all on show biz," he explains. "I don't think it was that at all. I have come full circle and realize how much I love the craft. I am very happy doing it."

"Anyway, there was this period of two years after 2001 when everything changed. I was doing a Broadway play, Butterflies Are Free. They asked me to do the London production, which I did. It was not as successful as it had been in New York, which was fine with me. Everyone went home and I stayed and decided I wouldn't act anymore. I did a job a year, just to have enough money to live in London. By that time, I had remarried and my present wife and I just loved living there: it was like a cocoon, it was like an escape, it was totally cut off from my previous life. It was starting life all over again."

"The Starlost"

2001 isn't Keir Dullea's only acting foray into outer space. He was the star of The Starlost, a Canadian-produced, syndicated series shot on videotape. Harlan Ellison created the original concept, Ben Nova initially worked as story editor and Douglas Trumbull, at first, supervised the SFX.

The original premise was that Earth faced imminent destruction. An ark 1000 miles long, comprised of hundreds of self-contained biospheres, was built in orbit to house representations of the various Earth societies. The ark leaves as Earth is destroyed. One hundred years later, an accident kills the flight crew, locks the biospheres off from one another, and plunges the ship on a suicide course for a star.

Dullea played an outcast from one of those biospheres who discovers that his world is actually a doomed spaceship. The series followed his attempts to, with two others, contact other biospheres, reveal that they are on an ark, and fix the ship.

Changes were sought by the Canadian producers. The ark ended up being six miles long and Ellison's script was substantially rewritten. Ellison, Bova and Trumbull clashed with the Canadian producers and quit. (Ellison's original script later won a Writer's Guild award and became the basis of a book by Edvard P. Bryant, Phoenix Without Ashes.) The series was an abysmal failure, both critically and popularly.

And Dullea is one person, besides Ellison, who is glad it was.

"It was one of those jobs for money I took in that interim period between the end of 1971 and 1974," Dullea says. "I'll be surprised in anyone who reads STARLOG remembers that thing. I could have been stuck in that, god forbid, if it clicked. Thank goodness it bombed. Nobody was happier than I was when it died. It was a soap opera SF. I always thought of it as acting in molasses. Everything was so slow. If the viewers thought The Starlost was boring, think how boring it was to be in it!"

"All the action was talked about, nothing ever happened because it was on video and locked into the studio," he explains. "We had zero in the way of special effects. The first episode was good. It was a Canadian-American co-production that started off with some talent behind it - Harlan Ellison, who developed the script, and Douglas Trumbull. They left like rats leaving a sinking ship. I couldn't. Neither could the other actors and they felt the same way I did."

"The series has been bought for cable, incidentally, and I think they are going to cut the episodes into a couple of movies. We knew we were dead after about the sixth episode. The scripts got worse and worse. I'll give you an example."

Keir (far right) in The Starlost.
"I think it was one of the last of the 16. Each week, we could explore some different pod. Each pod had a different civilization that, because it was cut off from the other pods, had grown weird and bizarre. The particular pod was controlled by a mad scientist. Great new concept, huh? He was breeding giant killer bees. They must have been paying $1.98 a script at that point."

"The bees were rear-projection crap. He let the bees out and it was this silly cut-away film. The effects people got real bee bonnets and sprayed them gold for a futuristic look. I wore the awful thing along with gold bee gloves. I looked like Mercury, only I didn't have wings on my ankles. Anyway, they had to figure out a weapon to save the day. So, my co-star, Robin Ward, bounded in holding, I swear to god, the fire extinguisher off the wall. They sprayed in green and it became the secret weapon. Robin sprayed it on the camera and that killed the bees."

Since the fortunate demise of The Starlost, Dullea has done occasional film work. Most of his time, however, is spent in Connecticut where he and his wife have a professional workshop and theater.

"I don't get offered many films anymore," Dullea admits. "I did The Next for cable. It's a romantic fantasy with Adrienne [The Fog] Barbeau, filmed in the Greek Islands. I play a man from another time searching for his brother, who turns out to be Jesus. It's a fairly forgettable movie that I did to travel. My emphasis is on theater now."

And as he did earlier in his career, he's journeying from the stage to the soundstage.

What power enables David Bowman to appear as his youthful
self on board Discovery?

"In a sense, doing 2010 is coming full circle for me," he says. "I took HAL apart in the first film. In this film, he has been put back together and we're along again on the ship. He says, 'I'm afraid.' Boy, did I get a weird feeling then. He says, 'Where will we be?' and I say, 'You'll be where I'll be.' "

Keir Dullea shrugs. "I guess that will always be true."

(Originally published in Starlog Magazine. Copyright © 1984 Starlog.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Music That Might Have Been

Kubrick set the standard for using classical music in science fiction in his epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Coincidentally he made sure no-one else could pull it off again.

When director Peter Hyams was looking for music for his movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact, he knew he could never use classical music without being seen as a Kubrick copycat. An original score was of course the only obvious option.

Hyams contacted Genesis keyboard player and composer Tony Banks regarding an original score in early 1984, having been impressed by Banks' theme for the 1978 Jerzy Skolimowski movie The Shout. Banks and Hyams met in March 1984 and had by all accounts a fruitful discussion.

They quickly agreed on the project. "The guy chose me because he really loved the theme from The Shout," Banks said, "he could sing it! I couldn't believe that as it was difficult to sing anyhow, it hasn't got much of a melody. I thought that I was on to a winner here as that was like stuff I could write in my sleep. I met him and things went well and then I went home and made a demo of about five or six pieces."

Composer Tony Banks.
Banks was enthused by the meeting. After all, Hyams did major in art and music, and he was well on his way to becoming a professional drummer – he had played with jazz heavyweights such as Maynard Ferguson and Bill Evans – when he suddenly switched to the news media and became a news anchor at the age of 21. Based on this, Banks found the discussion about the score very interesting. He was looking forward to producing 'a heavily synthesized score', and he was going to use samplers and emulators to conjure up 'many new unheard and unrecognizable sounds.'

Banks set to work. He created several themes that he found a perfect fit not only to the theme of both the book and the imagery, but also a perfect fit to the ideas from the previous discussion with the director.

Confident that he had created the best possible ideas for a score, Banks sent off the demo tape to Hyams, who promptly rejected the entire tape.

Jovian Rejects

"He rang me up," Banks remembered, "and said that he didn't like any of them! He was very definite about it as well." The director did not find any redeeming qualities in the music, the entire tape score was dismissed wholesale.

"I thought, 'This is crazy'," Banks remembers the turndown. "Here I consider these to be the most appropriate things and he doesn't like them."

Banks was utterly baffled. The tape he had sent Hyams was entirely in line with what they had agreed on months earlier. Nonetheless Hyams was thoroughly stonewalling Banks and would not even tell what specifically was wrong with the proposed score, only that "it was really bad."

Disheartened, Banks put together another tape of even more pieces of the score, paying really close attention to what Hyams had said he wanted. Fingers crossed he sent it off to the director.

Again the tape was nixed.

I don't know why he got a hold of me.

Now Banks decided it was a make or break moment. In order to salvage the project he had to meet with Hyams again. "I finally decided to go out there and see him," Banks said. He traveled to Culver City and met with the director for a second time. "I wrote a piece almost in front of him and I found the chord changes that he liked. He said that the piece I did there and then was great and then he asked for something that could be a song."

Banks took notes of all the things Hyams was looking for in the score, the cues, the themes, the soundscapes. At last Banks had something to work with. "We managed to end up with something he seemed fairly enthusiastic about," Banks recalled.

This turned out to be another false dawn.

Withering Highs

Somewhat elated by the second meeting with the director, Banks decided to give the score a final shot, trying to follow the mercurial director's notes to the minutest detail. He decided to create a set of themes for songs and gathered all his memos and cues into a coherent whole.

"Then I went home and began demoing some actual pieces for the film on the themes that we'd agreed," Banks remembered. Something irked him still, something didn't seem right. Little by little it began to dawn on the composer that the director perhaps did not have very clear musical ideas after all. After having initially been very enthusiastic about the electronic score, the director seemed to be backing away from it completely.

"When it came to thinking about final ideas," an exasperated Banks recalled, "he [Hyams] said he 'didn't like it.' I think he wanted something a lot more conventional than he originally thought he did. The closer I got to writing a Hollywood kind of score, the happier he looked. That was disappointing to me."

Hyams again rejected all the songs, all the themes, and all the parts of the score, simply stating "it wasn't working."

In August of 1984 – six months after agreeing to the project – the news broke that Banks had been fired from the project.  "I was given the sack, there's no two ways about it," Banks said.

Banks felt frustrated by the experience, especially since he had focused so hard on the project, written a stupendous amount of material, and rejected many other film score offers in favor of 2010. "The whole thing wasted about six months," he said, "and it really was a set-back for me. There were quite a few film offers coming in."


Banks later rearranged and re-used parts of the rejected 2010 score for the 1984 film Starship, also known as Lorca and the Outlaws, as well as 2084, and the soundtrack was released on his appropriately named 'Soundtracks' album in 1986.

The album with the rejected 2010 score.

"Peter Hyams really didn't like what I gave him from the word 'go'," Tony Banks said. "I thought it strange since he was the one who contacted me, based on having heard what I had done on The Shout."

The entire conundrum was intensely frustrating and utterly mysterious for the composer.

"I don't know why he got a hold of me," said a very perplexed Banks.

Images copyright ©1986-1999 Tony Banks.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

John Lithgow - 2010's Walter Curnow

In outer space Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor John Lithgow gets twisted and thwirled and spun around. And he gets to act with ghosts, too. Well, almost.

"I read the script for 2010 and I wanted to do it immediately," John Lithgow says. "I had just finished Buckaroo Banzai and I loved the fact that Buckaroo was almost a send-up of the kind of ideas that 2010 takes very seriously."

Be Kind to Curnow

2010, like Buckaroo Banzai, didn't require Lithgow to trek to far-flung locations a long way from home. Both films were shot in Los Angeles, where the actor lives with his wife Mary Yaegar, a UCLA professor, and their children Phoebe, 2, and newborn Nathan. His 12-year-old son Ian, a devoted SF fan, lives in New York with Lithgow's first wife.

2010 was Lithgow's first foray into outer space and his first encounter with Peter Hyams, 2010's director/writer/producer/cinematographer (STARLOG #85), a man Lithgow says is unlike any he has ever met.

"The fact that he functions in so many areas makes him different from all the others. I've never worked with someone who does so much," Lithgow says. "Peter is a very benevolent dictator but a dictator he is. He's completely uncompromising. He will work at something until it is exactly the way he wants it. He's single-minded. He says it's as simple as that."

Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) having problems.

"With actors, he tends to rely on doing really good casting, which he feels is practically the whole game, and the he lets them do their thing. He doesn't rehearse the way many directors do. He just expects professionalism and is very selective. He does want his words spoken exactly the way he wrote them. But, I like that. I'm a theater actor. I like directors to take writing seriously."

This film, unlike Lithgow's previous work, involved much more from him than acting ability. As Curnow, he spent much of his time scooting weightless in space between the Russian craft Leonov and the derelict Discovery. What must look effortless and light on the screen was physically taxing on the soundstage and involved a complicated mix of optical effects, harnesses and wires, and detailed choreography.

"God, it was crazy," Lithgow says. "It was really difficult, the most strenuous stuff I've ever done." His eyes twinkle. "Strenuous like taking a rollercoaster ride is strenuous. I loved it!"

Perhaps too much.

"I took to the flight apparatus like a bird," he remarks. "They had to tell me to calm down. I was suspended between two wires that hooked onto a custom-made leather harness around my pelvis. So, if I stuck my arms out, I would go forward. I could spin around, do somersaults. Sometimes, I would overdo it and get a headache."

Weightless harness tests.

There were other headaches, too. Lithgow went through three weeks with co-star Elya Baskin (STARLOG #91), who plays cosmonaut Max Brailovsky, shooting the various space-walk sequences.

"The spacesuits were heavy, stiff and unwieldy. Elya and I would have to rest constantly," Lithgow says. "Elya was a wonderful person to suffer with through this experience. The nice thing was that he and I have a strong friendship in the film and that's what happened to us in real life."

"Every day was hard, hard work. Sometimes, we were on wires, other times on lazy suzies, sometimes, we got to clamor around on the Discovery set. At one point, Elya was bolted to a pipe which was twisted around in the air like a screw being turned. I did one scene hanging upside down, which was really nuts. The only thing they didn't do was to put us in a weightless chamber!"

When the cameras stopped rolling, Lithgow and Baskin were carted away by stagehands and laid down side-by-side on the floor like cordwood.

Lithgow clarifies the event: "I like to think of us not as cordwood, but as two knight toppled from their horses during a jousting match."

The apparatus and the machinations behind the space-walk sequences didn't hamper Lithgow's acting. "It enhanced it. In a way, you just use it all to build your character," he says. "It's like wearing ill-fitting clothes. It does wonderful things for your character, like the false teeth I wore in Buckaroo Banzai. I couldn't have done Lizardo without them."

More than Part 2

Like everyone involved with 2010, Lithgow sees some significant differences between this film and 2001: A Space Odyssey, differences he feels make this movie more than just a sequel.

"The characters are much more important in this one. If you remember 2001, one of the main feelings about is was its aloofness, the distance between you and the people. It was almost a dehumanizing effect of man in space," Lithgow says. "Since then, man has walked almost constantly in space. Society has humanized space a bit, so 2010 had to change the 2001 tone."

Descending the Discovery.

"I suppose that comparisons between the two are inevitable, and I suppose it's a bit of a curse. But, when people see 2010, they will find it so different from 2001 that it starts all over again and goes in a different direction."

"This isn't so much a sequel as it is an enlargement. There's a real drama of characters in this one," he adds. "I loved 2001 and remember very frame and there's something very rarefied about it in terms of the characters which isn't true in 2010."

Acting with Ghosts

One of those rarefied characters, Keir Dullea (STARLOG #88) as astronaut David Bowman, returns to haunt the Leonov crew in 2010. His appearance on the Discovery set was a bizarre emotional experience that Lithgow missed.

"I didn't have any scenes with Dullea, though I met him and got to know him pretty well," Lithgow says.

Dullea and Lithgow shared a special moment of their own before 2010 started shooting.

"It was after we were cast, but before we started working. Keir came to see me on stage in Requiem for a Heavyweight," says Lithgow who's again starring in Requiem, opening for previews on Broadway this month.

"Keir came back after the show in tears. It was quite a stunning moment. I had to offer him Kleenex, he was so moved by the show. It was a nice way to meet someone for the first time."

"He was so gracious about being the only returning character. We were all pleased he was a part of 2010. It was a very unusual experience for him, like a time warp. He is a very genial, sweet man, a real pleasure."

People say the same about Lithgow. They say that, despite the success, he's still a nice guy.

John Lithgow flashes a sly grin. "They're lying."

Partly published in Starlog Magazine, 1985. Images ©1984 MGM.