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.)

No comments:

Post a Comment