Thursday, July 9, 2015

Roy Scheider - Making Contact in "2010"


If you look at Roy Scheider's hard, lined face, you can understand why killer sharks, New York street gangs, devious chopper pilots and international assassins think twice about messing with him. This guy is tough.

Even the alien intelligence that sparked the evolution of mankind on Earth and placed an ominous Monolith orbiting the planet Jupiter might have second thoughts about tangling with him. But they'll have to anyway. Because Scheider, as intrepid scientist Heywood Floyd, is coming to make contact with them to find out what really happened to the ship he dispatched, the Discovery, and the crew aboard it.

This is the story of 2010, director/writer/producer/cinematographer Peter Hyams' long-awaited, $30 million sequel to Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scheider is assuming the role originated by William Sylvester, an actor whose lack of popular appeal seemingly precluded his involvement in 2010 from the outset.

Roy Scheider as Heywood Floyd.
"I was Peter's first choice," Scheider explains, taking a break between shots in his trailer beside MGM's mammoth Stage 30. Clad in his crew jumpsuit, he looks out of place in the drab, familiar environs of a mobile home. "Peter had me in mind while he was writing the screenplay from Arthur C. Clarke's book. I read the first 80 pages of the script, which he hadn't finished yet, and I was interested. He explained to me what he planned to do with the rest of the story and I agreed to do the movie."

Exploring 2010

Scheider was seduced by the dramatic conflicts swirling around Floyd. "That's what I look for first in a screenplay," he says. "Is whatever happened to him interesting to the audience? Does anyone want to look at him? Will they care? And is there enough to interest me as an actor? When you get those two factors together, where the character is interesting and the character challenges me as an actor, that's a real plus."

Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010 wasn't required reading for Scheider's role. "I deliberately avoided the book because I'm performing the screenplay," the actor says. "I don't want to confuse the two."

For the same reason, he didn't rush out to see 2001 again. But the memory of past viewings still lingers.

"When I saw 2001, it blew my mind just like it did to everyone else," Scheider recalls. "The actors were never the stars of 2001. The special effects were. If anything, HAL was the major actor. As I've seen it more and more times since then, I still marvel at the technical things, but the choice Kubrick made to make it particularly and deliberately dull in a very modern situation was a wonderful conceit. It can only work once when you see the film for the first time. Afterwards, if just becomes very, very, very dull."

"Peter Hyams made a very good point when he told me didn't want the people in this film to be dull like in 2001 because the device won't work twice. That grandiose space movie Kubrick did can't be done again. You can't pull the same stunt twice."

That's why few members of the cast or crew openly refer to 2010 as a sequel. They prefer to view it as an entirely new motion picture.

"This is a whole new deal," Scheider stresses. "For instance, one reason I did not go see 2001 before doing this film is that they are not related at all until we get up in space and find the Discovery. Only then do the two stories connect. I would say that 80% of this movie really hasn't got much to do with 2001 except that it has the same setting: space."

It's a setting which involves the employment of many state-of-the-art special effects. Scheider is no stranger to working with this technical side of movie magic. In Jaws and Jaws 2, he pursued a mechanical Great White Shark across the seas. In Blue Thunder, he scorched across the skies in a helicopter which resembled a flying tank.

The relationship between the actor and the special effects is a difficult one, and Scheider is still trying to reach an amiable accord.

"My only problem with them is the amount of time that elapses between shots to get the special effects set up," he says. "It's debilitating. The hard thing is to keep the energy level up and maintain continuity. I would never adapt my acting style to work around special effects. I always consider special effects the enemy. I know they are necessary, but, for actors, they just get in the way."

Special effects, though, play a far less important role in 2010 than they did in 2001. As the 2010 cast frequently observes, this film will emphasize character over hardware.

"It's also a much better story. I think the audience will have a better time with this film than they had with the first one," Scheider says. "This film's plot will be much clearer than 2001. There's a story you can hook onto here and ride to the end, which you couldn't do with 2001, which was all kind of marvellous and mind-blowing. But ask anyone on the street how 2001 ends and they can't tell you. And that includes me. The only person who knows is Stanley Kubrick, and it really doesn't matter because that movie went off on an extraterrestrial flight at the end, which is OK, because how the hell are you going to end a movie like that one anyway?"

That doesn't mean, Scheider stresses, that elements of the first space odyssey will be lost or ignored in this encore. Keir Dullea's return as David Bowman, for example provided it's own special impact for both cast and crew.

"It was eerie playing a scene with Keir Dullea," Scheider says. "We all felt strange. He felt just as eerie about being there as we felt about seeing him."

Heywood Floyd on board the Leonov.
In the final analysis, the basic difference between the two films, Scheider believes, is that 2010 should be "more fun and more exciting to watch" while still solving many of the questions raised in 2001: A Space Odyssey "and presenting a whole new level of mysteries that will be easier for the audience to hold on to. It's pretty fantastic. I think the audience will leave this film with their minds expanded."

He grins and shrugs. "I mean, it's pretty fantastical what happens at the end. If you want to think about the possibilities of there being a new sun in the sky and a whole new universe - that sets up a pretty exciting frontier which makes what's happening on Earth seem pretty trivial."

What's occurring on Earth during Floyd's trek aboard the Russian spacecraft Leonov to Jupiter is that tensions are quickly increasing between the two superpowers. The world teeters on the brink of a world war, Earth-bound animosity reaches out into space and touches the international crew journeying to delve into the mysteries of the Discovery.

"That's the story's real conflict," Scheider announces, "the cold war heating up between the Russian and American crew while they are out in space."

Piloting "Blue Thunder"

When it came to conflict on Blue Thunder, there were some reported skirmishes - including remarks in STARLOG interviews - between director John Badham (STARLOG #70) and screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (STARLOG #71).

"Blue Thunder went through a lot of changes," Scheider concedes. "The script I read was not the script which ended up being shot. They had two more writers come on and then a third. Then, they went back to the original two guys who got the screen credit [O'Bannon and Don Jakoby]. I mean, what attracted everyone in the first place was what really made the story good, so they went back to the drawing board." [Scheider discusses Blue Thunder in depth in an interview in STARLOG #73.]

O'Bannon was offended by the ad-libbed dialogue Badham encouraged the actors to deliver. The screenwriter, who recently directed Return of the Dead from his own script (FANGORIA #40), took the ad-libbing as an insult to his writing.

"Much of the stuff between Daniel Stern [of Diner, see STARLOG #74] and myself, you know that bullshit macho dialogue in the helicopter, was mostly ad-libbed stuff. John Badham encouraged us to do it," Scheider explains. "He did that because it worked for the film. It helped establish a relationship and that's hard to do on paper."

O'Bannon's displeasure baffles Scheider.

"Since the movie did about $80 million worldwide," the actor says. "I don't think Dan O'Bannon should be too unhappy. I know for a fact that John never treated those guys with anything less than respect and invited then to the set and showed them dailies."

"As a filmmaker, I think John is a little more sophisticated about how things will affect an audience than they [O'Bannon and Jakoby] are. And I'm a guy who believes that the writers are absolutely the number one creative force in any movie."

"I make it my business to meet the screenwriter, because where are you going to find out more about your character than from him?" Scheider continues. "You discover what compelled him to write the screenplay in the first place. If I like the script, and I chose to do it, it means I like the character to begin with and anything I bring to it is just an embellishment on what the writers already have. So, I don't have conflicts with writers."

Scheider can sympathize with a writer's position in a film's hierarchy and the anger that sometimes results when an actor "takes over" a role.

"How would you like it if you wrote a movie, and they cast the part, and the actor signs a contract to play the character for X amount of dollars and on the first day of shooting, he says, 'I don't like the character.' How would you feel?" Scheider argues. "So, an actor can't do that, he can't say, 'Wait a minute. I'm not playing this guy because I have a better idea.' That's why some actors get fired the first week of shooting."

Suffering Sequelitis

Shceider has earned the respect of the film industry and its audience for an unending series of performances of unquestioned integrity. His first major screen role cam as Jane Fonda's slimy pimp in the Oscar winning detective film Klute. Next, he was Gene Hackman's cop partner in director William Friedkin's Oscar-winner, The French Connection. Performances etched in honesty followed in such films as The Seven-Ups, Jaws, Jaws 2, Marathon Man, All That Jazz, Still of the Night and Blue Thunder.

Born in New Jersey, Scheider had a serious bout with rheumatic fever as a child. He found refuge in the world of books. His college career began at Rutgers and continued at Franklin and Marshall, a small school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he first experienced the joys of acting. However, he followed a school ROTC commitment with two years in the Air Force. Flunking flight school with low math scores, he became an air traffic controller.

Discharged from the service, Scheider and his new wife moved to New Jersey. The marriage fizzled. In the meantime, Scheider pursued an acting career and began making his mark in Shakespearean theater. He married actress Cynthia Bebout, now working as a film editor. Critical accolades for his stage work eventually led him to the screen and international fame.

Most of his movies belong to the action/adventure genre. And those are the kind of films Scheider likes to see.

"Yes, they are. I wouldn't make them if I didn't like to see them," he reveals. "For instance, when I read Blue Thunder, I found the helicopter a fascinating concept. If you've read the newspapers lately and you look at what's being built at Hughes and used at the Olympics, you'll see it's nearly the same machine. So, I felt that Blue Thunder has some historical significance. And Jaws, of course, was just about the most exciting blast of a yarn I had read in a long time. I like to do movies I would like to go out and see."

He must be doing something right. After all, three of Scheider's blockbusters have inspired sequels of one type or another. There was French Connection 2, in which Scheider didn't appear though he "liked it a lot, I loved the way they unleashed Popeye Doyle, this New York barbarian, on French society. But, I think it suffered from sequelitis." There were reports of a Blue Thunder theatrical sequel, but Columbia opted instead for a TV series (STARLOG #81). Was Scheider offered the starring role?

"Yep," he nods.

And what did he say to the producers?

"No," he shakes his head empathically. "Absolutely no."

He wasn't able to say the same when Universal asked him to go to sea again for Jaws 2, though he would have preferred to turn that encore down.

"I did Jaws 2 because of a contractual obligation to Universal. It wasn't my choice," he says. "It was a plain sequel. I don't think it stood on its own as a movie. That wasn't a natural sequel at all. I don't think it was necessary to have that shark appear again. There isn't any way to top the first film."

Getting Steven Spielberg to helm the shark thriller, again, though, might have been a good beginning. When John Hancock, the original director of Jaws 2, departed after a few weeks of shooting (executives reportedly thought the film looked "too gothic"), Universal asked Spielberg to take over.

"He agreed to do it if they gave him five months to develop what he considered a worthwhile story," Scheider says. "They wouldn't give him that time. I was all for it, but they didn't want to wait the extra five months."

The final film, directed by Night Gallery veteran Jeannot Swarzc (interviewed this issue re: Supergirl, see page 37) disappointed Scheider, but it achieved box-office success. Spielberg, according to Scheider, "didn't think very highly of the film at all."

Still, it was financially rewarding enough to merit yet another sequel, Jaws 3-D (STARLOG #74). "I didn't see it," Scheider discloses. "I had absolutely no curiosity at all."

Although 2010 closes with some open-ended questions, and Clarke is planning another sequel, 20.001: The Final Odyssey, Scheider doubts there will be another cinematic follow-up.

"There are certain stories that lend themselves to sequels," Roy Scheider says. "And this isn't one of them."

(Originally published in Starlog Magazine #90. Copyright ©1984 Starlog. Images copyright ©1984 MGM.)

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