I was back home in Mobile for a friend's wedding a few weeks ago and I happened to run into actor/writer/director Richard Tyson, also a native of Mobile. After chatting briefly, he was kind enough to give me his number and agree to do an interview with me for the site. What follows comes from the hour long chat I had with Richard about growing up in Mobile, his long and varied career, and getting back to his roots in several future projects. I had a lot of fun doing this and I would like to once again thank Richard Tyson for giving me the opportunity to talk with him. He's a really nice guy that seems to love where he came from and appreciate every bit of success he's achieved during his career. I consider this a nice little companion piece to our new Three O'Clock High video. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
CC: To start things off, I was going to release this interview to coincide with putting up the YouTube video for our podcast on Three O'Clock High. So, if you have any stories or anything you remember about filming Three O'Clock High that you find interesting, I'd love to hear it.
RT: (laughs) That was my first movie. And I was living in my trunk. I had 14 callbacks at Spielberg's office, Amblin Entertainment. I realized that just the other day, the first person to ask me to be in his movie ever, when I came out to Hollywood, was Steven Spielberg! Wow! I just realized that. I never actually met him. He was in dailies and I heard he was going crazy and was very complimentary of what I was doing. I ran into his agent and I wanted to tell him that and say, I want to do a movie or TV show with Steven Spielberg! I'm sure he'll remember who Buddy Revell is!
I did a play this summer, To Kill A Mockingbird, and I played Atticus Finch. It was great, I played it all summer outdoors in Topanga Canyon, up near Malibu at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum. That's a fancy name for an outdoor theater. Do you remember Will Geer? He was [Zeb Walton on The Waltons], he's a great actor. Him and John Houseman were blacklisted in the 50s in the McCarthy era, accused of being communists. So he went to Topanga Canyon and had some land and built a commune, which became an outdoor theater where they would do Shakespeare and American Classics. And I've been up here over 20 years and hadn't done a play in about 10 years, because if you get a real job in the movies, you drop some of the greatest roles that were ever written that are on stage. But it's a real job and it pays a lot more to go do that. And frankly, I'm here because it's the movies.
I love the plays, but someone asked me from the LA Times when we did A Streetcar Named Desire, what's your hobby? And I said, this! They said no, that's your craft! And I said, no I can't afford to use this time and no money to do a stage play, I can't do it! I was doing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew years ago and it was opening day. My agent calls and says Ridley Scott wants you in Morocco tomorrow afternoon at 1pm, you gotta get on a plane right now! And it was for Black Hawk Down. I'm like, dude, it's opening night, I can't go. What do you mean! He goes, “Damn, you will go!" He's a tough ball buster. He was the best kind of agent, I don't know why we ended up moving away from each other, but I like the way he talked. He said, "If you don't get on that goddamn plane!" Look, it's opening night, we've had two audiences and now we're all ready. He says, "Look, you got an understudy, don't ya?" I'm like, I can't do that to the understudy. They don't get many reps with the first team. And opening night? I have to tell him on the morning of that he's the lead in a Shakespearean play that night? He says, "Call that son of a bitch!" OK, Shit! I called him up and said I'll buy you breakfast, I can't do it over the phone. I gotta show you how serious I am. So we met for breakfast and I said hey man, you're on. He goes, "Don't fuck with me." No, no, you're on man. I gotta go, you're the understudy, opening night tonight and you're on. He wouldn't believe me! He laughs and he's eating. I put him on the phone with my ball busting agent and all I heard was, [YELLING]. All the blood rushed his face and he said, "I gotta go man!" I got on the plane and went to Morocco.
CC: Obviously a good choice, huge movie.
RT: Yeah, I had a 7 week deal and I was one of the last ones cast. After 7 weeks I get double each week and after 12 I get triple each week. I stayed there 4 and a half months. And I wasn't in the movie that long! But Ridley kept me around and did things on the spot and the opening was one of the last things we did with Josh Hartnett in the helicopter. But I left Petruchio and I don't think I'll ever do Petruchio again, you know? Probably not, I was playing Iago and the same thing happened. I got called away to play a used car salesman in rural Alabama instead of playing Iago on stage and they were paying me 35 grand a week. In the theater they don't pay enough to keep the lights on, but I'll volunteer, you know? It's a good group.
CC: It's more about the passion than the paycheck.
RT: Yeah. And we had a great time in the summer and I can't wait to do it again.
CC: And of course Harper Lee, from Monroeville, Alabama.
RT: Absolutely! She's from there and I felt like I was destined to play this part, you know? And I actually brought the script to Ellen Geer, who is the director. Years ago, she played Blanche to my Stanley Kowalski [in A Streetcar Named Desire] and Princess Del Lago to my Chance Wayne [in Sweet Bird of Youth]. I said look, Harper Lee, it's the 50th anniversary, we need to do this play. She played Queen Lear, she changed it from King to Queen, she had sons instead of daughters and it worked. I saw it one Sunday afternoon last year. Afterward you walk down the seats all the way to the stage, and it's all outdoors it's an amazing place, and all the actors sit there on stage and talk to you. I walked up to her and she saw me with the crowd all around her and she goes, "Next year, we got Atticus!”
She made me go through all the auditions and the callbacks to get the role. And I did some improvising and adding words, I thought I had the green light because we're entertaining these people and it's not exactly word for word of the script. I felt like I was entitled in a way to play this and do this show. If you go look July 22nd in the LA Times, it has a picture of Atticus. It was before I cut my hair for the role, like a week before the show, the character isn't there yet. The interview is pretty close to what I said and they were talking about Go Set A Watchman, the new book that came out this summer. We were the only ones in the country doing To Kill A Mockingbird. I hope, with the social climate that we have, that we can do Atticus a few more times to bring understanding and peace.
CC: Absolutely, and it seems just as relevant as ever.
RT: Yeah, and I had a friend that was going to Fashion Week in New York, so he was going to miss the play. But he said he knew Tony Randall's wife who has this theater in New York and he was going to say something to her about doing it. Tony Randall died about 10 years ago and he was 85 or something and she's now 46 years old and she has a kid that's 10 years old and another kid that are just about the age of Jem and Scout and I know she'd like to do this play. I'm trying to reach out to them to make it happen.
CC: I did want to talk about growing up in Mobile, how that affected you as a person and how you eventually got into acting.
RT: Yeah, I left Mobile with 100 dollars on a Greyhound bus to go be in the movies. My brother played for Bear Bryant and he gave me the ticket and said there's 47 people to see you go be in the movies, so you better do it. But growing up in Mobile was a pleasure. I had my brand new bike stolen on Christmas day, but everybody has those things, you know? But I was one of 8 kids and the oldest was at one point 10 when the new baby girl was born. So 8 kids 10 years or younger and we were a very close knit group. My father was a dive bomber in the Korean war. He used to say, "All I have to do is pull in the drive way and she'd get pregnant!"
CC: Well, that's kind of the time. My grandmother had 10 kids about 15 years apart.
RT: Yeah. We were all there, so we know each other. I was president of every class I was in, I did the debate and political science to become a congressman. My father, even on my last trip there a couple weeks ago said, "Now that we got all that football out of your system, we can direct to what we should be doing which is telling the history of this place and about the forward thinking that it's going to take to move us on through the century. He believes that the last chance to talk to the people is to put it in a movie and people might hear it. Anyway, that's what I want to do with with Bama PI. I want to deal with local issues, national issues, international issues that come up in each show. And I think just to show Mobile and all that.
Jake Peavy, he's from Mobile and him and his friend Ben Jernigan, I met with Ben. They want to build downtown Mobile into a place that artists want to come and you can do an album from A to Z and you don't have to take it anywhere else. They can sell it from their production office on Dauphin St. It's called Dauphin Street Sound. They asked me to come along and maybe guide the movie side of it. We want to build up Mobile where the famous artists will want to come there and live in downtown Mobile. Jake is an all-star for the San Francisco Giants and I haven't met him yet, but from what I can tell from the people around him, he's a great guy. He made a lot of money with that golden arm and he's really into music. He just got into it and now he's doing live shows and we hope to move along and maybe sneak him into a movie or TV show. I think he can do it. He has personality.
CC: You mentioned Bama PI. Is that a show you're working on, or a film?
RT: It might become a different title, but you know Magnum PI? So I said, ok lets do a Bama PI. We don't have Ferraris and mansions, well maybe old southern mansions with moss and speed boats and trucks and shrimp boats. That's what we have. It's the flavor of Mobile and the flavor of Alabama.
CC: Well not only that, but when you think about our style and how it influenced New Orleans as well.
RT: Yeah and we were settled by the same people, earlier. We can learn the history of Mobile that a lot of people don't know. In fact a long time ago, Andrew Jackson down in New Orleans was about to lose that battle. The British were coming, I forgot the name that Dauphin Island used to be called, but these British guys, you can find their graves on Dauphin Island. They held up the French fleet just long enough for our generals to get in place in Louisiana, we would have lost New Orleans. We can slide things in it like that and really give a different picture of the South and everybody thinking we all hate each other, which isn't true. I think we have more connection than they're giving us credit for.
CC: Yeah, they all seem to have this idea of what it's like in the South, especially Alabama.
RT: I was Disney Celebrity of the Week when they opened the Disney World down there. I was on TV at the time on Hardball on NBC and they invited me down there to be Celeb of the Week. They sent me a check and five extra first class tickets. And we all went down there and had a great time. We actually left there and went to Dauphin Island, which we preferred to Disney. Disney is a fantastic place, but we were in Mobile Bay and on that side by the island, there were like 6 or 8 porpoises and we were on little speed boats and going around in circles and they would play with us. They were like, man we've never seen shit like this in our whole life! One of my New York friends, we were out on the beach on the west end and he goes, "Does anyone own this fucking beach? Why'd you come be in the movies? We're trying to get movies to be in a place like this!" That's not why I'm doing it. If I had all the money in the world, what would I want to do? I'd want to make a movie. That's what I'm here for.
CC: And I know you've done some filming in Alabama. You did When I Find the Ocean. And you've also brought some movies to Mobile to screen. Didn't you bring Jake's Corner to Mobile?
RT: To view, yeah.
CC: Was that at the Crescent Theater downtown?
RT: Yeah, I think it was. And I know we did Hayride there and I think that's where we did the other one. Jake's Corner, when my father saw that he went, "I didn't know you could do that!" I'm like what dad? He says, "I didn't know. That was real acting, son. I mean every other time I see you there's usually a crowbar in your hand! I didn't know you learned to do that!" (laughs)
CC: So he finally understood.
RT: He saw it and he goes, "Let's make copies and pass them out!" And I was like dad, we're selling them! He's a politician and he wanted to show everybody. That's a very emotional movie for me and something very close. Some people saw an interview I did at the Sacramento Film Festival when that was coming out. And I got a movie from the interview. I don't know how that worked. I was talking about characters we play. They're either better than you or not as good as you. But Jake's Corner, Johnny Dunn, best character ever written. He was a running back and he was better than me. I didn't win the Heisman trophy. I don't know if he could act like me, but that Johnny Dunn, he's a special guy.
So I hope to hear from these people with Lord of the Casino, that's a script I wrote with some friends. We want to film it down there in Biloxi and Dauphin Island. The Sheriff of Dauphin Island in the movie is a Jesus figure. We throw in little stuff, like he's deaf/mute, but he can't tell anyone about it. He's a big guy, like you know Ryan Stiles? I told him, we did a radio thing together for years, that I wrote something for him. He goes “Awesome, how many lines do I have?” I said you don't have any lines, you're mute! He goes, “I'm the best improv guy in the fucking world and you don't give me any lines?” I said, you can giggle! I need to shoot at a convent. That convent over on Spring Hill, does it have a river going through it?
CC: I'm not sure, it might.
RT: Well we could fake it, go to a creek or something. Oh, the three main girls, there's a 65 year old, she's mother superior, but she's an old stripper who chain smokes and cusses and sits at the bar of a strip club. Then there's a 35 year old that's running the show at the convent, but she's also the majority owner of the strip club. Then there's a 20 year old nun that is a soccer coach of young girls and also a stripper. Every actress gets to play a nun and a stripper in the same role. That's pretty cool.
CC: With these projects, you said you wrote the script. And I know you Co-wrote Nothing Left and Co-directed the short You! with Bryan Martin. Are you looking to direct this as well, or more of a producer role?
RT: Yeah I want to direct it. I don't have to, but I want to. The sheriff, you know I did Battlefield Earth with Travolta, I'd like him to play that role. He's got that spiritual thing going on and I just think it'd be great. I met him on that show and we're friends. And I'd like to get, for the Lord of the Casino who runs the place, Sean Penn for that. I think I can somehow get a script to him through a friend.
CC: Also just a suggestion, Nicolas Cage does a lot of work in New Orleans and did a film in Mobile that came out last year called Rage. He's been doing a lot of work in and around Mobile and New Orleans. He seems to love working in that area.
RT: Yeah, I've seen that. I'm out here in Malibu and Travolta, Nic Cage and Bruce Willis, they're all in my hometown! I need to get on a bus and go back to Mobile!
CC: Yeah, it's been going pretty well and they've been doing a good job trying to revitalize the downtown area.
RT: Absolutley. I was down there two weeks ago. Right when the play ended, the next morning they called me and I go to Mobile. And I play this, underhanded guy I guess. But I think the movie's going to be ok and I'm hoping that we'll be able to go back down there with Bama PI and maybe we'll start with Lord of the Casino first. You know, whichever gets the money in first.
CC: And always, showing it at the Crescent Theater is a good option. That's a lovely theater downtown. I love that place.
RT: Yeah, it is man. We want it to be big, you know? I've never tried to make a B-movie in my life. I think I've been in one or two, but I never tried. If I'm not trying to do the best 30 seconds of my life, what the hell am I doing. Every take. What the hell am I doing?
CC: Actually, that was something I was going to mention as well. Looking through your IMDB and career, versatility seems to be the main word. Even though you play a lot of bad guys, tough guys, loners, etc. You seem to kind of jump in and out of all different kinds of movies. You know, comedy stuff like the Farrelly Brothers movies or action films like Black Hawk Down, to more family friendly stuff like Kindergarten Cop or horror movies like Hayride. Was that something you've always tried to do consciously, or is that just how the jobs came?
RT: No, it is. That's the best, when you get to choose. I look to be diverse, you know? I love that. My father loves that. He said, "You leave your body and you go into something else and when you come back, I watched you do that Genghis Khan and once you got back after the end of the year, you were still Genghis Khan! It took you about 8 months to get out of that!" (laughs)
CC: Yeah, you've stated that was your favorite role that you've done.
RT: Yeah man, I was over there for a year and I wish we could get that movie to come out somehow.
CC: I was wondering what happened with that. The story behind it.
RT: Well, I don't know. It was 40 million back in the day in 91 or 92. That's like 120 million these days and the things that they can do with special effects. It's amazing what they could do with this movie. This movie never grows old because it's history, so it could come out. It's Charlton Heston's lost movie. I had scenes with Charlton Heston! And Pat Morita! Both those guys are gone. Paramount wanted to make it a 3 hour movie. And this was before that Mel Gibson movie came out, the one where he plays the Scottish guy.
RT: Yeah! That's how long ago it was and it's unbelievable. We were right on the biographical story of great warriors. If that would have come out at the time it would have been a hit. And they wanted to make it into a mini-series, but they didn't want to share profits with ABC. But it's never come out. I used to joke, if I pass before it comes out, can you slide me in next to it? Jesus, man! My best role! I never even saw it for 18 years and they finally sent me some footage. And I stopped watching it because I want to do this documentary, Finding Genghis. But I stopped watching it because in every scene I could think of another story that happened that day on the set and what we were fighting against. So I wanted to capture that, so I haven't even seen all the footage yet.
CC: That would be a great idea for a documentary. Those have done pretty well, like Terry Gilliam's Lost in La Mancha or Jodorowsky's Dune from last year.
RT: Yeah, there's also a company, Red Granite. I looked it up but I never did anything. I'd like to talk to them because they save movies that have been out there and haven't seen the light of day. They find lost movies and get them going. So, I mean, it's Charlton Heston's lost movie! It's unfortunate that it hasn't come out.
I've also got a veteran movie, it's called One Zero Plus. It's a Vietnam vet, he wrote a book called Escape From Hell. His name is Doty, he was one of our first Green Berets. He was a One Zero back in Vietnam. A One Zero was like a Navy Seal basically, a badass you know? They used to own bases, they would have bars and board off part of the bar for just One Zeros. If you weren't a One Zero, man or woman, and you got caught in there, they could do anything they wanted to you. He gave me the book and wanted me to write the script and star in it and direct. Awesome, I'll do it. I wrote the script and somehow he ran out of the money we were going to use, but I have two people in LA that are very interested in doing this movie. I'm just waiting for one of them to click and it could happen any day. We can also do that in Biloxi and Mobile.
CC: In general, what are some of your favorite films and performances, both from yourself and in general. Any other ones that stick out or any that you look to as an actor that have inspired you over the years.
RT: I finally saw Brando's A Streetcar Named Desire after I did the play, and I thought he was pretty good! He did quite well. I loved watching that old movie. On the Waterfront, Brando. Yeah, Brando The Godfather, I don't mean to be cliche but The Godfather is up there.
CC: Well, there's a reason for that!
RT: You know, I've had people say Three O'Clock High is in the top 5 and then Kindergarten Cop, just every day I'm stopped and they just love it and stop to say hello. You know, the best one is yet to come. I would have already gone back to Mobile and gone fishing if I didn't think the best was yet to come.
CC: Also along that same line, what are some films you've done that you didn't think turned out quite right or as you expected? Also, any roles that you missed out on over the years, not so much monetarily, but just as an actor,something you would have loved to play that you weren't able to get?
RT: Armageddon. I had 8 callbacks they were going to rewrite some role for me and then all of a sudden, nothing. I worked with the director a long time and then it was gone. They don't call you to tell you you didn't get it, that's tough for an actor. But Armageddon, if I was in that group, in that movie, wow! I was so proud to be in Black Hawk Down, it's fantastic. My father in law [Kris Kristofferson] said, "Anybody that's going to make an army movie should be required to see Black Hawk Down first."
I did some low budget things, I won this action award in Pasadena and they played pieces from a movie where I had my face painted, kind of like the Joker, you know? It was this really low budget movie I had forgotten about and that's the first time I ever saw it. It was up there with Kindergarten Cop and then this! Out of all of them you picked this thing called Fear Chamber? My character picks up girls and then harvests their organs to sell in Africa. If you saw that movie, well we actually already found the three people that saw it, but they'll remember my mug, not the writer's mug! What else? I think Jake's Corner is a special movie, my father thinks so. Then I did Atticus for him in Mobile. I got right on a plane from a Sunday night performance and flew overnight to be there on Monday to shoot a movie and I walked in my dad's house dressed as Atticus in a seersucker suit. And did the summation which was about 8 pages and he was thrilled to see it. He said I'm a master actor now, that's kind of cool.
CC: That's gotta feel good!
RT: Yeah he said, "Because I wouldn't tell you that if it wasn't true. Some of these people can't hack it, but what you're doing with Atticus Finch, that opens up such a different side of you that we didn't even know! You're not a fighter, you're a lover. You're an intellectual." I was like alright dad, enough!
CC: Well you can do all of that, then you can also pop up in something like a Funny of Die video for Rush Hour 4/Face Off 2!
RT: (laughs) That's right. I did this thing. The Room, do you know that movie?
CC: Yeah! Actually I was going to ask you about that [The Room Actors: Where Are They Now?]. It's a favorite here at Crushed Celluloid.
RT: I played the father of one of the actors. I didn't see the movie and then I saw parts of it and it was horrible and they said that's why it was so good.
CC: Yeah it's infamous for being one of the best worst movies ever.
RT: Yeah and they wanted to make a TV series out of it, so we shot a pilot and I was in the backyard barbecuing and I went crazy on it. It's pretty funny, what I did I think. It's just a small production crew. My niece, Jeanne Tyson, who graduated with a Masters from UCLA, she was in town and she has this group together and they needed some kind of a name, so I did it. And still waiting to hear, hopefully it will work and we can do some more, because it was a lot of fun.
CC: I'm excited about that and I know that the actors from The Room are actually in that and they did a Kickstarter campaign, I believe, to get some funding for that.
RT: Yeah probably so, I wish I knew how to do that because me and Roddy Piper were going to sit on a couch and talk to Kickstarter and do a little short thing and get something together like that, but we ended up not being able to do that. It's interesting though, you set a goal that's not too high and just make sure you get that backed.
CC: And usually it can go way over that, but as long as it's not too extravagant, you should be able to get that. As long as you have people on your side that can market it and stuff like that.
RT: So you're in Texas, right?
CC: Yes sir, right outside of Austin.
RT: I need to get over there. I want to hunt down Rodriguez and say hello.
CC: Absolutely, there's always something going on in the film scene around here.
RT: Yeah, we have people in Mobile willing to listen to me and get something done. And I always loved the south and want to go back there.
CC: Oh yeah, I've been away from Mobile for about 6 years now and I've gotten to the point where I miss it. I went back for that weekend and I remembered what I loved about it.
RT: Exactly man, it's hard to put a finger on it, but the people are great. When they say how are you, they really want to know.
CC: Yeah, there's still a little bit that in Texas, that southern hospitality, but it's not quite as genuine and warm as it is in Alabama.
RT: Yeah, well I always say we're not the leg of Dixie or the arm of Dixie, we're the heart of Dixie! And that's a good thing. Very excited about the future. It could be all of a sudden in Mobile doing One Zero Plus if it just clicks in.
CC: And it will help the town as well. They've obviously been getting a lot of work and attention from movies filming there.
RT: And the crew was great, they were all good people. They were team players, you know? You gotta have team players, I don't care how pretty the actress is, if she's not, she's not in.
CC: Well, you figure that far away from Hollywood there's probably a lot less ego going around.
RT: Yeah, and then I did a Steven Seagal movie [The Perfect Weapon]. No, no (laughs) He's alright, he was nice to me. I'd do another movie with him.
CC: You mentioned a number of projects you're working on, I was wondering if there is anywhere people can find you online, Twitter or Facebook or anything?
RT: You know what? Not really. I have an old friend I did a radio show with for ten years and he got richardtyson.com He said you're lucky it's a friend! My friend would have given to me ten years ago! He still thinks it's funny though. Apparently I have a Facebook page, but I'm not on it. Somebody else is doing it. I don't know if it's detrimental or what.
CC: Well it's always a good way to connect with fans and keep yourself out there. So finally, what is the very next project you have coming out that you'd like people to check out?
RT: The next movie, I did one called Demented that I shot in Puerto Rico.(laughs) Oh boy, I gotta tell you that one in person. I play a detective that's trying to figure out these murders that keep occurring and this one magazine mogul keeps waking up with blood on his hands and one of his friends dead and he thinks he's demented, but really, it's someone else. I have one called Booneville Redemption, it's a faith-based movie and I play the devil. But I asked the writer, who's also the producer, this is a dark character, the character isn't grey, it's not black and white, who'd you base this character on when you wrote it? She said, "My fucking ex-husband!" I haven't seen it yet, but my daughter is in the movie briefly in a dance sequence towards the end. That was fun to get her in, it was shot up here in Malibu and she apparently made the final cut. I can't wait to see it. You can also go to TysonDCproduction.com, my friend is still running that thing which might have a little more information about what's going on.
CC: Is that your production company?
RT: Yeah, but we're mostly just keeping up on what I'm doing. We're standing to make good this next year. We've shot a lot of videos and stuff. We've shot a scene through Sana Monica without a permit. I realize I'm chasing my friend with a fake gun and if a cop pulls up he's going to shoot me dead and I'm like, we're just playing! We're ready, we're working with low budgets, we make money so we can make the next movie. You know, the reason you make one movie is so you can make the next one.
CC: Absolutely. Well, I really want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me, this has been great.
RT: That's great man. I'm glad to run into you and call me up.