Monday, 14 December 2015

interview: Garrick Hagon

I interviewed husband and wife Garrick Hagon and Liza Ross in September 1998 at the recording of The Gemini Apes, an original sci-fi radio drama by Dirk Maggs. Of course, we mostly talked about Star Wars.

How did you get involved with this?
“I’ve been involved with Dirk right from the very beginning, right from the very first pilot of Superman, when I played the voice of… what was his name? Something like K-Tel or K-Mart! Anyway, I did that and then I did Clark Kent. We did Superman and then I did Batman’s twin in a very early radio show of Batman, and then later it was Spider-Man. So I’ve been with Dirk since the first one.”

Do you do a lot of radio?
“Oh yes. My whole, budding career started in radio, when I was about six. I do a lot of radio; I do a lot of readings of books and stories. I just did a drama recently, I did Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. An awful lot.”

I think to most people you’re Biggs.
“Yes, people are still harking back to Biggs.”

Does that role haunt you, or was it useful?
“It doesn’t haunt me. It’s become much more prevalent since the reissue and I’ve started going to a few conventions. I went to one a few weeks ago at the hotel in Russell Square. Then I was at one a while ago on the Isle of Wight. So yes, there are more requests for photographs and all of that. A doll has come out.”

Famously, your scene with Mark Hamill was cut. Was it actually filmed?
“Oh yes, the scene was filmed. It’s all there. In fact, they showed it at a convention not so long ago. Somebody actually mentioned that they’d seen it and actually had a copy. Not a very good copy, but there are contraband copies being sent around, I believe.”

Not that we endorse that sort of thing at all.
“Not at all, not at all!”

That must have radically reduced your screen time.
“My screen time was virtually non-existent. That scene, the whole segment on Tattooine was about six minutes, I understand. All my information comes from fans who write and tell me. I had no idea what the length was or why it was cut. I’ve never understood. I’ve never really had an official letter as to why.”

So you filmed it but then it wasn’t there on the screen at the preview.
“I knew it had been binned, but only from another actor as well; Anthony Daniels. It wasn’t there. Subsequently George has talked about it in various interviews and indicated it didn’t fit, it was slowing us down, it made Luke look weak. In fact, it just changed the pace of the first part of the film. It’s a very talky scene, it’s a kind of grown-up scene. A very nice, warm, friendly, human scene that just takes a different tone from the early part of the picture.”

Do you think he was right to cut it?
“Well, I don’t know. Mark said at the party for the opening: ‘I’ve always wanted it to be put in, because it gave him a background, it gave him a bit more past life.’ I guess that would have added something and a lot of people still would like it put back in. Get a bit of life on the planet, you know. Because there were other people: Koo Stark and Anthony Forrest and so on. We had a nice little scene in the power station there that kind of gave a community to it.”

Did you film that in Tunisia?

I heard that was fairly rough.
“Oh, it wasn’t rough for me. I sat around the hotel for a week and then did it on my second last day there. It was hot, but I’d worked in the desert on Mohammed or The Message for a year. It was nice to get back and talk a little bit of Arabic. So it was fun; I really enjoyed it. We had nice horse rides on the beach.”

Most of your remaining footage is flying the X-Wings.
“There’s a little bit of me in the hanger, meeting Mark. Which is nice to see because it’s a very nice, warm, friendly scene as well. Kind of a happy scene. It was near the end of the picture, I think we were just pretty bubbly that day. But it was nice to see it back. And who knows - one day I may actually see the whole scene. Who knows? There might be a good copy in this country, I don’t know. It might come from the office eventually.”

The cockpit scenes: was that just a close-up camera on a tiny cockpit set?
“I don’t know how close it was. It was just outside the cockpit, a light going round on a track around it. I can’t remember whether we did the whole thing in sequence. I found that I knew the whole scene, so I may have just shot it and gone right the way through it. I believe I did. But anyway, that was all one day, one very short hour or two.”

When you were making Star Wars, how much idea did you have that it might be so huge?
“Some of them must have felt that, but I don’t think any of us on the floor did. I don’t think anybody had any idea at all. We knew it was fun, we knew it was ingenious, a lot of good people in it, and so on. Especially with Alec Guinness being in the midst, you knew there was something of quality here. And George kept his cards fairly close to the chest. Gil Taylor didn’t seem too bemused by it all, but he was doing a lot of good work on the cameras so the sets and everything looked pretty good. So you knew there was something, but you didn’t have any idea what.”

You mentioned Mohammed, Messenger of God. Now there is a controversial film.
“It was controversial but on the other hand it got a very big wide audience - and still does - among the Muslim nations. Of both versions: we did two versions, Arabic and English. So it’s still very much there. I get people coming up to me occasionally who have seen it. Mainly Muslims of course. That was a great experience for a whole year.”

As I understand it, you can’t show the Prophet or any of his wives or…
“No, it’s absolutely forbidden to show the Prophet or any image of the Prophet. We all played to the red light on the side of the camera. Anthony Quinn, when he finally got fed up with the red light, used to call for me if I was around to get in there beside the camera and do the lines behind the camera, but nobody knew that. But he just couldn’t work to a red light. There was actually a lot of wonderful horse stuff and nitty gritty in the desert, and I enjoyed that. It was a great time and I loved the Arabic cast, and I learned an awful lot about another culture on that film.”

People must have realised that there was going to be controversy.
“Yes, but they had advisors from the council of Islam - I’m not sure what they were called - in Cairo. They were always there and they vetted the script endlessly of course. So it was only the fundamentalists. Nowadays I think they’d find it even harder to make the film because the fundamentalists are much more in evidence. It was finally Saudia Arabia, King Faisal, that put the pressure on King Hussain of Morocco, and we had to leave Morocco with half of the film done. Then Gadaffi took us under his wing and we did the rest of the film in Libya with a lot of help from Gadaffi and Zalut, his second-in-command.”

When it opened, I understand a lot of people who hadn’t seen it, condemned it.
“That’s right. There were a lot of protests in New York. In fact, people were afraid to show it. I think it was eventually withdrawn from New York and Toronto. It played here and then it went. It played in the Muslim countries of course.”

You and Liza were both in Tim Burton’s Batman.
“Yes, we started Batman. We opened the picture. That was a wonderful set and an incredible night. We continued the scene on another night, but that whole Gotham City set was one of the most exciting sets I’ve ever been on. Wonderful. Tim Burton was a great director; he didn’t say very much but he was a very nice person to work for. It was a good experience.”

You were in a Doctor Who story.
“Yes, I was. Somebody came up to me at a conference with my picture from ‘The Mutants’. I played a character called Kai in ‘The Mutants’ who starts as this very rough and ready rebel character in a cave and ends up a butterfly. A very sweet transformation. I had a lot of fun and it’s a good episode, and it still seems to be about today. People come up to me at the conferences and mention Doctor Who.”

Which Doctor was that?
“It was Jon Pertwee, with Katy Manning. They were very good together and we had a lot of fun in that.”

You were in Moonbase 3.
“Yes, I was. That was more intellectual, more scientifically based. I was playing an Italian scientist in that who was quite an angry young man too. But it didn’t go very far. I don’t know how many we did: six, or something like that. But it was a pretty worthwhile little series.”

The Spy Who Loved Me.
“Oh well, I did everything I could not to be seen in that. I just ran around as a member of the crew and thought ‘I really shouldn’t be doing this, but it’s good money for Christmas.’ I just thought I should be doing something better. I’d played very good parts in films, and I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll do this for the money but I don’t want to be seen.’ And indeed, I don’t think you can see me. I think you have to really work hard to see me in that picture! Whenever there was a line-up of American troops, I was always at the end - I thought, ‘They’ll have cut by this time’! But I made nice money, except we practically got burned. A lot of the fellas got injured in one sequence; that was a bit scary. But aside from that, that was a good time. A lot of the American guys in town were in that.”

“I just saw that. That was a picture with Rutger Hauer and I played an American journalist. That was in Prague. It was a scary story about: what if the Nazis had won the war? Nice, good, solid TV film.”

Were you in Mission: Impossible?
“I was, but I did a reporter and it didn’t mean much. It was just a day.”

A Bridge Too Far.
“That was an early picture I did in the midst of Star Wars. I played a military policeman who wants to arrest James Caan. In fact he does, he says, ‘Arrest him’. So I arrest him for a count of ten. He’s arrested for ten seconds then he can operate on the guy. He’s rescuing this young, wounded soldier and Arthur Hill operates on him then and saves his life, or something. Anyway, I memorably count to ten. But that was awful because I had to cut my hair for that and I thought George Lucas wouldn’t let me back on Star Wars. Because I did it inbetween Tunisia and the London locations. But George, when I got back, said, ‘Ah, don’t worry about it. You got your hair cut at the academy!’ Because I wasn’t wearing a helmet in Tunisia. I had nice, long hair and a beautiful, long cape and a great costume. So if they’d kept Tunisia, it would have been a complete transformation from me in Tunisia to me back in the London sequences. As it was, they never showed Tunisia, so there was no problem!”

Have a lot of your film roles been odd days?
“Well, except for the one I spent a year on. And I starred in a film way back called Some Kind of Hero. That was my first and only leading role, but it was a lovely story about an American deserter who escapes from Vietnam and comes to London. It’s actually a bit of a love story. My leading lady was Mary Larkin. That’s a long time ago. But that was a film in which I go all the way through, which has subsequently been lost to history. That was my first one; I did that along with Anthony and Cleopatra with Charlton Heston. I was Charlton Heston’s faithful servant Eros. I have a lovely picture of me helping Chuck down the stairs.

"It was a great, nice experience because Eros is a very moving part. Chuck was always very supportive and it was a good way to start filming. He always felt badly about it because it wasn’t the big success he wanted as a director and as an actor. But it was a very fine English cast - some were Spaniards too - and it should have done well. I think the photography was not great, it was done not as well as it could have been shot. It was well acted but not as well shot as it could have been. For one reason or another, it was not a success.”

Do you do a lot of film work?
“Over the years yes, I have. I’ve done a lot of telly and a lot of film. I’ve done other series in Europe, like The Nightmare Years, and a lot of films and television in Canada, and American things over here too. I did a series called Openheimer, again with my wife. A lot of stage work too. I did Arthur Miller’s All My Sons with Colin Blakely and Rosemary Harrison; After the Fall at the National Theatre; and I’ve just done Macbeth with Pete Postlethwaite; and a play at the Royal Court called I am Yours. I do a lot of voice work as well, so I’ve managed to do quite a wide variety of stuff.”

Do you do many cartoons?
“Liza does. I do some. I heard her talking about Star Fleet, and I did that. Somebody came up the other day and said, ‘Oh, you did Captain Carter in Star Fleet.’ Somebody remembers it. It’s amazing. Somebody came up with a full treatment that he wanted to direct, a live-action series. I thought: ‘Well, good on you.’ Of course, I’ve had another chap write a whole book really, then a treatment, then a radio script of Biggs Darklighter’s life. I’ve had a number of those actually, but one very, very well constructed one from somebody in England, but of course you can’t get the rights to do anything like that.”

Have you thought of getting a role in the new film?
“That hasn’t even come up. Kenny Baker was saying he’s in it, but they weren’t throwing them about to a lot of the old members. And there was no reason to because we’re dead or not born or whatever. I don’t know who else is in it from the old ones. Tony, I know, is in it.”

Ian McDiarmid is in it.
“Oh, that’s great. The guy’s wonderful. Tony I think only has the droid’s voice off-screen or something like that. Everyone would like to be in it, I suppose, but they’re not handing them out like candy, these roles.”

What else are you working on?
“Mostly books, I suppose. For the next month, I seem to be doing two or three books, and I’m doing another radio show. But I have no films lined up at all.”


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