Front Row Reviews were lucky enough to have the opportunity to take part in an interview session with the two main stars of the legendary Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Keir Dullea (Dr. Dave Bowman) and Gary Lockwood (Dr. Frank Poole).
2001: A Space Odyssey is getting a new re-release this year, it is on general release from 28th November. It takes a central part of the fantastic BFI Sci-Fi season, Days of Fear and Wonder.
Ok, so… It’s April 1968 in Washington DC, you’re seeing the film for the first time, what do you feel?
[Gary Lockwood] – I was stoned.
[Keir Dullea] – It blew me away, obviously some of it was familiar, the Dawn of Man sequence blew me away the most, that was filmed after we were all done and i didn’t know what to expect, just seeing a few shots from that with the greatest jump cut in history when he throws the bone in the air and it morphs into a nuclear weapon – i thought it was just a space vehicle, but if you read the book by Arthur C Clarke, he posed that the US and Russia would be at loggerheads and both have nuclear missiles in constant orbit around the Earth.
[GL] – I remember smoking a joint with my wife Stephanie Powers. Some guy interviews us. He’s one of these real slick guys, dressed to the nines, you know, kind of a oily looking guy. We’d had ten pages in Look magazine that preceded us, so everybody was reading about the hype of it all. I looked at him and he looked at me and we didn’t like each other immediately. He asked me a couple of questions and i tried to answer him as intelligently as possible but i was a little stoned. Finally he said “well Mr Lockwood, you look like you’re still out there in space” and i look at him and said “you know something, after all this time, you finally got something right”.
But i came out like Keir, it wasn’t all that well received you know.
[KD] – Especially in Washington, a lot of people walked out, it got unbelievably mixed reviews, there were some wonderful reviews but there were some terrible reviews. Who would have guessed, especially with that first reception that it would become an iconic film like that? I thought that we were in this great film with Stanley Kubrick and i began to doubt that was gonna happen.
[GL] – No, no, no, no, i never did.
[KD] – No, gary never did… i don’t mean that i thought it was less of a film, i still thought it was a genius of a film. About two months into the release, MGM realised that a lot of the younger generation were attending the film having smoked funny cigarettes and so they totally changed their advertising campaign. These new posters came out – 2001… The Ultimate Trip.
[GL] – You gotta remember it was the 60’s. The latter part of the 60’s. In 68, the last Premiere was in Los Angeles but that was kinda fun for us because Warren Beatty comes up, he campaigned to get your part.
[KD] – i didn’t know that.
[GL] – Stanley told me that later… and he stuck his head in and said “you guys are really lucky”. Beatty’s a bright guy, he got it.
[KD] – he’s right, we were lucky.
How did you guys land the job?
[KD] – I was shooting a film here with Laurence Olivier called Bunny Lake is Missing, an Otto Preminger film… well actually there’s a side story… i went to a fortune teller one afternoon when i didn’t have to work, at the Battersea Fun Fair, i went to a palmist, and he said “Are you a scientist?”, i said “no”, he said “are you a mathematician?”, “no”, “engineer?”, “no”, “well he said, i don’t know but i see a rocket ship”… now i knew nothing about 2001at this point at all. About a week later, i come home from a day of shooting and my wife said call your agent – i called “are you sitting down?”, i said “why?”, he said “you’ve just been offered the lead in Stanley Kubricks next film” – literally like that, i had no idea i was being considered.
[GL] – in my case, i started acting kinda by accident. I went to see about doubling an actor, and the Director asked if me if i could play a Russian and I ended up being in Tall Story with Jane Fonda. Jane Fonda called her agent who happened to handle Jimmy Dean and Marlon Brando and next thing you know, i’m an actor. I’d been an English major, a painter and a football player so i was kinda a weird guy to be an actor, you know. I was in the right frame of mind but no training, nothing, just a cocky bastard who just said i could do anything for money. That director that gave me the part of the Russian basketball player was doing a play on Broadway, he asked if i wanted to come back there and understudy the two leads, play a small part and i did it. I’m now an actor and starting to get a lot of jobs. I’m doing rather well, i’m enjoying it, i’m chasing beautiful girls, driving Porsches… and you know, the routine, as you gather…. My agent calls me up, ha, and he tells me Stanley Kubrick wants me to star in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was a giant fan of Stanley Kubrick, even though i was a cowboy i knew his stuff. I’d seen The Killing and Paths of Glory and thought this guy is a bit of a genius. The part of me that was a painter liked his application and the way he mounted his films. You either have that skill or you don’t… and i said to my agent “Wow, great – what’s it gonna cost me?” Because, i don’t wanna sound too bold but i knew it was over, i knew this would be the job. I’ve had better parts, but none of us will ever be in a better picture than that.
In our profession, if Keir or myself go a party, and there are actors, they’ll come up and they’ll go “Hey, what was Stanley like?”
In the media narrative, quite unfairly, Kubrick has been portrayed as a mercurial, strange loner, obsessing over details, how did you find him to work with as a director and a colleague?
[KD] – I know Shelley Long in The Shining found it difficult but in general you speak to others who worked with him and they all rave about the experience. Malcolm McDowell and other people, Richard Anderson.
[GL] – Slim Pickens.
[KD] – I had just finished working with Otto Preminger, lemme tell you, it was like going from hell to heaven. Kubrick was so easy going with us. He never raised his voice, ever. Very quiet. You sensed, at least i did, that you were in the presence of genius every moment of the time. And he cast well. If you cast well, you don’t have to do a lot of directing.
[GL] – Are you saying you were the proper guy for the part?
[KD] – He thought so, haha
[GL] – Good directors number one are very intelligent. He watched a lot of film on both of us and he decided that we looked like astronauts, that was one… and two, i asked him one day why i got the part and he said “Well, i thought you could do a lot without doing anything”. He said to Keir one day, “I think you’re a wonderful actor, enjoy yourself”, because Keir was very much in awe of him at first.
[KD] – Yeah, i was, yeah
[GL] – Whereas for me it was different i hadn’t been around him as such, but I was a stunt man before i was an actor… and had worked on Spartacus previously in Vegas before it was moved to Spain… In short, there’s only one Stanley Kubrick, as it said right there. (in the trailer)
It’s obviously a fairly slow paced film with a lack on tangible meaning, how do you think modern audiences will react to the film with this re-release?
[KD] – We do a lot of autograph shows, all kinds of places, like Comic Con and other venues. What i have noticed through the years, since 1998 when Gary got me started, every year doing 2 or 3 shows a year we notice more than 50% of these fans hadn’t been born when 2001 came out. So that kind of speaks to the trans-generational aspect of this film. The genius of this film, which is all Stanley Kubrick, appealed to generation after generation until this moment. What a compliment to Stanley Kubrick that the young people in this era who are used to iPhones and laptops and all these things that didn’t exist in those days and are used to seeing computer generated effects so predominant, especially in science-fiction and in 2001 nothing, not one foot, it didn’t exist. Everything you see in this film is done physically, so what a compliment. It didn’t begin as an iconic film at all, with such mixed reviews, who could have guessed… well, Gary did.
[GL] – hahaha
[KD] – it would be like the actors in Citizen Kane predicting that they would be watched by film students seventy years later.
[GL] – you know something about those predictions, people like the drama, like in the aftermath of a football game. This will kinda blow your mind but Stanley Kubrick was a giant football fan. He’d invite me to his house during football season, we’d get a football game live from New York. He had two 35mm Swiss projectors and he’d watch the game with me, and i’d explain the game to him. I remember he said, “Wow, football is really complicated”. A great football coach is not that much different to Kubrick. People who are really good at something, one it’s a passion, it’s an interest, but they have to have an IQ. They have to be intelligent. I meet young kids from film school and they go “i wanna make movies like Stanley Kubrick”, well, haha, you can tell by just 5 minutes with them there is not the grey matter. Kubrick was curious and very, very intelligent.
[KD] – The most curious man i ever met. I remember the Pentax camera had just come out that year, somebody came on with a Pentax camera, he stopped shooting and he took half an hour to examine it. He just took time out, he just wanted to know all about it. He was a very curious man. A lot of fun to be around.
[GL] – You know what he did with that Pentax? He gave it to his daughter. She went to school with it and he said “photograph everything in school that looks good to you”. He had the pictures developed, he said to me “Lockwood, here’s the photographs, here’s what Virginia thought looked good”… a coat rack, you know, she was like her father, she had the eye. The guy had the eye.
[KD] – Did we answer your question? haha
[GL] – You said something about current audiences with their lack of attention because of the MTV kinda style fast cutting, will they be able to sustain themselves emotionally sitting there watching this movie? Who fucking cares?
Have you seen Gravity or Interstellar? For a long time post 2001: A Space Odyssey, space films didn’t seem to have that reality which Kubrick managed to get in 2001, since then Sci-Fi has been more about Star Wars and Star Trek.
[GL] – Careful, i did the pilot for Star Trek!… But yeah, i totally agree. I’ve seen Interstellar. I ran out immediately to see it… It’s not as good as 2001. There are some really great moments in it. Visually they had the capability to create certain imagery which is astoundingly wonderful as he’s going though the worm hole. But I thought the beginning of the picture was very lame… they’re somewhere in the mid-west, and he’s in a pick up truck. There are some things about it but symbiotically in 2001 almost everything seems to work. You know, it’s all tied together. All parts indisputably adding to the whole, right? I didn’t think Interstellar did that. The other great Sci-Fi movie i think is Blade Runner, it’s incredible.
[KD] – I saw Gravity. Mainly i enjoyed her performance, I just thought it was terrific. There’s a lot of spectacular generated special effects which were quite amazing to see. I enjoyed the film. I can’t really be objective enough to say is it greater or lesser than 2001. It’s a different experience.
It’s just taken a long time from 2001 until now to get that sort of reality back in films
[KD] – I’m trying to remember did they portray space with things making sound in Gravity?
[GL] – No.
[KD] – Ah ok, because that’s the big mistake in a lot of the Star Wars films.
[GL] – Star Wars, that’s a kiddie movie. You know, it’s fun, but it’s a kiddie movie.
[KD] – Well, you know, i feel very proud to have been in this film, as Gary said, it wasn’t the most demanding role i’ve ever played, but to work with Stanley and to be in this film which paved the way for Star Wars and everything that has come since. There were no large budget science-fiction films up til then. It cost roughly $11 million, translated today would be 50 or 60 million.
[GL] – No, no it would be a couple of hundred million i guess. Believe me. Some little comedy is $35-40 million to make it now. Films are just runaway trains. Doesn’t mean they are always good. It’s hard to make a movie, a good movie. In my opinion why 2001 came out such a fine film is because it is so complicated. I mean, what are the odds? They make hundreds, thousands of films all round the world, India, Japan, everywhere.
What did Kubrick tell you about your characters when you came on board the film?
[KD] – All the information we needed was in the film. I’ll go back to saying if you cast well, you get the performances you want. We both had a fictional biography that we both had double doctorates. And by the year 2001 they wouldn’t be choosing their astronauts from the military necessarily, that early on they would be looking at young men, choosing people based on their psychological profile – and that they would be so steady, what would the drive the average man round the bend, but would only annoy us, a little bit. There wasn’t a lot of discussion of character really.
There was very little dialogue, but the scene with the most dialogue was the scene when HAL is reading our lips and we’re in the pod, and you can see our mouths moving. Stanley felt it was too long. There was a lot of downtime very often waiting for setups – sometimes it would take half the day to just light it. We had a lot of time, so we’d go to his office and he’d have us improvise on the scene and recorded it, then the next time we got together there would be a shorter version based on our improvisation and we’d improvise on that until he narrowed it down to what you see in the film.
GL – Have you ever heard why we into that pod? We were shooting one day and Keir and I were doing a scene, something to increase the paranoia in the part of the computer. We both liked Stanley a great deal. I was never a smart ass with him, i was always a company man but on this particular day i really hated the scene and he looked over said something to me, slightly off colour. Later we had a private moment about it. After we wrapped, Derek Cracknell knocks on my door.
KD – he was the Assistant Director
GL – Yeah, he was a cockney, he said “The guv wants to see you mate”, “Derek, am i fired?” because Stanley fired people, he says “don’t know guv”.… So, Kubrick’s room. I walked into his room, he had a wall of records, an absolute wall, 78 LPs. Remember those? haha… He said “what do you want, Chopin, or?”, i said “yeah, Chopin is fine”. Then he said “i’d like to pour you a drink”, “ok, i’ll have vodka” then i said “Stanley, before we get into what happened, am i fired?”, he said “No, you’re very conscientious and something triggered something in you”. Stanley didn’t dislike actors, you hear all these myths about actors not liking Kubrick – that’s all bullshit. He said “when someone like you doesn’t like something, i’ve learned to pay attention, so you didn’t care for it?”, i said “No, it’s just the direction we’re going right now, you and Arthur writing these little scenes about increasing paranoia. I don’t know, i just don’t think it’s up to the mark”. And it’s an interesting moment cos you’re talking to a brilliant guy and you’re like a California surfer, farm boy, cowboy kinda guy. I looked right into his eyes and he looked into mine and he said these words “you live back in the city right?, i’m gonna have my driver Eddie take you back… and you like to have food at the deli in Golders Green don’t you?” I said “yeah i do”. “I’ll have Eddie stop in there and get you anything you want. The next time i hear from you, let’s see what you would like to do.”
I went home, i know it sounds crazy, everyone has their own methodology in trying to figure out how to solve problems. A got a spiral notebook and starting writing down all the things we needed to get out. I called Stanley rather late and he liked my idea. I said we would go in the pod and discuss everything. Then later when we were ready to go in the pod, a fella named Victor Lyndon said “Oh, so the computer has to find out the information, he could read your lips”. It’s pretty startling to see it, because it became the Intermission break. I guess my contribution is that, one of the better moments in my life!.
[KD] – I only had one tiny contribution. The ending when i’m in the 16th century room. The older version of my character eating, he reaches for something and the glass falls on the ground. I have a lot of people asking me about what that meant. It smashes and i start to reach over for it, and suddenly at that moment i sense something off camera. Then you cut to what i see and it’s the oldest version on the bed reaching for the monolith. Which by the way was a 12 hour makeup, fortunately shot in one day so i didn’t have to do it again. The reason i asked “Stanley, do you mind if i knock this glass over?”, is that up til then the younger versions of me had certain attitudes when they heard something and made them look. Like with me standing in the red space suit, at some point i sense something and i look and see the next oldest version, he goes into the bathroom and by that time my face is wrinkled, then that version of me hears something else, which is the older one at the table eating and i said “Stanley, let me just find another way of sensing something instead of just looking, let me be in the middle of a motion, having knocked the glass off”, he said “Ok, that’s fine”. That was my huge contribution.
Ok, i’m gonna show off, there is a scene that was later cut, when mission control is speaking to us. It was technological gobbledygook, for me it was like learning a foreign language. The only scene i was worried about memorising and for weeks before shooting i was working on that speech. Because of the way i learned it, it will stay with me until i go to my grave and it went like this…
If you are interested in following up with some Kubrick. There’s a great video featuring James Lavelle, Jan Harlan and Stuart Brown discussing the music of 2001 here. And a previous FRR interview with Jan Harlan here.
Or check out the listings and go and see this masterpiece on the biggest screen you an find.