An Interview with:
By Harry Governick
Artistic Director, TheatrGROUP
R: Yes, I do too. I think it’s happening. I think it can happen, I think it will, I think even worse things will happen. Now whether or not the… result, in terms of the human mind… will… the same thing will not happen now, I don’t think, as happened in 1930. That is to say… there was, as a result of the Great Depression, a coming together of American people. You could walk the streets, no matter how hungry people were, not matter how long they’d been out of jobs, you could walk the streets, you could ride the subways in New York, and you would not get knocked in the head. You would not get mugged. You would not go home and find your door broken in, and your house robbed. It just did not happen. Period.
That won’t happen today. That won’t happen. Too much has happened, people have gone too far. The crime situation is just impossible. But Of Mice And Men , if looked at as a piece of Americana, then there’s great joy in it, despite the story line.
H: Two moments in the film will haunt my memory forever, and both moments were yours. When Candy offers George his life savings as collateral for a piece of George’s dream to buy land to live on, I saw the desperation of a person who knows that the end might not be that far away, and does not want to face it alone. I see that same desperation when I visit homes for the aged. The truth of your art illuminated this painful subject onscreen for me, reminding me not to forget the aged.
In another scene, the men who share the bunk house tell you it’s time to shoot your dog, because its “old and stinks, and would be better off out to pasture”. Your argument against losing your old pal was so touching I cried.
At the end of the movie, when George has to shoot Lenny, I missed feeling the degree of emotion I felt with your scene and the dog. It wasn’t quite there for me.
R: I would like to think that it is the actor who is playing the part, it is the actor who is controlling the words written by Steinbeck, and in this case Horton Foote, who adapted it for the movie, but practically used paragraphs right out of the book, and just placed them right in the screenplay. But I would like to think that it’s the actor that makes the difference in these cases. Not the director, not the guy that wrote the book, not the guy that adapted it for the screen, but the actor.
If you bear in mind that the actor (who is also the director) is faced with something entirely different as George than I was with my part as Candy. He [ Sinese] was there, at the end, he knew what he had to do, you know, with the gun, and the shooting, and so forth. I agree with you that it should have been, uh… well, the most memorable moment of the picture, really. It should have blown the top off the theatre.
H: It should have at least equalled your scene, which for me was the most memorable moment in the film.
R: But I think the difference is the gun involved. The gun, and the shot involved. Now in my scene, with the dog, a gun was involved, but not in the way that it was in the last scene, so that the actor/director had to contend with… “How will I do this?” he [Sinese] would say, “in order not to go too far with an audience?” It’s a very very very delicate moment.
I’ve often wondered, when they’ve done Of Mice And Men on stage, and I’ve seen it, how they did that gun thing. I’ve watched it on stage, but I don’t remember it.
I feel that the thing that probably aided me the most in that scene with the dog was the utilization and using an actual recreation, affective memory, if you want to call it, of pain. This is what I used. Of pain. Of a severe pain. And what it did to my life. So that that can become, in a tragic moment, as it was with the dog… it can become, to the onlooker, something entirely different.
H: So it was a physical pain, an affective memory of a physical pain, that was translated by me as an emotional pain.
R: That’s exactly right.
H: It sure worked.
R: That’s exactly right. Like they tell the story of the famous Yiddish actor, Jacob Ben-Ami, who had a scene where he was to life the gun to his forehead and kill himself. And as he lifted the gun off the table, he picked it up, slowly started up to his head: slowly now, he’s not even up to his shoulder yet. But he’s slowly coming up to point it to his forehead. Many people in the audience began to say, “No, no, no! ” They were so taken by what he did that they were overcome.
Now what he actually did, when he picked up that gun, and he started slowly lifting that gun, he was actually [sensorally] backing into a cold shower…backing into it. And the “feeling” of backing into this cold shower, as it hit his back… he was nearing the top, with that gun. He did not fire it, of course.
H: Ray,. how was the overall experience of working on Of Mice And Men ?
R: The overall experience was a good one. I love going on location, and the location was nice. I had a problem here and there with which I had to contend. I’ve learned over the years that, like everything else in life, when you make a picture you might as well expect certain things to come up, that you’re gonna have to solve.
One thing that came up, that I haven’t gotten over yet, was the fact that when I began working on the role, I went and had my hair bleached white. And I wanted a white stubble on the beard. I had a three or four day growth. And the woman who was in charge of makeup said no, that won’t work onscreen, it won’t look good onscreen. I kept saying, “I don’t understand what you’re saying. I don’t understand it. I’ve been in movies for a long time. I don’t agree with you.”
And she said, “Well, I am responsible for what goes up on that screen, and I’m telling you that we’re not gonna do this.” I got into a fight with her, saying that I’m also responsible for what goes up on the screen, even more so than you are, because nobody’s gonna think about your goddam makeup, they’re gonna think about my performance. And if it’s bad, I’m gonna get accused for it.
However, there’s one scene where it’s the day after Candy’s dog has been shot. And you see him out feeding the chickens. And you know, from his attitude, the way he’s standing, the way he’s doing things, that he’s just broken hearted. Absolutely broken hearted.
Well, that particular morning, when we first got to the set, we were all hustled down in the area where we were shooting. Instead of getting into makeup first, we had to get down here [on set] because the climate is so right, exactly what we want. There’s a fog, and we wanna get it before it lifts, we wanna do the scene, no makeup, just come do it.
It so happened that that particular moment, you can see some white stubble, and it just looks terrific. Absolutely makes the man look entirely different.
H: Was it natural growth?
R: Oh yeah. You see, I had a natural growth, but what they would do is darken it every day, every morning when I would get made up. I remember one day walking out of my chair, lookin’ at myself in the mirror, I said, ” Okay, the way I look now, this is Ray Walston playing any role he ever played in any movie that was ever produced. This is the way he looks.”
I got them all pissed off about that. That was one of the few things that I got embroiled in. But the rest of it, most of it, was a lot of fun.
H: If you could do anything different in your life, would you change anything?
R: Practically all of it.
R: Oh, absolutely. My career would have turned out differently.
H: What would you have done?
R: First of all, I would have paid attention to my career when I was working in New York, and I got off [into films]… that’s the time I should have been laying plans for the future of my own production company doing my own thing, doing the plays I wanted to do, Shakespearean plays. I should have been trying to build a career, rather than leaving it in the hands of somebody else. That is to say whoever’s got a job they wanna give Ray Walston.