The Collider Interview: John Landis, Part
Posted by Collider Staff
Posted by Mr.
One of this epic interview can be found here.
Read it first, or everything below will read like Pynchon.
While we’re discussing
music, another indispensable element of your movies was your collaboration of
Elmer’s scores, especially his one for Three Amigos – I think Three Amigos is one of the great
film scores. Songs by
Randy Newman, the score is by Elmer Bernstein; I really believe that score to
be genuinely funny and
stirring. To get
someone like that to parody himself is pretty great.
To parody himself, but also compose yet another
great western score.
It’s a great score. You know, I knew Elmer when I was a kid. And when I was shooting Animal House, which was a very
low budget movie and very unimportant to the studio… to give you an idea, we
were shooting in Oregon,
and I had a Chapman crane for the first day of the parade. I had asked for it for three
days, I had it the first day, and, then, the second day it wasn’t there. I said, “Where the hell’s the
crane?” And they said
the studio had called it back for The Incredible Hulk T.V. show. (Laughs) That’s the priority we were! So, when they asked me about
the score, they gave me about four or five composers, and I said, “No, I would
like to ask Elmer Bernstein”.
They looked at me and were like, “Get the fuck out of here! He won’t return your
call!” And I said,
“Ah-hah! I know
And then that score for Animal House became the way to score
You were talking about directors getting typed; Elmer
had this amazing thing happen to him. You know, he started very young, scored The Ten
Commandments when he was, like, twenty-seven. He did these huge epic movies, and, then, he did
what they called “jazz scores” for Sweet Smell of Success, Walk on the Wild Side, The Man with the Golden Arm. He did To Kill a Mockingbird, Birdman of Alcatraz, all these great scores. And he started doing westerns for John Wayne; he
did, like, twelve John Wayne westerns – True Grit and all those movies – and, of course, The Magnificent Seven. But when I asked him to do
Animal House, he had never
done a comedy. And
very quickly, within five or six years, Elmer had done Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Ghostbusters, Airplane, Stripes – the most successful
comedies ever! He
became “Mr. Comedy”; for ten years he did nothing but comedy, and he got so
pissed off. He was
like, “Nobody will give me a real job anymore!” He was so angry; he did The Grifters during that time,
but it didn’t change anything.
So, finally, he quit.
He said, “I’m not working until I’m not making a comedy.” But, for free, as a favor for
a producer, he did My Left
Foot, and then Scorsese used him to help recreate some Bernard Hermann
stuff [for Cape Fear], so
he came back. But if
you could be Elmer Bernstein and get typed, that just shows how bullshit it
And his score for An American Werewolf in
That’s a beautiful
He’s doing this full-on horror film, but he
chooses to score it very mournfully.
It’s very sad music. It’s only seven minutes of score; the rest is
You’ve had a very good run
with Saturday Night Live
But I actually have no connection with Saturday Night
No, but you’ve broken many
of its stars into the movies.
Actually, in Three Amigos, Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz were in the movie
because I wanted them to meet Lorne Michaels. They were with the Groundlings at the
That was their introduction to Lorne?
Well, shit, you kinda helped
him out there. That
was the next ten years of SNL.
They were brilliant guys. I’ve also used a lot of people from Second
City. A lot of people who were on
Saturday Night Live were
also in the National Lampoon and Second City. But the one I didn’t know
[before I cast him] was Eddie Murphy. Jeff Katzenberg said, “What about Eddie
Murphy?” And I was
He was nineteen years-old
and already the King of the World when you got
Eddie never had to struggle. He grew up in an integrated,
middle class neighborhood, started doing stand-up comedy in New York when he was
seventeen, by the time he was eighteen he was on Saturday Night Live, and by the
time he was nineteen he had been in 48 Hrs. and Trading Places.
And you worked with Eddie at three very
different points in his career.
Three very guys, too. The guy on Trading Places was young and full of energy and curious and
funny and fresh and great.
The guy on Coming to
America was the pig of the world – the most unpleasant, arrogant,
bullshit entourage… just an asshole. However, Eddie is brilliant, and he and I have
always worked together well; there’s never been an issue created. On Coming to America, we clashed
quite a bit because he was such a pig; he was so rude to people. I was like, “Jesus Christ,
Eddie! Who are
you?” But I told him,
“You can’t be late. If
you’re late again, I quit.”
We had a good working relationship, but our personal relationship
changed because he just felt that he was a superstar and that everyone had to
kiss his ass. He was a
jerk. But great – in
fact, one of the greatest performances he’s ever given. The character he plays in
Coming to America, Hakeem,
is so opposite of what
Eddie really was: a
gentleman, charming and elegant, as opposed to this jerk-off. Someone, I think it was James
Earl Jones, used to say that when Eddie came on set, “It’s like an arctic
wind.” (Laughs) I mean, he wouldn’t do his
off-camera for people; it was bullshit. But I still think he’s wonderful in the
movie. Because that
was the first time… you know, Eddie’s genius is mimicry. He can be anyone. If you say, “Sing like Eddie
Murphy”, he’s got no voice.
But if you say, “Sing like Jackie Wilson, or Frank Sinatra, sing
Stevie Wonder or James Brown. I mean, he can do it. He’s quite
extraordinary. At the
time of Coming to America,
I had read this article, that I was really offended by, about Jewish comics in
blackface – Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson and stuff. I thought it was really ignorant, so I just said,
“Eddie, I’m gonna have you play an old Jew”. And he said, “What?” He didn’t believe me, and I said, “Rick Baker can
make you an old Jew”.
So, we got him in the test makeup, and the test makeup totally
convinced Eddie. He
had the accent down, Deborah made him a hump for his coat, and he went around
the Paramount offices flirting with
realized, “I can do it”.
He was so funny.
And what we discovered was that the makeup freed him. Once he was in the makeup, he
was just as fresh as when he was nineteen. Once he was in the makeup, he wasn’t Eddie
anymore. In fact, the
people who made The Nutty
Professor said they loved working with Sherman
Klump, but they hated
working with Eddie Murphy.
Because when he was Sherman, he was a sweet guy.
You know, in Coming to America, there were people who never understood that
I didn’t do any optical tricks.
It was all straightforward doubles and over-the-shoulders and
stuff. So, in Coming to America, there were
people who never realized that, at times, Eddie was four of the seven people in
the scene. Because he
was so good. So good. And Arsenio [Hall] was really
funny in those makeups, too.
The preacher was his dad. He was playing his dad. And I loved that great line
where he says, “And when Gilligan comes back to the island!” (Laughs) And Eddie as that… what was
his name? Randy
That’s an amazing makeup. But then Eddie and I had a real parting of the
ways. It was like
“Fuck you!”; we really disliked one another. And many years later, I was approached to do
Hills Cop 3, and I asked, “Well, who’s playing Eddie
Murphy?” They said,
“No, Eddie asked for you.”
So, I met with him, and he was pleasant. I still think it was his way
of apologizing, but who knows with Eddie? He’s so strange. A very odd fellow. But so talented.
And how was the experience
of making Beverly
Hills Cop 3?
3 was a
very strange experience.
The script wasn’t any good, but I figured, “So what? I’ll make it funny with
Eddie.” I mean, one of
the worst scripts I ever read was [the original] Beverly Hills Cop. It was a piece of shit, that
script. But the
movie’s very funny because Eddie Murphy and Martin Brest made it funny. And with Bronson Pinchot…
that was all improvised.
Everything funny in that movie is not in the screenplay, so I
thought, “Well, we’ll do that.”
But then I discovered on the first day when I started giving Eddie
some shtick, he said, “You know, John… Axel Foley is an adult now. He’s not a wiseass
anymore.” It turned
out… I believe he was very jealous of Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes doing
these [straight roles].
If you notice, after Beverly
Hills Cop 3 he did like four action movies. So, with Beverly Hills Cop 3, I had this strange
experience where he was very professional, but he just wasn’t funny. I would try to put him in
funny situations, and he would find a way to step around them. It’s an odd movie. There are things in it I
like, but it’s an odd movie.
Do you think there comes a point with certain
comedians where they just can’t tap into that playfulness or invention
No, he was just a brilliant as he always was; he just
wasn’t happy. He’s an
odd fellow. A lot of
comics are unhappy people, but I know a lot of comics who aren’t unhappy people,
so there you go.
I think one of your most
underappreciated movies is Into the
I actually think it’s The Stupids.
Yeah, I was very pleased with The Stupids. It’s a children’s
film. I made it for a
company called Savoy. They went bankrupt while I
was in post-production; the film sat on a shelf for two years with fourteen
other movies. Disney
tried to buy it, and that would’ve been brilliant, because then it would’ve been
“Walt Disney Presents The
Stupids”, which would’ve been like a papal blessing. Unfortunately, New Line
bought it, but I discovered they bought it because it was Tom Arnold, John
Landis and Jenny McCarthy, who, when I made the movie, was a model in
Canada. But when the movie came out
almost three years later, she had been Playmate of the Year, she had a
television show, and was very hot. So, [New Line] thought, “Oh, it’s a tits-and-ass
comedy”, and it’s a G-rated children’s movie. Captain Kangaroo is in it!
It’s based on a very good series of children’s
And it’s very faithful to the book. It’s a very clever
screenplay. It’s a
movie where Captain Kangaroo and Christopher Lee play the same character. I was very happy with that
movie. But when I
screened it for Mitch Goldman, the head of distribution at New Line, about
halfway through the film, he looked at me and said, “It’s a children’s
film”. And I said,
“Yeah.” He said, “What
the fuck am I going to do with this?” So, it was dumped, and treated very badly by the
critics. I’m happy to
say it’s very successful on television, and extremely successful on video
because people buy it for their kids. It’s meant for ten year-olds. That really went under the
radar. But I really
like that picture. And
that one had a great score by Christopher Stone.
the Night was my first box office failure, and that was quite surprising
to me, because I hadn’t done anything different.
But you had made a dark comedy, and
It was dark. And that’s another thing: critics don’t like it when
you fuck with genre.
An American Werewolf In
London is still called a comedy. It’s not a comedy; it’s a horror movie. But it’s the opposite of high
concept. High concept
is when you can explain [the movie] in one sentence. But when things get muddled,
they’re confused. I
like Into the Night. It’s got a wonderful
It’s got one of my favorite surreal movie
moments. You have
David Bowie and Carl Perkins engaging in a knife fight while Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein
plays on a television in the background. It’s just a collision of pop cultural information
that completely confounds me.
Do you now that you’re the only person who’s ever
pointed that out? I
thought it was really outrageous to have David Bowie and Carl Perkins in a knife
fight, but no one ever, until this moment, said anything about
It’s just one of those things that stayed with
me. I got it. I don’t know what I got necessarily,
David was good in that.
He was. And so was Paul
Paul’s a good actor. There are a lot of directors in that movie. Roger
You do a lot of
Everything I’ve ever done, except Animal House, has
directors in it.
Why do you do
I wish I could tell you there was some deep reason, but it’s just for
fun. It’s not
important, it’s just for me.
Spies Like Us is funny because you’ve got
all of these up-and-coming directors [Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers] at the
Before they were famous.
And then you went and repaid
Sam by being in Darkman.
I’m in Spider-Man 2.
I’m one of the surgeons. You know, both times I’ve been in a fucking Sam Raimi
movie, he puts me in a surgical mask so you can’t recognize me. I’m like, “Thanks,
You know, Darkman’s an interesting story. I got a call from Sam, who was in a panic. He said, “I’m shooting this
scene tomorrow. Kathy
Bates was supposed to play this doctor, and she sets up the entire exposition of
the movie in this one scene, and she backed out. So, I’m fucked. Do you know any actresses that could handle that
kind of dialogue?”
Jenny Agutter was living in Los Angeles at the time, and I said,
“What about Jenny Agutter?”
He said, “Oh, she’d be great! Could you get her for me?” So, I called Jenny and said,
“This guy Sam Raimi, he’s really talented and gifted.” She said, “What’s he
done?” I said, “Evil Dead”. And she said, “No.” She had just been in one of
the Chucky movies, and had a terrible experience. She said, “I don’t want to do any horror
pictures.” I said,
“Jenny, please! He’s a
friend of mine.” So
she was like, “Alright, I’ll do it. If you stand next to me.” I said, “What do you
mean?” She said,
“You’re in the film standing next to me.” So, I called up Sam and said, “She’ll do the movie,
but guess what?” (Laughs)
You also have George Lucas in Beverly Hills Cop 3. How did that come about?
George lives up in Northern California, and we shot at the amusement park in
Jose. So, I called him up and said, “Come on and be in the
But my favorite cameo is in Innocent Blood, where Dario
Argento’s in the ambulance.
I think that’s so funny when he says (taking on an Italian accent),
“You’re gonna be fine.”
I can’t imagine that
horrifying visage being the last image I see before I expire. What he must be
(Laughing) Well, you and I must be the only ones who appreciate
Another recurring motif is
the curtain call credit.
Just show the actors.
And it’s always outtakes,
I don’t do it all the time. Like at the end of American Werewolf, it would hurt
Was there any reason why you started doing
Orson Welles always did those with his trailers, like
Citizen Kane, where it
says, “Mercury Theater”, and then the cast comes up. You want to hear a great,
insane moment in movies that no one knows about, and I’ll tell you about? It’s not in one of my
movies. When I was
twenty-five, I was hired to be… one of the twelve writers on The Spy Who Loved Me. It was very exciting. I fly to London,
and work with Guy Hamiltong and Anthony Burgess. Guy ended up quitting, and I ended up
leaving. It was the
moment when Cubby Broccoli and Harry Salzman were suing one another. They weren’t speaking. It was very hard. Whatever you pitched to
Harry, he’d say, “What’d Cubby say?”, and whenever you pitched to Cubby, he’s
say, “What’d Harry say?”
So, you were fucked.
But I worked with Guy Hamilton for a few months, and I really grew
fond of him; he was a very funny man. So, this was before videotape, and I got all of the
Bond films on 16mm film, and I’m watching them in my flat in London. And there’s this moment in
Diamonds Are Forever where
they go into the Las Vegas, and Bond is shown the room where they’re going to
put Jill St. John. The
C.I.A. guy is saying, “Don’t worry. We have men everywhere. We have men over here, we
have men over there”, and then he opens up this door and says, “and here’s
Guy.” He opens this
door, and just standing
there is Guy Hamilton.
And then they close the door and go on with the scene. It has nothing to do with
anything, but because I was working with Guy Hamilton, I was like,
“What!?!?” That really
made me laugh.
Like in Spies Like Us, I really like it when Bruce Davison and William
Prince go the drive-in in the middle of nowhere. There’s Joel [Cohen] and Sam [Raimi], but then they
go in, and the spooks are Larry Cohen, Martin Brest, Michael Apted and B.B.
King. (Laughs) It just cracks me up. It’s totally not important to
the movie, but if you do know it, it’s
There’s been a real resurgence of raucous,
R-rated comedies as of late, like Old School.
The one I’m excited about, which I haven’t seen yet, is
Wedding Crashers. I’m pleased, because it’s an
As is The 40 Year-Old
And both have done well. And I’m very happy about it, because people forget
that most of my films that made over $100 million – Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Coming to America – are all
R-rated. And they
wouldn’t make those movies now.
My wife and I were talking about this. We watched Chinatown
recently, which is a great film, and I said, “You know, there’s not a company in
town that would make this now.”
How would you even pitch
“Then he shoots her eye out, and the evil grandfather
molests the daughter, and gets away with
Okay, John Huston at the end of Chinatown is almost as horrifying as Dario
Argento in Innocent
That’s so horrifying! So
But when you see movies like Old School, they invariably get
compared to Animal
Mostly because they’re copying it, but that’s
okay. You know, I used
to have lunch with Alfred Hitchcock once a month for about three years. He was a very funny
man. He was old, but
he used to see every movie that came out. He had a screening room, and he saw
everything. And he was
very distressed by this movie in which he felt he had been ripped off
badly. Everyone kept
saying it was “Hitchcockian”, and his point was that it was the opposite of
Hitchcockian. He was
railing about it, and I said, “You know, Hitch, it’s meant as an homage”. And he said, “You mean
Though we were scheduled to do an hour
breakfast, I kept John talking until he absolutely had to leave, which may have
been selfish on my part, but, hell, it’s not every day you’re seated in a booth
at Kate Mantilni opposite your directing idol. Our conversation grew even more wide ranging,
though, and so conversational that the rest of the transcript would probably be
interesting to me and me alone.
We did touch on Show
Dogs, his upcoming comedy for New Line, which he predicts will be a
“logistical nightmare” given his canine stars. But, as has been the case in a lot of his recent
interviews, he was most interested in talking about his planned adaptation of
the cult musical Bat
Boy. John lit
up as he talked of his plans to play up the horror in the musical, and to have
Rick Baker design a more grotesque Bat Boy. Best of all, he wants to do it R-rated. An R-rated
been too long since John Landis was pushing the boundaries of genre; the
thought that he’s on the cusp of doing it all over again makes me giddy. A word of warning to the
studio: should you
fail to give Bat Boy the
greenlight it so richly deserves, the Landis fans of the world will have no
recourse but to unleash…