At the time this interview was done (October 31st, 1997) the
title of The
following interview appeared in Dream Watch, issue #51. Many
thanks to Lois for sending it and the pictures along! -Q
It may be astounding,
but time is, indeed, fleeting. As The Rocky Horror Show celebrates 25 risqué years, John Mosby talks exclusively to its
creator, Richard O'Brien...
Rocky Horror Show is twenty-five years young. Had you any idea
that it would be the cult success it turned out to be?
Richard: No, not
really. When I was writing it, all I was doing was entertaining
myself and writing a show that I, personally, would have liked
to have gone and seen. The fact that other people wanted to
go and see it as well and got enjoyment from it was quite astonishing
in the first place. That somebody actually wanted to put it
on was even more astonishing, truthfully. After five weeks...
well, we all know what fringe theatre is. It's that showcase
theatre that exists in towns with a commercial theatre and has,
to an extent, replaced repertory theatre. Rep theatres are a
thing of the past, so fringe theatre is a place for young actors
to keep acting when they are not being employed by the commercial
sector. I thought Rocky fitted into that category and five weeks
later it would dissapear, like most of it does.
M: Is Rocky
based on your love or loathing of Fifties movie-making?
R: It wasn't that
I was a huge fan of the Fifties movies... I was there! I used
to go to the Late Night Double Feature. I was one of those whey-faced
youths making gormlessness an art form. I loved it. I was a
teenager the very year they first coined the phrase. When they
started giving me rock n' roll, I thought they were doing it
just for me. I thought teddy-boys and greasers were great --
that was me.
M: No-one seems
to be able to explain why this stage-show still works so well
--- and why others haven't managed to capture the public's imagination
in the same way.
R: I think it's a
collection of a lot of clichés and you could only do
that so often. What happens with Rocky, which I think is its
saving grace, is that though it is a collection of clichés
-- lovingly garnered together and reworked into a new recipe
-- it doesn't fall into pastiche at all. It has its own originality.
Look at Grease. For me that was a pastiche of the Fifties concept.
The narrative isn't very strong: Sandy and DAnny fall in love
and all she does at the end is swap her pink skirt for a pair
of sprayed on lycra trousers. It's not really a jump forward
in narrative terms. The enjoyment of Grease is the way it parodies
Fifties pop music. Rocky takes Fifties pop music but it doesn't
parody. Hopefully I was writing songs which I loved. I wasn't
saying that this was the way it was in the Fifties.
Was it a surprise that this modestly immodest stage-show got
transformed into an equally cult Hollywood movie?
R: Again, it's one
of those great mysteries, isn't it? There we are as a fringe
event and even when we transferred we were only playing to 500
people a night! We were not in a 1500 seated theatre in the
West End. We hadn't got an Andrew-Lloyd Webber attached! What
we had was a cult, underground, 'you have to see this show'
press and word of mouth. The fact that someone came forward
and offered $1.25 million to make a movie was astonishing. We
were also allowed to keep many of the original stage cast. Usually
when you get dough from America they want the film rights. 'Yeah,
we want Meryl Streep to play that part... etc.' They take it
away from you. It's a bit of a fight for British people to keep
artistic control of something when the money comes from Hollywood.
But we did. The whole story of Rocky Horror is quite amazing.
It had a life of its own and it continues to do so.
M: The Anniversary
Tour with Jason Donovan has a few alterations to the format.
It's slightly 'glossier.' Is this just natural evolution?
R: I think it has
evolved. We're loathed to tamper with it. If it's not broken,
you don't have to fix it. Personally, I'd like to peel it right
back, but there's a danger in that too. I once played the Narrator
for one night. I took the fun out of it for the audience because
I wasn't prepared to natter back to them. I was going to lend
it some gravitas and play it the way it had been in the first
place. The more po-faced and studiously grave you are, I believe,
the funnier it gets. Over the ensuing years the banter with
the audience has increased. I didn't want to play it like that
and did it completely straight. It took about three or four
years before all that started. It is certainly in the last fifteen
years that it has become entrenched.
M: As well
as Rocky Horror, you've done quite a bit of other screen work
R: The first movie
I appeared in was Carry On Cowboy, though not as an actor. I
was just riding horses. I remember being a special extra in
a film called Zee and Co. We were hippies and called up. There
were party scenes that we just turned up for and were part of
the background. But The Rocky Horror Picture Show was basically
the first proper job.
M: Quite a
few people remember you from your guest appearances in Robin
R: That was another
period of my life when I thought that I would try to raise my
visibility. I turned up on Robin of Sherwood to have a make-up
check. I had already read the script and I got an arrow between
the shoulder blades! They were shooting the end of a two-part
story. The director came across and said that he wanted me for
the shot, but by this point I should have already been dead.
He'd decided against killing me off. So, without any rehearsing,
I walked out of make-up, went onto the set and did a bit of
acting! When I was finished I thought it was very nice. It had
been two episodes, I'd got to work with Oliver Cotton and the
I got a call later
saying that they were doing another episode that they wanted
me to be in. They'd written it especially for my character which
I thought was very kind of them (laughs). I went down and shot
it with a different director, whom I don't really want to talk
about! When they were wrapping the whole thing up, they invited
me back again for the very last episode. It was another two-parter
and two weeks work. I thought it was amazing bearing in mind
that I was supposed to have been killed off in the original!
The producer admitted that they had had a talk with the boys
and asked them who'd they like to work with in the last episode.
They'd all said me --- because I was the most fun on the set!
I thought that was great. I was expecting them to say it was
because I was a fine actor (laughs). I was actually 'stroking'
the producer to get something back about my acting 'skills.'
Instead I got the real reason, which I guess is really not a
bad reason for being employed!
M: You've been
in two movies this year: the stylish Dark City and the just released Cinderella-inspired Ever After.
R: Dark City was
one of those jobs in which it was so easy to turn up on the
set for work. There was nobody there who needed their ego stroking,
no clashes of temperament or pomposity. It was a long haul,
but every day was a nice day surrounded by pleasant people.
That is very rare. I dislike the idea that actors are somehow
more important than anybody else on the set. I don't like the
way that is courted sometimes.
M: What do
you have planned in the future?
R: It's a play about
a living girl who visits the Land of the DEad and the question
down there is: Is there life before death? Well, suddenly here
comes the proof! It's a philosophical discussion for what life
means to the girl. She's almost given up and by the end, she
discovers she's not afraid of life anymore. The message must
be almost hidden in the piece, but you don't crack a nut with
a sledge-hammer. It takes me a while to pick up a pen, so it
may be a while.