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Rocky Road to Dark City

In between partying with Kiefer and donning the black leathers for his role as Mr. Hand,x lead bad ass in Dark City, Richard O’Brien the creator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show amongst other acts of mayhem sat back in his hotel room and spoke to Michael Helms.

MH: What the hell is Dark City?

RICHARD: Well, Dark City is a dark fairy tale, basically. It’s something that writer/director Alex Proyas wanted to do for some years. It’s his project, his narrative, his storyline.

MH: What sort of ‘look’, what time period is it set in?

RICHARD: It’s set in its own space and time. It’s a kind of cross between German expressionism and film noir as far as I can describe it. It has a slight 40’s feel to it and yet there is a strange kind of expressionistic feel to it as well. It’s lit very dark. It is called Dark City! Do you remember The Crow? That was quite dark as well. There’s something about shadows because you make your own mind up about what’s lurking in them.

MH: How did you land the role in Dark City anyway?

RICHARD: Alex tells me he wanted me for the role but I didn’t realise that. He came to London and asked to see me. I just thought I was one in a long line. I got the script about a week before I met him and liked the part immensely. Personally, I think it’s the best part. The others have far more lines but, with far more lines comes far more responsibility, doesn’t it? And far more work (laughs). So, I just have to turn up and play the baddie.

MH: I was going to ask you what your role is, and what exactly is a ‘Stranger’.

RICHARD: A ‘Stranger’ is a…..I daren’t reveal too much but ‘Strangers’ are a group of sinister beings and quite what their plan is, is revealed through the narrative of the film. We’re not really human - okay, I’ll go as far as that.

MH: Your name is Mr. Hand. How does that reflect your character? Or does it?

RICHARD: Well I do have rather long fingers but I think that’s just for a ‘look’. No, the names are kind of immaterial in the same way names are really immaterial in, say, Reservoir Dogs or something of that nature. It’s an interesting piece and great fun to play - for all the actors as far as I can see; for William Hurt and Kiefer and Rufus and Jennifer. We all seem to give each other little smiles every now and then because we’re all enjoying what we’re doing.

MH: Is the character a straighter role than anything you’ve done before?

RICHARD: No. This is right up my boulevard actually. I absolutely adore working in the realms of fantasy. I’ve never wanted to play bank managers and real people particularly. I’m very happy to sit in the genre of make believe and fantasy. It’s where I’m happiest. It appeals to the eternal adolescent in me.

MB: Does this signal a bigger role in films for you?

RICHARD: I’ve never really thought about it in those terms. If I had been really interested in pursuing ‘a career’, as opposed to ‘living my life’, then I made a few silly moves by doing small pieces for friends. I’m not driven by money and I’m not driven by career. The only thing that really drives me is to try and sort myself out and find some kind of psychological and spiritual growth within me. I know that sounds hippie but that’s all I’m interested in. I do like to be creative and I’m very lucky that I’ve been given different areas in which I’m able to do that - whether it be film or television or theatre or whatever. I’m also still into music and recording.

MH: Does your Rocky Horror reputation still precede you?

RICHARD: Yeah, well it’s a nice calling card, isn’t it? I’m not ashamed of it. I think something happened. We pressed a button then that touched a nerve and it’s got this longevity that one never expected. It still holds up. I see it every now and again and it’s still a good evening’s entertainment; especially when the audience become involved - it’s fabulous. And the Australian connection with it is nice too. I think, to some extent, Australians and New Zealanders probably would understand RH more than anyone else.

MH: How so?

RICHARD: We had a relationship with the rest of the world which was slightly different. We were a Western civilisation, an English speaking civilisation, both NZ and Australia, and we had all these influences coming from both Great Britain and America to us; sending us their culture in the shape and form of movies and television. And we were able to be dispassionate about it to some extent; looking at it from one side in a slightly different way. Whereas in America it’s straight at the people and they are perhaps manipulated to some extent by the media. And that was rather useful for Rocky Horror because most Americans thought originally that I was indeed American because "How did you know so much about America?" "Well, you’ve been sending us your fucking movies for 50-60 years!"

MH: Did you have anything to do with putting together the recent video special edition of RH that was out for the 21st anniversary?

RICHARD: No, I had nothing to do with that. I didn’t actually get a very good deal with the movie spin-offs. My fraction of a fraction is so tiny that it’s risible. However, there’s three reasons for doing things in this particular world. One is love, one is prestige and the other’s money. If you get all three together, that’s fine. Writers never get a very good deal in Hollywood. The suits sit around the table and say "OK. Are you hard, Bob?" "Yes, I’m hard, Dick." "How about you?" "I’m a wreck, Bob." "Jack?" "Yes, I’ m up." "OK, let’s fuck the writer." (laughs). That’s the way it goes and I think perhaps always will. The only way you can get over that as a writer is to become some kind of executive producer, take some producing role as well. Otherwise you very rarely win.

MH: Could tell me any anecdotes that happened during Dark City?

RICHARD: I’d have to say that if you want to get into a club in Sydney and you’ve got Kiefer with you, you’ve got the key, you’ve got the gold card. Once he’s with you and you walk to the door, these doors open. I love going out with him. He’s fab. Very naughty, very nice, very cheeky - and highly intelligent and wise beyond his years. We party hard but most people are so busy getting on with things.

MH: In your role as a villain, do you do any hands-on killing?

RICHARD: I have this nasty kind of flick dagger which I produce from time to time and yes, I do…..I’m not terribly nice. But I hope I’m likeable even though I’m a nasty and I hope I’ve got a certain amount of vulnerability which allows accessibility from the viewer. It would be awful just to be a cold hearted killer. I wouldn’t like that. Actually I find a lot of that stuff, all the real kind of blood and gore, spiritually diminishing. I don’t like Tarantino’s movies at all. I’m not much for Scorsese either. I find all that brutalising. I just find all that unbelievable. Have you seen Casino?

MH: I have indeed.

RICHARD: A man’s head in a vice! I mean what is that about? What I find really offensive about it - because I do believe it brutalises; I do believe it diminishes the human spirit - is the pretence that they’re showing the way it really is. They’re showing us the bad things so that we understand the cruelty of war. I think that’s having your cake and eating it, quite frankly. I think it’s a lie and they get off on it and I find that slightly queasy. As I say, I love fantasy and make-believe and I love films that make people feel a little better when they leave. When I’m doing my rock & roll show and I’m singing, I just want people to go home and have sex, actually. Have a nice night, get a little drunk, maybe a smoke (I wouldn’t proselytise that) and they go home and have a great night together. That’s a real standing ovation, isn’t it?

MH: But, Richard, what do you think people are going to do after Dark City?

RICHARD: It is an uplifting tale. It reminds me, tangentially, of The Prisoner - you remember the Patrick McGoohan series? It is one man fighting, not only for his own existence, but to save his fellow species from the clutches of ‘The Strangers’ and lead them to a better world. Even though we know freedom as an idea we’re not really as free as we think we are.

The article above appeared in the Australian Magazine Filmink, and many thanks to Ruth for sending the text along to me.



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The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996