Written by / 8/11/2014 / 1 Comment / , , , , , , ,

KILL OR BE KILLED: BRENDA CURRIN DOUBLE BILL INTERVIEW

Brenda Currin in GARP
What epitomizes a great actor or actress is range, and BRENDA CURRIN brilliantly embodies two polar opposite characters, one in a dark biopic and another a dark comedy: playing a killer's terrified victim in the haunting IN COLD BLOOD with Robert Blake... And as equally haunting killer in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, targeting Robin Williams, Brenda makes a double mark in cult cinema.. 
  
How was it filming the scene in which your character is murdered in IN COLD BLOOD?

As Nancy, IN COLD BLOOD
Richard Brooks directed me to turn and face the wall at the moment that Perry Smith [Robert Blake] was about to pull the trigger. Mainly what I remember is the high emotion at this point of the filming: The filming of the murder sequence took place over an entire week at the actual Clutter house. All the windows had been blacked out to create nighttime. Conrad Hall used only the light of a flashlight to shoot every horrific scene. It was completely claustrophobic in the house... When picturing that moment you ask about, it hurts me and feels terribly private because it represents the moment before an awful death for the real human being, Nancy Clutter. It was a simple and true direction for Brooks to give me. There was a point made by the real killers themselves, the Clutters never screamed or struggled.They kept thinking if they were nice, the killers would leave the house and the family unharmed.

Brenda Currin
How were you selected for the role of Nancy Clutter?

After auditioning actors in New York and Los Angeles and still not able to cast key roles, Richard Brooks, the director, and a contingent from Hollywood came to the theater department at the University of Kansas to try and find “real Kansans”. I was from North Carolina but no matter.

We auditioned as a group, doing improv, etc. definitely not from the screenplay. Brooks who wrote the screenplay adaptation was very secretive. Brooks approached me after a long session of auditioning and said for me to be sure and send him my picture and some information about myself. I did not have a “headshot” and sent him my high school graduation picture. I didn’t hear anything and as the months went by, I forgot about it.

As Nancy Clutter
What were your favorite scenes to film involving the Clutter family?

All of the Clutter family scenes on the Saturday leading up to the murder were to show the normal activities of their lives. I liked the scene where I (Nancy) ride bareback the beloved mare Babe up to the house with my (Nancy’s) best friend, Susan played by Mary Linda Rapelye. We get off and I tell her Bobby (Nancy’s boyfriend) is coming over to watch TV tonight. The scene was shot late in the afternoon, the sky was darkening in mood, Brooks directed me to turn my head slightly and gaze toward the tree-lined drive leading to the house. There is of course the foreboding of the killers who later would cut the engine off in their car as they approached the house from that tree-lined road.

Robert Blake as Perry Smith
What memories do you have of the intense scene with Robert Blake in the bedroom?

It certainly was intense. Both actors playing the killers made a point of not speaking to or even making eye contact with any of us playing members of the Clutter family. They wouldn’t even stay in the same motel where everyone else involved in the film stayed.

Blake and Wilson were either downright unfriendly or ignored us. That afternoon Brooks and cinematographer Conrad Hall were shooting the scene with Perry Smith in Nancy’s bedroom, with the camera on Perry only: The film was shot in the actual house of course because her bedroom was so small they had to remove her twin bed in order to get the camera in there. Brooks called me upstairs to be on the other side of the camera so that Perry could direct his lines to me. This was the first encounter with Robert Blake and I was nervous.

There was no hello or anything between us. Just as the camera started to roll, he began hurling the most abusive invectives I had ever heard. There was such hatred in his voice, I was blindsided and broke down sobbing. Brooks immediately said, “Action!” and Perry says in the gentlest of voices as he looks at the pictures, “Do you like horses?”

Scott Wilson as Dick Hickock
Afterwards I went into the mother’s room down the hall and sat on the bed to collect myself. Bobby Blake came in and sat down beside me. He said in that sweet voice he has, “You’re a nice actress.” We were friends from that point and in fact, became very close.

What about the next scene in the same bedroom with Scott Wilson?

Similarly, the first contact I had with Scott Wilson playing Dick Hickock was when he sits down on my bed (my hands and feet are tied up) and asks with this sickening grin, “Have you ever had a man, Honey?”

When Blake as Perry Smith with his leg hurting bursts into the room and with a fury stops Wilson/Hickock, I as an actress and Nancy felt humiliated, terrified, terribly relieved and grateful to Blake/Smith. 

And you're a cold-blooded killer in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP... how was this scene, in which your character shoots Robin Williams, filmed?

Brenda Currin as Poo
I was to enter the gym on a small staircase, wind my way through the boy wrestlers towards Garp...

When I am in close range, Robin Williams looks up, sees me and says, “Pooh,” and I shoot point blank and all the boy wrestlers are to jump me and wrestle me to the ground.

George Roy Hill told the cameraman to shoot the rehearsal. The camera was aimed at my feet coming into the gym with the ominous nurse’s shoes. This was my first shot in the movie, which unnerved me because I’m self-conscious about my feet. It went perfectly and Hill called it a “take” which was a huge relief to me because it was very intense being wrestled to the ground. But after a quick review it was noted that one of the boy wrestlers had smiled during the take and we had to do it again. I turned to the boys with my gun pointed and asked “Who smiled?” We did it again.

Robin Williams
How did you prepare for this role as Garp's personal nemesis, Pooh?

There was so little character development opportunity for Pooh; she was more of an iconic persona. Just the image of her lets you know there is going to be trouble. This was a big scene to orchestrate because the whole auditorium (filmed at the New School, I believe) was filled with Ellen Jamesians.

My memory is more of John Lithgow’s character and my excitement about his performance and his presence at the funeral.

There was a lot going on: Amanda Plummer as Ellen James herself, Robin Williams in drag so he could attend Jenny’s funeral, etc.  I was given minimal direction. I thought of Pooh as single-minded in her hatred of Garp and her devotion to the Jamesians, so much so that her senses were highly developed.

Brenda in two eerie roles
The scene for me was about focus, literally where I was looking and what I was truly seeing (not acting as if I’m seeing).

Pooh is on edge anyway, she thinks she sees him, she DOES see him and it is her duty to expose him immediately. She is an accuser. That’s how I thought of it.

Both movies are based on famous books... Had you read either before filming? 

I had read IN COLD BLOOD while at college in the bedroom I rented from a grad school married couple. The bedroom was located at the top of the stairs and Capote’s description of Nancy’s terror after hearing two shots fired and footsteps running up the stairs towards her bedroom.

Robin Williams in GARP
I had anticipated the exact thing I would be called upon to act in the filming of the movie…

RIP Capote PSH and RW as Garp
GARP I had tried to read and couldn’t get into it. After being cast in the role I definitely got into it...

I thought Steve Tesich’s screenplay was a fantastic adaptation capturing the essence of the book. I also admired Brooks’ adaptation of Capote’s tightly constructed book.

And how would you describe Robin Williams? 

Manic, kind, compulsive entertainer. Between takes he would do a stand-up routine for the crew or anybody who watched... A good actor; an inspired choice to play Garp.
Our person fav Robin Williams movie, GARP, was never mentioned during his suicide's news coverage
Brenda Currin as Nancy Clutter looking into the distance in what feels spooky, eerie IN COLD BLOOD
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1 comment:

  1. Awesome. Great interview. Love GARP! RIP Robin Williams. Inspiration, madman, unique human being. Our youth keeps dying one day at a time. Robin Williams was a great part of it.

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