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Written by / 5/08/2013 / 2 Comments / , , , ,

HARRY NORTHUP REFLECTS TAXI DRIVER

INTERVIEW WITH TAXI DRIVER ACTOR HARRY NORTHUP
You worked on the iconic Martin Scorsese film TAXI DRIVER starring Robert De Niro… Your character was a cabbie nicknamed Doughboy... How was this experience?

Scorsese told me he wanted me to play Doughboy. He handed me the script of TAXI DRIVER and said, “The dialogue’s too direct; you know the way we work – sideways.” I was at his office at The Burbank Studios. He added, “I’m going to shoot the city in such a surreal way no one ever has before. I’m going to turn TAXI DRIVER into a gothic horror story.”

A week later I was called by an assistant of Marty’s and asked to come in and tape the part of Travis Bickle so they could send it to De Niro, who was doing 1900 in Italy, so that he could study my Midwest accent. I went in to the studio and read Travis Bickle’s lines into a tape recorder.
Peter Boyle (Wizard) with Harry Northup 
I had four scenes in the movie. The first one was a 3-page scene that took place at the Bellmore Cafeteria, a cabbie hang-out on Park Avenue South.

The first night of shooting for me was on July 2, 1975. Peter Boyle and I had a rehearsal at Scorsese’s suite at the St. Regis Hotel at 6 P.M. and our call was at 8:45 P.M. We did the lines in the script, plus we improvised. Marty’s assistant taped the scene, typed out the recording and compressed the best and gave us the newly typed compression when we arrived on the set. Marty was always very thorough, covering the scene from every angle, master, to two shots, singles, close-ups.

In the beginning, I remember he came up behind me, put his hands on my shoulders in a very warm way and said, “Relax.” I remember him loving and laughing at my improvisations. Once, someone brought a danish up to the table and put it between Marty and De Niro as we were all sitting there in between takes. They broke it in half and each ate half. They were the major parts of the film, along with Schrader’s magnificent script. But, Marty always gave each character his/her own rich density in the film.
The cabbies hanging out at the 45th St. & 10th Ave. cafe
The second large scene that I was in was shot in a real cabbies’ hangout on 45th and Tenth. It was a 6-page scene, also shot at night. De Niro entered the scene after we were there and Marty had him sit in a chair away from me so that there was an oval gap in the middle-right part of the screen.

Marty would rehearse Peter Boyle, myself and the other actor and then have De Niro come in during the actual shooting. He did not want De Niro to rehearse with us. Wanted to help create the alienation. Same thing with the Bellmore Cafeteria scene. Most of the dialogue was in the script, but I spiced mine up – “Got change for a nickel, Travis?” instead of “Yeah, we went to Harvard together” after Wizard had asked, “Travis, you know Doughboy, Charlie T?” This scene was about “You carry a piece? You need one?” “Well, you ever need one, I know a feller that kin get cha a real nice deal. Lots a sh-- around.” Part of the action line of the script. Later on, I pick up Travis and introduce him to the gun salesman and drive them to the salesman’s place where Travis buys an arsenal.
Robert De Niro and Harry Northup
Did you improvise any lines?

The one thing that I did do that wasn’t in the script was that I tried to sell DeNiro a piece of Errol Flynn’s bathtub. I told Marty my idea after rehearsing the scene. I said I would do it after I had exited the scripted scene. I would re-enter, pull the piece out of my pocket and try to sell it to him.

Peter Boyle with Harry
If Marty didn’t like it, he could cut it and still have the original scripted scene intact and he wouldn’t have to move the camera for another set-up. Marty loved the idea. He told De Niro that I was going to try something at the end – try to sell him something and just say no. The scene was fabulous and offbeat. Later, I realized Marty’s use of water images and it fit in.
Marty always loved it when actors tried something new. After the movie was over, he sent me a signed pewter cup with TAXI DRIVER 1975 and his name printed on it. TAXI DRIVER won the 1976 Palme d’Or at the Cannes film Festival.

And how was it working with the late Peter Boyle?

Peter Boyle was great to work with. When we met at Marty’s hotel suite to rehearse, Peter would have a yellow legal pad full of cabbie stories, but I could always come up with something better because when I was in college, I had driven a cab for ten months, so I had many real cab stories.

On the set, we shared an RV for our dressing room, so we spent a lot of time together when we weren’t shooting. During shooting, he listened, he was very imaginative, he made me laugh. He was witty, a wonderful actor and a beautiful person.
CHECK OUT HARRY NORTHUP'S INCREIBLE BLOG
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2 comments:

  1. It's these kinds of "behind the scene" memories / stories that make such a landmark film like "Taxi Driver" so legendary and iconic.

    INCREDIBLE story about Harry recording De Niro's lines into that tape recorder! 1900 is also a very under-appreciated gem from the 70s, and for Harry to have taken part in such a important decade in film history makes watching these films (and his further filmography) all the more special.

    There will never be another Harry Northup!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great interview! Very cool info.

    ReplyDelete

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