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Written by / 8/16/2019 / No comments / , , , , , , , ,

KAREN BLACK REFELECTS ORIGINS & 'EASY' COUNTER-CULTURE

Karen Black on her career beginnings and sporadic cinema in this first of three parts of our transcribed Interview
The lovely and talented KAREN BLACK has played both leading ladies and character roles: the bigger parts with lots of character and the smaller ones standing out, quite often stealing the show...

And to honor this incredible actress, who died Wednesday, at 74, we'll go back to the beginning as Karen discusses how she got into the business of acting...
Jack Nicholson and Karen Black in FIVE EASY PIECES
When did you know you wanted to be an actress and what did you do to become one? I was kind of midair I guess because my sister and I used to climb up on the bureau in our bedroom. When we were very little we would fly through the air and land on the mattress, and it was like flying for a moment… So I decided I wanted to be an actress.

I was probably six or maybe younger so that’s when I decided. How I would do it… I’d try to be in everything in grammar school. They said well, we need someone to play Christopher Columbus. And I said, “I think I can do that." They said, “No, you’re a girl." And I said, “No, I could do that." “Oh no, you’re a girl.” Then of course as soon as I could I got into acting class; my parents helped me with that.

And then the teacher had us helping people where he was directing plays in a carousel theater near town – and I would pick up all the half eaten hot dogs off the grounds, clean the toilets. And I finally got the part of Beer in a play called “George and Margaret," which she’s thirty, and when, you know, you’re fourteen “you can’t play thirty," and she was an alcoholic… Oh, no she wasn’t – but she was a really strange character, a deaf mute.
Martin Milner w/ Karen Black on ADAM-12 and no she doesn't talk about this show we just love these pics
Anyhow, I would go home and start practicing, practicing, practicing. And my boyfriend Charlie and I, at the time – or my friend-boy I should say… We were in the basement of the summer theater and I tried this character Beer, and a sort of scrim lifted between myself and him, as an audience member, and it’s never come back. There’s no scrim between me and any audience. I feel very much in communication with them. And comfortable. Very comfortable with an audience.

But I did a pretty good Beer, I guess, everyone laughed a lot because I wore a lot of… Well I hallowed my cheeks out a lot I think with this brown kind of greasy stuff, and that’s how I started.
One more of a young Karen Black on Adam-12 episode Log 132-Producer circa 1968
What was the next step to continue on the path of becoming a professional actress? I went to New York. I was about seventeen and supported myself by getting odd jobs. I could type so I was a Kelly Girl, living from place to place and I would have a backstage magazine and I would go out for everything that they had...

I would go from singing and dancing and I had just come from ballet and acting and I got a lot of off-Broadway roles and at the same time I was always working. I stayed at a hotel picking up complaints and writing them down... Writing down complaints for insurance people for jewels… For people who had jewels stolen who would call and I’d write all about it. Thank Goodness I was quite literate because I could do this kind of work.

I would just get a little bit of money and live on almost nothing, and just kept going up for parts and I got a role in a Broadway show, playing a fifteen year old in a Broadway show called THE PLAY ROOM. And I was nominated for Best Actress for Drama Circle Critics Award. I was the lead in it…
Director and actor Dennis Hopper with Karen Black in EASY RIDER
And then a fellow saw me and wanted me and my leading man in the play to meet a young student who was doing a movie as his thesis. And Peter Kaster and I went to meet him and it was Francis Coppola. And he put us in a little movie called YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, which was his first movie. And then I went to L.A. with the movie and with the credits: I had just done the lead in a Broadway play and basically I’d just gotten parts in television shows and, um… I was really good in them by the way.

And then I meet Henry Jaglom, and Henry introduced me to… He knew Dennis, you know… And he knew Jack and… I don’t know, somehow that whole group of people. And Dennis Hopper and I improvised… he was very brilliant… and he put me in EASY RIDER. And then I auditioned just like any other actor for FIVE EASY PIECES and, there you go.
Perhaps Karen Black's greatest performance w/ Jack Nicholson in FIVE EASY PIECES
Describe a little about getting into the character of Rayette in FIVE EASY PIECES... I got my accent by having someone talk back to me in that accent and I wrote my accent in and I went up to… We were up in, somewhere that starts with a B… The town where Jack worked…

The famous "chicken between your knees" scene
I went there and stayed there and watched the women and they have the same accent as if they were from Arkansas – a lot of people comin’ from Arkansas to work there. And they have beehive… All old-fashioned hairdos from the sixties almost and... You know if an actor reads a script often enough you start to understand what it’s like to be that person.

It’d be hard to explain her state of consciousness. She’s very open. She’s very receptive. She does not think. She’s completely not critical. She has no critical mentality. She doesn’t evaluate things that she sees out of her eyes, she just feels them. Or she’s very sensual or sexual and, that’s how she is – in that sense she has a lot of life-force and so-forth and something like that. And Bob Rafelson said, “I think you’re too smart to play this part.” And I said, “Well when you say action I’ll just stop thinking."
William Atherton with a 1930's Karen Black in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
In the 1975 John Schlesinger melodrama THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, Karen Black plays Faye Greener, a beautiful starlet desperate for fame in Hollywood, living in a dilapidated motel and crossing paths with eccentric characters including William Atherton and Donald Sutherland... 

Karen Black, who died last week, transformed herself into this role, which wouldn't seem that much of a stretch since, of course, Karen herself was an actress... But as we all know, she was a great actress, one of the best, in fact, while the very limited Faye merely wished to become one... 

Karen Black argues with the interview from THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
Playing an actress in a different era, the thirties, were there any particular mannerisms or characteristics or physical traits to make her different than yourself (at the time): an actress in the seventies? Did you ever read my talking about this before?

Uh… I, uh… [And for some strange reason, very perturbed, all I can think to say at this point is…] I guess that covers it... No, no, I just wondered. I’m going to answer. I intend to answer, but I just wondered if you’ve… It sounds like you’ve maybe read something I wrote about it or said about this before.

I can tell you – in all honesty – while I did listen to some of the TRILOGY OF TERROR commentary... I never, ever read anything about this... I’m not accusing you or anything, James, I just was curious ‘cause it was a very apt question.
Karen Black back on track for THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
Okay... No problem, Karen... So, I would read magazines from that era and I would suggest to Mr. Schlesinger that we use certain expressions such as “That was very daring.” Everything was daring in the thirties. They just were expressions I would get and would mention them to him – to put them into the script. I actually helped work on the script with Waldo Salt. It’s hard to believe but…

There’s a scene where I’m “Dancing on a Dime” with Donald Sutherland and the truth is, when we rehearsed it…
Karen Black with Donald Sutherland's Homer Simpson in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
How we rehearsed the scenes is we would rehearse them… Improvise them in rehearsal time before shooting and someone was standing around with a little recording device in one hand and holding out the microphone in the other, stretching his arms towards the actors as they were improvising. And we were dancing on a dime in improvisation… We were dancing in a little circle kind of crying…

So I said, “Waldo”… I love Waldo. I loved Waldo probably as much as I’d ever loved anybody – I just loved Waldo. And I said, “Waldo, you got us yelling at each other, don’t you remember?” “You know I don’t remember.” And he threw the script nicely… Gently threw the script on my sofa in my room and he said, “Write it.”
Karen Black in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
And then eventually I wrote a script called “Deep Purple” and Waldo loved my writing so much he made sure it got into the Sundance Screenwriting Lab. It’s in Utah and it’s Robert Redford’s screenwriting class and I’m very proud of that but I haven’t got it produced yet – because I’m not a producer. But anyhow… So, then we did it correctly: we were dancing in a little circle on a dime – and it’s a beautiful scene.

Now also I’ve noticed that women of that era, when they would pose they would, instead of putting their hands on their waists with their fingers in front and their thumbs behind the waist they would stand with their thumb in front of their waist and their fingers behind their waist – you had a certain way of standing and moving and we put… I put that into the characterization so it’s a good question and we did work on that a lot.
Dennis Hopper and Karen Black in the LSD scene from EASY RIDER
You played a prostitute in the groundbreaking film EASY RIDER... Besides having a bad acid trip, what else do you feel your character was going through during the New Orleans cemetery sequence? Oh well, actually I… Well I was improvising. I didn’t do drugs. I don’t do drugs at all. I’m against them. Any form. Medical drugs I think are almost worse than street drugs, but they’re all… Ah...

So, during that scene did you… I was about to speak – I was just pausing in thought. Sounding like I stopped but I actually wasn’t, so, um… Yeah, she was worried about being pretty I think. Her hair came off. I was rolling around muttering to myself – whatever I improvised. It was a very long time ago actually, thirty-five, forty years.

But you know, I was improvising. I had come off of improvisation and Broadway. Then they didn’t have it in the movie and Henry Jaglom, when he was helping out with the editing, saw it, and put it in – he put in my character’s mumbling and mental flashes.
Peter Fonda, Karen Black and Dennis Hopper trippin' in EASY RIDER
Karen Black and son Hunter Carson (later in PARIS TEXAS) on Saturday Night Live
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