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Leftover Arkinisms

Doing his job. With Vincent Gardenia in Little Murders.
Doing his job. With Vincent Gardenia in Little Murders.

Forty minutes on the phone with Alan Arkin equals a wealth of material.

On The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming: “I just got a call from Carl Reiner yesterday after he watched it for the first time in 40 years. He was raving about it. He hardly remembered it, and he was seeing it with new eyes.”

On Thin Ice’s Gorvy Hauer: “You’re the only person in the universe that’s seen that and liked it. I like him, too. I had a great time with him.” (The film was taken from director Jill Sprecher and shorn of 20 minutes. Both versions are on Blu-ray.) “There’s no comparison between the two. Jill’s cut has integrity and pacing. What the producer did is a hatchet job. They wrecked it as far as I’m concerned.”

On working with master cinematographer James Wong Howe: “He was an amazing guy. He and I became friends during the production [of Heart Is the Lonely Hunter.]” He was a tough little guy, very, very short, but he carried a riding crop around. He would constantly be tapping the camera operator with his riding crop. The operator really had to know what he was doing with Jimmy around.”

Doing the unthinkable: brutalizing Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark.

On working with Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark: “I don’t really have any anecdotes. The only thing that I can say is working with her was a sheer delight. She was everything that you would’ve hoped and expected her to be and she lived up to it. It was like being with a lightbulb. She was fun, she was hard-working, and had a lovely sense of humor.

I was kind of unhappy for the entire shoot. I took acting very seriously and very personally in those days, and I had to dig into myself to play that kind of nightmare character that he was. I hated being cruel to her. It was abhorrent to me. So I didn’t have a very good experience on it for that reason. No anecdotes, however. Except for the fact…I don’t know if it was her or if that was what it was like working with the studio back then, but every day at 4 o’clock in the afternoon we’d take a tea break. They put an umbrella outside the set and we’d sit there and drink out of bone China teaware. That was our afternoon break.”

On his directorial debut, Little Murders: “It’s a much better film than the reviews made it out to be. I’m very proud of that film. I love that film. And I love the character. He’s a full-blown raving maniac. One of my jobs in acting has always been [asking], How does the character serve the piece? I think if actors did that it would be a lot easier for them to do their work. My character’s job was to drive Vincent Gardenia’s character completely insane. If you look very carefully — I should never say this — you can see me almost starting to break when I close the window after the shot goes off. I could hardly contain myself.

Big Trouble in every sense. With Peter Falk and Beverly D'Angelo.

On working with John Cassavetes: “I did a movie once, which was a terrible movie, sadly, because it was a great script. It shouldn’t have been directed by who directed it. I did the longest spit-take in history in it. It was a terrible movie called Big Trouble.” When reminded that the film was directed by none other than John Cassavetes, Arkin muttered, “Yeah. That great comedic director.”

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Doing his job. With Vincent Gardenia in Little Murders.
Doing his job. With Vincent Gardenia in Little Murders.

Forty minutes on the phone with Alan Arkin equals a wealth of material.

On The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming: “I just got a call from Carl Reiner yesterday after he watched it for the first time in 40 years. He was raving about it. He hardly remembered it, and he was seeing it with new eyes.”

On Thin Ice’s Gorvy Hauer: “You’re the only person in the universe that’s seen that and liked it. I like him, too. I had a great time with him.” (The film was taken from director Jill Sprecher and shorn of 20 minutes. Both versions are on Blu-ray.) “There’s no comparison between the two. Jill’s cut has integrity and pacing. What the producer did is a hatchet job. They wrecked it as far as I’m concerned.”

On working with master cinematographer James Wong Howe: “He was an amazing guy. He and I became friends during the production [of Heart Is the Lonely Hunter.]” He was a tough little guy, very, very short, but he carried a riding crop around. He would constantly be tapping the camera operator with his riding crop. The operator really had to know what he was doing with Jimmy around.”

Doing the unthinkable: brutalizing Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark.

On working with Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark: “I don’t really have any anecdotes. The only thing that I can say is working with her was a sheer delight. She was everything that you would’ve hoped and expected her to be and she lived up to it. It was like being with a lightbulb. She was fun, she was hard-working, and had a lovely sense of humor.

I was kind of unhappy for the entire shoot. I took acting very seriously and very personally in those days, and I had to dig into myself to play that kind of nightmare character that he was. I hated being cruel to her. It was abhorrent to me. So I didn’t have a very good experience on it for that reason. No anecdotes, however. Except for the fact…I don’t know if it was her or if that was what it was like working with the studio back then, but every day at 4 o’clock in the afternoon we’d take a tea break. They put an umbrella outside the set and we’d sit there and drink out of bone China teaware. That was our afternoon break.”

On his directorial debut, Little Murders: “It’s a much better film than the reviews made it out to be. I’m very proud of that film. I love that film. And I love the character. He’s a full-blown raving maniac. One of my jobs in acting has always been [asking], How does the character serve the piece? I think if actors did that it would be a lot easier for them to do their work. My character’s job was to drive Vincent Gardenia’s character completely insane. If you look very carefully — I should never say this — you can see me almost starting to break when I close the window after the shot goes off. I could hardly contain myself.

Big Trouble in every sense. With Peter Falk and Beverly D'Angelo.

On working with John Cassavetes: “I did a movie once, which was a terrible movie, sadly, because it was a great script. It shouldn’t have been directed by who directed it. I did the longest spit-take in history in it. It was a terrible movie called Big Trouble.” When reminded that the film was directed by none other than John Cassavetes, Arkin muttered, “Yeah. That great comedic director.”

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