Sunday, 22 May 2016

When Mews knew Andy... Retro LadyLand talks Kaufman with Mews Small

During my interview with the absolutely delightful Mews Small she mentioned that she had known Andy Kaufman... The Andy Kaufman... The genius, the visionary, the completely balmy Andy Kaufman.
So I saved it for an article all of its own.

So here, without any pretence, without any backstory, is the interview of when Mews knew Andy...

Tell me about your appearance in Milo Forman’s Biopic of Andy Kaufman ‘Man on the Moon’.

“Well that's a very interesting story also because Andy was a good friend of mine.”

Wow!! I wasn’t expecting that! How?! When? Where?!

“As soon as I got the film [‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’] I had a month before I had to start filming and I was a little bit wary of being in a mental institution for 14 hours a day, so my girlfriend - who was in the Broadway cast of Grease - said maybe I wanted to learn how to meditate, so I did and it was very helpful, because a mental institution is a weighty place and I am a very feeling person and very sensitive. So I did it, and on one of these courses - which was a month long course - was Andy Kaufman.

Andy was a teacher of transcendental meditation at the place I went to, an old hot springs that WC Fields, John Wayne and all the famous stars went to. The TM organisation had bought the place and they wanted to use it for people wanted to go into deeper, longer meditations and take courses and also for teachers to do residential courses. 

Transcendental meditation is very easy, I mean if I can do it anyone can!  But
it’s so simple and so helpful. 

I was actually there [on the course] for five weeks.  

The first time I saw him [Andy] was on a course where a lot of it was silent. At the end they had a little talent show and he was hilarious... I don't actually remember what he did, but he established a relationship with me by peeking through the curtain at me. You know how he had those big, beautiful eyes? If they pointed you out it was a privilege... I considered it a privilege!

I would always see Andy, especially on Thursdays, which were silent days and we would always go on walks together.  One of our favourite experiences was on these days, we would walk in complete silence, which I think we both enjoyed immensely

But one of the most interesting things we did was organise a big benefit for meditating in the prisons up in San Francisco.  

I was pretty devoted to meditation because it helped me a lot, and I met these people who were teaching in the prisons.  They told me how useful it was, but how difficult it was because prisoners don't wanna close their eyes, because they were afraid that someone was going to stab them!
So I gather Andy, Doug Henning, Ned Beatty, Stephen Collins, Country Joe McDonald and others to do this big benefit concert up at the galleria in San Francisco and down in Los Angeles. It was called 'Freedom Behind Bars'. We had these two wonderful concerts and raised lots of money for these programs to teach prisoners to meditate.  It was a really great thing to do and Andy went on for over an hour! he liked to take things to the limit in conciousness... and Oh my God! I have those tapes! Actually me and the cameraman are probably the only people to have them!"

Tapes of the benefit? Lost Kaufman tapes... Would you ever show them publicly? 

"I didn't shoot them, so I would have to get permission if anyone wanted to use them and I wouldn't do that without talking to Andy's family... I wouldn't feel comfortable... I mean, what would Andy say?"

So, what was your relationship with him like?

"We played like children, it was more like play...

We just sort of had a flirtatious relationship and anyway there wasn't much talking because we spent most of our time meditating... 

I don't have any romantic stories (Ha!)

But being with him is an improvisation, you pick it up and wherever he went, you go!  He was fun, but I'm not quite as free as that. I want to know past, present, future and what you're thinking about blah, blah, blah... But that didn't seem to be part of our conversations and I sort of figured that we were okay, we were happy just spending time together and having a good time."

Did he tell you why he turned to spirituality and meditation? 

"No, we never discussed that... But meditation can be extremely good for your imagination, creativity and well-being and he had a need and a craving for that...

As a matter of fact it was quite tragic, because later Andy was living in Malibu and applying to go on other [transcendental meditation] courses, but they started turning him down and this was pretty heartbreaking for him as spending time in silence was a big part of his life." 

Such a shame...

"But then we became friends and then we spent time together back in Los Angeles.

I saw him when he was doing taxi, because when I was studying directing I was
allowed to sit there on set and observe. 

That was fun! There was Jeff Conaway, who is a good friend of mine from ‘Grease’ and of course Danny DeVito and Chris Lloyd from Cuckoo’s Nest.

And had my mother not gotten ill during that period, I would have had the opportunity to study directing under Danny DeVito. But I'm a very good care-taker and I spent hours in the hospital and I would sit there meditating… and so, instead of being a pain in the neck I would be useful.”

So what else did you get up to with him? 

"We did try and wrestle one time, in his living room, but I said it's not really for me... Maybe I missed an opportunity, but the wrestling didn't appeal to me that much!"  [laugh] 

Do you think he was really serious about it? It didn't look like he was holding back?!

"Was he ever serious about anything?! Ha!

... And he took me to a Thai restaurant... but basically we were just like two kids playing together." 

Was he really as 'weird' as he is portrayed? 

"I don't really know what normal is... but he was an eccentric person, but a good friend and I loved being with him..."

And what did you talk about?

"What did we talk about? I don't think even remember what we talked about, I
just remember playing like two children and then having these deep long silent walks and the whole time I knew him he never smoked a cigarette or any dope, or drink any booze. We were both very pure…”

But funny though..?

"Andy was hilarious! His whole thing was to take people beyond where they were going… I call him unbounded... Milos wouldn't let me use that word in the film though…”

Oh yes 'Man on the Moon'...  

“I never knew him to do any of those other things [The drink and drugs] but apparently he did, Larry Koraszewki is a great writer and I'm sure he did his research, but I didn't know that part of his life - the period when he was in Vegas I mean... All I saw was this amazing pure being with an amazing talent, he could go on and on and never falter... 

He used up every moment... Even if it was in silence... "

You appeared in the biopic, how did that come about? 

"When I heard about Man on the Moon I sent Milos [Forman] a note saying that I knew Andy, and if there was anything I could do I would be happy to do it.

They were actually in the middle of shooting the movie when Milos was looking for someone to play this administrator in the movie.  I don't know when he got my note, but there was a woman who was teaching Jim (Carey) how to meditate - because he loved Andy Kaufman and he really wanted to get into character -  and Milos Foreman, or the producers asked this meditation teacher and she mentioned me, to which Milos said "Oh yeah I know her!" [From Cuckoo’s Nest] and the next day I got called down to the set. They were shooting in downtown Los Angeles. So I read the lines and he says “Okay go to wardrobe and we'll shoot it tomorrow.

It was the easiest job I ever got! It was a great experience because I really did know Andy."

How did you think Jim Carey did portraying Andy Kaufman?

“I think he did a wonderful job. But when I met him everything was just right… except Andy had these soulful deep blue eyes that would just pierce right into my heart… So it was like everything was there, but it wasn't Andy.  It almost made me cry.

He was so good, but you can never we reproduce another human being.”

Did you ever meet his alter ego [Tony Clifton]? 

“No I didn't. I never did meet him… that was a whole other part of Andy I did not know… But then again, I knew parts the other people didn't...”

In the film they allude to Andy still being alive and faked his own death do you think this was possible? 

“I wish!

I don't know!

Anything is possible with him! I just don't know?!

But I wish that be true wouldn't that be fun?!

I could easily see him living a completely different life somewhere else….”

Maybe his is…

Thank you Mews... 

For more Information on both Mews or Andy, or even Transcendental meditation... Go to...

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Thing about Warriors is... Retro LadyLand meets Thomas G Waites

It was cold, bloody cold, I looked at the barometer, -60°F... Well that did it, there was no way I was going outside now, no matter how weird it was in here... 

We'd been here for the past 3 months, researching something, I didn't know what... Something to do with oil? It didn't really matter, it wasn't my business anyway, I was just the cook.

But for the past couple of days strange things had been happening, the dogs had started acting weirdly and as for our captain... He had, quite literally lost his head... literally! It came right off his shoulders! And then it grew legs and ran off!

It all started when they found that... that 'thing' in the ice...  Why the hell did they have to bring it back here?

So, here I find myself, alone, locked in the kitchen, with plenty of warmth, food and water to keep me safe until help came... And I wasn't going to let anyone in...ANYONE!  I didn't know who to trust!

Suddenly a loud 'BAM! BAM! BAM!' came from the door and a muffled cry for help. Taking a deep breath I made my way over and, arming myself with the largest knife I could, tentatively wiped away the condensation from the small, frosted up window and shouted back through... "Hello?"

The person on the other side smiled, relieved to hear another voice and asked to be let in, explaining that he'd run to the Snowcat hut when everything had started happening, but it had got too cold and he needed to come back in.

I told him I felt sorry for him, but how could I trust that he was... well... human?

I asked him to remove his goggles and show me his face, I know it was impossible to tell who was and who wasn't 'infected'... But maybe the eyes might give me a clue... 

And when he did, I was shocked, not just because they were very human, but because they obviously belonged to the actor Thomas G Waites!

Thomas G Waites, born on January 8th in Phildephia in 1955 is a film and stage actor. He is known for The Thing (1982), ... Justice for all (1979) and The Warriors, although famously got his credit removed after getting sacked from the production... Bad Boy!

"How do I know it's really you?" I shouted

"As me some questions! But be quick, it's freezing out here!!!" he replied urgently... 

Great idea...
So, how did it all start for you?

"I think it was sixteen or fifteen, I was laid up in a hospital bed from a car accident.  Playing professional football was now out of the question, so I started reading books and watching films, picturing myself in them.  That was when I said, I want to be an actor.  I went back after the accident to High School and did a few plays.  The first speaking role I walked out onstage and spoke and couldn't believe it.  I was actually being listened to, maybe for what felt like the first my then young life.

I graduated with plans to join the Navy to learn a trade, perhaps carpentry, it worked for Jesus, so... but no, I was halted by, my then, brother-in-law who assessed me from an objective point of view and said, 'Thomas, try community college', So I did and there I was interested in meeting hot girls, so I auditioned for plays, and started getting roles.  I found a lot out about who I was then.  I was a  terrible actor with a lot of drive and determination.  At that school a teacher recommended I audition for Juilliard.  I got in to my amazement and got a full scholarship.

There I studied with the best in the world.  The best teachers of Acting, Voice, Speech, Movement and all the creative aspects of Acting under the auspices of John Houseman.  The late great John Houseman.

I got kicked out if Juilliard or quit, depending on which memory serves me best, but needless to say I had to leave after three years.  Broke, destitute, dying to act I started my journey. I called everyone I knew, I begged, I pleaded, I finally got a few auditions and surprisingly got a positive response.  By 21 I had been offered two films and one Broadway play, the play, Dracula with Frank Langela, I quit as I was a bit of a problem child and then that same day got the lead in a film called, 'On The Yard', with the great actor, John Heard.  

It was while waiting for that film to be released that I got cast in the Warriors, after four auditions they finally looked at un-cut film of On The Yard and went with me.  Yes I got fired from that film also after disagreements with the director, Walter Hill.  It was way more violent than what we had discussed but instead of calling my agent to discuss it professionally,  I took matters into my own hands and the ending was unhappy."

Ahh... The Warriors... and absolute masterpiece... What was that like to film?
"It was hot as hell that summer and we had no air conditioning and we ran and ran and ran all night long, take after take in the sweltering summer night but I was and am in good physical condition which is  partly why I got the role."  

There are loads of great parodies of the film... Have you seen them? And I heard there was an appearance in the film... But that might just be a rumour...
"I haven't seen many parodies and I had no idea that Sam Jackson - who is one of my favourite actors - was in the film, I wished I had known what I know now...on many levels."

"The best gang costumes have to be The Furies." 

And what a classic movie... Actually you've been in lots of classics...
"We had no idea it would be a Cult classic, just as The Thing turned out to be as well.  I guess someone is up there looking out for me to be part of not one but two great Classic movies.

And ...Justice For All changed my life.  Totally. 

I couldn't believe after getting fired from The Warriors that I was lucky enough to get to act with Al. I have worked with him many times and we became quite close for a time. He is a great guy and what an actor!  A little scary if you don't know your stuff, he will blow you out of the water.  But I have held my own with him on many a matinee performance.  We also did American Buffalo together Off Broadway which was a huge hit and how I got the Thing as well."

John Carpenter came to see me in Buffalo and asked me to read for the role of the Radio Operator whom I subsequently named, "Windows".  John is a good director that listens to his actors.  When I came up with the idea of changing the name, he was like, " OK, let's do it"  I think it makes the whole movie different.  

There is a Windows and a Mac.  Hahaha."

He asked if that was enough and could he come in... but I had mixed emotions... On one hand I was still afraid that he might be infected, on the other I was just too afraid he might not tell me anymore if I did... So I carried on with my questions...

But back to Al...

"Al has a lot of peculiar mannerisms which are part of his inimitable charm, but one thing I really admire about him is that he is sober.  He has stated this publicly, so I am not telling tales out of school, but it helped me ultimately stop drinking and that has been a very significant part of my life..."

Have you heard about the Antarctic festival that shows 'The Thing' every year?
"Yes I know Outpost 31 and I am aware of the Festival but I have not been invited."


But what about the 'Thing' itself...?
"We didn't get to see the Creature that often. Once in a while but mostly it was done without the actors around. When we did it was mind blowing."

The filming was like every actors dream come true. Fun, lots of laughs, treated like Gold. Great stories. Bars. Jokes. Friendships and great fun. Even up in Hyder Alaska.

We had a ball mostly due to Kurt. He knew how to work hard and have fun too. John is also a trip. Such fun. That's the best way to describe it."

Now you obviously share your name with a music legend... 
"Yes I have had to deal with the TOM WAITS, TOM WAITES issue most of my adult life.  He is great, a genius in fact and I guess if you are going to have a name sake it may as well be someone as brilliantly talented as Tom.

He is also a very kind and loving person - at least he was to me.  He even played Bass Drum on one of my demo tapes, as I am a song writer also. (Go to Tune Corps)  I had a play published and the cheque and the play, were sent to Tom's wife... She read it and then sent the play, and my cheque with a note saying "I liked your play, Tom gets stopped in the Video store and people tell him how great he was in NYPD BLUE or LAW AND ORDER, rather than quibble, Tom just stands there and shakes his head"  Funny huh?  He never did either of those TV shows, that was me... And we look nothing alike."

The window was frosting up badly now and Tom was too... His coat was more ice than material and I could hardly understand him through the chattering of his teeth... He had proved himself and I had to let him in...

So, inhaling deeply I unlocked the door and pulling it open, I ushered for him in to get in quick. 

He looked frozen and a pang of guilt came over me... I apologised for my scepticism, but, fortunately he was very understanding and even agreed to answering a couple more questions... Once I put the kettle on that was!

You've also done a lot of stage work... But what do you prefer?
"I love film more than anything.  The stage is always home, but film is the area I wish to explore, now as a director.  I have directed one short film with Joe Mantengna and Frances Fisher, (Pandora's Box) it won Best Director at a Film Festival in Atlantic City several years back  and I am raising the money to do another one very soon."


I passed him a hot drink and knew what my last question had to be... So, I asked him... 

So, what do you think happened to the Thing?
"The Thing me...its waiting."

And the reason I knew it had to be my last? Well that was easy... It would be my last... and his too... 

And as my features started to contort and limbs elongate and bend in ways that no human beings could, I watched him scream with terror... He was right... The Thing does still live... and WAS waiting... But it was just waiting for him to come inside....

For more information on Thomas go to his IMDB page, his Wikipedia page and check out his acting studio.