But Cort - The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
Bud Cort took a few minutes to chat with DVDTalk about his role as a “bond company stooge” in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which is now out on DVD. The actor discussed his love for the sea, a break-in at his Italian hotel room, and his few (very few) career regrets. And, despite our best attempts to avoid questions surrounding it, any interview with Cort eventually leads us back to his most well-known movie, Harold and Maude.
BC: You’re welcome. So what are you enjoying out there in Napa. Chardonnay? Cabernet?
DVDTALK: (laughs) No, only the wine editor gets to drink on the job. So do a majority of interviews with you begin with Harold and Maude questions because …
DVDTALK: Because I was planning on avoiding them …
BC: Good. Life Aquatic was my 52nd film. I know a lot of people associate me with that one character you mentioned (Harold).
DVDTALK: We’ll talk about Life Aquatic. In your words, describe your character Bill Ubell.
BC: I would describe him as a handsome and erudite bond company representative. Now, ask me how Wes would describe him.
DVDTALK: OK, how would Wes Anderson describe him?
BC: Wes would call him a bond company stooge.
DVDTALK: Did Bill Murray ever call you that off camera?
BC: (laughs) No, Bill and I have been friends for a long time.
DVDTALK: So is it true Wes Anderson created this character just for you?
BC: That’s true. I was very flattered.
DVDTALK: Why do you think he had you in mind?
BC: He had liked my performance in Pollock, and when (The Royal) Tenenbaums opened in L.A., I was invited to a party by Anjelica Huston. I met Wes and we talked about working together. He’s really a prince from another planet, another era.
DVDTALK: So was this your first sea movie?
BC: I think I was fired from a submarine movie once. It’s a long story. I think it was with Bill Pullman. Or Bill Paxton. I was in a few movies with both. The prop guy gave me a ridiculously dangerous prop, and I wrenched my back with it. They gave me first aid and then the director just wanted to shoot me out (without my knowing it). Just reaction shots: Smile! Be scared! You hear a loud bang! They sent me home and a few hours later I got a call telling me I was let go. They had everything they needed, the bums.
DVDTALK: You were born in New York, right?
BC: Yes. But I spent every summer with my great grandmother in Gloucester, Mass. I had three great grandfathers, all fishermen, all lost at sea.
DVDTALK: How did you prepare for this role? I hear you lost a few pounds.
BC: That happened later. I mainly prepared by interviewing bond company representatives the most insight came from Matt Warren, he runs Film Finances. He was very kind to me, and helpful, introducing me to his co-workers. I was very impressed with them. They were extremely bright and well-dressed. But in the movie I was dressed in high geek polyester.
DVDTALK: Did you try to talk Anderson out of that?
BC: I guess, but you have to honor your director’s wishes. I did train extensively for the role, because Bill (Murray) said I would be in the water doing a lot of swimming. I swam every day. I would get up at 4 a.m. and got in excellent, excellent shape. During the film I dieted and lost 50 pounds for a sequence but they kept pushing back this kidnapping scene. When I finally left Rome at the end I was a toothpick.
DVDTALK: So did you ever have to speak Tagalog (Filipino) in your acting career before?
BC: No, but originally I was to speak the lines in Indonesian, and I had mastered that when Wes called and said “We can’t find any Indonesian actors here (in Italy). Could you learn the part in Filipino?” The languages could not be any more different. Wes said “Look, you just write (the lines).” So I had something like five pages of dialog. It was very political, concerning the state of the ocean, the destruction of the coral reefs, etc. Wes said he loved it but the Producer asked me to take out the political stuff. Still, you don’t see many fish in the film, which I think is pretty honest. One of the divers we worked with said the area (Anzio) used to be full of fish, and now there’s just nothing out there.
DVDTALK: How’d you spend your down time while you were out there?
BC: I did a lot. I went to the Beatification of Mother Theresa, which was beautiful. I placed flowers on the steps of the Vittoriano Monument for the 18 Italians killed in Iraq. I felt it was my duty to represent the American contingent. I don’t know if you’ve been to Europe lately, but we’re not at the height of popularity. I was lucky to be able to stay there for six months and I made every effort to make friends with the Italians, especially the hotel staff. make lots of friends, especially with the hotel staff. I would sing for them every Saturday night with the hotel orchestra.
DVDTALK: What kind of songs? Any Cat Stevens?
BC: No. You know, As Time Goes By, Moon River, the standards.
DVDTALK: You’ve said often in the past that you don’t like being typecast in “weird” roles. Weird or not, pick one role you passed on that today you wish you had taken.
BC: The only weird role I really wish I had taken was Billy Bibbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jack (Nicholson) wasn’t involved when I was offered the part. It was another actor – I don’t want to say his name – so I asked to play McMurphy. But when Jack came aboard I was immediately interested in Billy, but I was too late.
DVDTALK: Name one director you’d love to work with.
BC: Oh, let’s see. Mike Nichols, Mike’s an actor’s director. Terry Gilliam, a great fantasist.
DVDTALK: Same question, but an actor or actress.
BC: The only one I always wanted to work with was (Marlon) Brando. For seven years I tried to put together a project with him, and when the day came that he said yes, I went to the producer and he no longer had the financing. It’s a shame because it would have been an amazing movie. Paul Newman eventually made it with Robbie Benson.
DVDTALK: Which of your performances – in film, not on stage – would you consider to be the most under-appreciated?
BC: Very few people saw the film I directed, Ted and Venus. But I get amazing feedback. It was a movie ahead of its time (1991), about sexual harassment during the 70’s Watergate fiasco. The studio kept it on the shelf during both the Kennedy-Palm Beach mess and the Anita Hill-Judge Clarence Thomas debacle. I told them to open any newspaper and see what was going on in the world. The original title was Love In Venice, which I preferred, but the distributor did a $2,000 market research test (they called 2 people in New York) and asked which title they would rather see, Love In Venice or Ted and Venus. They picked Ted And Venus because it sounded like Harold and Maude. I’m not kidding. It got completely mixed reviews: masterpiece, horrible. I got calls telling me it wasn’t sympathetic to the women’s movement, yet the lead actress is the one character who triumphs at the end. It’s totally pro-feminist! Peter Bogdanovich saw it and called me up and said it was the finest directorial debut by an actor ever, and that he wanted do produce any picture that I wanted to direct.
DVDTALK: Which movie of yours would be the most underrated?
BC: Gee, I dunno. One of my favorites is She Dances Alone, which is kind of a jewel. It was all about Kiyra Nijinsky, who was the daughter of the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. It was a semi-documentary, and you really got to see her father through her. That one rarely gets seen, but it’s a beauty. It should be in every college library and ballet academy.
DVDTALK: So I wanted to ask a few personal …
BC: If you don’t mind I’d like to say something more about Life Aquatic. Time Magazine called it “The Best Comedy of The Year.” I don’t know if it’s for everyone. It’s very much a singular vision by a very original filmmaker. For an hour and a half you take a trip to his reality. Wes is Felliniesque.
DVDTALK: So would you jump at the opportunity to work with him again?
BC: I don’t jump at anything. It all depends on the script. But Aquatic was one of the three best scripts I’d ever read. The other two were Harold and Maude and The Fisher King. I can tell you that every single moment in Harold and Maude was scripted. There was also a formality of genre in that movie. It was just an exercise in perfection. Including the occasional happy accident. Harold gets out of the car, the wind blows his trench coat open, you see a bit of red. He goes to the other side of the car, and a rainbow appears in the sky. You can’t order a rainbow. Now you were going to say …
DVDTALK: I just wanted to ask if you were still single?
BC: I date. But I’m single. I’m married to my career. But I’ve been seeing the same girl for a while now.
DVDTALK: So no leading ladies have caught your eye?
BC: A great actress will always catch my eye. Cate Blanchett caught my eye. She was actually pregnant pregnant for real and as the character in the movie. She was fantastic. She just knocked me out.
DVDTALK: Even more personal: Are you still working without an agent?
BC: Actually, I’m working with an agent who followed me to Rome. She took me to the police station when all my underwear was stolen from my hotel room. She helped me a lot. She spoke Italian. She helped me replace it all.
DVDTALK: Wait, so your hotel room was broken into? They only stole your underwear?
BC: No, no, they stole all my clothes. I was able to replace them, but it was six months’ worth of clothes. And you can’t find T-shirts with pockets in Italy.
DVDTALK: Are you a fan of DVDs? What would we find in your collection?
BC: I have some DVDs but I don’t know how to use my DVD player. I live in a little log cabin made out of a ship from the 1920s. I have no computer. I’m not proud of that. I’m a reading fiend. I read a lot. I go to the video store mainly for research. I’m a member of the Academy, so I get everything, but I ask for it on cassette which I do know how to work.
DVDTALK: Name some of the movies you replay the most.
BC: Grapes of Wrath. Children of Paradise.
DVDTALK: What can we expect next from you? Your film career has been sporadic in the past.
BC: Hmmm. I disagree. I’m always working. Perhaps people just don’t get to see everything I’m in. Like I said, Aquatic is my 52nd film role. I’m in the middle of producing a new film, which unfortunately I can’t talk about. It’s a one-man show with a cast of thousands. I’ve been working on it for 11 years.
DVDTALK: So anything else you’d like to add about The Life Aquatic?
BC: Well, thank you. I hope people get it and love it, or at least enjoy it. Not every film has to be the penultimate experience, but if you want to take a vacation, go see this movie! It’s very scenic and nuttier than a fruitcake, and Bill Murray is magnificent. He’s the anchor and sail. He led with tremendous warmth and humor. I have so much respect for him. I also have to say Owen (Wilson’s) performance was underrated. He is fantastic in it, it’s different from anything he’s ever done before.
DVDTALK: Lastly, do you regret not getting to wear a Speedo and red cap?
BC: Not at all, because I’m wearing them as we speak.
- Chris Tribbey