|WE INTERVIEWED JOE BOB BRIGGS, "DUMB FUCKIN' WHITE MAN."|
|By Eric Gillin||
Robert DeNiro. John Travolta. Don Rickles. Winona Ryder. Alec Baldwin. Nicolas Cage. Dennis Quaid. Martin Scorsese. John Woo.
Joe Bob Briggs has worked with 'em all.
Who is Joe Bob Briggs? You probably remember him as that late-night horror movie host. But Mr. Briggs, also known as John Bloom, has also landed prominent roles in many major movies, as well as nailing down a variety of writing gigs across the Web. As one of our favorite "that guy" actors, the Black Table got in touch with Joe Bob Briggs to find out what it was like to work with all those names.
BT: Everyone knows you as the guy who hosted "Joe Bob's Drive-In Theatre" on cable for seven years. You were that guy who introduced millions of young people to B-movies, nearly all of them in the horror genre. But what people forget is that you've also had speaking parts opposite some A-list heavyweights in mainstream fare. Your first was as Dewey "Daddy-O" Phillips in the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic, Great Balls of Fire! with Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder and Alec Baldwin. In 1989, those people were a big deal. Did Winona try to steal anything from you?
JBB: Actually I had a couple of roles before that, but yes, you're correct, that was the first A-list movie I appeared in. I didn't have any scenes with Winona, so the extent of my contact was riding to the set with her in the mini-van. She was a winsome high school student at the time. She was talking about quitting acting and going to Ireland with her friends. I remember she had her social studies textbook with her all the time, and that she despised having to learn the stuff in it. I would say she was a typical teenager, except that she was also a movie star. She was very sweet to everyone, so I was surprised to read later that some directors called her difficult.
BT: Is Alec Baldwin really opinionated all the time? I read all the time about how he's a blowhard who said he was gonna move to Canada if Bush won. And I worked with his brother Billy a bit and he had all these opinions about things, too. And I don't know. What's with that family, you think?
JBB: Alec Baldwin and I were only in one scene together, and he was in full-blown Method Intensity, not talking to anyone, so all I know is what I read in the newspapers. Yes, he's a very active Democrat.
BT: In 1994, you nabbed a high-profile part in "The Stand" television miniseries, which was an absolutely massive project at the time. Stephen King himself wrote the 460-page script adaptation of his 1,141-page book. It took 100 days to shoot and clocked in at 8 hours. Everyone was in this thing. Gary Sinese, Rob Lowe, Bill Fagerbakke What was it like working on that set? I hear Molly Ringwald can be snooty and gets all French about life.
JBB: I never met Molly Ringwald. I did talk to Gary Sinise at lunch one day. His father was the editor for the great Chicago exploitation filmmaker, Herschell Gordon Lewis, director of Blood Feast, the first gore film. "The Stand" was a very relaxed set, thanks to the friendly low-key personality of the director, my friend Mick Garris. Most of it was filmed at various locations in Utah, and part of the time there was a strike going on against the mini-series because it was non-union. Members of the United Mine Workers would show up every day and make noise whenever Mick called "Action."
BT: In "The Stand," you play the part of Deputy Joe Bob Brentwood. How did you get in character for that?
JBB: Are you kidding? I grew up in Texas and Arkansas.
BT: Hmm. Right. Just about the time "The Stand" came out, your gig as host of "Joe Bob's Drive-In Theatre" came to an end. It's 1995, you have some time off, and you land a role in Martin Scorsese's Casino, getting first billing, a scene with DeNiro and a memorable role that any actor would give an eye for.
Don't take this the wrong way, but how in the hell did that happen?
JBB: Well, I was out of a job, so I was going out on auditions--which I despise, by the way. When you're into that audition thing, you do about 20 or 30 of them for every one job that you get. It sucks, but it has the beneficial effect of making you kind of numb to the process. When I got the call about going in for the Casino part, it was just another one on the list. I thought I would just be in a room with the casting director.
Then they called back and said, "We want you to read for Marty." They call him Marty. Then they called back a couple days later and said, "We're going to have you read with Bobby for Marty." And yes, they call him Bobby. I could never bring myself to use the words Marty OR Bobby.
By the time the day for the audition came, I was thoroughly shaken. I got there 45 minutes early and had to hang out at the diner across the street, getting hyped up on coffee. Then when I got to the waiting room, it was full of all these old Mafia guys -- you know, the guys who always play the gangsters in Scorsese movies -- and they were all complaining to the secretary about their parking validations. "We drove in from Jersey! Marty has to pay for our parking!"
When they finally called me in for the taped audition, Scorsese's first question was, "So what's the best women-in-prison movie?" He was asking it as a SERIOUS question. We discussed Caged Heat for a moment and then he said, "But it IS a genre, isn't it? Women-in-prison? It's not a sub-genre of prison movies." And I agreed with him, of course. Anyway, that broke the ice. And since Robert De Niro was about 20 minutes late and hadn't really looked at the script, all pressure was off. I did the audition, and then asked Scorsese if I could do it a little different way, and then did it a third way, just to cover all the bases. And he seemed pleased, and that was it.
One thing that impressed me about these guys is that they said, "We don't care that much about the words. You don't have to say these exact words. We'll be changing the words right up until we shoot. We're just interested in the emotion." And, of course, that's a dream situation for an actor. Normally they get upset if you change anything.
BT: Bobby and Marty and Joe Bob. Man. What did you do the second you found out you got the part? Did you scream like a woman?
JBB: I remember riding home in the cab from the audition and thinking, "Wow, I can die now." I don't really remember the phone call so much. I think the
people who were telling me I got the part were happier than I was. It was like I'd already done it. You'd be amazed at how insane people get over the very tiniest parts in big movies.
BT: Casino is seriously one of my favorite pictures and I think your performance as Don Ward, "the juiced-in local cowboy" was great. It's just one scene, really, but you were in it with Don Rickles and Bobby. Actually, can you tell us about it? I mean, what was it like to work with Bobby?
JBB: Actually three scenes. Two are very short. DeNiro was gracious, friendly, a gentleman, generous in discussing the scene. Rickles was on all the time and hysterically funny. When DeNiro did his closeups, he encouraged me to get up in his face and really cuss him out, so it would register on his face. "I'll do the same for you later," he said. Now THAT will make you tremble a little bit. And he was good as his word.
BT: You have a line in that scene, where you look up at Bobby, who is yelling at you for having a messy station, and you say: "It won't happen again, Sam." As he's walking away DeNiro spits, "Is this guy just another dumb fuckin' white man, or what?" It's probably the funniest scene in the whole movie, after the one where Joe Pesci gets beaten up in the desert with baseball bats. How do you not crack up when Bobby calls you "another dumb fuckin' white man?"
JBB: Well, he says it to Rickles when they're walking away, so technically I don't hear it. I'm too dumb a fuckin' white man to be that alert.
BT: I know Marty likes to do a lot of takes. How many times did you do that scene?
JBB: It's not that Scorsese necessarily does a lot of takes, but if you'll notice, he loves long tracking shots. He can't really edit his films the way 99 percent of the directors do -- that is, by getting an establishing shot, followed by various angles of "coverage," followed by closeups, then putting it all together in post-production. Many of his stories are told with shots that are continuous. They're shot from one angle only, and the camera moves in a very complex way. The very first scene of Gangs of New York is a good example.
His method is to rehearse the scene a lot, usually in small actor groups away from the set, in which the actors are encouraged to add to and change the script. Once he has the scene the way he wants it, the words are set -- no more changes -- and then it's rehearsed once on the set so the cinematographer can light it. Then everyone goes away for an hour while the cinematographer lights the scene using doubles. Then, finally, the scene is done for real. So actually he saves time on the set. It's rare to have to do one of his scenes more than two or three times. The time expended doesn't have so much to do with takes as with his complex use of the camera itself.
BT: And was working with Marty different than working with say, Mick Garris, director of "The Stand" and Critters 2?
JBB: Not that different. The only difference is their personalities. Mick is laid-back, relaxed, an utterly polite gentleman. Scorsese is manic and in motion all the time, always talking.
BT: What do you think of Marty not getting the Oscar award this year?
JBB: Yeah, it really pained me to see him sit there through the ceremony as he was continually passed over. The Gangs of New York wasn't his best movie -- I think it was Raging Bull twenty years ago -- but it was a hell of a lot bigger accomplishment than Chicago.
BT: Every time I see Don Rickles on television he looks like Sputnik and I get that nervous feeling inside, like when I'm watching Louie Anderson do "Family Feud" and I think he's gonna have a heart attack and die on the spot. You were in the scene with Don Rickles. Is he as fat as he looks? And is he as mean as everyone says?
JBB: Rickles was "on" all the time -- very entertaining. He's not particularly fat. You don't think of him as being that big. Everyone is always delighted to be insulted by him. He'd say: "You know what my job is on this movie, Joe Bob? It's to stand here and say, 'Oh yes, that's right, Mr. DeNiro.' Then on Academy Awards night, I'll be up in row 357 triple Q saying 'Hey, Bobby, remember me? Remember me?'"
BT: Ha! After Casino, you didn't make another film until deciding to work with John Woo, John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in Face/Off in 1997. Some actors wander around Hollywood hoping to score an A-list movie and you're working with visionaries, man. Well, some of John Woo's movies kinda stink, like Broken Arrow. Actually, do you think John Woo is overrated?
JBB: Naw, I'm a huge fan of John Woo. Actually this was another film that came about because I was out of a job and going out on auditions. I actually auditioned for the part of the warden. Woo liked the reading I gave, but said he needed a big beefy guy for the part. Then he asked me if I'd take the tiny part, and I said, "Yes, of course." Every day I was on the set he apologized for the part being so small. And when he apologizes, he bows from the waist. What an incredibly nice guy. LOUD set, though. Man does he love the explosive charges.
BT: Did John Travolta make a move on you with all that Scientology stuff?
JBB: I didn't have any scenes with John Travolta. Well, actually I had a scene with John Travolta DISGUISED as Nicholas Cage, so I guess it was Travolta after all, even though he looked and acted like Nicholas Cage and seemed to respond to the name "Nick."
BT: That's confusing. Today, your fans can catch up with you on your Web site. What else do Joe Bob Briggs and John Bloom have planned down the road?
JBB: The main things are a book, called Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History, which comes out in May; a series of DVD commentaries for Elite Entertainment, which premiered with I Spit On Your Grave and continues this summer with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter; and continuing journalism (five columns a week!) for United Press International.
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