“To sum it up in my opinion it’s about a matter of fact, but it’s an opinion about a matter of fact – artists aren’t running the show anymore – lawyers are. Lawyers know as much about movie making as they do about kindness.”—Eric Roberts
In 1978, at the age of ten years old, I went to see a movie with my late father Alvin Berkwitt. He loved movies and acted years before. He instilled in me a love for movies and more important, acting. The movie I saw was the KING OF THE GYPSIES. It was a fantastic movie that starred a then young 22 year old actor by the name of “Eric Roberts.” He owned the character of “Dave,” which my dad stressed to me. From that performance would come the rave reviews. In 1984, Eric would star opposite another fantastic actor by the name of “Mickey Rourke.” The movie was the cult classic “THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE.”
In the “Book of Berkwitt,” the Academy should have at least nominated Rourke for Best Actor and Roberts for Best Supporting Actor. I have read reviews where film critics panned Eric’s performance as an act of overacting. Overacted? Watch him scream the words: “Charlie, they took my thumb!” When he screamed that line and passed out, I thought they cut my thumb off! It’s a film classic, that almost 30 years, still holds up.
Roberts may have not gotten nominated for THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, but he did for his role as “Buck McGeehy,” in the 1985 hit movie, “RUNAWAY TRAIN,” losing to Don Ameche for COCOON.
I have rooted for both Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts who have had their ups and downs in Hollywood, but from my perspective, their talent never wavered. To see them both still acting and “Bringing It” to their craft is impressive after 30 plus years.
At this point of my lead-in, all I can do is steal a line that I totally concur with from Mickey Rourke’s heartfelt speech from the Spirit Awards which he was awarded for his movie THE WRESTLER, a few years back: “Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, MR Eric Roberts with Special Guest MRS Eliza Roberts…
BB: Let’s catch the NewzBreaker readers up on your current projects which looking at IMDB, your dance card has been full.
I just did the Linda Lovelace story and play the role of Nat Laurendi who gave Linda a lie detector test. I am also in a new movie with Brooke Shields who many years ago played my little sister in “KING OF THE GYPSIES” and now I play her wayward husband in a movie called “THE HOT FLASHES”. The real treat about the movie is Wanda Sykes.
BB: You are the first person I have ever interviewed where we shared the same birthday. I don’t usually ask about signs, but since we are both Aries, do you have any thoughts on being one?
Good for us bro…. All I know is that if the moon can move the entire ocean that all the other planets do have some kind of force on us. I don’t think we understand it really, but hell we are scratching the surface.
BB: You were born in Biloxi, Mississippi, but grew up in New Orleans. How would this southern upbringing lead to you wanting a movie career?
The movie career actually came much later. I started acting because I had a terrible stutter. My father found out that if I memorized something, I could speak. It became an exercise at first, and then I became good at it. From there, I became very good at it and then, it became my life.
BB: Your first TV role was on Another World. Who did you play and what are your memories of the soap opera?
It was around 1975 and I played the original Ted Bancroft. My memories were I was terrible. (We both cracked up) Don’t get me wrong, I am my biggest fan.
BB: Your first screen role came in the 1978 movie King of the Gypsies where you played the lead as Dave. How did you get that part and what are your memories of the shoot?
My best memories were my screen test for that movie. I had read for Frank Pierson I think three times. Then they called me in for a screen test. For some reason, January 28th pops out of my head – but I am not sure if that is right or not and it was in 1978. (Interviewer’s Note: I actually looked the date up and Eric was spot on! The storm crippled the city.)
They still had the screen test at the Gulf & Western Building. I lived in a little apartment on West 73rd Street right up the street from the Gulf & Western Building. So I walked out in three feet of snow and got into the building because I was on a list and went up stairs to be told, everything is running late. At that point, I went to sleep and naturally slept all morning and they woke me up for the screen test, which I got the part.
It was the calmest test I had ever had, since I had just woken up. That’s my best memory of that movie, but….. that movie introduced me to Sterling Hayden, Susan Sarandon, Shelly Winters and Frank Pierson, who were a lot of groovy people.
BB: You received rave reviews for the 1983 movie STAR 80 when you played the late Dorothy Stratten’s husband, Paul Snider who murders her and kills himself the same day. What was it like playing this character and how did you prepare for it?
There was huge preparation. It was a role when I read the script, which I was able to read before I auditioned for it with Bob Fosse the first time. I read the script and thought,”My God, I really can’t play this guy.” As he came across to me on the page, he was kind of grotesque. There was nothing that I liked about him. You have to like, or so I believe, you have to like something about everyone you play or you can’t really play them completely. You can imitate them, but you cannot play them, so I thought I could not do this guy. He was so far away from me, I just can’t do it. But Bob Fosse and Hal Ashby were my two favorite directors at the time. I was hell bent to work with both of them, so I had to go after this role. I went in and read cold, with Bob helping me a little bit, and then I read again which was better. From there, Fosse would give me assignments and I would come back the next week which we did three or four times.
Then he had me read with a bunch of different girls, but not Mariel (Hemingway) oddly enough and then, he cast me. It was the most incredible experience I have ever had on the set before or since.
BB: In 1984, a film classic in my book was made that starred you and Mickey Rourke. The film was THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE. I saw it the day it came out all those years ago and loved it. Your character Paulie to Mickey Rourke’s Charlie should have won both of you Best Actor and Best Supporting Oscars that year. I saw Mickey a few years back on Inside Actor’s Studio say it was his favorite film of his career. What are your thoughts about this movie?
Thank you! What can I say? I think Mickey and I get as close to perfection as you can for that kind of piece. I think it’s the same type of genre as Harvey Keitel and Robert Deniro in “MEAN STREETS”. That was more biding even though it was also the streets of New York.
It was the same kind of feeling that you were really watching those guys as opposed to watching guys playing those guys. That makes me very proud because I am not that guy. (Big Laugh) It was very hard for me. I had to prep and got that part in January and took until September, to lose all that weight and perm my hair and learn how to talk like that. Then I kicked its ass from September to November.
BB: Follow up question. Did you improvise the scene where you made what looked like a six foot sub sandwich which you ate while you shared the scene with Mickey Rourke?
It was in the script, but it was thanks to the Director Stuart Rosenberg (Big Laugh). He saw me eat one day and said, “I never saw anybody look so good when they eat.” I replied, “I am hungry all the time, because look I am on a diet – look at all the weight I lost. I love food now!”
BB: Who was the one male actor you watched in your early years in acting that you looked up to and why?
I actually have three. Robert Donat, Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. Those guys I felt were the best actors who ever breathed.
BB: How different is Hollywood today from when you first started in it?
I caught the end of the movie making era. I got in during the late 1970’s which I think the decade of the 70’s was the best era ever for making classic – great films. Leading the way with the movie “THE CONVERSATION” (1974 Francis Ford Coppola film that starred Gene Hackman and was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar) and the first two “GODFATHER” movies.
Now Hollywood is not being run by any artists, it’s being run by lawyers. There was a time and I saw the end of the era. With the abuse by Cimino (Michael) of “HEAVENS GATE” we saw the end of the era where they left the artist in charge. We have less of it now even though we have say a Steven Spielberg, but he is it. But even he has to deal with the powers that be. To sum it up in my opinion it’s about a matter of fact, but it’s an opinion about a matter of fact – artists aren’t running the show anymore – lawyers are. Lawyers know as much about movie making as they do about kindness.
BB: I want to throw out some names to you that you have worked with and get the first thought that comes to your mind.
Shelly Winters – A wonderful kind, incredible, and a complicated woman.
Sterling Hayden – Probably the coolest cat I have ever known.
Susan Sarandon – Scared, sweet and brilliant.
Carrol Baker – Scared, sweet and angry.
Cliff Robertson – Fun to be around.
Mickey Rourke – Fun to be around.
Kenneth McMillian – Underrated and a brilliant actor.
Bob Fosse – The most brilliant man I have ever been in a room with.
Stuart Rosenberg – Really a fun guy to know.
Jon Voight – One of my true friends.
Sylvester Stallone – The American Dream.
Rod Steiger – One of the grooviest cats I have ever met.
BB: I know your son Keaton Simons is a musician, share your thoughts on his music career.
Well, you know it’s weird, this kid all you have to do is hear him to be a fan. It’s not like I really even need to promote him. Keaton’s website is: http://www.keatonsimons.com/ Listen to his music and you will want to buy it. It’s as easy as that. He plays rock and roll and rhythm and blues and he has a voice you will never forget.
BB: Tell me about a charity you are involved in called Natural Child ORG.
It’s how to do it right. Being a parent it’s the easiest job in the world to get, and the hardest job to do as we all know. We hold our parents responsible for a lot of stuff in our lives. If you read Natural Child, we would understand a lot of stuff that we don’t. The Beatles said it best, “All you need is love.” It sounds really corny, but all you need is love! To find out more go to: http://www.naturalchild.org/
NB: You are very proud of your step-daughter Morgan who owns the Pi Bake Shop. Tell the readers about the shop.
The best pies in Los Angeles, which anyone who has one, has said. (Interviewers Note: I looked at the menu and instantly craved a chocolate cream pie.) You can visit the Pi Bake Shop by going to: http://www.pibakeshop.com/
BB: One more charity organization you are involved with is Precious Paws. Tell the readers about the organization.
They rescue all kind of animals. The thing about Precious Paws which is run by a woman named Georgyne Lalone who used to be my wife Eliza’s Casting Assistant. She was one of the Producers on “THE DEAD ZONE” and all through her career in the industry which she still is in, she only wanted to make enough money to quit and devote herself 100% to animals. There are a lot of rescue organizations in our industry and it’s great to have them.
However, many of them are on the board and have their names to donate because they are there with a bunch of other celebrities. Then you have the little hard working ones where the people do all the things their self. Precious Paws is one of those. Georgyne is also a Veterinary Technician who takes care of all of the animals on her property. It really is amazing to see.
You can find out more info about Precious Paws by going to: http://www.preciouspaws.org/
BB: Is there one actor and actress from yesteryear that you wish you could have shot a movie with?
Warren Beatty really had the career of working with all the people I would have wanted to work with. For an actress, I would have loved to work with Julie Christie. I also always wanted Doris Day to play my mother.
BB: You have acted in some movies that are on all time favorite lists, but is there one movie you would like to forget that you were in?
Probably about a half of dozen of them. If you name one, then everyone has a handle to mess with you, so I will name none.
BB: I found a video on Youtube of Mickey Rourke accepting a Spirit Award for his Oscar nominated performance in The Wrestler. It was one of the most sincere speeches I have ever heard. In that speech, he started out with some amazing things about you, that you could tell, really moved you. What was that experience like for you and your wife Eliza to hear this speech sitting in the front row?
Eric: Here is what is weird. I was told that Mickey wanted me there that night because I wasn’t going to go to those awards. I was told, “you have to go, because Mickey wants you there he thinks he is going to win.” As soon as he said my name on stage, I thought where the hell are you going? Mickey is an old dear friend of mine and if you are an old dear friend of Mickey’s, you know he is certifiable. So you don’t know where he is going if he says your name. There I was trapped in the front row of an audience with him about to talk about me and I didn’t know where he was going, so I hid my face because I didn’t want to be publicly embarrassed.
I would rather be privately embarrassed. So I hid my face, while he went through it and it was pretty painless, and then, I look at Eliza and she seemed pretty happy about it. Then everyone kept saying, “Isn’t that great what he said?”
I really didn’t understand at that time, but ever since, I have got such great feedback from it and I have watched it and replayed it back about three times. It was actually one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me publicly and I was shocked and overwhelmed as I still am.
Eliza: So we know Mickey’s speech, his clothes, his performances are not going to be typical or what you expect. He doesn’t do it on purpose, it’s just really him. When he started to walk to the stage, I had this feeling for no reason that he was going to say something about Eric. He had seen us and said hi to us there. For one thing it’s always so much easier if this interview was about someone else Eric would have millions of things to say. It’s always easier to talk about someone else than yourself. When Mickey got up there and you had talked about who runs the business earlier, we know that marketing is an art form in and of its self. You never know what the tipping point is going to be. It’s never going to be what it was 40 years ago. When Mickey got up there and said that, first of all, I burst into tears it was so unbelievably sweet and true with it being a real call to arms. He instructed the industry to think and it was not just about Eric, to think about how they think about things. It was incredibly bonding and pure. Then, I had a feeling that out of all the great work that Eric has done, this was about to have more of an affect than anything his agents, or anyone else could do in 15 years.
Sure enough, you can see how many views that video has on Youtube and everyone talked about it. To be able to pay it forward, I mean Mickey had just gotten himself back together professionally and to do that for somebody is the proper use of whatever power we have as a celebrity, that is the way to rock it!
BB: What is your favorite word?
Swooze (New Orleans readers, you should know what this means.)
NB: What is your least favorite word?
BB: What is one thing you can share with the readers that has never been heard before?
I’m enjoying my 50’s. I didn’t expect to.
BB: If you were stranded on a desert island, what is the one CD and movie you would like to have?
It would be a compilation work from Keaton Simons for the CD and for the movie, Harold and Maude.
BB: Finally, do you have a saying you continue to live your life by?
“It’s good if you like it.”
BB: Same question for you Eliza.
“When in doubt, give.”
Make sure to check out Eric’s website at: www.ericrobertsactor.com