Screen icon Peter O'Toole talks about making 'The Stunt Man': 'I'll tell you a yarn!'


Screen legends really don’t come much more legendary than Peter O’Toole who, amongst his many achievements, has racked up eight Best Actor Academy Award nominations in his now almost 60-year-long career. O’Toole received the sixth of those noms for playing, with flamboyant brilliance, the manipulative and devilish film director Eli Cross in Richard Rush’s 1980 film The Stunt Man. This paranoia-fueled comedy about a Vietman vet who hides from the cops by becoming a stuntman on a World War I movie is out today on Blu-ray in a package that also includes a two hour making-of doc and a Rush career retrospective, amongst its many extras.

We spoke to O’Toole himself about his memories of making The Stunt Man.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve made so many films. But The Stunt Man seems to occupy a special place in your heart.
PETER O’TOOLE: That’s true. I’ll tell you a yarn!

Please do.
Many years ago, a woman gave me the sack. She said goodbye. And she left a note. It said, “Someone has made a film just for you. It starts with a cat p—ing in a dustbin whose contents are then searched by two crooked policemen. And then it gets a great deal worse. Also, there’s plenty of tomato soup in it.”

She meant blood?
Yeah. Tomato soup! That’s what she said. It was called Freebie and the Bean. I went to see it and indeed she was quite right. [Laughs] It had all those ingredients and made me chuckle a great deal, and there were vats of tomato soup in it it. Blood. Tomato soup. Months, months, months later, I was in Los Angeles with a friend at a party and a chap began to speak to me about a script. I have a habit of  grinning roguishly and then going away, if you follow me. As we were leaving, my mate said, “That chap made a very good picture called Freebie and the Bean.” So I went back and I said, “You made the Freebie and the Bean”? And it was Richard Rush. And the script he had was The Stunt Man.

I was determined to play it. Really determined. It was one of the only parts I ever really wanted to play. It’s the old Noël Coward statement: “Nobody’s born a star…” Hang on, let me get it right! “Nobody’s born a star. It has to be the right part, in the right play, at the right time, and you’ve got to be good at that!” Which is kind of the standard one sets for oneself. And it was the right part in the right play at the right time, and I wanted to do it and off we went. It wasn’t given a particularly good send-off, as you probably know.

I believe you once said that it wasn’t so much released, as it escaped.
That is what Richard Rush said. Richard Rush rang me — we became very chummy and remain chummy until this day — he rang me and said, “The film hasn’t been released, it escaped.” And then, when it became a video, it topped all the video sales. So it became known. But apparently the man who [financed] it, it made more sense in his bookkeeping for the film not to make money, if you can follow these kinds of various financial shenanigans. I can’t. He [thought] it was an “art film.” So he didn’t bother releasing it. But it’s a good film and I’m very fond of it and it’s close to my heart, as you properly put it. And I wish it well.

It’s certainly a film with a lot of artistry — although it does begin with the sight of a dog licking his b—s.
That’s lovely. It’s lovely. Yes, and an apple falling out of a helicopter. Very good. Cause and effect. And it’s very funny, beautifully acted all the way through, and it’s a popular film as we now know from the various sales in various other media.


Image Credit: Everett Collection

I understand you had problems with rain when you were trying to finish the film.
Have you heard of Yolo County?

I have not.
Yolo County is somewhere — God knows where — but it’s either east, or north, or south, or west of Sacramento. And it is one vast rice paddy. It looks like China! And we were there in Yolo County, hiding. Because the man who put up the money wanted to spend no more. He wanted his camera back! You know, the usual. And we needed to shoot a couple of things — the stunts, in fact. And it flogged it down. In fact, one day a  chum of mine knocked on the door and said, “Come and look at this.” I went downstairs and the foyer of this little motel we were staying in was filled with ducks. The ducks had come in out of the rain! It was torrential. But occasionally the weather broke and we shot those various scenes in the half hour gap that we were given by the rain.

Returning to the subject of genitalia, the Blu-ray cover features an illustration of yourself with a very phallic devil’s tail.
Oh, is that the one that’s being used? I’ve not seen that for a long, long time.

I know it’s a tail, but it does give the impression that you are a generously endowed person, sir!
Yeah. Well, them were days!

You can check out the trailer for The Stunt Man Below.

Read more:
Peter O’Toole: Profile of a master
Peter O’Toole: Honorary Oscar
‘The Stunt Man’ review

Comments (29 total) Add your comment
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  • D’s Advocate

    Eli Cross is one of my favorite O’Toole characters. Love “The Stunt Man”!

  • Marge

    Love Peter O’Toole. Christopher Plummer has a wonderful story in his autobiography about O’Toole dropping trou at a party showing everyone how beat up his buttocks were from riding camels in the filming of Lawrence of Arabia.

  • Sue1

    Great interview with a great actor, talking about a great film.

    • Widya

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  • Feverish

    Along with “Lawrence of Arabia” & “my favorite year” this was one of his best roles.

    • Emjay

      Totally agree! My Favorite Year is a must see!

  • Gigi

    Have to give Barbara Hershey a shoutout for her great performance here. After B Movies and made-for-tv junk this was the role that got her taken seriously and let to her in RIGHT STUFF and THE NATURAL.

  • greg

    One of my all-time favorite movies.

    “If God could do the tricks we can, He’d be a happy man!”

  • Toni

    Saw this in the theatre first release several times. Completely brilliant, ESP hershey and Otoole. Even have it in VHS. A rare treasure.

  • kim in kentucky

    O’Toole was brillant and should have def won the Oscar !!!!

  • Kevin

    There should be more articles like this on EW’s site. The kiddies need to learn their film history!

  • Snufkin

    Thank you so much for posting this! I grew up in one of the small Gold Country towns around Sacramento (Yolo is NE of Sacramento and home to UC Davis). They filmed the bridge scenes in the old town area by my elementary school. Big effing deal and when I was old enough, I saw the movie which is a mind trip on its own, let alone when you see your hometown intercut with shots from Coronado Island.

  • Jerry

    Why oh why does this man not have multiple Oscars?!? He has more classic performances than most of the last few winners combined. He is a true gem.

    • peggym

      He doesn’ have multiple Oscars because mediocre sentimental favorites who manage to put together a decent performance win. This was a great movie.

      • peggym

        Plus being great, isn’t he gorgeous!!!!

      • Emjay

        He is gorgeous! No one looks like him or has that naughty smile.

  • Gwen

    The music was wonderful, too.

  • Baco Noir

    There’s a favourite scene when Barbara Hershey and Steve Railsback are atop a tower when Eli calls out. “Stand up, children so we can light the tower.” Hershey yells out, “light this, Eli!” as she gives him the finger. I, to this day, use that line from time to time (most people, of course, don’t have a clue what I’m going on about). Love this film.

  • mage?!

    I love this film, I remember seeing it in the 1980′s and obsessing on it then. This is splendid news and I am so glad to hear some of what Peter O’Toole had to say on the topic.

  • Laura

    Loved reading what O’Toole had to say about this underrated movie.

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