Ménage à trois
We didn’t look good that day. Arti had double-parked for $170, and I had an 11-hour flight behind me just to go to the movies. Paramount Pictures were presenting the third part of ‘Indiana Jones’, followed by a barbecue, somewhere up on the left in Hollywood. The press officer had a bad couple of minutes when he came to meet us.
"How are you?" he asked.
"Do you want the Californian or the German answer?"
He opted for the German one, and I told him that TWA is just as shitty as Syrian Arab Airlines, and that I was dead tired, aching and terribly hungry.
I also didn't hide the fact that a barbecue after the movie screening was no consolation at all, since vegetarians generally don't find such things funny. I wanted to say something about the miserable weather, the congested highways, the awful smog, the permanent non-smoking terror and that this region would have been better left to the natives.
But I couldn't get round to it. The film started and my troubles disappeared.
‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ is better than aspirin. It's also better than opium, better than vodka, and maybe even better than a love affair. This film is the best Spielberg has done so far. His masterpiece.
Even just the scene where Indiana Jones steps into the water, into the sea on Spain’s coast.
Spielberg packed all of ‘Jaws’ into this minute and a half. The bedrock. The sea couldn't be any more sea-like. Or that crazy motorcycle chase through a forest in Austria. And then the sunset at the end of the movie. That sunset is pure blasphemy, Spielberg beats God.
The most important thing about ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’: Sean Connery is in it. He plays Indiana Jones’ father. If that's not brilliant casting, then I don't understand anything about genius or film casting - I'm just a dull, crude Connery fan who has eaten every film out of the palm of his hand since James Bond began.
Connery is Bond, and Bond is actually the father of Indiana Jones. The last in the chain of cinematic role models, out of whom Spielberg produced his whip-cracking archaeologist who has a license to kill for the museum.
Indiana is very much like James. The cynicism, the wanderlust, the habit of not talking about women. They are a perfect couple, and what makes them so laugh-out-loud hilarious is thanks to Connery's habit of excessively interfering in every script. Spielberg had originally imagined Indiana's father as a wise, kind character.
Connery made him into a highly intelligent, yet completely daft egotist, who constantly needs rescuing by his son - and as thanks he calls him Junior. Junior is infuriated when he hears that.
Action. A castle in Austria. Indiana Jones, his father and a horde of Nazis. The old man wears a floppy hat and tweed, Indiana carries a highly sought-after treasure map, and the Nazis carry machine guns. It looks like terrible trouble.
"What are we going to do now, Junior?" asks Connery, and the next two minutes descend into yelling, roaring and machinegun fire. Then it's quiet. The Nazis are dead, the castle is a ruin, and half of Austria is blown away. Indiana Jones holds the smoking gun; "Don’t call me Junior!"
This alone is genius. Plus the power-play in reality; the Junior-complex during shooting. Just as James Bond was the model for Indiana Jones, Sean Connery was once the role model for Harrison Ford.
Ford started acting when Connery was the greatest: In the 60’s at the height of Bond fever. By now, Ford is just as great. He wanted to prove this, and proved it in his own way: Harrison Ford is renowned for making his co-stars anxious during filming, with unrestrained improvisation, to out-act them. Connery, on the other hand, is known for being Scottish and really coming to life in exactly such situations.
That's why ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ is not just the usual Spielberg fairy tale, with special effects and brilliantly polished images - over so fast, that after an hour and a half you think you'd only just sat down in the cinema chair - but also an intelligent movie with intelligent dialogue. Although, the plot is as simple as in the first two installments of ‘Indiana Jones’, everyone wants the same old thing. The Jones Family, the Nazis
and the gang of Dervishes who join the story from Venice onwards - they want to go to the Orient, to the last crusader who guards the water of eternal life. Of course they all arrive at the same time. Showdown at the Holy Grail. For Indiana Jones, it was the end of a journey of almost ten years; through three films, four continents and the key mythologies of all the major religions.
In ‘Indiana Jones I’ he dealt with the Arc of the Covenant, in ‘Indiana Jones II’ he fought for the Hindu Sankara stone, and in ‘Indiana Jones III’ he achieves the ultimate; enlightenment.
A different kind of enlightenment is provided by Alison Doody, the woman between Connery and Ford. We have learned from Bond that you don't talk about women, but this much I will say: she's Irish, 24 years old, and before Spielberg discovered her for ‘Indiana Jones III’, she was practically unheard of outside England. By autumn at least, probably 50 million men will be dreaming of her. An old-school beauty. A Hitchcock woman. Outrageously blonde and totally at home in costume.
Alison Doody is a classy woman - the Austrian archaeologist she plays in ‘Indiana Jones III’ is a
bitch who cavorts with father and son at the same time. Together it's a goddamn saucy threesome in a goddamn snappy movie, and what comes next is three goddamn snappy interviews in an expensive hotel.
We looked especially good the day we did the three interviews. I was shaved, Arti had washed her hair, and we drove a $50 twelfth-hand car. We were on our way to the "Four Seasons Hotel" in Beverly Hills, where first Harrison Ford, then Alison Doody, and finally Sean Connery were waiting for us. "For such occasions you either arrive in a Jaguar or in a junk heap," Arti said. "Anything else is tacky."
She was right, and I was right to take her with me. Harrison Ford liked her right away.
He opened the door to his suite. He saw me and said, "Hello." He saw her and said, "Come in." And his eyes went click. Actually it was more of a snap than a click, and in medical terms one would speak of sudden pupil dilation. I knew I was only in the way from that moment on. I went in nevertheless.
"Would you like coffee, orange juice, Coke or water?" Ford asked. The question went to Arti.
"Water," I said. "American coffee doesn’t taste any different."
I was beginning to dislike this day. Ford was better than me. In every way. He was better looking, spoke better English, and his voice had that incredibly attractive blend of honey and bear-growl. Deep, quiet, rolling. He also had skin like a baby.
Arti 1989, LA
"How are you?" Arti asked with a similar purr in her voice.
Ford smiled: "I'm okay. I'm just a little tired of hearing myself say the same things over and over again. Journalists all ask the same questions."
He looked at Arti as he said it, but I knew he meant me.
"What were those questions?" I wanted to know.
Ford counted them off on his fingers.
"One: what was it like working with Steven Spielberg?
Helge Timmerberg 1989, Uganda
Two: What was it like working with Sean Connery?
Three: What was it like shooting the third part of Indiana Jones?
Four: How do you cope with your success?"
"Those were exactly my questions too."
"It doesn't matter. I'll just answer them again," said Ford.
"You don't have to," said Arti.
"Oh, but he must," I said, and began to ask.
Mr Ford, what was it like working with Steven Spielberg?
It was a pleasure. He comes and asks: "Do you want $25 million?" And if you say yes, you'll get it. On the other hand, I'm getting too old for the Spielberg clan. Steven works with a lot of young people. They're good, they're professional, but they remind me that I'll be 50 in three years.
And you look younger than me. How do you that?
“How old are you?”
“How do you manage to look older?”
Now to Connery. It's the first time we see another superstar acting beside you in an Indiana Jones movie. Was Connery a challenge for you? Did you learn from him?
“Of course I learned from him.”
“That you can act without pants. He had to wear a three-piece tweed suit. We were filming in Spain, and it was very hot. When Connery was sure his legs weren't showing in the scene, he'd take off his pants. I did the same. I learned that from him.”
Which scenes was that in?
“All the outdoor scenes. Spielberg had a lot of troubles with that. He had to pull himself together to keep from laughing behind the camera.”
That sounds like a lot of fun.
“Shooting ‘Indiana Jones’ is always fun. You become like a child. Spielberg will put you through all kinds of shit. Plus, you get to go on great trips. We went to four continents, nine countries, seven states in all.”
With man and mouse.
“And rats, snakes, lions, camels, horses. Over 100 men, all the equipment, steam engines, planes, boats and zeppelins.”
Like a caravan.
“More like an army”.
Will the Indiana Jones Army continue? Will there be a fourth part? A fifth?
“No. Not with me.”
Now to the question of success. You are one of the most famous actors in the world. Your fortune is estimated between 70 and 100 million dollars. Every child in America knows you. In Germany, every second child knows you. What is it like to...
“... to be successful?”
No. How is it like to be loved for the wrong thing?
Let me explain. I’ve been in America for a few days now. People ask me what I'm doing here. I say, "I'm interviewing Harrison Ford," and they faint. I say, "I'm interviewing Mickey Rourke," and they faint. I say, "I'm interviewing Sylvester Stallone," and they all faint. It's different in Germany. With the first one they faint, the second they keep cool, by the third they make a face. In America you love everyone who is successful. No distiction. But being successful doesn't necessarily mean being good.
“It doesn't mean that at all. That's what makes life so complicated in this country. America has an obsession with success and popularity. It's not enough to have money, it's not enough to have power. Above all, you have to be famous. Every political movement has a famous leader. It's not the quality of his arguments that counts, but his popularity. It's the same in films. It's not the acting that counts, but the name. We have to change that.”
“By first becoming successful and popular, and then making ourselves the spokesman for the anti-success movement.”
You're a cynic.
“It's in my nature.”
Besides that, you're a philosopher.
“What makes you think that?”
You have studied philosophy.
“But I dropped out rather quickly.”
Why did you drop out?
“Because I could get the girls more easily in drama school than in philosophy seminars.”
The last girl you got was Alison Doody, your co-star in the third part of Indiana Jones. How was she?
What do you mean, how was she?
How does she kiss?
“How does she kiss? I'm so famous I don't even use my own lips anymore.”
This answer ended the interview. I wasn’t in the mood anymore. Ford was simply better than
me that day, and I thought it was time to get Arti out of his suite. That was a mistake, because afterwards we interviewed Alison Doody. Then Arti was the one who was in the way.
Alison Doody was standing in the bathroom when we walked through the door. I saw her doing her yoga routine in front of the mirror. She threw her long blonde hair back, breathing heavily through her nose. I knew that. It's good for your confidence. ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ is her first big movie, and this was her first big interview.
Miss Doody, it's a pleasure to meet you. You're a real gift from Paramount Pictures. The interview with Harrison Ford was hard work. You are a pleasure.
How did Steven Spielberg find you?
“During a perfectly ordinary casting session. I got a call and went. They'd short-listed ten girls in total. A couple of Italians, a Dutchwoman and three English girls. Spielberg gave us three scenes from the movie. ‘Come back in two days with an Austrian dialect,’ he said. I had a good dialect teacher. That's why I was ahead in the end.”
You play an Austrian archaeologist who works for the Nazis.
“That’s not right. She doesn’t work for the Nazis. She works with the Nazis. She uses them for her own purposes. She's desperate to get to the Holy Grail. That's her goal. She'd do anything for it.”
A career woman.
Therefore she must die in the end.
You better be careful.
“You mean because I'm progressing in my own career right now? You can't see it that narrow-mindedly. I only started acting four and a half years ago. More by accident, really. I've never been to acting school. I've always learned on the job. Of course, now I've learned a lot from Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. I think that's a good way to go.”
A path that led you through the sewers of Venice during the shooting of "Indiana Jones" - with thousands of rats in it.
“Spielberg had warned me. ‘We work with real rats, my dear,’ he said. Of course I was scared. But the animals were well-fed and very cute. When I was filming, all I cared about were the rats. Not stepping on them or hurting them. Especially nice was the scene where a rat jumps on my head: I felt its feet and how it cleaned itself. Lovely.”
One last question: What was it like to kiss Harrison Ford?
“I don't know. His lips are very dry. It feels like they're not real.”
That’s what I needed, Miss Doody. Thank you so much for talking to me.
As we left Alison Doody's suite, Arti gave me one of those looks that could kill. I had exactly five steps to deal with it, and then we were standing in front of Sean Connery’s door.
His suite was about the size of the ocean between Los Angeles and Scotland, and the TV was flickering throughout the interview. Connery was wearing a white shirt, white trousers and no toupee. For the first time I realized that he was the Clark Gable of the 80s - he’s aged gracefully and is yet still seductively young. This insight helped me to ask the first question.
Mr Connery, if they need someone to play a father figure nowadays, the first person they call is you. You played the father in "Presidio", in "Family Affairs" and now in "Indiana Jones".
“Yes, I noticed that too. I don't get it. I'm too young for this actually.”
Is that why you originally wanted to play the brother of Indiana Jones?
“Originally, I wanted to play his sister, but unfortunately I couldn't persuade Spielberg.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ is your first collaboration with Spielberg. The man is hugely successful. Could you find out why?
“I think it's instinct. He's incredibly flexible and he has a flair for improvisation. Harrison Ford and I improvised non-stop. We didn’t make it easy for each other. Spielberg would always focus on it right away. He even encouraged us to improvise. Only very few directors do that nowadays. They're afraid of losing control over the movie.”
You say Ford and yourself didn’t make it easy for each other. Only during work or privately too?
“Well, we carried the father-son conflict over into real life too. After the usual teething troubles, we got along fine. I'm a wonderful father. If Ford says otherwise, he's a bad son.”
How do you explain that Steven Spielberg hasn't won an Oscar yet?
“People are jealous. He's too successful. Besides, people always forget how young Spielberg is. 41 years old. John Huston made his best films at 70. I think Spielberg has a lot more up his sleeve.”
Back to Indiana Jones. I think this character has a lot in common with James Bond, can you compare the two?
“In both cases we’re dealing with a hero who constantly gets into situations that he can't really handle. As well physically as emotionally. Yet he copes. That's what they have in common. The difference lies in the sexual relationships. Indiana Jones is a shy guy waiting for women to throw themselves at him. Bond is faster. Much faster.”
An American anchorman recently criticized the Nazis in the new Indiana Jones as being totally exaggerated. Nazis shouldn’t be the subject of slapstick and action films, he says. What is your opinion?
“Indiana Jones is a comedy. And the essence of comedy is to exaggerate. Maybe anchormen should think before they speak.”
In Indiana Jones, besides the Nazis and the last crusade, religion is very important. The Holy Grail, the water of eternal life, and you even get enlightened at the end.
“Not me. Dr. Henry Jones becomes enlightened, get that straight. The man had been through a lot. He's been dragged halfway across the world, he's been shot, humiliated, and his mistress betrayed him. That can enlighten a man.“
Sean Connery / Rob Mieremet / Wikipedia
Helge Timmerberg Uganda / Paul Schirnhofer
Helge Timmerberg Marocco / Frank Zauritz
Translator / Ada Delsolco & Artemis Meereis
Proofreading / Ada Delsolco
Interview by Helge Timmerberg
Published 1989 in TEMPO Magazine.
Many thanks to Stephan Timm TEMPO Archiv.
Many thanks to Arati Lane
and her mom.
Illustrations by Maielin van Eilum