Monday, May 16, 2011

Giovanni Lombardo Radice

Giovanni Lombardo Radice (AKA John Morghen) is probably best remembered for his work in early 80's horror movies such as City Of The Living Dead, House On The Edge Of the Park and many more. Giovanni carved out a unique niche for himself, playing a variety of characters in those movies that (coincidentally??) always met an especially gruesome demise, indeed fans still talk about some of those death scenes to this very day, I've even seen T-Shirts depicting the events!!! Giovanni has also worked extensively within theatre and TV/Film, spanning most genres, he was kind enough to grant an interview recently to discuss all aspects of his career.

1. You have gone on record countless times in regard to your distaste for horror films. What is it about the genre that repels you so much? Do you think your fans are disappointed to hear you have no affection for the genre?

Yes I think they are, but accustomed to it by now. Your question is a good one, because it gives me an occasion to me more precise about this. In my young days I was an avid reader of Edgar Allan Poe and I still find him a great author, to the point that I will include his most famous poem “The Raven” in a selection of readings I want to film. I always was and still am a fan of thrillers, ghost stories and detective stories (both books and movies). I adore Hitchcock. So I have my share of “the dark side”. What I really can’t come to appreciate is the blood, the gore, the splatter. At times it frightens me and quite always it disgusts me. I don’t like watching a dead rabbit in a butcher shop…How could I like Daniela Doria puking her insides in Gates of Hell?

2.I am a big horror fan myself, having said that I am aware that an actor/actress never gets to really show how well they can act in a typical horror movie, would you agree with this? And if I was to ask you which of your movies (in general) displays your abilities best, which would you go for and why?

Well, it depends on what horror. If it‘s just “run-scream-roll your eyes” there’s not much you can do. Or if characters are “paper” ones like Mike Logan in “Cannibal Ferox”. But if a character is well written and plausible there’s not much difference in between a horror and any other movie. At times you must ask yourself very extreme questions, such as: “How would I react if I saw a decomposing baby?” But it can be a good exercise. Not so different from asking yourself: “How would I react to the ghost of a friend I killed?” a question you must answer if having the leading role in Shakespeare’s “Scottish Thing” (sorry I am superstitious at times…). Thus said, as for the horrors I would go for Charles Bukowski in Cannibal Apocalypse, a wonderful character, and for Ricky in House on The Edge, which wasn’t a real horror, but just a very violent thriller. As for other stuff I made I quite proud of my King Herod Agrippa in the Saint Paul Episode of the TV series The Bible, a villain with a cynical sense of humour or my blind old father in House Of Flesh Mannequins, a very recent movie, only partially a horror and not in my scenes.

3. Let’s go back to the start of your career, can you tell us what it was like doing theatre work at the beginning. If you can tell us how you went about establishing yourself, how hard things were and if you have any advice for aspiring actors in a similar position today.

In the first place I wanted to be a dancer, not an actor. Then I injured my back and decided to switch (after taking a degree in physiotherapy, which was a very smart thing to do…great job for “down” moments). Anyway I was in the show business against the will of my family and thus penniless. It was hard, yes, but I was a hard piece, not easily scared about life. I was very poor and did all kind of jobs to sustain myself, but, step by step, I got to work quite regularly. Writing TV scenarios (which I did for many years) helped a lot financially. It was something I could do alongside and I wrote a lot of stuff in theatre dressing rooms or movie vans. And translating as well, something I like and gets royalties. My suggestion is always to have more than one arrow to your bow. If you are just an actor the perspective of sitting on your ass and wait with just bread and water will be frequently haunting you. I have always been open and ready to life and career ups and downs. When I was informed that I had been selected for The Omen I was working as a waiter….

4. How did your first movie role come about and what were your thoughts upon reading that first script?

My first movie came very casually and in a really Hollywood way (A Star Is Born). An agent saw me by chance, said I had a great face, asked if I knew English and if I was interested in movies. I answered that I was trilingual with both English and French and that I was in such bad need of money that I would have walked on my hands with a red nose on. The lady happened to be, at that time, Ruggero Deodato’s mother in law and he was casting for House on the Edge of the Park…. My thoughts on the script were positive, it wasn’t Dostoevsky, but the story was solid and my character very interesting.
I had a lot in common with Ricky at that time…

5.I only managed to see Cannibal Apocalypse very recently, whilst not a great movie, there certainly are some good ideas in there and it’s not a textbook horror, there is a lot more going on psychologically in this one, would you agree with this, and what is your own opinion on the film?

Yes, I do agree. When I read the script I thought it was entirely preposterous with cannibalism being contagious… But later on, watching it back for interviews and DVD commentaries, I realized there was something metaphorical about that and even prophetic. The AIDS tragedy was knocking at the door and the idea of War being the crib of any violence is not a wrong one. And I just loved my character and for an actor that counts 90%.

6.I think the general public think that shooting a lot of those films was a blast, packed with fun times, and whilst I’m sure you must have some fond memories of that time in your career can you realistically tell us what a typical shoot was like, how long it lasted, what a typical day would be like etc?

It was fun, I must say, at least for me. Movies changed and probably saved my life. I immediately understood that fitness was the name of the game, with all that running/shooting/running, so I transformed from a lazy stage person more than inclined on drinking and drugs into a Waking at Five movie actor. All for the best I shall say. Shooting was very hard at times. There was a lot of physical action (with me refusing stunts as much as possible) and a good hard working day of twelve hours or more. The call was early in the morning, so considering the time to get on set and the fact that I need a lot of time to get ready in the morning, the alarm was getting off around five. Make up, which could be very long in case of special effects (letting alone the 6 hours zombie one), rehearsing the lines whilst the set was prepared (no rehearsal time in Italian productions!) and then shoot, shoot, shoot and waiting of course, which is the longest part of an actor’s life. If I hadn’t a van I was always selecting a spot to lie down first thing in the morning. I can nap wherever and with whatever going on around me and it is a great luck. I also liked to chat with the crew and was always astonished at their capability of eating crates of food at lunch time ad then resume working. If I work I can’t eat more than a few bites of cheese and fruits, at times just tea and honey. Work was over around 6 or 7pm, back home (or hotel) and ready for another day. When you shoot a movie you are like in a washing machine program and it’s very hard to do anything else.

7. Was there ever any drama off camera on any of those shoots? I’m sure there must have been at least a few incidences of actors getting pissed off or refusing to do something even walking off set?

When I was shooting a Spy Story for Italian TV (Progetto Atlantide) in the Morocco desert, French star Daniel Gelin throw a phone on director Gianni Serra, a very talented man but opinionated to the point of arguing with camels over their positions (and being savagely bitten in response). Antonella Interlenghi went into a hysteric fit when worms had to be put on her face in Gates of Hell. Yes, disagreements and accidents do happen, but less than what is legendary. It’s hard work for everybody and professionals know it. That’s why one of my few “scenes” was against a young French actress who was delaying takes because of personal problems whilst ten soldiers in Middle Age armours and myself were waiting to open a door in a back stage as narrow as a sardine jar (The Heart And The Sword was the mini series).

8. As far as your horror movies go, my personal favourites are City of The Living Dead and the Church; I love the atmosphere of both films. Do you have any affection for either of these or would you class them in the same category as Cannibal Ferox etc?

No other movie can be put in the same category as Cannibal Ferox, the category being APOS (Awful Piece of Shit). My favourites are Cannibal Apocalypse and House on the Edge, but that’s because I am more logical and not so fascinated by monsters and fantasy. But I do agree with you, both movies have a great visual potential.

9. Cannibal Ferox I could never get into -an especially grotty movie. I think Cannibal Holocaust, although a far nastier movie actually works better because there is a better story and at least there is some kind of statement in there. It’s common knowledge that you despise Cannibal Ferox but if I could just ask you what the feeling was like on set. Did you realise at any point that this was going to turn out as it did?  Some of the other actors from this film are a little harder to track down; can you comment on any of the casts feelings towards the film either now or at the time?

I am a bit tired of expressing my feelings about Cannibal Ferox, by now I think they are quite clear. As for Cannibal Holocaust I’ll be watching it for the first time in a few days, when attending with Ruggero Deodato the London screening of the new DVD version. I knew from the beginning what Cannibal Ferox was. It was written in the screenplay in capitals. My position was harder because the engine of the violence was Mike Logan and mine were some of the most vicious scenes. Lorraine disliked Lenzi and the movie as much as I did, whilst Zora was more easygoing and Danilo Mattei even attracted by the macho staff.

10. Just going back to House on the Edge of the park briefly, according to the Internet movie database there is a sequel to this film in the works and you are down for it, is this true? Can you elaborate on plot etc if possible?

It’s true and we’re all praying for financing to be completed. Deodato and I wrote a treatment that Andre Jones elaborated into a wonderful script. Until a date for shooting is secured, I can’t say more than what Andrew Jones put on the official production site. Ricky is free after thirty years and still haunted by memories of Alex and what happened in the house. Soon out of jail he meets with a young criminal who resembles Alex and with his sadistic girl-friend….

11. Can you tell us anything at all about David Hess, what he was like to work with etc, he always struck me as being too good at playing that type of role, what was he like off camera?

David off camera is exactly the opposite of his psycho roles. He is a bit crazy, but in the better sense. He is full of life (bigger than life I would say), talkative, genuine, childish at times, generous. I like David a lot and being in another movie with him would be a dream.

12. You have done quite a bit of TV work at this stage and have a few mini-series/series under your belt. Is this something you enjoy/prefer?

As for TV and miniseries I did a lot of period stuff. I do not have a”modern” face and I wear costumes well and there’s something “stagy” about historical plots that appeal to my theatre training. I think I was quite good as King Herod Agrippa in the Saint Paul episode of The Bible I already mentioned. Shooting in Morocco was hard because of the heat and the incredibly heavy costumes. Fellow actors were fainting all around…but I resisted and had great fun. Director Roger Young was excellent and paid me a great compliment saying that I was like an instrument a director could play at his ease.

13. I think these days the best ideas are actually within TV series. Most movies that come out now are not “new” at all, the bulk of them being remakes, prequels or sequels. Is this an area that you would like to return to?

Look, I like to work and to have good acting material. If this happens with movies, series, miniseries, TV plays, stage or radio it really doesn’t matter to me (money a part). I never was in a long running series and that would frighten me but it’s a fascinating idea at the same time. Living so long with a character, developing him…being him for a long time. Maybe a bore, maybe a thrill.

14. Are you still doing theatre work? If so can you elaborate on some of the work you have done recently?

Yes, I am quite active with theatre even if, as an actor, I tend not to accept too long commitments because I want to be free for the movies. I translate continuously, my most recent achievements being Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”, Dale Wasserman “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Priestley’s “An Inspector Calls”. As an actor I revived my role of Reverend Marius in Athol Fugard’s “Road to Mecca” and I was a black trannie in “Off” by Michael Kearns. I directed Neil Simon “The Dinner Party” and shared the role of AndrĂ© with another actor who was engaged with TV at the same time.

14. Is it possible for an actor to carve out a career for themselves solely doing theatre work?

Absolutely. Theatre “regulars” have very good careers at time, being free for TV or movies only in summer (not a hot moment for theatre, at least in Italy). I know hundreds of extremely good actors who have been on the screen only occasionally. In the 90s I worked very little for screen or TV because I had my own company and was on stage for the great part of the year.

15. More recently you have scored a couple of roles in more mainstream movies, you had a brief role in Gangs of New York and the Remake of The Omen, can you tell us a little about both?

In Gangs of New York “brief role” doesn’t come close to it. It was an extra job (but paid as an actor’s) that I accepted against my agent will, because the cash was welcome and because I was curious of the set and rightly so. I never saw anything like that in my life and probably never will in the future. The role in The Omen was a little one, but essential to the plot and director John Moore treated me like visiting Royalty. I was in Prague for the first time and stunned by the beauty of it. A good experience that helped me a lot in “heating up” my name in USA and UK, the countries I am more interested in.

16. I was at a Horror Film Festival last year here in Ireland, Ken Foree (of Dawn Of The Dead fame) was here promoting a new Zombie movie Zone Of The Dead, which was fairly poor, a disappointed fan asked afterwards why he accepts such roles and he replied “we call movies like that, “Mortgage Payments””, if I could ask respectfully is that how you feel about some of the movies you have done?

No Mortgage, because my rich grandfather disinherited me because I had decided to be “a clown”, but he was kind enough to write a letter (found after his death) in which he asked my relatives to buy me a home. But with the horrors I paid years and years of psychotherapy and I could afford a lot of bad paid stage work. We all work for money to some extent and it’s not a shame, whatever work, a part from heavy drugs dealing and killing.

17. Would you consider any project once the conditions were right? I’ll fire a hypothetical scenario to you – Umberto Lenzi’s son wants to shoot Cannibal Ferox 2, the money is right and it means heading to the Jungle for a month, would you go for it??

I would say thanks, but no thanks. But if I hadn’t been working for a year and my son needed a car….Who knows?

Many thanks to Giovanni for his time for answering these questions, please be sure to visit his official site where there is a comprehensive filmography, merch, photos and much more.


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