ROMAN POLANSKI REMEMBERS:
NOTE: The following is an excerpt taken from Polanski's autobiography ROMAN.
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It is never long, during the making of any film, before the off-set atmosphere begins to reflect that of the story itself. Not all the tensions of Cul-de-Sac could be shed when the assistant director called, "It's a wrap!" at the end of the day. Gerard and I had written a black comedy about three characters condemned to close proximity under isolated conditions--a study in neurosis with the thriller conventions turned upside down. Unfortunately our trio of principals soon started playing their parts for real.
Donald Pleasence, our most experienced actor, had the central role yet seemed to want to upstage everyone else. He hogged the camera in a variety of ingenious ways. Not always an easy man to deal with or be with despite his outstanding talent, Pleasence looked down on the rest of the cast and was subtly mean to them. He presented me with a fait accompli by arbitrarily shaving his head prior to shooting. Although this lent his performance an extra twist, I was annoyed that he hadn't consulted me first.
Lionel Stander's trouble was an inordinate resemblance to his screen persona, Dicky. In real life, as in Cul-de-Sac, he was a loudmouth, a bully, and a compulsive talker who had to be the center of attention at all times. He amused us at first, and we listened sympathetically to his accounts of clashes with McCarthy investigators and persecution at the hands of the Hollywood right-wingers who had compelled him to seek work in Britain. He had ordered twenty pounds of genuine pastrami from the Stage Delicatessen in New York, and we began by eating his pastrami, laughing at his jokes, and providing him with the court he needed. Then, as the same old stories received their umpteenth airing, we tired of pastrami, Stander, and the sound of his raucous laugh.
Francoise Dorleac was difficult in her own way. She arrived on Holy Island with twenty valises and a snapping, yapping, almost hairless chihuahua. She had smuggled it into Britain in her handbag, contravening the quarantine regulations. She suffered agonies during her periods, which rendered her incapable of working for days at a time. Bored and miserable, she disliked both Stander and Pleasence on sight. Francoise was too quintessentially French to join in the pub crawling that was our only form of after-hours relaxation. She regarded the Holy Islanders as barbarians and took violent exception to the conduct of the cockerel that was especially imported for the film along with a harem of hens. She kept swinging at it with a broom whenever it pecked or copulated with them.
Excerpt © 1984 WILLIAM MORROW & CO., INC.
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