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CNN Larry King Weekend
Encore Presentation: Interview With Rod Steiger
Aired July 14, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "DOCTOR ZHIVAGO")
ROD STEIGER, ACTOR: There are two kinds of women, and you, as we well know, are not the first kind.
You, my dear, are a slut.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Rod Steiger. He played everything from a pope to a Jewish pawnbroker, and won an Oscar as a redneck Southern police chief. But his greatest drama was his off-screen battle against depression. Rod Steiger -- intense, outspoken, original, and next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
Thanks for joining us. The acting world lost a major talent this past week. Academy Award winner Rod Steiger died Tuesday of pneumonia and kidney failure. He was 77.
Steiger was a major method actor, always up for a challenging role. A lot of his parts were real-life characters -- Mussolini, Napoleon, W.C. Fields, Al Capone.
Steiger first sat down with this show in 1997, and I began by asking him whether he wanted to be an actor when he was a kid.
STEIGER: No, I didn't dream of being -- I became an actor by accident. I was in the Navy for the whole World War II. I came out, I only had one year of high school.
KING: You won the war.
STEIGER: Well, I helped them.
KING: We won, you helped.
STEIGER: Anyway, and I came out and I had nothing to offer society. In my generation, you didn't ask for anything. A man was supposed to get his own place to sleep, and his own food. And they said Civil Service is taking veterans. So, I went down to Civil Service and if you were a veteran, you didn't have to worry about the examination. I wind up oiling machines at check cashing machines, the ones that made my disability checks, right?
KING: Where was this?
STEIGER: Newark, New Jersey, about 8,000 people in the one building.
KING: No interest in acting at all?
STEIGER: No. Then what happened was all the pretty girls disappeared on Thursday nights. So, we checked out among the guys, and said "Well, where's the girls?"
They said, "I don't know. Every Thursday, all of the pretty ones are busy."
The social director organized a theater group. Needless to say, they had no men in the group. We descended like vultures because we wanted to get lucky with the girls. And I did two little plays, and the woman said, "You take it serious; you should do it."
I said, "What do you mean? I empty the garbage, I dry the dishes. I've got ten cents so I went to the movies for this matinee."
She says, "Well, you've got to study."
I said, "I haven't got the money." And this, I must say in public, if it wasn't for the GI Bill of Rights, like millions of men I am sure, I wouldn't be sitting here having this pleasure. So I figured, what the -- it's better than being an actor. I mean, it's better than being a worker.
KING: Did you like it right away?
STEIGER: In about two months, I became paranoid it. They used to laugh at me, because I carried -- you know those little satchels the airline captains carry -- that had the history of theater, history of makeup, acting...
KING: Oh, you got really involved.
STEIGER: Well, unfortunately, I did what a lot of young people do. I tried to make it my life. I didn't learn until later that you can't make any profession your life.
KING: Do you remember why you liked it so much?
STEIGER: Yes, because it gave me a chance in a monetary society to have freedom if I made enough money doing something I loved to do. See, my idea of a successful person is a person doing something they love to do, and make enough for the basics, and have control over at least 70 percent of their life. That limits it to .0001.
KING: You have to get into the creative arts world?
STEIGER: Well, not necessarily. I don't care if you're a shoemaker. If it's your place, you don't want to open that day, fine. And that's the thing, seventy percent of your life you can have your own time. So, I am very lucky.
KING: What was, speaking of luck, Rod Steiger's break?
STEIGER: "Marty" on NBC, "Marty Television Show" Live.
KING: The show that Ernie Borgnine did on television?
STEIGER: No, I did it on television. He did the movie.
KING: He did it and won the Academy Award.
STEIGER: Yes, well what happened, I went to see Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht (ph). They were going to do the movie, and they said "Well, we would like you to do it."
I said, "Thank you."
They said, "You have to sign a seven-year contract."
I said, "I don't believe in slavery, no thank you." Then I said, "I love this part so much, maybe, OK. Who chooses the parts?"
They said "We would."
I said, "No, I have a right to sleep with whom I please. If I am going to make a mistake, I don't want to go around apologizing. My friend, you don't understand, I had a contract."
KING: You were always an independent sort of guy, weren't you Rod?
STEIGER: Well, See, my background has a lot to do with it. My family was destroyed by alcohol. So the kids in the street, they called me to take my mother out of the saloon. By the way, my mother went to Alcoholics Anonymous, eleven years, she became a miracle. I fell in love with her again. They would call and say I have to taker her out. The kids made fun; the parents were worse.
When I got the Chicago Lifetime Achievement Award, because I don't like to know what I am going to talk about, I said I never realized respect is so important for me. I must have swore I'm going to do good enough that they are not going to laugh at the name Steiger again.
KING: So, you can be independent enough to have done a show on television, and refuse a film?
STEIGER: Well, the thing I don't like about it, there was a rumor that they kept the kinder (ph) scope while they shot the movie. That may not be true, but I've heard too much.
KING: Did you like Borgnine's work?
STEIGER: Borgnine had nothing to do with it. He's a lovely guy, oh yes.
KING: He did a great job.
STEIGER: Well, Chievski (ph) is also a great writer. And the history of "Marty" was it got on the air by accident. Fred Ko (ph), who was the head of TV at that time during Philco (ph) and Goodyear, the guy dropped dead or something. The lead they were going to have, it's live, they have no tape show. He said to Patti, "I don't know what to do."
Patti said, "I'm writing about a butcher in the Bronx, but it's not finished yet."
One page at a time -- the last scene was given to me on camera there. But you know what? Terror is one of the greatest sources of energy, right? The fear of failure, and we did it.
KING: What are you doing tonight, Marty? I don't know. What are you doing?
STEIGER: Well, I knew something happened because the next day I came out of my house and a woman going by with her dog said, "What are you doing tonight, Marty?"
And I said, "I don't know. What are you doing?"
KING: From that -- did you do theater in New York?
STEIGER: Oh yes, I did the theater in New York.
KING: Was theater your preference? I mean, were you one of those actors who said, "I don't want to go to L.A"?
STEIGER: At that time. Well, I was in the actors' studio in 1947. You know, when it was really solid, and movies were -- you know, I got one of the early -- I won't mention their names. Some of the earliest awards people are screaming about now, I gave one to my daughter. She was two. She is 36 now. And you didn't say -- you said, "Well, I'm going to Hollywood, I'm going to do a movie."
KING: What made you so good, do you think?
STEIGER: I don't know if I'm good or not.
KING: If there's...
STEIGER: The fear...
KING: The fear of failure?
STEIGER: No, the fear of not being respected perhaps. The fear of failure kind of pushes you on.
KING: The good actor takes risks, right? He will go.
STEIGER: I think a human being takes risks.
KING: Al Pacino takes risks. STEIGER: Oh, Yes.
KING: The good actors take risks. Do all great people take risks?
STEIGER: I think people who have better lives have to take risks. I mean, I'm not talking about people who haven't got a chance. Well, I mean, it's not a question of taking risks. It's doing your life the way you can as best you can, in between what you have been given, you know.
KING: Were you a successful Broadway actor?
STEIGER: No, well, I starred. You know, I came and did -- no, my first play, I did "Equity Library." I did "Oh, Death's Night Music (ph)" and I got nice reviews. You know, stuff like that.
KING: But you weren't a big Broadway name.
STEIGER: No, I never got -- well, no, I played there in 1968. I did Orson Wells' "Moby Dick in Rehearsal" which was a small part. The first part you played a Shakespearian actor doing "King Leer." The second act, you played Father Maple (ph) doing a long speech from the pulpit forever. And the third act, you had Captain Ahab. Outside of that, you had nothing to do. I lost seven, eight pounds a performance from perspiration.
KING: Did you like working with him?
STEIGER: I didn't work with him. He wrote the play for himself. That's why the entrance was down through the audience. He was no fool, right?
KING: What took you West?
STEIGER: I did "Teresa" with Fred Zimmerman (ph), a wonderful and marvelous great director who did "Oklahoma" and did -- is it "Here From Eternity"?
KING: Yes, Fred Zimmerman.
STEIGER: He did that, "The Nun Story." And I got in "Teresa" when I did an "Equity Library" theater. And from "Teresa," "Marty" got me into "Waterfront."
KING: Is "Waterfront" your first?
STEIGER: No, "Teresa" in 1951 was my first movie. I played a psychiatrist in the Veteran Administration, small scenes. And then I did "Marty." And I cannot tell you what happened with that. It changed television for ten years, everybody trying to do another slice of life. And Kazan (ph) said "What did do you?"
I said, "I don't know. I think I tried to do what you guys are trying to teach me. I don't know." And he said, "You are reading with Bud Shoberg (ph) who wrote the script of `On The Waterfront,' the taxis scene. If he likes you, you can do it."
Well, I was scared to death because Brando had done -- Mr. Brando had done an incredible job in "Streetcar Named Desire," and I got it. And Shoberg, God bless him, he stutters a little, you know. Anyway, I'm very lucky. I was very lucky.
KING: You have appeared in one of the great scenes in motion picture history.
KING: It could have been a contender.
KING: The great story in that is Brando wasn't there when you were speaking.
STEIGER: He wasn't there for my closeups, no. And acting is reacting, and I must say...
KING: So, who threw the lines to you? Somebody else?
STEIGER: Dialogue director.
KING: So, when we see you closeup in "On The Waterfront" in that famous scene in the cab, when it's on both of you, obviously you are both there. When it's on Brando, you're there.
STEIGER: Yes, I was there by myself.
KING: But when...
STEIGER: Kazan said he got tired. I don't know. You know, I'm childish. I have, you know -- I told my wife I wouldn't talk about this, I become too old and mature. I have never forgiven him, I will never forgive him, and I didn't like it. And I don't like the person who calls all actors whores either. I don't think they are. I don't think John Gilgood (ph) is either.
KING: But, you agree he's a great actor?
STEIGER: Oh, yes, he's an incredible actor. I saw the "Island of Doctor Moreau" and I had to leave because I think the man is flaggelating himself in public. I don't mean that viciously. I'm not making fun of him. I just said...
KING: But the finished product "On The Waterfront" is a gem, and it holds up, right?
STEIGER: Oh, absolutely.
KING: What a cast. STEIGER: Absolutely.
KING: Lee Jay Cobb (ph), Carl Muldoon (ph).
STEIGER: I was lucky, because I got to do things so fast. I didn't have to do the rounds too much. I didn't have to go through what a lot of actors did. I did my little off Broadway. I did the rounds a little bit, but thanks to Fred Ko, who was the best man that ever hit television who was the head of the Goodyear playoffs in Philco. I skipped a lot of misery.
KING: Rod Steiger is our guest on LARRY KING WEEKEND. Back with more with this fascinating talent right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "ON THE WATERFRONT")
MARLON BRANDO, ACTOR: I mean, I'm telling you I don't know, Charlie. That's what I want to talk to you about.
STEIGER: Listen, Terry, do know how much those piers are worth that we control through the local?
BRANDO: I know that.
STEIGER: All right, you think that Johnny's going to jeopardize the whole setup for one rubber-lipped ex-tanker who's walking on his heels.
BRANDO: Don't say that.
STEIGER: That's not the point.
BRANDO: I could have been a lot better, Charlie.
STEIGER: The point is we don't have much time.
BRANDO: I'm telling you, I haven't made up my mind yet.
STEIGER: Well, make up your mind before we get to 437 River Street.
KING: In mid-April, Rod Stieger receives his very deserved start on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His latest film is "Truth Or Consequences" scheduled for release in early May, an adventure film with Kiefer Sutherland and Martin Sheen. And "Incognito" is scheduled in the fall, in which he plays once talented artist dealing with a son played by Jason Patrick who is an international art fortune. Jason Patrick is Jackie Gleason's grandson.
STEIGER: Yes, I know. I found that out to my surprise.
KING: What was it like working with him?
STEIGER: He was fine. We get a long very well. I'm very lucky, because the actors are serious, have a certain amount of respect. So I always find, like now, for instance, when you're talking to a peer in one profession, the other has no problems. The in-between drive you up the wall. I got an idea, they run to the front office...
KING: If a professional comes to work, you got no problem.
STEIGER: Yes. If he's been through it. It's like when I worked with someone, like wild Bill Hickok. You know, they've been gun fighters. They don't fool around. There is no big conversation.
KING: By the way, you did one of the best Columbos ever done.
STEIGER: With Peter?
STEIGER: I think Peter is amazing, because, I mean, with a guy who had trouble with his eye and everything, he is just amazing.
KING: But you had great scenes with him.
STEIGER: It don't know, went all right.
KING: You don't remember that Columbo...
STEIGER: I remember Columbo. I can't sit here and say there were great scenes, I mean, great lover, I can say, yes. Great joker...
KING: What followed water front?
STEIGER: "Oklahoma." And that kind of...
KING: Villain Judd is dead.
STEIGER: That hurt me a little bit. The part was wonderful, but in this town, you know, the first part they paid real attention was Villain. I never played Villain. I always played the guy on the streets, Marty and that. And I never shook that from my career. Classic Villain Judd, get a Villain, get Rod Stieger. And the only time I get a chance to do some nice acting is in the pawn broker or something like that, away from, you know...
KING: How about "In the Heat of the Night?"
STEIGER: Well, that was special.
KING: We'll get to that in a while. "Oklahoma," did you sing?
STEIGER: I am the only actor in the world whoever sang his part, acted his part, and did the ballet. You notice I didn't use the word dance. A lot of them tap dance in that. They were looking for a guy who looked as fat or heavy, I don't know what the hell they were looking for. And Agnes met me when they couldn't find any. She said we found somebody, come on the stage 25, MGM. I went down. I said where is she? She said, come on. She is a great choreographer. I said I can't do it. She said count to four.
I said one, two three, four. She said you will do it. And when Agnes said you'll do it, you did it. Thank god it was a lumbering character.
KING: But in that movie, you also have that wonderful poor Judd is dead scene. It was a great number.
STEIGER: Yes. I studied opera for two years before I was an actor. And I had a marvelous voice. People wanted to teach me for nothing. No ear at all. I would be singing and everything would stop. And I would say what happened. They said you changed key. My daughter is a opera star in Europe. I just left Sicily. I went to see her in an opera. She sings. She is a up and coming opera star.
KING: How did you start to get cast -- before we have to spend a lot of time in the "In the Heat of the Night" -- as get this, folks, Mussolini, twice, Napoleon, Rasputin, Pope John, W.C. Fields, Pontius Pilate, Al Capone, Rudolph Hess, why do you think you fit so well historical figure?
STEIGER: Because in the early days of television, when it was live, they had to use trained actors in case anything go wrong. I would be doing a scene with you and camera one is over your shoulder, right? I see the red light on the camera and it starts go out, and I say, listen, Larry, and we go camera two, which is over here. You follow me?
KING: Got you.
STEIGER: That's why they had to have trained actors, so they didn't freeze, you know.
KING: But when you play someone like Mussolini, would you study films?
STEIGER: Oh, yes.
KING: Capone. Would you read about him?
STEIGER: Well, Capone, You couldn't get too much news reel on, because he didn't like it, and not too many newspaper reports. But I did the best I can. When you do a person who is -- was famous, right? Everybody's got their own Mussolini, their own Jesus Christ, they got their own Al Capone. No matter what you do, you are going to lose 10 percent, 20 percent.
STEIGER: They got Europe. I had a guy in London when I was doing Napoleon Waterloo, so I had tea with him every Monday. I didn't argue with him. I said you bet you do.
KING: Do you like historical figures?
STEIGER: I would do those for the rest of my life. I never sign with a studio really. And if I did, I would sign to do biographies.
STEIGER: I guess because I love it. I guess because whatever ego I got, you know, it's just exciting to hit such great -- for 30 seconds, a split 30 seconds, you can be Mussolini or Pope John, I mean, my god.
KING: Let's take Mussolini. Do you have to find something to like in the character? Do you like the character? You have to like the character.
STEIGER: Well, no. It depends on how -- they can teach you everything, but imagination and talent. All I know is that if I make this country better at that time, my daughter would live better. That's my little -- it only worked for me, it may not work for you.
KING: That's how you see Mussolini's role?
STEIGER: You have to identify no matter what you are. You can't judge yourself making love. And you can't judge yourself doing anything. Otherwise, you will freeze or do false things. I don't care if you're an actor or not. You cannot judge the character. The public will tell me if he's good or evil. All I know is I want things to be better for my son in this country or whatever I pick for myself.
The craziest things in the world were for individual actors, like I had to answer a telephone once. And I said there must be another way to answer a telephone. This one I talked to actors, they have to know a little bit of everything. and remembered Will Rogers. don't ask me why. And I remember the Larryette. And I tried to use the phone as Larryette didn't catch it. I got away with it once. But that's the excitement, you see? I didn't know my memory of Will Rogers is going to come into my work.
KING: To find a Capone, to find something to like in him, you...
STEIGER: That wasn't too difficult, because the neighborhood laughed at him. They will laugh at Copone again. Understand? I just had to change the name. Also he didn't have an accent. He came from Brooklyn, the Six Points Gang. He died of syphilis. I try to get him to put that into the player, At the movie, he died bouncing a ball off the wall in his mansion, retarded, couldn't put on clothes or anything. I couldn't get it. At that time, we weren't allowed to mention. They just said social disease.
KING: You couldn't say the word syphilis?
STEIGER: No. I don't want them to see -- that type of character should not be attractive to young people. And that word would have scared them. I couldn't do it.
KING: When we come back, the role that won Rod Stieger the Academy Award, the Golden Globe, British Film Academy Award, and the New York film critics Award, "In the Heat of the Night." Back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
"IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT," MGM HOME ENTERTAINMENT:
ACTOR #1: This town needs a factory, Vernon. Coben (ph) come down from Chicago to build it. I hear they're going to hire a thousand men, half will be colored. You know that means?
ACTOR #2: Probably got him killed.
ACTOR #1: That's what the Mrs. Coben thinks. She wants us to catch her killer. No killer, no factory. Well, that's a lot of jobs for a lot of colored people. You follow me?
ACTOR #2: I'm going home, man.
ACTOR #1: They're your people.
ACTOR #2: Not mine, yours. You made this scene.
ACTOR #1: What do you want me to do? You want me to beg you? Is that what you are after?
ACTOR #2: I've had your town up to here.
ACTOR #1: Boy, it would give me a world of satisfaction to horse whip you, Virgil.
ACTOR #2: Well, my father used to say that. Even did once or twice.
ACTOR #2: It was not enough to suit me. You listen to me. Just once in my life I'm going to hold my temper. I'm telling you that you're going to stay here. You're going the stay here, if I have to go inside and call your chief of police and have him remind you of what he told to you do. But I don't think I have to do that, you see. No, because you're so damned smart. You're smarter than any white man. You will stay here and show us all. You got such a big head that you could never live with yourself, unless you could put us all to shame. You want to know something, Virgil? I don't think that you could let an opportunity like that pass by.
KING: You look up "work" in the dictionary, you'll get a picture of Rod Steiger. He's worked almost all the time, right? Have you ever had...
STEIGER: Yes. When, my depression I had 8 years. I had clinical depression. I hardly worked, crippled my career.
KING: We'll talk about that too. But other than that, you always work?
STEIGER: Generally some place on something, yes.
KING: Take me back to "In The Heat Of The Night," how that came about, how you got it.
STEIGER: I don't know. Norman Jewison(ph) who directed the picture was a lovely director -- nice guy. They had come and asked me if I wanted to do it and Sidney Poitier and I had been good friends for years. And that whole relationship fell into the movie, see? That was like we had been doing homework.
KING: Oh, really?
STEIGER: Well Sidney and I were good friends and all of a sudden we're doing a movie where we become good -- see the story of "Heat of the Night" to me, the sheriff is a loner -- like I say, Wild Bill Hichcock, and here comes this other great gunfighter. In the beginning they watch each other and through the actions of the other person they learn to respect each other. Now the color thing is another thing. But anybody is good, I didn't care. A man is a good man whether he has color or not. It didn't bother me.
KING: Did you find the accent easy to find?
STEIGER: I don't know I have an ear for accents.
KING: You don't or you do?
STEIGER: I do. I mean in fact I've been talking about two weeks down in South Carolina with an accent and I said I hope when I do the show with this man I won't be up there spewing an accent all over the place.
KING: So it was easy to find that accent in "Heat Of The Night?"
STEIGER: Well it's never easy but I -- see I learned mine -- like when people come to me, a young actor wants to be an actor, I look at him and I say two things: you want to be actor or you need to be?
I can tell by the pause, not the answer. If he says I want to be. Sure, I like to be Beethoven. I'd like to be Picasso. If you need to be to feel complete as a human being, you better want it that way because the statistics are against you. Join the merchant marine for a year, if you can. They look at me like that.
I grew up in the navy, 283 different men. Around the world three times at 19. Different cultures, different people, different places. By osmosis -- this guy on my ship, "I'm going to kill the captain some day, I'm going to kill him. I don't like him." I said you can't kill the captain.
KING: You're great. You're unbelievable. You capture me. Did you think in the "Heat Of The Night" would be as big a hit as it was?
STEIGER: You never know, that's another thing. The actor -- the most he ever knows is it's good material and the rest of the time he's worrying he don't louse it up. Right?
KING: You just hope you do a good job.
STEIGER: The fear of failure. All you want to do is not disappoint people who respect you.
KING: Were you surprised at how well it was received?
STEIGER: Yes, I was surprised -- no, I thought it would be well- received.
KING: It was ahead of its time.
STEIGER: Oh, well yes. Well first of all, Sidney and I -- Mr. Poitier and I used to go to the Aster(ph) Theater in New York.
They used to -- we would go in to see the scene in the greenhouse, where the white man is in the greenhouse, I'm there as the sheriff and Sidney the black man is there and all of a sudden Sidney begin to tells him between the lines you're the one that did the murder and we know it.
And the white man, Larry Gates the actor, walks over and slaps him across the face and the black man slaps him right back. That never happened in the history of films.
That was the first time that a black man returned a blow immediately, not after he was persecuted, not after he was -- so Sidney and I used to go to watch that scene and when -- you could hear in the audience.
You could hear the black people say, "Go get'em Sidney!" and the white people going, "Oh!" And we used to break up. We could tell which were how many white and how many black were in the theater. right?
KING: How about winning all those awards? What a coupe that must have been.
STEIGER: Awards are great until your first picture don't make money. You're the biggest man in the world for the time it takes to go from the microphone into the press box. If next picture don't make money, you know, that's it.
KING: What's it like when they open the envelope?
STEIGER: To win, come on.
KING: Best actor.
STEIGER: Anybody in the studio, how does it feel to win? It feels great.
KING: How many nominations have you had?
STEIGER: I think I'd had three and I won one. I was very upset. I thought for "Doctor Shivargo(ph)" I'd get a supporting.
KING: Me too.
STEIGER: Well I don't know. Anyway the point is what I wanted the award for most of all is for about three or four months that you make a mistake you get the best scripts, chance to work with the best people, and the best directors.
KING: What followed "In The Heat Of The Night?"
STEIGER: I was doing "Illustrated Man." The picture didn't quite come off, but I loved it. Ray Bradberry's picture with a wonderful director named Jack Smite(ph).
KING: And where along this did "Pawn Broker" come?
STEIGER: I think "Pawn Broker" came about '66, something like that.
KING: Was that one of the hardest? It was such a downer.
STEIGER: That's my favorite picture.
KING: A great downer, that movie.
STEIGER: Well, I hear people say that, I say let's not read...
KING: It's a great downer.
STEIGER: I'm not saying -- my point was that I was only 30- something at the time. Now I'm the age of the "Pawn Broker," right? But Sydney, Lomette(ph) and I go way back. That's why I start a biography.
KING: About the same age?
STEIGER: Yes. I just introduced him for an award with the National Review Board when it was in New York. But there was a young announcer -- said it's April 27th, you are there, right? My name is Walter Cronkite. Now to late he like an icon. Sydney and I did Vinchinski(ph), Rudolph Hess, Richard Bourbon(ph), the first Shakespearian actor, Dutch Schultz, the gangster. That's where I learned about biographies.
KING: Did you like -- "Pawn Broker" is your favorite movie?
STEIGER: Yes, I liked it, and one of the thing I'd like the best, people come up to me and said they made that in Europe, didn't they? And I used to say, no. They made it in 128th Street in the Spanish Harlem. Because we can do good movies if you let us.
KING: Back with Rod Steiger. The "Pawn Broker" your favorite. Was it the hardest? STEIGER: No, the hardest was a picture I did called "The Loved Ones" where I played a eunich. It was neither male or female and I didn't want to offend the homosexual community, and I was scared to death. Oh my God, if I get to campy(ph). That was the hardest because I didn't know how to do it.
I went up to see Tony Richardson. By meaning I didn't know how to do it, I didn't have a concept. And I had to go meet the director, I said this is great. And I'm walking up this estate where they're filming the picture and there's a concrete statue of a Greek god called Baukus with the big stomach and the wine and the god of joy. And I said that's Mr. Joy Boy. That was character's name.
And I grabbed Tony. I said, come on out, I want to show you something. He said what is that. I said that's -- and he always use to say if he liked something "That's super, super, super, Rod," right?
So I said make me as white as you can, my care and everything and then he kind of was like that. He said well they brought a mother and child -- he says I'll take the baby. He painted the face. The moment I was scared to death, I painted John Gillgood's face as a corpse in the picture. I said if I louse this up I'll shoot myself.
KING: I also saw you as an Israeli freedom fighter.
STEIGER: Oh, yes. "Gideon's Sword."
KING: "Gideon's Sword." Good movie. Good film.
STEIGER: Israel has been very nice to me. They invited me back for the three thousandth birthday of Jerusalem.
KING: Tell me about depression. How did it come on? When was this? The height of your career?
STEIGER: Well, it was while I was still doing pretty good. It was about -- let me see -- I've been out of it 4 1/2 years and it was eight years so we're talking 12 years approximately. For me, I have a theory that's no way -- please, public, believe me -- but I think certain people react differently.
I had a bypass operation and they said you might get a little depressed. You don't say that to an actor. He going to show you the greatest depression. I went eight years clinical. It was a chemical imbalance of the brain. I have to take even to this day a slight diabetes. I work with President Carter's wife. I went to Congress, appealed for money to fight the stigma against mental diseases because it's just as much of a prejudice as someone's religious or color, or what have you. My thing is, pain is part of life and nobody should be persecuted because of it.
KING: Do you take anti-depressants?
STEIGER: I have. Yes -- I won't mention it because you shouldn't. That's why I'm mad at Mike Wallace. In the article, he mentioned what he takes. Somebody going to take that and it doesn't work.
KING: He mentioned it on this show.
STEIGER: No. Well, in "Newsweek" they had a thing on...
KING: Well at least they come forward and talk about it. Mike talks about it in an article...
KING: You were one of the first. Why did you make that decision?
STEIGER: Coming out of the closet of depression.
KING: Why did you make that decision?
STEIGER: I was about sixty-something-odd. I said well I've got to do something. This is very painful. I got to say something. And I felt it was my responsibility if I'm related to other people, which I believe, regardless what they look like or what color. I got to say something. Nobody's paying attention.
Now let me tell you one thing. The head of the medical -- National Health Institute until a year or so ago, Dr. Frederick Gooden -- he's a friend of mine. We had dinner the other night. He said do you know, in about 2020 the biggest killer in the United States will be above cancer, above AIDS, above heart attacks, will be depression- related diseases. That's why it's got to be paid attention to.
KING: You mean you'll get a disease caused by...
STEIGER: I can't believe people medievally still blink. There's no...
KING: Can you tell me at the height of it what's it like?
STEIGER: Yes, I can tell you. I wish I brought that thing on, I could read for you. I read it on CNN before.
KING: I know.
STEIGER: I get up in the morning, my wife could smell me downstairs, if I got out of bed in the last three, four days. I came downstairs, my wife gave me a toast and bagel, I look at the ocean about four hours. In eight years, this is a 20-year-old girl I met when I was 54 from Beverly Hills, and if you want to know a definition of love, it's somebody who takes care of you where it goes on and on and they never scream, "How can you sit there like that? How can you not pull yourself together?"
I said to her, if I were you I would have been screaming after four months, "What kind of man are you? Get off the couch! Do something!" You can't. It's a chemical imbalance.
KING: What's going through you when you're not getting off the couch? Dick Cavett said good news or bad news is identical. You could have heard, you just inherited ten million or you just lost ten million, don't change the day.
STEIGER: Well, I'll put it as politely as I can. It's like being in a bowl of yellow jello made out of excrement and you're in the middle of it and it's shimmering all around you. And nothing comes in and nothing goes out and you don't care.
KING: Why didn't you kill yourself?
STEIGER: Because she stopped me three times.
KING: Your wife?
KING: Not there, you're dead.
STEIGER: If she wasn't, I would be dead today, you know.
KING: What pulled you out?
STEIGER: Well, I went around from doctor to doctor and I think the phrase that changed my life was my wife was with me -- I'll try not to be obscene because she is not that obscene -- and she is talking to this doctor. And I'd heard her voice say, "For God's sakes, will you treat him as a patient and forget who he is!"
You understand? They was so afraid, I never got the help I needed. Finally I met a man -- I believe now in psycho-pharmacology most of all. He knows about the chemical makeup and mental makeup, and I finally worked with him, visiting him, taking medicines until I found the right one because each one of us is a different chemical instrument.
What works for me don't work for you, that why I don't like to mention it. If it don't work, you might not get help again. Then I've done something very bad, you know. And I finally pulled out.
KING: Do you worry about it returning?
STEIGER: You always do. You always, like recurring cancer, you got a funny pain, and all of a sudden you have a couple days that are not so good, and you say "Not again!" Not eight years. And the thing is you go through -- when you get to the level of self-pity, that's terrible. When you go below that, I cannot describe it any way than I did.
KING: Below that.
STEIGER: You're below self-pity. Forget it. Forget it. You can't even worry about death no more because you don't want to think about anything.
KING: We'll be right back with Rod Steiger on LARRY KING WEEKEND. He's helping a lot of people. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: He has starred in well over 60 films, he's won all the awards there are to be given, he's the incredible Rod Steiger. After bouncing back from depression, what was it like to go back to work?
STEIGER: Well, it depends what kind of ambiance, what kind of atmosphere you walked into. If you went to work with a lot of younger people, their attitude was, well, I heard of him. But can he do anything? I'll tell you the story that got me, I got with a specialist was the thing that helped me. I'll tell you why.
I went to see a vice president of one of the big studios, who was fired four months later, had nothing do with me, and I came in and he said Mr. Steiger, nice to see you, sit down. He said to me, you're about 36, can you do a Southern accent? So I said well, yeah, I got an Academy Award for a Southern accent, a picture called "Heat of the Night." You ever see it? He said no. Well now, he didn't have to see it, but if he's an executive, he should know something about the good movies.
I went home to my wife, Paula, I said I got to get a picture, I don't care what it is because I got to have my name. Now in Europe, the rest of the world, they don't forget you. But I've got to get my name around the world and I got lucky enough, thanks to Jerry, Weintraub, I got in "The Specialist."
STEIGER: Stallone, Sharon Stone, and this picture, for me, I consider a personal commercial. This picture goes to 130 countries, there's the name "Steiger" again and gradually things began to move.
KING: As you look back, what are you proudest of?
STEIGER: Who am I proudest of?
KING: What are you proudest of?
STEIGER: My family today, my son's 4 years old, my wife's beautiful at 36.
KING: How old are you?
STEIGER: 72 on April 14.
KING: What was it like to be a father at 68?
STEIGER: A miracle.
KING: Good line, well delivered.
STEIGER: We had a hard time, took us five years.
KING: You wanted that? STEIGER: I won't go into details. Are you kidding? Yeah. Number one, I was like every other idiot at 50, saying I don't want to be 70. I don't want to walk around like this. Here I am going to be 72, the best time of my life.
KING: When you're a father at 68, do you feel like a father or a grandfather?
STEIGER: You feel like a father, because' emotions have no age. No, you're with the boy, you're ready to go. What I feel a little guilty about, I'm not a very good play mate. I'm a better instructor. I'm fairly athletic. I'm just not that kind. But to take him out and talk about things and show him different trees and the pool and there, I'm in my glory.
KING: You ever say to yourself, Anthony Quinn told me he doesn't. Do you ever say to yourself, he's going to graduate high school, I might not be here?
STEIGER: Yeah. But I say I hope he and my wife are healthy. I'm kind of an agnostic and I talk twice a day to something, and I always say on my boy's 21st birthday, my wife should be there and my son physically healthy and mentally healthy, physically stronger and mentally stronger. Now if I can make it no more older than I am today, fine. If I can't, give me 15 more years. But I want them to be together, that's the important thing.
KING: The craft of acting, the key is, you got to need it.
STEIGER: No, to want a profession you gotta need it to feel for fulfilled. and there's no way of defining craft.
KING: What separates the good ones from the really good ones?
STEIGER: They have the ability to completely, somehow, believe after peer rehearsal "it's happening to me, it's my mother who's dead, not a character's mother." See, that's called representation. Old fashioned actor say, well I think the character. When I hear an actor say I think the character. You do your homework, you say it's my mother, something's got to happen in front of the character.
You become the character the minute you assume the responsibilities, the problems of what's written. But I take it personally: it's my mother they're talking about. It's my son. And then you can shift them all around, like we were talking about Capone, I'm going to have a good reputation. I say to myself, I remember them taking my money out of the thing so I say to the guy I'll break your goddamn head. You're going to respect me. The name is "Capone."
KING: We'll be back with more of Rod Steiger on LARRY KING WEEKEND. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with the great Rod Steiger. It's been said that the great actor -- we were discussing Al Pacino earlier, he's a classic example -- takes risks. That means he or she will what? Go to the edge, willing to fail?
STEIGER: Acting to me is exploring life in front of an audience. That takes a lot of guts to begin with, because sometimes you will go so far off. What can I give you as an actor? I can only give you a memory, but a memory means I'm part of your thinking process, which means I'm part of your brain. That ain't a bad gift.
KING: Are you easy to direct?
STEIGER: So what's new at the track? I am when I think -- my thing is logic. I don't care who is directing. If you come out of the rain, you got to be wet. When I first came to Hollywood, they hit me with the atomizers, I'll never forget. What is it? Well, they were talking about a big storm out there. So when you come on, you have to look wet.
They sprayed me with a perfume atomizer, so I took the bucket, poured the water over my head, and I came in, this guy says to the other guy, he's difficult. He's protecting his job. And this next thing you know, they say he's difficult. I remember Johnny Carson or somebody said, I said look Cliff was difficult, Brando was difficult, Dean was difficult, De Niro's difficult, Pacino's difficult, Hoffman's difficult, Daniel Day Lewis is difficult, and if it's that difficult, I will be difficult for the rest of my life.
Because what are we doing? Trying to defend logic. Logic. If you're sick, you're sick, you got to look like it. If you're raining, you've got to be wet. It's got nothing to do with taking over a movie.
KING: What, then, does a great director do? Is he a storyteller?
STEIGER: No, you know when you're a good director, it's like a good father, when he can help a child or an actor when he's in trouble. That's it.
KING: His input is good.
STEIGER: He can help you when you're in trouble. He'll say come on, let's take a walk. Like Sidney La Met (ph).
KING: His greatness was?
STEIGER: He was an actor. He was a child actor. He doesn't say get angry. He walks along and says do you like Van Gogh? I say I love painting. He says this guy uses the toilet. You say what? You're ready. He spits on -- let's do the scene again. I'll kill him. He knows how to motivate you. Not intellectually, all that talk, it's method, schmethod. The press made that up to make a war between the two generations of actors.
KING: In "Zhivago," you play a very weak man. Well, weak in that he's a political player, he's...
STEIGER: No, he's very sharp. The only mistake, he thought he had a one-night stand and fell in love with her.
KING: I know, but I mean he's a bureaucrat.
KING: Classic communist bureaucrat. Is that hard?
KING: Because you're not a classic bureaucrat.
STEIGER: No, I never, civil service was enough.
KING: He's a finagler, he's a....
STEIGER: To my mind, this guy has a great art collection, he's versed in everything and he had to be a finagler because somehow he kept his life fairly free within that kind of government. So he had to be pretty sharp and he fell in love with a girl who he thought he was going to spend a weekend with, it happened to a lot of people, holy God, he was hooked.
Everybody said what a terrible -- I said terrible. You name me a man that goes to the woman she loves, she is in danger in front of the man that took her away from him, and you call him bad? You must be blind.
KING: Back with our remaining moments with Rod Steiger after this.
KING: We're back with our remaining moments with Rod Steiger, he is 72 years young. He's the father of a 4-year old, he has licked depression, he's a had an enormously successful career. What next? Where do you go now?
STEIGER: Just stay mentally healthy and physically healthy and make sure my son and wife respect me, whether I'm alive or to hear my name today or tomorrow.
KING: Keep on working?
STEIGER: Forget it. Men are basically hunters, they stopped hunting. Now we hunt for dollar bills, which is sad, because when you came home the saber-toothed tiger had ripped your hand and said I want a glass of water, it was there, there wasn't no argument. And no, that's it. Keep moving. I have two cars. My wife's got one, on the license plate it says "Keep Movin," my car says "Courage." And that's all I learned, to have the courage to keep moving.
KING: Will you take a role for money only?
STEIGER: I have when I needed it. I don't have to do it now. I don't have to -- I consider myself 60 percent virgin, 40 percent whore. The important thing is, there's no differential. If it's 50/50, you can tell me what I am. But if it's 60/40, you can't.
KING: Ever turn down anything you regretted?
STEIGER: Yeah, "Patton."
KING: You turned down "Patton?"
STEIGER: I don't believe in war, I didn't want to glorify a general. Somebody said you did Napoleon. I said jackass, that was history. Now I wish I did. If I did Patton half as good as Mr. Scott, I might have walked into "The Godfather." Big career mistake.
KING: Did you read for "The Godfather?"
STEIGER: No, Marlon did his own test for it and he did a great job. I'm telling you how the town goes.
KING: You turned down "Patton" because you don't like war.
STEIGER: I'm kind of...
KING: You're an actor.
STEIGER: I don't like -- no, our generation was much more socially conscious. We wouldn't keep doing violence for violence sake. When violence was in the script, it brought the character or the story forward.
KING: Truth. When you saw the film, did you say, oh, I made a mistake?
STEIGER: Well, of course I did. Yeah. Wait a minute. No, an actor always waits for reviews. When the picture got good reviews, I said oh, boy, you're a real genius. That's why we have managers and agents. I can't sit with somebody and say what I think I'm worth. That's embarrassing. How do you do that? You give some guy 10 percent so you're not embarrassed.
KING: Do you enjoy life out here?
STEIGER: Oh, yeah, I was going back and forth and finally I had to move out here. When I came out here, they said don't you go near Beverly Hills, don't you go near Bel Air, you'll be contaminated -- you understand, contaminated. I went down to Malibu Beach, I was on the streets when I was a kid, there was a house on the beach for $160 a month. I was a kid from Newark, I had a private beach, $160. I've been in Malibu 40 years. I still don't go to town much.
KING: The hair is gone.
STEIGER: Well, I didn't say anything about your wig.
KING: I don't have a wig.
STEIGER: No, it's gone. I hope you're happy. I hope you don't sleep tonight. KING: Some people look great without it.
STEIGER: Don't try to make up.
KING: You could put on a wig, you look fantastic.
STEIGER: I have to repeat what Yul Brenner tried to convince people. You have no hair, he said you're more virile, right? It's a lie, it's a lie.
KING: Nothing lying about you.
STEIGER: Thank you very much.
KING: Rod Steiger once told an interviewer he wanted his tombstone to read, "See you later." Could be. We'll certainly be seeing him again and again in the remarkable movies he made. Rod Steiger, a big man, left a big acting legacy.
Thanks for watching this special look back. I'm Larry King. Good night.
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