As we prepare to do it all again in 2018, with submissions pouring in for our second Norwich Radical Film Festival, its worth looking back on the amazing success that was our 2016 debut. Topping the bill, we at the NRFF still can’t quite believe that legendary New Hollywood actor Timothy Bottoms flew from sunny LA to less-so Norwich to attend screenings of his first and latest films. His presence gave film-lovers in our small city a rare opportunity to interact with a genuine star, and pick the brains of someone who worked with the renowned Hollywood troublemaker, Dalton Trumbo, who wrote and directed Johnny Got His Gun (1971) – our centre-piece film. In celebration of Timothy’s efforts on our behalf – for which we remain eternally grateful – here’s a reprint of the interview with him featured in our printed programme back in August.
Timothy Bottoms has had a prolific career to say the least. He starred in the Academy Award winning The Last Picture Show that resonated with an entire generation and defined New Hollywood cinema, which has since been added to the Library of Congress collection.
He has performed with the greats…Dame Maggie Smith (Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing), Jason Robards (Hurricane, Johnny Got His Gun) John Houseman (The Paper Chase), Dalton Trumbo and Donald Sutherland in Johnny Got His Gun and countless others…. Mr. Bottoms has delighted audiences with his wide range of roles for over forty years.
But most of all, Timothy is just a great guy, participating in multiple films festivals; he is one of the most accessible and real celebrities around.
In anticipation of his arrival to the UK, we asked Mr. Bottoms some questions to whet your appetite for his appearance at the screenings. He will be in attendance of both his first film Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun at Cinema City and his latest feature Welcome to the Men’s Group at Hollywood Cinemas.
Q: The Norwich Radical Film Festival is showing your first (Johnny Got His Gun, 1971) and one of your most recent (Welcome to the Men’s Group, 2016) films side by side. Does that feel strange to you?
A: Both roles in both films were good parts. I had to audition for both. I have seen Johnny Got His Gun, many… too many times and have seen Welcome to the Men’s group enough. Yet it should be a radical experience to see them back to back and that is to say the least.
Q: You’re appeared in 119 film and television productions over a career spanning 45 years, what are your thoughts on how the industry has evolved/changed since then? And briefly describe your associations with other film festivals and why you feel as an artist it is important to participate in them?
A: I was never anything more than a journeyman actor, simple as that. Things in production sure have changed. The cameras went from Mitchell cameras that needed at least two big strong lads to move them about and exterior night shots used carbon lamps. They gave off great heat, which was welcome on those night locations in the trenches of combat scenes (for Johnny). The first Panavision silent reflex, steady cam, hmmmm, now the Industry hardly uses any film. Film shooting days back then were maybe 2 pages a day….now, my lord 20 pages a day is not uncommon!
A story about festivals… back when Johnny Got His Gun went to Cannes, I was allowed to travel with the director. We stayed in Grasse near a perfume factory amidst terraced olive trees…. (really outstanding farm country) anyway, we went to the premiere at the main theatre in Cannes… alas my coat and tie was not “proper dress” and I was not seated in the vidette section. I sat on the steps with my back to the doors and gazed upon the Mediterranean Sea. Dalton said it lost (the Palm d’Or) to Alan Bates and Julie Christie in ‘The Go Between’. I was secretly taken by her beauty…(weren’t we all!)
Q: Three of those performances have been George W. Bush, what kept bringing you back to the character?
A: President Bush? Clearly the casting people and producers picked me because by enlarging my ears and using lighting and make up to do “movie magic”… all I had to do was stumble around!
Q: Johnny Got His Gun and Welcome to the Men’s Group both center on important political issues of the time, war in the Vietnam era, and support groups during the modern mental health crisis; are projects with a message more likely to attract you?
A: I do not believe these two films have anything in common, two completely different types of screenplays. I suppose you could point out similarities. But I must admit, my waving golden locks have gone grey with a bit of balding. Hair grows in unmentionable locations, and I need my rest more. Ha-ha, just having fun with this.
Q: Johnny Got His Gun features the talents of Jason Robards (Once Upon a Time in the West) and Donald Sutherland (who appeared in MASH the year before), were they a big help in your first film?
A: I am so indebted to Mr. Sutherland for his kindness and his wonderful reactions in his scenes. It was my first day of film work and the scene was Jesus, and me he quite frankly tells me: “bad luck can rub off “and politely to then bugger off. Ha ha. Dalton Trumbo at his finest!
I was so lucky to act in film scenes with Jason Robards… in two films. First and foremost he was a stage actor. I have always preferred the stage to the film-acting world, at least for me, being a simple journeyman actor. “A Thousand Clowns”. I loved that film a lot.
Q: Straight after, you starred in the ‘New Hollywood’ classic The Last Picture Show (1971), which has since been inducted by the United States Library of Congress into the National Film Registry for preservation. How does it feel to be in a film that is categorized “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”?
A: The Last Picture Show….I wish my agent had taken the generous percentage of profit offer, instead of the legal tender compensation. Hee- hee…ha-ha.
Q: Is this your first time to the region? (East Anglia). And what do you enjoy most about England?
A: Last time I was in the Kingdom and in Norwich (where I stayed for several days) was when I was 15 along with other singers in a madrigal chorus: 4 bass 4 tenor 4 altos and 4 sopranos. We were spread in homes all over town. Perhaps some of the readers may remember the singers from Santa Barbara, California…Summer of 1967? I remember the green landscape where I stayed, the owners emerald green XKE jaguar, the tea and biscuits. I believe it was in Norwich where we taped many madrigal songs.