Interview: Billy Campbell Talks 'The Rocketeer' Twenty Years Later
I have to say up front that I adore "The Rocketeer." I even remember where first I saw it – at the famed Stanley Theater on Granville Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. With its neoclassical interior and art deco exterior, it was the perfect place to see a film with such an equally memorable and magical art design like "The Rocketeer." (Though sadly the theater closed down soon after – they don't make ‘em like they used to!) Well, Joe Johnston’s classic comic book-come-to-life "The Rocketeer" is hitting it’s 20th Anniversary with a new Blu-ray Edition (out Dec. 13 from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment) and we’re celebrating not only with a review of the flick in it’s new digital format (in the way it deserves to be seen!), but we’re also going one-on-one with the famed Rocketeer himself Bill Campbell, who talks about being cast in the film, overcoming his fear of flying and the possibility of donning the helmet for a sequel – you won't want to miss this one! So grab your gear, check the gas and give a warm welcome to...
BILLY CAMPBELL (aka "THE ROCKETEER!")
There is a ton of casting stories run amuck about the role of "The Rocketeer" – can you describe getting cast in the part of Cliff Secord from your point of view?
Billy Campbell: It was kind of funny because they saw everybody in town – a crazy amount of people. At the time I was working at the Renaissance fair doing Shakespeare and I don't know where my head was, but I didn't even think enough of the script to shave and get a haircut. I had long hair and a beard and I went in to read for Joe and Larry the producer and I left and I didn't think anything more of it. Then I found the comic book and it suddenly dawned on me how very much I look like the main character, who of course was based on Dave (Stevens, Rocketeer Comic Creator) himself. We look like we could be brothers and I got excited by that, so I cut my hair, I shaved and I did the best I could to look exactly like the character. Months later they called me back in for a screen test and I walked in the door and Joe was the first person I saw on the soundstage and he did a double take when he looked at me. I thought to myself – I got a fighting chance for this!
I also read that you had a fear of flying – is that true and how did you overcome it to be able to play "The Rocketeer?"
BC: I do have a fear of flying, but it’s not really a fear of flying so much as it is a fear of loss of control. What it means is I have a fear of flying in planes. I do own and operate a hang glider – I have no problem jumping off a mountain with a hang glider on my back, but I just don't like to be in planes. The funny thing was they asked me, very soon after I was cast, Joe asked me if I would be willing to do all the flying stuff at the beginning of the movie practical – meaning actually in a plane up in the sky! I mean the sequence is pretty exciting up in the old planes and I said, ‘Yeah, sure – no problem!’ So they took me up in the air in this stunt biplane that was tricked out to resemble the Gee Bee and the pilot Craig Hosking – who’s one of the better stunt pilots in the world – was in the front cockpit with the camera facing backward and he flew me like a bat out of hell all over the place, scared the beejesus out of me!
I loved the relationship between you and Alan Arkin in the film – was there chemistry between you two right away?
BC: There was and there is to this day. We have a great friendship and (laughs) he was just a joy. I admire him greatly.
While the original poster was changed to key in on some of the name talent in the film, that first art-deco poster is considered to be a serious collector’s item in poster circles...
BC: Is it really?
Absolutely! Are you at all surprised by it’s status, as it is one of the most notable posters of the 1990’s?
BC: Wow, that’s pretty great. It doesn't surprise me – it’s one of my favorite movie posters as well.
Are you also surprised by the film’s following and cult status after all these years?
BC: I’m not surprised. It’s one of those rare instances where a film adaptation is equal to, and in some ways better, then the original work. Even Dave said as much to me – he said, ‘This is terrific, even better then I had hoped for and in some ways better then what I had done.’ So it doesn't surprise me at all that it’s had this staying power in the hearts of the people that love it and this kind of resurgence.
It was reported that you were contracted to do two more Rocketeer films – with Director Joe Johnston having gotten more recent success with another superhero franchise, namely "Captain America," would you be game to head back into the helmet is they asked?
BC: (Laughs) Sure I would be, but I think I’m a little long in the tooth for it now! But, yeah, are you kidding – absolutely! Maybe it’s better they find a new guy to play "The Rocketeer" and then let me just do a cameo.
Well, let me just say "The Rocketeer" is one of my all time favorites!
BC: Me too!
So how does "The Rocketeer" hold up on Blu-ray – check out the review flying below!
Cast: Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton
Director: Joe Johnston
Runtime: 109 minutes
Release Company: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
The Flick: What’s so special about Joe Johnston’s "The Rocketeer" is how a simple tale of a man who finds a rocket pack also looks so utterly gorgeous. Using lush sets, colorful costumes and period décor to capture an old school feel, Johnston spares no expense in creating one vast visual look for his film, but wisely keeps the superhero angle of Billy Campbell’s Cliff Secord grounded in practical 1930’s technology. It’s a mixture that casts a spell of tangible movie magic on everything from the characters (Alan Arkin as a local fix it man and Paul Sorvino as a mob henchman add plenty of flavor!) to the costumes (that Rocketeer helmet is legendary stuff!) to even the clubs (the South Seas décor is uber-picturesk!) – everything about "The Rocketeer" just looks good. (Especially on Blu-ray!)
Best Feature: Unfortunately, there is not a single extra to be found (hence a star off!) – but see the interview above!
Best Hidden Gem: Timothy Dalton is especially debonair as scene-chewing movie star Neville Sinclair.
Worth the Moola: In lieu of no extras, this Blu-ray is still worth the purchase for the lavish look of the film in a digital format – finally technology helps keep a classic timeless.
"THE ROCKETEER" HITS BLU-RAY ON DEC. 13 FROM WALT DISNEY STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINMENT.