Q&A: 'Grease' Director Randal Kleiser On Inspirations, His Films And 'Getting It Right'
With a long list of notable films in one very thorough career, "Grease" Director Randal Kleiser is finally "Getting It Right." Meaning one of his most accomplished and personal favorite past films, the 1989’s dramatic comedy called "Getting It Right," is finally hitting DVD and is available now courtesy of the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The film stars Jesse Birdsall as 31-year-old West End hairdresser Gavin Lamb, a painfully shy guy who’s still a virgin and lives with his parents to boot. But with the help of three very different but equally memorable ladies – a magnetic millionairess, an idiosyncratic recluse and a sweet single mother – he learns to come out of his shell and embrace life outside his comfort zone. The film is a smart and witty little hidden gem and stars the likes of Lynn Redgrave (who has never looked more stunning!), Jane 'Absolutely Fabulous' Harrocks and even a young and inspiringly insane Helena Bonham Carter. (Plus a little Sir John Gielgud infused doesn't hurt either!) We’re celebrating "Getting It Right’s" release with some one-on-one Starpulse chat with Director Kleiser who talks about the everything from creating to casting, plus we keep going for some career interview time that delves into some of my favorite films within his body of work – here’s...
DIRECTOR RANDAL KLEISER
"Getting It Right" is both a notable and unusually interesting choice amongst your body of work – what made you want to make the picture?
Randal Kleiser: When I was at USC in the sixties, we had all these films come from England. "Morgan," "Alfie," "Darling," "The Knack...And How To Get It" and there’s a bunch of others – there was a whole series of these types of films. And then years later when I read the novel "Getting It Right" it just reminded me completely of those movies. So I had this obsession with trying to get the money and go to England and make a movie like the ones I saw when I was in film school. So then I went over there and made the film and then it got lost in legal shuffles with bankruptcies and all that and has sort of been sitting on a shelf all these years. But finally MGM is putting it out and I’m very excited about that because it’s one of the best things I’ve done. "Getting It Right" is something that is closer to me because it was something I generated rather then was hired to do.
You have three very different women that get involved in Gavin’s life - can you discuss how you cast all three women and their respective approach to their characters...
The great Lynn Redgrave?
RK: Lynn Redgrave was the star of "Georgy Girl," so I was so excited to be able to get her in the movie because it was kind of like a connection to that series of movies that inspired the whole idea. When I met her she loved the idea of doing it because in "Georgy Girl" she was the lead character and the one who was the heavy and having a relationship with an older man, but here it was flipped around. She was the older woman and the lead character was a guy, so for her that was fun. But when she takes off the wig and takes off the glasses and says here I am, I think she loved doing that because at that point in her life she did look beautiful. The funny thing is when she was all garishly made up with all the stuff that’s covering her, she looked almost like a drag queen – and then when she took it off she looked like a beautiful woman. When we shot the love scene I was a little nervous about having someone that age do a love scene, that it might be awkward. It was more awkward for me than her; she just dropped the thing off, said ‘Come join me’ and they did the love scene. It was painless for them, but I just felt awkward doing it.
A very young and early Helena Bonham Carter?
RK: Helena had called me and said she wanted to audition for the part and I thought she was all wrong. This was the girl from "A Room With A View" – there’s no way she could play this part. And she kept calling and saying please just let me come in and read. So I thought if she really wants to meet that badly, let’s do it. She came out dressed all schleppy and she was a completely different character then the one in "A Room With A View." So she blew me away with her audition and we jumped at the chance to work with her. She just approached it as a quirky, offbeat, weird character who was a Lady, but she was just a Lady in name because her dad, played by the fantastic John Gielgud, had bought the title. So she was kind of the bad sheep of that family.
And of course Jane Horrocks?
RK: Jane Horrocks, before she was Bubble in 'Ab Fab' and before she did that wonderful movie "Little Voice!" On the set it was so fun because she would often entertain us by singing "Goldfinger"...as sung by Shirley Bassey! (Laughs) So whenever things would get dull I would say, ‘Come on Jane – sing "Goldfinger!"' And she’d break out into "GOLDFINGER!" But I was thrilled because all the actors in the film were so great to work with. The lady who plays Gavin’s mother (actress Patricia Heywood) was the nurse in Zeffirelli’s "Romeo and Juliet." And Nan Munro, who is one of the hairdressing clients, was also in "Morgan." There were a lot of connections from those early movies in the casting.
Also working with the legendary John Gielgud – was that at all intimidating?
RK: Yeah! I mean he was so professional. He showed up, he knew his lines, and we had him for one day. But when I read the book I just knew that part was really juicy and he came up with his own twist on the accent. He was playing a man who was lower class, but trying to be upper class. He had gotten money from some weird source and he bought the title and bought the house and pretended to be this uppity guy, but he would throw in parts of the accent that weren’t right. That was so clever and smart and we never even talked about it – he just showed up and when I heard it I thought what a great touch.
As someone who discovered many actors early who went on to big careers – John Travolta, Brooke Shields, Peter Gallagher, Daryl Hannah, C. Thomas Howell, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Patrick Swayze to name a few - what’s your knack for finding such amazing memorable talent when casting a film?
RK: When I spot someone, I hang on to them. Like for instance Benicio del Toro came in and read for "North Shore" and there was no part for him, but I thought this guy is amazing. So when I got the next movie "Big Top Pee Wee" I sent the script to Benicio and I said, ‘You can play any part you want in this movie.’ And he said, ‘I’d like to play the Dog-Faced Boy!’ (Laughs) So funny – and later on he plays the Wolfman! But I keep track of people I think are gonna go somewhere and try to bring them back on the next project if there’s nothing for them in the first one.
Did you have any idea that "Grease" would not only be such a hit, but would have the legs it has over all these years?
RK: No! It’s just amazing. I’m so lucky and grateful that the film works in every country in the world and every age group. There’s very few directors who get to go to The Hollywood Bowl and have eighteen thousand people dressed in the costumes, singing along with all the songs and cheering after every song – it’s an amazing gift.
"The Blue Lagoon" is pretty racy material that was handled very delicately by you for the film – was there ever a worry about how to approach that content?
RK: I’d seen a movie done by Jim McBride called "Glen and Randa" and the nudity that was used in that was so natural. The kids had grown up after a nuclear war and they didn't know much about anything. They were primitive and just didn't know that you had to wear clothes or that you couldn't have sex anywhere you want and I just liked the way McBride handled that. The nudity was not salacious and I just thought that’s the way "The Blue Lagoon" should be shot. Plus the way the book was written it’s the same thing. It was written in 1890 and was a very romantic book, but it did deal with the fact that these kids just didn't know any better. So I wanted to keep that innocence there and the nudity that was there was something that would be the way it would be. It never occurred to me that folks would refer to it as kiddie porn, that while I was shooting eight-year-olds running naked along the beach they were saying that I was some kind of pervert and all that. I thought - WHAT? The parents were right there and it was no big deal – it was just the way the book was written.
There was a slick vibe and style to "Grandview, U.S.A." – what was your approach to making that picture?
RK: I just tried to capture the small town feel. We were in a small town when we shot it and that was helpful because you really got the sense of what their lives were and what type of people they were. There was a parade where all the Shriner’s were in those little cars circling around each other going down the street and I though this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! (Laughs) And we were in the papers everyday with shooting – it was like we were the biggest thing in town. Plus the story was written by Ken Hixon, who came from a small town so he understood that – so I had that too.
"Flight of the Navigator" had some very advanced visual effects – how difficult was it to make at that time?
RK: My brother Jeff Kleiser was one of the early CGI pioneers and he had a company called Digital Effects – which is now like Xerox right?! But the name of the company was Digital Effects because there hadn’t been any before that and he was experimenting in all kinds of ways. I saw a Tide commercial that he did where the Tide bottle changed shape in front of your eyes – like the first morphing. And I said, ‘Can you make a spaceship do that?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ And then I wanted to have a look for the spaceship that was different and there was a book on special effects and the one page at the end said the future of special effects and it had a picture of a chrome dog. It was a dog sculpture and they had mapped the background onto the dog so it looked like a mirrored dog. So I brought that to Jeff and we combined the morphing and the mirrored thing together and that’s how we got the spaceship.
Having made "Big Top Pee Wee" and with the big resurgence with Pee Wee on Broadway, what do you think is the timeless quality that keeps the Pee Wee phenomenon going?
RK: I think anybody who grew up in the fifties remembers those types of shows; 'Howdy Doody' and later 'Sesame Street' and 'Mr. Rodgers.' What Paul did was put a spin on it to make it adult and children orientated and campy and funny and it harks back to childhood. It hits two things – your nostalgia nerve and your comedy nerve.
Being such a great performer, why do you think that the awesome Rick Moranis, whom you directed in "Honey I Blew Up The Kid," decided to ultimately quit showbiz?
RK: I wish I knew. I haven't seen or heard from him at all, so I don't know what became of Rick. I did work with him once more on "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience" that was a 3D Disneyland Attraction that’s still running in Paris and Tokyo and Orlando. But I don’t know what happened to Rick – I’ve often wondered.
So what’s next for you?
RK: I have three movies ready to go. I’m just trying to finish up the financing. One’s a comedy, one’s a teen drama and one’s a drama based on a real event. I’m just pushing and pushing – and the economy is not helping! I recently did a DVD of my mentor and teacher Nina Foch, who taught for forty years at USC Film School and we filmed a semester of her class and that’s out now on DVD – it’s called 'The Nina Foch Course For Filmmakers and Actors.'
"GETTING IT RIGHT" IS AVAILABLE ON DVD NOW FROM THE MGM LIMITED EDITION COLLECTION.