In Conversation With... Richard O'Brien
Date: 25 April 2010
Cult musical comedy The Rocky Horror Show is touring to the Edinburgh Playhouse and His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen in June and July. We caught up with the show's creator: actor and former Crystal Maze presenter Richard O'Brien.
Tell us about Rocky Horror for the people who don't know about it.
You think there's people out there who've never heard of this show, Joe? Is that what you're saying?
It's certainly possible.
Well to those little old ladies from Dumfries, 80 year old girls sitting in your wee croft doing your knitting and wondering what this show is about: it's not for you. However if you did come and see this show you'd find that it was a retelling of The Fall. Adam and Eve are now called Brad and Janet. They represent 50s and early 60s America. Their serpent is an transgendered transvestite transsexual alien who has his wicked way with them and changes their lives. There's rock and roll music on our journey and we follow this hapless couple before they enter this dark house convinced they are going to have a happy life together, get married and have babies. A flat tyre leads them to this house and their lives are changed. Oddly, Janet becomes a little more liberated and Brad - the boyfriend - slightly emasculated. The dawn comes and it's like one of those dreadful parties you went to and you had too much to drink. You woke up and you realised your clothing had been interfered with.
Who's in the cast?
We have David Bedella who is terribly good. Probably one of the finest actors we've ever had play Frank because his economy is so good, his lack of working to prove that he's this character. He just has a real economy: a fabulous voice, great looking man, funny, sexy, charming and slightly dangerous.
When will you release the amateur rights to Rocky Horror?
Not for a long time.
Last year you brought a new musical called The Stripper to Glasgow. What's next for it?
Glasgow was our last week of a five week tour. The idea was to see whether it had any legs and if it was worth continuing with. And it is. It's got a lot of life. I have been re-writing and re-structuring a scene, taking a song out which wasn't making people laugh. Another song has gone in. Now I've sent it off to the various people who will make some decisions on what we do with it next. They will possibly be scouting for a first-class director. With a first-class director we get a first-class designer. With those two people in place we'll get a first-class cast.
When did you lose your hair?
It started to thin out when I was about 22. I clearly wasn't going to have thick luxurious hair unlike you, Joe. I could see it was going. At the age of 30 when I was doing a Sam Shepard play, I had to play an alien and I had to have the scar of a hand on top of my head. I used to put Copydex glue on my hand, stick it on the top of my head, take the hand away slowly and let the glue shape the hand. I picked the Copydex out at the end of the evening, pulling out the little bits of hair I still had left. Then I shaved the top of my head and bleached everything down for the movie of The Rocky Horror Show when I played Riff-Raff. I shaved all the bits in between. Next I did a play called The Tooth Of Crime, another by Sam Shepard. I played a character called Crow and had to have long hair. I died my hair black and by the time I'd finishing doing this it was in such a bad state that I just shaved it off. By about 1975 I'd had enough of it. I got into the bath one night, got the scissors and shaved it all off. And I've never been happier.
You were in one of the first casts of Hair a revival of which has recently opened in the West End.
I was there! I saw the new production.
Did you enjoy it?
Very much so. It's a wonderful score. Probably the most song-heavy musical of all time I think. They just keep coming at you all the time. They keep saying it's going to be relevant because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I suppose. However it's still very hippy, very 1967, 68, 69. It's very much that period of time. But good all the same: a great cast and I couldn't believe that I was capable of doing a show that was that long. At least two and a half hours non-stop. I don't know how I did eight shows of that a week for as long as I did.
You've played roles in numerous musicals. Which did you most enjoy?
I loved playing the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I really adored that and had a lot of fun with the role. I loved the gothic sensibility, I loved scaring the children - and I mean that in the nicest way. Making them laugh, moving them and making them gasp. But knowing you're not going to send them home with a nightmare. Push them nearly to that point but take the fear from it at the end so it doesn't. There's no fun in that.
What's your favourite view?
I have a house in New Zealand and I sit on the front veranda and I look across my front lawn and across the fence and I look down the estuary of the Tauranga Harbour. That's pretty damn good.
What are you reading?
I read Cypress Grove by James Sallis just the other day. Last Child by John Hart. Both of these are good: they're crime but they transcend the genre with fine writing. I am a crime aficionado but every now and again you get a writer who not only tells a good genre novel but with fine writing and maybe some very acute insights to the human condition.
Your proudest achievement?
The birth of my children.
Your most embarrassing moment?
Oh dear God. Ah dear no. Um. Er. No let's not go there.
Sunday lunch.A leg of lamb.
Who do you most admire in the entertainment industry?
I have a great admiration for anyone who can go on stage and make people laugh. The weird thing is people go on stage and emote and cry. Everybody gives them a big round of applause as if they're such a wonderful actor or actress. That is so easy to do. When we leave drama school we can't wait to get on stage and emote so that people can see what wonderful actors we are. But to go on stage and make people laugh is seen as not as clever, a little bit more lowbrow and it's rubbish. It's the other way round. Going on stage and emoting is easy and self-indulgent but to go onstage and make people laugh for an hour and a half, two hours, maybe three hours is difficult. Back up that laughter with a huge intellect and an erudite mind. I'm talking about Barry Humphries here. He has brought laughter to people for so may years on stage. The Edna Everage character is unbelievable. The sheer energy of Edna to come on stage and hold an audience with hours of non stop laughter. I have the greatest respect for that.
What political party do you most identify with?
None of them. They're all cheats, thieves and liars. And if they're not, they're all tarred with that brush. None of them have got any moral centre. Nobody stood up when the people of Great Britain marched and said don't go into this war. If Iain Duncan-Smith - who was Leader of the Opposition at that time - had stood up and said 'we don't approve of this', that would have been wonderful. But he didn't. Nobody did. They've all allowed the directors of banks to steal money calling it bonuses. They are corrupt, empty, shallow people and I don't trust any of them.
So you won't be voting on May 6th?
I don't know whether I will be actually. I'm very worried about the whole thing. The police force is a worry: turned into a paramilitary group. The fact that they killed that young boy at Stockwell Station and walked away with a whitewash: it's no wonder the people of Great Britain don't get up en masse and march on London and tear Scotland Yard and the Houses of Parliament to the ground. We've had enough of it, it's not good. Look at Tony Blair who took us in that war, walks away with a house worth £6 million, £20 million in the bank, goes around with that grin on his face and he thinks he's bringing peace to the Middle East. I'm sorry this is rubbish, he's delusional. But we're the losers.
Looking to the future: what are your aims and ambitions?
I'm not ambitious and I've never been ambitious. I have no aims or ambition. None.
What drives you?
I have no drive. I've never been driven. I do what I want to do, what gives me pleasure. I like to see my children happy. I like to see my grandchildren happy. And I'd like to die happy. I'm not ambitious: that's not of interest to me.
- by Joseph Pike
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