AICN Legends: Quint's epic chat with Ernest Borgnine about Peckinpah, Carpenter, Marvin, Sinatra, RED and much more!
Published at: Oct. 13, 2010, 7:02 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a chat that was one of the highlights of my year. I’ve been an Ernest Borgnine fan longer than I can remember. Literally. He’s one of those guys who has been a constant for multiple generations. Whether it’s The Black Hole and Escape From New York for my generation or The Wild Bunch, The Dirty Dozen and McHale’s Navy for my parent’s generation or Marty and From Here To Eternity for my grandparent’s generation, the man has been a Hollywood fixture for going on 60 years.
And at 93 he’s still at it, sharing the screen with Bruce Willis and Karl Urban in the upcoming RED.
You may remember a brief chat I had with Bruce Willis back during Comic-Con where we did very little but bullshit about Borgnine and his films. It was then where I began my campaign to talk to Borgnine for the ongoing AICN LEGENDS column.
The good folks at Summit didn’t let me down, thanks mainly to a lot of hard work by one Mr. Ryan Fons, and I got a little over 45 minutes with one of the most identifiable actors to ever grace the silver screen.
We cover a lot of ground in this phoner and talk about John Carpenter, Escape From New York, Marty, Emperor of the North, Lee Marvin, Frank Sinatra, William Shatner, Devil’s Rain, Convoy, Sam Peckinpah, The Wild Bunch, The Black Hole and so much more. We even touch on Baseketball!
The man is still as boisterous as ever and was a genuine joy to talk with. I’ve made to to include a lot of audio clips so you can get a feeling for just how jovial and good-natured Ernie (as he insists on being called) came across.
I do hope you enjoy the chat.
Quint: How do you do, sir?
Ernest Borgnine: Call me Ernie, please!
Quint: Alright Ernie, how’s it going?
Ernest Borgnine: Not too shabby.
Quint: I’m very excited to be speaking with you, sir.
Ernest Borgnine: Bless your heart. I am, too, believe me.
Quint: I’m a massive fan of yours and I have been since before I can remember.
Ernest Borgnine: Well, God bless ya’. That’s nice to know right off the bat! (laughs)
Quint: So, now I’m going to throw you nothing but hardball questions, I hope you’re ready!
Ernest Borgnine: You got it! You’re going to ask right way why I married Ethel Merman, I know!
Quint: No, I read your book, I know what happened there! I was just re-watching one of my all time favorite performances of yours, in EMPEROR OF THE NORTH.
Ernest Borgnine: Oh my God, that’s one of my favorites, too.
Quint: Here’s my first question to you, I don’t know how you do it because you have like one of the greatest ranges of any actor I’ve ever seen on the screen because…
Ernest Borgnine: Oh Golly, would you like to go out and take an ad out in the papers about that? (laughs)
Quint: You watch something like MARTY, where you are the most sympathetic guy in the world and then you can go from that to being one of the meanest sons of bitches I’ve ever seen on screen.
Ernest Borgnine: I tell you, I used to go home at night and I would say to my wife “Honey, am I really that bad?” She said “No, no, but where the hell is it coming from?” The looks on my eyes and my face… I was ready to kill! You could swear that. You could swear I was and the delight I took in knocking those guys out of the train, good Christ. I think, “What the hell am I getting into here?” (laughs)
Quint: Yeah, you’ve got something hidden underneath. I don’t know…
Ernest Borgnine: I remember Bob Aldrich, the very first time I went over to Portland, Oregon where we were going to shoot crossing this big bridge and he looked at me and he said “Are you ready?” I said, “Yes, sir,” because we had worked together before in a couple of pictures and he said “Have you ever worked on a train before?” and I said “No, sir.” He said “Well, there’s the caboose…” “Yes, sir” “… and there’s the engine.” “Yes, sir” and he said “And you would be walking between the two.” “Yes, sir” “So okay, go ahead and get dressed.”
And as I started off, he said “Oh, and remember one thing,” this is the only direction he ever gave me, he said “You remember one thing, you’ve been working on this train for over 30 years and when you are running on the train, you never look down.” I looked at him as if… I said “Now this man is crazy!” So I pulled a Jack Elam… One eye going down and one eye for my sights! (laughs)
Quint: The only way you could survive! Well, why do you think that we don’t see more of that kind of range from actors today? Do you think it’s the roles that actors are getting, that they’re more easily pigeonholed in a certain type of performance?
Ernest Borgnine: To make a long story short, I think it’s too computerized. They don’t write them like that anymore. Unfortunately everything is bam bam bam. It’s so easy to pull out a pistol instead of taking a train, you know? Then you say to yourself “Where the hell is it all going to?”
But I guess they know and they can make that instant dollar and off they go “Bam bam bam. Thank you ma’am.” And they call it entertainment and not in my estimation they don’t anymore, but I keep trying to tell the people all of the time, I say “Why today do people insist on calling that entertainment, when all they do is nothing but gruesome killings for Christ’s sake.” It’s terrible.
Quint: And without any character work to back it up.
Ernest Borgnine: Exactly.
Quint: You could look at another one of your great films, THE WILD BUNCH, and that’s as gory as you can get, but you spend two hours with these guys.
Ernest Borgnine: That’s it. At the very beginning they said, “Are you kidding?” They said, “This is a terrible picture,” about THE WILD BUNCH. They said, “Oh my God, this is terrible. This is horrible.” And I called up Bill (Holden) the day it was going to open and I said, “Bill, I guess we have to stand by and take our licking, huh?” He said, “I guess we will.” The next morning the papers came out and said, “The best, greatest western ever made!” I said, “What the hell are they doing? Who’s minding the store here?”
Quint: That film in particular is a testament to you and your co-stars and just the ability and Peckinpah’s eye for shooting, but…
Ernest Borgnine: Sure, and Peckinpah God bless him… Listen, if anybody knew The West he did and people don’t realize it, but bullets go through people.
Quint: Yep, it’s not pretty.
Ernest Borgnine: These days when you get hit with a bullet, it stops right there. That’s a crock!
Quint: You don’t just grab your stomach and topple over, yeah.
Ernest Borgnine: Exactly. Oh, boy…
Quint: Peckinpah was kind of a notorious for being a cantankerous guy. What was your impression of him?
Ernest Borgnine: He is a sweetheart of all sweethearts.
Ernest Borgnine: He loved actors. He really did. The only people he didn’t like too much were the people that worked behind the camera. If they didn’t do exactly the way he wanted it done, bam they were fired. I seen him on one side fire like crazy and his assistant director would put them to work doing something else. (laughs) And Sam wouldn’t say a word, you know? He was a sweetheart. When it came to acting with people you know… I’ll give you a good example. I remember one time we were reading this thing about… What the devil was it? What the heck was it with the bus? CONVOY! Remember CONVOY?
Ernest Borgnine: We were reading CONVOY and everybody had an idea to change this or do that and change this and that and I never said a word, you know. We just went on about our business and he’d say “Okay, okay... Change it…Okay…” So when it came to shooting the script we did exactly what the script said and there were no changes made at all.
Ernest Borgnine: They had forgotten about the changes you know? Oh God, I tell you. Actors can be pretty dumb sometimes. (laughs) Oh Golly.
Quint: Well that’s the beauty of film, you capture lightning in a bottle when you have a great director and great actors, a great cinematographer, and you get all of those guys working together as a machine.
Ernest Borgnine: That’s it. You put it right, that’s the machine working and when you have a thing like that happen in RED you’ve got it going. You can’t miss and that’s why a man came over to me last night, he introduced himself as the man who made the picture, his name is Rob Friedberg, and I looked at him and I said “I can’t help that, sir.” (laughs)
He came right back around and he said “Well I’m the guy that made the picture.” I said, “Oh, well in that case, do you realize what the hell you’ve got? You’ve got a blockbuster!” He said “Yes, I know” and his face lit up like crazy and it’s wonderful, because hey you know you don’t get that kind of thing anymore and especially in this day of automation and computerization and everything else and you turn around and make a picture like that, boy oh boy I tell you it’s just like manna from heaven.
Really because it’s wonderful to be associated with something like that. You know it was for the first time in a long time… The people I went with, my wife and a few others went to see the picture together, we came out of there talking about it and then my wife said… and she had predicted THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE would make over two hundred million dollars and everybody blanched, she said “But this is going to make it in one day!” (laughs)
Quint: Well, you know what they did right in RED… One of the reasons why I love 70’s films so much is because there was a focus on casting great character actors and great people and watching them together. In RED you have this amazing cast with John Malkovich and Bruce Willis and…
Ernest Borgnine: Aren’t they wonderful?
Quint: And Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman. Those are the big names, but then you also have some like Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss and you. You worked with Karl (Urban) and you worked with Bruce, right? But you didn’t work with the others...
Ernest Borgnine: Karl Urban and Bruce, but I didn’t know any of the other fellows at all and I’ll see them tonight I suppose when we get together, but I tell you I’m just thrilled to death. I knew Morgan from before and I’ve always complimented him on his work because I think he’s a hell of an actor, but even so he might be a great actor, but you’ve also got to find the picture that goes along with it, you know?
Ernest Borgnine: Think of him in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, holy mackerel! What a piece of work.
Quint: What an amazing performance in that movie.
Ernest Borgnine: I tell you, just beautiful.
Quint: Speaking of, I’m surprised you haven’t worked with Frank Darabont yet. He seems to love casting out his favorites that he watched growing up.
Ernest Borgnine: Listen, we will make it. We will make it one day. I hear there’s going to be a sequel to this thing, I hope so.
Quint: To Red?
Ernest Borgnine: Wouldn’t that be nice? (Laughs)
Quint: If they make a sequel, you have to…
Ernest Borgnine: I’ll have to carry a gun for that one!
Quint: Yeah, you’ll have to be the star of the sequel. That’s the one I’m onboard for.
Ernest Borgnine: Oh golly, tell them! Write about it!
Quint: “RED 2, starring Ernie Borgnine!”
Ernest Borgnine: There you go! (laughs)
Quint: That’s excellent. Well it’s really interesting talking to you, because there’s not a lot of people that I could talk to that have been as successful in so many generations of the studio system.
Ernest Borgnine: I’m a lucky man, I tell you and I’ve always tried to be the kind of an actor that I think my mother would have liked and she told me one time, she said “You know if you could make one person happy in the span of 24 hours, you’ll have accomplished a great deal.” I’ve never tried to let her down because I always try to keep that in mind, you know?
Ernest Borgnine: And you do the best you possibly can. A lot of people schlepped off a little bit and they forget about it and then “Ah, to hell with it.” You know? It’s hard not to be a good actor. After all, you are the one that’s being watched! If you’re going to do something, do it right!
Quint: Does an era stand out to you as being particularly rewarding? You have been through the studio system from such an early time. You won your Oscar in the fifties and you have been popular ever since.
Ernest Borgnine: Well, you know that that picture, MARTY, was supposed to be made, but they wanted to make only half of it and then shelve it, because they wanted it to be a tax loss. Did you know that?
So, when it finally came out we took everything in sight. I’ll never forget Burt Lancaster (who produced the movie) carrying Harold Hect right up against a wall and he said “Why the hell didn’t you shoot more?!?” She said, “They wouldn’t let me!” (laughs) And that was it.
Oh God, those were wonderful times I swear to goodness and hey as life goes along, the only thing that’s holding me back now is that people say “How old is he?” It’s like my wife went over to England one time to work on QVC and she met up with these people from the British Film Academy Awards and she said “You know my husband won a British Film Academy Award, why don’t you invite him over to speak?” They said [In a British accent] “Is he coherent?” (Laughs)
Quint: Have you been to Austin?
Ernest Borgnine: I went through Austin one time with my bus, but that was as close as I got to it.
Quint: We have this theater in Austin called The Alamo Drafthouse, voted best theater in the country by Entertainment Weekly. They bring in guests all the time. I know that they would love to have you out if you wanted to show a couple of your films.
Ernest Borgnine: You know one that’s never been shown? They showed it in Palm Springs about five months ago, it’s called PAY OR DIE. This is the life story of Giuseppe Petrosino who is almost instrumental in downing the mafia in New York. A true story. Theodore Roosevelt and the King of Italy at that time sent him over to Italy to see what he could do with the mafia in Sicily.
He was dressed as a woman. He always liked to put on a disguise, you know? Son of a gun, he was going along evidently thinking of something all dressed up as a woman and these guys were going along as they did in those days with guns in their arms and they were yelling “Petrosino! Petrosino!” And he, without thinking, stopped and said, “Yes?” And they shot his ass full of bullets over there and in the Piatto del Marino in Palermo!
Ernest Borgnine: Years later, I go over there and I’m making a picture over there with Fernandel (THE LAST JUDGMENT) and I said, “I’ve got to find this place where this man was killed because I did his life story.” And they said, “No, no, no, we don’t have anything like that here.” I finally found it and I stood in the exact spot where the man was killed and I want to tell you my hair stood right up on end.
Quint: Oh, really?
Ernest Borgnine: And to top it all off, who the hell do I meet but a guy who was watching me eat hamburgers and he said “Mr. Borgnine.” I said, “Yes?” “Thank you very much for the many hours of entertainment you have given me, that’s very nice, you know?” And we talked for a while and boom bam bim and everything was nice and then he left “Goodbye.” ”Goodbye” and I turned to my friend and said “Wasn’t that nice?” and his jaw his hanging right down to his chest and I said, “What’s the matter?” He said “Don’t you know who that is?” I said “What? Who?” He said, “That’s Lucky Luciano!”
Quint: (Laughs) No way.
Ernest Borgnine: Oh my God! Then I got the shakes! (laughs)
Quint: You just better be thankful that he liked your movies.
Ernest Borgnine: Oh, absolutely.
Quint: That’s nuts. I don’t know if you would be interested, but I know that the Alamo people would love to have you down.
Ernest Borgnine: Hey, you never know. It’s a small world, kid. I’ll probably make it, Eric. Anyway, what else would you like to know?
Quint: We’ve got to talk a little bit about your work with Lee Marvin because you guys together are so amazing. I’ve loved EMPEROR OF THE NORTH for a long time, but it’s been a long time since I’ve watched it and I threw it on this morning and I totally forgot that he beats people with a chicken in that movie!
Ernest Borgnine: (laughs)
Quint: Who could pull that off? You have a hammer, but he has a chicken. I know that you worked with him many times, right?
Ernest Borgnine: Yeah, we did. The very first western I ever made with Randolph Scott was with Lee Marvin… we started out and we made this picture with Randolph Scott and every time that he could, he would always give me that “Tsk, tsk…” bit you know? I said “You son of a gun…” I had a fight with Spencer Tracy and he’s giving me that “Tsk, tsk…”
When we were making that train picture. I went to him one time and I said “Here, sign this photo” and it was a photo of him as a bum, you know, and had the cigar stuck on his craw and he signed. He said “To Ernest Borgnine, Love you, Randolph Scott.” I said, “You ratfink!” (laughs)
He was that kind of a guy, you know? But if he loved you, oh God… I’ll tell you what kind of a guy he was and he didn’t mean to hurt anybody, but he was full of all of this… he was always pulling something. He had just come back form winning the Academy Award and we were standing over there in England up against a big wall getting a little bit of the son and he had been having a couple of drinks because over there you were allowed to drink!
We had a couple of drinks and we were talking back and forth, back and forth, and this fellow came by and he said “Gee, I wonder what two Academy Award winners have to say to each other” and without missing a beat he turned around and looked at him and said “You’ll never know.” He came right back talking, I said “Oh God…” This poor guy didn’t know whether to go blind or what! (laughs)
Quint: That would decimate me if I were in that guy’s shoes.
Ernest Borgnine: I tell you!
Quint: I talked to Bruce Willis a few months back and in the conversation we barely talked about RED, we talked about you and your movies. Bruce is like in love with you. He loves you so much.
Ernest Borgnine: Oh yeah.
Quint: And he was telling me about a story that you told him about FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and it was working with Sinatra and he said something about how Sinatra used a real bar stool to hit you with in the brawl.
Ernest Borgnine: It looked that way. It sure felt like it, too.
Quint: Was that true? How was working with Frank? At least on screen, you really sold it. You look like you hated that guy’s guts.
Ernest Borgnine: (laughs) And he turned out to be a good buddy, a real good buddy. We used to get together with another friend of ours and I swear to goodness he was just a marvelous guy. Every Christmas or any time we could we sent a note to each other “How are you? How’s it doing?” And I would sign mine “Fatso” and he used to sign his that character he played, “Maggio.” But he was a sweetheart, a wonderful guy.
Quint: I can imagine. That whole film seemed to be just filled with the men of that era and all of the different kinds of men where you have Montgomery Clift who was a little bit more of the sensitive guy and then there’s all this machismo from you, Sinatra and Lancaster…
Ernest Borgnine: Montgomery Clift though is the one who should really be given the honor of helping Frank win an Academy Award with that powder bit and everything else, the spreading the powder, and enjoying himself the way he did. And Frank took to it like a duck takes to water and the first thing you know, bam, he was back up again.
I remember when I was getting 700 dollars a week for seven weeks and he was getting 150 a week and he was lucky to get that. He ended up winning the Academy Award!
Quint: Let’s talk a little bit about genre. You have jumped form every possible genre. You did The Vikings; you’ve done a whole ton of westerns of all different sorts, like all of the sub-genres and all of that stuff. Is it freeing to you to be able to jump from say a western to a horror film like WILLARD or something like that? Does that keep the spice in your career.
Ernest Borgnine: I don’t know why everybody says, “How come you are able to do it?” First of all you read the script! (laughs)
Quint: Some people have prejudices.
Ernest Borgnine: I know and they always find it difficult you know, but all it is is acting. All it takes is acting and then if you really bring it to life that’s what it is, you are just bringing these wonderful words to life and you are giving it character, you are giving it everything that you’ve got and this is what makes it come to life and then people say “Gee, look at that, he doesn’t even look like he’s acting!”
That’s Gary Cooper for you! Gary used to… He would be the kind of fellow who would listen to what everybody is saying and then he would answer in turn and he was right there on the ball answering it exactly way it’s supposed to be and that’s why he listened, because of that fact that’s why he was a good actor.
A lot of people forget that. They make up their own answers as they go along in their own mind and they don’t answer in kind. It’s easy once you know how. And people go to school you know…. Yale University, and everything else and they say, “Oh acting is tough…”
Why hell, all I’ve ever had was two months of schooling and the very first day I went we were reading a Thomas Wolfe, YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN, you know? And I’ll never forget and so we are sitting there and I am at 28 years old just out of the Navy after ten years and these people are nothing but 18 year old and 17 year old and they are studying how to be an actor and I’m the oldest one there and this teacher said “Oh Mr. Borgnine, sir, if you are going to be with us, you might as well read this next chapter.” I said “Yes, ma’am.” So I started reading and I ran across a thing there where it said “And the stars were hanging out like diamonds” and she said, “Mr. Borgnine, how do you pronounce the word d-i-a-m-o-n-d-s?” I said “diamonds!” She said, “No, the word is die-o-monds” and I said “Oh, shit” out loud.
Ernest Borgnine: Everybody broke up. I said, “Well Goddamn, I’ll teach these kids!” By the time I got out of that school two months later I would have the first leads in two shows that we did and got the first good reviews ever given to an actor in their 14 years and then I said “I quit.” I went down to a theater in Virginia and got started down there. This one fellow went with me, he stayed one day and I stayed five and a half years and that’s where I really learned my profession.
Quint: Do you think that that’s something that is absent from the training of most actors today? You don’t see that a lot anymore. You see people go through television, not start off on stage.
Ernest Borgnine: What the hell can you learn in television? You hit your marks and you don’t knock over the furniture and that’s it! (laughs)
Quint: So, you would advise anybody who is trying to become an actor…
Ernest Borgnine: Oh, start in the stage of course because that’s where you really learn your theater work and everything else. I remember when I graduated from doing stage work I was working with Helen Hayes in MRS. MCTHING and suddenly I find myself over there in Hollywood and I’m giving out these large lines and the director looked at me and he said “Ernie…” I said, “Yes?” He said, “You see that little thing up over your head?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “It’s a microphone… You don’t have to scream anymore. You’re not on the stage anymore; you are in front of a camera. Just make sure that they hear you.” “Oh, okay.”
But at least you are learning, you see? And that’s what it’s all about. Today you get actors over there or supposedly actors that they get in front of a camera and [Makes mumbling noises] You can’t hear a goddamn word they are saying! You look to the sound man and say “What the hell is this?” He says “Don’t ask me, they dub it all in the dubbing room.”
Quint: Oh really?
Ernest Borgnine: And that’s where they do most of the acting, if they call it acting. It’s as soft as they possibly can, so you have to put up the volume in order to hear them. What a crock!
Quint: It’s weir, because you are known a lot for your boisterous voice and your personality, but you also…
Ernest Borgnine: You’ve got to make people listen. You watch the Turner Classic Movies; you’ll never hear anybody whispering. You always heard them talking out load.
Quint: The thing is you know when to pick your moments, as an actor. The scene that jumps to mind is whenever you try to kiss the girl in MARTY and you are rejected and you go on this amazing mini rollercoaster of immediately getting angry and then the self-pity comes in and you are just defeated. I don’t know, I just don’t see people doing that kind of acting anymore.
Ernest Borgnine: No, you don’t… See because it’s true. I don’t know whether it’s ever happened to you, but that’s the way it goes you know? C’est la vie, my friend.
Quint: You’re still kicking around showing all of the youngsters how to do it.
Ernest Borgnine: We try. (Laughs)
Quint: Can we talk a little bit about John Carpenter? ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is I think one of the most fun movies ever made.
Ernest Borgnine: He called me, he said, “Ernie, come over, we have got to have lunch.” I didn’t know John from Adam, you know, but I heard good things about him and so I went and had lunch at The Smokehouse across the street from Warner Brothers and so I would go over there and we got to talking and I wanted to do the part of the warden, because I said “Hell, that to me is a hell of a lot better than…” He said, “No, Lee Van Cleef is going to do that part.” I said “Oh hell,” you know? He said “But I wrote this thing especially for you!” I looked at him and I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” I didn’t want to let him down, because he’s a nice fellow, you know?
So okay, we go ahead and do the whole thing. Now I’m invited to go to the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles and the whole place is mobbed. I mean everything is there, it’s a John Carpenter film, you know, and off we go.
There isn’t a word said in the entire thing, everybody not saying a word, not answering to anything until they understand that I died. I got killed in that wreck and every body went “Awww…”
Quint: (laughs) Everybody loves Cabbie!
Ernest Borgnine: They were sad! I said “Oh my God, what kind of an impression is that?” They picked me out as being the best! (Laughs)
Quint: Everybody loves Cabbie, man. The thing is you play that character with such loyalty and this wide-eyed, almost child-like joy of being part of the group.
Ernest Borgnine: Me meeting this guy “Oh God, Snake! Oh boy, Snake!”
Quint: “I thought you were dead!”
Ernest Borgnine: Yeah, that’s it. (Laughs)
Quint: Did you ever meet with Carpenter again to work on something else that never happened?
Ernest Borgnine: Never did, but I understand he’s still in the business, God bless him. He was a wonderful guy to work with. He really was and never gave me a direction or anything else. One day he said “I don’t want you running like this.” I said, “No, no, no there’s no strain. I can run” So, I ran you know going down the side of the hill and that was it and he never could get over it. He said “Good God! You’re an actor’s actor.” I ask you to do something and you did it! Hell, that’s what acting is all about, you do it!
Quint: I was going to say, you look at something like going back to EMPEROR OF THE NORTH or THE WILD BUNCH, it’s like you watch that movie and you are like “Man, that must have been hot as shit. That must have been the most uncomfortable shoot ever.”
Ernest Borgnine: Absolutely.
Quint: But what sells it is that today they might green screen that. They wouldn’t go out on location. They wouldn’t do that.
Ernest Borgnine: That’s true.
Quint: And you miss the sweat, to be honest, the sweat makes it real.
Ernest Borgnine: Exactly. Yeah, they do it all in the computer. (Laughs) Oh boy.
Quint: Now you worked with Oliver Reed once too, didn’t you?
Ernest Borgnine: Once I did. The night before (we started working), he had been drinking like crazy.
Quint: No, not Oliver Reed!
Ernest Borgnine: (laughs) I said “Oliver, when you get ready for a sword fight, what do you do? You drink, too?” He said “No, no, no. Never before a sword fight.” (laughs) Thanks a lot buddy!
Quint: That’s sage advice.
Ernest Borgnine: He was a sweetheart of a man. What are you going to say, you know? He was a wonderful guy and when he wanted to, he was a hell of an actor. He really could do it.
Quint: You don’t need to sell me, I love that guy.
Ernest Borgnine: God almighty.
Quint: Now you’ve also done… We touched a little bit on your horror work, but particularly on something like DEVIL’S RAIN where you had a massive prosthetic that you had to put on, do you have any memories of that?
Ernest Borgnine: It took about four hours to put that make-up on.
Quint: It looks crazy. It’s still impressive.
Ernest Borgnine: No, the picture was really supposed to end when the fellow is dancing with the girl, right?
Ernest Borgnine: And they were looking for an end and I went to the producer. I said “I’ve got the perfect ending for you if you would just pay attention.” “Whoa, what’s the matter?” I said “We’ve got a director here that half the time we don’t know where the hell he’s at…”
So they went ahead and shot it, then they added more to it which took away from the entire thing, but it should have ended the way I thought it should end and that was these two people are dancing for joy that the church is gone and it’s all up in smoke and as he’s dancing, suddenly I’m involved and bam bam bam and he’s dancing with the devil again.
I said ‘You didn’t think you were going to get away from me, did you?” That was it! No, they had to embellish it and put on some more… You know that whole picture was made with mafia money?
Quint: No, I didn’t know that.
Ernest Borgnine: They still owe me $25,000 for it, but I’m not going to go collect.
Quint: Yeah, you’ve already had your run in with Lucky Luciano and he was the one of the nice mobsters. How was Shatner on that? Shatner was in a weird spot in his career.
Ernest Borgnine: Shatner we hardly even knew was alive.
Quint: Yeah? (Laughs)
Ernest Borgnine: This is before Shatner days, you know? Oh God… Hey listen, he made his little mark and that’s what counts.
Quint: Recently I remember seeing when you popped up in BASEKETBALL and being like “Oh, thank God, he’s on the screen!” Was that fun? I love Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Ernest Borgnine: I came into town one time, in the little tiny town way up in Northern California and I had my bus with me, you know a bus motor home, and I parked up underneath a light and I asked the kids “Is there a good place to eat around here?” Suddenly they all took off. I said “What the hells the matter with you?” “No, no… nothing…”
So I tied up my bus, got all set you know, ready to go around and get something to eat and they all came running back and said “You! You’re the guy in BASEKETBALL!” I said “Yeah, okay.” “This is the greatest picture we have ever seen!” “Jesus Christ!,” I said to myself “Boy… if that’s the greatest picture they have ever seen, goodbye Hannah.” (laughs) I did it for a friend actually.
Quint: Oh really?
Ernest Borgnine: Yeah and he said “Ernie, you’ve got to do it. For me, you’ve got to do it.” I said “Okay, what the hell?” So, I put the sausage in my mouth! (laughs) Crazy, crazy!
Quint: That’s funny. The “greatest picture” they had ever seen. You are like “Kids, I won an Oscar.”
Ernest Borgnine: They still do. They still love it. Oh my God, there’s nothing like it! BASEKETBALL… Oh my God…
Quint: Let’s touch on THE BLACK HOLE, which is a movie that had a big impact oddly enough on kids of my generation, I guess like BASEKETBALL did to these new kids. It’s a weird movie because you are right in your book in that it’s the big STAR WARS cash-in, that they didn’t really know what they were doing…
Ernest Borgnine: They didn’t really know what the hell they had. The very first time we walked in, the director looked at me and he said “Listen, if we had a chance, would you mind going up into the atmosphere to shoot this thing?” And I said “Can I go home and think about it?” He said “Oh yes, of course. I don’t want an immediate answer.”
So I went home and I thought about it and I said “Who in their right mind is going to go up in the atmosphere and do this goddamn thing?” You know what I mean? “It’ll take forever!” I said “Besides, you’ve got to get special handling and all, but I said “That’s why they ask young people to go to war.” The older people say “Well wait a minute, let me think about it,” but the young kids say “Yeah, let’s go get them. Goddamn!”
I said back to him the next day, I said “Well yes I’ll go, but after a fashion.” “What do you mean fashion?” I said “Well I’m sure you can find a way to do it here in town without having to go up in the atmosphere.” He laughed at me and it was a Walt Disney thing naturally, but it was just something to give him a little thing to think about. They never made it, they never went up in the air, but I answered him truthfully. I would have gone, but not full of enthusiasm I’ll tell you.
Quint: That whole project to me is kind of what we were talking about earlier where even though the movie doesn’t completely work, it’s got such an amazing cast.
Ernest Borgnine: Exactly.
Quint: Jesus, when you even have Slim Pickens voicing a robot it’s like…
Ernest Borgnine: How about that, huh?
Quint: Not too shabby.
Ernest Borgnine: We had been in a number of them. You brought back memories today I’ll tell you.
Quint: Oh really? I’m happy. I imagine you are doing a lot of interviews and I figure a lot of people would be bringing up the same material.
Ernest Borgnine: No, not really. They hadn’t brought up any of those films that you were talking about. It’s more that they are fast and furious about RED and that’s about it, you know?
Quint: I campaigned to talk to you about this specifically because I’m such a big fan of your career, as well as this. I can’t imagine sitting down and talking to you only about your work in one movie. That would drive me crazy.
Ernest Borgnine: Well I thank you, Eric. I hope one day that either I come by or you come by in Hollywood and get together and let’s see what the hell we can do.
Quint: That would be fantastic.
Ernest Borgnine: You know, break a little bread together.
Quint: I’m in LA quite a bit, so I’m sure we could figure something out, sir. What are you doing next? What do you have on your plate?
Ernest Borgnine: On Wednesday I go in to do a SPONGEBOB (SQUAREPANTS) believe it or not.
Quint: Well excellent, sir. Hopefully we’ll meet in person some day.
Ernest Borgnine: Alright Eric, God bless you. I look forward to it. Have a good day.
Quint: Alright, you too sir.
Ernest Borgnine: Stay well. Bye.
And there you have it. The more I sit with this one the more it becomes one of my favorite interviews. I hope some of you folks feel the same way.
Thanks again to Ryan Fons for making sure this interview happened and was as luxuriously long as it was.
And thanks to Mr. Borgnine. Here’s to many more years of your great personality on the silver screen!
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