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Barry Bostwick became part of an enduring cult sensation
when he acted, sang and danced through THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, then won
notice on TV for playing historical personages like George Washington. Now he’s
appearing in a presidential role that bids to develop a cult of its own: the
over-the-top horror/comedy FDR: AMERICAN BADASS.
As far from a stately biopic as it’s possible to get, FDR:
AMERICAN BADASS (out today on DVD from Screen Media Films) features a Franklin
Delano Roosevelt who doesn’t let confinement to a wheelchair get in the way of
partying, bagging babes and battling the werewolves that are actually behind
WWII and plotting the conquest of the world. It’s Bostwick’s second venture
into humorous horror this year, following SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, in which
he provides a number of highlights portraying a lawman looking into the murders
of those who have tormented the title character. Bostwick spoke to Fango about
both movies, as well as the one he made nearly 40 years ago and is still
recognized for today…
FANGORIA: How did you get involved with FDR: AMERICAN
BARRY BOSTWICK: They asked me to do it! They apparently
thought I looked a bit like him and I could sound a bit like him, and I was
just crazy enough to play the part.
FANG: When you read the script, what were your first
impressions of the character and its crazy take on history?
BOSTWICK: I thought the president swore too much—and then I
thought, “That’s what I want to play.” They had to explain to me a lot of the
hip-hop talk, the sort of street talk, and once they explained what that was
all about, I was sold. It was risky on their part, too, writing in such a way
that could be confusing, in another, curious language. But I liked the mixing
of the periods, and the casting; I think it was cast brilliantly. And once I
got over the whole werewolf thing, and realized we were killing werewolves with
bad makeup…but that’s what we were supposed to be doing, and that was the whole
point of the movie. It had this sort of [TV’s] BATMAN-esque tone, and that sold
me—that old “Wham!” “Bam!” thing, you know? Although in this one, it’s more of
a “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!” situation. And I’m always attracted to
anything where there’s naked ladies.
FANG: Did you do any research into FDR to bring any of the
real person into your character, or did you just go with what was on the page?
BOSTWICK: I went with what was on the page. I knew a little
of the real history, but I knew I definitely couldn’t stick to that. I did more
physical things. I knew he wore a ring on his little finger, and what kind of
ring it was. I knew the whole thing about the cigarette holder, you know? But
we made sure to get one that was just a little bigger than normal. We wanted to
do everything slightly larger than life, so that was my goal. And if I was
going to have a dialect, which he did in reality, I would only use it for the
important speeches. The other times, I would just try to be real. They just had
to trust that I was close enough in tone to the guy. I didn’t have to do a
complete impersonation, because that would’ve gotten boring after a while,
since every time he talked, he would go up! It would lose the fun of the
character. I left it to the people around me to do the impressions. Many times,
your character is established by how people react to you, and if they’d react
to me as if I was the president, then I was him, dammit!
FANG: Talking about the physical side of your character,
you’re confined to a wheelchair for most of the film. Did you find that
BOSTWICK: I found it interesting. I’d never played a
character who was in a wheelchair. It was a source of a lot of humor in the
beginning, which I liked. I liked the fact that they’d made him pissed off
about it. The scene with the boy in the wheelchair is one of the best in the
movie, because it’s telling of what somebody’s real emotional reaction would
be, whether he’s the president or a dockworker. You wouldn’t just jump right
into it. And being physically in the chair, it was just another reason to focus
on what I was saying. When you just start taking things away from people, they
focus on something else. They focus on what’s more important, and for me, it
was really using my sense of humor, which he had in abundance. That’s what I
really honed in on, in terms of the root of the character, in that everyone
would say that FDR was always trying to make people laugh. He was the guy on
the golf course who would be farting behind the guy teeing off.
FANG: Did you get to contribute any dialogue or scenes of
BOSTWICK: Probably, but on this kind of movie, you move so
fast. It wasn’t like other films I’ve done, where it was organically possible
to do that. This film had a certain pace where, not only in the making of it,
but during the playing of it, we pretty much stuck to the script just to be
able to get through the day’s work.
FANG: Writer/producer Ross Patterson has said (see Fango
#317, on sale now) that you and Bruce McGill had a lot of fun together, working
out little bits of your own.
BOSTWICK: That just made the day fun. That made it worth to
go to work. Your tendency is to always try to find another level of the work,
of what you as an actor can bring to it. Particularly if you have other good
actors like Bruce, who is so deadpan and yet so available; he’s a real acting
partner. I wish they were all like that. I’m the same kind of person, so we had
the flexibility to nudge-nudge, wink-wink, do whatever we wanted to do, make
little things up. That’s what creates the chemistry between characters. It’s
those little moments you fill it in with, not just what’s on the page.
FANG: You mentioned the profanity before. Is this the most
profane film you’ve ever done?
BOSTWICK: Oh yeah. And probably will be forever. It could be
the most profane film ever made by anybody until Ross Patterson makes another
FANG: Patterson seems to have been the prime mover behind
FDR, though Garrett Brawith is credited as director. How did they divide up the
duties of guiding the film as a whole?
BOSTWICK: Well, you always knew who the boss was, and that
was Ross. You always went to Garrett for any acting or directing issues, but if
you had any questions about what something meant, or the overview of the movie,
you went to Ross. And I’d always go to Ross to find out what the hell I was
FANG: Do you think you’ll collaborate with Patterson on
BOSTWICK: I think he’s very talented; that’s one of the reasons
why I wanted to do this movie. He’s a young hotshot: motivated, clever, very
witty and bright. He likes to rattle cages and throw people off balance. Those
are my kind of people.
FANG: You really stole SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE as Sheriff
Walt Fuller. What was that experience like?
BOSTWICK: That was another one case of working with, I
think, brilliant young people, and everybody was there for the same purpose,
which was to make that film different, interesting and as real as possible. I
just worked with that director, Jack Perez, on another movie we finished about
a month ago for Syfy called BLOWING VEGAS OFF THE MAP, and I told him, “I’m
only going to do movies in which the entire theme of the movie is in the
title.” He’s a wonderful director, and he’s got a great future ahead of him. He
has a great eye and understands the movement and history of film, and he’s
intelligent. I like that. I’ve worked with a couple of young guys out of USC or
other schools who have an understanding of the history of film, and build their
work on the shoulders of those who came before. They’re not trying to make
something that’s so totally different, or make waves without a proper wave
FANG: You brought a great deadpan to Fuller. How did you
approach that character?
BOSTWICK: I just tried to make him a small-town sheriff
who’s fascinated by this case and is constantly looking, constantly watching,
constantly trying to put it together—and constantly eating. If you notice, I’m
always chewing on something. That was my hook, my handle on the character: to
have something in my mouth at all times.
FANG: You will, of course, always be remembered as part of
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. How has that film’s legacy affected your career
since, and do you still look back and revisit it today?
BOSTWICK: Well, yeah. I think of that film very fondly. I
love that film, I love what has happened to it and I love all the fans who have
stuck with it over the years. They are some of the gentlest, kindest people in
the world, and I’ve made some really lasting friendships off of that movie. Not
only from having worked on it, but also from the people who helped turn it into
what it has become because of their loyalty and love for the film. How bad can
it be when somebody comes up to me and says, “Can you sign my arm?” and I do,
and then a year later, I see that they tattooed my name on their arm exactly
where I signed it. Now, that’s power!
FANG: What do you think has given ROCKY HORROR that much
BOSTWICK: The fans. It’s as simple as that. It’s the people
who fell in love with it, and then fell in love with each other because they
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