A chat with Eric Roberts, Eric Roberts interview, "King of the Gypsies"

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There seem to be two general reactions when the name Eric Roberts is uttered: a recitation of how awesome he was in such-and-such a film, or a vague uncertainty as to why that name sounds so familiar, with the latter often accompanied by the inevitable question, “Isn’t he Julia Roberts’ brother?” He is, of course, but all you have to do is show someone Eric’s picture, and they immediately recognize him…and from there, they begin recalling his various films and television appearances, which are plentiful, to say the least. Bullz-Eye had a chance to speak with Mr. Roberts on the occasion of his very first film, “King of the Gypsies,” being released on DVD, and it was a conversation that won’t soon be forgotten. He was funny, full of anecdotes, and open to answering just about any questions that were thrown at him, tackling his TV work (“Fear Itself,” “Heroes,” “Less Than Perfect”), covering films from “The Pope of Greenwich Village” to “Best of the Best 2,” and telling tales of his experiences working with folks like Heath Ledger, Sterling Hayden, Wayne Newton, Bob Fosse and The Killers.

ER: Hi, Eric Roberts calling. 

BE: Hey, how’re you doing? 

ER: Good, man! 

BE: Pleasure to speak with you. 

ER: Oh, thank you, brother! 

BE: Well, I know “King of the Gypsies” was your debut film, but you must be really fond of it to be willing to step up and do a round of press, because lord knows not everyone shares the same enthusiasm for their film debut. 

ER: Really? Well, I’m actually really proud of it, mostly because my two favorite screenwriters…in my opinion, the two best screenwriters, who are still writing right now, are Frank Pierson and David Rayfiel, and in my first movie, I got to work with Frank Pierson. I was always a big fan of his, and I was blown away. He picked me, and I screen-tested, and he told Dino (De Laurentiis, the film’s producer) that I was who he wanted; he saw the screen test and agreed, and I got the gig, and it changed my life, of course. 

BE: Right. Actually, yeah, I was going to ask you how you came to read for the film in the first place.

ER: It was a cattle call, you know. Everybody in the world wanted that part at that time, you know. I was told…I’d rather leave the names out, so I don’t sound obnoxious, but there were some major stars who wanted that part who were very big then, so everybody had to screen test, and it was very sought after. But I was the unknown, and I got it. And it changed my life. 

BE: It’s very weird to see the credit of “Introducing Eric Roberts,” given how many things I’ve seen you in.
ER: You know, when they gave my Oscar to Don Ameche (Roberts was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work “Runaway Train” but Ameche won via the sentimental vote for his role in “Cocoon”), I called my agent and I said, “I will do anything anywhere if there’s one good thing about it,” because…it wasn’t just resentment over not being the winner. When you’re a mainstream movie star, which I was, you only make one movie every year…or maybe every other year or every three years. I started acting when I was, like, four and a half. I was a pretty good actor by eight, and I was a very good actor by puberty, and I knew it was gonna be my life by the time I was 15. So…what was I saying? Sorry, I just saw the pool man fall in the pool, and I lost my train of thought! What was I saying? 

BE: (laughs) Well, I had made the comment about how odd it was to see the credit of “Introducing Eric Roberts.” 

ER: Oh, yeah! So what happened to me…it wasn’t because of losing the Oscar. I’m not…I’m not as badly OCD as my wife, who’s OCD out the wazoo (laughs) I’m just mildly OCD, and it has to do with my work. If I’m not working, I don’t like myself, and it’s kind of like what I’ve grown up and given myself worth for is my talent and my abilities, so when I’m not executing them, I feel like a loser, and when I am executing them, I feel good about myself. So I’ve been sort of making every kind of movie on the planet: A, B, C, D, TV, network, cable, whatever. Russian movies, Lithuanian movies, all over the world. Chinese movies! If anybody liked Eric Roberts, I went. And they didn’t always pay me the big movie money, but they paid me well…as far as I’m concerned, they overpaid me!...and I just started having a truly great life, because I got to travel and see the world with my wife, who is my best everything. I just…y’know, I threw in the mainstream towel and I went for quantity and fun. And I turned my life into something not quite so precious as it was – making a movie every 18 months – and into a real fun road trip. And I’ve had a blast ever since, quite frankly. 

BE: Prior to “King of the Gypsies,” how much acting in front of the camera had you done?

ER: That was my first movie, brother.

BE: Well, that I knew, but I’m talking about television as well. Because even your IMDb listing only has one TV credit prior to “King of the Gypsies,” and that’s your role on “Another World” as Ted Bancroft.

“I’ve been sort of making every kind movie on the planet: A, B, C, D, TV, network, cable, whatever. Russian movies, Lithuanian movies, all over the world. Chinese movies! If anybody liked Eric Roberts, I went. And they didn’t always pay me the big movie money, but they paid me well. As far as I’m concerned, they overpaid me!”

ER: That’s all I’d done. I’d done, like, 90 plays by that time, because I started acting on stage at four and a half, and I was in repertory by the time I was seven, so I was doing six to eight plays a year for my whole adolescence. I was very practiced and very ready to settle it down to film acting, and did thanks to Frank Pierson, bless his heart.

BE: By the way, I hope the casting director on that movie got a bonus, given how many other soon-to-be famous names were in there with you.

ER: Wasn’t that incredible? I mean, for an unknown guy to be surrounded by that cast was amazing for me, and I made great friends with Sterling Hayden. He and I remained friends up ‘til his death from lung cancer...and I learned everything NOT to do on a movie set from Shelly Winters! And, of course, I gotta say that the kindest person to me on the set – besides Frank Pierson – was Susan Sarandon. She was so good to me, and so sweet, and so just…just unaffected, unpretentious and nice.

BE: With Sterling Hayden already having been in “The Godfather” (as the corrupt Capt. McCluskey), I’m sure that only helped the critics who already wanted to call it “the gypsy version of ‘The Godfather.’”

ER: (laughs) Y’know, I fell in love with him when he did…what’s the movie? “The Killing.” I saw “The Killing” as a kid and thought it was maybe the best thing I had ever seen at the time, because it was an actor’s film, and he was great! So I was a fan of his all the way up through “The Godfather,” of course…and then I got to work with him, and it was like a dream come true! I’ve got one quick Sterling story that I’d love to share with you.
BE: Sure! 

ER: I’d been working about two or three weeks, and when we went into our night shoot, I had my first scene with him, in the back of a car. I show up early like I always do, and he shows up late, like he always did, and I’m waiting for him to get ready. The assistant director comes and knocks on the door and says, “Mr. Hayden would like to speak with you.” And I’m, like, “Cool, man, great!” So I go over there, and I knock on the door. (does a perfect Sterling Hayden growl) “Come in, come in!” So I open up this door, and it reeks of hash! And he says to me, “Have a seat, son! So, what are we doing tonight?” I say, “We’re doing scene 85.” “I know the number! What the fuck happens?” I say, “Well, it’s a night scene, and you want to bring me back into the fold because you don’t think your son is too capable but you think your grandson is,” I being the grandson. He goes, “Okay! How’re your improvisations?” I said, “I’m pretty good.” He says, “Well, that’s what we’re doing tonight: we’re gonna improv the whole thing. Now that I know what we’re doing, we’re just gonna shoot from the hip, okay?” I said, “Great!” He said, “Y’wanna get high with me?” I said, “No, if I get high, I can’t talk.” And he says, “Well, I can only talk when I’m high!” (imitates Hayden’s raspy laugh) So that’s kinda how we started. And we bonded, and I probably haven’t ever enjoyed working with an actor more until I worked with my wife.

BE: Wow. So when you first saw yourself on that movie poster, staring back at yourself, how did you avoid letting it go to your head? Or did you avoid that? 

ER: It went right to my head, pal. It went right to my head for about three months. I thought I shit ice cream for about 90 days, but I got over myself. But when you’re 20 years old and you make a movie, you’re 21 when it comes out, and…the only bad thing about that time in my life was that I was under the tutelage of a manager who was always feeding me cocaine, and that was a problem that I didn’t drop until several years later, unfortunately. But I did drop it. So that kind of stuff is…it kinda sets up a not very cool manner of thinking. So I was in love with myself for about 90 days, but I got over it. And also what you have to remember is that that was a time in show business…and I’m not saying it happened on this movie necessarily…but it was a time in show business where they’d send you to the prop truck for bowls of cocaine, and everybody from the executive producers to craft services were high. And, really, up until Don Simpson died at his own birthday party, having OD’d on heroin and coke, it was a part of life in Hollywood. And, then, suddenly, if you were caught as a drug user, you were blacklisted…but I was already through all of my shit by then. But, anyway… 

BE: Um…only because you’re talking about it, but just out of curiosity, is there any role that you’ve done that you can’t even watch now because you know you were affected by the cocaine? 

ER: I don’t want to talk about that here. 

BE: It’s totally cool. It was just a question that occurred to me as we were talking. 

ER: (chuckles) It’s a good question, dude. And if it weren’t about, y’know, one movie, we could talk about it. 

BE: Well, I guess that’s an answer in and of itself! Okay, I promise this one’s less controversial: what are your recollections of “The Coca-Cola Kid?” I don’t know if you consider it a highlight of your resume, but I’m a fan of the band Split Enz, and I still think it’s funny that Tim Finn was one of your co-stars. 

ER: It was a great experience. Australians are some of my favorite people on the planet, because they remind me what it must’ve been like…I’m a history buff, and they remind me what it must’ve been like in the States in the ‘30s as the Depression came to an end. They’re patriotic, they’re loud, and they’re drunk, and they’re funny…and I think America was probably very much like that like then. So I just fell in love with the country, and I fell in love with the people. I’m not a drinker – I was always a doper – so I would watch them, and I would marvel at the amount of booze they could put away. But I just loved the country, and after I got through with that movie, I got on a train and I went from Sydney to Perth, and Perth at the time was like a big movie set. It was like a back lot set, all done in soft pastels and wood, and old but kept up and beautiful. And, once again, wonderful people. Good, charming, great people. And, of course, y’know, nobody really knew who I was then unless they were in the movie industry, but they were so nice to me and so welcoming. I ate more for free in Australia than anyplace in the world except for Little Italy.  

BE: (laughs) So is it true that you provided your own white horse for your flashback scenes in “It’s My Party?” 

ER: You betcha. Her name was Silk, and she was a gift from Wayne Newton after we did “Best of the Best 2” together. I was partly responsible for casting him in that movie, and he and I made really good friends. I have incredible respect for that man as a man. He’s a great human being. I’m, like, at his place…he invites me to his ranch after we wrapped the movie…and I get up one morning and I walk out to his barn, and he’s got, like, sixty head of gorgeous White Arabs. And he gave me a horse after he found out that I was raised with horses – my grandfather raised Tennessee Walkers – and he told me that he was going to send her to me. And then I get home to my place on the Hudson River, and I’m unpacking, so I turn on CNN like I always do, and I hear that Wayne Newton owes $ 8 million in back taxes. So I figure, “Well, I’ll never see that horse, but I love that guy, anyway.” Anyway, a month passes, and this ranch woman calls and says, “Well, the horse is ready! Where do you want her sent?” And I go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait! Let me fly to L.A., and I’ll call you from there!” So I dropped everything, flew to L.A., and I got her a spot at the equestrian center, and I called him and said, “Send her!” And the reason it took a month to send her? He bred her. So she arrived pregnant, and my wife had a horse! And that’s the kind of guy he is. Silk has since died; she had a twisted intestine. I guess she was about 14. But her boy, I named him Sagan, after Carl Sagan, and I rode him every day up until about three years ago. He was born in 1993. But I’ve been on the road so much that I haven’t been able to ride him, so I shipped him off to a wonderful farm and a wonderful family in Virginia. 

BE: Which, as it happens, is where I am. 

ER: Oh, yeah? Cool, dude! I love that state! But, yeah, they’re taking care of him for me for this whole next year, because I’m going to be on the road. I’m booked for, like, the next 20 months, so I’ll be on the road, and I know that, so I didn’t want him to be lonely, and I wanted him to be loved. He’s like a great big white affectionate stuffed toy, because I hand raised him, so he kisses me and leans on me and talks to me. And this wonderful little girl is a great little rider, her family has him now. But I’ll be having him back sometime in about 12 months, and he’ll be back in my life. But I didn’t want him to be lonely, so that’s where he’s at. 

BE: Y’know, before I ask you anything else, I should probably find out how long I have to talk to you. When’s your next call? 

ER: As long as you want to, pal. Take as long as you want. 

BE: (uncertainly) Are you sure? 

ER: Yeah. 

BE: Okay. Well, when you signed on to do “Less Than Perfect,” what was it that had inspired you to do a sitcom? 

ER: Well, again, I got sent in on a cattle call, and I’ve been on the road my entire adult life, and I thought, “Well, I want to do something in town.” So I asked to be sent in for this kind of thing. So I went in on the cattle call, and I got the job, and…I wasn’t particularly crazy about my work on the sitcom. I was…I don’t know if you should print this or not, because it might sound too obnoxious, but I just want you to understand where I’m coming from. 

(Writer’s note: Since Roberts’ phrasing was less a demand than a expression of uncertainty, I went back after the interview and listened to what he said, and I decided to go ahead and print it because – at least to my ears – it doesn’t sound obnoxious at all. It just comes across as a clarification of why he’s a bit uncertain about what he accomplished on the series.) 

ER: I do lots of homework, and then I take my homework to my boss, the director, and I say, “Okay, here’s A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I and J. Which one do you want?” And when they have their shit together, they say, “Do D and F, and leave all the A and all the J stuff out.” So, okay, they’re very clear, and I execute it. Well, the director on this thing… I’d say to the director, “What do you want to see?” And he’d kind of shrug. Now, I’m a director’s dream, but I’m not very good on my own, in that I have so many choices that I find them hard to pick. So I was not a fan of mine on the sitcom. And we also had one cast member that made every other one of us miserable. So with that combination, it was not one of my favorite experiences.
BE: I wouldn’t begin to ask you who, because… 

ER: Yeah, I’m not going to talk bad about anybody… 

BE: I mean, I have a guess, obviously, but… 

ER: I’m just giving you facts, and there was one cast member who made the rest of us miserable. But I can say this: it was not my pal Andy Dick, and it was not my pal Zachary Levi. 

BE: (laughs) Actually, that knocks out my guess! You know, when you were on “Heroes,” you actually came off as more devious than Jack Coleman, which is saying something. 

ER: (bursts into laughter) You’re funny, dude. 

BE: Did you enjoy stepping into that show? 

ER: That’s one of the best groups I’ve ever worked with. They’re so tight, so organized, so smart and so…they’re just so fun. They’re a good group to work with. They asked me to come back, but I said, “Okay, I’ll come back, but I’m not getting that ugly haircut again!” So we’ll see what happens with that. 

BE: You’ve appeared in a couple of videos, too, but I think I’m most partial to your role in The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.” 

ER: Me, too, pal! I love that video, because, y’know, how many times do you get to play a pimp in your life and get to do it to the tune of rock ‘n’ roll music? I mean, Christ, it was so much fun. And I gotta tell ya, the videos were my wife’s idea. She’s now my manager, and she says to me…her name’s Eliza…she says to me, “You know, you’ve had an offer from blah blah blah, and I didn’t like that one, but because of that offer, we’ve had a bunch of offers now for a bunch of videos. So I’m gonna listen to the songs and pick what I like best, and you’re gonna listen and pick what you like best, and then you’re gonna do the videos.” And I said, “Why?” And she said, “Because you don’t have that audience.” So I did, and I had a great time doing them. And, also, the director of that one…what was her name? God, I hate it when I can’t remember someone’s name! 

"In my first movie, I got to work with (director/screenwriter) Frank Pierson. I was always a big fan of his, and I was blown away. He picked me, and I screen-tested, and he told Dino (De Laurentiis, the film’s producer) that I was who he wanted; he saw the screen test and agreed, and I got the gig, and it changed my life, of course."

BE: I’ll find it before the piece runs. (Writer’s note: The director was, in fact, Sophie Muller, who most recently helmed videos for Leona Lewis and The Ting Tings.) 

ER: Aw, man, she’s just…she was just phenomenal, brother. What a babe. And what a director. I was so impressed with her, and I had so much fun. And she made a wonderful frigging video. You’ve seen it.  

BE: Oh, yeah. Now, were the guys from The Killers intimidated about working with you? Because, I mean, it was their first album, so I can see them possibly still being starstruck. 

ER: No, dude, the guys from The Killers were like…it was like a summer camp. They all got together through an ad in a Vegas rag that asked, “You wanna be in a band? I play guitar.” Or, “You wanna be in a band? I play drums.” That kind of thing. But they all got together, and they’re great guys, and what you see is what you get with them. They’re unpretentious, they’re nice, they’re funny and they love their success. 

BE: Oh, I got the episode of “Fear Itself” (NBC’s new horror anthology series) that you’re in. 

ER: Oh, have you seen it? 

BE: I have. 

ER: I haven’t even seen it yet! 

BE: (laughs) It’s really good. 

ER: Is it? 

BE: Yeah, and I was wondering about something. Last year, ABC aired this really great sci-fi anthology series, but they gave it no promotion, and it bombed. So I’m just wondering if you think the anthology-series genre still has a chance nowadays, or do you think today’s audiences are too in need of ongoing story arcs to be able to handle it? 

ER: Hey, dude, I’m an actor, not a network guy, okay? (laughs) I don’t have much of an answer for you. But I do have to tell you this: what piqued my interest in even considering that was that Keith Addis was the boss, the executive producer, but Brad Anderson was the director, and I’m a huge fan of his because of the movie he did with Christian Bale. What’s the name of that movie he did with him, where he lost all that weight? 

BE: I’ll find that one, too, don’t worry. 

ER: Well, I was a huge fan of his, so I said, “Oh, man, he’s doing this?” Because, y’know, it sounds like trash when you hear about it. It’s like a fright-night thing, and you go, “Oh, Christ.” The character, he’s a guy who goes too far with an investigation, he loses his job, blah blah blah, all that other stuff we usually see in episodic cop shows day after day after day. And I thought, “Oh, this is just shit.” But then I heard about those two guys, and I thought, “Well, these guys are players!” So I went running. Because of Brad Anderson and Keith Addis. And I had the best freaking experience that I’ve had working with a director since Bob Fosse. 

BE: Wow. 

ER: ‘Cause Brad Anderson is a fricking winner, dude. He’s a winner through and through. 

BE: Oh, and that movie was called “The Machinist.” 

ER: That’s it! There you go. Thanks, man! 

BE: You’re in “The Dark Knight,” and I think some people are almost feeling a little guilty about their excitement over the film, what with Heath and everything. 

ER: God, it’s tragic, man. 

BE: Did you have scenes with him in the film? 

ER: Yeah, he and I have probably the longest scene in the movie together. It’s with Heath, and…he’s basically blackmailing all of us bad guys from Gotham City, and he’s, like, “I’ll unblackmail you if you help me get Batman,” that kind of thing. And there’s this three-page monologue he had, and I had something like three lines in there, and the other bad guys have a few lines. But he shows up, and he’s doing a great job, but (director) Chris Nolan – who’s phenomenal, by the way – is very, very specific, and he’s very, very together and organized. He does homework, and he arrives ready to go, and he knows what he wants. So there were lots of cameras set up, about 12 of them, and maybe about a third of the way through, I go up to Heath, and I say, “Is now a good time?” And he says, “Sure! Come here, come here! How am I doing?” I say, “You’re doing fucking great, dude!” And he was so cute, he says, “Eric, this is hard!” And I was so charmed by that. I said, “Yeah, dude, and nobody knows it but us.” And I gave him a big hug. He was such a sweetie pie, dude. He really was. And he’s gonna blow you away with what he does in the movie. 

BE: Yeah, I’m very psyched to see it. I’m just like everybody else, though: I hate that I’m going in just thinking about how he’s gone now. 

ER: Well, I don’t want to over-talk it, but he’s great. Just great. 

BE: You’ve had some fun poked at you over the years…some good-natured, some not so much. 

ER: (laughs) All part of the package, pal. 

BE: Well, actually, that’s what I was going to ask you: did some hurt more than others, or do you just take it in stride as part of the life of a celebrity? 

ER: You know what happened to me? I made that first movie, and all these reviews come out, and they’re calling me the best thing since sliced bread, but then I read this review that said I was just a bad imitation of Richard Gere. So I realized that if I’m gonna believe one, I have to believe the other, so why believe any of it? Why read any of it and subject yourself to it? So that’s when I stopped reading reviews. And I haven’t read ‘em since 1978. My wife comes to me on occasion and says, “So-and-so loves you!” Or, “Stay away from The Times, Eric!” “No problem, honey, I’m not gonna read ‘em.” So ever since 1978, I have not read a review. 

On working with Heath Ledger on "The Dark Knight": "He says, ‘How am I doing?' I say, 'You’re doing fucking great, dude!' And he was so cute, he says, 'Eric, this is hard!' And I was so charmed by that. I said, 'Yeah, dude, and nobody knows it but us.' And I gave him a big hug. He was such a sweetie pie, dude. He really was."

BE: But have you heard Andrew Dice Clay’s routine where he does imitations of you, Travolta… 

ER: I love that! Isn’t that great? And they’re having the marshmallow roast, with me and Sly and DeNiro? It’s an honor. And he’s so good at it! That’s a great routine he has! 

BE: Absolutely. It was a moment where you realized that he could be funny without the obscenities.
ER: Yeah, it was fun! 

BE: Did you ever see the “South Park” episode? 

ER: Of course I did. And they ate me, and I was much more tender than they expected. Who knew? (laughs) It was so funny: my agent was scared to tell me, because she thought I would take it negatively. But come on! It’s an absolute…it’s like being honored! Okay, maybe it’s through a side door, but it’s being honored. As a matter of fact, just to show you, you know how they talk about me on “Entourage?” 

BE: Oh, yeah. 

ER: And they’ve talked about me about half a dozen times, and it’s not always good, but they talk about me a lot. So I had my wife call them for me, and I said, “Look, if you’re be talking about me this much, why don’t you put me on the fucking show?” And they called back and said, “Do you want to be on the show?” And I said, “Only if you want me.” And they said, “We would love you on the show.” So I’m in one of the next episodes. I start next Monday.
BE: Nice. Actually, that’s funny, because I can dovetail into another question from this, since one of those mentions on “Entourage” made specific reference to “Pope of Greenwich Village.” How much truth is there to the tale that Michael Cimino was fired from directing that film? Because there are so many different reports. 

ER: Well, I only know what I heard, but here’s what happened. There was a director – who I will leave nameless – who was brought in, and we had five days of rehearsal. And after the third day of rehearsal, he asked me to stay after rehearsal. And he asked, “Why have you lost all this weight?” And I said, “’Cause I wanna be a walking spaz attack.” And he asks, “Why have you permed your hair?” I say, “Same thing.” And then he got very aggressive with me. He said, “Walking spaz attack? What the fuck is that?” I said, “You know, like John Belushi, only skinnier.” And he goes, “Okay, we disagree about how you’re playing this part, Eric.” I say, “What do you mean?” He goes, “Well, this guy is a tough thug who’s not bright.” I said, “You know, that’s been done a lot, and I’m not gonna do this the way it’s been done before, so I’m taking a new approach. And I took this approach because I had a month, so I went to Little Italy, and I just sat there and I watched and talked and hung out, and I realized that these guys are all mama’s boys who are overfed and pampered by their moms, but they wanna act like gangsters. It’s all routine. It’s not real. These guys are fakes, and that’s what I wanna play.” And he says, “Well, Eric, we disagree, and I’d like you to resign.” I said, “Okay, let me think about it.” And I walk around the block and, of course, I’m not gonna resign. I love my homework, I love what I’m doing with this character, and I think he’s wrong, of course. So I go up to Mickey (Rourke’s) room (makes a knocking sound) and I say, “Mickey, the director asked me to resign.” He says, “Let’s call the producers.” So we did, and they fired him, and they brought in…well, first they brought in Michael Cimino, and then Stuart Rosenberg. Now, I never met Mike, because he was only involved for about five minutes, but I heard that he wanted too much, and they said, “We just can’t do it.” So…I heard that’s what happened. I don’t know, brother. I never asked, so I’ve only got what I heard. 

BE: Fair enough. 

ER: But get this! I loved working on the film, and I loved working with Stuart Rosenberg, but it was odd. We got done with it, and he said, “That’s a wrap! We’re done!” And I gave him a hug, and I said, “This was a great experience for me, thank you.” And he says, “Yep, you’re a hell of a crier.” And I thought, “That’s kind of anticlimactic,” but, y’know, I just went, “I love you, Stuart, bye.” Now it’s 20 years later, and it’s sold so many videos, so many DVDs, that they want to make a Part Two. So I get a call from somebody who I have to leave nameless but who was in the inner circle of the original “Pope,” and he says, “I gotta tell you a story, because I want you to know what you’re getting into.” And I say, “What? This sounds heavy. What the fuck is this about?” And he goes, “Well, they all thought you ruined the movie because you didn’t play what was in the book. And the producers, (Hawk) Koch, (Gene) Kirkwood, they told that director that they fired, “If you can get Eric Roberts to resign, you can keep your job. If you can’t, you’re out of here.” And they apparently thought they were paying me too much to fire me. They were not paying me millions, believe me, but apparently they felt like it was too much for them to fire me, because they would’ve had to pay me. But if I resigned, they wouldn’t. So I didn’t resign, they brought in Stuart, he directed the movie, and they all thought I ruined the movie because I played the character like a mama’s boy with a lot of bravado. Y’know, slightly effeminate…well, not effeminate, but more effete. Not like honestly tough. And then I find out they all felt like I ruined their movie, which is why they didn’t really push it as a movie. It became a classic on video, but it did not do good at the box office, and up until it was out on video for, like, three years and sold millions and millions of copies, I was the guy who fucked up the film, apparently, in their mind’s eye. So that broke my heart, because I thought they were all my friends. 

BE: And I suppose it killed any interest you had in doing a sequel. 

ER: Oh, no, brother. I’m very, very proud of that character, and I’d love to recreate him! The only thing I’d regret is having to go on a diet again! No, that’s a great part, and I don’t know what we’re gonna do with the story, but I have suggested that I’m on the beach, and here comes Mickey, from the hotel, and he goes, “We gotta go.” And I’m, like, “Why? Why we gotta go, Charlie? What are we doing?” “No, we gotta go. They want us to pay the bill.” “Whoops! Gotta go!” So that’s how I’d want it to start. But that’s all I’ve got so far. 

BE: Well, I’ll start winding up here with a couple of quickies. 

ER: Sure. 

BE: Okay, well, I was talking to someone a few weeks back, and he was going on about how dramatically a film can change not only from script to filming but also from what’s filmed to how it ends up on screen. 

ER: Yeah, boy. 

BE: Is there a film that, while not necessarily naming who was responsible, ended up nowhere near the script that you’d originally been sold on? 

ER: About half of them. (laughs) But sometimes it’s for better, and sometimes it’s for worse, and unless you’re gonna say, “I’m gonna be a director,” you…you can’t give opinions. Because what you are is a hired hand, and you’re there to do what the director wants and what he sees. When you arrive with the character ready, and you say, “This is what I want to do,” if they agree with you, it’s great, and if they don’t, you have to alter it a bit. But you’re hired for what you can bring to the part, so for the most part, you aren’t ever hassled about your interpretation. And I’ve had a great life and a great career. I’ve been very lucky. 

BE: Is there a favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it should have?
ER: “Star 80.” It was also a bomb in movie theaters, and it’s also become a huge cult classic, but in the movie theaters, it was a bomb because it was so dark and so real. I mean, Bob Fosse was one of the greatest filmmakers ever to make movies, and he made everybody who watched the movie have to go through that experience…and it was hard. Obviously, it was a big loss financially, because it should’ve been a mega-hit, but it was ahead of its time. It has since become a cult classic, so I am satisfied by that, but Bob Fosse never saw that. He died. And I love him like I love my life, and I mean that totally. He became my second father, and he was great to me. We had a great relationship, and we spent a lot of time on the road together, doing press, and we bonded. I just cannot say enough about that monster talent and great man. 

BE: You kind of touched on this earlier, about the fact that you’ve done a lot of different types of films from a lot of different types of genres, but were there certain roles that, even as you knew how ridiculous they were, they just looked like too much fun to resist?
ER: Hmmm… 

BE: For instance, I understand “D.O.A.: Dead or Alive” is already becoming a cult classic in its own way. (laughs) 

ER: Now that’s surprising. Y’know, all the karate movies were like that, because those movies are like cowboys and Indians. You’re bad guys, you’re good guys. (offers a few sound effects to approximate someone doing karate) You know what I mean? Those are just fun. You’re being like a kid again, and I loved them. 

BE: Is there a project that you signed on for that didn’t get made that you still regret? I know not everyone has one… 

ER: Yeah, and I’m trying to think of the name of it for you. It was (considers it for a second) Ah, I can’t remember the name of it. But, sure, that breaks your heart sometimes. But it’s a business, and it’s all about dollars and cents and availability and that kind of thing. And sometimes it just doesn’t work. Now, I’ve had maybe a dozen films fall apart, but only one that was, like, “Oh, no, not THAT one! NO!” But I can’t remember the title for you, I’m sorry. 

BE: Do you remember what the premise was? 

ER: Yeah, I was a DJ. I did do a movie about a DJ, and it’s, uh, a very mediocre movie. But I had a good time doing it! You know what’s funny, too? Just as a little aside, but it’s funny how so many people think of you as what you’re not when you’re an actor. I gained 20 pounds for “The Dark Knight” so as not to look, like, traditionally handsome. I play a Don in the Mafia who’s a middle-aged guy who should, y’know, not look like a movie star. So I gained 20 pounds, and then I go to work with this actor who I’d worked with before, and when I’d worked with him before, I was very thin and all cut up, and apparently he was jealous, because he started a rumor that I was doing steroids. Now, you don’t get skinny on steroids. You get beefy. So, obviously, he didn’t know what he was talking about. But after “The Dark Knight,” I’m overweight, and I go to work with the same actor on another movie, and he tells everybody, “Oh, it’s backfired on him now! He’s fat as a pig! Too many steroids.” And I’m just, like, wow. It’s so funny how you just can’t win sometimes in the industry. But it was funny to me. 

"I love that video (for The Killers' 'Mr. Brightside') because, y'know, how many times do you get to play a pimp in your life and get to do it to the tune of rock 'n' roll music? The guys from The Killers were like…it was like a summer camp. They're unpretentious, they're nice, they're funny and they love their success."

BE: And, lastly, a question that our resident “Doctor Who” fan would kill me if I didn’t ask. 

ER: Oh, yeah! 

BE: Did you enjoy working on that “Doctor Who” TV movie? 

ER: Oh, it was so much fun. It was such a great group, and they all loved what they were doing. And they were all nice.

BE: Were you intimidated stepping into the role of The Master? Because he’s kind of iconic within that series. 

ER: Look, when I was in school in London at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and that’s when I got turned on to “Doctor Who.” It was great fun, but it was big camp, way overacted, and way fake. So, no, I was not intimidated to do that. (laughs) If that answers your question. 

BE: It does. Well, look, this has just been a real pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. 

ER: Oh, thank you, brother. Me, too! 

BE: And, like I said, I really enjoyed getting to see the movie, too. 

ER: Oh, yeah, that reminds me: how was “Spooked,” the episode of “Fear Itself?” Because I haven’t seen it! 

BE: It’s very good. It’s dark, as you would expect, but it really holds up as an entry in an anthology series. It really makes me wish that genre would take off again. 

ER: Well, I can’t say enough about Brad Anderson, so please emphasize that. He’s talented, and he does his frigging homework. And so many directors don’t these days. They just show up and wing it. But, man, he knows what he wants, why he wants it, how he wants it, and he’s gonna do it. And I just love him. 

BE: Duly noted. Well, thanks again! 

ER: Hey, dude, you have a great day! Peace, out!

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