STECKLER: Once I worked at Universal as a grip on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show. You know what A-frames are? They are big heavy A-frames that you clamp on flats that are 12″ long, with wheels on both sides, and you wheel them around. Anyway, I got this flat and they told me, “Get it out of here and take it over to the other set.” And when you’re working as a grip you move very fast. (I did; I don’t know what they do today.) So I got this thing and started wheeling it [makes race car-like noises] rrrrrrrr. Just as I got to a corner I missed Hitchcock by that much! And he was like this [Ray jumps to his feet and stands in profile assuming the classic Hitchcock pose, perfectly mimicking his posture and facial expression]. If I’d hit him I’d have knocked his head off! And he went over to this guy and whispered in his ear and he looked at me and the guy looked at me . . . I said, “Don’t say it; I’ll go get my card, I know.” And I walked over and punched out and went home. I knew I was going to get fired (and I was right) because I’d been going too fast. I thought, “What if I had killed Alfred Hitchcock?!” Of all people, you know? Ah, it was great!
R/S: When you make films do you improvise much?
S: All the time, because when you work with amateurs you really have to be ready to get the best out of what you can get. Those kids weren’t trained actors at all. I don’t know how good that is: to get actors who have no ability. A lot of kids who study acting aren’t worth shit, and are never gonna be worth anything! And just because you study doesn’t make you good, either.
You might find a guy walking down the street who could have more impact than a professional actor—if he’s used correctly. In Europe in the ’20s (silent movies) they found all their actors in the streets. Nobody had to take acting lessons back then; that’s why there were so many great faces. Because even if a guy couldn’t act, they could make use of his face.
Today an actor has to talk, and if he talks he can blow the whole thing: “My, name, is, Harry.” What do you do, Harry? “I, murdered, fifty, women, last, year; they, did, not, like, my, looks.” Oh, okay, Harry. Now if you did a silent movie and Harry’s face came on with a subtitle that said, “Harry murdered 50 women last year,” whoaaa is what you’d think. Because you’d never know that when he opens his mouth he’s a turkey.
R/S: I wanted to ask you if you have always been rebellious.
S: I’m only rebellious around bullshit. I mean, I can conform to any situation but when it gets to bullshit, I can’t handle it, and there’s too much of it in Hollywood. Nobody wants to just sit down and say, “Here’s what we have to do and let’s do it.” They don’t know those words. It’s like, “Okay, let’s figure out how we’re going to do this, and how much money we can take and put in our pockets.”
They hire production managers who are supposed to save money for the company, but all they do is get kickbacks everywhere they go. (Not every one of them—but too many of them.) In other words, everybody’s out for their own benefit; nobody gives a shit about making a really good movie. European filmmakers get out there; if they say to an actor, “Stand here, it’s raining, and don’t move until we get the shot,” he stands there in the freezing rain until they get the shot. In Hollywood, you aren’t going to see a star standing in the rain—none of them. They’re all wet, anyway!