by Woody Strode and Sam Young
Well, thank you, Italy. I've spent a lot of time over there, and made a lot of Italian pictures. The first was SEDUTO ALLA SUA DESTRA; SEATED AT HIS RIGHT. From there I went to C'ERA UNA VOLTA IL WEST; ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. After that, the Italians just beat a path to my door carryin' a bag full of money. I ended up living in Rome from 1969 through 1971, and in all that time, I never learned to speak Italian. The Italians never cared that I learn their language. But they made a star out of me, and for that I'll always be grateful. For me, Italy was the promised land.
It was 1968 when a director named Valerio Zurlini hired me to star in SEATED AT HIS RIGHT. Zurlini was a short man with sandy-colored hair from northern Italy. He was an artist and a poet. He'd make a picture every three or four years just like it was a painting or a sculpture.
SEATED AT HIS RIGHT is a biblical reference to Christ when he said to the priest Caiaphas, "Hereafter, shall you see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming into the clouds of heaven." Originally, the film was supposed to be a forty-minute segment for a five-part film called RAGE IN LOVE, but Zurlini must have found some extra passion for the story because he blew it up into a full-length feature. It became Italy's official entry at the Cannes Film Festival.
In the movie, I play a Christ-like character who tries to establish peaceful reform within an unnamed African country that's controlled by an overbearing white rule. I travel from village to village preaching to the people. I tell them, "As long as we are united we cannot be defeated, they know this and this is why they will try and infiltrate among you setting brother against brother, and relying on your greed."
The government arrests me for being a revolutionary and orders me to sign papers that would make me forsake my teachings. I refuse. They begin to torture me; I suffer and anguish. They nail my hands to a table. They beat me until I lose my sight. My left side is pierced. The life slowly drains out of me. My face is twisted in pain, and my legs go limp as they drag me from the interrogation room back to my cell. The violence is unbelievable.
Zurlini was trying to show the total devotion to violence of the men who were torturing me, and the horrors of a dictator-style government. For a good third of the film I anguish in pain, and that was probably my most difficult performance ever. The courtroom scene in SERGEANT RUTLEDGE was probably my most emotional scene, but SEATED AT HIS RIGHT had the most sustained emotion. And Zurlini was a good director; he got everything out of me.
We shot the film inside an old warehouse in Rome. The Italians are great set designers, and they built everything we needed. Most of the movie takes place in my prison cell, but all of the exteriors were also done on stage. It took about ten days to shoot the whole thing, and right after I got finished was when Sergio Leone came after me to star in the opening scene of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.