The Actor with the 3-D Name
Interview by Michael Barnum
Video WatcHDog No. 143 Sept. 2008
OPERATION WHITE SHARK was one of the first of many European James Bond copycats.
It was the first of some laughable spy films, that's for sure, and it was my introduction to Pippo Ratti and the insane world of 1960s filmmaking in Italy! I had done a series of TV commercials with Brunella Tocci, Miss Italy of 1955, so I was fairly accustomed to their rather polemic way of dealing with the everyday crises that come up during filming. But, on this nutty film, there was a fight each day twixt producers, director and writers, and a party every night - just to cool everybody out after the madness of the day! It probably took three months to film, and we were all over Italy and several spots on the coast of Yugoslavia. I think I was 29 or 30 years old, so it was like playing a funky kind of cops-and-robbers game. Every little boy in that era loved to play with guns, and I got to play with all sorts of noisy playthings. Most of the time they jammed or wouldn't fire, "all' Italiana". I'm not joking: half the time nothing mechanical worked.
There was plenty of action in this film... Were you doing your own stunts? Was there much real danger involved for you or the rest of the cast?
I always did my own stunts. The only place where there was any danger was crossing a rushing cataract in the cave sequence. Had I slipped, I would still be underground somewhere in Northern Italy. The drop-off, just a few feet from where I staggered across, was estimated at 200 feet into unexplored nether regions of Hell [laughs]. The other sequence that left me wondering why the heck I had gotten myself into the cinema occurred in the La Casaccia Atomic Plant facility outside Rome. If you saw the silly film, I am running around in a wet suit and hanging from a moving gantry crane at one point. We were actually filming inside the plant reactor area.
Wait a minute. You filmed inside an actual atomic power plant!?
It was completely nuts. To this day, I can't believe I actually went along with it. The producer had a friend who was a physicist in the hierarchy of the Atomic Energy Commission in Rome, and he found out that they were shutting down for a week while they changed the fuel rods in the reactor core. Don't ask me how, but he got permission to film in this very dangerous part of the plant. We were issued protective clothing to wear while filming, and wore heavy insulated boots to protect us from the possibility of radiation spillage. We were instructed that, if any dust or water from the floor got inside our clothing, it could have serious consequences. So, guess who got to run all over the facility in his wet suit with rubber-ducky booties? Right.
They raised Cain when the director decided that he could not have his actor running around shooting at bad guys wearing these heavy yellow protective boots. The supervisor of the area finally acquiesced, but I was severely admonished to be terribly careful not to tear the suit or the footwear, otherwise I could be sterile for life... or worse. After six hours of filming in and around the reactor, we finally wrapped up the shoot. As we left the facility, we all have to pass through a screening chamber that checked for any kind of radiation exposure. Well, when I went through it was like the million dollar slot machine in Vegas. Bells and whistles went off, and ever read LED in the place lit up. They immediately found that I had a two-inch long tear in the left foot of my suit-booty. They quickly called in the detox-team and I was forcibly stripped, thrown into a huge shower facility, and manually scrubbed by four guys in yellow suits who looked like Spielberg's baddies from E.T. They scrubbed me for twenty minutes until I didn't have any skin left, then checked me with a Geiger counter. I remember they shook their heads ominously then placed me in some kind of steam chamber with a green light. I was certain it was a crematorium that would prevent my spreading the deadly radiation to the outside world - ever. At last, I was taken through a series of screening devices and told that I was very "fortunato" that my peepee would, hopefully, still work. They said that, if they hadn't punished me so mercilessly, all that it would have been good for was to pee through, and that any future hoped-for children would have never glimpsed the light of day. Thankfully, the rest of the movie was a walk in the park - by comparison.