Sunday, July 26, 2009

Quinn and De Laurentiis on ATTILA

From ONE MAN TANGO by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner

The ATTILA production was notable for a comic disaster that might have shut down the entire picture. If it was up to me, it would have.
We shot a great many scenes on Monte Cavo, in Rocca di Papa, just south of Rome. One afternoon, at the beginning of a rare snowstorm, the director left to shoot a few scenes that did not involve Irene or me. He took the entire crew with him, and left the two of us in a hotel up on a hill. We welcomed the short break. There was a bar and a restaurant. It would just be a few hours. We would be fine.
I had spent hours in makeup and wardrobe that morning, and it made no sense to take everything off just to put it back on again in the afternoon, so I walked around the hotel in a suit of armor. My eyes were pinched back with a powerful glue, to leave me looking properly Asian and barbaric. I was preparing to attack Rome in my next scene, and this was what you looked like when you attacked Rome. Irene was dressed in a wild outfit, and we lounged around like two beasts from another century.
Actually, for a while, it was rather fun, noodling around the old hotel with Irene in period costume, but the novelty wore off soon enough when we noticed the snowstorm getting worse. There were no wristwatches in the Dark Ages, and we lost all track of time. Irene walked over to the window and gasped. "Tony, look," she said. "The snow. It's blocking the door."
I went over to see for myself. The snow was about three feet deep. There were drifts reaching up to the windows. The wind and fog made it difficult to see for more than a few feet.
"What the hell time is it?" I wondered.
Irene had no idea. We went down to the front desk to use the hotel telephone. It was four o'clock. Four o'clock! Jesus, where the hell did everybody go? We could not get an outside line at first, but eventually we reached the studio in Rome. I got one of De Laurentiis's assistants on the other end. "Where the fuck are you people?" I railed. "Are you gonna use us today or what?"
"You're still up there?" the kid said. He explained that shooting broke several hours ago, when the snows threatened the roads. Everybody had been sent home.
"Yes, we're still up here. Where are we gonna go?"
The kid was scared for his job, but it was not his fault. "Mr. Quinn," he said, "I'm terribly sorry. Would you mind staying in the hotel tonight?"
"You're fuckin' right, I mind. I can't stay with Irene in the hotel. Jesus, all of Rome will be talking about it. You get a car up here."
"We can't get a car," the kid tried to reason. "The roads are closed. And that hill, leading up to the hotel, that hill must be treacherous."
The manager could not help but overhear my tirade, and he offered one of the hotel trucks to take us back down Monte Covo and into Rome. "It's just a bread truck, Mr. Quinn," he cautioned, "and there's no room in the cab, but you should make it down the hill. The driver needs to get back down to the bakery, so he's doing anyway."
So Irene and I piled into the back of the truck, dressed like barbarians and surrounded by sacks filled with fresh-baked bread. Jesus, we must have been a sight! We slipped down the hill like it was an amusement park ride. I was certain we would fly off the side of the road and tumble to our deaths in the valley below.
What a way to go! - crushed by a bakery truck, smelling of blood and flour, dressed as Attila the Hun. I imagined the headlines.
By this time, the snow had stopped and the skies cleared. The countryside was absolutely magnificent, like a winter wonderland, but I did not care about the scenery. I was cold, and tired, and hungry. I wanted to go home.
The driver made to let us out at the bottom of the hill, but I was not moving. "We can't get out here," I shouted. "Look how we're dressed! We're in costume, goddamn it!" Outside I could see children playing in the streets. It was like a mid-afternoon holiday. The entire town was out to romp in the snow. The last thing I needed was to step from the truck as Attila the Hun, into the middle of that scene.
I ripped the glue mask from my temples in anger - I still have the scars! - and then I gave the driver about two hundred dollars in U.S. money to take us back to Rome.
The next day, I refused to go to work. I was furious at the director. What kind of asshole maroons his two stars in the middle of one of the worst storms in memory? What was he thinking?
"Fuck you," I said, when someone at the studio called to see where I was. "I'm not coming in."
The day after that, it was the same. I stayed home for a week. Every day they called, and every day I told them to go to hell. Finally, I thought I had punished them enough. A week was enough time for a proper tantrum. Anything more would have been unprofessional. I had wanted to shut down the picture, but I thought it was enough that I crippled it.
I got into my car and drove to the studio, but they were no longer expecting me. "What the fuck are you doing here?" De Laurentiis said, when I reported for work.
"I'm here to finish the picture, " I said. "I was too mad to come back to work, but I'm not mad anymore. I've held out long enough. I know I've been costing you a lot of money."
Dino flashed a villainous smile. "Not exactly," he said. "We're collecting insurance. Your little protest is actually making us a profit."
"You bastard." I laughed. "I'm stewing at home, teaching you a lesson, and you're making money?" It was a fitting irony.
"Go back home," Dino said, conspiratorially. "Go back to bed. The insurance company is sending someone to check you out. You must tell them you've had a terrible experience. Tell them you don't know when you'll be able to come back to work." He hurried me back to my car, giggling like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

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