Friday, December 09, 2005

The Biopic They Need To Make

I'm not a big fan of movies about real-life actors -- most of them seem painfully unaware of the fact that actors' lives are not, for a non-actor, all that interesting. But if there's one actor whose life might make a good movie, it would have to be Lawrence Tierney. This guy's life could fill several novels, and the last few years of his life alone could make for several scenes that are both funny and creepy.

What prompted me to think of this was an anecdote on a DVD commentary for a "Simpsons" episode that Tierney guest-voiced in. The way the showrunners tell it, Tierney arrived at the studio in a limo, and the limo driver immediately drove away, saying he refused to come back to pick this guy up. Tierney screamed at somebody for making a noise, intimidated the young showrunners at every turn, and scared the entire staff half to death.

And the thing is that this was a relatively mild encounter with Tierney. When he was on Seinfeld as Elaine's father, he scared the cast and crew so much (that's real fear Jerry and George are projecting) that they never had him back again. His most famous action on the set of that episode was to carry a butcher knife under his jacket. This wasn't part of the episode; he just liked carrying the butcher knife.

And in 1999, at a screening of his 1947 movie Born to Kill (where he played yet another vicious psychopathic killer), he was in prime form, according to writer Eddie Mueller:

The actor responded to our greeting with a brusque command: "Pull my fucking arm!"....

"Don't gesture at me like that," he growled, still holding out the left like a threat. "People make fast moves around me, I react. I can't help it." Tierney favored me with the slit-eyed glower that had preceded many a barroom brawl. The moment passed. He slapped my knee and cracked a conspiratorial smile: "Help me to the head," Tierney said, reaching for my arm. "I gotta take a piss before the show."

I piloted Larry to the men's room, steered him to a urinal. Assisting in this project was a delicate young gentleman named Darrell, whom Tierney verbally abused throughout the arduous journey...

Tierney broke off a guffaw. He wrapped a mitt around my neck and jerked me toward him. His bald dome banged my forehead. Despite the dull ache this headbutt inspired, I took it as a sign of affection...

I feared Bob Wise might keel over when Tierney, miffed at what he perceived as several self-serving comments during the director's post-screening interview, hollered mightily from his back row perch: "Hey Bob, who wrote the fucking script?"

Now, I've just mentioned three anecdotes from the last decade of the man's life. Put in the really interesting stuff -- the fights, the broken bones, the stints in jail, his mother's suicide, and the fact that he rose quickly to stardom and just as quickly threw it all away -- and you've got a movie. Go raise the money. But don't let Quentin Tarantino direct it, or he'll make the whole thing a plotless love letter to Tierney.

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