George C. Scott gets booked for an HBO spot about germs. The character of the spot is based on Scott’s brilliant performance in PATTON. I had already done a funny version of that with Dennis Hopper and I wondered whether that would affect Scott’s opinion of me, but after a preliminary meeting it turned out that Scott had no opinion of me.
He refused to dress in a general’s wardrobe for the spot, stating that he had a continuing relationship with the Patton family and didn’t want to disturb that. The agency was in a frenzy but Scott was booked and who would not want to use him? I suggested placing him in an a byzantine wardrobe, but the term frightened the HBO clients as they weren’t used to polysyllables. Eventually they agreed and we moved forward.
Scott wasn’t a warm person but I tried to make conversation referring to his role in DR. STRANGELOVE that was another take on a general but slapstick (to me). It was a different take on material that Scott had ever done. I asked whether Kubrick had prodded him to do such a performance, or worse, had him do this against his will or use substandard takes. Scott bellowed that those were his choices and his alone. I understand that there was an issue with the film FAIL SAFE at the time and Kubrick may have pushed the characters to be funnier to take away from any comparison. I watched the film afterwards and found the seriousness of Sterling Hayden to be far funnier and more effective than Scott’s choices.
Author Cindy Davis, writing about Kubrick in an article called MINDHOLE BLOWERS, made this observation about Jack Nicholson’s performance in THE SHINING.
‘Kubrick’s technique was to take all scenes scores of times; he understood the effect on actors. Nicholson would do his first takes in conventional ways, then he’d relax and be neutral; then Kubrick would say to do something different; then Jack would start to mug…use his eyebrows, his voice would rise, he’d make exaggerated faces. Jack did takes friendly, harsh, manic, then the final edit was selected by Kubrick.’
The shoot went okay but the spot would have been better with a take on the PATTON character. I tried to fix things a bit in post to make the film look a little like TRIUMPH OF THE WILL but the clients hated distressed black and white.
In the end, the spot was okay, Scott hated being there, and I still love his performance in PATTON.