Press > Exclusive Interviews > Georges Corraface (Cuervo Jones: Escape From L.A.) (Skype Transcript)




How did you end up being an actor?

That is a very long story. There's so many angles to that. I guess it was just luck. I had other plans. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be a writer and a traveling. I admired Henry Miller very much and wanted to be sort of a Henry Miller of South America so I wanted to study law, international law so that I could have a sort of a job to sustain myself while I was living in South American countries. The actual process of being in a law school was pretty grim. At some point a friend of mine who was also in law school said, "Why don't we check out the local drama conservatory?" and we just went in the middle of the year. I think it was the end of December and they said, "Look. We're doing a middle of the year exam. The exam could be your entrance exam if you want. We have a lot of girls and not too many boys. You're welcome to do that exam." During the Christmas break we just worked on some scenes and auditioned and I was taken directly in the superior class which was flattering. There was three levels. I was immediately accepted in the top level and from then on I was given the opportunity to work in the local theater. When I say local. We were both going to law school in Paris but we were living in the neighboring city Versailles so we went to the conservatory of their side and our teacher was also the director of the Versailles theater. We would also start making some money because we would be stagehands and play silhouettes and change the sets between scenes and learn the trade from the bottom. It was a beautiful, beautiful Louis the fourteenth theater. Very well preserved all with old machinery. The ropes. All in wood. Beautiful seats. Beautiful stage. It was very, very charming. I fell in love with the theater at that point. I started really taking this very seriously and after six months at the end of the year the teacher announced to me that I was going to play Bassanio in the Merchant of Venice with a great cast. The famous Claude Dauphin playing Shylock and Geneviève Grad playing Portia. Anyway, so it was all totally unexpected and I realized that immediately we started going on tours before the play settled in a Parisian theater so here I had an artistic expression and traveling. I saw immediately that I could travel the world being an actor. Then of course I auditioned for the big national schools. There were two of them. I was accepted in both of them. First in one and then in the other in Paris. At the same time I also continued making a living by playing in plays at night. Immediately I became professional and started making money as an actor. That's the story. There's a lot more to say but that's enough for this question.

How did you get cast as Cuervo Jones in Escape From L.A.?

I had an agent in America which I got when we played in New York and Los Angeles. We played the Mahabharata. That play directed by Peter Brook. That was a big success, a big event and that attracted a lot of attention. It got me an agent in William Morris. The agent would send me scripts and say, "Are you interested and do you want to audition for that?" When I got there I was a fan of Escape From New York and when I got that script I said, "Yes of course I want to audition for that." and all I had to do was to pay my plane ticket. The agent arranged for an interview, an audition with actually John Carpenter and Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer). It was in Paramount and at the audition was Kurt Russell also. The three of them were core producers in that adventure and the three of them were at that audition. So what I did is, got myself to L.A. two days before to not be completely jetlagged for the audition and also create my character. I went in a long Hollywood boulevard where they were selling all sorts of second hand clothes and weird stuff, you know flea market style. I don't know if it's still the case today but at the time there was a lot of little stores with a lot of clothes, bags, belts and various hand bracelets, you name it. So I just created a character and I went to the audition dressed like that. The whole Che Guevara kind of
guerrillero look was coming from Hollywood Boulevard. That's how I imagined the character. That really hit the spot. They liked it. We talked first. They could all see that I was really appreciating the Escape From New York film and that I liked very much the script that they had come up with for the sequel. When I first got the script it was really a sequel. It was not a sequel slash remake as it ended up to be. I remember I opened the door because in Paramount all the offices were behind where the office were I was gonna audition so I just said, "There's gonna be some screaming! Don't be afraid! It's only me! It's only Cuervo Jones!" I slammed the door and went directly into the scene you know with the energy of that screaming to all the secretaries who were going, "What the fuck is this? What the hell is going on?" We did a couple of scenes and that was it. I could see that they all enjoyed the meeting. Kurt Russell was playing his role. I was playing Cuervo. It was a good chemistry. That's how it all happened. I went back to Paris. Only months later I got the new script and I was a little surprised.



How did you prepare for the role and what kind of discussions did you have with John Carpenter about it? Was the Che Guevara connection something that you discussed for instance and did you drew any inspiration from Isaac Hayes performance as The Duke of New York in Escape From New York?

In the new script there was a parallel structure but still Cuervo Jones was Cuervo Jones and Isaac Hayes character was perfect and very distinct so I just continued researching along the lines of Luminous Path you know. I investigated lots of books about the guerillas of South America and learned a lot of very interesting things about the political and religious syncretism. I don't think we had that much discussions before we started shooting. Actually, the first day of shooting. When I say day I mean night because all the shooting schedule was night time so for about two months we were living upside down. It was quite exciting. Before we started shooting they had already started like two days before my first day so I was there in advance. I went into John's trailer and I said, "Look. I got some ideas. I've written some dialogue for two scenes." I just played it for him. One scene was the first scene where Cuervo goes through the crowd on the car and he's talking to the crowd. It was no dialogue written there and I thought since I was suppose to be talking to the crowd I should be saying something and I drew from that research that I had made about the Luminous Path and the syncretism. I had found a very interesting metaphor which was that there is a legend saying that the last Inca king was beheaded and the head and the body were buried miles apart. There's a legend among the descendents of the Incas that underneath the earth the body crawls to find its head and the day the body finds its head will be a day when the Inca nation lives again and rules the world. I was saying to the crowd that they were my body and just like in the legend you know making reference to that legend that I was the head they were my body, we were together and now we're going to kick ass. Of course I was doing all this with a language that was a street language. John loved that and said, "Ok. We can do that." I said, "I have also something for the first scene we're gonna do tonight." It was the scene where Snake is tied to the treadmill and I'm talking to The President of the United States and I'm saying something very threatening. I had really made that very, very aggressive and very political. John said, "That's interesting. Why don't you try that. We'll see." When we got to that point it was like two-o-clock in the morning just before we broke for lunch. John said, "Ok. Let's make a rehearsal of that moment." He said, "Go ahead, George. Do what you did before." So I did the scene and I did it you know very convincing because all the people around it knew of the other scene. My people in Cuervo Jones entourage they looked surprised and Steve Buscemi (Map to the Stars Eddie) just looked at me and gave me thumbs up and then we broke for lunch. At the end of the lunch an assistant comes and says, "We need to talk to you." so I went with the assistant and we went into Kurt's trailer. Kurt was kind of, "What is this shit. This is not a political movie. It has to be like a comic book. It's an adventure film. It has to have that quality." I said, "Alright. I guess you're right." and he was right. My take there had gone too far. I had gone too far. I went too serious and political instead of keeping that kind of ironic and sarcastic quality. My sarcasm was becoming too political. I was ending up also with stuff that was not political. I was saying stuff like, "Get ready, we're coming and we're hungry." I don't know exactly what I was negotiating there in that scene. My wife hears this and says it's because I'm French. My input was French. Possibly, possibly, possibly. Anyway, I do think Kurt was right and everybody else was agreeing with him. John was agreeing with him, "Yes, yes, yes." so we went back to the original thing and we did it the way it was written. Whenever there was a little suggestion John was completely open to it as long as it was in the spirit of the film and so we went on and scene after scene we collaborated with John and with Kurt in great
complicité
we say in France. We were on the same wavelength. It was a great collaboration.

This whole Che Guevara,
guerrillero approach was meant to say that you know, beware of the costume of people. Beware of what image they project because behind that there is a thug. For example in this case you know. I have the greatest respect for Che Guevara but I used that to show someone who walks in the room projecting an image and is not at all Che Guevara. He's not even a guerrillero, a revolutionary. He's just someone who is trying to grab the power and grab the money and grab the girls. He's a villain. He's a total villain and that is also something which I loved in that series of films. Everybody is pretty dark. Even the hero is an anti-hero, a hero not driven by the need to save America or save the world like the film that did a lot better when it came out the same year, Independence Day. It came out at the same time as we did and of course Independence Day just had all the right ingredients to make a killing. It had you know a hero from every category of American society and the message was, we can save the world. After Escape I started getting offers to play villains in stupid films. Even if they were million dollar films, dozens of million of dollars I turned them down. I chose to go back to Europe and do independent films or art films and theater. I just could not bare to cross that line.                                

Did you ad-lib anything on set?

Those two things I had that I'm referring to is stuff I had evolved and written. It was like whole pages. After that it was only things that happened in the spirit of the moment. Nothing I remember. Nothing significant.

Were you disappointed to see certain scenes go during all the rewrites of the script?

Yes. No matter what the scenes are, when you read a version and you like it and then it changes you always are a bit sort of disappointed. You always get attached to some scenes because then you start to imagine them. You work them into the system and then all of a sudden they're gone. In this particular case I was slightly disappointed that they decided to go for a remake format because I didn't think it was necessary. I guess that was. Obviously it was not Kurt, John and even Debra's input. The original script that they came up with was structured differently and it was a great script. They were able to keep the punch of the first script but they did it within the structure that mimics Escape From New York and I think that is something that came from the executives of Paramount. I imagine that. It smells of studio mingling. They're thinking, "You know, Escape From New York was fifteen years ago and it's not the same generation. Let's do the same thing." It has its good side at the same time because having these two parallel structures you can really see the evolution of American pop culture, of American culture period. The parallel becomes more eloquent than if it was just a totally new adventure of Snake Plissken. In the end I'm very happy with it, what we have there. If I was an historian of the cinema I would say that it's very interesting that they decided to do that. It really makes the two very significant metaphors of America fourteen or fifteen years of difference.

How was the experience filming at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and doing that epic speech?

That was great. That scene was like a dream. You dream something totally unbelievable. Some dreams you go, "Where did I get that? Where did that come from?" It was like that. A coliseum and those you know, bikers, guerrilleros, hoodlums in the crowd and the basketball in the middle. It was surreal. It was very, very exciting and satisfying. It was a great speech. Beautifully written. It was really a lot of fun to do that.

How long did you and Kurt Russell rehearse for the fight at The Happy Kingdom and how long did the scene take to film?

I think we rehearsed it at least two days before. We did the first rehearsal and then a really good rehearsal with stuntmen that decided all the moves. Then we did it again the day of the shoot. I don't know if it was a whole night but we did it many, many times and it was lots and lots of parts. We were not holding back in any scene. We were really giving it our best. It was exhausting. 

How was the experience working with the cast and crew and what went on behind the scenes?

I had the luxury being in a private trailer with a fridge full of beers, all sorts of beers and cheeses and stuff. It was completely luxurious. Next to me was my friend Steve Buscemi who was also very often there. We were paid by the week so we had so many weeks. Therefore we were called every day and we were never sure if we were gonna shoot or not. Sometimes we would arrive at seven-o-clock in the evening and then shoot at five in the morning. Maybe just one moment or sometimes we were shooting all night. We were just going with the flow. They had rented the studios of Universal. We were shooting in Universal Studios even though it was a Paramount film. We were using the decor that is like a square where they filmed Back to the Future. Since we were there for long hours and not knowing when we where gonna be called we decided to run a sort of a festival. We would each chose films from the video store. There was a video store that had a lot of European films. It was called Vidiots. It was not too far from where I lived so we stopped by and chose films that Steve hadn't seen and Steve would also show me some of his films. We would watch all sorts of films during those nights. Of course there was a screen and a VCR in the trailers. It was great. I loved working with him and I loved working with Kurt. It was fun being in the trailer with all the other actors even those Cuervo doesn't run into. Since I was there all the time we would spend a lot of time waiting, talking and bonding.

I love John Carpenter. This guy kills me. I love his humor. He's so laid back. He's so cool. He doesn't take himself seriously. He's really all that I like in a man. There are directors which are very, very different and I like other kinds of directors too but he's so perfect in his style and with his humor and his irony and his sarcasm. I think he is a lot more subversive the way he is than if he was really making films with big political messages. I love him for that. He's understood it all and him occupying the realm of b movies is the genius decision to stay in that category and to have done all these very subversive films. He's got a great sense of humor. I remember one day we were shooting that little moment, it's something that Utopia sees in her computer or something and I'm sending her a white dove. I'm trying to attract her with my false ideology you know with my hypocritical ways. The white dove that we had were in a a big studio so I was suppose to send it towards the camera and the dove wouldn't fly. It would just, bump, fall. We did it once then I tried to toss it a little further and you could see they had clipped the wings so the dove wouldn't get lost so he was not really flying off and John says to me, "That was the five dollar dove. We didn't have enough money to get the fifteen dollar one so we got the five dollar one. It doesn't fly."

Was there any bond between you and the rest of the actors playing Mescalitos?

Well, yeah there were. Some of them were like recurrent and others were going and coming depending on their requirements. Some of them became my friends you know. We were seeing each other every night.                               

Which scenes starring you have you the most fond memories of and which were the most fun, interesting or problematic to film?

Maybe that fight was quote on quote problematic because it always had to be timed. It was not really problematic. It was just something more complex than others. As I was saying, the scene in the coliseum was unforgettable. The first scene in the movie where I'm on the car and going through the crowds telling my legend story which you know with all the noises of the cars and so on you can't really hear much of it. At least I had something to keep me happy and focused. I was happy to have the green light from John to do that. All the scenes with Steve Buscemi were great.           
 

What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the movie?

I guess the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum scene was my best moment. There was a lot of great moments. It was a lot of fun. Every sequence was a lot of fun.

How was the experience promoting the movie and do you have any fond memories with John Carpenter, Kurt Russell and Debra Hill before or after the filming you'd like to share with us? You went to the Deauville Film Festival in France for instance.

I don't think I went to any opening in the states. I must have been working somewhere and I couldn't do it. Otherwise I'm sure they had invited me. I remember going to Deauville. I was available and they were all there, the usual suspects you know, John, Kurt and Debra and that was fun. It was fun promoting it because Kurt also has
a great sense of humor. Kurt and John in the same room is a lot of laughs. We enjoyed talking to the press the four of us together. Debra was more reserved and in the background, not in the background but not as expansive like the rest of us but she did the work.

What do you think of the movie personally?

It's a great memory and I'm very proud of the film. I think it's an honor to have been in Carpenter's world.

What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

What spare time. There's no spare time. I have projects that I'm promoting, financing. I have a project for the theater. I have a project for a documentary which has already been half done, half filmed. Most importantly because documentaries don't cost as much money. I have a movie that we're writing with my wife Rosalie. We're in the writing of the second draft and I'm going to direct it and we are in the middle of financing it. We have half the financing and we're working on the other half. There are offers that come all the time for me to do stuff in Europe. For the moment I have been turning down a lot of stuff in order to promote my projects. I've been concentrating on the writing and going around trying to get a financing. There's no spare time. I wished that everyday was forty-eight hours instead of twenty-four and I had the energy kept to work forty-five of them. At least I'm not bored at all. I'm having a very exciting time.

Thank you for your time, Georges.

More about Georges Corraface here:
 http://www.corraface.net/