Press > Escape From New York > Exclusive Interviews > John Contini (Extra)

How did you end up being an actor?

I grew up loving film and TV and my parents supported my love. I went to Saint Louis University and majored in theatre and education. I worked as a drama teacher yet always kept my acting career going. About 20 years ago I went full time as a professional actor.

How did you get cast as an extra such as an Eye-Patch Prisoner for example in Escape From New York?

I was called in by my agent for an audition and then called back in by director John Carpenter. I was interviewed by him and read with him. He cast me as a prisoner.

Actually it is not an eye patch but rather a pair of sun glasses with one lens broken out. Kurt Russell had the eye-patch.

Which scenes are you in
and how was the experience filming your scenes?

I was involved in probably a half dozen scenes and some wound up on the editing floor. Originally I was to have lines but they wound up being cut also (I suppose for time).

I was in the street scene after Snake first arrives and walks past the downed aircraft. I was warming myself by a street fire.

I was also in the scene Frank Doubleday (Romero) hands the severed finger of the President to Lee Van Cleef (Bob Hauk). I am standing behind.

I am in the train station arena when Donald Pleasence (The President) is handcuffed to the wall and Isaac Hayes (The Duke) was shooting at him. I am sitting on the floor by the bench Isaac Hayes was sitting on.

My biggest scene is when I am standing above Kurt Russell with a crossbow pointed at him.

Interesting story: the crossbow was real and the arrow was real and there was only a small nail jamming the trigger. I was impressed that Kurt would let me (this nobody extra) point this lethal weapon at him with such little security on the bow.

How long did you work on the movie?

I shot about 10 days, overnight until 4 to 6 in the morning and each evening would begin with a trip to wardrobe and makeup, then the weapons trailer and then to the location sites. There was not much time for rehearsal as most of the shooting time was used in setting camera and lights. We spent a great deal of time sitting and waiting.

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

Most of the stars were very friendly. Kurt Russell was very polite and pleasant. Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie) and Lee Van Cleef were always nice enough to spend time and talk with us. Donald Pleasance kept us entertained with impromptu and hilarious presidential speeches as his character.

One evening was especially memorable as I sat at the catered dinner table with John Carpenter. He was very down to earth, easy to talk to and we shared our likes and dislikes of horror films (and I was glad to say we had similar taste) and he told me at that time about his next project: a screenplay by William Lancaster based on the 1951 version of The Thing. We both agreed this was a classic.

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

My favorite costume piece was the weaponed glove I got to wear. It was like something out of a Mad Max movie.

Another great moment was spending time talking with Lee Van Cleef about his appearance in Beast From 20.000 Fathoms. He was surprised that I knew and remembered he was in that. It was one of his first screen appearances and enjoyed it. We talked about his western movie appearances and he was a very classy gentleman.

I will always remember being a passenger in one of the stunt cars with Jesse Wayne (
tunt Double: Donald Pleasence
) as we did 360 degree doughnuts in the middle of an intersection. Scary but exciting.

What do you think of the movie personally?

Besides it being a cult favorite, I think it is a well done and an original science fiction film. It has a unique and clever premise. Carpenter's direction was very prepared and he calmly set the scene and told the actors what he was looking for and then let them create. He would allow over lapping dialogue which is very similar to one of his idols, Howard Hawks. I was also impressed that he created the music in the film.

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

I am still working professionally in theatre and film. I have received many awards for my work and I recently just finished another film called Four Color Eulogy which should be out soon. I directed and acted in over 200 theatrical productions around the mid-west.

I am an avid comic book collector and in fact was going into comic book art before I fell into acting.

- A copy of a newspaper article that ran during the shoot.

Thank you for your time, John.

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