Press > Exclusive Interviews > Tobar Mayo (Third Indian: Escape From New York) (Phone Transcript)




How did you end up being an actor?

I was singing and dancing in elementary school and I got into barbershop quartets and school plays. When I got to high school in my time you couldn't be a senior player until you were in the last year of school. I was singing with a cappella choirs and doing stuff with PTA, the parent-teacher association and little community theatres. I ended up doing a play called Harvey. I don't know if you've heard of it but it's about a young invisible rabbit. Then I started doing some extra work. I didn't do much because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I did some stand-in work and I ended up doing some stand-in for like Jim Brown, Fred Williamson. Then one time I got lucky. My first union TV show was called Mannix. The way I got the part was. Someone else was suppose to do the part and he got sick so my agent called me and asked, "Get down to Paramount Studios right away to look at that part for that show." and I wasn't in the union. What happened was. I went into his office. His secretary gave me some pages out of a script and just when I sat down to read it the director walked out and said, "Is that the man?" and she said, "Yes." He said, "Alright. Send him over to the wardrobe." and all that. "You got to be kidding me. I just walked in here." So anyway, I got the part. The shoot was in San Francisco so I got there and the assistant director said, "Tobar. You're not in the union." I said, "I know I'm not in the union. Nobody asked me." There were no men so I had the job. I don't know how familiar you're with the protection companies and such but it's called Taft-Hartley. You can work on a film once on an union production but the next job you have to join so that's what I did and it was pretty exciting for me. In San Francisco we started out at Fisherman's Wharf and I had to chase Mannix. Have you heard of it? It's an old series. In fact, when they show reruns I expect to get a little ten cent check out of that I guess. So anyway, I had to chase him from Fisherman's Wharf to the cable car because San Francisco is famous for their cable cars. I chase him up from Fisherman's Wharf and we have to turn a corner and I thought I was still chasing him but it ended up being his double. By the time we got up to the cable car people from Washington DC, actually they were sent to us and they stopped me and wanted my autograph. I said, "What do you mean autograph? This is my first job." They wanted an autograph from the bad guy. Then the show got cancelled. The next season got cancelled. They asked me if I was interested in coming back. I said, "Are you kidding, heck yeah." but it got cancelled the next season. It's kind of a quick jump from being a stand-in to actually having a part in a hot show.

How did you get cast as Third Indian in Escape From New York?

I originally read for the part that Isaac Hayes (The Duke) got. Of course he had a bigger name than I did. The director called me back because he liked my audition for the Isaac Hayes part. I guess that's how I got the Indian part.



How did you prepare for the role and how was the experience filming your scenes? You had the misfortune to be involved in two scenes that were cut out of the movie. The first one was the Indians roasting a cat in the lobby of the World Trade Center and Plissken almost getting garroted by a fourth Indian from behind. The second was the Indians running out from The World Trade Center and looking for Plissken. Also, did Kurt Russell use a flare gun in the first scene and did he run behind a concrete wall in the second scene as written in the shooting script?

Yeah, I remember Kurt Russell doing that and I think he ran straight ahead. I don't remember roasting a cat. I remember we had a fire and that was done at a university. It wasn't in the city area, it was in the county of L.A. I do remember the three of us Indians sitting around a fire. I don't remember doing the cat but we were doing something there with that fire.  

I think I looked at the camera as he was spying around. I think that's why it was cut. I'm just guessing. I think that shoot was day to night.

There's another scene we were suppose to do. We were suppose to get rid of the glider but they used other people for that.

How many takes did the scenes require?

I only did one. I was pretty good. I don't remember taking two takes of anything that I worked in. Maybe one project. My resume is not as long as everybody else's.                           

Were you disappointed that the aforementioned scenes were cut out of the movie?

Yeah, I was disappointed but like I said, the camera was on me. I'm suppose to just keep turning my head looking to the right I think it was. I'm almost sure that I stopped where I wasn't suppose to stop. I was very disappointed because that was a good part. I was playing an Indian you know.      

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

A good surprise was when I went to the dressing room when we were on the set I had a Mohawk Indian. I thought that was gonna be a black guy but that wasn't the case. Anyway, Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie) was in it. Very nice guy. I got a chance to meet him and I got all excited. I mean, I was like a young kid, man. Frank Doubleday (Romero) who was also in the film played the nasty looking guy. He and I had done a show at the university so there was some people in that show that I knew but I didn't get to shoot with and I didn't even knew they were in it because my part was so small.

I was excited meeting John Carpenter because I knew who he was but I wasn't excited about being cut. He was cool too. My plan was to work for John Carpenter again. I was hoping to do that. I think I looked into the camera but he was happy what I was doing from the start because I heard him saying something like, he was talking to someone. I think it was the AD (Assistant Director). He said, "The guy is an actor." That was before the scene where I screwed up. What happened was, the other two Indians they were screwing up. It kind of threw me off. Not that they were bad actors. I don't know what they were doing. They were doing something they had no business of doing. They were kind of laughing and having a good time. I remember John talking to the AD, "This guy is an actor. He's the only one acting in here." Then I turned around and screwed up. I'm blaming myself for that.

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

My favorite memory was meeting Ernest Borgnine. It was a joy to meet him. My favorite time came in TV so far. I did a couple of TV shows with some people who had hot shows at the time. I played a gay guy in one of them and I did a good job on that. The next I had the most fun would've been a show called The Jeffersons. I loved working on that show because I got to play a part being in jail and I have been arrested before. I've never been to jail or prison but just being a black male in America when I was coming up as a kid was enough to go to jail so I was excited to be in jail and getting paid! It was also the first time they had used a large cast of speaking parts and I had the first line. The episode was called The Blackout. That was one of my favorite parts. I got a good nice fat check and I was in jail so I was happy about that.

What do you think of the movie personally?

I liked the movie. I liked the script. Carpenter always came up with something, man. He did some stuff that I enjoyed seeing but I've only seen a couple of his movies.       

How come you stopped working as an actor after Escape From New York?

I didn't stop. You see, my family was living in the neighborhood. It was low income and all that stuff. I'm the oldest out of nine. I've already lost two brothers and a sister. I always had to stop and help my family you know. I was a desperate young man. I wanted to be a part of it, of anything. My idea was. I wanted to make big money and get them out of the neighborhood but they're still there. Except my mother just died a month ago and my father has been gone for a while. From there I just kept hustling, going to auditions and getting beat out sometimes. Sometimes I got a part and the show was cancelled. One time a lead actress went on a strike the day before I was shooting so I lost that part. I was in New York auditioning for a cop show and then I got calls to do a shoot in L.A. for another cop show and I didn't get the job because I couldn't get back in time. I was just having some fun and no fun so I just kept on pounding. I had to get a job. Then I go back and try to do it again. Believe it or not, that's what I'm getting ready to do pretty soon. I'm also a veteran so I'm waiting to get some patriot housing. Not having a place to stay right now bothers me. I'm getting back out there. I'm concerned about doing a monologue or something. I think I'm gonna give it a shot with commercials. In commercials you don't have to be on screen. I don't mind doing screen but if I have something too long to say I will forget something on the way.

I'm also the co-founder of a theater in which I haven't worked in five years because the last five years I've lost eighteen people, man. Family and friends. I've also had knee surgery and back surgery. Anyway, the name of the theater group is Open Gate Theatre. We're based out at Pasadena, California. Me and another co-founder worked at Pan Am
(Pan American Airways) at the time when we met because he also had the same problem. Had to go find some employment. You know, after I had a job that didn't work or week work I had to go get some job. Get a regular paycheck. Our first performance with Open Gate Theater was not in the United States and that was because I was doing something new with my director who's name is Will Salmon. He was into martial arts as well so he was training me on some Balinese and Japanese movement. It's like martial arts but without contact. It was just three of us. I was also a storyteller. I started telling stories too. I forgot to tell you that part. We ended up doing our first project in Tokyo in Japan. We got great reviews and that was just three of us. That was me, Will and Debra who was female. She would always dance to the stories I was telling and Will who directed everything was the musician. Just as we're speaking right now this is our thirty-eight or thirty-ninth year. That's still available for me too. Most likely I'm gonna be working with the stage people or something or do something small. I'm still pretty good at opening and closing a show.

I also worked for American Airlines. I like to travel. I had only been there for a year when nine-eleven went down and we had a couple of friends on the second plane that went into the towers. We had just gotten off work. I was working graveyard shift. I was always working graveyard shift so I could still be available for auditions in the daytime and still be looking for parts here and there. When I got home I sat on the bed and turned on CNN and boom. There was our plane going through. I got on the phone immediately because no one else had seen it that was on my crew anyway. That was very sad for a lot of people. For the world as a matter of fact.

There's more to it. This is just ten percent of it. My daughter and one of my cousins just bought me a Sony tape recorder and they want me to start record everything I can remember before it's too late so I agreed to do that.

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


Since I've been healing for the last five years I haven't had much fun. I did end up working at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) my last ten years so I would have some health benefits. Now I got a complete health benefits so I can do stuff without worrying about who's gonna take care of it. I hope I have a better story the next time I talk to you. I would prefer to be doing something with my theater company. We now have our own band, our own clowns. The people in the band are mostly professional people. They're just moonlighting. We got doctors and lawyers. That's what I like to be doing since I've lost so many friends. We used to play pinochle. I travel a lot. I've been to thirty-seven states. I enjoy meeting people. I wasn't an avid reader when I was a kid. I always wanted to see for my own you know. You're reading something in a history book or something. I had to go see it for myself. History was my worst subject matter, now probably my best.

Thank you for your time, Tobar.