Hayes Pleased With "Escape" (The Atlanta Constitution/Aug 24/1981/US) By Joseph Litch



Isaac Hayes is easy to spot anywhere. He recently strolled into Atlanta's Hyatt Riviera restaurant dressed in a white Escape From New York T-shirt, white jeans, blue-and-white running shoes. His smooth, hairless head was gleaming.

An overweight grandmother from Cleveland waddled over to ask for an autograph "for my grandson," and with a flourish Hayes scribbled his name on a scrap of paper.

Here he was, the singer/composer who heated and buttered soul, the man who turned the Shaft theme into an Oscar-winner. He was keeping a tight interview schedule to promote his latest movie, Escape From New York, directed by John (Halloween and The Fog) Carpenter. Hayes - 38, who now lives in northwest Atlanta with his third wife, Mignon, and some of his nine children - was full of answers about everything from his music to his movie.

"It's a fantasy, not to be taken seriously," Hayes said of Escape, which opened in Atlanta this past weekend.

"But it is food for thought, in the overall scheme of things, where a major city in the U.S. becomes a penal colony. Since the penal system is so overcrowded, what would happen if you did put (prisoners) in a situation where they ran their own city?"

That's the premise of Escape, a look at 1997 Manhattan, which has become something of a futuristic Alcatraz. Except in this situation, the colony govern itself. And Hayes plays a big bad guy.

"John Carpenter said, 'I want Isaac Hayes for this part,' and he got in touch with my agent," said Hayes. "It was a weird kind of script, but I liked my character. I don't want to get stereotyped - I haven't got to that point yet, but most of the films I'm in, I play that macho kind of guy.

"This was a real mean guy. When he snaps his fingers, people shudder, and I like that. So I said, 'I'll take that.' Then they told me who else was in it (the cast includes Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef) and I said, 'Yeah, I definitely will take it.'

Then, I met Carpenter, and I realized he was a real easy guy to work with. He was just great." Hayes and Carpenter met when the filming crew came to Atlanta to shoot some location footage last year. "But all that was cut out of the final movie," said Hayes.

Another part of Escape - a part Hayes conceived - was cut, too. "I was wiped out (killed) in the film, you know, and I was hoping that when I was wiped out, the people would applaud," he said, laughing, obviously enjoying being the bad guy. "When we were filming the part where I die, I said, 'John, I want to die hard. Let me go out in a blaze of glory.'

"I developed a twitch in the film. There was a scar over my eye, and I did need some kind of ID. Kojak has a lollipop and Bogart used to tug at his earlobe. So I decided to try something. When they put the scars on my eye, I said, 'That's it. Why not a twitch?'

"In the scene when they wiped me out, they first blew me back on a car. And I said them, 'Let the camera ease in on me lying there, and the audience will applaud and think I'm dead.' Then (he twitched his eye) and they'll say, 'Oh no. He's not dead.' Then let the guy have to pop me again before it's over.

"But that was cut out."

"Escape is only Hayes' fourth film - he's had parts in such movies as Three Tough Guys and Truck Turner - and he wants to expand his acting career. But, "music will always be first because that's what got me all the recognition and notoriety, so I never would abandon that," he said. "Acting, I would say, is just broadening my base of things I want to do artistically.

I used to daydream and fantasize about it a lot - when I realized there was such a thing as actors. See, I was a country boy," said Hayes, who was born in Covington, Tenn. "I didn't see a lot until I moved to the city (Memphis) at the age of 7 and saw movies, and said, 'Wow.' But I was always in little skits and plays and things since I can remember."

Hayes has never studied acting, although actor-instructor Lou Antonio "gave me a few pointers, but that was about it." He is appreciative of the movie opportunities but would like to advance from supporting-character roles to leading parts.

"I think the opportunity is there, but not right now," Hayes said. "There's a lull, I think, as far as black films are concerned."

He's not too thrilled with the black TV programs either. "They are all sitcoms. They're OK, but they should have some more serious episodes about blacks. They tend to stereotype blacks, you know, like all blacks ever do is act crazy, act foolish and finger pop.

"When you look around, you've got blacks in every walk of life, every profession, but when it comes to film, you've got blacks only in supporting roles. I think the only way for this to change is for blacks to put up money for these projects. It's the producers who decided what is made.

"You know, for the first few years, it didn't matter, who was up there on the screen; he could be turning cartwheels, but he was a hero because he was black. But that's all past.

"You've got the white macho guys like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, but you've also got Mary Poppins and Dr. Doolittle. You've got Disney movies, and you've got biographical things. But blacks have only that one thing going. That's my primary objection. I'd like for movies to show the sensitive side of black people."

Hayes currently is involved in several projects that occupy most of his daylight hours. Besides Escape, there's an album, Lifetime Thing, due out in September, a line of Isaac Hayes jeans, soon to be on store racks, and a nationally syndicated radio program, Black Music Countdown, the top 20 black tunes of the week. "And the host is yours truly," Hayes said.

The radio program, patterned after Kesey Kasem's American Top 40, will be taped at Master Sound Studios on Spring Street and will be broadcast 2-4 p.m. Saturdays. The Atlanta radio outlet has yet to be decided.

Hayes, who filed for bankruptcy, appears to have solved his financial problems. In fact, all these non-music activities have taken a drastic toll on his songwriting - this is the man who reeled off five straight platinum albums in the early 1970s. "I don't write as much because I'm engaged in so many other things," he said.

"I have to make time for it. I hope to get to the point where a lot of these things are airborne, and I can just take off the way I used to do and get away from everybody and just write. The music will always come first."