Bud Cort [Interview]

Bud Cort is a classically trained artist who has proven himself as a ridiculously talented actor for more than 40 years.  He’s proven himself a genius of the stage and screen.  He’s had roles that have left audiences spell bound.  He’s undoubtedly one of the finest actors of this time, and of a time before many Trainwreck’d readers can even remember.

A quick IMDB search will point you into the direction of so many great pieces of work that Bud Cort has been a part of.  When I was a younger lad, the name Bud Cort was only synonymous with Kevin Smith’s Dogma.  But, as I grew older, and more in tune to the world of film beyond my own personal stigmas and accelerations towards commonalities (I am STILL a huge Kevin Smith fan, mind you), I can now state that I best know  Bud Cort for the same reason most of you will know him for as well.  He is Harold.  As in, Harold and Maude.  A film that so utterly pre-dates itself that it is almost impossible to deny.  And while he has done several wonderful films, television shows, and stage performances since, the hipster love child in many of us will always remember Bud as Harold.  But, we shall learn a bit more.  And thankfully, Mr. Cort was kind enough to sit down with us and chat it up a bit about his illustrious career and what he has been up to lately.  Enjoy!

 You’ve had an amazing career on the screen, and equally so on the stage.  If you were to only choose one, which would you say would hold a more prominent spot in your heart?

Radio. I got to read the entire J.D Salinger novel “Catcher in the Rye” for radio station K.P.F.K. in Los Angeles.  The whole book is written in the first person so it’s really the greatest monologue ever put down for an actor. A close second would be when I played Clov in Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York and then in Los Angeles at the Mayfair Theater.  Third would be “She Dances Alone”. This film is a jewel. It’s about madness and the artistic process and the great dancer Nijinsky through the eyes of his eccentric daughter Kyra Nijinsky who by looking at you would never believe she could possibly evoke her father through her own dancing. I played the director of this film within a film and Max Von Sydow narrated it reading from Nijinsky’s diaries.  It’s magical.

What was it like living with Groucho Marx for an entire decade?  

It was a Fulbright scholarship in comedy.

Did your mother actually turn down a marriage proposal from Clark Gable?  

(Laughs) No, no. She worked for MGM studios in New York during the war when my father was over in Germany fighting. (His troop was the first in to liberate Dachau, (the concentration camp). They had to clean it up at its worst for the arrival of Eisenhower and his brass. My mother was a part of special services for MGM, which today would be considered the p.r. arm of a studio. She would pick Clark Gable up at Grand Central Station, escort him to the Plaza Hotel, and sit through all of his interviews for his latest film. Afterward if he was hungry or just wanted to be around people she would be his companion for dinner and dancing at the Stork Club. By the end of the week if he was fried she would drive him to a little hotel in the Poconos. Obviously both being married they had separate rooms. But anytime she spoke about him she always got a special faraway look in her eyes. I always fantasized he was my father because of my dimples and frankly I didn’t look that much like my own father. She was also great pals with Harold Lloyd.

You were absolutely incredible in your portrayal of Bill Ubell in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.  And Wes Anderson is a personally hero of mine so I have to ask, how was it working under the direction of Anderson?  I can only imagine a fantastic experience…. 

Wes is a meticulous captain. He is so singular and so prepared that he can’t help but get exactly what he envisions. I’m a method actor so preparation is my middle name. Wes and I did go toe to toe on my character’s wardrobe. I thought my costumes looked like diarrhea, my own research into bond company personnel informed me that they were always a well dressed, smart and together bunch of people, but Wes was adamant on a more dweebified look. When I saw the film I was blown away by how right he was. Wes has his own, very unique genius and he just gets better and finer. I just loved “Moonrise Kingdom”.

You reportedly turned down the role as Billy Bibbit in Milos Forman’s adaptation of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest out of fear of typecast.  Now almost 40 years later, do you believe you made the right choice?  

Hell no. But when I was offered it a different actor than Jack Nicholson was supposedly doing the film. Later on, after I’d turned it down, I found out Jack was now playing McMurphy. I flew to the phone to called Milos (Forman, the director) and Michael Douglas (the producer). But it was too late. Billy Bibbit had been cast with Brad Dourif who was great.

You played John Doe Jersey, a.ka. God, in Kevin Smith’s “Dogma”.  How do you even begin to prepare to play the role of Earth’s curator and guardian?

I looked in the mirror a lot. (kidding) I am a good Catholic boy, you know.

It would be naive and rightfully inconsiderate to ignore the fact that most of the people reading this interview probably know you best as Harold from the 1971 classic comedy Harold and Maude.  The film was not an initial success, but grew to classic status. Why do you think this is?  Is it a “story ahead of its time” sort of scenario? 

As I was reading the script I immediately knew it was going to be a classic film for the ages. There was no denying it.  The studio was stumped on how to publicize it. The art for newspapers and theater posters was plain black, block lettering on an empty background it was more appropriate for The Ten Commandments! Truthfully, it’s success came from the people. The ground swell of word of mouth dropkicked it over so many goalposts both here and abroad- that Paramount had to re-release it.

In a perfect world, the 1991 film Ted and Venus which you wrote, directed, and starred in would receive its own following as well.  Were  there any personal inspirations behind creating this film, which I have heard was based on true events?  And are we ever going to see an American DVD release?

There is a bootleg DVD that people have tracked down online. I personally would love to have it properly re-released to DVD by the studio. I also would love to have another quick pass in editing. I shot stuff that would be wild for today’s audiences but back in 1991 the studio was, hmmm… shall we say a little reticent? Nevertheless, I got about 99 percent of what I was going for, but for me that missing one percent still drives me nuts. That also includes the title, which they made me change from Love In Venice (which I thought was a beautiful and apt take on Death In Venice) to Ted and Venus which came out of what I was told was “market research”. I found out the distributor had made three phone calls to New York and asked “what would you rather hear Bud Cort’s new film called? Love In Venice or Ted and Venus (which was obviously a play on Harold and Maude). They went with the cheesier title.

So many people have told me the film was way ahead of its time. Others have remarked that they’d seen the film and they had obviously missed it when it came out in the 70’s. That was my biggest complement because I obsessed over the look of the film, which took place in the 70’s but actually was made in the 90’s. It was based on an LA Weekly cover story that did actually happen. For some reason I was not allowed to print that at the beginning of the film.  I really am proud of the film. Peter Bogdanovich told me it was the best first film directed by an actor he’d seen since John Cassavetes. Gena Rowlands was in it by the way what a superb actress and babe.

It would also behoove me to mention a film you did prior to Harold and Maude, known as Gasss! by the infamous cult filmmaker  Roger Corman.  I know it’s been  quite a while, but was it a unique scenario working with the king of crazy, Mr. Corman?  

It was definitely an experience.  Certain costumes on supposedly dead heroes like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and JFK, instead of being realistic were turned into Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade caricatures. I personally was offended and didn’t want to shoot with them. But I’ve seen Roger many times over the years and he is one of the most personable gentlemen in the business.

Aside from a varied and lengthy acting career, you started out as an artist, primarily a portrait painter. Is there anywhere across the land a common observer can see or purchase work from you?

You’d have to haunt Rye, New York where I grew up, because I did so many portraits of Rye residents and their children and their dogs that I was usually walking around bleary eyed. I finally gave it up because I wanted to act full time, which I’d actually been doing since nursery school anyway. With time I realized that every part I played could actually be its own portrait.

Ricki Lee Jones with Bud (smiling) – August 2012

Thanks for the “legendary”! In February of this year I had a full knee replacement (They found I had no cartilage I’m sure from all the theater pratfalls and physical hi-jinx in films over the years). I’ve still got six more months of out-patient physical therapy to go – and then my surgeon tells me I should be back to 100 percent. I have some projects lined up and fortunately the creative team are able to wait for me.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Rickie Lee Jones’s new album “The Devil You Know”. It’s cray cray good.

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

2 Responses to Bud Cort [Interview]

  1. I wish we could see you more often. I was sad to hear about your accident.

  2. April Dayns says:

    This interview with Bud Cort is more to my liking. Some people seem to insist on hanging darkened clouds about the most talented souls out there, go figure. The movie Harold and Maude also saved a bit of the 1970’s spirit along with its general genius. I was about 11 years old when this movie came out…. Today I love watching it as great memorabilia to a time passed, but a great time in history. It was good to be Bud Cort in 1971 and it should still be great to be this accomplished, loved actor. Congratulations to Bud Cort.

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