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Richard in Dream Watch

Note: At the time this interview was done (October 31st, 1997) the title of The following interview appeared in Dream Watch, issue #51. Many thanks to Lois for sending it and the pictures along! -Q

It may be astounding, but time is, indeed, fleeting. As The Rocky Horror Show celebratesx 25 risqué years, John Mosby talks exclusively to its creator, Richard O'Brien...

Mosby: The Rocky Horror Show is twenty-five years young. Had you any idea that it would be the cult success it turned out to be?

Richard: No, not really. When I was writing it, all I was doing was entertaining myself and writing a show that I, personally, would have liked to have gone and seen. The fact that other people wanted to go and see it as well and got enjoyment from it was quite astonishing in the first place. That somebody actually wanted to put it on was even more astonishing, truthfully. After five weeks... well, we all know what fringe theatre is. It's that showcase theatre that exists in towns with a commercial theatre and has, to an extent, replaced repertory theatre. Rep theatres are a thing of the past, so fringe theatre is a place for young actors to keep acting when they are not being employed by the commercial sector. I thought Rocky fitted into that category and five weeks later it would dissapear, like most of it does.

M: Is Rocky based on your love or loathing of Fifties movie-making?

R: It wasn't that I was a huge fan of the Fifties movies... I was there! I used to go to the Late Night Double Feature. I was one of those whey-faced youths making gormlessness an art form. I loved it. I was a teenager the very year they first coined the phrase. When they started giving me rock n' roll, I thought they were doing it just for me. I thought teddy-boys and greasers were great -- that was me.

M: No-one seems to be able to explain why this stage-show still works so well --- and why others haven't managed to capture the public's imagination in the same way.

R: I think it's a collection of a lot of clichés and you could only do that so often. What happens with Rocky, which I think is its saving grace, is that though it is a collection of clichés -- lovingly garnered together and reworked into a new recipe -- it doesn't fall into pastiche at all. It has its own originality. Look at Grease. For me that was a pastiche of the Fifties concept. The narrative isn't very strong: Sandy and DAnny fall in love and all she does at the end is swap her pink skirt for a pair of sprayed on lycra trousers. It's not really a jump forward in narrative terms. The enjoyment of Grease is the way it parodies Fifties pop music. Rocky takes Fifties pop music but it doesn't parody. Hopefully I was writing songs which I loved. I wasn't saying that this was the way it was in the Fifties.

xM: Was it a surprise that this modestly immodest stage-show got transformed into an equally cult Hollywood movie?

R: Again, it's one of those great mysteries, isn't it? There we are as a fringe event and even when we transferred we were only playing to 500 people a night! We were not in a 1500 seated theatre in the West End. We hadn't got an Andrew-Lloyd Webber attached! What we had was a cult, underground, 'you have to see this show' press and word of mouth. The fact that someone came forward and offered $1.25 million to make a movie was astonishing. We were also allowed to keep many of the original stage cast. Usually when you get dough from America they want the film rights. 'Yeah, we want Meryl Streep to play that part... etc.' They take it away from you. It's a bit of a fight for British people to keep artistic control of something when the money comes from Hollywood. But we did. The whole story of Rocky Horror is quite amazing. It had a life of its own and it continues to do so.

M: The Anniversary Tour with Jason Donovan has a few alterations to the format. It's slightly 'glossier.' Is this just natural evolution?

R: I think it has evolved. We're loathed to tamper with it. If it's not broken, you don't have to fix it. Personally, I'd like to peel it right back, but there's a danger in that too. I once played the Narrator for one night. I took the fun out of it for the audience because I wasn't prepared to natter back to them. I was going to lend it some gravitas and play it the way it had been in the first place. The more po-faced and studiously grave you are, I believe, the funnier it gets. Over the ensuing years the banter with the audience has increased. I didn't want to play it like that and did it completely straight. It took about three or four years before all that started. It is certainly in the last fifteen years that it has become entrenched.

M: As well as Rocky Horror, you've done quite a bit of other screen work too...

R: The first movie I appeared in was Carry On Cowboy, though not as an actor. I was just riding horses. I remember being a special extra in a film called Zee and Co. We were hippies and called up. There were party scenes that we just turned up for and were part of the background. But The Rocky Horror Picture Show was basically the first proper job.

M: Quite a few people remember you from your guest appearances in Robin of Sherwood.

R: That was another period of my life when I thought that I would try to raise my visibility. I turned up on Robin of Sherwood to have a make-up check. I had already read the script and I got an arrow between the shoulder blades! They were shooting the end of a two-part story. The director came across and said that he wanted me for the shot, but by this point I should have already been dead. He'd decided against killing me off. So, without any rehearsing, I walked out of make-up, went onto the set and did a bit of acting! When I was finished I thought it was very nice. It had been two episodes, I'd got to work with Oliver Cotton and the Merry Men.

I got a call later saying that they were doing another episode that they wanted me to be in. They'd written it especially for my character which I thought was very kind of them (laughs). I went down and shot it with a different director, whom I don't really want to talk about! When they were wrapping the whole thing up, they invited me back again for the very last episode. It was another two-parter and two weeks work. I thought it was amazing bearing in mind that I was supposed to have been killed off in the original! The producer admitted that they had had a talk with the boys and asked them who'd they like to work with in the last episode. They'd all said me --- because I was the most fun on the set! I thought that was great. I was expecting them to say it was because I was a fine actor (laughs). I was actually 'stroking' the producer to get something back about my acting 'skills.' Instead I got the real reason, which I guess is really not a bad reason for being employed!

M: You've been in two movies this year: the stylish Dark City and the just x released Cinderella-inspired Ever After.

R: Dark City was one of those jobs in which it was so easy to turn up on the set for work. There was nobody there who needed their ego stroking, no clashes of temperament or pomposity. It was a long haul, but every day was a nice day surrounded by pleasant people. That is very rare. I dislike the idea that actors are somehow more important than anybody else on the set. I don't like the way that is courted sometimes.

M: What do you have planned in the future?

R: It's a play about a living girl who visits the Land of the DEad and the question down there is: Is there life before death? Well, suddenly here comes the proof! It's a philosophical discussion for what life means to the girl. She's almost given up and by the end, she discovers she's not afraid of life anymore. The message must be almost hidden in the piece, but you don't crack a nut with a sledge-hammer. It takes me a while to pick up a pen, so it may be a while.



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The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996