TALK SHOW WITH HARPER SIMON | EPISODE 2
Acting Legend Harry Dean Stanton Reflects on Life, Love & The Void
Film actor. Born on July 14, 1926 in West Irvine, Kentucky, USA, indie film star Harry Dean Stanton served in the navy during World War II. He studied at the University of Kentucky and the Pasadena Playhouse.
A solid supporting actor, Stanton appeared in numerous feature films, many of them Westerns, before starring in 1984’s Paris, Texas and the cult classic Repo Man. Later films include The Last Temptation of Christ (1988),Hostages (1992), The Green Mile (1999), The Straight Story (1999), and The Pledge (2000).
He is also a renowned musician and raconteur and the subject of the documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.
Hollywood legend Harry Dean Stanton discusses his rich film career – beginning with his first leading role in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas – and reveals details about his close relationships with Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, and also names the loves of his life and explains his views on religious philosophy.
Harry says his 1984 film Repo Man remains one of his favorite movies, along with the cult classic, Paris, Texas.
He got involved with Paris, Texas through Sam Shepard, whom he describes as “a brilliant writer.” He recalls being in Albequerque, NM, with Shepard while listening to a Mexican Mariachi band and expressing his desire to be in a different kind of film.
“Somewhere along the line I said, ‘I wish I could be in a movie with some intelligence and sensitivity,’ and I wasn’t pitching myself to Sam or anything. I just said I’d like to do a film with some sensitivity, intelligence, something along that line.” So he said he went back to L.A. and quickly got a call from Shepard, inviting him to consider being the lead in the film.
He agreed to the idea, but said Wenders initially thought he was too old for the role. Although it was his first real leading role, Harry says it was just another portrayal in his career. “Wim (Wenders) tried to say that I was daunted by it, but he’s full of shit,” he recalls.
He says he agreed to do the film, but not without his own conditions. “I said I’ll do it, but only if you and the producer and everybody involved is totally enthusiastic about me doing the part. And then I said, whoever plays my son in it, I should have a close relationship with off-camera. And whoever plays my brother in it, I should be very close to off-camera.”
Wim went to see him twice and he told him his conditions and the director agreed to hire him. He also recounts how he bonded with the boy who plays his son, Hunter Carson, during a reading of the script before Carson had been picked for the role.
He also explains how he bonded with co-star Dean Stockwell during an impromptu meeting at a bar. “Dean, I wish I were more eloquent,” he says about the question he posed during the chance encounter at Hollywood hotspot Barney’s Beanery. “And he said, Harry Dean, you are eloquent.’ And I said, ‘Thank you, I love you.’ And he said, I love you too. That was our bonding.”
He also reveals that he was roommates with Jack Nicholson in the ‘60s. “I think it was in 1967… we lived together two-and-a-half years on a little street called Utica Drive.” Harry served as best man at Nicholson’s wedding to his one and only wife, Sandra Knight – all before Nicholson was famous.
“We did a scene together where he kills me with a spike to my eye, which he invented. He was dressed as a woman and in one of the scenes and I tore all his clothes off. Arthur Penn was the director, and he said ‘What the hell is he doing there’ – wardrobe is there trying to put his clothes back on.” Harry said Brando asked him, “Why did you tear my clothes off, I got a gun here. I said ‘Yeah, but you weren’t looking.’”
He said that after that on-set encounter, they didn’t see each other for years. “But the last three years of his life, Marlon and I were very close – we talked on the phone for hours. He taught me Shakespearean monologues from The Tempest and Macbeth… I was very honored and blessed to know Marlon… He was awesome, he was great.”
He also reveals the loves of his life, one of which being Rebecca De Mornay. “We lived together about a year-and-a-half,” he said. “She left me for Tom Cruise. We’re soul mates, I still love her.”
He names another, “Debra Harry and I.” But when asked whether he ever had sex with her, Harry responds, “I’m not going to say.”
He also talks about serving in the Navy in World War II, stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
When asked what religion or philosophy he subscribes to, Harry responded, “I don’t have any religion – no beliefs. The whole Eastern concept is ‘The Void,’ no answer. Meaningless – there’s no answer to anything. It’s all one connected hole. Taoism, Buddhism, and the Jewish Kabbalah, which most Jews don’t get anyway – it’s the same thing, the real Kabbalah. There’s no answer, it’s ‘The Void,’ no beginning, no end. Only the moment, right here, right now.”
Watch the full interview to also hear Harry’s thoughts on working with Alfred Hitchcock, about his roots growing up in Kentucky, and to see him perform a moving rendition of the Mexican folk song Cancion Mixteca, accompanied by host Harper Simon.