We met up with the actor — and now director — to discuss his latest project.
Cowboys & Indians: You’ve devoted most of the past two years to promoting The Divide, your first film as a director, at festivals all over the world. Now that you’re looking at the video and digital release, do you feel like you’ve finally driven the herd to market, and the long trail ride is over?
Perry King: That’s a good way to put it, I suppose. My goal was to make a movie I liked, which I honestly never expected to be able to do. I just assumed it would fall short. But I really like this movie. So I just gave up everything else and thought, I’m going to give this everything I’ve got and see where it leads. I’m still hoping that more people will get to see it on a big screen somehow. But we never really got a theatrical release like we wanted. We’ve had it in a bunch of theaters and stuff, at festivals and other events, but we never got that theatrical release. [Laughs.] And I probably care about that mostly because I’m an old guy. And in my mind, that’s the way movies are supposed to be seen — in a theater on a big screen. But the rest of the world doesn’t operate that way anymore.
C&I: It does seem that, for a lot of movies that aren’t based on comic books, a theatrical release is a mere formality. Or simply a promotion for the video and digital release.
Perry: Oh, boy, that’s for sure. Like everybody else in my generation, I’m mad at Hollywood right now, because they’ve just completely given over to an obsession with $200 million cartoons. And my God, I know that wasn’t why I wanted to be an actor. And I can’t believe that John Ford or John Huston would be making $200 million cartoons right now if they were still around.
C&I: In The Divide, you play Sam Kincaid, a Northern California rancher who’s dealing with two very pressing problems — the mid-1970s drought that is ravaging his land and the Alzheimer’s disease that is ravaging his mind. What was the most difficult part of playing this role?
Perry: Actually, playing Sam was not difficult. It was probably the most comfortable I’ve ever been with a part. And I think the reason is that I had so much time. I’m very slow with anything I do in my life. But since I had so much time to prepare as we raised the budget for the film, I really felt ready to begin when we finally started shooting. I recall doing The Lords of Flatbush years ago — a million years ago — and on the last day of shooting, I remember distinctly thinking, Good, I’m finally ready to begin. But it was over, right? That has happened to me a lot. But in this case, I was ready to play Sam.
C&I: At the same time, though, you had to shoulder responsibilities on the other side of the camera as well.
Perry: But oddly enough, that was very helpful to me as an actor. I knew that if I was directing it, I’d have almost no time to prepare for a shot, or a scene, as an actor — because I’d be busy as a director. So I knew that all the preparation I could do, literally, was between when I said, “Roll camera,” and then, “Action!” And for that reason, I had to use that wonderful advice they sometimes give actors: “Throw yourself into the midst of the moment.”
C&I: What do you think is the best advice about acting you’ve ever received from another actor during filming?
Perry: Of all the wonderful people I’ve gotten to work with, James Mason was the finest. He was the most wonderful, generous, and kind person. And I remember, when we were filming Mandingo back in the 1970s, I was so complicated as an actor. I’d write pages of notes and pore over them before a shot or a scene, making sure that I got everything in there that I planned to get. And one day, he said to me, “Perry, you should really throw those notes away. You’re hurting yourself as an actor with that stuff.”
And then he said — these are his words, and I memorized them as he said them — “What we’re paid to do is to believe that what’s happening is really happening, and has never happened before. It’s that simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple.” And I trusted him with my life, so I immediately threw all my notes away and just followed that advice. And tried to believe that what’s happening was really happening and had never happened before. And my acting in that film suddenly just jumped up a big notch. Because you know what? He was absolutely right.
PRIZE WINNER: Despite its lack of a wide theatrical release, The Divide has obviously impressed the folks who have seen it. Our readers selected it as Best Picture and Perry King as Best Actor of 2018 in balloting for the second annual C&I Movie Awards.
Illustration: Jonathan Fehr
From our February/March 2020 issue.