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VICTOR SPINETTI ON THE JOY OF HELP!

Victor_crop The Beatles’ second feature film, Help!, emerges for the first time ever on DVD next week, and to augment a revealing piece by Director Richard Lester in the current MOJO magazine, we have a rip-roaring interview with Victor Spinetti exclusive to MOJO4music.com. Read the Beatle-endorsed actor-raconteur, as he tells MOJO’s Danny Eccleston how the first scene filmed was nearly the end of the band and – gulp! – what he really thought about Yoko...

Click MORE for the interview, and come back tomorrow for Part 2!

42 years on, what does Help! mean to you?

Help!’s been very good to me. Recently, I was invited [to Las Vegas] as a guest of honour to go and see the musical Love, and then after that I was asked to attend a Beatles convention for three days, at which I gave a talk on what it was like to be in those films. I was paid and there was first class travel, and then the same thing happened to me in Chicago – I did three talks there. It’s taken me three times on the QE2 (laughs).

So, what are those fan conventions like – a bit barmy?

Oh, they’re sweet; the Beatles ones are sweet.  They’re the nicest people. There are people in their early teens, to people who are 80 or 90. They’re so polite. You see, the thing is, those songs were like a reservoir of poetry and melody that flooded all over the world. And so the people who plug into that, don’t plug into any of that rap hate stuff.  There’s no hatred in the music, and there’s joy in it.

What was it like being back with them again?

When we got on the plane at London to go to The Bahamas, you couldn’t hear the engines because the screams were so loud. We didn’t know it was taking off. On the way to the Bahamas, we landed in New York to refuel – we weren’t allowed to get off. This policeman came on the plane and said: “Is there a Victor Spinetti on this plane?” And John said: “They’re deporting you, you fucking wop, you’ve been thrown off!” (Laughs) The policeman said: “Will you come to the door of the plane, please, your fan club are at the airport...” (Laughs) And it was true! I walked to the door of the plane and I received jelly babies and teddy bears, and The Beatles were absolutely astonished. The Beatles and Brian Epstein became card-carrying members of the Victor Spinetti Fanclub Of America (laughs).

What was different this time?

Well, the accommodation was different. In the Bahamas, we were all split up. The stars and all the top rank people, and their families, went to the posh places, and the actors went to various dumps. It didn’t last long because I complained bitterly and we were moved (laughs).

Surely, Equity would have something to say about that?

I remember poor old Roy Kinnear [who played Spinetti’s assistant] saying “Don’t make waves, don’t make waves”, and I said, “Oh fuck off, we’re filming tomorrow; they’re lying around by the pool.”

The first scene shot was you, Roy, Eleanor Bron and Ringo on a yacht…

…And it was nearly the end of The Beatles! It’s when Ringo had to jump into the water and I, as the mad scientist, was meant to try and cut his finger off to get his ring. He dives into the water and comes out all shivering because of course it was cold and there were shark nets – very dangerous. So they dried him off, and then they said “action” and Ringo dived off again. The third time he was being dried off – no private dressing room, just a hair drier – and he said: “Oh, Victor, I don’t want to do this again.” I said, “Why”, and he replied, “I can’t bloody swim.”

How did you rate The Beatles as actors?

Well, they never thought of themselves as actors.

No?

Acting was too interpretive; they were creative. I mean, to sit around all day on a set to go and do ten lines is tedious for most actors, but we’re being paid and we sit there. But when you’re creative, rather than interpretive… I don’t think they would have liked it too much. They might have done it occasionally. I mean, Ringo in A Hard Day’s Night was marvellous, when he was just walking along. And I remember the opening night of Help!, at the end of the Ticket To Ride sequence, the audience just burst into applause. I remember saying to them: “It’s because you have the [ring] of truth – you don’t look like liars.”

Was honesty the key to how they came across on screen?

I think so. Certainly in A Hard Day’s Night, they were just themselves, with four or five cameras running at once, observing them. With Help!, it was much more structured – much more of a proper movie. But they still didn’t look like liars. They might have looked self-conscious. John said to me once: “Whenever the director shouts ‘Action!’ all the actors change but you stay the same. Does that mean you’re as terrible as we are?” (laughs)

Did it surprise you that Ringo was the one who went onto have a film carrier?

No, not at all – look at that face. I remember one interviewer asked him why he didn’t smile more and he said: ‘I don’t have a smiling face.’ He’s in there, looking out. That’s why he didn’t appear to be self-conscious. Like Lawrence Olivier said: “I never want to know who’s out front. Because if I know who’s out front, I’m up there watching me instead of doing it.”

Are you fond of Professor Foot, your mad scientist character? You seemed to have a lot of fun with him?

I did, indeed. Although Dick [Lester] said to me: ‘You don’t appear to be doing anything with this one,’ and I said: ‘I did my lot in A Hard Day’s Night, I’m calming down a bit.’ (Laughs) But it was a good combination of Roy and I because we’d worked together on stage before, so we were used to each other and that came across.

Had The Beatles been changed by another year of the crazy fame?

They hadn’t changed; the people around them had. In the middle of this great whirlwind of Beatlemania, there was this still, small centre where they sat. In the middle of it, you felt like you were sitting in the kitchen, do you know what I mean? The others were in the sitting room, or the drawing room, or the front room, but if you sat with them in the kitchen, they were just the same. The constant putdowns between each other kept everyone sane.

They were as down-to-earth and approachable as they were in the previous film. But, like I said, the people around them were causing tension. I remember driving along in a car – they were all given loan cars on The Bahamas – with their hair flying in the wind and George singing, “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high!” They were the same. What changed them eventually was the split when, you know, there’s somebody else there who doesn’t say hello or smile at you. She’s smiling a lot now, I notice…

Meaning who?

(Pauses) You know who I mean.

You mean Yoko?

Don’t mention her name! (Laughs)

Was she not very friendly to you?

Well, she didn’t speak! Alright, you come into a room, OK, and then someone says ‘This is my new girlfriend’ and they just look at you and they don’t say ‘hello’ or ‘John’s told me so much about you.’ Nothing. And she made John defend her all the time.

Tune in tomorrow for more fireside Beatle chat, Spinetti-style. And on Friday for an exclusive tête-à-tête with Eleanor Bron.

And here’s a reminder of that Ticket To Ride sequence...

Posted by Danny Eccleston at 01:30PM | Categories: Interviews