EXCLUSIVE EMAIL INTERVIEW WITH JAMES BOOTH!
by Diana Blackwell
In January 2002 I met film scholar Sheldon Hall online. Sheldon was at that time engaged in making the extras for the digital re-release of Zulu and doing research for his magnificent book, Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It. I showed him the then-much-scantier bio from this very site, and during one of his in-person interviews with James, Sheldon told James about my website and showed him the bio.
James may have taken some of it amiss, for he suddenly emailed me out of the blue to say he had made "all those crappy films" (his phrase, not mine!) because he had a family to support. Horrified that I had gotten off on the wrong foot with the person I had most hoped to please with my efforts--someone with whom I had had no contact whatsoever heretofore, in spite of trying-- I replied with a passionate (but respectful) fan letter. This seemed to help, for James warmed up a little and invited me to "keep in touch," saying he would tell me all about his life.
Over the course of the next three years I sent him many batches of questions about his life and career, most of which he answered (albeit briefly). Not reproduced here, for the most part, are the questions he declined to answer, including questions about his childhood and family, and the many follow-up questions I intended to ask, for which it is now too late.
I would also have liked to taken issue with his oft-repeated opinion that Michael Caine got all the attention from Zulu. Though Bromhead gets more screen time than Hook, and though Michael Caine may have become more widely known through his role than Booth, nevertheless the comparatively dislikable Bromhead doesn’t generate anywhere near the kind of reactions that Hookie does, even among fans of Michael Caine. Bromhead is a well-wrought movie character; Hookie is the object of a cult-within-a-cult. James didn’t seem to grasp this (possibly because the role represented only a couple of weeks’ work for him) but he, of all people, deserved to.
My questions are in italics. James's replies are in ordinary, non-italic print, and have been reproduced here exactly as I received them (except for the numbering, which had to be redone). James's words have not been altered, edited, or corrected in any way. This means they contain some spelling mistakes, typos, etc., and in one case (regarding “rednecks”) his answer ends in the middle of a sentence! I have not fiddled with any of these mistakes, reasoning that they are of greater interest and value to readers and posterity than my edits could possibly be. Nor have I peppered the text with [sic], reasoning that it would be distracting and a bore.
Before getting into the actual interview, however, you will find one complete email message from James—the first in which he began to answer some of my questions directly. Like any sustained bit of self-expression, it seems to convey its author’s personality and style. It’s also of interest for what James says about his name.
THE EMAIL MESSAGE
diana....sorry i,ve been lying low but i,ve been up to my ass in one thing and
another....mislaid your list of questions in hong kong due to an over zealous
maid..so would you send them again and i will try to answer them....dont
remember harold speller or his mothers house although i did go to the kursaal
club in my youth..
my real name is david geeves-booth...when i joined the old vic theatre after leaving the royal academy of dramatic art they said i should,nt use the name geeves it sounded too much like a butler...so it was david booth..then actors equity told me there was another david booth so i used my grandfathers name..jim..so i became james booth.....regards david geeves booth...alias..james booth..ps you can this harod speller my e mail address..tho perhaps you should check him out first..
1. What do you think is the essence of Hook's personality in your portrayal? What makes him tick? Why do people like him?
hook is a rebel..people like rebels..and i,m quite a good guy..i think/
2. Did you draw on your own military experience in creating this character?
only my experience in bayonet drill with the military
3. What did you do to prepare for the role of Hook? (One of my penpals thinks you went on a strength-and-flexibility program for the role. True or false?)
4. George Smith (http://instereo.topcities.com/Lost_Zulu.html) writes that the fire in the hospital got out of control and shooting had to be stopped. Is that true?
5. During the hospital fight scene, where you and a Zulu are struggling over the same spear, there’s a slight break in the action, although the finished film is edited to minimize this. What happened there?
argument between director and editor i think.
6. The brandy scene is beautiful, visually and spiritually. What function do you think this scene has within the film, and did the scene have any special meaning for you?
a final finger up at military authority..i thought it was a good idear at the time..besides it was real brandy.
7. Hook is totally hot. Am I the only person who gets this? Or did you have a lot of groupies after Zulu?
i did get a lot of fan mail at the time..but all the publicity went to michael as he was blonde and beautiful and the british critics idear of what an english hero should look like....
8. The original script for Zulu contained a number of scenes that did not make it into the final film (e.g., a scene of Chard and Miss Witt holding hands!). Did you have any scenes that weren’t included in the final film? Did you make anything up that wasn’t in the script?
none of my
scenes were cut and most of them were improvised.
9. Hook wears a little neck scarf (and so do several other characters you play: Jubal Billings, Dyson, Burk). Whose idea was the scarf? What does it signify?
the scarf?./.it was hot and i thought it looked good.
10. In the screenplay, was Hook's nickname spelled "Hookie" or "Hooky"?
hookie or hooky was,nt written..it was written as hook..hookie was just actors trying to make it familiar and real.
11. Do you still have a copy of the screenplay?
12. When did you first know that you wanted to act?
always an actor in my head...being a liar i did,nt know the difference between
truth and fiction.
13. What do you think is your best performance ever?
play...:fings aint what they userd to be" on london stage.
14. If you hadn’t been able to go into acting, what other career might you have pursued?
are the same..good scripts and good parts are rare.
15. What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to do as an actor?
learn shitty lines.
16. When you said your favorite roles are those in which you can relax,
what did you mean? Can you give some examples?
still looking for it.
17. Are there any parts you never got to play but wish you had because you would have been perfect for them? (Personally, I think you would have made a wonderful Bill Sikes.)
your right about bill sykes..unfortunately the film was directed by oliver reeds uncle carol reed.
18. Which of your films was the most fun for you to do? Which was the biggest drag?
of mrs blossom"..unfortunately the film was lousy.
19. How would you define greatness in an actor? Are there any actors or actresses whom you particularly admire? Any you think are over-rated?
on film....gene hackman..cary
grant..humphry bogart..charles laughton paul muni jim broadbent albert finney
spencer tracey harold lloyd......believe it or not...jim carey, who needs
direction ans mike meyers.
over rated.....tom cruise stephan segal..mr van damn.horrible.chuck norris ..yuck and i,m afraid..sir michael cain..an egomaniacle ego maniac...
20. You’re very good at playing villains. Why is that?
i,ve know a lot of villians in my life..some of them have been good friends.
21 .What advice would you give to aspiring film actors?
think very hard about it..you have more chance becoming a brain surgeon.
22. A journalist writes of you, “he is loath to play lover-type roles.” Why is that?
nobody asked me to play a serious lover...i,m not robert taylor..i allways tended to play it for comedy.
23. How did you deal with love scenes when they were required of you—in Ninety Degrees in the Shade, for example, or Sparrows Can’t Sing?
[no answer given--db]
24. One website says you appeared in an episode of M.A.S.H. Can you describe the episode and your part in it?
i never did an episode of mash, altrhough they did ask me..
25. The Internet Movie Database says you’re now making a movie called “Keeping Mum.” Is it true? What kind of role are you playing?
i,m playing a grumpy old man...my kinda stuff
26. What kind of music do you listen to for pleasure?
27. You’ve lived in the UK and the US. Could you clarify the chronology? Where did you live while you were in the States, and what did you think of America?
in usa from 1975... first in new york with the royal shakespeare theatre company. on broadway with the play ''travessties'...then i moved to la with my family.we lived in hollywood,tarzana,malibu,westwood and chatsworth..for the last ten years i,ve had a house in englandand i suppose we commute...i love americaand would live there all the time, but my wife feels more at home in England
28. Your She Magazine interview says you married the stage manager of the first play you were in. What year did you marry Paula? Are you still together?
yes i did marry paula a stage manager in 1960
You also told one interviewer, “I hope [our first baby] is a boy. I wouldn’t know what to say to a girl.” Did you ever figure out how to talk to your daughters?
my daughters are both too smart for me...i love them both..and my youngest daughters son ..miles...is a genious on his way to an ivy league university and my eldest daughters son.......sam , is 13 and looks like hw,s going to be a great actor...we,ll see
29. How many grandchildren do you have now?
we have 5 grandchildren,,,4 in the usa one in england....altho he,s keen to join his cousins and my daughter his mother is dating an old boyfriend an american in la. by the way..she,s divorced.
30. Several people have described you as “an authentic Tough Guy,” “not someone to mess with,” “somebody who can take care of himself,” etc. Is that how you see yourself? Have you been in many real-life fights?
no.....i,m a coward at heart..although i,ve won most of the fights i,ve been forced into........thank god/
31. In your She interview with Romany Bain, you said that without your family as an anchor you would probably drink yourself to death. You’ve made other references to alcohol, and Joan Littlewood said of you that “at all hours he could be found propping up the bar.” Has drinking ever been a problem for you?
yes...i probably would have drunk myself to death...paula saved me../...problem? it ruined my career. dont do it.
32. What type of woman do you find attractive? What mental or physical qualities do you look for?
i find most women attractive..especially the smart ones. .........................
33. What are you proudest of?
i.m proudest of my lovely grandchildren...
34. Do you have any pets?
no, i dont have pets. although i,ve had six or seven dogs at a time...my youngest daughter brought home all the strays in la.
35. Do you have any religious affiliation? If so, are you very devout?
yes.. i would loosly call myself a christian...but i,m mainly wicked.....
36. Apart from your own work, what are some of your favorite films?
'key largo' was one of my favorite movies ..with all my favorite actors....
37. In The Hellions, Adam’s Woman, and elsewhere, you look very comfortable on horseback. Do you ride for pleasure?
no.. i can't ride...i was faking and terrified...
38. Are you a big sports fan? Do you play anything besides Cricket?
yes i,m a sports fan..soccer, football etc. i dont play now. i,ve passed my sell by date.
39. What are your favorite food and your favorite beverage?
food?none really..it all tastes the same.....bevereges...hot tea with milk and
suger..coffee and any juice.....no booze.
40. The Internet Movie Database now has some trivia about you (which I did not post…leading me to wonder who did). One item says you are 6’ 2”. I had read in earlier articles about you that you are 6’ 4”. Could you please tell me your correct height?
i was 6.4 but seem to have shrunk in my old age to 6.2 or thereabouts..jim booth
41. You were business partners with Johnny Speight in a company called Speijim. In what year did you form this company? What sort of projects did Speijim undertake? What ultimately happened to Speijim?
hello....speijim did,nt really work..johny and me spent most of our time in bars and did,nt take it seriously enough.
42. You’ve been involved in several martial arts films: The Confrontation, The
Annihilation, Avenging Force, Pray for Death. How did you get interested in martial
i am not
interested in martial arts..but i became involved because i wrote some stuff for
43. Have you studied or practiced any martial arts yourself?
i know very
little about martial arts.
44. I saw your email to Jonah Jones about a martial arts film you were going
to shoot in Wolverhampton. How is that project coming along?
i don,t think i know jonah jones. i know nothing about wolverhampton.
45. You’ve done a lot of comedy. I think that even your serious
performances show a sense of humor, (usually a rather dark, cynical one). But
you’ve also played in quite a few farces. Twice that I know of you worked with
John Cleese. Any comment?
know john cleese . i met him once..a very intelligent man.
46. One of my correspondents thinks your comedic style was influenced by
that of Tony Hancock, who was popular on British TV but remains unknown in
the US. Could you explain what, if anything, you have in common with him?
i gues we both shared insanity and bouts of depression..but tony hancock was a genious..a great one off and on his day the funniest man alive.. also his writers,galton and simpson.
47. When did you start screenwriting?
offered me an acting job.
48. What attracts you to writing and how did you choose the subject matter for each story?
desperation...because it wa relatively easy for me.
49. Stormin’ Home, which you co-wrote, shows an intimate familiarity with American redneck subculture. Was that the work of your co-author, or did you somehow become familiar with this milieu yourself?
i know quite a lot about redneck culture..my cousine married a
50. The part you wrote for yourself in Pray for Death gives you many opportunities for action, especially fighting (as well as some beautifully ugly lines). What attracts you to this type of role?
i suppose i,m a bit of a bastad at heart..
51. Limehouse Willy was the name of a real British gangster back in the
sixties. Did you base your Limehouse character on this person?
i knew limehouse willie personally..he was a good friend of mine together with the kray twins and various other naughty boys.
52. Avenging Force has as its villains a secret organization of powerful racist fascists who call themselves Pentangle. Where did you get the inspiration for this?
53. Do you read much? Are there any authors or books that have strongly impressed you?
54. Did you create the role of Paddy in Almost Strangers with yourself in mind?
i,m too old.
55. As far as I know, the screenplays you’ve written are:
American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991)
Stormin’ Home (1985),
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987),
Pray for Death (1985),
King Harry (date unknown),
Almost Strangers (date unknown),
The Pistol (date unknown)
Accident of War (date unknown).
Could you please say what the dates were on the last four of these? What other screenplays have you written besides these? Which do you think was your best screenplay?
i,ve written dozens of screenplays...the best ones have never been made. find me a friendly investor and i,ll make some great movies.
56. During what years were you in the army? Where you drafted or did you volunteer?
57. Did you ever see combat?
58. What’s the highest rank you attained?
59. Why did you leave the army?
no fun anymore
60. Terry Boniface, who met you at an AZW Weekend, says you served in the Tank Corps and that you suffered hearing damage as a result. How did this damage happen? Does it involve both ears, and how severe is it? Did your diminished hearing ever pose a problem for you as an actor?
[no answer given--db]
61. Your “She” interview says that upon returning to civilian life you found employment in a mining company but also became involved in amateur theater. What gave you the impetus to start acting then?
[no answer given--db]
62. What are some of the roles you played as an amateur?
inquisitor..the gondliers,,,,mercucio.romio and juliet...mr lockit...the beggers
opera cant remember anymore.
63. The interview also says you had so much talent that the director of your theater group urged you to try for RADA. You applied for and received a scholarship. Could you elaborate on all this?
how can i elaborate?.
64. When were you at RADA? Could you describe that experience?
65. You did some Shakespeare early in your career. Did you enjoy it? Do you
think Shakespeare requires any special approach?
to understand english and some history also how to speak verse not like an
english fag but like marlon brando in julius ceasar.
66. Joan Littlewood’s London Theatre Workshop seems to have been very important to your early career. How did you come to be associated with that group and what was it like to work with them?
joan littlewood..a genius...happiest days of my life...next to her all other directors are also runs. did an improvisation for her....she was the best by far.
67. Joan Littlewood describes you in her autobiography. She says you have
your “own peculiar approach to tackling life, and acting.” What was she
talking about? What’s distinctive about your approach to life and acting?
she was saying i was mad..and did,nt give a toss about the phoney geniuses in
this business whid is 90%
68. Littlwood’s autobiography describes your performance as Tosher in Fings Aiin’t Wot They Used T’Be. She said the character had originally been written as “an old geezer” but you created a whole new character, “young and lively.” How did you do this, and where did you get your inspiration for your interpretation of Tosher?
tosher was me.
69. Joan’s Book also says that you and Mickser (who played a police officer)
were “friendly enemies in real life.” Why were you “friendly enemies”?
harris and i were good friends really..we had our differences.. he was full of
irish blarny and a great salesman for himself but he was a grat actor,one of the
70. One commentator (Pat Phoenix, see http://foreverill.com/interviews/1985/phoenix.htm) said that Joan Littlewood “nursed the men” in the Workshop, but “was very hard on the women.” Do you agree?
was a bit too pushy for joan..they did,nt mix.
71. Littlewood and her Workshop have been described as having socialist
leanings. Did you share that philosophy? Why or why not?
in the righjts of man/women....rich and poor.....especially the poor who try
hard but are kept down by the smart and greedy.....
72. In Jazz Boat and In the Nick you play the small-time gangster Spider Kelly. How did you approach this role?
73. Ken Annakin’s autobiography describes the making of The Hellions and the difficulties that arose when he contracted polio before the film was finished. What are your recollections of the making of this film?
ken annakin disappeared one day...polio? news to me.
© Diana Blackwell 2005