Charlton Heston

Entertainment Magazine: Film: Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston: The Interview

Originally published in Entertainment Magazine
May 1985 edition

(Charlton Heston was one of the most popular American movie star in the world. He was born on October 4, 1923 and died April 5, 2008.)

After more than fifty starring roles in films and many in the theatre and television, Charlton Heston is still bemused at receiving a huge salary for doing what he'd rather do more than anything else. Currently, Heston portrays Jason Colby, the wealthy, tough business magnate in "The Colby's," airing on ABC-TV.

After appearing in a school playlet at age five, Heston decided to become an actor "since it was a one-room school with thirteen kids in eight grades, landing the role was hardly an endorsement of my talent," he said. Nevertheless, he can't remember ever wanting to be anything but an actor.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Heston spent his early years at St. Helen, Michigan, a northwoods hamlet where his father was a mill operator. His wife, Lydia, with son, Fraser, and daughter, Holly Ann, currently live atop Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills.

Heston hosted the March 28th program of NBC's "Saturday Night Live." The SNL producers have sought Heston for quite sometime. But due to his hectic "Colby's" taping schedule, Heston has been unavailable to host the show until now.

"Saturday Night Live" does some of the best and most . biting satire in television history," notes Heston.

Q. Nick Mancuso, who worked with you on "Mother Lode" and recently starred in NBC's series, "Stingray," said you showed him how to look at the daily prints and vow to constantly evaluate your work.

HESTON: Being able to review your work is one of the definitive. characteristics of film for an actor and a director, too. In the theatre, you can't see what you have done. For actors, this is dearly impossible. But even as a director, what you do exists only in time, and that day's rehearsal can never be seen again. You remember it, can't see it!.

In a film, you can see your work, best in the raw dailies. If you wait for the finished film as many actors do, because looking at dailies can be a painful experience you can only see the-best that can be done with what you did on a given day you see what the director and the editor have made with the shots you did. That's not useful.

From my first film; I've been looking at dailies. It's one of the most valuable learning experiences I've had working in film.

Q. Always seeing and evaluating. That is part of going for perfection.

HESTON: You must be a harsher critic than anyone else is either equipped, or prepared, or willing to be because you're more concerned than anyone else in making your work better.

Q: Too many people listen to critics.

HESTON: Critics serve a function, but I don't think it includes instructing the people who make plays and films. Their function is with the public. Many do it well, depending on their capacities and experiences and all kinds of subjective factors.

Any reaction to any work of ait is by definition. subjective. People who make films and plays have all kinds of stories about critics, because when they don't like us it hurts our ego and we say things like: Critics are like eunuch in a harem. They see it going on every night and tliey have an idea what's suppose to happen, but they don't have a clue about how to do it.

The most usefulthing I've ever heard about critics was said to me by Laurence Olivier. We shared a disasterous flop on Broadway a number of years ago: I was very young and green at the time. Afterwards, going thi ough a bottle of brandy arid wincing, moments' after the bad notices were phoned into Sardi's, I said, 'Well. I guess you learn to dismiss bad notices.' He looked at me and took hold of. my arm ... hard. 'Chuck,' he said, 'what is rnore important and much harder is to learn to dismiss the good ones.' And that's the bloody truth.

Q: You did a biography on Jason Colby, the character you play on TV. You summarized him by describing how he goes home each night.

HESTON: His determination is to go through his own front door every night justified .

Q: Again, it is the notion of reaching for perfection and also for self-respect.

HESTON: To me, it's not just always trying to do your best, but keeping your promises- which is the other half. Promise includes little things, like coming to work on time, and never, in the Texas phrase, being the kind of man who cuts and runs.

Q: I think people across the country see a strong leadership quality in your personality. and in how you project yourself as an actor. Maybe that is why a group has been trying to get you to run for public office.

HESTON: I can't say there's a cause and effect relationship there. Maybe it's because I've already been President of the United States three times.

Q: Which ones?

HESTON: I played Andrew Jackson in two films, Thomas Jefferson in another film, and the voice of Franklin Roosevelt in a series.

Q: You served as President of the Screen Actors Guild/or six terms- more than anybody else. Ronald Reagan served before you.

HESTON: Yes. He was in his last term as president and I left before it was completed when I was first on the Board. I didn't succeed him as president.

Like many, many of my colleagues. I undertake a number of public sector responsibilities. My profession has treated me very well; it seems important to pay some of that back. I've tried to do that, and certainly to work with the Guild. In all, I've worked more than ten years with them, including the presidency.

Q: You've had so many film roles. Is there a particular one that you like the most?

HESTON: When I look at my career, I look, I think properly, for those films with which I'm not satisfied. Of course, there Wire films where I was, and still am pleased. They made a lot of money, or won a lot of prizes, or were particularly challenging like the Shakespearean roles or the historical roles. .

But, I don't look back on them and say, "My, what a good, boy I was on that." There's no use in that. I'm proud of some of them. I've learned·from all of them, and. I'd like to do every one of them over again and get it right! That's really my ambition: to get it right, one time.

Q: Your early days as an actor were in New York.

HESTON: I was making the rounds and beginning to find a foothold in the stage, and in live TV. It was a very lucky period for me. Of course, live. TV was an accident ... an enormously valuable one.

To one generation of actors: me. Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, Walter Mathau, Maureen Stapleton, Joanne Woodward, Jimmy Dean and so on ... and writers like Rod Serling and Paddy Chavevsky and a half dozen others and directors like Frank Schaeffner, George Royhill, and Arthur Penn, it was an opportunity that had not come before, and will not come again.

When live TV became viable all the people in film were, under exclusive contract. There was no question about . their doing TV. They were not allowed to do it. It wasn't even discussable. People on the stage or any reputation wouldn't work in live TV because it didn't pay much money, and it was considered kind of tacky.

So that left this whole marvelous new medium no one knew anything about to us ... a bunch of green kids, for the first two or three years, The entire lifetime of live TV only lasted about. 10 years anyway, It was an opportunity beyond measure.

Q: Why did you first get into it?

HESTON: Because I was out of work. I had no reputation In the theatre. though I'd done a couple of plays, I wasn't under contract to a film company. I'd been offered contracts, but didn't want any exclusive contracts.

Then I did "Julius Caesar." on TV and in the space of 16 months, as a freelance actor with no reputation and relatively little experience. I did "Taming of the Shrew," "Wuthering Heights," "0/ Human Bondage," "Jane Eyre," "Macbeth," and some Henry James, and you know you're going to genome good parts in that bunch!

Q: Did you work with any of those earlier people?

HESTON: I worked with Frank Schaffner and Arthur Penn. I never did any of Chayevsky's or Rod Serling's work. I worked with some of the actors like Jack Lemmon and Maureen Stapleton. It was a unique opportunity. There was this whole new medium but the people of reputation and experience were denied it.

Q: Some people say the arts have changed so much in the past four decades, that we have become more of a 'pop art culture.'

HESTON: The arts, especially the performing arts, have always depended on audience acceptance, and the audience changes. As production costs have increased, reaching the broadest possible demographics is more and more irnperative which means there is less opportunity for experimenting with the smaller films and so forth. But that's more an economic change that anything else.

Q: You have worked as both a director and an actor.

HESTON: In film, directing is the central contribution. Tleconverse is true on the stage, but I enjoy doing both. Each role in each medium has something that challenges you, and teaches you, and offers satisfaction you can't find in the other.

Q: Do you see any new projects coming up that you might want to take advantage of?

HESTON: I most certainly better have ·one for next. spring, because that's when I'll have finished my current season on "The Colby's." l didn't do a film this year, so I'll do one next year. ButI don't know what it'll be yet.

Q: You have played so many roles .. Which ones remain?

HESTON: Good ones! Obviously, there are parts now I'm too old for, but on the other hand from the beginning I played an awful lot of part I was too young for. So I'm sure there are more good surprises to come.

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