LONDON - "Well, you've got to pay taxes one way or the other, so why not plow it back into the industry?" David Hemmings asked. "Actors can be big dollar-earners. That was the reason the Beatles were on the Queen's List, wasn't it? Because they were such a help in the balance of payments."
Hemmings was speaking not as an actor but as a company. A year ago he went public, selling shares of Hemdale Ltd., as a way of avoiding England's high personal tax rates. "It's one thing to evade taxes," he said. "It's another thing to avoid them. I'm now able to keep about a third of my earnings rather than a sixth . . ."
The earnings must be considerable. Since he starred in Antonioni's "Blow-Up," there have been times when it seemed that Hemmings was in every third movie produced. He has made seven in the past two years, including "Charge of the Light Brigade," "Barbarella" and, currently, "The Walking Stick."
His salary is paid to Hemdale, an organization which employs 90 other people and is diversified into public relations, communications, publishing, personal management and recording.
To stay on top of this business empire while also working as an actor, Hemmings consumes enormous energy. Samantha Eggar, his co-star in "Walking Stick," says Hemmings goes like a dynamo for a week or 10 days, "and then just sort of collapses for awhile. But he claims he's in perfect health: whenever he breaks an arm or a leg or anything, he says he has remarkable recuperative powers . . ."
Hemmings talked about his business affair during a break in the shooting of "Walking Stick," a thriller in which he plays an artist and Miss Eggar plays a polio victim. Hemmings sat in his dressing room, a large trailer which was brought directly onto the sound stage, and you had the feeling he was only lingering here a moment before zapping away to consummate a deal. His new wife, actress Gayle Hunnicutt, waited outside in the family's silver gray Bentley.
"The secret of business," Hemmings said, "is in the delegation of power. My father joins Hemdale on Monday and his job will be to go around to our small subsidiaries and make sure they're making their contribution. He'll be a sort of executive trouble-shooter.
"And with help like that, I'm able to keep on top of the company and still spend my day acting. I make one telephone call a day, to sort of keep in touch, but I want other people doing the business drudgery and leaving me free for the creative things."
His chief creative difficulty, he said, is to keep his image from being frozen into the sort of character he played in "Blow-Up": a switched on, swinging photographer and all that sort of thing.
"One of the problems in the movie business is that you have to be either a personality or an actor," he said. "If you're a personality, you cultivate an image. If you're an actor, you try to keep changing it. A lot of the roles I've been offered would have perpetrated the 'Blow-Up' image, and I didn't want that. So I've shopped around. I've made some mistakes - you can't work with Antonioni every week - but I've been able to remain an actor. Of course it goes without saying that if Antonioni asked me to work with him tomorrow I'd go anywhere in the world." he thought a moment. "For no money," he added.
After "Walking Stick," he said he would very much like to direct a film. But first he will co-star with his wife in "Fragment of Fear," which he described as a "sort of melodrama about an ex-junkie involved in strange circumstances and getting paranoid . . ." before he lost the train of thought.
Would Hemmings' company finance and produce either film?
"Good God no," he said. "We're going into production in 1970. But first we want to diversify some more before subjecting our public investors to the risks of the film industry."
Are the shareholders happy so far?
"They should be," Hemmings said. "I opened at two shillings and now I'm up to 15."