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Interview with Hywel Bennett

"You see the way his teeth are kind of hooked over his lower lip?" Hywel Bennett asked. "No, make it like this." He hooked his teeth over his lower lip. "Now sort of curl your upper lip," he said, "and...get it? And I'll lay you a quid that's exactly what Brendan Behan was saying to the photographer at the moment the picture was taken!"

Bennett laughed. "Look at the picture the right way and you see it." The picture was a huge blow-up of Behan on the wall of an Irish saloon in an urban-renewal neighborhood. Bennett was drinking Guinness and recalling saloon adventures of earlier days.

"A neighborhood like this doesn't bother me," he said. "It's the only sort of place to drink. You get in your high-class places and it's like embalming yourself. When I got to New York, they said I couldn't go to Harlem. So I looked at the map of Harlem and I said, you're going to tell me I can't go into this whole frigging area? Whole square miles I can't walk into? I'm not having it. I'm going to Harlem, I said. And I took my limousine and we went to Harlem and had a great time."

He drank deeply of his Guinness.

"That girl over there," he said. "She looks like Hedy Lamarr. Very nice." He waved to a girl sitting a few yards down the bar. The girl looked away.

"Very nice," Bennett said. "I wonder if she knows I'm a movie star."

He waved again. No luck.

"Sherman," he said to the press agent, "could you go over and tell that lovely girl that I'm Hywel Bennett, star of 'The Family Way,' which maybe she's seen?" "Go over yourself," Sherman said.

Bennett caught the girl's eye and waved. No luck.

"Damn," he said. He walked over to the girl. "Would you believe," he said, "that I think you look like Hedy Lamarr, who was the most beautiful woman in the world?" "No," the girl said, "but you look like Hywel Bennett, the movie star."

"How did you know?" Bennett said.

"The bartender told me," the girl said. "He stopped on the way to the john." "Come over and join us," Bennett said.

"In a minute," the girl said.

Back at his post, Bennett ordered another pint of Guinness. He is a Welshman, 25, one of England's best young actors. He was plainly enjoying the coast-to-coast publicity tour for his new film, "The Twisted Nerve" (which opens March 5 at the Woods). "I told them I'll do it if I can come home by continuing right around the world," he said. "Then I'll have been around the world and it won't cost a penny. That's the best reason I can think of."

In both "Twisted Nerve" and "The Family Way," his costar was Hayley Mills. He was superb in "Family Way," one of 1967's best films, in which he played a teen-age husband whose shyness and uncertainty causes temporary impotence. It is not an image he maintains off screen.

"Here she comes now," Bennett said, as the girl finally came over. "Doesn't she look just, like Hedy Lamarr?"

What with one thing and another, a formal interview with Hywel Bennett never did take place that night. So Bennett got a bright idea: "Come to the hotel in the morning and we'll order a bottle of champagne and drink it in the limousine on the way to the airport." It sounds decadent.

"Exactly. I come from a working-class background and I've never had much money and now I'm on this publicity tour and money means nothing to those people..."

So the next morning Bennett produced himself, bleary-eyed, at 11 a.m., with a bottle of champagne and a bucket of ice. "Everybody writes about drinking champagne in the limousine on the way to the airport," he said, "but nobody ever does anything about it." He put the champagne in the ice.

"Hayley Mills is a marvelous actress," he said. "I think she should play a tart now. She was so sweet in the Disney films that when she played a married girl in 'The Family Way,' some of her fans were shocked. So now she should play a tart, or a junkie, so people could see how she acts. Is the champagne getting cold?"

It seemed to be.

"I have the same problem," he said. "I look young and inexperienced, so I get roles like that. But in my next film, 'The Virgin Soldiers,' I get a little break. Its the story of a young soldier's love affair with a Chinese prostitute. And his fear in combat. One day he runs the wrong way and accidentally becomes a hero..."

The champagne was ready now.

"Who's got a corkscrew?" Bennett said.

Nobody had a corkscrew. Doc Savage, the limousine driver, pulled the big black car over to the curb and produced a pocketknife. "Careful," he said. "Maybe we can pry it..."

But the knife slipped and the cork split in two. Half of the cork was stuck in the neck of the bottle.

"There's only one thing to do," Bennett said. "Shake it, and pop the cork out." He opened the door of the limousine and got out on the sidewalk. As it happened, the limousine had stopped next to the playground of a school in a West Side black slum area. A dozen little kids were pressed up against the playground fence, watching in silence. Bennett shook the bottle until the cork popped, and then filled glasses for himself, a reporter and a press agent. Doc Savage, who doesn't drink, drove on to the airport.

"My God," Bennett said. "Here were these kids living in poverty and squalor and we couldn't get a bottle of champagne open. What a picture: The kids looking through the fence and the limousine stops and the people get out and try to open a bottle of champagne. The more you think about it..."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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