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Interview with Michael J. Pollard

"Hey, man, my wife and I were up until 7 this morning, rapping about things," Michael J. Pollard says, lighting a Camel and taking a mouthful of coffee.

"It's nice to still be able to talk to your wife after four years. Maybe it comes from living in Los Angeles. Andy Warhol's dream city. New York builds hostility. If we had lived in New York, we might not have lasted three years. Well, we've been married three years, but living together four years. I moved in the very same day I met her. No flowers, no Whitman Samplers, nothing."

Pollard is very small, weighs maybe 120 pounds, and wears a cowboy hat, Levis, a flannel cowboy shirt, a belt with a big brass buckle.

"I used to think I was Bob Dylan," he says. "I heard Dylan's new album the other day. 'Nashville Skyline.' It has a cut on it by Johnny Cash. Hey, sometimes I think I'm Johnny Cash. "Dylan doesn't sound the same on the new album. He sounds like, oh, Gordon MacRae. He's about four octaves deeper. And he doesn't look like he used to look. His voice used to be way up there; now it's way down there."

Pollard smiles, and you know what Walt Disney was thinking when Disney promised to make him the biggest star since Mickey Mouse.

"Hey, we're making this movie," Pollard says. "It's going to be called 'Goodbye, Jesse James.' I'm making it with some friends in New York. It's about these four guys on a rooftop, they're going to assassinate these people. This man and a chick. Actually, the man and the chick are going to assassinate the four guys, so everybody gets shot. No, the chick tells the story. No, she gets shot too. Hey, everybody gets shot."

Pollard's eyes widen at the irony of it.

"Then I'm making this movie for Paramount, called 'Little Fauss, Big Halsey.' About two guys and a chick who meet in Nebraska and go motorcycle racing. No guns."

Pollard was in Chicago to promote "Hannibal Brooks," his first film since he played C.W. Moss, the getaway driver in "Bonnie and Clyde." The title role is taken by Oliver Reed, who escapes from a German stalag by piloting an elephant across the Alps. Pollard tags along as the inept leader of an anti-Nazi guerrilla squad. The film was directed by Michael Winner, who previously directed Reed in "The Jokers" and two other films.

"Reed and Winner were pretty close, having made all those films together," Pollard said. "And Winner is a fast director. He usually only takes one or two shots for every scene. He's faster than Roger Corman. But for my scenes, he was taking 17 or 18 takes, man. And no two the same. I can't ever get them to come out the same anyway."

Was the role written with you in mind?

"Yes. Well, no."

Some of your scenes seem to resemble the great scenes in "Bonnie and Clyde." Like the scene in the gas station where you meet Bonnie and Clyde.

"Yeah. That gas station scene, you know what? That was the first scene we shot in the whole film. And we did it in one take. Then Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty spent the rest of their time making me play against that scene. I guess they didn't want me to seem too funny."

But the scene where you were the getaway driver and you parked the getaway car...

"Yeah. We made that up. See, I can't drive a car.

There was this guy teaching me, but I couldn't learn. So here I was stuck in the parking place, and Penn said, Okay, do it that way."

Pollard shrugged. "Violence. Everybody's criticizing violence," he said. "In 'Bonnie and Clyde,' they criticized the violence. That's dopey, man.

Everybody's violent. They're criticizing themselves. Everybody will realize that in a year or so and start on something else. I don't know. Hey, maybe they'll start on humor in movies. Too much humor in movies. Children laughing too much.

"But, you know, we make such a big thing about movies. Like sex in movies.

Americans can't handle sex in movies. Like this whole know, these two movies, 'Stolen Kisses' and 'The Graduate.' Well, they're both about the older woman, right? But we have to make it funny. In 'The Graduate,' we make fun of the older woman. But Truffaut, he doesn't have to do that. In 'Stolen Kisses,' the older woman just teaches the young guy what it's all about." Pollard shrugged, took a drag on his cigarette, thought a moment. "Which is what older women are for, I guess."

Pollard shook his head in disbelief. "Up until 7 this morning," he said. "Oh. For years I've been putting down drinking. Last night, I drank. Wine. My mouth is dry. Hey, I'm a paradox, even to myself. Here I am in Chicago. You know those Plaster Casters? Hey, they're in Chicago, right? I read about them. I wouldn't mind meeting the Plaster Casters, I'll say that much. Well, my old lady might mind. But I mean...well, I don't do weird things just to do weird things. I'm just weird, man..."

You mean you really can't drive a car?

"Nobody ever taught me."

But you ride a motorcycle.

"Yeah, I learned that making the Hell's Angels picture. But I don't drive that much. I lied."

A short silence. "Hey, I don't know if I'll call it Goodbye, Jesse James, after all," Pollard said.

"Maybe I'll call it Rattlesnake. That's a good title." Pollard paused. "I dunno," he said, "I may not even do it."

Besides making personal films, what else are you into? "Painting. I paint some. And I write...oh, little things. Maybe someday I'll put them together into bigger things. Little poems and things. And I paint. I have this white canvas, and on it in vermilion letters is spelled s-e-n-c-e. No, that's wrong. S-i-n-s-e. Yeah. Sinse."

What does it mean?

"That words can't express what you feel."

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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