I ran into producer, director, actor and one-time legendary resturateur Tony Bill at JJ Abrams‘ Irish shindig last week. I reminded him that we’d done an interview in New York in ’82 when he was promoting Six Weeks, a Dudley Moore-Mary Tyler Moore drama that Bill was hired to direct more or less at the last minute. In any event I felt a nice easy vibe, and this led to my calling the next day and suggesting a little phoner. We got around to it a day or two ago — here’s the mp3.
Tony Bill, James Franco on the set of Flyboys (’06)
I wish I could remember to just take it easy and stop yapping so much when I interview someone.
I know Warren Beatty (or I call him from time to time at least) and he and Bill know each other and are roughly from the same Hollywood generation, having broken into the film business in the early ’60s. So there’s that. And I knew Julia Phillips really well, or well enough for her to fire me as her friend two or three times, and she and Bill and Michael Phillips co-produced The Sting (’73). So there’s that also.
Plus I used to love going to Bill’s celebrated 72 Market Street restaurant, which he managed from ’84 to ’00 or thereabouts. Plus I’ve always respected his directing of My Bodyguard (’80), Five Corners (1987), Crazy People (1990), A Home of Our Own (’93) and Untamed Heart (’93, also know as Baboon Heart). I never saw his most recent effort, Flyboys (’06), which he shot digitally at a relatively early stage in the digital revolution.
Bill and his second wife, Helen Buck Bartlett, co-run Barnstorm Films in Venice. Being a guy who flourished when virtually all movies were “execution dependent,” Bill ruefully admits that those days are gone. The kind of films favored by mainstream producers these days — low-balling, pre-sold, non-execution-dependent stuff about vampires and monsters along with your standard CG-driven films based on comic books and fairy tales and action franchises — are, Bill says, not exactly in his wheelhouse. But he’s still at it, still banging away and looking for whatever. And he’s very easy to talk to.
Bill’s performance in Shampoo as Johnny Pope, a low-key, faintly sardonic Hollywood producer who gently romances Goldie Hawn and spars with Beatty’s seductive but clumsy hairdresser, is his best, I think. He wore a moustache and drove a hot car and had a smooth manner, and never offered anything more than a very faint grin. There’s a great scene in which he and another guy are interviewing Hawn for a possible job on a commercial to be shot in Egypt, and Hawn’s flaky, space-case answers indicate that she’s more than a little distracted, if not intellectually challenged. After she leaves Bill looks out the window, exhales, shakes his head slightly and goes, “Wow…this town.”