The director shares his memories of working with the
late actor on ''The French Connection'' and ''Sorcerer'' more than 30
The French Connection
, the casting director was Bob
Weiner, who knew every actor around. One day he brought me Roy
Scheider, who was playing a cigar-smoking nun in an off-Broadway
production of a Jean Genet play — I don't think
out yet. Bob Weiner brought him into my office and within five minutes
I knew he was the guy. Roy said, ''Don't you want me to read?'' And I
said, ''No, you're the guy. I can't imagine there's anyone more right
than you.'' That's very rare, by the way.
a couple of years later, I had tried to cast
someone else: Steve McQueen. Steve wanted me to change the scrīpt and
write in a role for Ali MacGraw, who he was going with at the time, and
he didn't want to shoot in South America, he wanted to find some
locations here and do it. I was very arrogant at the time, and I didn't
realize then what I realize now: that a close-up of Steve McQueen's
face is more powerful than the biggest landscape you could put on
screen. So I told Steve to go f--- himself, and then I sent the scrīpt
to Roy. It wasn't that I didn't think of Roy right away, but Steve
McQueen was my idol, and I wanted to work with him. But that didn't
work, so Roy got the scrīpt and he liked it, and we did it.
Roy was not easy to work with on
. Now, that's no
criterion of anything — do you want somebody who's easy to work with,
or do you want somebody who's gonna throw it on the line for a
performance? Roy was a creature of mood. He would often go into these
dark moods, and it was tough to get him out. He wasn't like that on
. But after
, he did
, he'd achieved some prominence. I really don't know how to put this, but he became difficult.
, he would've lied down in front of an elevated train for me.
was like pulling teeth with him. He'd go into a sulk and he'd be almost
impossible to talk to, and a lot of it related to personal things that
are too small to go into. But I'd go over and explain what we were
going to do and he'd turn me off. Wasn't even listening. Then we'd go
do a take, and I'd have to keep correcting it and correcting it, and
that would just sharpen the edge. It was a difficult picture to make,
anyway, and people on the crew and in the cast were getting sick,
gangrene, and having to go home. The thing was stretching out
endlessly, and I think it finally got to Roy.
One of the other things that it might've related to was how he wanted to play Father Karras in [Friedkin's 1973 film]
the role that went to Jason Miller. I actually thought he could do it,
and I suggested him to Bill Blatty, who wrote the novel and the
screenplay and was a producer. And he said, ''Oh no, Roy's not right
for that. If you want to do it, go ahead, but I can't support it.'' So
I moved away from Roy, and I think he took that personally for a good
But I don't blame him for anything in our relationship, and my
memory of the two performances he gave couldn't be any better. I
haven't seen him for 31 years; I never thought of him for anything else
and then our lives just drifted apart. But he's underappreciated. He
didn't get the kind of attention he should've gotten for
— and [1979's]
[for which Scheider got a Best Actor nomination] will stand the test of
time. It really is one of the finest performances by an American actor
in a movie.
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