With The Godfather and Chinatown, Robert Evans revolutionised the movie industry. Now, Simon McBurney is staging the moguls scandalous memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture. They talk about art, life and America
Half a century ago, Hollywood was at a crossroads. The major studios were in the doldrums, haemorrhaging money on bloated star vehicles such as Paint Your Wagon that were relics from a different era. Iconoclastic social critiques such as Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider were generating headlines and queues around the block. No one knew what the public wanted next. All bets were off. There was a brief window where someone could go into a studio and propose any film, explains Simon McBurney, the 59-year-old actor and artistic director of groundbreaking theatre company Complicite, when we meet in an east London cafe.
He sounds so excited by this notion that he would surely be rubbing his hands with glee if his right thumb were not swaddled in a cartoonishly large bandage, the sort that Tom might wear after Jerry has thwacked his paw with a mallet. It was an accident while cleaning the blender: I didnt realise it was plugged in. It took a piece out of my thumb the size of a sugar lump. I wince in sympathy but he looks blankly at me from beneath the brim of his canvas cap. He is too caught up in thinking about that Hollywood revolution to worry about a sore thumb. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest was for him the clinching film from the American new wave of the late 1960s into the 1970s. As an actor, that was the absolute explosion for me, he says.
McBurney is steeped in the era and its social and cultural impact again now that he is directing an adaptation of The Kid Stays in the Picture, the scandalous, hard-boiled show-business memoir by producer Robert Evans, who transformed the industry when he became head of production at Paramount. In shepherding to the screen hits including Rosemarys Baby, The Godfather and Chinatown, he took the studio from ninth place (of nine) to No 1.