With so many hours of excellent television (THE TWILIGHT ZONE) and classic films under his belt (SUPERMAN, THE OMEN, the LETHAL WEAPON franchise), the problem with speaking to director Richard Donner is figuring out where to actually start.
Luckily, that part was taken care of for us since he recently did some press in honor of the 25th Anniversary of his classic adventure/kids film THE GOONIES which just hit Blu-ray in a brand-new deluxe edition.
Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, THE GOONIES is one of those perfect 1980s confections filled with great performances by a group of fresh faced youngsters (including a young Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman and Sean Astin) and a story that is truly original (and quite bizarre at times) involving a long-lost pirate ship, a buried treasure, a group of thieves, a creature known as Sloth and an excellent theme song by Cyndi Lauper.
Only Donner could pull all these disparate elements into a cohesive and enduring whole and the restoration on Blu-ray only emphasizes what a now classic film THE GOONIES has become.
While driving around on a golf cart on the Warner Bros. lot during a promotional GOONIES treasure hunt, ASSIGNMENT X spoke with Donner, in this exclusive interview, about making the film, how child actors have changed since the 1980s, what his next project will be and his thoughts on the controversy surrounding his longtime film collaborator Mel Gibson who starred in LETHAL WEAPON, MAVERICK and CONSPIRACY THEORY for him.
ASSIGNMENT X: There was such a great innocence in THE GOONIES with the performance of the younger actors – something that seems missing today from child actors in film and on TV.
RICHARD DONNER: It also has a lot to do with the casting. I assume, when you cast children today, there must be thousands of them. You have to search out the untouched ones. For me, I would go for, it’s a strange word, but a “non-professional.” When I did THE OMEN, I saw every professional kid in the world. And we went to a school in London, we met all these kids and I picked this kid out of the class. It worked, because he was putty in my hands. He was great, he was a natural.
AX: There’s an instance of one kid, but in THE GOONIES, you have a whole gang of them.
DONNER: Back when we did THE GOONIES 24 years ago, these kids again were not like the children of today that are professionals. They were kind of on the edge of just starting out. They were relatively untouched, still naïve, and they became the characters and the characters became them. It was totally fresh.
AX: Do you miss the innocence you captured with THE GOONIES from kid performers today?
DONNER: They were pure and clean. Little kids today text each other, they’re so ahead of us, it’s extraordinary. They weren’t. That was a period of time that doesn’t exist anymore. This is Twilight Zone.
AX: Why cut the octopus out of the movie?
DONNER: Because it was bad.
AX: But you left the line in the “octopus” line that Ke Huy Quan says at the end of the film?
DONNER: It was fun and it baited the audiences. If you listen to the movie carefully, you’re going to hear Sean [Astin] call Josh Brolin, “Josh” twice – and it’s in the movie. I spotted it the first time the other night, but I knew the other one was there. So I figured, just leave them in, it keeps people guessing. You’re asking about it.
AX: The thing that struck me seeing the film after all these years, is that THE GOONIES is a quirky, odd little movie. I could never see a studio greenlighting a movie like this nowadays – especially with Sloth.
DONNER: It was very odd. If that movie, at that time, hadn’t been created by Steven Spielberg, and I would put my name in there too, but not anywhere near where he was, I think it would have never been made.
AX: We’ve gotten so politically correct today, I think even with Spielberg, THE GOONIES would also fight an uphill battle to get made today.
DONNER: You couldn’t do it. You couldn’t do what we did then, because the board of good taste would be down our throats. Chunk saying sh*t, putting the penis on upside down [on the statue], Mouth talking about the sex tapes in the attic – you couldn’t do that today. Yet, it’s charming, it’s clean and honest. What this population of these idiots out there, these church mongers, who are really war mongers, are imposing on the world with their thoughts, are not good thoughts. It’s a sin.
AX: Why do you think we, as a society, have gotten so sensitive about everything?
DONNER: Ever hear about the Tea Party? Ever hear about these idiot *ssholes who are so ridiculously puritanical, and then they’re all caught in bed with their mothers. It’s ridiculous. They’re running the country in a strange way, as far as what is P.C. – it’s embarrassing.
AX: How far along are you with THE GOONIES Broadway musical?
DONNER: We just hired Tim Long, who wrote the THE SIMPSONS MOVIE and he’s a genuis. He’s written and outline and it’s brilliant. He caught it so on the nose, it’s extraordinary. Broadway is a long process. [The time period of the movie] is a timeless period and that’s where the play will be set. They’re not going to have iPhones and computers. That stuff changed generations of children. They’re so sophisticated, it’s beyond reach. Those kids were not sophisticated.
AX: When they were talking about sequels years ago, what would the story have been?
DONNER: The reason it didn’t get made, we just could not make it work. There were a dozen stories. We played with them. We tried and tried. One direction was about a very wealthy woman who had a trainload of artwork and it got stuck underneath a landslide and it blocked the train. Nothing worked. It was stealing and nothing came fresh.
AX: Is a remake a possibility?
DONNER: There’s potential if the right one comes along, but I don’t know where it will ever come from unless Spielberg does it.
AX: What do you think will be the challenge with the new Superman movie?
DONNER: Zack [Snyder] is a good director. Hopefully it’s going to be in the character and not action. To me it’s what it’s all about. Action is action, but the key is to get good characters and the interplay and he has a great chance because there have been some great characters in the history of Superman, including Brainiac. Geoff Johns is involved with it, so it’s going to work and he’s now head of D.C. film division. He’ll be faithful [to the character].
AX: Have you kept up with SMALLVILLE – they’ve really stayed true and respectful to your original vision of your SUPERMAN movie?
DONNER: I liked it a lot, I thought they’ve done some great shows. I have the whole collection on my desk.
AX: They’re reissuing the original TWILIGHT ZONE on Blu-ray, can you talk about directing for that show?
DONNER: Although television today has some great writing, it’s better than features, but back then, people who wrote that show, under the blessings of Rod Serling and Bill Froug who were great writers. So you had great writers and great actors available to you – we burnt them all out. We destroy them. Television destroyed them. Where are all the great character actors? They came from Broadway, they put them in TV right away, [they do a] “show, show, show” and then they were out of it.
AX: Can you talk about your memories shooting the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “A Nightmare at 20,000 Feet?”
DONNER: What happened was the airplane set was at the MGM feature set, and we were scheduled to go the third day there and the night of the second day, the producers came out and said, “we have to finish today, the feature division wants the set” and I said “that’s impossible.” They said “you’re off” and I said “we can’t be off, we have to shoot tomorrow” and they said “no.” So I had to stay all night to do the next day’s work in five hours and it was brutal. Everybody was wiped. We had wind machines, and rain machines, electric motors turning propellers. It was the noisiest set. It was a bitch, but you were a kid and loved it. It was a challenge. You met your challenges with laughter.
AX: Do you have another movie coming up?
DONNER: Hopefully. I found a wonderful screenplay called THE HIGH LONESOME by Brian Helgeland, Academy Award winner for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. It’s great, but my problem is it’s a western. It’s an epic love story, but it takes place in the west. It’s an incredible character study in overcoming somewhat impossible handicaps set against the civil war.
AX: I love the title.
DONNER: It’s a great title.
AX: Do you mind talking a little bit about Mel Gibson and the troubles he’s had recently?
DONNER: He’s one of my dear friends. Whatever he’s going through, he’s going through something and he’s through it. He’s a very emotional guy and he let his emotions out and let them run wild on himself. He’s in control of them – his life is getting much better now.
AX: I think the media is getting out of control in using people’s personal conversations as a form of entertainment – that’s the big issue I had with it. If he’s out in public, so be it, but when you’re recording a conversation and then giving it to media outlets, I think it’s wrong.
DONNER: It doesn’t matter, if you’re in show biz, your life is out there for everybody. Everything you say and do you have to be careful and you forget and you get in trouble. I’ve known him for thirty some odd years and never heard him say anything anti-Semitic, homophobic – nothing. And believe me, there have been lots of opportunities. We have a great friendship. It’s just a bad moment and I would give anything that it becomes right, because he’s too good of a guy and he’s too talented.
CLICK HERE FOR FIVE QUESTIONS WITH COREY FELDMAN ON “THE GOONIES”