Anthony Perkins was as great as any film actor, maybe because he never appeared in a bad film. Like Burt Lancaster, Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close, Perkins isn't normally counted as one of the very greatest of actors, not a DeNiro or a Streep, and yet his choice in film roles was impeccable. Even the Psycho sequels, though not superb like the original, like Catch-22 and The Trial, like Friendly Persuasion, and Mahogany, were entertaining enough; the best one could have expected as follow-ups to an era-defining horror classic.
Perkins lamented that the Desire Under the Elms set "looked like Bonanza" and registered some bitterness over not being cast in the film version of Equus.
"Did you see the production?" he asked me sitting on a couch in his suite at the Plaza Hotel on Central Park.
"Well, I saw the movie."
"The mooo-vie," he repeated with disgust, before pretty much bragging about the shorter running time of the award-winning play, as it appeared with him in the starring role, because of his quick delivery. This 1986 interview begins with Anthony Perkins talking about Psycho III, which he also directed.
The crimes committed in all three pictures seem to emanate from the excessive love and protection and . . . from the less negative and destructive urges than those which Norman seems to be afflicted with, don't you think? Norman's not a raving, mindless, indiscriminate killer. Even his attempts to keep everything under cover at the Bates Motel is really because he loved his mother so much.
You say you wanted to keep the supernatural out of it. But, isn't Norman's mother's voice, which recurs many years after her death and inspires Norman to murder, a bit supernatural?
You find that supernatural? That's funny. Why don't I see it that way? That seemed like the most logical thing in the world, as it's subjective only to Norman. No one else would hear that voice. Some of the popular horror films today seem to me to lack storytelling in their acts of desperation and violence. Every ten minutes, someone is killed.
The less blood, the better.
I think so. It certainly is in watching Psycho III.
There's quite a bit.
Mmmm (musing), no more than Hitch used on Martin Balsam's face.
How do you see the relationship between Norman and his mother in the final analysis?
Maybe it (the ending) suggests that you have to do more than commit one apocalyptic act in order to free yourself of the influences which are as profound as Norman's mother's were on him. Each of these movies has got to touch you a bit.
Do you think that Norman is actually free at the end of Psycho III?
No. He got about five minutes of freedom.
How did you get the role in Les Miserables?
Get it? Oh, you never ask that question: "how I got a role." Because I was ideally suited!
But, I wouldn't have seen you in that role.
No. Absolutely. I agree. I wouldn't have seen myself as Javert (the ruthless police inspector). That was a good part for me. I liked doing that. It was just one of those things. It's like when I got offered the job in Equus (Sounds bewildered) "Are you kidding? You must be joking!" I thought, better say 'yes' fast.
Why was there that resistance?
I thought I couldn't do that. That's theater with a capital "T"! You gotta be great to do that. The audience would sit and watch this show. It was hypnotic. There was a revolving stage and bleachers. It ran five years, an unprecedented run for a drama on Broadway. One of the longest running dramas of all time, maybe the! On the first row of these bleachers were seats designated for the actors. All the actors sat on them and when it was time for them to come on, they just stepped right on.
Were you professorial in that role?
Oh, no, no, no. I was more (pause) energetic, I think, than some of the actors that have played the role. I know that the touring company ran twenty minutes longer every night than we ran it on Broadway. So, I should have to imagine that most of that was due to my delivery. I don't like to talk slow or listen to acting. Some declamatory actors can be feeling it and expressing it very well, but there's something about the declamatory style which appears to our modern ears as stale and rehearsed and somewhat stagey.
Do you find The Trial (directed by Orson Welles) a difficult film to watch?
It's stiff. First of all, his (Welles's) conception of (Kafka's) Joseph K. was off-putting. His insistence that K. be this obsequious, apologetic, struggling-to-the-top type; it was horrible!
I said "Orson, you can't mean this. Of all the things that symbolize the plight of the innocent--" and he said, "he's guilty, he's guilty as hell!" I can hear him, he said, "You're playing it too heroically. Remember, he's guilty, he's guilty as hell!"
Guilty of what?
All of it! I think Orson's point was that up until the time he was arrested, he was still living this small, apologetic and utterly unintrospective life and he was guilty of it. Period. He was more interested in how guilty K. was, rather than how helpless he was. I think Joseph K. should've been stronger and represented us, the audience, more.