As a companion piece to his article on the lost John Cassavetes classic Too Late Blues, Cinema Retro columnist Dean Brierly spoke to the film's star Stella Stevens, who recalls the movie in this exclusive interview.
I read that John
Cassavetes originally wanted Gena Rowlands and Montgomery Clift for the
film. How did you and Bobby Darin come to be cast instead?
heard about his wife Gena being considered for the character I played;
this is news to me. Paramount had promised me that my next film would
be with Montgomery Clift, but he was too sick to play [in it], so they
got Bobby for the role, and he was excellent as Ghost. He was a great
actor as well as a musician.
What did you think of Cassavetes as a director?
I called his style “no directing” directing, as my character did “no singing” singing [wordless vocalizing] in the film.
expressed frustration with what he perceived as studio interference and
working with people he felt didn’t care about the film. Do you know who he was referring to?
not. He must have been drunk to say that, because he had one of the
finest crews Paramount could put together for him, a great actor in
Bobby, and, of course, my splendid acting as well.
Were you and the other actors aware of his frustration, and did this make for a tense film set?
John was always congenial and smiling and talking with everyone on the set, telling them exactly what he wanted, and he was a fine director. Everybody, cast and crew, did their best job and performed well.
Were you aware of any studio pressure put on him based on his working methods and/or the daily rushes?
Absolutely not. They thought he was doing a fine job, and he was.
Did you have much time for rehearsals?
Of course. We had all the time we needed. John was excellent with actors.
Cassavetes directing Darin and Stevens: a cult classic in the making
Was there much improvisation on the set? Or was Cassavetes obliged to stick pretty closely to the script?
I don’t recall any improvisation. It was his script, so he could do what he wanted with it, [but] I did not improvise. It was very professional, and we rehearsed and shot what was needed.
Did Cassavetes give you much leeway in the interpretation of your character?
I did not need any leeway. She was complicated enough.
What was your take on the character of Jess Polanski?
Instead of explaining it as my take on her, she actually got to me very deeply. I was not a happy person during the shoot when I was in her character. She gave up too easily on things she could have conquered.
What do you recall about working with Bobby Darin?
He was the ultimate professional. He was multi-talented. A genius.
What did you think of his performance?
I thought it was perfect.
How did you prepare for some of those emotional fireworks in your scenes together?
Since we did the scenes in sequence, I just paid close attention to what was going on, and it all seemed to build naturally.
Did you have any favorite scenes in particular?
Well, once when Bobby kissed me he got a huge erection. The lighting men up high saw what happened and they all began to laugh as Bobby took a break and walked it off. Everyone on the set knew what happened, but when we tried [the scene] again he contained himself. It showed what a good actor he was.
The scene in which Jess tests her singing skills at a party and quickly realizes she doesn’t have what it takes seems to really define her character.
That scene to me is the explanation of why she obviously is not going to make it as a singer. She has little knowledge of how to handle the situation of having to sing scat with the pianist played by Slim Gaillard. She tries, and doesn’t quite make it. She is embarrassed and feels incompetent as a singer. She obviously was better at sex.
Do you have any memories about any of the other cast members, in particular Everett Chambers?
Everett was a real meanie in the movie, and was wonderful playing that role. He played the opposite of what he really was. Vince Edwards told me on the set one day that he’d just had an interview to star in a TV series as a doctor. He got the job, and was on the air with a hit show, Ben Casey, for many years. I did five segments in a row [on it] as a young woman who had been in a coma for years. Dr. Casey operated on my brain and woke me up. He had such a gentle bedside manner that I fell in love with him. He told me I should live a little before getting married.
What did you think of the finished film?
It’s one of my favorites. I was thrilled to be able to work with Lionel Lindon. He was a great cinematographer who was chosen by the bosses at Paramount to do this film when they were still talking about using Montgomery Clift. I did not do many films in black and white, and I thought the cinematography was terrific.
Do you think the film contributed to your growth as an actress?
Yes, everything I have done has improved me, I hope.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about making the film?
I want you to know that John was very funny. There did not seem to be any strain on him at any time. He made jokes, we all laughed, and we had a great time together until we needed silence on the set and went to work. He was always smiling and having fun on the set.
CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF CINEMA RETRO? THEN SUBSCRIBE TO OUR PRINT VERSION
AND GET THE WORLD'S BEST MOVIE MAGAZINE DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR THREE
TIMES A YEAR POSTAGE FREE IN THE USA AND UK PLUS AN EXCLUSIVE CD PACKED WITH RARE RADIO SPOT ADS FOR FILMS OF THE 1960S AND 1970S. FOR SUBSCRIPTION INFO CLICK HERE