Is that YOU in there, Ringo?
The following interview with Ringo Starr appeared in Life magazine in the issue of June 13, 1969. This interviewer is Jim Hicks.
Ringo's role in The Magic Christian involves him in almost every scene, and he must share the attention of the camera-and the audience-with the most accomplished character actor in the business, Peter Sellers. "I hope I'm learning about acting from Peter," Ringo says. "He is the King Kong of characters. I watch him all the time. If I say something doesn't feel right, or ask if I should say it like this, he helps me. He always knows the right feel to a scene. And he never says we've got to do it this way or that way. He says, 'Why don't we...?' or 'Wouldn't it be nice if...?' You know. Email Sarah
Return to Vintage Articles & Interviews
Background courtesy of
The Background Boutique.
Those Charlie Chaplin eyes, that Jean-Paul Belmondo nose-it couldn't be anyone but Ringo Starr, the coziest Beatle. This is the same Liverpool homebody who left the Maharishi's camp in India because the food was too spicy. After an hors d' oeuvre of a part in Candy, his first movie role without the other Beatles, Ringo is co-starring with Peter Sellers in an actor's banquet called The Magic Christian. His new film is based on Terry Southern's scatologically irreverent novel about the richest man in the world, Guy Grand (Sellers), and the seedy young tramp (Ringo) he discovers in a park and adopts as his son. Together, they set out to prove that everybody and everything can be corrupted for a price. "Ringo is a natural mime," says Sellers. "He can speak with his eyes, and that's terribly important when your eyes are six feet wide up there."
'I was just droonk'
After that scene by the river in the first Beatles film, A Hard Day's Night, you knew it. That scene where he shuffled and slouched along the edge of the water, talking to the little kid who tagged after him? The scene that had some people saying wow, here's another Chaplin.
After that, everyone knew Ringo could be a star. Directors like Joe McGrath knew it ("Remember that scene by the river?"). Producers like Dennis O'Dell knew it ("I realized then that, of all the Beatles, Ringo could make it big in films"). Peter Sellers knew it. You knew it. I knew it. Everybody knew it, except Ringo.
"It's all a big joke, that scene," he says, tossing his head to clear his eyes of the long, dark hair that keeps falling over them. "It was a fine scene, but that's because the director, Dick Lester, made it good. Me? I was just droonk." The word of course, is spelled d-r-u-n-k, bu who can resist trying to phoneticize that Liverpudlian accent. "People keep mentioning it to me and I say, ahhh, the famous scene, but it's all a myth. I was just boozed out of me brain. I went straight to the location from the Ad Lib club that morning. Did I admit I was droonk? I couldn't not admit it. I was staggering and falling all over the place. I couldn't remember my lines, so we had the continuity lady behind the camera shout them out to me. They would erase her voice later. They little kid-he knew his lines-would say, 'Hello Mister,' and the continuity lady would shout, 'I see you're off school then,' and I would repeat, 'I see you're off school then.' But that didn't work because sometimes I would look over at her and say, 'Huh?'
"So in the end they just filmed me laying about and walking about and falling about, and we cut the voices over it later. Now when anybody talks to me about me in films they say, 'Remember that scene by the river? You were great in that.' So maybe I should always be permanently droonk out of me mind and I'd be a big movie star."
Pop idols have a responsibility not to lead youth astray, the papers keep saying, so it had better be clear that in his conclusion, at least, Ringo is putting us on. He is not trying to booze his way to movie success. (Put down those bottles, kids, and go back to destroying your universities.) It is verifiable that for every day of filming on The Magic Christian Ringo has shown up sober and with his lines well memorized. Though The Beatles have a reputation for tardiness, Ringo has not been late for work once. "Of course, a few times-when we had very early calls-he arrived in his pajamas," says Producer Dennis O'Dell, "but he's always been on time."
Sober and reliable-well, there is a possibility that he will become a big movie star anyway. He wants to, just to have something to do. Believe it or not, being a full-time Beatle can get a little boring. "We make an album and then we have three months off. John, Paul and George are writing songs, you know. So I wouldn't have anything to do. I wanted to get into something, and films seemed like the best idea."
Since the Beatles are constantly rumored to be breaking up, Ringo pauses here and lifts his hand like a cop stopping traffic. "But there isn't any question about the group being more important," he says. "I am a Beatle. If it comes to a toss between doing a film and making a Beatles album, I'll do the album. But I don't mean the film business is just a hobby to me. I'm deadly serious about it." he leans toward the tape recorder's microphone. "Or should I say alively serious. Hah-ho, LIFE readers." Ringo likes to get past the middleman-such as an interviewer-and communicate directly.
"That's how I'll learn. I would never study acting. I've never studied anything and everything's worked out. I never studied the drums. I think it can harm you to study things because you're only learning what other people think about it, instead of what you think about it yourself. I can't be one of those trained actors who, like trained musicians, can only play the dots. Playing the dots. I don't play the dots. I never do a scene the same way twice. It's like our music, the Beatles music. That started with Little Richard and Elvis and all those early rockers, but we were not them, so we played out version of it. That's what's happening here. I'll pick up somethings, but I'll do them my way, because I am me."
The character he plays in The Magic Christian has some Ringo-like traits. This seems fair enough in a business where Humphrey Bogart played Bogie roles and John Wayne is John Wayne, but it bothers Ringo a bit. "I want to know if I can really act. I'd like to be a bad guy." This idea brings him suddenly to his feet, hands hovering dangerously near imaginary holsters. "I want to make a film that opens with an old farmer digging in his field and the cowboy-that's me-comes riding over the hill." Ringo sways-in the saddle. "I come down without a word and-Pow! Pow!" He lets the farmer have it with both indix fingers. "Then I just go on riding and shooting everybody through the whole picture. Pow! Pow! Pow! It's boring being nice all the time.
"One role I would like to play, seriously, is in Lord of the Rings, you know, the Tolkien books. We-the Beatles-wanted to make that movie, but somebody else got the rights. I'd still like to play part of Sam, who is Frodo's pal." He addresses the microphone again. "Hey, whoever produces Lord of the Rings, are you listening? I would like to play that part If anybody's thinking about it, please let me know. Also, next plug. I'm selling me house in Weybridge, Surrey, you rich Americans. Get over and buy a piece of England. It's only-uhh-what's 65,000 pounds in dollars?" A lot. "Okay, it's only a lot of money. So come buy it."
Ringo hopes to make a couple of movies this year, and thereafter average one a year. "Two films are in the works now, but I don't want to talk about them yet." He does divulge one detail, however, which should change the mind of any producer who still doubts that Ringo is serious about this new career. "For the next movie," he says, once more tossing his shaggy mane, "I think I'm going to have to cut me hair."
Ringo's role in The Magic Christian involves him in almost every scene, and he must share the attention of the camera-and the audience-with the most accomplished character actor in the business, Peter Sellers. "I hope I'm learning about acting from Peter," Ringo says. "He is the King Kong of characters. I watch him all the time. If I say something doesn't feel right, or ask if I should say it like this, he helps me. He always knows the right feel to a scene. And he never says we've got to do it this way or that way. He says, 'Why don't we...?' or 'Wouldn't it be nice if...?' You know.
Return to Vintage Articles & Interviews
Background courtesy of The Background Boutique.