Interview: David Carradine
Thu, 15 Jan 2009 07:46:32
Sometimes, the song is mightier than the sword. For legendary actor David Carradine, that statement rings true. For years, he starred as the iconic Caine on Kung Fu, he also wielded a katana for Quentin Tarantino in the Kill Bill series, but lately, he's more content to strap on a guitar. "When I discovered music, I just flipped over it," he exclaims from his California home. "Music is probably a greater love of mine than movies and acting are." He's quite adept at slinging songs as well, creating ethereal, blues-influenced rock n' roll with his band, The Cosmic Rescue Team. Right now, Carradine and The Cosmic Rescue Team are gearing up for a big Los Angeles show at the seventh annual Conscious Life Expo on February 13. He'll also be giving a speech, entitled "Spirituality in the Arts," two days later at the Expo's symposium. In the midst of his preparation, Carradine spoke to ARTISTdirect.com in this exclusive interview about the Conscious Life Expo, martial arts, creating music, Quentin Tarantino and Clark Kent.
How did you get involved with the Conscious Life Expo?
My violinist got me in touch with someone from it. When I found out it wasn't simply a gig, but that it was actually a plot to save the world, it became very interesting.
You've written books, acted, painted and played music. Do you feel like all of those different art forms are intertwined?
You could say it all comes from the same source—the creative drive. Let's not get too fancy about it. The creative drive is just there. I discovered I could draw when I was a little kid, so I became a painter. My father was a sculptor, and he was also an actor. It seemed natural for me. I started out as a stage actor, and I thought that's what I was going to be doing all my life. There was a time when I was actually starring on Broadway. I had an opportunity to go see all of the plays on Broadway, and I discovered that I'd really rather go over to the East Side and see the movies. I suddenly realized that I wasn't crazy about plays; I tended to fall asleep in them. I thought, "Why aren't I making movies?" Then I moved out to Hollywood.
You are a prime example of creative energy being fulfilled in various directions.
Yeah, there's also a spiritual drive that's pretty deep in me. It was certainly awakened by that Kung Fu series—though it was always there. That drive pushes me in certain directions. I never would have been doing that series in the first place if I didn't have that kind of bent.
Your acting and on-screen delivery have a rhythm. Do you feel like that's related to your musical inclinations?
Yeah, there has to be a rhythm. If there isn't a rhythm in your acting, I don't think you'll go too far. You've got to have some music in you. Most actors are singers or dancers.
Are you particularly excited about the show at the Conscious Life Expo? Does having a greater cause involved make a difference for the performance?
That does make a difference to me. The show is about something that I care about. Right now, if we're not conscious about life, we're not going to have any pretty soon. You know what the world is doing. It's turning into pavement.
What can fans expect from this particular gig?
Well, they can expect to hear my music [Laughs]. I don't do any covers. I only do my own compositions. I think they'll find it interesting. It's all about love, in some way or another. I do have a classic musical education. When I'm writing a song, I'm always experimenting with the laws of harmonics, so it's not just three-chord music. I think everybody's going to be surprised how good the band is.
Would you say the music is particularly soulful?
If you don't have soul, you don't have much! I'm doing a symposium at the Conscious Life Expo two days after the show. All I'm going to do is talk about this very subject. The title of the talk is "Spirituality in the Arts." You've gotta have soul, man! [Laughs] A lot of my music is very bluesy. That's soul, isn't it?
It is. Playing live must be very cathartic for you as well.
I try to get that feeling out of everything. I've always had a band, for the last 30 or 40 years. Up until just a few years ago, it was a chore to stand in front of people and play the guitar. I was always worried about whether my fingers were doing the right thing or not. I was tense about it. About eight years ago, I was doing this concert in Los Angeles, and suddenly, I realized that I didn't care. I just felt like playing. I lost all the tension and just went with it. From that moment on, it's been total joy.
What was the inspiration for your "Spirituality in the Arts" speech?
We came up with a half-dozen themes, and that's the one that everybody liked. I'm putting my thoughts together on paper. I usually improvise everything, but they want me to talk for an hour and a half. I'm not sure I can improvise for an hour and a half. I'm much better in a conversation than I am as a speech-giver. I'll probably open it up to questions from the audience. There will be at least a half an hour where I'll be interacting, which I like better. The questions won't be stupid at all in this particular venue either. It's not like I'm doing this in a bar.
Dr. Yuen, your Kung Fu master, will also be there. Are you working with him still?
I've always been involved with him. He's been my Kung Fu master for almost 40 years. Rob Moses will also be there. He started out as a student of Dr. Yuen's, became an instructor and took over the school for a while. Rob's become my at-home master. He's going to be illustrating how many innovations he's made with martial arts.
“If you don't have soul, you don't have much!”
Do you think any of your characters, like Bill in Kill Bill, are particularly musical? Is your performance an extension of your musical sensibility
It's all an extension of that. I wrote this autobiography called Endless Highway, a few years back. Quentin was reading it, while he was writing the part for me, so it's full of my own rhythms. I gave Quentin my CD during pre-production. I found out he was listening to it every morning before he went to work. In those two different ways, he was immersed in my rhythm when he was directing me. He's a hell of a director. I've had a lot of directors, but Quentin really gets me, and he gets as close to truly reflecting me as anybody I've ever worked with has.
Do you have a particular affinity for Bill?
Yeah, I love him. I don't even think of him as a bad guy. There was that thing about shooting his girlfriend in the head, but you never actually see him do that. All you ever see Bill do is make a sandwich, be nice to his kid and be obviously very in love with this woman. Of course, he has to fight her to the death. I'm not sure that he even wants to win that fight.
That character is very human. A lot of Quentin's characters are really amplified. Bill's probably the closest to a regular guy.
Aside from the fact that he's an international assassin—but that's all offstage. All you see is him being a father. It's very interesting the way that Quentin wrote that movie. There's a lot of vintage Quentin. I thought he really got outside of himself for this one. Isn't there a record to how many times you hear the word "Fuck" in Pulp Fiction? He doesn't go that route with Bill. He really opened himself up with it. Quentin is a really regular guy. He's an incredibly intelligent man. He knows something about everything. Certainly he knows everything there is about movies. He didn't want to deviate from the script at all. One of the interesting things about Quentin's movies is they appear to be improvised, but they're actually performed word for word. All that stuff Samuel L. Jackson does in Pulp Fiction sounds like improvisation, but it's exactly what Quentin wrote. The script supervisor was always coming up to us during Bill. It had to be tight. That's a challenge too—to be totally natural while being that constricted with the words. On the other hand, Quentin was constantly listening and paying attention, not just to the actors and the crew, but also to the changes in the day as well. He would come in with reams of new pages that he'd written during the night because he'd seen a different light because of the location or because of what the people were really like. He tried to get closer to them.
Was that a definitive role for you?
It was really refreshing. It was exciting actually. That whole Superman monologue was actually a conversation between Quentin and I. He called me up one day at the hotel and asked, "Do you smoke cigars?" I said, "Yeah." He responded, "Well, there's a cigar bar in this hotel, why don't you meet me there?" We just sat there and talked. Somehow we got on the subject of Superman. We started talking about a review that I'd read of Christopher Reeve and how somebody said he wasn't a really good Superman. I said, "Well, who can be a really good Superman? He's Superman! How can a human being be a good Superman? He was a perfect Clark Kent." We kept talking, and at some point or another, I made a joke. Quentin said, "Man, if I just wrote down things that you said, people would think I was a genius." I said, "Well Quentin, you are! But hey, go ahead!" [Laughs]. Six days later there was a re-write, and our entire Superman conversation had been dropped into my mouth, which was something that the movie really needed. I think everybody waits for something like one of those Samuel L. Jackson monologues in his movies. Up until that moment, it was missing. Now, there it was! It's something I love.
Feature coordinated in conjunction with Red Velvet Media.