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Hey boys and girls, we’ve been so fortunate to speak with some of the most outstanding talents in filmmaking.  Even so, this interview was particularly special.  We had the extreme honour to speak with one of the last true Hollywood legends.  I hope you have as much fun reading my exclusive interview with the wonderful, funny, gracious, outspoken 92-year old Academy-Award winner, Ernest Borgnine, as I had speaking with him.

 

Ernest Borgnine

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Mr. Borgnine, on Private Screenings you mentioned that your mother was descended from Italian nobility and was the first person to suggest you try acting.  That was a very unusual idea for that time wasn’t it?

Ernest Borgnine:  That’s right.  Well, at that time it was frowned upon for the nobility to go on stage, to go be an actress.  It just wasn’t done.  And I remember her watching me as a kid; we used to go to motion pictures together.  When we were in Italy she took me to La Scala in Milano, we did everything together and she’d always watch me playing and doing all kinds of different little things.  One day, when I came home after 10 years of service at the end of World War II, she said to me one day, “Well…?”  And I knew that meant, ‘Get a job!’  {Laughs}  So, I went out looking for work and I could see these young old men going to these factories.  They were young/old, bent over and after 10 years in the service I said to myself, ‘Me, go in there?’  In no time at all, I’d be bent over and old myself.  So, I’d take my lunch and go to a park and feed the squirrels, do something.  One day, I went home and my mother looked up and said, “What’s the matter?”  I said, “Ma, for two cents, I’m gonna go back into the service, do my other 10 years and get a pension – at least I’d have something!  And out of the clear blue sky, she said, “Have you ever thought of becoming an actor?”  She said, “You always like to make a damn fool in front of people!” {Laughs}

And I looked at her, I was sitting at the kitchen table and as I looked up I saw these doors open and a golden light came down, I said, “Ma, that’s what I’m gonna be!”  And she said, “Well, good!”  Nobody in my family had ever been in show business. Nothing, nothing.  My father was a worker, you know, but nobody had ever been in show business.

 

LMD:   You came to prominence in a very interesting time.  In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, there was a change in acting from the very polished, rehearsed style of “movie star” acting to a more realistic, emotional, unself-conscious style more signature of The Method.  You were a part of that movement; you don’t “act your roles”, you’re in the role.

EB:  That’s just it.  That’s what an actor is supposed to do in my estimation.

 

LMD:  At that time you had actors like Spencer Tracy, or Alan Ladd, who for someone so beautiful had a real grittiness to him; then you had others like Robert Taylor or Bob Cummings, who are very nice to look at, but whose acting styles were pretty superficial.  Then came the big Method actors, like Richard Burton and Marlon Brando and James Dean.  Did you see that change in styles happen and did it affect your acting at all?  Did you see it affect famous actors around you?

EB: I never looked on it that way, really, I just gave my own version of what was right and they happened to buy it, that’s what counted.  I never looked at it like the Method or anything, I just did my own thing and everybody seemed to like it.  I remember it vaguely, I’m glad you told me.  I always take people for what they are, you know?  I look ‘em in the eye, that’s one thing that Spencer Tracy liked about me.  We finished that first scene that we ever did {in Bad Day at Black Rock - 1955}, where I said, “If it isn’t Macreedy, the All-American road hog,” after knocking him off the road and everything else.  I was just scared stiff of course, my first time with him, you know?  But when it was finished he walked back out again and he looked at me and he went, “You know, when you work, you look a man right in the eye, doncha?”  “Well, isn’t that the way you’re supposed to do, sir?”  He said, “You got it right, kid,” and we became good friends.

The day I was supposed to go down and read for Marty, he looked at me and said “Where are you going?”  I said, “I’ve gotta go down and read for this…”  “Read?  You don’t read anymore, you’re a star!”  I told him it was a thing called Marty and I told him the story, as much as I knew of it.  He said, “Gee, it sounds good.  Ah, don’t worry, you’ll get it kid, don’t worry about it.”  I said, “Okay” and I left.  The next morning I came back, I had a big smile on my face and he said, “You got it, huh?  That’s wonderful.”  And the next year, I beat him out for an Academy Award. {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Did you know when you made Marty in 1955 that it was going to be special?

EB:  Nobody ever does.  I don’t even think that the people who made Gone with the Wind, realised it.  No one ever realises that you’re making something that’s going to be nominated for an Academy Award, ever!  It’s the hardest thing in the world and anybody that tells ya different is a liar, in my estimation, anyway.

 

LMD:  What was it like for you to have won an Academy Award so early on in your career?  At that point, you’d only made a handful of films.

EB:  Yup, I was extremely lucky and I was one of the few character actors to ever win one and I just couldn’t understand it, but people loved it and people still do.  Every time they see it, they call up, they say, “I saw it again!  It still holds up!”  I watched it the other day and it does hold up.  That’s because of the tremendous writing of Paddy Cheyefsky, and of course Delbert Mann’s direction of a very sensitive and beautiful piece of work. 

 

LMD:  That brings me to your current and everlasting popularity amongst young fans.  Are you aware of the annual Ernest Borgnine Night here in New York City?

EB:  Yes, I am, at Tortilla Flats!  {Laughs} I walked in on them one night!  Do you know suddenly there was a great big hush, “Oh my God, he’s here!”  They had this whole booth dedicated to me!  They took all the people out of the booth, they said, “This is Mr. Borgnine’s place.”  So, every time we go there, “This is Mr. Borgnine’s place”, that’s it!  Ah, yeah, Tortilla Flats!  Did you know they have a thing every year, whoever resembles Ernest Borgnine the most, you know?  Women have won it! {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Mr. Borgnine I’ve read that you were determined to keep going at least until you’d finished your 200th project.  Have you chosen it yet?

EB:  I’ve just finished my 200th! {Wishing Well - 2009}  It was done with the granddaughter of Alan Ladd! {Jordan Ladd}  I worked with Alan Ladd a thousand years ago {The Badlanders – 1958}, I turn up on my 200th film and here I am working with his granddaughter, no less.  Her grandfather was really something.

 

LMD:  Is there one film over the many you’ve done – over 200 now! – that you feel  captures your work the best?

EB:  Marty, of course, came the closest because that was me, actually, and I knew how to play it.  ‘Cos I had been that wallflower, I didn’t know how to dance or anything else.  I always considered myself kind of funny looking and no girl would look at me, you know?  And I ended up married to five beautiful women! {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Is Marty your personal favourite, then?

EB:  I like to say what {I enjoyed} the most.  I loved working on Emperor of the North with Lee Marvin and {director} Bob Aldrich.  We had a ball on that one.  It was called Emperor of the North simply because they didn’t know what to give it and it was called Emperor of the North Pole when it first started.   Then they changed the title to Emperor of the North, because people didn’t understand what the Emperor of the North Pole was.  That’s the name that they give to the hobos that they nominate to be the emperor for that year, the king of the hobos.  They command all of the North Pole – nothing {Laughs}

 

LMD:  I’m sure you’re asked for advice by young actors all the time.  What do you tell them?

EB:  Just this last Sunday, when I did this exact thing to all the actors who were studying, I said, “How many of you wanna be actors?”  And they all held up their hands.  I said, “You‘re in the wrong business. You gotta go to computers.”  Cos computers are gonna take over, like the Jetsons.  Look at all the shows that have come out, look at Spongebob {Squarepants – Borgnine provides the voice of Mermaid Man}, it’s all computers and like that.  Then I got down to the basics, I said, “No, really, if you wanna be an actor,” then I went over all the things that you have to be to be an actor.  And by the time I finished it was an hour later and I said, “Ya still wanna be actors?”  They said, “More than ever!”  Because they’re all enthusiastic, you know?  I tell them dress properly and learn how to read properly and enunciate.  You’ve got so many things to worry about; you’ve got to know the day’s events, so you can be accomplished if anybody talks to you.  You’ve got to know what it’s all about.  I guess they kinda liked it, because everybody applauded like crazy and they had a birthday cake waiting for me. I left the birthday cake for them; it had two big candles on it for my 92nd birthday.

 

LMD:  I wanted to ask you one last thing since you mentioned working with young actors, I wondered if there were any actors you particularly enjoy watching?

EB:  Yes, I always loved watching Clint Eastwood and Charlie Bronson.  They never said too much, but by golly, they made their mark.  Charlie had started out about the same time I did.  I was doing a {show} one time and a fellow walked up and he said, “I think you know my father.”  I said, “Who your father?”  He said, “Charlie Bronson.”  “How is he?”  And he said, “He passed away.”  I felt terrible, you know, having worked with the man and everything else.  He was a wonderful man, he never said too much, but by golly, what he said meant an awful lot.

Then to top it all off, I love Kevin Kline and Gary Sinise.  I’ve made friends with Gary Sinise, but I’ve never met Kevin Kline yet, and I will one of these days, I’m sure.  I wanna tell him how good {he is}.  I met Robert Downey, Jr., and I remember saying to him one time at a party at Paramount Studio, I said, “Young man, I’m glad to see you on the way up, cos we need people like you.”  What a talent!  I mean, this man has talent oozing out of him.  Can you imagine anybody else doing Charlie Chaplin?  His Charlie Chaplin was absolutely tremendous.  I think he was nominated, but he didn’t win!

 

LMD:  I was a little upset about that.

EB:  You know, I was too, because I said, “My God, what does a man have to do to win?”  It’s just kinda crazy.

I’m going to be a presenter, believe it or not, for the Screen Actors Guild {Awards}. I was supposed to go up with Jane Russell, but Jane had to call in sick.  Poor soul, I hope she’s better; she’s a good friend of mine.  I was gonna go on as an old man, and what they wanted me to say was, *in creaky old man voice*  “I’ll let you in on a little secret, presenting with Jane Russell is guaranteed to add another 10 years to your life, man!” {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Mr. Borgnine, it’s been an honour and a pleasure to speak with you.  Duecento anni, and happy birthday, sir!

EB:  Thank you, dear.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

January 22nd, 2009

 

Turner Classic Movies’ special, Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine premieres January 26th, followed by a selection of Mr. Borgnine’s films including, Marty, From Here to Eternity, The Last Command and Torpedo Run.

 

Special thanks to Sarah Schmitz and Brandee at Turner Classics Movies for their invaluable help.

 

 

 

© 2006-2014 The Diva Review.com

 

Photos

Courtesy of  Turner Classics Movies

 

 

 

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