If you asked me what movie I’ve seen the most (discounting my childhood fascination with the Star Wars films), The Warriors
would certainly be a contender. Walter Hill’s film about a Coney Island
gang just trying to get home while being hunted by every other gang in
New York City is a perennial classic, in no small part because of the
completely out there gang designs – like the Baseball Furies, a gang
dressed in Yankee pinstripes and greasepaint.
begins with a massive gang conclave, where visionary leader Cyrus is
trying to bring all the City’s gangs together into one huge army. “Can
you dig it?” he famously intones before being assassinated, and the
killing is blamed on the hapless Warriors. Roger Hill is the actor who
played Cyrus, and he’s been essentially MIA for the last couple of
decades. But amazingly the folks at the Original Alamo Rolling Roadshow
have found him. He’ll be showing up tomorrow at the outdoor Coney
Island screening of the film (click here to read my original report on this amazing event that all New York City readers MUST attend), and he got on the phone with me for a couple of minutes to discuss the film.
Hill’s been out of the acting game for a while, and now works at a New
York City area school. His name has hit the nerd headlines recently,
though – he is suing Take Two Interactuve, who he said used his voice
and likeness in last year’s The Warriors game without his permission.
Q: It’s been decades since The Warriors came out, and yet every year it seems like the film gets new fans. Why is that? What is it about the movie that resonates with people?
Hill: I think that it’s timeless. You can’t peg it in any decade. This is not a 70s film or an 80s film or a 90s film. The way Walter Hill did it there’s nothing that belongs to any particular time period. It also has appeal to young people. The group mentality and the rousing – this is a little self serving, but I think Cyrus’ rousing speech has a little to do with it as well.
Q: Your lines in this film – you can say “Can you dig it” to someone and they’ll know what you’re talking about.
Hill: So I hear. For years I was totally unaware of what was going on. I really wasn’t into it at all. Only recently did I realize that this thing is not dying. Every now and again I get another residual check and I am so surprised that this thing is not dying. Now the video game is out, etc.
I’m as surprised as anybody else. Except thinking about it, we made a timeless film.
Q: What is it in your experience making this film stands out the most all these years later?
Hill: I had just done Hamlet about three months before doing The Warriors. I wasn’t supposed to do Cyrus originally, and it was a real gang member who was supposed to do the part. He didn’t show up for rehearsal so Walter Hill told me to try it, and it worked and we did it.
But what stands out besides that is the actual doing of it. It was a tremendous thrill to come in and do it before the crowd. As an actor that really turned me on. It was much like – I did a play called No Place to Be Somebody once and I had several monologues and soliloquies, and Hamlet has a lot as you know. In No Place to be Somebody I speak directly to the audience and they are roused by the speech, and this was a similar aesthetic. It’s very thrilling as an actor.
Q: I understand that in that scene there are a lot of real gang members that you’re speaking to. Did you interact with them, get insight into gang life?
Hill: You mean real gang members? I was not aware there were any real gang members. Was that the case?
Q: That’s what I was told. You were talking to a crowd filled with real gang members.
Hill: I don’t think that’s true, although I could be wrong. My understanding then until now is that they were extras, made up in an elaborate costume ball situation.
Q: I interviewed Terry Michos, who played Vermin, and he told me in that scene he was with real gang members.
Hill: Really? I guess he knows what he’s talking about! I was set apart from that, really. I was on that podium the whole time, and when I wasn’t I went back to my trailer and stayed by myself. When you’re acting you have to do that, you have to save your energy. You just can’t interact too much unless interacting is part of what you’re doing. But in order to do the part I thought I had to stay apart from the crowd as Cyrus would stay apart. That seemed to work best. I would not have actually interacted with anybody.
Q: Have you seen the new cut of The Warriors that Walter Hill put out last year?
Hill: No, I just saw the beginning with the interviews. I didn’t see the actual film.
Q: When’s the last time you’ve seen the actual film?
Hill: The whole film? Maybe three or four years ago.
Q: But you’ll stay for the whole film next week.
Hill: On Wednesday? Yes.
Q: And you’re doing a Q&A?
Hill: Sure, sure.
Q: Do you meet a lot of fans? Do you have the opportunity to come face to face with a lot of fans?
Hill: This is going to be my first time doing this. For the last 27 years people have stopped me in the street. When I was younger they would say, ‘You’re Cyrus!’ Now they say, ‘You look familiar.’ I’m obviously getting older.
I’ve talked to Deborah [Van Valkenburgh] via email and she thinks it’s going to be really a blast, but I’ve never done it personally.
Q: You have sued Take Two Interactive over your voice in The Warriors game. Are you allowed to talk about that at all?
Hill: No, my lawyers said absolutely not.