Holy crap it’s hot here in New York City. But don’t let that stop you from coming to the Original Alamo Rolling Roadshow presentation of The Warriors tonight at Asser Levy Park. It’s going to be a good 10-20 degrees cooler down at Coney, and the film starts at 8:30, when the heat will be breaking, so it should only be about 100 degrees.
But seriously, many of the original cast members are going to be there, along with fans in costume and an incredible opportunity to see one of the all-time great New York City movies in its natural environment. And speaking of incredible opportunities, that’s what Mercy had on the night The Warriors came running through her turf. She lived in Orphans territory, and if there’s a more bitch-ass gang in The Warriors I don’t know who it could be. She really made the right choice in jumping ship and heading off to Coney with Swan.
Of course that wasn’t always the way it was supposed to be – Mercy was scripted to end up with The Fox, but director Walter Hill decided to kill that character off and make Swan the center of the love story. Earlier this week I had a chance to talk to Deborah Van Valkenburgh – Mercy herself – and that was definitely something I wanted to discuss. By the way, she’ll be at the screening tonight, along with most of the rest of the gang. Click here for all the details. Oh, and I’ll be there too. Buy me a beer.
Q: The Warriors originally came out in 1979 and it’s still getting new fans every year. What do you think it is that’s given it such longevity?
Van Valkenburgh: I don’t have a good answer! I’m really fascinated; I don’t actually know. When we were shooting it I think I had questions whether anyone was going to buy it at all. We were taking ourselves very seriously, which is probably what made it work best. I was just flabbergasted when lines were wrapping around the block to see it at different theaters. That surprised me.
Michael Beck and I did Comic Con last summer and a young man approached us and he was so excited. I asked him, ‘How in the world did you learn about this?’ The new fans today weren’t even conceived when the movie came out! I think first he said it was his dad, and then he said he was channel surfing and he ran across it and he was mesmerized and has become an addict. There must be something about the heightened reality and the energy and the score is very energizing. There’s something fantastical about it. It was certainly amazing shooting it, running around the city at night. What do you think? I’m thrilled but it’s mysterious.
Q: I really grew up with it, watching it on TV. What’s funny is that I always thought no one else knew about it, and then in the last couple of years it’s become so huge.
Van Valkenburgh: Everywhere I would go it would be people quoting lines from the film, and there’d be some young man at a party going, ‘We watch the film once a month, there’s a whole group of us.’ It’s such a ritual. It happens more than once a year. It happens in groups. The word of mouth keeps spreading. Now I feel more surprised when people haven’t heard about it. I send them straight to the video store!
Q: You talk about shooting on the streets of New York at night – everyone has some stories from that, but yours might be more painful than others. You were injured on the set.
Van Valkenburgh: Oh gosh. I don’t know if they put it on the DVD, but I said I was the poster child for ‘Do not run on the subway platform.’ We had a mishap one night where the shoes I normally did my running in – I don’t know what happened to them, they weren’t available. We ran up to some department store and bought a crappy pair of shoes. Then they fired Tom Waites and we were right in the middle of a sequence and they thought the assistant camera guy looked like him from the back so they had him run with me. Bless his heart he was very sweet and shy and stuff, but we were running and we just tripped over each other and I fell down and fractured my wrist on the platform. They put me in a cast up to my armpit and started inventing all kinds of other things to shoot for about a month. Then they put a splint on my arm and gave me the blue jacket and wrote the scene where I got the blue jacket.
About a week after I got the splint off, Michael and I were shooting a scene with a baseball bat. Everything went great for the rehearsal but I don’t know what happened when Walter yelled action – the bat came up before I cleared him. I ducked and the bat hit me in the forehead. It split my eyebrow open and they had to rush to me Long Island to a plastic surgeon who was pretty phenomenal, I have to say. The rumor was that he kept his fingers nimble by putting together a little tiny toothpick ship. He did a really meticulous job and I guess I gave the producer a heart attack. Two accidents!
It was such a rite of passage, I have to say. I never in my childhood had stitches, I never broke anything and all of a sudden it’s all happening on a movie.
Q: You mention two things that had to be changed on the fly. That’s sort of rare in a movie, to have a major character written out and a love story changed. I know that a lot of you came from theater backgrounds – did that help you roll with the changes?
Van Valkenburgh: Perhaps. Certainly working on stage you’ve got something different every night and you can have catastrophes and you have to learn to roll with the punches because you’re on stage and people are staring at you. Perhaps so, but I didn’t feel thrown off. I felt relieved and lucky and fortunate I was still working on the movie after all that!
This is my memory of Walter – he was stimulated to create things at the last minute, to insert things. That was a favorite word of his. I did Streets of Fire with him as well and he had a whole sequence with all of these crazy characters that disappeared by the time we were shooting. He realized it was a lot more information than he needed to insert in the movie. He pared down a lot. We actually had a whole other sequence in The Warriors with a kind of I guess a gay gang. They had Doberman Pinschers and spiked collars [and they originally kidnapped Swan for most of the film’s running time]. That to me was more radical – I was still in the movie and working off of what he was giving me, but when Tom Waites was killed off and Michael Beck’s character became my love interest they got rid of that other stuff. It was much more difficult for the wonderful actor who did not get to do that part that he was looking forward to doing. He was a wonderful actor; I saw him doing Sid Vicious years later. It was tougher for him.
Q: Was that gay gang stuff ever shot?
Van Valkenburgh: No. I think they got everything set to go but I don’t think they ever shot anything. You know, Michael would be able to tell you more about that, but my impression was that they didn’t shoot.
Q: Walter put out a new cut of The Warriors last year. Have you seen it?
Van Valkenburgh: I’ve seen snippets but I haven’t sat down and looked at the whole thing with the animation and stuff.
Q: What’s your best memory from shooting the film? Or the most positive, at least.
Van Valkenburgh: I can’t be that specific. It was really a completely exemplary experience for me. It was my first movie. I was the chick with a bunch of cute guys, they made me feel like a million bucks each night. I used to come to the set when I wasn’t working and everyone thought I was crazy. But where else would I want to be? It was like a party every night, I’m hanging out in parts of town that I wouldn’t normally have a safe opportunity to visit. And I’m learning stuff. It really was literally fantastic.
If a person could only have one film in their entire career, I’m glad this is in mine. The fact that it’s still a very present part of my career is really incredible. It’s very special to me. I remember one really neat memory when we were shooting the sequence where we were walking down the beach at the end when the credits were rolling. We’d walked a pretty long way and it was freezing. It was October! You were freezing your pants off out there. I was whispering to Michael, ‘Did they yell cut? Can we stop?’ He said, ‘No! Keep walking!’ Finally we walked over a dune and nobody could see us anymore. We cut across to some avenue where we could get back to all the trailers and everything. We’re hiking and hiking and we get back to the trailers and Walter Hill and Frank Marshall greet me with a dozen red roses. To just walk back to camp and have these two guys hand me a dozen red roses was spectacular. Nobody’s ever been like that again!