Ryan O’Neal Talks About Legendary Director Stanley Kubrick

Ryan O'Neal discusses Stanley Kubrick and Barry Lyndon

By James Colt Harrison

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has just released Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection Blu-Ray™ which includes 10 discs, 8 films, documentaries, and a new hard-cover book using film archive photographs. The films included in the set are Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Film star Ryan O’Neal met with us on the Warner Bros. studio lot to discuss his experiences with Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, in which he starred. It was adapted from the 1844 classic novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811 – 1863). Thackeray is probably most famous for his novel Vanity Fair (1848), which has had many stage and film adaptations.

Ryan O’Neal Interview:

Is it fun for you to revisit Barry Lyndon over and over?

Ryan O’Neal: “I don’t constantly revisit it! But it’s nice when people remember.”

How do you remember it?

Ryan O’Neal: “As an ordeal! Hasn’t anyone else said that to you yet? You turn yourself over to him and you hope that someday he’ll let you go. It took me a year and a half (of work).”

Wasn’t it good for you at that young age to work for such a great director?

Ryan O’Neal: “Yeah, I had ‘legs’. I could do it. He shot a lot of takes. You don’t get a stand-in. It took him a long time to light it. So by the time he’s got it lit, you learn a new rhythm on how to work.”

Kubrick used a lot of candlelight as a source. Did that make it easier or was it more complicated to light?

Ryan O’Neal: “Well, sometimes we needed 100 candles after they all melted! If we didn’t get the take, we had to start with new candles. The candles all had three wicks, so it wasn’t easy to blow them out. I used to help blow them out until there was nothing left.”

Somebody described Barry Lyndon as a film where very little happens, which isn’t exactly true. There were battle scenes and fights. Did it strike you as an uneventful film?

Ryan O’Neal: “Gee, that’s a strong question. It wasn’t uneventful for me. They carved away at me. I didn’t know what he (Kubrick) was going to do. I didn’t see the movie for a year. It wasn’t ready to be seen. And then I didn’t know what I saw. It’s very unique. Stanley was a lover boy; we all loved him. We were crazy about him. Whatever he wanted we would try to do. It wasn’t just the actors but everybody. He was our god.”

It was said he expected a lot out of you, but he expected a lot more out of himself.

Ryan O’Neal: “First of all he’s got the sound to work on, and then he’s directing us, so he had his hands full. He’s gone. I didn’t think he would ever die. I thought he would live forever.”

When you look back at the film after so many years, are you glad you went through that ordeal?

Ryan O’Neal: “Yeah, I guess so. I wouldn’t be here!”

You’ve done several period films. What’s your favorite part of doing such films?

Ryan O’Neal: “Oh, they help if you don’t know the period. You put the costumes on and all of a sudden you ‘get it!’ For Paper Moon I was wearing George Raft’s suit. I know who HE was! I guess I have done a few period pieces.”

It’s said Stanley Kubrick used to write notes between scenes and then change the script a lot. Was that true?

Ryan O’Neal: “I remember I was working on a bridge with my mother. There was a place when they weren’t sure if the lines were working. He had the original book Barry Lyndon by Thackery in his hands. He opened the book to the exact page of what we were shooting and he said, ‘Let’s shoot what’s here because I opened it to the right page.’ He was hopeful of fate.”

Besides Barry Lyndon, do you have a favorite Stanley Kubrick movie?

Ryan O’Neal: “I watched Lolita this morning. That had some interesting things. It was way ahead of its time. It still is. All his black and white films were good.”

What do you think was the most valuable thing you learned from the production?

Ryan O’Neal: “I got a good salary! My deal was for about 18 weeks and after 18 weeks (of work) we had (completed) about four pages (of script). I was going into overtime. He said to me, ‘How much are you making? Shouldn’t you be unloading the trucks?’ I said, ‘What?! Dressed like this?’”

So how long was the shoot?

Ryan O’Neal: “It was something like 350 days. We actually stayed there. In fact, we were thrown out of Ireland after an IRA member called and threatened us. I would have called myself and made a threat months ago if it would have gotten us out of there sooner!”

So what did you do?

Ryan O’Neal: “I took my daughter Tatum and we went to Paris. I wasn’t there more than 24 hours and they called to say they were going to set up in England and I had to come back. We were back to work in Bath, England on that following Monday. Kubrick was a good producer, too, even though he did shoot a lot of takes.”

What is your view on doing a lot of takes of a scene?

Ryan O’Neal: “I worked with (director) Arthur Hiller and he shot a lot of takes. But not like Stanley! We averaged 30 takes per shot. I never realized why he did it that way. We shot it and shot it and then he’d use the second take!”

There’s a lot of talk that Kubrick was very funny on the set.

Ryan O’Neal: “Here’s the thing. Stanley begged us never to talk about him. I don’t know if it was his modest personality or he was very protective of his privacy. We didn’t have a publicist or a still photographer on the set. He said he would just clip a scene from the movie if he wanted a picture.”

Was there anything learned from this film that you used later in your other films?

Ryan O’Neal: “I hope not, but probably! I don’t know if he made me a better actor. It seems to me it’s been downhill ever since then!”

You’ve worked with many accomplished directors such as Arthur Hiller and Peter Bogdonovich. Do great directors have anything in common?

Ryan O’Neal: “They’re highly intelligent. That helps. They have good instincts. They don’t fall for the blondes on set!”

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