Sunday, June 23, 2013
An Interview with Sydney Chaplin in 2003
Chaplin's son, Sydney, who worked with his famous dad in several films was interviewed about his dad's personality on the set and at home:
IGN FILMFORCE: What was the family's involvement with putting the Chaplin Collection on DVD?
SYDNEY CHAPLIN: That I don't know, because my sister mainly did that, and she's in Europe.
IGNFF: Is it true that a lot of the early films have passed into public domain?
CHAPLIN: I don't think a lot of them have passed into public domain. The family owns most of the full-length pictures.
IGNFF: Which sister handled the DVD collection?
IGNFF: Am I correct in remembering that you worked with your father inLimelight?
IGNFF: What was it like working with him, in comparison to how he was at home?
CHAPLIN: It was all right. It was just an added pressure... you wanted to do well.
IGNFF: Was he a taskmaster on set?
CHAPLIN: Well, he was tougher with me than with most people.
IGNFF: How would you describe that toughness?
CHAPLIN: It wasn't really toughness as much as he wanted me to do better. I was always on time and I always knew my lines, but he expected me to do well... as he would any kid, I guess.
IGNFF: How, in your mind, did you separate "this is family time with my father" and "this is work time with my boss"?
CHAPLIN: Well, you can't. There's nothing to separate. It's just one guy telling you, "Now this is what you do," so you do this. If he liked it, he'd say, "That's good... all right, give me a little bit more." He was very easy to work with, really.
IGNFF: How would you compare what you observed of him in his later filmmaking years to what you recall of his earlier years?
CHAPLIN: Well, the later years are when I knew him, really. The early years I didn't know.
IGNFF: Did you see a softening as the years went by, when it came to work schedules or other aspects of filmmaking?
CHAPLIN: I think it depended. The only time he got a little bit tough was when it wasn't his money – which is a little strange. When it was Universal money, he got a little bit tougher.
IGNFF: As far as being more intent to keep to budget?
CHAPLIN: He cared about keeping the budget, but they were on his back always, the people with the dough.
IGNFF: Was he ever frustrated with that? Because here was a man who once ran his own studio with no one to answer to...
CHAPLIN: No, because I'll tell you – the other pictures he did was with his own money. He used to bring that up sometimes... "This isn't Warner Bros., you know!" He used to scream that at everybody. "Come on now!" It was his own dough, and if he didn't like two day's work, he'd reshoot the whole thing. When that's coming out of your own pocket, that's a hell of a decision to make.
IGNFF: Was there ever a tension on the set?
IGNFF: You've starred in other features – how would you compare your father's working style with other directors you've worked with?
CHAPLIN: Most of the other people were easy. Everybody wanted the same thing – they wanted a good product. They wanted you to do well. And so did he.
IGNFF: So the added pressure...
CHAPLIN: It came from knowing that, as my father, he wants me to do well.
IGNFF: Did he ever push you into performing, or was the choice to go into show business your own?
CHAPLIN: Oh no, it was my own. Absolutely my own. I started a little theater group in Los Angeles right after the Second World War. We started this little theater group with a bunch of college kids from UCLA, and we did about 40 plays in a few years, and that's when I got interested in the work. Otherwise I don't think I would have been interested in being an actor, or anything else.
IGNFF: Did your father ever try to discourage you, once you'd made that decision?
CHAPLIN: No. He came down and he saw a couple of plays we did, and he was very pleased.
IGNFF: When he was suffering during the anticommunist fervor during the 1950s, did that have any repercussions on your career?
CHAPLIN: No. All of Hollywood took such a shot from all of that nonsense at the time, but that didn't bother him a hell of a lot – first because he was enormously wealthy, and second because he could tell everyone to go to hell. It's a great position to be in!
IGNFF: Were you disappointed when, for all intents and purposes, the witch-hunts ran him out of the country?
CHAPLIN: Oh yeah. I think they were absolutely terrible. As a matter of fact, I know when he was in England, I got a call from President Kennedy's office saying that Kennedy wanted to invite him back to America. But they didn't want to invite him unless he would accept. So I said, "I don't think he's going to accept." And they said, "Why?" And I said, "What is he going to come back for? To face a bunch of newspaper people? He's very happy, he's got a beautiful house in Switzerland, a marvelous big property, and people leave him alone."
IGNFF: Do you think his career would have been different if the witch-hunts hadn't driven him off? Would we have seen more output in the '50s and '60s?
CHAPLIN: No, because he wrote his own stuff, and he did his own work, so it's not like he had 40 scripts to pick one out – he wrote his own things, so it took him a long time between pictures. Most of his career was that... I'm not talking about the real early days when it was two-reelers or quick little things. He would take two or three years to do a picture. There was always a care... he cared enormously. He took a lot of time – it took him a year and something just to write a story. And then to make the picture, and edit it – so it was two or three years between pictures for most of his main works.