"These guys had worked together so many
times and there was not a single take that Walter didn’t
crack Jack up. Jack laughed on every take. It was
unbelievable! And, Walter wasn’t doing anything. Just
looking at him. And Jack would break up - every single time,
every take though the entire film. Watching them work was
just a privilege. " Brent Spiner (Out to Sea)
"BACK STAGE PASS: A Conversation with Brent
Fox Movie Channel: Can you tell us about the
first time you met Walter Matthau?
Well, the first time I met Walter was very memorable.
I’m not sure it was memorable for him, but it was something
I had anticipated for weeks. The idea of going to work with
Walter and Jack Lemmon and Donald Connor and Elaine Stretch
and Dyan Cannon and Gloria DeHaven and Rue MacClanahan….
But, particularly Walter. He was a comic god and hero of
mine, so I was really nervous and excited about it.
We first met at a table reading, but we didn’t
really talk. I was too nervous to speak. But, a friend of
mine knew Walter and said he was huge film trivia buff. So I
said, "Great", that will be the icebreaker.
first day I worked with him on the set, we shared a car. I
thought, "I’m gonna break the ice here." And I said,
"Walter? Who played Friar Tuck in Errol Flynn’s ROBIN HOOD?"
And, he looked at me and he said, "Why do you ask me that?"
And I said, "Well, I thought you knew everything." He
laughed and said, "Well, no. I only know spelling and how to
lose money." So, I felt like a complete fool opening up this
Anyway, we did the day’s work and I
didn’t see him for another couple of weeks. I was working
and he wasn’t. Two weeks later we had another scene together
and I was already on the set rehearsing when Walter came
straight up to me and said, "Eugene Palette". And, I
thought, "I love this guy." So, that was the first
experience I had with him.
Fox Movie Channel:
Walter frequently played the rough, growly, slouchy guy on
screen. How do you think that compares to his personality
Brent Spiner: He was growly and
slouchy, but he was also an intellectual. He was a bright
man. Incredibly alert and aware of everything. But, in terms
of being gruff that was sort of the show. There was pretty
much a marshmallow inside.
My memory and feeling
from Walter has always been gratitude, just for his kindness
Fox Movie Channel: Do you have a role
that you think came kind of close to the real Walter
Brent Spiner: Well, in a way, I think
almost every role that Walter played was close to Walter. I
don’t think he stopped to analyze what he was doing. That
Actor’s Studio number on the performance. He really just
came from truth and tried to make it as honest as he could.
You see a lot of Walter in everything: the serious
roles and the comic roles. One of my favorites Walter
Matthau performances is CHARADE because he walks the fine
line between both of them. He’s the villain and actually
kind of scary, but he’s also kind of funny.
Movie Channel: Was there any particular moments during
OUT TO SEA where you had special directions with
Brent Spiner: There were times he
would turn to me before we’d do a scene and say, "This isn’t
funny. Rewrite it for us." And, I’d rewrite it and he’d say,
"This isn’t funny either. Let’s do it the way it was
Fox Movie Channel: What was the
dynamic between Walter Matthau and Jack
Brent Spiner: It wasn’t the dynamic I
expected. I expected Jack to be the dominant force in the
team. But, Walter was the dominating figure.
would say something, or do a bit and Walter would say, "Are
you going to do that". Jack would say, "Yeah, why?" And
Walter would say, " ‘Cause it’s not funny." And Jack would
say, "What should I do?" And, Walter would tell him. And,
that’s what they’d do.
Fox Movie Channel: Did
they ever crack each other up?
Spiner: These guys had worked together so many times,
and there was not a single take that Walter didn’t crack
Jack up. Jack laughed on every take. It was unbelievable.
And, Walter wasn’t doing anything. Just looking at him. And
Jack would break up every single time, every take though the
entire film. Watching them work was just a privilege.
Fox Movie Channel: Jack Lemmon spoke about
how often Walter would ad-lib on set. Did he do that with
Brent Spiner: In almost every scene I
worked with him, I would hear dialogue that I’d never heard
before. But, I didn’t feel I had the luxury to lose it. I
thought, "You know, I need this job, so I’m not going to
cost them film here. Let Walter be the one to do it."
Fox Movie Channel: Can you tell us of an
instance when you were surprised by his
Brent Spiner: He invited me to the
ceremony at Mann’s Chinese Theater when he got his hands
placed in cement.
Fox Movie Channel: Can you
describe what getting his star was like?
Spiner: He wore a suit and goofy sneakers. I think he
didn’t want to mess up nice shoes, so he wore a pair of
goofy sneakers. But, he probably wore those all the time.
Fox Movie Channel: Did he give you any acting
Brent Spiner: He would say, "Brent
Spiner. Brent Spiner, you got to change your name." I said,
"Well I think it’s too late for that, Walter. He said, "No,
no, no, believe me you got to change your name." I said,
"Well, what should I change my name to?" And he said, "Brent
Lemon Jello." I said, "I don’t know." He said, "What about
Brent Orange Jello…You can say it like Orangello or
Mamagello." That’s Walter.