James Garner: You Ought to be in Pictures
A: Oh, you're talking about [Sid] Sheinberg? Well, that's what he looks like, a Mafia hit man. Universal is just one big snake. I don't think it has a head.
Q: Why did you once slug producer Glen Larson?
A: He stole 12 ["Rockford"] scripts from us and was shooting some of them when we found out about it. Sharon Gless, who had done a "Rockford," came to me and said, "Jim, I'm doing our script [on Larson's TV series 'Switch']. It's the same script we did." So we checked and sure enough, it was. So they took [Larson] to the [Writers] Guild and he had to pay royalties and was slapped on the wrist. About a year later somebody said, "He's done it again." He had a pilot and he stole the music from "Rockford." I called him and chewed him out and said, "Get that damn music out of there." He said, "Oh Jim, that's not the same music." Well, we were shooting at Universal at night, and he came over to this party we were having. I said, "Glen, just get away from me." I must have told him eight times to get away from me, and he wouldn't do it. So finally I reached over and punched him in the gut, thinking maybe he'd take a swing at me and I could beat the shit out of him. But he didn't. He called the sheriff's office. I went over to him and said, "Did you call the police?" He said yes. I said, "Well, if they're going to get me, they're going to get me good." I hooked him with a left, hit him in the ear and knocked him up over the curb. When the police came they just talked to us, we shook hands, and that was that. But he took the music out.
Q: Is he still working?
A: Yeah, I'm sure he is, stealing something from somebody somewhere.
Q: Didn't you also have some trouble with Charles Bronson?
A: I had a little set-to with Charlie, a personal thing over a card game at my house where he kind of ripped off this street kid in a game and I called him on it and he got upset. We came head to head and I made him pay the kid the money, probably 40 or 50 dollars. The guy was an extra, that money meant a lot to him.
Q: You've described yourself not as a tough guy but as a softy. So how come you're in these fights?
A: It takes a long time to get my goat, but it can be got.
Q: Stephen Cannell said the only person you punish with your anger is yourself.
A: That's true. I'm harder on myself than I am with anybody else.
Q: You've been known to get into terrible depressions. How often, and how long do they last?
A: It hasn't happened in a long time. Depression is a hard thing to deal with because you don't even know you're in it until you're in it so deep it's hard to get out. But I haven't had any trouble with it since I got out of "Rockford."
Q: You've alluded to a darker side of you than you've shown to the media. How dark does it get?
A: I've been in depressions where I couldn't make up my mind whether to take a shower or not, just sit for hours, couldn't get up, couldn't do anything, couldn't make a decision.
Q: Have you needed medication?
A: Yeah, I've taken Desyrel and a couple of things, which helps.
Q: You've admitted to being a control freak. You still that way?
A: I don't know if I've admitted to it, but it's probably true.
Q: You've said you won't do movies that glorify killers and bank robbers, correct?
A: I don't like glorifying killers. I had trouble with Bonnie and Clyde and Unforgiven for that reason. Film and TV are very influential. We have to have a certain amount of restraint in our business. I don't mean censorship, just a moral sense that we have to take responsibility for.
Q: Then how do you account for the enormous popularity of the two films you've just mentioned?
A: You're appealing to a basic low instinct in human beings. I worry about those things. In "Rockford" we did a thing on how to get a driver's license with somebody else's name on it. Remember the Chowchilla school bus that those boys hijacked, kidnapping the kids in it? That's how they got phony licenses, they watched "Rockford" and learned how to do it. I felt badly about that.
Q: In 1964 you made an early antiwar film, The Americanization of Emily. Is it still your favorite film?
A: Yeah. Paddy Chayefsky wrote a great script. I was fortunate to get that picture. Bill Holden was gonna do it. It was the first antiwar film made. Early '60s, '63. We were making it when Kennedy was assassinated.
Q: The Night of the Iguana was also being made around then.
A: That's a film I turned down. The part [Richard] Burton played. I never liked the film. It was just too Tennessee Williams for me.
Q: Have there been films you've regretted turning down?
A: I was up for Terms of Endearment, I went to talk to James Brooks. When we walked out of the meeting I told my agent, "I don't think I want to do that picture." I'm never upset when a picture I turned down is great. I just figure it wasn't right for me.
Q: Besides Emily, what other films of yours are you proud of?
A: Skin Game, The Great Escape, Grand Prix, Murphy's Romance, Victor/Victoria, Support Your Local Sheriff, Hour of the Gun.
Q: What films most embarrass you?
A: I've made some dogs. A Man Called Sledge was one. I did one A Man Could Get Killed with Melina Mercouri once that I didn't like.
Q: You were in a film about aliens, Fire in the Sky. Believe it could have happened?
A: Yes I do. I didn't see the movie, but I liked the script. I think it's very presumptuous of us to think we're the smartest thing in the universe.
Q: Ever listen to Howard Stern?
A: No, I'm not that sick. He's too tasteless. I don't understand that kind of success.
Q: What about Rush Limbaugh?
A: No, he'll say anything for effect. He's saying things that a lot of bigots and racists want to hear, so they love him. I'd love to slap him on the side of the head a few times.
Q: So if you had to be in a room for an hour with either one of them, who would you choose?
A: I wouldn't want to be with either one of them. I'd kick the shit out of both just on general principle. They wouldn't even have to say anything.
Q: One last question, Jim. How flattered were you that your ass was mentioned in Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge?
A: [Laughs] I don't know how flattering it was, but it was amusing. It's good to be written about. He was studying the asses of male movie stars all the way from the flat ass of Hoot Gibson to the impertinent baroque ass of James Garner. I found that amusing.
Lawrence Grobel interviewed Bridget Fonda for the November '93 Movieline.