RCC Honors History Project

Actor: Rip Torn

Posted by chad612 on May 4, 2009

The other familiar name to me (in addition to Pauline Kael) is  Sissy Spacek’s cousin Rip Torn. A talented but “difficult” actor, his story is probably more typical of those who don’t make it, although he has had some success over the years. Notable in two film adaptations of Tennessee Williams plays, Baby Doll (1956) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) (opposite Paul Newman), according to his Wikipedia entry:

“The part of lawyer George Hanson in the Peter Fonda-Dennis Hopper road movie Easy Rider was written for Torn by Terry Southern (who was a close friend) but according to Southern’s biographer Lee Hill, Torn withdrew from the project after he and co-director Dennis Hopper got into a bitter argument in a New York restaurant, ending with Dennis Hopper pulling a knife on Torn. As a result, Torn had to be replaced by Jack Nicholson, whose appearance in the film catapulted him to stardom.

In 1988, he made an unsuccessful venture into directing with the offbeat comedy The Telephone, starring Whoopi Goldberg. The screenplay was written by Terry Southern and Harry Nilsson and the film was produced by their company Hawkeye. The story, which focussed on an unhinged, out-of-work actor, had been written with Robin Williams in mind. After he turned it down, Goldberg expressed a strong interest, but when production began Torn reportedly had to contend with Goldberg constantly digressing and improvising, and he had to plead with her to perform takes that stuck to the script. Goldberg was backed by the studio, who also allowed her to replace Torn’s chosen DP, veteran cinematographer John Alonzo, with her then husband. As a result of the power struggle, Torn, Southern and Nilsson cut their own version of the film, using the takes that adhered to the script, and this was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, but the studio put together a rival version using other takes and it was poorly reviewed when it premiered in January 1988.

He comes off as bitter in his Working interview, and didn’t achieve real recognition until a regular role  on the Larry Sanders Show from 1992-1998. He has since apparently been less “difficult” and more willing to do work more commercial than artistic, appearing  in films such as Men In Black, Dodgeball, Freddie Got Fingered and doing voice work in Bee Movie.

Freddy Got Fingered era interview, alongside Tom Green:



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