Woods & Belushi

Much of the tension captured in the film was also real. In Salvador Stone was learning to wind the cinematic mechanism until it coiled with productive tension, both on the screen and on the set. Initially, much of it came from Woods and Belushi, “I like Jimmy and all,” Belushi says, “But he always had to have the last word in a scene. He would improvise things to call attention to himself. There was this scene in the car where I was explaining something’s I felt were pretty important about my character, and right in the middle of my fucking speech, Jimmy suddenly pulls out a switch blade and clicks it open right in to the camera. So naturally, they have to cut over to him for a close-up during my speech. So when the scene was over, I told Jimmy ‘If you pull that knife out again in one of my scenes, I’m going to open the goddamn glove compartment and pull out a gun and start waving it around’.”

According to Belushi, Woods, now totally in to character as the wild and unpredictable Richard Boyle, was incorrigible. “There’s a scene where we come out of this tank line thing. An armoured personnel carrier, when we’re going to that town where all the students are laying down on the ground. And they make us get in to the back of an open truck. So Oliver says ‘Jim Belushi, you come out first and walk in front with your hands over you head and get in to the truck and then Jimmy Woods, you come walking right behind him.’ So we get out and start to walk toward the truck, and Jimmy literally knocks my arm out of the way, and sort of elbows his way in front of me. He’s like improvising all these lines because he knows that as long as he’s talking, the camera has to stay on him, and I finally said, ‘Will you shutup?!’ and Oliver left it in the movie because it fits, but it’s really me telling Woods to shut the fuck up!”

Woods laughs at the memory. “Belushi and I would always tease each other. and the same thing with Savage. I remember the three of us would be in the same scene, Oliver would say, ‘This will be a struggle to see who’s going to steal the scene.’ But of course that kind of situation is what makes for great movie making.”

Things came to a head between Belushi and Woods over a joke Belushi tells in the film. At a fancy outdoor party where Boyle hopes to talk to the American ambassador, Belushi as a stumbling, drunken Dr. rock come on to an uptight blond American newswoman. When he asks her what her sign is, she looks disgusted and replies, “Stop.” He snaps back, “Oh, I thought it was ‘Slippery when wet’.” Belushi tells how the scene went: “I had put that joke in with Oliver, and it’s where I’m sitting on the ground at this table and I put acid in that girl’s drink. Jimmy had a big speech there where he tells her she’s an asshole. Well I finally caught on to Jimmy’s tricks and every time we’d near the spot where the joke was suppose to go, Jimmy kept closing the cue on me. There were alot of set-ups with that scene, so by the time it would get to me. There was no space for that line, and Jimmy would overlap it. When you overlap someone, you have to loop it, and that meant they would probably lose my line. I knew this shit already, so I was fighting to keep my space. I kept asking ‘Hey Jimmy, you’re gonna keep that open for me right?’ and he’d say , ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, sure.’ But he kept fucking with me. At a certian point I said, ‘Fuck you! I know what the fuck you’re trying to do, fuck you!”

But Belushi says he got his revenge. “As a supporting player I’m giving the lead actor power. And I’d been doing it. I supported that muthafucker. Helped make him look good. All I for was this fucking space for my joke, but he wouldn’t give it to me. So I pulled my support out. Now no-one knows how supporting another player is until he’s not there. And it was weird. He could no get through the lines. He would stop in the middle of a fucking take. So we got in a big fight and we walked off the set. O was pissed off. Jimmy was pissed off.” Now, where was Mr. Stone through all this? He was sitting back and letting the two boys fight.

“After about forty-five minutes, Oliver came over and said, ‘Okay now, lets be professionals.’ We were like a couple of kids, so we said okay. Jimmy let me have my joke and he knew I was with him and he shot right through the scene. But what’s interesting about Oliver is that he allows that to happen. He lets it get crazy, hell, even made it crazier, because lots of times he’d say little things to me like, ‘Woods is all over you man. you better push harder on some of those lines.’ And I figured now he was probably saying something to get Jimmy going at me. But part of what makes Oliver great is he’s able to feed off that energy, that tension, and he gets it down on film.”

Though Woods and Belushi reached an understanding, there was no question that, as the film progressed, tensions were increasing between Woods and Stone. Woods was not a huge star at that time, but he was a star, and though Stone had won an Oscar as a writer, both of them and most of the crew knew that Stone still had to prove himself as a director. Salvador was his moment of truth. “Working with Stone was like being caught in a Cuisinart with a madman.” James Woods says. “And he felt the same about me. It was Tasmanian devils wrestling under a blanket. Still, he was a sharp director. He starts with a great idea, delegates authority well, scraps like a street fighter, then takes the best of what comes out of the fracas.”