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Joan Collins on Working With Drunk Actors

Joan Collins on Acting While Drunk

By Billy Ingram

In a 1995 interview with Dick Cavett, Joan Collins talked about working with actors who were stoned drunk. The interview began with a side-glance at PC culture:

Dick Cavett: The impact of your presence and your looks are simply stunning. Now these days, we just don't say that anymore because it's considered to be, oh, what... demeaning to women, because they're just frivolous little bubble-headed things that only care about their appearance. We know all that.

Joan Collins: Oh well, see, I'm European so you can say it to me.

Actually, actors being drunk on the set of a movie or TV production is as old as Hollywood itself. For instance, all too often William Frawley, when he was on ‘My Three Sons’, had to be found in some neighborhood bar then carted back to the set to film his scenes. (Frawley made a deal with Desi Arnaz that he would remain sober on the set of ‘I Love Lucy’ in order to be cast on that show.)

Talking with Cavett, Collins recalled working with drunken actors including Trevor Howard who appeared in dozens of movies and television programs, during which he was heavily drinking much of the time.

Joan Collins: I must tell a story about Trevor Howard, who I adored, and who was such a wonderful, accomplished actor. I was working at a studio called Pinewood in England, which is the most beautiful old country mansion set in acres and acres of rolling green. And they had a non-stop bar there right next to the restaurant, gorgeous restaurant, fabulous people would come in and have lunches and dinners there. And this fabulous bar, which would open at eight o'clock in the morning, or seven o'clock in the morning, so all the guys could then have a drink and you'd see Oliver Reed and Trevor Howard and all the other reprobates there.

And I was doing this picture called The Adventures of Tom Jones… ‘The Further Adventures of Tom Jones’, sequel to ‘Tom Jones,’ and I played Black Bess, a highway woman, what a stupid role. And he was playing the father of Tom Jones. And he would be in there and he would be drunk as a skunk. And he would be telling a story, rowdy. I said to the producer, he's going to be doing a scene today. What do you need to do? He said don't worry. Go and watch him when he gets on the set. So the assistant director pulled him up. He turned him onto the stairs and mad as a hatter, when in front of the cameras, action. Perfect. Perfect. You would never had known he had a drink.

Dick Cavett: What is that? Is he acting sober?

Joan Collins: English acting… English actors loved to drink. And actresses too, I might add. There are very few, well, it used to be a wheel because you know, the bars always closed during the time that they were on the stage. So, and all the clubs and pubs, they would only be open for half an hour. By the time they finished the shift. So they would have to finish the show and rush and drink as much as they possibly could.

Dick Cavett: Knowing your verbal skills and wiles and so on. And I might doubt that story except I was an extra on a live play house 90 with Trevor Howard. And he was chiffused asked as a roommate of mine, used to say so much so that I had to help him back from lunch. He'd broken his leg skiing for another thing.

Joan Collins: Skiing or falling down the stairs drunk?

Dick Cavett: Well, he actually had, I think it was skiing, but his lunch consisted of three beers and two martinis. I swear to God… Do I go ahead? And we ate the paint. Do I go ahead and tell him, you're going to have to cancel rehearsal? And as you say, he sort of got himself onto the set and said, something has to give this experience a meaning David and he was sudden... That was the first line of that scene. And was he acting drunk a moment ago or do you act sober when you're drunk?

Joan Collins: You act sober when you're drunk. I've only done it once and I find it quite terrifying.

Indeed, for a performer, especially on stage, an unpredictable acting partner can be a nightmare. Watch the entire segment, Miss Collins is the very definition of a Star, with class and dignity while still coming across as a real person:

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