In part two of our interview, Rowdy gets into the movie that he’s most famous for, the Patrick Swayze-starring Roadhouse.
B&S: Jack’s Back recently was re-released on blu ray and is streaming, so it’s picked up a new audience. Are you surprised when movies get a new life like that?
ROWDY: Well, you know the movie that I worked on that will never go away? Roadhouse. American Cinematheque just had a thirtieth-anniversary celebration at the Egyptian in Hollywood and we had five hundred people in the audience. They knew every line! It was crazy. I was there with Dean Cundy who was the cinematographer, Tim who was the executive producer on the picture, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliot couldn’t make it and of course, Patrick is gone…We had some of these guys who played the bouncers and the bad guys, too.
That movie broke the record for the most television viewings of any movie in history. It’s just on all the time!
B&S: There are so many interesting people in that movie. Terry Funk shows up in it!
ROWDY: Yeah! He was a trip. I loved Terry.
B&S: Is there any truth to the story that Bill Murray and his brothers call Kelly Lynch’s husband every time it airs?
ROWDY: Yes. (Laughs) Bill Murray said that to Anthony Bourdain when they were eating together, I saw a video of him saying that “Roadhouse was pretty much a perfect movie.” (Laughs) My attitude is that it’s better than it had to be!
B&S: It’s never gone away. You can turn on a TV and find it once a day, on some channel, anywhere in the world.
ROWDY: I wouldn’t have guessed it. I knew it had broad appeal. If you watch it, I had the art direction do a lot of primary colors because I thought that it was kind of a cartoon. “Pain don’t hurt?” That movie…it’s out there.
B&S: Did some of the zen come from your days working on martial arts movies?
ROWDY: A little bit of it. I had input on the script. He was always a zen bouncer with a philosophy degree. We knew what we had. We just tried to play it straight. Nobody did that better than Patrick Swayze and Ben Gazzara. That villain is bigger than life and he played it as straight as he could. I was pleased to get him in the picture. He was happy to come back to the United States, he had been working in Italy and one of my favorite movies is Saint Jack. So I recommended him and said, “Let’s get him in here.” He did a fabulous job.
B&S: Obviously, people around the world know you for Roadhouse. In Pittsburgh, it’s Striking Distance. How did it feel to come back here and shoot a major film?
ROWDY: I was pretty excited about it. I had a lot of my friends on the movie, a lot of the guys that I worked with at WQED and I think we made the city look fabulous. The interesting thing about that picture was, when I sold it to Columbia, we got Robert Deniro attached. So I worked three months with Bob rewriting the script and his taste ran to the darker side. And he really wasn’t interested in the killer or the action. He said to me, “You know, Rowdy, at the end of the movie, when we know who the killer is, why do we have to chase him?”
After all that work, the studio hated the new script and wondered what happened to the script that they bought with the humor and action. So Deniro pulled out, gave me a hug and he said, “Get Mel Gibson.”
Mel was busy. We made an offer to Michael Douglas, who said, “I just kinda played this guy in Black Rain.” My agent represented Bruce Willis.
The next thing I know, Bruce wants to do the picture.
Which makes it a go movie.
But to put it nicely, we didn’t get along. He wanted to make the Deniro version of the script. How he got it, I don’t know. We had a lot of interesting conversations where he’d bring in scenes that I already wrote that were in a different movie now. It was kind of painful. I didn’t like him. He’s not a nice man. I’ll leave it at that.
I met him in a restaurant in Malibu and I saw him walk to the table and I thought to myself, “I get it. I see why he’s a movie star!” He had that presence. The first thing he said to me was, “Everybody says that I’m hard to work with. And that’s not true.” And you know what? It is true.
B&S: So there really is another cut of the movie when it was still Three Rivers?
ROWDY: No, that was the title of the script. The marketing people at Columbia — in their wisdom — called it Striking Distance. And I’ve always hated the title. My logline was “One killer. Two cops. Three Rivers.”
When you get in the studio system…the independent films that I made were way more satisfying to me. I always had to fight and you never get final cut. Even Roadhouse had more vulgarity added back into it after my cut. I figured, Patrick Swayze coming off Dirty Dancing, more young girls are going to be coming into my movie. Why turn them off with something outrageous? It’s always a battle and the marketing drives the movie. And today — marketing decides what’s going to get made.
In tomorrow’s part, Rowdy discusses some of the more rewarding relationships that he’s had with actors.