To mark Harry Dean Stanton‘s 90th birthday today, I thought I’d post my interview with him from our July 2014 issue, around the release of the Partly Fiction documentary and album. We had to cut short our interview when he learned that a friend had been admitted to hospital; we reconvened the following night. Considering the company he has kept over the years – Brando, Nicholson, Dylan – he came noticeably modest and sweet-natured. Anyway, here he is – a great man and it was a genuine pleasure to have interviewed him. Long may he continue to be a marvellous analogue presence in a digital world.
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After over 250 roles, Harry Dean Stanton has all but retired from the movies. These days, it seems the actor – an indelible, laconic presence in films like Cool Hand Luke, Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, Wild At Heart, Alien, Repo Man and Paris, Texas – spends much of his free time watching television. “I’m addicted to the game show channels,” he reveals. “I hate the hosts and the people. I just like the questions and answers.” But cinema’s loss is music’s gain: aged 87, Stanton has recorded his debut album, a collection of covers of songs by Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Fred Neil which accompanies a new documentary about the actor, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction. As a singer, Stanton has regularly performed at some of Los Angeles’ most colourful watering holes. He lists Luciano Pavarotti and Patsy Cline as his favourite singers, while conversation is peppered with references to musicians he has befriended through the years. “I love Dylan’s work, and Kristofferson,” says Harry Dean. “I’ve sung with both of them, in fact. Tom Waits, we’re good friends. He’s gnarly. He’s a fine poet. James Taylor’s song, ‘Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox’? He borrowed my guitar to compose that song.”
After turning the sound down on his television, Harry Dean focusses his attention on your questions. “I’m sure there’s dozens more things we could talk about,” he says, after a lengthy, digressive chat that’s taken in Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Leon Russell and Alfred Hitchcock. “But I think we got enough, don’t you?”
Harry Dean, do you like chocolate bunnies?
Chocolate bunnies? Of course. David is a big fan of mine. He first got in touch with me to play the part Dennis Hopper ended up playing in Blue Velvet. Because I play myself as much as I can, I didn’t want to go there emotionally, I guess, killing people and stuff. I told him to get Dennis. Dennis had dropped out at that time. He was down in New Mexico or somewhere, I think. I really liked The Straight Story. It was very touchingly written, the scene I had. David called me up and said, “I want you to do the last scene in the movie and I want you to cry.” He had me read a letter from Chief Seattle to the President in the 1800s. Chief Seattle was the first Indian to be put on a reservation. He wrote this great letter to the President: “How could you buy or sell the sky…” It’s beautiful. Anyway, it makes me cry. So I read that. And cried.