The 66-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright,
iconic actor, and long-ago East Village drummer with the
Holy Modal Rounders, was back in New York recently to
talk about his performance in the film, which opens
You've mentioned that this was one of the best
screenplays you'd ever read. That's mighty high praise
given the source. Were you really that impressed?
Yeah. At least in the last decade. I thought it was
beautifully constructed and well-wrought.
You must get piles of scripts. What grabbed you?
The twists and turns of it, the way it moves, the way
the story continually surprised me. The other thing is
that it was set in Bolivia and was being shot down
there, and I'd never been in that part of the world. It
seemed like, although it's an odd way to phrase it, like
an authentic Western. It wasn't a take-off—it was
actually telling its own story.
Those mountain vistas were made for the movies. What
was it like to actually be there?
We were up at 15,000 feet and the air is pretty thin.
There was oxygen sometimes at the hotel, motel. Some of
the flatlanders had a little hard time. And then we had
to bring in horses from Buenos Aires, these ex-polo
ponies, because Bolivia has almost no horses because of
the altitude. They have llamas and alpacas, but no
horses. And the horses had to acclimatize for a month
and a half. It's a wonderful country. It's 70% Indian
and there's an Indian president. It's very Indian, which
Were you ever a Butch Cassidy aficionado?
When it came up I had of course researched it. I went
down to Archer City, Texas, where Larry McMurtry has all
these big warehouses full of books. It's his hometown.
Many of them are Western books, and I found some
extraordinary old research books not only on Butch but
that whole neighborhood: Robber's Roost … Utah, Nevada,
around Moab where all the bandits used to hang out. And
I even found this whole book on Etta Place, this woman
who came from Denver. I wasn't particularly fascinated
with that story before I found the screenplay.
You're in a lot of movies but rarely are you this
prominent. Had you just been waiting for something like
this to come along or was it that you liked the
screenplay so much?
It was both. I think the script molds your choice. I
thought it was very much there on the page. It had that
kind of obsessive beauty about it. This was obviously
somebody's labor of love. You can feel right away when a
script is written by committee as opposed to passion.
You can't go more than three pages before you see that.
How were the horses to handle?
I ride all the time. I've been on horseback since I was
5 years old. That part wasn't a problem. What was a
problem was, with the altitude, learning how to breathe.
The Indian people chew coca. So I started chewing coca
every day. And I learned how to breathe by inhaling
through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. So you
have to learn certain techniques to get along with that
I was going to ask if you'd sampled some of the
chicha [a fermented beverage common to South America],
but I'd heard you don't drink anymore.
[Laughs] I drink now and then. It's not my favorite
drink. It's kind of rank. Call me crazy but I prefer
You haven't had a lot of major roles, but one of them
was in Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven," which was
recently released on Blu-Ray. Do you ever revisit your
old movies or is it a case of once you're done you're
Some of them I've never seen.
Any you're particularly fond of?
There are ones that I'm not embarrassed about. "Days of
Heaven" would be one. It's such a beautiful thing to
look at. The cinematography. I was on good terms with
Nestor Almendros, who shot it, Truffaut's
cinematographer. I got to know him very well. The
exteriors were shot entirely with natural light; there's
no synthetic light, which at that time I think was
unheard of. The Hollywood crews were kind of snickering
in the back that no one would be able to understand the
imagery because it would be too dark. And it won the
When you're on the set, do you write every day?
I write quite a bit on set because there's a lot of time
sitting around. Oftentimes it's just notebook stuff that
later turns into short fiction or notes for a play or
dialogue but I don't sit methodically and try and make a
play as if I was on my own time. But trailer time is a
perfect opportunity to get some writing done.
Is it true you only use a manual typewriter?
I have two manual typewriters that I use. I prefer them.
I started out that way. I get habitual about stuff. I
just prefer it over the computer because it doesn't feel
like you're doing anything. You're looking at a screen
and clicking the keys, but the keys - they're just
representative. They don't actually hammer a letter down
on the page. I like the page a lot. I don't relate to
the screen so much.
You do a lot of singing on the soundtrack. When's the
album coming out?
I'm doing some music with Patti [Smith] over at the
Electric Ladyland studio, where Jimi Hendrix used to do
his stuff, which is kind of extraordinary in that
atmosphere. With the ghost of Jimi. I've collected a lot
of songs and she has spare time there that allows me to
do a few things.
Are they your songs?
These are old songs from all different kinds of writers.
I don't think I can write a song.