David Carradine - Grasshopper's farewell
In memory of David Carradine who died yesterday in Bangkok here's one from the archive. What follows is an interview The List ran in April 2004 just before the release of Kill Bill 2, in which Carradine played the title role. RIP David Carradine 1936-2009.
In typical time-twisting Quentin Tarantino stylee, the second part of Kill Bill starts out not where we left off in Vol 1, but by looping back to the day assassin-pimp Bill (David Carradine) and his squad of killers tried to kill our heroine at a Texas wedding chapel. 'How did you find me?' Uma Thurman's Bride asks her ex-lover Bill on the porch. 'I'm the man,' he replies, coolness incarnate.
Same goes for Carradine himself when met face-to-face. He da man. Sparking up a cigarette in a no-smoking zone ('I love to violate rules,' he drawls), the 67-year-old explains how originally, 'Quentin wrote this part for me and pretty much about me.' After all, Bill had to be iconic, convincing as a master of martial arts, a regular international man of mystery. Carradine is just that. The former star of the once hugely popular 70s TV show Kung Fu and elder son of a Hollywood dynasty, he sank into straight-to-video obscurity, apart from a few juicy turns in such films as cult Western The Long Riders, Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg, and Hal Ashby's Bound for Glory, in which he played Woody Guthrie.
But when push came to shove, Tarantino first offered the part to Warren Beatty. Carradine isn't the slightest bit bitter when this is brought up. 'I think the deal needed to be made with a guy like Warren Beatty because he's big-time, he's royalty,' he explains. 'And then I guess he and Quentin sort of had a falling out and he went back to his original plan. As a matter of fact Warren said to Quentin, "Why don't you just hire David Carradine, because you keep talking about him as the model all the time."'
He lets a beat go by and adds: 'I knew about it all along. I wasn't supposed to know, but I did because I have spies. I waited and finally the script was handed to me and it was a joy because it was the best script I've ever had.' For Carradine, Bill is a mixture of Tarantino and himself. 'Quentin has some of the same passion for teaching women how to do new things that Bill has,' he says knowingly. 'We have so much in common that dividing line gets messed up. Despite the fact that he's writing a character about me, there's a lot of him in me and a lot of me in him. We just meet on so many places. We share other things too, like a passion for Rodin's sculptures and similar musical tastes.'
It seems their collaboration will continue with an anime prequel movie in the pipeline about Bill's early days. Carradine will do the voice for this. Like so many of the actors Tarantino has 'rediscovered' (John Travolta, Robert Forster) and/or helped make into bigger stars (Thurman, Samuel L Jackson), Carradine repays the director with lavish, affectionate praise. 'I had more fun on this movie than on 15 movies put together,' he smiles. 'Quentin makes it that way. I think he is possibly the most capable director I've ever met. He understands every aspect of the process and he is delicate with actors which frees you. I think he understands people just as well as Ingmar Bergman, maybe more. The main thing is that he loves people.'
Given that Kill Bill is so much about masters and disciples, I ask Carradine if he has any disciples, a 'grasshopper' as they used to say in Kung Fu, of his own to whom he's master. He draws thoughtfully on his cigarette and then says no. 'I like to think of myself as the kid on the block and I want to stay that way,' he says. 'I don't want to be a master because I'm still a seeker. One of the lines I made up for Kung Fu was "We seek not to know the answers but to understand the questions." And I'm still there, still trying to understand the questions.' He da man.