FILM / Marlon, millions and me: When Hugo Blick was signed for the dollars 50m Christopher Columbus - The Discovery, he expected the full Hollywood treatment. And, boy, did he get it

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LOOKING back on it now, I knew, the moment I set eyes on the title page of the script. There were five names on it, six if you included Additional Material: the producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind; the director, John Glen; and the two writers, Mario Puzo and John Briley. Unusual, yes, but not unheard of. No it was this Additional Material that really started the alarm bells ringing. In fact, during the filming of 'Christopher Columbus - The Discovery', I heard so many alarm bells I developed a permanent tinnitus in my left ear. It all began at the Groucho Club - I suppose these things often do.

22 OCTOBER 1991

I'm sitting in a room with the Salkinds. They say nothing; I say nothing; the casting director speaks. She tells them of my numerous worthy theatrical enterprises including a revival of Kydd's The Spanish Tragedy. 'Do you know the play?' I hear myself asking. No one speaks. 'Well, you should see it. It's very good.' Silence. The casting director looks down at my CV. 'He was in Batman,' she says. Silence. Ilya Salkind looks up. He speaks. 'You were in Batman?' 'Only momentarily.' 'You were in Batman]' he insists. 'Yes.' He nods and looks away. I'm in.

28 NOVEMBER 1991

I'm in a plane flying to Malta; I should be in Seventh Heaven but I'm in 'Tourist'. When my agent phoned me about the contract, she told me that the money wasn't bad, it was gangrenous: 'But I'm not in it for the money, Jean. I just want the role, basically.' 'Well, basically, darling, that's all you're gonna get]'

I smile at a man in a seat across the aisle. 'You must be in Columbus,' I say. He is. I can tell he wants to ask me how I know, but then a familiar wave of vanity crosses his face and I can hear him thinking, 'He must've recognised me.' I haven't. It's the week-old growth of goatee on his chin. We introduce ourselves.

'What role are you playing?' he asks. I tell him. He is trying to place me in the pecking order. Am I above or below him? 'Is that a good role?' 'Not bad. What about yours?' 'Same.' Stalemate. But we won't know for sure until the allocation of hotel rooms. The one on the highest floor with the sea view wins.

Where in nature black and yellow signal danger, in the film industry it's pink and blue. These are the colours of second and third draft script rewrites. So it takes me quite a while to pick up the one waiting for me in my hotel room. Even from a distance I can tell it's venomous.

When I eventually sit down on my balcony (on the third floor at the rear of the hotel overlooking a Maltese street), I count seven white pages in a total of one hundred and eight. This means that only seven pages of the original script remain. Mr Additional Material has been hard at work.

Two hours later and I've read it. There is a dull ringing in my left ear which I've never noticed before.

Down in the bar, I meet 'Goatee'. 'What room are you in?' he asks. I tell him. 'Oh,' he says. 'And you?' I ask. He is on the third floor at the rear of the hotel overlooking a Maltese street.

2 DECEMBER 1991

I'm in my room when the phone rings. 'Hello?' 'Robert Davi.' 'Hello?' 'Robert Davi.' 'I think you've got the wrong . . .' 'This is Robert Davi, shithead]' 'Oh.' 'I'm in the bar.' 'Oh.' 'Come and have drink.' 'Do I know you?' 'I'm Robert Davi.' 'I'm sorry, it's late.' 'Don't be such a dumb fuck] Come an' have a drink.' 'But my bath.' 'Forget ya bath.'

So I go down and have a drink. I know Robert Davi. He looks like a Colombian drugs dealer. He plays Colombian drugs dealers. He plays a Colombian drugs dealer in John Glen's The Living Daylights opposite Tim Dalton's Bond. I would mention it except that nobody ever mentions Tim Dalton. Tim Dalton was to have played Columbus when he suddenly, mysteriously dropped out at the last moment. No one knows why for sure.

Robert is standing in the bar with a Havana in his mouth and a pair of castanets in his hand.

'Whaddaya think, should I do a dance like a Spaniard when we sight the Noo World?' He stamps his metal heels into the wooden floor. The barman winces. 'Because I want this to be real. This is history we're talking about and you shouldn't mess with history]' I shrug non-commitally.

'What part are you playing, Robert?' 'Martin Pinzon.' 'I didn't know he was a baddy.' Davi's eyes narrow dangerously. 'He's not]' he snarls. 'He's the heart of the movie. Without him Columbus would be nothing]

'Look at this.' He takes out a well thumbed piece of paper from his black snakeskin wallet and opens it carefully before handing it to me. 'What is it?' I ask. 'A review of my last movie, Amazon.' I begin to read it. 'Don't read the whole thing, ya wuz, just the last bit.' I do. The reviewer is inferring that the mantle of Lee Marvin is soon to be passed on to Robert Davi. 'That's great Robert.' I hand it back and watch him read it once more before carefully folding it away. 'Lee Marvin] Not Basil Rathbone.' His eyes light up with a religious zeal. 'I'm a leading man, not some second fiddle.'

He stops, suddenly wary. 'You don't believe me, do you?' 'Yes, I do,' I reply. There is a dangerous pause as he studies my face to see if I'm lying. I'm not. I do believe him. 'Do you know what I'd really like to do?' he hisses. 'No.' 'Comedy, that's what.' I watch him bring the Havana to his lips intent on one last triumphant pull. But it's gone out. He must have finally starved the bar of oxygen.

5 DECEMBER 1991

I'm sitting in Hair and Make Up with a long, white-blond wig on my head.

'It's blond,' I say. 'And it fits your head,' she says. 'But it's blond,' I say. 'My character's a Spanish Jew.' 'Aren't we being a touch stereotypical, darling?' 'Maybe I am. I just haven't met many Jewish Vikings before.'

There's no choice in the matter; she hasn't been given the budget to make wigs individually so she's had to buy a box of 'ready-to-wear'. If it fits, it's yours, and the one on my head is the only one that does. But hang on. Isn't this supposed to be a dollars 50 million movie?

'What am I going to do?' I plead. 'Wear a hat,' she replies.

6 DECEMBER 1991

I'm standing on the dock with my long blond hair blowing in the wind, staring at the Santa Maria, sitting in a huge tank of water beside the sea in Malta. She's an exact replica of the original caravel, except for the four wheels just below her water-line. They'll be used to trundle the ship across the tank. Columbus may have sailed the ocean blue, but we're going to drive it. That's progress. That's Hollywood.

'Impressive, yes?' I turn. It's George Corraface. He plays Columbus. We shake hands. He's very handsome. He's very intense. He stares at me while we speak. I wonder if he's worrying about my wig, but then I notice the pressure behind his eyes and his agent standing beside him in mauve snakeskin cowboy boots and Gaultier spectacles.

'When did you know you had the role?' I ask. 'Last week.' 'Then you must have a lot to learn,' I say.

11 DECEMBER 1991

'What's 'e lauffing at?' John Glen's relaxed voice drifts over the water towards us from the dock where he's setting up a long-shot. We're all supposed to be looking over the side of the ship at a shark eating a corpse. Except it's not a shark at all, but a frogman with a dorsal fin strapped to his back. 'The only real sharks in this movie,' someone says, 'are the producers.'

'Look, we're trying to make a movie] It's not funny, y'know, not funny at all.' 'No, John,' Oliver Cotton concedes, 'it's just that we're lacking visual motivation. Perhaps if we could have something else . . ?'

We go again. This time on Action, John speaks through a megaphone. 'SHARK . . . OH . . . 'ORRIBLE . . . NASTY.' We all laugh. It's a very funny movie.

13 DECEMBER 1991

I have food poisoning. I'm projectile vomiting. I can hit a light switch at fifteen paces. 'You're not alone,' the doctor says, 'most of the set's got it.' 'Is it the location caterers?' I ask. 'No, it could be anything. Unless, perhaps, if they haven't been paid?' I give the doctor my sideways glance as if to say, 'Come on, this is a dollars 50 million movie we're on here.'

'Of course they've been paid,' I say.

18 DECEMBER 1991

I haven't been paid.

I can hardly hear my agent - there's an echo on the line and a ringing in my left ear. 'So what do you want me to do?' I shout. 'If we're not paid over the Christmas break, I'll have to pull you off the film.' 'Pull me off the film?' I echo, horrified. Then it suddenly strikes me that if the ship's sinking, maybe I should jump it. 'I see.' The ringing in my ear begins to clear. 'But don't worry, darling, it won't come to that.' The ringing comes back.

8 JANUARY 1992

We've made it to the 'Noo World'. We're all sitting in Tourist on the tarmac at Miami airport. We're on our way to the Virgin Islands but we've been delayed. We've been here for six hours. I'm being taught chess and am beginning to believe I'll have time to become a grandmaster.

Delayed over night, we approach the immigration post en masse. 'We're with Christopher Columbus]' one of our number bellows. The officer's eyes narrow to a snake-like slit. He hisses, 'And is Mr Columbus with you?'

I spend the night in a purple motel room. The crackle of the plastic undersheet keeps waking me. At about three o'clock I hear screaming. I switch on the TV and watch news footage of President Bush collapsing into his soup at a Japanese dinner. I wonder if we're going to make the night.

11 JANUARY 1992

It's 5am. I'm in a launch motoring to work across St Thomas' harbour in the Virgin Isles and watching the sun rise over the Caribbean. At the day's end we take a swim in the turquoise sea and catch the last launch home. It all seems pretty idyllic. I must be drinking a lot.

14 JANUARY 1992

I don't feel so good. The ringing in my left ear has worsened. There are problems on set. The first sign was when we got a circular letter from Ilya Salkind saying that everything was going well. It meant we were running out of money. Then I noticed John Glen becoming increasingly proprietorial about his location chair. And now, the Indians, previously friendly and welcoming, are beginning to regroup in remote corners of the location.

Yesterday, they started wearing wrist watches during their scenes. Today, their leader has put on a T-shirt with the logo: COLUMBUS: OUR BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS. I don't have to ask why he took the job in the first place because I know. He has no money and they offered to pay him some. But they haven't and old wounds are reopening. When he refuses to remove the offending article, security removes him and I overhear an assistant whispering, 'Round up all the Indians, lock them in the fort and keep them there]' Fortunately, as this isn't a John Wayne movie, the actors finally down tools in protest. And John Glen, with a John Ford-like pragmatism, dispatches a runner to cash a personal cheque.

The Indians paid off, we get back to work. That's how the West was won.

18 JANUARY 1992

Back in Spain, 'Marlon' is about to arrive.

19 JANUARY 1992

'Marlon' has arrived.

20 JANUARY 1992

'Marlon' is about to leave.

On set, it is rumoured the Salkinds haven't approved Brando's costume ideas. Previously, he had wanted to wear a black habit and cowl leaving only his hands and face visible. The Salkinds had apparently been happy with that. It's only now that he's suggested disguising his hands with long prosthetic fingers and wearing a pair of protruding false teeth and coloured contact lenses that the Salkinds have begun to question what exactly they'll be getting for their money.

21 JANUARY 1992

'Marlon' is having trouble getting to the set. Despite carefully booking into the hotel under an assumed name, he was still recognised] To throw off the paparazzi, padded decoys have been sent out in limousines across town. But, undeterred, they simply follow the only car heading for the film's location.

22 JANUARY 1992

'Marlon' is willing to work with or without a costume. It no longer seems to matter to him - any of it.

As he runs a scene, his lines are transmitted to him by an assistant in another room via a small earpiece he wears. It is supposed to increase his spontaneity and it probably does - I'm just waiting for CNN to get on his wavelength and start interviewing him. If they do, they'll be one of the very few who actually manage to get through. On set, he is rarely spoken to and he in turn speaks very little. He is surrounded by personal aides who heighten his isolation.

During his close-ups he takes to putting his hands in front of his face so he can't be seen. This goes on for some time. He is finally spoken to. 'Marlon, you're not doing yourself any favours, y'know]' He stops doing it. He just needed to be told.

23 JANUARY 1992

Marlon's left. He's taken a rumoured dollars 5 million away with him.

27 JANUARY 1992

We're back in the tank in Malta. A woman comes up to me. She is small with black hair that reaches almost to her knees. She looks at me sternly. 'You're not saying it right,' she snarls. 'I'm sorry?' 'It's Louise the Tourist.' 'What is?' 'Your name.' 'Oh, you mean Luis de Torres.' 'No, Louise the Tourist]' She walks away.

I'm in the bar listening to the pianist. He plays the piano like Bobby Crush and at the end of the number I find myself giving him a little Hughie Green nod, which unfortunately he sees. I wish I hadn't. I think I've made a friend. I turn away to see the strange little woman come in.

'Hello,' I say, 'we met this afternoon. I'm . . .' 'I know who you are,' she hisses. 'I wrote you]' I break her laser stare only to catch the pianist's, who winks at me. I turn back to her. 'Oh?' I smile inquiringly. 'I wrote the script.' She pauses, expectantly. 'Oh,' I say, thinly. She gives me her card. It reads: Berta Dominguez D. So this is Additional Material]

'We meet at last, Miss Dominguez.' She raises an eyebrow. 'D] Dominguez D. I'm half Native American.' I can only smile. 'I'm also Alexander Salkind's wife.' I try to speak but there's something in my throat. I clear it. 'Then you must be Ilya's mother?' 'I don't think so,' she replies. 'Ilya was born of an immaculate conception. My husband and I did not make love on the day he was conceived.' I'm now staring at the pianist.

4 FEBRUARY 1992

We see Ilya on the street. Although there are no signs of spiritual elevation, I now look at him differently. I wonder what lengths he must have gone to as a schoolboy to avoid inviting his friends home to meet his mum.

'It's been the worst]' he tells Oliver Cotton. 'I've made a lot of movies in my life, but this has been by far the most difficult]' Apparently, Ilya is unable to sell significant distribution rights because the Spanish government has impounded Brando's rushes until some wage dispute is settled.

I decide to call my agent.

5 FEBRUARY 1992

I haven't been paid. I'm owed a lot of money. So is everybody else. I find myself saying 'What?' whenever someone speaks to me. I realise I've finally gone deaf in my left ear. I visit a back- street specialist who places a tuning fork on top of my head. 'You've gone deaf in your left ear,' he says. At least, I think that's what he says.

9 FEBRUARY 1992

Two six-foot Amazonian blondes have flown in from Switzerland with a number of black briefcases handcuffed to their wrists. They have taken a room in the hotel and we have been told to wait outside their door at a certain hour.

The queue stretches the length of the corridor. The accountant arrives. He's a mean-looking body-builder. I understand the Salkinds have had occasion to use him before. He takes us in one by one. I notice that when people come out, they don't stop but go straight to their rooms. I wonder why.

It's my turn. The door is locked behind me. The apartment is dark. I am led through to the bedroom. The two women are seated by the bed. On the bed is about two million dollars. In cash. It looks like a model of the New York skyline. I have never seen so much money. The accountant checks my name against a list then picks up a wodge of notes - the scale equivalent to about one floor of the Empire State Building. The Amazons say nothing. I say nothing. In fact, I'm unable to do anything but stare at the bed. The accountant puts the money in my hand. He tells me that there's no need to count it as it's all there. I now know why nobody stopped when they came out. Like me, they'd gone straight to their rooms to count it.

I've counted it. I'm short.

14 FEBRUARY 1992

I have been on this film for three months. I have travelled all over the world with these people and have developed a certain admiration for them, even, bizarrely, for the producers. So when they promise me, as men of honour, that my outstanding money will be paid to my agent by the end of the month, I can't help but believe them. Or perhaps it's just that I can't help but want to.

We all say goodbye to each other at the airport. We look forward to meeting again at the film's premiere, but we know that there probably won't be one.

12 OCTOBER 1992

There wasn't one.

14 OCTOBER 1992

I have just spoken to my agent. She has received a bankruptcy notice. Christopher Columbus Productions has gone bust. I will receive no outstanding money.

I really should have known all along. Columbus himself promised ten thousand maravedis to the first man who sighted land. He never paid up either.

'Christopher Columbus: The Discovery' is available on video.

(Photograph omitted)

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