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Learning a lesson from Guy Green on The Magus


My daughter made Anthony Quinn cry
Billy Williams Film-maker
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I got on with Michael Caine very well on Billion Dollar Brain. I mean I love his sense of humour, he's a great storyteller and I think it was largely through him that I was offered my next picture The Magus, written by John Fowles, and it was going to be directed by Guy Green, one of my heroes, my great black and white heroes, and a wonderful cast: Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, Candice Bergen, Anna Karina. And it should have been set on a Greek island where Michael Caine comes to start work at a school and he encounters this mystical character, the Magus, played by Quinn, and has two relationships with these beautiful girls, Candy Bergen and Anna Karina.

But instead of shooting it on a Greek island it had to be transferred to Majorca because there was a revolution in Greece and the Colonels took over, and so they decided it was much too risky to go there. So Don Ashton built a beautiful set on Majorca and I remember the first time we worked with Quinn... we'd been shooting for about two weeks with Michael Caine and the crew were kind of settled in, and we were waiting for Quinn to arrive with a certain amount of trepidation, because he was such a big star and such a charismatic character. And he arrived and we rehearsed his scene, which was a very long scene, and it was getting towards the end of the day and... so I went up to Guy Green and... and said, ’You know, it might be better, Guy, if... if we started this scene tomorrow; because if we start tonight we're not going to finish and tomorrow the sun's going to be over there instead of there and nothing's going to look the same’. So he agreed that we shoot the next morning. Well, my eldest daughter Claire, who was then about nine, had done a very nice drawing of a man fishing and she wanted me to give to Anthony Quinn as a... as a gift. So after we'd rehearsed this long scene I went up to Anthony Quinn and I said, ’My daughter Claire has done this drawing for you as a present; she wants to wish you good luck for the film’. He was so touched, he was... he was in tears. He said, ’You know, I have been so nervous, I've been so nervous with this scene’ and he said, ’This is the nicest thing that ever happened to me on the first day, having this little drawing’. And he sent Claire a cable to thank her, and that was the first time I realised how much pressure actors were under. Even people with...with his amount of experience, how tense it could be and how concerned they should be, and, of course he... you know, I think that Guy... Guy Green had already sensed that Quinn was... was not settled at all and he was quite happy for me to say let's shoot it the next day; and we did and it was fine.

Billy Williams, London-born cinematographer Billy Williams gained his first two Oscar nominations for the acclaimed “Women in Love” and “On Golden Pond”. His third nomination, which was successful, was for the epic “Gandhi”. He was President of the British Society of Cinematographers, and was awarded the Camera Image Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

Listeners: Neil Binney

Neil Binney began working as a 'clapper boy' in 1946 on spin-off films from steam radio such as "Dick Barton". Between 1948-1950 he served as a Royal Air Force photographer. From 1950 he was a Technicolor assistant technician working on films such as John Ford's "Mogambo" (photographed by Freddie Young), Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Bob Burke), and Visconti's "Senso" (G.R. Aldo/B. Cracker). As a camera assistant he worked on "Mind Benders", "Billy Liar" and "This Sporting Life". Niel Binney became a camera operator in 1963 and worked with, among others, Jack Cardiff, Fred Tammes and Billy Williams. He was elected associate member of the British Society of Cinematographers in 1981 and his most recent credits include "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Fierce Creatures".

Duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008