HOLLYWOOD – Max Gash – supporting actor of over 1000 films – tells how he helped make William Friedkin’s Sorcerer.
Sorcerer. You ever hear the phrase “eat shit and die”? Well that actually happened to Stem Chudley. He was a minor bit part actor who was working on William Friedkin’s Sorcerer as an actor. One of the worst catering fuck ups you can imagine; Chudley went down with dysentry and was dead in 24 hours. And Billy’s on the phone to me, telling me to catch the next flight to the Dominican Republic and to bring a packed lunch.
I’m not going to lie: Billy was difficult. But when he came personally to pick me up at the airport I felt this was a man I could get along with. Dressed in a smart white safari suit and a pith helmet, with aviator shades hiding his eyes, Billy was the acme of charm. Only when we got outside did I realise that he’d come to get me on a Lambretta. But this was the Friedkin way. The budget had doubled and he desperately sought to save money.
I took over Chudley’s role. As anyone who has seen the film already knows, it tells the story of a group of desperate men who agree to transport nitroglycerin through the jungle for a fortune. My character was to add some well needed comedy relief in what was a fraught sweaty tale. Three trucks set off one with Roy Scheider who I always mix up with Rod Steiger, I don’t know why. The other with Bruno Cremer. And the third was with Roger Moore and me. Roger was already famous from the James Bond movie Live and Let Die and the studio thought they could cash in on the popularity.
The idea was he would be suave and dry while everyone else was sweaty. I was the Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote, playing what can only be described as a grotesque comedy ethnic type. It was never fully clear whether I was supposed to be Chinese or Mexican, but either way it was deeply offensive and very very funny.
If you’re asking yourself what happened, yes, the whole section got cut from the final version. No one knows why. It wasn’t the only thing that changed though. The film was first titled Wages of Fear. Then Billy one day decided he hated the title, partly because he was scared that people would think he was remaking a French film of the same name, which he definitely wasn’t. Then it was called The Devil’s Armpit. But only provisionally. We’re sitting down to lunch on the last day of filming and Friedkin starts gesturing at me. He had his mouth full of hotdog and I couldn’t tell if he wanted the hot sauce or the script girl. So I said, ‘Do you want the sauce or her?’ And this light went on in his eyes and that’s how we got the title.