I was appearing in a play in the West End (theatrical district in London) when I got the call from James Clavell , author of the book Shogun, to come and have a look at a script that he had and wanted it read by that evening.
At the time I was very busy with the play at night and still managing to do a few spots for the telly . I remember kicking myself for not finding the time to go get a new pair of shoes. I walked up and down Park Lane in London trying to find our meeting place. There was no GPS or Google back then, and my feet were literally bleeding by the time I got there.
James offered me the choice of two roles, I chose the one with practically no dialogue. It was far more interesting and Vinck did not die until the end ! Brian Blessed was given the other part. Because I was busy, Sherri , my wife, who had slowed down a bit because she was very pregnant, volunteered to read the book and give me and idea of how it all played out. What a surprise when it was over a thousand pages. She read through the afternoon and all through the night. And proclaimed she could not put it down. It is an exciting and amazing look into the Japanese historical background and behaviors.
Clavell and I had worked together on Noble House and the "Last Valley " starring Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, in Innsbruck, where I met my wife Sherri, in an Austrian beer garden. James' daughter, Holly, and Omar's daughter, Nadia, played matchmaker. Clavell has written many notable books...King Rat, Noble House, Whirlwind, etc. and was a director (The original "The Fly" movie , "To Sir With Love", etc.) as well. He had suffered terribly in a Changi, a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp, when his plane was downed by the Japanese during the war, but he learned to have a great respect and fondness for their culture and history. He even took his Japanese Chef with him when he went on location.
Sherri started having a bad time with the pregnancy and wanted to be by her family in California should anything go wrong. The producers let me out of the play after multiple requests so I could fly with her there and get her settled. A month later I headed for Japan for over 3 months at the end of a 6 month shoot, and could not get back for the birth of Gable, our first born.
Jerry London was the director and he was there with his family. He has one of those Hollywood love stories that has survived . In the late 1970s he had been married about twenty years and he and Marilyn are still together. They were there with their children, Todd and Lisa. All the young men on the set and crew were madly in love with Lisa, she was a beautiful girl.
When the baby was a week old, we were preparing to move to a new location in Japan. Jerry allowed me to go home and see my newborn. Before I left his son, Todd, showed me a picture of a baby Orangutan and said that is what she would look like. When I got to Los Angeles and Sherri held up the baby in the car window. I thought WOW !! He is right... But she quickly became a darling baby, a pretty toddler and is now a beautiful girl young woman. Unfortunately, when I returned to the new location in Japan, all the film management and I had to go on a Sunday to apologize to the Mayor because I had not registered at the new location's prefecture.
Vinck was Dutch and was Blackthorn's (Richard Chamberlain who was the lead) right hand man on deck. I gave him a bit of an accent but not too much since I was advised that the American audience didn't really "go for that". Being English is accent enough... lol..and over the years I learned that usually meant you were the bad guy . Not this time though.
Eric Bercovici was the Producer, and there were a number of very notable and well known English actors as well as the great Toshiro Mifune from Japan, who was in the original Seven Samurai.
It was decided the part of the production that was Japanese dialogue would remain Japanese, with no sub titles. And although there were some concerns about that, there shouldn't have been. Everything flowed smoothly in the viewing of this epic mini series. Like a dance gracefully moving from English to Japanese, almost seamless. The only difficulty seemed to be a cultural one. Japanese men, at the time, did not like to be told what to do by Japanese women. And all the interpreters were Japanese women.
Our first stay was in Tokyo, we were to stay in Franklin Lloyd Wright's famous hotel, The Imperial Hotel, but the Japanese had actually moved the WHOLE hotel. So we stayed elsewhere. My first night I could not help noticing that I was a little too tall for the beds, and part of my legs and feet hung out the end. Tokyo is a huge sprawling city. It was so humid, the minute you stepped out into the evening air, after work, all dressed up, seconds later you were wringing wet. When we were filming, Jerry London and the camera crew had cold wet towels in buckets that they wound around their heads and Coca Cola was icy cold and on tap. When I filmed "The Last Valley" in Innsbruck with James Clavell he had a "private reserve" of Coca Cola flown in for his daughters, Holly and Michaela, and if you were a close friend you could get a bottle. Sherri and Holly were friends and so her American taste buds were assuaged.
Jerry is a very hands on Director. If he didn't go for what you were doing he let you know, but not in a put down. And he was very supportive of artistic input that may have not been scripted as well. He got terrific performances from everyone.
The Western way of acting is very different from the Eastern way. I loved Japanese Theatre . I've seen loads of Japanese films, and was looking forward to watching Mifune. He had changed a bit since I had seen him, he was terrific in the films I HAD seen, but he was masterful now. He had to do a ritualistic suicide, Seppuku/Hari Kari. We all crowded around this great actor as he filmed.
A few things I had to be aware of in Japan was the practice of offering something three times, and on the fourth they say okay to a drink or anything of that nature. Also, at first I did not realize when I would say, that's nice, or I like that, that the person was then obliged to give it to me. I learned to smile and nod and keep my mouth shut. I also learned a little Japanese, and noticed although they have many Western words in their language the words often end in an O or U, like beer-u.. First word I learned in that heat.
At night the actors made their way through the alleyways to the little Tempura stands in the street, and I discovered karaoke. Not yet know in Britain or the United States. The audience would applaud after every line sung, the songs often in perfect English when the singer otherwise could not speak a conversational word of the language. I sung Sinatra, and to this day I still sing Sinatra. We found a flag maker, and all ordered flags that were made with rice glue. Not your ordinary flags but beautiful landscaped scenes. Richard gave me a massive marvelous,intricate and colorful one that we hung on the wall above our baby's crib.
Richard Chamberlin was great. He worked practically everyday for 6 months. He was tireless, and it was always a wonder how he managed to look immaculate, fresh and clean in all the heat and humidity while the rest us us were a mess.
I had a death scene on the beach, the Typhoon was coming soon and we had to get it right . I believe I was told it was a thirteen minute straight shoot. Jerry worked with us, the light was slipping away and we went for it. It went really well. I remember laying face down on the sand and up close i could see all these minute crabs and creatures crawling everywhere, I was told it occurs because of the approaching storms. When I went see the official screening of the show , I was dumbfounded. I saw the opening credit they gave me...right up front and not contracted (lol.. I was told it was because I did the beach scene in one take). What a lovely surprise. ...Thanks Eric, ... Thanks Jerry, ...and thank you James, I miss you.