The Tim Buckley Archives

Interviews

1995

The Million-Dollar Bootleg

Linda Gillen interview

by Martin Aston - MOJO

Suddenly the whole world wants to see an unreleased 1971 cult movie and its two currently infamous stars. One is a mystic folk troubadour enjoying vast critical rehabilitation. The other, America's best-loved role model/actor/sportsman turned globally-renowned Most Wanted Man. Co-star Linda Gillen tells the incredible story of six months on location with Tim Buckley and OJ Simpson.

Why Publicity still L-R Tim Buckley, Linda Gillen, OJ Simpson

"Life in the early '70s was fabulous. I was 20 and lived in the mountains in Malibu, making a living as an actress. My roommate was friendly with a lot of rock musicians like The Byrds -- she ended up marrying Roger McGuinn -- and we knew people like Gram Parsons and Joe Cocker.

"I was friendlier with musicians because with actors it was almost incestuous. I went out with an actor once, and I'd get a script and he'd go, I haven't been put up for that, I better call my agent! Whereas musicians would say, Oh that's great. Actors were worried about their image whereas the worse a musician's image, the happier they were.

"Acting roles were like dancing through a minefield. I'd done a movie with Don Johnson called The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, where I played a bisexual who did drugs and stuff, which was a scream to play but, after the film came out, people thought I was that girl. So I retreated to the mountains and waited for the next interview. I wanted a film where you would create a character from the ground up, like a work in progress -- the kind of film John Cassavetes made and Mike Leigh makes in England today. Then someone recommended me for one, a film called Why. The director, Victor Stoloff, told me the film was about people in group therapy, which no-one else had done before, and it was also to be the first film shot on video tape and transferred to 35 millimetre.

"The film's characters were drawn from people Victor had met in real life, one of whom was a girl from a wealthy family who was 17 -- which I could pass for -- pregnant and unmarried, who shot heroin. Another character was this musician called Glen who was to be played by the guy in Three Dog Night, but he never appeared at rehearsal.

 

In 2001, Jack Brolly - AKA jzero - tracked down Victor Stoloff and published an interview on his fan site, Tim Buckley and Friends.

Stoloff kindly allowed Jack access to his copy of Why and thus clips from the film were made available to the public for the first time in decades.

"All of a sudden Tim turned up. I sort of knew who he was but only because I'd seen a record sleeve of his -- the one with a yellow background and something psychedelic in his eye, like a disc or a gem [Goodbye And Hello] which I'd seen in a store window -- but I'd never heard his music. I asked Victor why Tim got the part, and he said he gave a magnificent screen test.

The part called for a drummer whose rock group had broken up and was lost without the friends he'd been with for years, and who talks about those feelings of loss. It was a very introspective part. Towards the end of the film, he gets the courage up to go out on his own and cut his own album.

He was 24 at the time and looked amazing -- a frail, skinny, little bird. White white skin. Gorgeous black soft hair. Big heavy old overcoat -- I mean, this is Los Angeles, which is 80 degrees in the winter! -- black sweaters, big motorcycle boots and black pants with a belt with extra holes punched in it as he was so thin. He never seemed to eat but he was always chewing things, kind of nervously, his finger nails, plastic spoons! He was this strange, shrunken person, a lost soul. Mind you, all musicians looked like that then. They didn't work out in gyms like Bon Jovi. These days people spend a lot of money trying to look like Tim Buckley.

I knew even less of OJ than of Tim. The producer, Bobby Cohn, had met him in a nightclub and had just the part for him. He was a nationally-famous American football player, 20 years old but he'd never done any acting. He had to play an athlete whose father was another famous athlete, and was trying to find his own way. Victor gave us the skeleton of the characters we played and we had to fill it in.

OJ talked about how he'd been a wild teenager, and how a famous black athlete came to his school and took an interest in him, and it made all the difference. And everyone was saying, That's a great story, use that in the film -- but he turned the character into his father instead.

We'd spend weeks going through all this emotional stuff and Victor would say, That was good, but we're going to drop that monologue and do it again. Tim and I would be going, Why? Why? OJ, meanwhile, would pass me notes and draw me cartoons with jokes underneath. It was like being in school. My character was supposed to be in a drugged daze and not talk too much, but OJ would try and crack me up. It drove the director crazy.

Tim and OJ were both extraordinary actors. You could see that the camera loved them. OJ was like a black Al Pacino. And Tim had a sort of James Dean quality. He is so handsome in this movie, and he was a mess! You know those Brat-Pack films, where people play prefabricated rebels -- their hair cut a certain way, wearing their motorcycle jackets and proud of their traffic violations -- but they have a PR who's taking care of 'damage control'? Well, Tim was the real deal. He didn't give a fuck how he looked or came across.

Gram Parsons always used to check his reflection in a window before going into a club or restaurant, but Tim didn't give a damn, he was simply there. He had no publicist and no hidden agenda that the film would put across for him.

To OJ, of course, Tim wasn't 'street' enough. OJ'd say, 'Oh, he's a big phoney suburbanite white kid.'

Tim and I were very close, both in the film and off set. Shooting movies can be boring -- Why took almost six months to make -- so we were always off in some corner, humming songs. Tim would pick up stuff, like Cole Porter's Miss Otis Regrets, and we'd end up harmonising.

We spent a lot of time riding round California in a black 1960 MGA trading soundbites of songs we knew: showtunes, Billie Holiday, blues. One day I sung a Fred Neil track off his Bleecker & MacDougall album. Tim couldn't believe I loved Fred. He asked if I knew Dolphins, which he described to me and then sung, which broke my heart.

None of us had any idea who Tim was, so we weren't in awe of him. He'd moved up to Santa Monica but some days he'd be in these strange rages and he'd walk to work. Fifteen miles! Nobody walks in LA -- apart from lost English people and hookers. I'd drive past him and say, Tim want a lift? And he'd scream, No!

It was as if he'd reinvented himself as an actor to get away from his past. He never talked about his private life and we never asked about it. I remember asking why he was doing this schleppy movie which was being rehearsed in a rented apartment, not even in a studio, because musicians I knew were cleaning up -- McGuinn was making a fortune. And he said, very silently, I need the money. He once said he had a kid to support from his previous marriage. I dropped him off most nights after work in Santa Monica, where he lived with his second wife, but he'd never ask me up.

And he never hustled his records, never said, Oh this reminds me of a song I wrote. I once asked him what he'd written and he sang something about, 'the antique people' [Goodbye And Hello's title track] that sounded like such a '60s, angry-young-man protest song, and I said, 'Owww, Tim... Haven't you got any love songs?' And he went, 'Naah', waving his hand.

I can only remember him mention his life as a singer once. The director suddenly decided we should move to England to film, as they had better video technology at the time. And we were all singing, We're gonna go to Eng-land!, and talking in English accents -- I say, tea-time! And Tim just mumbled very quietly, Oh, they appreciate my work in England, in this melancholy way. No bravado, no war stories... OJ was like sniggering, Oh, Tim, you're a big star in England, yeah, right! So that was the only clue that I had, and Tim clammed up right away and we went back to work.

OJ was doing it because he wanted to become an actor. He was the most fabulous, warm, friendly person who'd take me to lunch, pick up the cheque, buy me clothes. He hated my blue jeans. He said, You've got a great body, dress like that, not in that hippy shit! We'd go out to the movies a lot, with his [first] wife Margerite, and we'd go out to restaurants and pore over the wine list for ages pretending we were sophisticated, then OJ would always order Blue Nun. And he was so famous. People would lose it in front of him, drive by going, Aaayyy! Oh-Jaaay!

He was fabulous. He never showed a darker side. But Tim would get in these strange moods. Once he flew into a major rage at the person who was playing the psychologist and stomped out. Tim could be really frightening, and I remember OJ laughing, saying, 'Come on, man, stay cool.' He was bemused that this little scarecrow figure had all this anger.

Then the movie never came out! It was totally at odds with what was happening at the time -- Shaft, Great White Hope, Panic In Needle Park. No sex, violence or car crashes. No nudity. Just this bunch of weirdos sitting on a bench talking about their prahblems! And no solutions!

I never kept in touch with Tim afterwards. I did a movie in Santa Barbara about cannibalism. OJ went to Buffalo. I've no idea where Tim went. I was told he'd committed suicide. I'd had some experience of suicide among friends, and Tim had that same lost alienation. He'd talk in this strange, paranoid, ominous way, about 'The Man', the police, things like that. He'd get very melancholy when he sung Fred Neil's songs and say, They got to him, don't let them get to you.

I kept in contact with OJ, though. We'd hang out sometimes, go to the movies or have dinner with his wife too, but mostly he was in Buffalo. I last saw him in New York when he was getting ready to join the troops in the Gulf War. He was a different person, no longer the guy who married his high school sweetheart, no longer a football player, just a very rich businessman. He told me I should learn how to play golf as that was how the big business deals were made. We were a strange couple: he would normally hang out with babe types, whereas I'm a regular person with the same nose and tits as I always had.

Who knew what was going to happen to him? I don't want to jump on the armchair psychology bandwagon right now because it's not fair. But if someone had come into the room where the cast of Why were sitting there all those years ago and said: Tim you have four more years to live; OJ, you are going to break records as an athlete and then be accused of slitting your wife's throat; and Linda, you'll be out there in suburbia, mowing your lawn... then the next bad day I would have ended it right there!"

© Mojo Magazine


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