Whatever I may say, I love Rod Steiger. He definitely has his bad side, and I can’t help but appreciate Steiger put-downs, like this one from B. Kite, “It’s a very textured performance, and the texture is that of oily sweat on bad skin.” Or this, from actor Steven McNicoll: “He always looks to me like he’s pushing one out,” (a delicate reference to the act of voiding the bowels).
And yet, and yet, I love him so.
As Paul Ross said (erroniously) of Hitchcock, “the best bit is always right next to the worst bit,” and I think maybe that’s true of Rod. In DOCTOR ZHIVAGO Rod has an unusual drunk scene, where over the course of several minutes of continuous screen time he has to get progressively plastered, starting from a point of complete sobriety. It’s a masterclass in method-acting, showy but undeniably impressive. Until the end, when, ejected from the flat by unlikely Russian Omar Sharif, he goes so far over the top he threatens to come out the other side, bawling, “You’re made from the same clay as the rest of us! Clay! CLAY! CLAAAAYYYY!!!!!”
Actually, maybe that one’s partly writer Robert Bolt’s fault.
Anyhow, I’ve been meaning to post the second Terry-Thomas anecdote about his experience co-starring with Big Rod in GLI EROI…
After the events of the first story, Rod had remarked, “I think that Englishman’s crazy…”
A few days later, both men were relaxing at the hotel pool on a day off, when Terry-Thomas happened to notice a young girl floundering in the deep end. Swimming away from her to where Rod sat at the edge of the pool, TT remarked, “I say, I think that girl needs rescuing.” Spotting his cue like a true pro, the Steigershark dived in and dragged the bathing beauty to safety.
Afterwards, Steiger: “But why didn’t you rescue her yourself?”
Terry-T: “Well, I mean… I was there, and so were you… I saw she was in a spot of bother… and you look like the sort of chap who enjoys rescuing people… and anyway, I didn’t feel like it!”
Steiger was later heard remarking, “Now I know that Englishman’s crazy!”
Make of it what you will.