"I was once molested by Oliver Reed." It's not the sort of revelation you expect to hear from a top movie exec. But then Rick McCallum isn't your average producer. The man who made the Star Wars prequels possible, McCallum might be most famous for working with George Lucas ("George doesn't like writing," he explains to the surprise of absolutely no one) but during his 30 years in film and television the military brat has also collaborated with Nicolas Roeg (Track 29, Castaway), Dennis Potter (Dreamchild, 'Black Eyes') and the self-proclaimed 'Mr England' Oliver Reed.
"Nic Roeg taught me one of the most important lessons in cinema," enthuses the refreshingly candid McCallum. "We were filming Track 29 in North Carolina and we started chatting about whether the movie would be successful. I said that with a cast like we had - Gary Oldman, Christopher Lloyd, Theresa Russell - we might have a hit on our hands. 'Ah, dear boy,' whispered Nic, 'you can never know such a thing. Sometimes with a film, you have to lock it away for a few years like a wine, and hope that it matures. And sometimes, you have to lock away a film and make sure it never escapes.' I think there's real wisdom there.
Directed by one dark British genius, Track 29 was scripted by another, regular McCallum cohort Dennis Potter. "Working with Dennis was one of the great thrills of my life," says the exec who first encountered 'The Singing Detective' writer on the 1981 movie adaptation of 'Pennies From Heaven'. If there was many an upside to collaborating with Potter, McCallum found himself in a world of hurt when the controversial 'Black Eyes' reached British television screens.
"That was a time in my life I don't like to revisit," he says with a shake of my head. "To be vilified like that, to open the newspapers everyday and find you and your friend accused of dreadful things - that's something no one should have to deal with. I couldn't even escape the backlash by going home. I clearly remember one evening when I was sat in my lounge in London, playing with my kid, and a brick sailed through the window. How it didn't hit anyone I'll never know. But that sums up my experience with 'Black Eyes' - we made a great piece of television which upset people so much, they wanted to throw bricks at us."
"Sometimes with a film, you have to lock it away for a few years like a wine, and hope that it matures. And sometimes, you have to lock away a film and make sure it never escapes."
McCallum has fonder memories of working with the patient and reliable Ollie Reed. "Oliver's one of the most entertaining people I've ever met. He has the very best stories. When we were making Castaway in the Seychelles, he'd hold court every evening, spinning tales about his life in film. For me, the most revealing story concerned the nude wrestling scene in Women In Love. I thought I already knew the story - that Oliver had a wank before filming to make his cock look bigger. It turns out that was only half true. What happened was this - Oliver arrived on set nude. Alan Bates, who at this time was coming to terms with his bisexuality, looked at Oliver in the all together and started to become aroused. Then Oliver, noticing that Alan was engorged, started to wilt. So, that whole day, you had Oliver playing with himself in order to compete with Alan Bates's semi-on."
And what about the molestation story? "During the Castaway shoot, Oliver took a shine to the nanny we had looking after Nic Roeg's kids. Anyway, evening came and I was lying in my tent, half-asleep, when I suddenly felt this hand caressing my legs. 'Oh, darling,' said a half-cut Oliver, 'your legs are so smooth.' 'Oliver!' I screamed, 'what are you doing?' 'Oh, I'm ever so sorry, Richard,' he said very matter-of-factly, 'I appear to have the wrong tent.' And with that, he got up, walked out and wandered off into the night."
Arousal, assault and attempted buggery - no, Rick McCallum doesn't tell your average cinema stories. Still, if you never thought you could forgive the man who financed The Phantom Menace, perhaps his A-grade anecdotes can convince you otherwise.
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