That Time I Hid From William Hurt on the Set of ‘Lost in Space’ – and How He Got All ‘Wiggy’

That Time I Hid From William Damage on the Set of ‘Misplaced in Area’ – and How He Received All ‘Wiggy’

William Damage, who died on March 13 at age 71, shall be remembered for some exceptional performances over time. A homosexual South American prisoner within the 1985 groundbreaking drama “Kiss of the Spider Girl” (for which he gained an Oscar for Finest Actor). A speech trainer who falls in love with a deaf janitor in 1986’s “Kids of a Lesser God” (for which he was nominated for Finest Actor). An in-over-his-head anchorman in James L. Brook’s 1987 comedy “Broadcast Information” (one other Oscar nom). 

“Altered States,” “Physique Warmth”, “The Massive Chill,” “A Historical past of Violence” — the record goes on and on.

However I didn’t meet Damage on any of these nice movie units. As a substitute, I received to look at him agonize over his appearing selections in an image that gained’t make anyone’s best-of lists, least of all his personal. That might be 1998’s “Misplaced in Area,” a big-budget, big-screen adaptation of the tacky Sixties CBS sci-fi collection well-known for its plywood rocket ships and monsters with seen zipper strains, that just about everybody on this planet has already forgotten.

Besides, that’s, for me. I’ll do not forget that film set without end.

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On the time, I used to be writing for the now-deceased Leisure Weekly, a ridiculously candy gig that had me jetting all around the world and popping in on film productions to interview their casts and crews. However after I arrived on the soundstage outdoors London, in Shepperton Studios, the place “Misplaced in Area” was filming, I may inform instantly this was going to be no abnormal set go to.

For one factor, it was a colossal affair, spreading over 11 soundstages full of big alien craft, large animatronic robots (managed by Jim Henson’s Creature Store) and weird alien worlds teeming with the kind of bizarre botanical lifeforms you’d usually discover crawling across the fridge’s crisper bin after a two-week trip.

New Line was betting the home on the movie — $80 million, actual cash on the time, and essentially the most the now-defunct studio had ever spent on a film earlier than. Damage was rumored to have been paid a bundle to star as Professor John Robinson, the space-faring household man who takes the spouse and youngsters for a spin by way of the cosmos, will get misplaced, and — typical dad — refuses to ask for instructions. A few of his castmates couldn’t have come low-cost, both, like Matt LeBlanc, then one of many greatest TV stars on Earth, who performed swashbuckling pilot Don West, and Gary Oldman, then on a successful streak taking part in whacked-out dangerous guys, because the deliciously sinister Dr. Smith. 

However what actually caught my consideration wasn’t the large amount of money sloshing across the units — I’d seen that earlier than. What was totally different was the glint of concern and anxiousness in everyone’s eyes, particularly after they came upon I used to be planning on interviewing Damage. One actor, whom I knew a bit from different film set visits, discreetly sidled as much as me at one level and whispered in my ear, “Be careful for William,” then went on to explain how Damage had despatched all the solid and crew spiraling right into a three-day despair by rambling incessantly about God and loss of life. Even actors I had by no means met earlier than appeared involved for my well-being. “William can get slightly wiggy,” Mimi Rogers, who performed John Robinson’s biochemist spouse, warned me. “He’s on his personal wavelength.”

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Damage had at all times been recognized to be “tough” — it’s lengthy been a prerogative of the really gifted in Hollywood. However even actors who genuflected on the altar of his expertise discovered his depth on the “Misplaced in Area” shoot a bit a lot. “There have been instances when William would come as much as me on the set for slightly chat,” Oldman instructed me throughout a break in takes. “Matt would come as much as me afterwards and ask, ‘So what’d you guys speak about?’ I’d inform him, ‘I do not know.’”

One other tip-off that I used to be venturing into harmful territory was the conduct of the unit publicist, my handler who was presupposed to information me across the set throughout capturing and clean the way in which for my interviews. “No matter you do, don’t let him see you,” he whispered nervously earlier than opening a stage door. “Attempt to discover some place inconspicuous to face. And if Damage does see you, don’t inform him you’re a journalist. Inform him you’re a buddy of the producer. Come to consider it,” he paused, tiptoeing again from the door, “possibly you’d higher go in with out me.”

And so it went for 3 days, as I skulked across the Jupiter 2 like a stowaway, peering from behind area boulders, making an attempt to appear like a pal of the producer — whereas Damage blasted at swarms of interstellar spiders and barked orders at a hulking nine-foot robotic.

By the point I lastly did get to interview him, I felt a bit like Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard on the finish of “Apocalypse Now,” when in the end he sits down with Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz. Damage was in his trailer, unbuckling a ray gun from his area go well with, when the publicist, sweating profusely, briefly launched us after which rapidly disappeared. We sat for over an hour with my tape recorder whirring. After all of the whispered warnings and days of lurking furtively across the set, I discovered him surprisingly nice. He was charming, clever and significantly extra gracious than plenty of stars I’d interviewed with far much less of a repute for being tough.

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However, oh yeah, he received wiggy.

“The whole scene is consciousness, and consciousness is a relationship… as a result of if you’re concerned with a consciousness, which is trying on the world from a sure viewpoint, it’s a must to interact with that consciousness,” he stated after I requested him one thing about appearing in an area film. “The battle between know-how and the household unit. Between synthetic intelligence and pure intelligence. The notion of amorality as represented by the Dr. Smith character. These are the issues that intrigue us all.” I don’t keep in mind how we received on the topic, however even TV advertisements had been fodder for his epistemological ruminations. “I feel everyone who ever made a business owes a debt to Sophocles,” he declared. “You realize what I’m saying?”

In truth, I didn’t have a clue. However I had a blast anyway.

After I heard that Damage had died, I discovered “Misplaced in Area” on HBO Max and watched it once more for the primary time because it got here out 24 years in the past. I’ll be trustworthy — it form of creaks. The particular results, as soon as so innovative, appear like one thing that immediately may very well be rendered on an older technology iPhone. However Damage’s appearing, even in a job with about as a lot depth as that mechanical bubble-headed booby that Dr. Smith retains ordering round, is impeccable.

I could have discovered what he instructed me in his trailer that day so way back completely incomprehensible, however it clearly made sense to him. He did certainly function on his personal wavelength, and that’s undoubtedly what made him so very nice at what he did, it doesn’t matter what half he was taking part in. 

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