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BBC-Online Interview with Richard Farnsworth

by Jonathan Ross

Few actors can claim to have driven a chariot for Cecil B. DeMille and to have supported Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. Richard Farnsworth can do both and to that he can now add a career best with his truly sublime performance in The Straight Story. I think that John Deere lawnmower is going to take him and David Lynch a lot further yet.

I was amazed to hear that this was a true story. You've now ridden the John Deere farm equipment, that must have been some accompaniment for the real Alvin Straight?

Well, it was. I had a great big trailer ride there with my stuff and I don't know how that little thing pulled it. Four miles an hour. I guess I'd do 25 mile a day maybe, and you get a lot of time to think. That country's going by pretty slow.

When a man has time to think he gets to know himself. You've worked with a lot of directors over the years, what was the experience like working with David?

It was just great. In all fairness to some of the other directors, he never raised his voice. You relax with him. Some directors seem to like to get people up and on. They think they get a better performance out of them. John Ford used to holler. But with David I felt at home. Of course I'd never worked with him. I'd seen The Elephant Man, but when my agent told me that David Lynch was going to direct it, boy, that's good. I've made the circuit.

Were you surprised to get such a substantial role so late in your career?

No, that really didn't surprise me because I did The Grey Fox in '83 and I was 62 years old then. I'm almost 80 now, and the older I get, the easier it is for me. I don't have anything to lose. If it's bad I'm out of it, if it's good I'm still there, but I wasn't a bit surprised. I don't think your age means a darn thing, especially in that kind of a tale, the rural film. I'm not a real manic lead, I'm just an old farmer trying to get across the country. The fact that he would want me surprised me, but after we worked, we realised I fit the part.

You're almost 80.

I'll be 80 next month.

We have a phrase in Britain when someone has still got all their faculties, we say you've still got all your marbles. What is the secret of your continued success?

I'm not out of the movie business, but I ranch in New Mexico, I raise long horn cattle, and I'm busy. When I get my hip replaced I'll be a lot more active. Well look at little Freddy Francis. He's 80 and a photographer. He's a live wire that little devil and that's great. And it's how you take care of yourself. I know people who are old at 60 - look older than I do. Look over 90.

I've had a hard life, I was a stunt for 30 years. I hit the ground pretty damn hard. I've been an outdoor person all my life.

Well having seen your movies and met you in the flesh, I think you could give Sean Connery a run for him money.

Oh my gosh. He's great. I always wanted to do a film with him. Harrison Ford did. His son remember? Sean to me is really something. I don't know how old a man he is, but he's in awful good shape.

What's your future plans, do you have another movie lined up?

I have a film I might do in July with Dan Paulson, he's a producer. He produced Comes the Horseman. Jane Fonda, Jimmy Caan and I did that 23 years ago. He has a film for an old gentleman and a young boy who take a bunch of loose horses across country and if we do it, we'll do it in July. I'll have my surgery over by then. I'm about out of it. I don't think there's much more.

It's a terrific film to bow out on.

Well, that's very nice. But just a miracle that I did it. I wasn't feeling Well and I was on a cane,. My agent said they've got this great script from David Lynch and I said well I ain't getting around too good. She said you won't believe it, this man's got two canes! I thought wow. If he's on two canes I ought to be able to handle that. So that's how they it happened. It could very well by my last film. If I don't do work again, I'll go on the ranch and I have my little projects.

What do you make of the Cannes Film Festival?

I was here in 1983 with The Grey Fox. Canadians brought me down here. It's a lot bigger now than it was then. I think it's great. I never thought I'd be here again, but it's the ultimate if you're in this business, to be here, walk up those red steps. Thank God somebody's taken the time and the trouble to keep this going.

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