Donald O'Brien (actor)
Donal "Donald" O'Brien (15 September 1930 – 29 November 2003) was a French-born Italian film actor of Irish decent. In his near 40-year career, O'Brien appeared in dozens of stage performances and in more than 60 film and television productions. He was particularly known for his performances in Spaghetti Westerns during the late-1960s and 70s, and later in Italian exploitation and horror films.
Euro Trash Cinema magazine interview (March 1996)
GUNSLINGERS, CANNIBALS, AND MORE... An Interview with Donald O´Brien (March 1996) by Christian Kessler from Euro Trash Cinema magazine
- My father was a magnificent Irishman with a Barrymore profile and the physique of a boxer.
- Because I was stupid, I said, To hell with it, and I joined a drama school. [It was a ridiculously little school, which was first run by a very clever woman, but she soon was replaced by] "a nitwit, who had read a few books on the Actor's Studio and was very much into analysis, instead of teaching us how to walk and talk!"
- [O'Brien joined the Dublin Gate Theatre) where Orson Welles had started. Very few people know that he started in Dublin, most people think it was the Mercury in New York. James Mason, Peggy Cummins, Edward Mulhare - they all used to work for the Gate Theatre. My father was extremely furious when he found out that I was wasting my time being an actor. He also got wind of the fact that the star of the production (Micheál Mac Liammóir) was one of the biggest queens alive. He also played the part of Jago in Orson Welles' OTHELLO. This really didn't help. He cut my money off."
- Now (Burt Lancaster) was a guy, terrific. I've worked with some Hollywood actors, but he was worth all of them. He used to be a circus acrobat. He had this marvellous physique, and while other actors would choose to act like primadonnas when it came to dangerous scenes, Lancaster would do most of the stuff himself. And he was a friendly guy, always helping us little-knowns when we had problems. This was one of my first more important parts and I was very unsure of myself. He was always telling us what we could do to improve our stuff. A great guy.
- (James Garner) was a very good-looking fellow, all the girls went crazy for him, and a good actor at that, but he, like others I used to work with, seemed to be self-conscious and nervous, for no discernible reason. I mean, these guys were famous and successful. But they often behaved like little girls when it came to things like, Why is he getting a longer close-up and I don't, stuff like that. I mean, this may be important when this one close-up is all the screen time you have, but they are the leading players, so why do they behave that way? I never understood that...
- [Unnamed actress on the set of Grand Prix] never had eyes for me. Hell, she wouldn't even talk to me, after she'd found out that I was just an unimportant actor. Good grief! Then, this is what happened: We were sitting in the foyer of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. She, myself and Antonio. Then an assistant director crossed our path. That actress was trying to get him to take us to the theatre where they were showing the rushes of the day before. After some discussion, she persuaded him. He said: `Be quiet, I'm gonna lose my job...' So we hid in the balcony, looking down, where that wonderful director Frankenheimer was sitting. After some minutes of racing cars, finally her scene came, and she was doing a phone call - she was playing a sophisticated magazine editor -, and suddenly you could hear the director, who had this loud, resonant voice, howling in rage, because he didn't like her at all. `Oh my God, she's awful! She can't walk, she can't talk, look at her hair!' So he turned to that faggot hairdresser, who was like Katherine the Great, and this guy said: `Well, usually she plays this peasant types. I don't know why you cast her for this role in the first place!' And remember, this actress was sitting there with us, and she nearly went crazy! She was squirming with embarrassment. This is an actor's nightmare, you know. The next day she was fired.
- Carné used to behave like a hysterical maniac. I had a small part in that film. Maurice Ronet and Annie Girardot were also in it. He was screaming like a maniac. But he was a masterful director. LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS is one of the greatest films ever made.
- Sollima was considered to be the intellectual among the Western filmmakers. I enjoyed working with him. He was a very intelligent and gifted man.
- On one occasion, I tried to cash in the pay check, and they wouldn't give me the money, 'cause the check was for one `Donald O'Brien'. So I had to go to the Embassy and have my passport corrected, with `Donald' in parentheses.
- (Gordon Mitchell) weighed 220 pounds when he did these muscle pictures, and he went down to 160 pounds for this movie, like nothing.
- (Richard Harrison) is one of the nicest American actors I have worked with.
- I remember that this production [IL SESSO DELLA STREGA] was so cheap we were thrown out of the hotel we were staying at. Believe it or not, we realized that each one of us would have to pay for himself! They sure had money trouble.
- (Camille Keaton) was very nice, but I remember, when we talked to each other, she behaved like a verginella, a little virgin, you know, always avoiding sex in conversation. She did sex movies, you say?
- (John Steiner) was a good actor, but we didn't get along well. I am Irish, he is British, maybe that's why...
- (Raimund Harmstorf) was an incredibly good-looking guy. He used to be a Decathlon athlete, I think. These people have the best physiques because they have to do everything, run, jump, throw weights.
- (Lucio Fulci) was a great director. Many terrible things happened to him in his life. He was rather unlucky. I have always enjoyed working with him greatly, as he was a truly original human being with a great love for cinema.
- [Camilla Fulci] was about 15 or so at the time. I tried to remind her of her riding along the set [of 1975's Four of the Apocalypse). She looked very strange, when I said that. A stuntman led me away and showed me that the lower half of the poor girl's body was paralyzed because of a riding accident, just like that of Christopher Reeves! She was such a lovely girl. It made me feel very bad that I had said that."
- [GIOCHI EROTICI DI UNA FAMIGLIA PERBENE] was one of these sex flicks where the cameraman always measures the distance between the camera and your crotch, which makes for a very strange working atmosphere.
- [O'Brien's heroes are] William Butler Yeats, Michael Collins, André Malraux, Maurice Ravel, Giorgio Di Cirico, Laurence Olivier and Max Schmeling. And of course the great Douglas Baader, the war pilot who had no legs. When he was captured by the Germans, they allowed the British to parachute his steel legs. And he escaped! So, I don't care about The Merry Wives of Windsor, but talk to me about Douglas Baader!
- (Luciano Rossi) was strange, albeit in a very friendly way. I remember an incident, when the two of us were going downtown, and he suddenly had to stop at the post office. He wrote out a big cheque for a society for the prevention of cruelty against animals. And the day before he had declined an offer to get a bigger suite at the hotel because he didn't like the thought of spending so much money for himself. That's a very nice twist in the story, I think.
- (William Berger) was a guy who had everything. He was handsome, knew how to act. He could have gone all the way to the top. But he got mixed up with drugs. I got a couple of parts because he was busy or he was arrested. When I made that Crea film, Berger had just been arrested because somebody had left drugs in his place, on the Costa Amalfi. His wife died in prison. I didn't get along with him because he was too hippy or what they call it, and I'm square! I don't drink, I don't smoke, and that's the way it is...But I knew so many psychedelic sophisticates in the early 1950s in Paris, that I just have my problems with them.
- I can't remember how they did this effect [on 1977's Mannaja), but it looked awful! One of the girls said to me that I was made of steel because Maurizio dragged me through the rain with the rope around my neck. That was tough indeed. Poor Maurizio died some time after that in a tennis accident.
- (Laura Gemser) was a very quiet woman, très réservé, but not in a snobbish way. She was very, very lovely. I worked together with her again, on Aristide Massaccesi's RITORNO DALLA MORTE, a Frankenstein movie made in 1992. She worked as a costume designer. This was another instance where I said something wrong: I told her how terrible it was that Tinti was dead, him being such a nice man...She had to rush out of the room because she was overwhelmed by her feelings for Gabriele.
- A guy once told me, I didn't know you went to South America. I said, I've never been to South America. But I saw you in a film (EMANUELLE GLI ULTIMI CANNIBALI), with snakes and every damn thing...That was Croce Verde.
- The leading lady of this film (Yeti) happened to be Antonella Interlenghi, the daughter of Antonella Lualdi. The girl very obviously inherited her mother's beauty, but she had the silliest pseudonym I've ever heard. She called herself "Phoenix Grant". I mean, what kind of a name is this? It's just as if I called myself, say, Hyde Park Corner Montgomery. Or Hamburg Rommel, how about that?
- Svenson taught me how to speak German in this film! I didn't know anything, and this guy, who used to be a Swedish ice-hockey player who went to Vietnam as a Marine, he stood there with me, coaching me things like `Bringen Sie die Gefangenen in mein Buro!' Williamson also was a very nice person. I had one wonderful scene in this movie, where I...I was outranking them, they are my prisoners, I walk in front of the prisoners, and I have to say something like, in a very contemptuous way: `Americans...Italians...Jews...Irish!' I felt like a traitor!
- This was a wonderful role. I played a Sicilian baron. They had incredible locations, for instance this majestic castle, I couldn't believe how beautiful it was! We also shot a scene in Hadrian's Villa, in a place called Sanctuario di Ercole. I had a great costume - the costume designers also worked on Visconti's GATTOPARDO. It's a mystery to me why they wouldn't let the film out. It's terrible for an actor: You think you have a big break, then the film just rots on the shelf! Also, the director was a very likeable person, very calm on the set. A wonderful movie.
- (The Italian film industry) take a film like HEAT, with de Niro and Pacino, and they put it in 20 cinemas. Our Italian productions never get a chance here except for the real big ones. Dario Argento's new movie (The Stendhal Syndrome), look, it is shown in one lousy cinema! And then they complain that people don't see Italian movies? Fuck, in a city like Rome, with 3 million people, and so little Italian stuff! If the new Argento movie is in one cinema, and the cinema happens to be on the outskirts, who's gonna go there? That's why these films sink, because they aren't properly distributed, because nobody cares for them! That's a shame.
- I was supposed to wear this really great costume [on Il Brigante], beautiful white flannel trousers, a captain's cap, it looked marvellous, but right before shooting they had it changed and they told me to wear my own stuff instead. I felt rotten because it looked so cheap.
- That movie (Zombi Holocaust) was also shot in Croce Verde. Not exactly on the same spot as the Emanuelle movie, but very near. I particularly remember the lovely leading actress, Alessandra delli Colli, the wife of one the greatest Italian cameramen, Tonino delli Colli. There was also this great Japanese guy, who used to have real snakes curl up on his belly! He was incredible.
- I slipped out in the bathroom of a Parisian hotel and hit my head. I was in coma for about three days, and when I woke up, one half of my body was paralyzed.
- I remember that they had this wonderful effect for my demise [on 2020: Texas Gladiators], with my skull being cracked open by an axe. They had photos of this stunning effect made, but then decided to change it because they thought it was just too much.
- (Sean Connery) was the most conceited actor I've ever worked with! He is rich, successful and handsome...good Lord, why does he act that way? He doesn't want anybody near him! If there was anything or anybody that might have taken the eyes of the spectator off of him, he just went to the director and complained, as if he didn't already have enough screen time! Murray Abraham was so different, such a nice man...And there was one brilliant German or Austrian actor on this movie who looked like Falstaff, big, fat guy, a marvellous presence. Helmut Qualtinger was his name. He was terrific!
- This midget, whose name was Domenico, once introduced me to a good-looking man who was something like his butler. One year later, the poor little man was found on a dumpheap outside of Rome. The young man had killed him, just a block away from this bar we're sitting in right now! Truth sometimes is stranger than fiction...
- I always preferred those movies I would have a large role in. If I had to choose between a small movie with a big role and a big movie with a small role, I'd take the one with more screen time. It's not very satisfying for an actor to get work and then ending up on the cutting room floor.
- In all these years of recuperaion, I over-used one half of my body. So, when I did a short sprint on the beach, I just fell and couldn't get back on my feet again. In the bad time following I was helped by my two wonderful brothers, who got me into a hospital and assisted me in many ways, God bless them. As it turned out, the hip bones of the side of my body which had been overly stressed were severely damaged, and so I had a very hard time after that.