Dixie 2

Part 2: Kid at a Circus

In May 1985, production of Maximum Overdrive began at the De Laurentiis studio in in Wilmington, North Carolina. 

Laura: I was just a youngster when I got the part. I think that Stephen King had seen me in Dark End of the Street—an independent film I did back when nobody even really had a way to watch independent films—but Stephen had seen me in that and he loved it. He liked the idea that I could be, sort of, this wild child. So he had me come in to audition and meet Emilio. The whole thing went well, although I must say that being from New York—where I had done a Broadway show, Richard III, with Al Pacino—I didn’t really understand at the time that Emilio was a phenomenon. I don’t think I’d even heard of the “Brat Pack” before that.

Chip: I drove Emilio around quite a bit. I had worked as a PA on Cat’s Eye the previous summer and on Maximum Overdrive got hired in set construction and literally helped build the truck stop that gets blown up in the film.  And as we got closer to production, I got hired as a PA again.  Mostly my job entailed getting coffee, making copies and delivering mail but, as I mentioned, I got to drive Emilio and some other actors around. I was a little awestruck because Repo Man had just come out and I loved it. And I remember one time we were driving down New Centre Drive in Wilmington—where Repo Man was playing—and Emilio’s name was in big letters on the marquee. That was kind of amazing, I think, even for him.

Martha: It was tough to get Emilio. But we had worked with Martin Sheen [his father] on Dead Zone, so I think that helped. And we were lucky to get him. Because he was a breaking star, and perfectly suited to play that boy next door—who you wanted to root for—especially when, all of the sudden, the world turns on him. And Emilio was—he is—such a nice human being. Caring. Earnest.

Laura and Emilio

Laura and Emilio

Laura: Emilio and I, we had these condos on the beach next to each other. They were fabulous. And for me—living in some crappy New York building that was barely heated—it was just: woo! And then Emilio would have all his friends flying in. Like Tom Cruise would come and we’d all go boogie boarding. It was just so fun to be there. And he was dating Demi Moore at the time, so she was flying in and out every weekend.

Chip: I remember one time Emilio had been wrapped early and I was driving him and Demi to Carolina Beach and they asked me to drop them off at the little amusement park there. He was working on the script for Wisdom at the time—which he directed the next year, co-starring with Demi—and sure enough, if you watch Wisdom, there’s a scene where he and Demi go to an amusement park.

Laura: We were all sort of young and everyone was soon to be famous. And Emilio was great to work with. We were close in a way—obviously, he was Hollywood and I was New York—but there were ways in which we weren’t unalike. I actually ended up becoming really good friends with Yardley [Smith]. Looking back, there were lots of really talented people on the film. But I must say, that in terms of the making of the movie, Stephen became the most fascinating part of it. Cause he was such a unique character in every way.

Martha: There’s obviously got to be a genius factor in his brain. To be able to see something in life and then translate it into the fabric of a story. A little example: we were casting in Los Angeles and I remember that, after we had just met with an actress, he excused himself and went to the bathroom. He came back a few minutes later and he sat down and said, “I just thought of a story.” Then he pitched me a little story. And it was a perfect little story. And the next day he brought me 18 pages of that little story that he had thought of when he went to the bathroom.

Laura: He’s truly a prolific writer. Even when we ere making the movie, he’d write. He’d get up really early in the morning to write. Because, as he explained, he’s so full of fears. Paranoias. It’s not that he writes, as he explained it, it’s that he has to write.

Roberto: I remember when he walk into my office and the first question I ask is, “How do you write?” He said, “Pick a word.” So I picked the word “Fly.” And he sat down at a typewriter and start typing. Half hour later he has 5,000 words on the word “Fly.”

Laura: Stephen had, like, the heart of a 9-year old boy. He was always coming up with stuff to spook you with. He just loved everything like that. He was always coming up with these bizarre artifacts. All I remember thinking is that being around Stephen was a lot like being around that clever, geeky 9-year-old-kid who wanted to show you a frog in formaldehyde. He’s offbeat. He’s offbeat and kind. He’s just a very kind person, Stephen.

Silvia: [with a very thick Italian accent] It was very funny. In the morning, Stephen King liked to eat sardines. And the mouth was full of sardines and his breath was breathing fish all day long. And he had a kind of a superstition. He had kind of a piece of the underpants of his wife at the belt. It was a kind of mascot. He always say, “this bring me luck.”

Laura: And then he had this young family at the time. And they would start every day in this sort of huddle. They’d just putt heir arms around each other and get in a family huddle. They were very loving. And it was very sweet to watch: getting in this huddle and then he would go off. And you know, it was tough for him. His first film.

Armando and Stephen at Party

Armando and Stephen at Party

Roberto: So Armando Nannuzzi was there to kind of babysit Stephen. Technically. He was a huge DP [director of photography] in Italy. Armando knew how to make a movie.

Silvia: That’s the reason I come to USA for this movie. At that moment, I was 23 years old and I was the assistant cameraman. So I come to USA with Armando Nannuzzi because he bring with him all the crew.

Chip: Dino hired top-notch crews from around the world, and that made working on his films a real education. It wasn’t uncommon to have, say, an Italian DP, Canadian gaffer, Mexican 1st AD.

Joe: Having the Italian crew there was unusual, but it was kind of neat. It was really exciting, in some sense. Between that, and the crew coming from all over—like myself, coming from Rochester to be a grip—it was almost like a film colony.

Silvia: I start with Armando in the 1980. He was a friend of my family. And it was very strange in Italy because it was very strange to have a woman in the camera department. Assistant camera were always men and I was one of the first women to do this work. But this was great opportunity for me. To be in USA and work with Armando.

Martha: You know, Armando is special. His family is special. Daniele, his son, was the A camera operator and today has a wonderful career. They’re wonderful people. And like a classic Italian father, Armando also felt paternal to Stephen. Because he was also there to help him.

Silvia: Stephen King was not a director. He didn’t know where to put the cameras, how to do this. Then we did a preparation of the movie. We arrive one month before to shoot the movie. And Armando Nannuzzi, he did not speak English. So it was very funny because Stephen King was always speaking for minutes and Armando Nannuzzi was always saying “yes, yes, yes” without understanding one word. The conversation between them was impossible. But at the same time, Armando Nannuzzi understood perfectly what he wanted to do. Stephen King had a very strong idea about the movie, but he was not able to translate in images, you know what I mean?

Martha: Film is a universal dialogue. And Armando had a translator.

Roberto: “Don’t you want to get a cover shot?” Armando Nannuzzi would ask. And Stephen King would say, “Eh, whatever. If you think we need it.”

Laura: You know, he just wasn’t…he’s an introvert. So I just don’t think directing is his thing. I just don’t think that’s where his interests lied.

Chip: I do thinking writing and directing are very different talents, and it’s hard enough to be good at one of them.

Roberto: But also his attitude, I think is because he did not get what he wanted. He felt betrayed. This is my recollection; the script went through many changes, yes, but in every version, on every page, was the lead protagonist. And for this character, Stephen King wanted an “unknown” actor at that time: Bruce Springsteen. “I can do ten movies for you, Dino, but I want Bruce Springsteen.” But Dino say, “Bruce who? Bruce who?”   Dino didn’t know. He didn’t know he was the boss; the man who would change rock music. So Stephen King explain and say, “I want to direct Bruce. This is my movie and the truck driver is Bruce Springsteen.” But Dino didn’t care. He just say, “I’ll get Emilio, Martin’s son.” When that moment became official—that there was no Bruce Springsteen—Stephen King couldn’t give a shit about the movie. That’s my opinion.

Joe: I just think he was a little—and I don’t think I’m talking out of school—I think the length of the days was a little shock to his system. And he has more of a writer’s temperament. Plus it was a hot Carolina summer and we were outside a lot.

Roberto: But I can tell you that through the movie, there were certain things that would excite him. In any given scene that he loved, there was a special passion. Like a kid.

Silvia and Emilio

Silvia and Emilio

Silvia: He was like a child in a circus. And this is a very strange thing of Stephen King. Because Stephen King like horror. I’m sure that he was creating ahead of time something danger because he was excited about it. He liked very much the extreme danger. Every day, we had a security because the movie was a very dangerous movie. Every day there were explosions. Was very dangerous. I was scared, sometimes. I was scared because I remember Stephen King had a kind of pleasure to see difficult situations.

Laura: I was certain I was going to get run down of a truck. Because they had to come within inches of us, you know? There was always this hint of danger.

Silvia: It was crazy, crazy.

Laura: But I don’t believe it was intentional. I think it’s because we were in North Carolina and we had these non-union crews because, you know, Dino De Laurentiis wanted to shoot it at a price. And you pay for that. Because they’re just not that experienced. They’re not like serious Hollywood stunt people that really know the score. I remember there was this one guy on fire, and they had a really hard time putting him out. So, you know, [kind of laughing at the memory] you just always felt like someone was going to die on this set. It was North Carolina, it was early on, and everyone was new to the craft.

Martha: So what worked for us was bring in union personnel as well as locals—and have them work under union personnel—and train them to build up the film industry. And Stephen, as the leader of the show—with his exuberance and appreciation for the people around him—inspired a lot of goodwill.

Laura: Working with Stephen was exciting but, you know, it was really Dino’s world. Definitely his world. Stephen wanted me in this funky sort of role. He wanted me to dress like a guy; to be a girl who dressed like a guy. And then Dino put the kibosh on that. he called me into his office and he looked at me and seemed very perplexed about early footage. And then he said, “you’re not wearing pants any more in this movie.” And the next day, they put me in a short skirt and that was that. Nope, Stephen’s idea of this androgynous idea was shot down. It was Dino’s show.

Silvia: Everyone knows Dino De Laurentiis.

Laura: As I say, it was Dino’s World. But then there was Martha. She was so gorgeous. Just a gorgeous woman. Flowing blonde hair and she’s really smart too. And I remember thinking: I guess it must be nice to be the wife of Dino De Laurentiis. But he was definitely concerned that she be his and his alone. And that was clear. There was always a bodyguard with Martha. So everyone avoided flirting with her. Here she was, she was stunning—what a stunning woman—and she’s still the same. She just has this kind of serious energy about her, and she still has it. But yeah: I could see every man avoiding her utterly. So it was really quite the scene.

Silvia: But it was a beautiful place, a beautiful moment. I remember we had a back lot where we had all the trucks. And the Dino De Laurentiis gave every department the machine for—you know, the little car of the golf—to drive inside the set because the set was very big. And was very funny because can you imagine every department driving in the set with this car. Playing. Racing. And Stephen King participated.

Laura & Stephen

Laura Harrington and Stephen King, photo thanks to Laura

The Maximum Overdrive team used these cars to get around studio, but they weren’t the only film shooting at the time.

Laura: They were also shooting Blue Velvet at the same time. So that was all around us too. I remember having lunch with Laura Dern. Several times. And that was very fun, that whole crew of actors. But, of course, they were in such a different mood.

Roberto: Many people wonder why Dino did not make the epic kind of movies like in Italy. But he did this as well. Dino always had in mind: a project a year that is close to his heart (like Dune or Red Sonja) and then he would churn out movies because that was business. And one of these was Blue Velvet.

Silvia: During this time, I did not understand very well how much it was special. But because it was a small community, my night were together with people like David Lynch, Isabella Rossellini and others. For me, in that moment, it was normal. Later, when I grow up, I understand that it was a very magic moment. Yes, it was a very magic moment

Continue Reading Maximum Overdrive Oral History >>

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