John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark )

John Rhys-Davies
Sallah (Raiders of the Lost Ark & The Last Crusade)
Interview: Fall 2006

In the fall of 2006 I had an in-person conversation with actor John Rhys-Davies. He was attending the Dutch Star Con event in the Netherlands and I had the privilege to meet him privately the day before the event. Of course we talked about his role as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings and other things but featured here is the Indiana Jones part of our chat.

What are the chances we will see you in Indiana Jones Part 4? Have you been contacted?

The last time I spoke with Steven Spielberg he did mention Indy 4, but that was back in 2003. The fans know as much as I do. They should make it as quick as they can, because some characters are getting a bit old (laughs). Harrison, George and Steven are not in it for the money, they do it because they believe it can become one of the greatest movies ever.

I cannot say that I will be in it. I was in it in one of the last scripts however. If they would ask me and I will still be able to walk, ride a horse and do my thing….I would be delighted to reprise my role as Sallah.

You have worked with Steven, George and Harrison on various occasions. How were they to work with?

I admire these men. I think they are giants in their own way. Harrison is the most successful post World War II American actor. He has the rugged look that women like. He is not the pretty boy that come and go and have short successful spells. He has the determination and the talent to turn the opportunities that he had into great roles. He had the good fortune and the judgment to create three big movie franchises (editors note: Star Wars, Indiana Jones and two Jack Ryan movies: Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger). Add to this the great first class performances and I can say that my respect for Harrison grows with every movie that he makes. He is a real magnificent old fashioned film star.

Lucas is a puzzle, isn’t he? It is because modern cinema owes more to George Lucas than to any other single person. Just because the input that he has given to the technical side of film making. Personally I am disappointed with the last three Star Wars movies. I think that it has taken him a long time to get his youthful stuff out of the way. Now that he has finished that I think he is on the verge of creating something new, exciting and original. He is a man of great creative, imaginative and directorial substance. If George’s career was to end now we would all have a sense of disappointment. His friends would say he is a very generous and supportive man, and that would be right. I think that his genius is such, that when we look at his career the best is yet to come.

Spielberg is a giant. He can do with film what few directors in the world will ever be able to do. He is one of the two or three best directors of all time.

Who are the other two?

I think Peter Jackson has a claim. I don’t want to comment on the third because there are directors that do brilliant things and you hope they can continue doing that with consistency. I think that Man on Fire directed by Tony Scott had the best direction I have seen in the last years as well as a wonderful performance. Denzel Washington is another real old fashioned Hollywood star. The new Poitier.

Back to Indy: did any strange or funny things happen on the set?

(Immediately starts to laugh) Too many. My favorite was the first one when we had the big fight with Indy and the flying wing. The intention was that the fire would start, put it out, and take another shot before the explosion. We had the Tunesian fire brigade carefully laying out their hoses in the desert. When Steven said ‘put out the fire and have another go’ the hoses were leaking and just a few drops came out. They kept the cameras rolling because otherwise we would have nothing. It was the funniest thing you had ever seen.

In The Last Crusade Sean Connery joined the cast. What influence did he have on the cast and crew?

I think that he and Michael Caine are the best stars of their generation despite not being the most talented ones. Peter O’Toole was more brilliant for example. Some had a lot of potential but didn’t survive because of drugs, alcohol or something else. Connery and Caine were very good at what they did, kept practicing and the last man standing wins the prize. When you add a star to a cast that is already state of the art, you expect fireworks. Harrison is a competitive man and Connery is not known for being not competitive. They were smart enough to know what they needed to do to make that third film work. I think it was an explosive mixture that worked perfectly. They got the best out of each other and the film often takes it’s tone from the leading actors. This, of course, is less the case with a charismatic director like Steven Spielberg. He contributed wonderfully and made the whole thing marvelous.