Voice Over

12 Apr 2014

Matthew Sperling


A: Hi, I’m Marlie Prince, and I played the character of Shawna in Forever a Stranger.

B: And this is Baxter Fields, I was producer on Forever a Stranger, and can I just say how glad I am to see this anniversary edition being released now. It took a long time to make it possible, but really I’m incredibly proud and glad of the work we did to make the movie happen, all those years ago. It was a magical few months that we all worked on it together, and not least because I think I’m right in saying that it was a first film for a lot of us, and that’s the case for you, isn’t it, Marlie?

A: It is. I was so young, just seeing me on the opening credits there!

B: And that was actually sort of old-fashioned already when we did it, to have opening credits with the actors appearing in stills. But that was just one part of the whole look that Dieter wanted it to have, and he was very clear on things like that. An amazing capacity for attention to detail he had. And… well, there’s nothing happening on screen really now, we can just see that wonderful landscape being established… so maybe we can talk a bit more about what it was like to work under this amazing director, especially as a young actress, Marlie?

A: Oh, amazing, yes…

B: And you’d mainly done modelling before this, am I right? … Well, I guess that’s a —

A: Sorry, I’m just seeing Robin there, and it’s still a shock to see him, you know? Still a shock. He was such a, well, such a beautiful man, and when I say that I don’t mean at all in feminine way, and yet there really was a terrific delicacy to him, which I think this movie brings out. And maybe after this it got lost a little, you know, he did a lot of movies which didn’t bring out that side of him, and I think maybe in a sad way that side of him actually died out. It was never… nourished. Yes, I was a model before this, but really just a catalogue model, and I was just a girl, I’d never imagined this whole glamorous, you know, world.

B: And is it true, just for, uhh, getting the record straight, it’s often said but is it true that Robin scouted you at the mall?

A: He scouted me at the mall, yes. But I already had an agent who was putting my name around, so in a funny way when Robin went back to the studio and said, I’ve got this great girl, they already had me on file.

B: That’s so funny.

A: Isn’t it funny? I guess that’s the kind of town it was back then, it was a lot smaller, so I guess if there was a beautiful girl then probably you would know about her, she’d be on the books in some way already.

B: And Robin, of course, can’t be with us today for this commentary, I’ve spoken to him and he regrets that —

A: You spoke to him?

B: Just very briefly, a very brief, uhh, talk —

A: Amazing. It must be ten years that I didn’t speak to him.

B: Well, uhh, as I say, very briefly we spoke about, you know, this release, which he’s very excited about.

A: Robin’s excited?

B: Maybe excited isn’t… He’s certainly aware that this release is happening….

A: Okay. We should tell them about the movie anyway, Baxter. Look, it’s this sequence, what’s this shot again? You all spent so long on it?

B: The smash-zoom. This is, I guess, a thing for the real enthusiasts, and I remember that Dieter and I spent almost a whole afternoon getting this shot right, with Paul Baker our wonderful cinematographer, who sadly died. So it’s, well, it’s gone now, it’s a very fleeting effect, can we go back? Can we…? No? Well, okay, you can’t see it now, but it’s where the camera zooms out, from the focus on their two hands, the lovers’ hands, resting next to each other on the gate, it zooms out from there to a position behind their two backs, with all of the valley in front of them in focus, and at the same time it tracks left, to move the shot towards Robin in the centre of the frame, and Shawna is there on the edge. Which is pretty, you know, prophetic in terms of the movie. And that all sounds sort of technical, but the whole thing takes, it must be less than ten seconds, and we shot that forty or fifty times to get it right, and now I believe they teach that moment in film schools —

A: No way!

B: Yes, well, I don’t know, someone sent me a book, it was a whole book about Dieter and his movies, and in it there was a whole two pages about this one shot —

A: No way.

B: It’s lovely to think, isn’t it? It was just something we worked out one afternoon, when we were all kids, and now there’s kids in college writing term papers about it.

A: I’d love to read those papers.

B: Yeah, certainly, as I say, there’s this one book on Dieter at least… And I remember you were wonderfully patient with us, while we made you stand by that gate with your hand there for hours, repeating this shot, and doing the lighting, and always having to clear the valleys in the background. And those picnickers showed up…

A: I don’t remember that. Really I was just so grateful for the opportunity to be in the movie, I wasn’t going to ask Dieter to hurry it up! Later, I would have.

B: I know you would! Well, I worked with you on The Mighty Challenge, uhh what is it, ten, twelve years later, and I was amazed how much more confident you’d become.

A: Well by that stage, you know, I was a mother, and I’d been married to Robin, and I wasn’t going to take crap any more really, pardon my French.

B: Well, you know, we’re now up to a pretty advanced point in the courtship between Robin’s character David, and your character Shawna, and it’s sometimes said that the way we cut it, the story moves along too quickly, whereby, you know, they meet and then they seem to be a regular couple so quickly —

A: But Robin was a very seductive man!

B: He was that, yes. And I think we made a decision, as a team, I remember there was an ice skating sequence that we shot and then cut out, because we thought to establish them as, not just lovers, but really a couple, we thought we could do that rather… by a sort of short-hand, I suppose, and within the grammar of the montage people would gather that more time had passed than we had really shown. And I think that works pretty well.

A: But what’s the season here, I can never remember?

B: That’s another funny thing, you know, to prepare for doing this commentary I went to the IMDb and I read what people say about this movie, and there’s a long list of the continuity errors we made, and the season… Finally the weather was so unpredictable, and the schedule for location work was so tight, we figured we had to fudge the question a little. So it’s sort of spring into early summer? But there were a very small number of re-shoots —

A: I don’t remember re-shoots —

B: No, you weren’t there, I think you were working on your next project already. We did a small number of re-shoots later that year with a double, so sometimes, I don’t even remember which shots they are, but sometimes when it’s your back or your hand, it’s actually someone else’s hand.

A: Oh, that’s so weird. I hope she was pretty.

B: You know, I don’t remember, I’m sure… But the thing was, the re-shoots mean that you really shouldn’t pay too much attention to the state of the leaves on the trees, or the length of the grass, even though these people on the IMDb database have a long list of every time we made a mistake… Now, where are we? This shot looks like it was done in a studio but this is actually a real house we borrowed, do you remember that house?

A: Uhh, not so much…

B: This is another celebrated shot, anyway, because this whole scene is done in one long take, and it’s almost four minutes long —

A: That was a real challenge.

B: And you were wonderful in it, and Robin too. You see he’s making an omelet here while you two deliver the dialogue, and he’s just got so much to think about, because we used a dolly for this, even though the kitchen is not enormous by any means, so Robin had to think about his lines, and his performance, and hitting his marks, and all the while he’s actually making a real omelet from scratch —

A: Hey! You remember what he said?

B: He said… well, why don’t you tell it?

A: So we did this scene maybe five or six times, and in between each take there was a woman who came and washed up the whisk and the jug and the frying pan, and I don’t know, maybe she even ate the omelets too. And Robin was just being a sweetie, an absolute darling… because, you know, the funny thing is, even though he was this heart-throb and this supposedly famous lover, actually he was one of the least physically well co-ordinated people I ever met! He could hardly place one foot in front of the other. Dieter used to tease him that he walked like a cripple, perhaps I shouldn’t say that word these days…  But it meant that he found this omelet incredibly challenging, because he never cooked for himself, and he’s also supposed to be drunk in this scene, we’ve come from the bar —

B: I have a story to tell about that bar, but I’ll save it —

A: — and he had this incredible task, of trying to look like someone who’s a comfortable cook, whisking up this omelet without having to think about it, but also to look like he’s drunk, and then to deliver the lines in this scene… So by the time he’d made two or three omelets, Dieter wanted to go again, and Robin was just pouring with sweat, he was concentrating so hard. And we had this joke on set, you know there was this thing Jack Lemmon used to do where before every take he would get himself into the zone by saying out loud, It’s magic time, it’s magic time, it’s magic time, he would say this ten times, and apparently when they did Some Like It Hot, this just drove Tony Curtis insane. But what Robin would do is he would say this, as a sort of joke, but then it became a superstition, because he did it before the final take on that great monologue that comes later in the film, even though we shot it earlier, and he totally nailed it that time, this really involved monologue, so then he started saying it for real, It’s magic time… But then with this scene, he’d made this omelet three or four times already, and Dieter asked us to go again, and he said, It’s omelet time, it’s omelet time, it’s omelet time, and he did it just exactly in Jack Lemmon’s voice.

B: And what was the thing he said?

A: That was the thing, he said, It’s omelet time, and we just collapsed laughing.

B: Right, right, because I remember a different line, where he turned to me and for some reason he said it in a British accent, maybe he was doing Gielgud, who he’d just worked with, he turned to me and he said, I don’t even fucking like omelets, in this British accent.

A: Oh, that’s wonderful. That’s so Robin.

B: He really was the most wonderfully funny man, in those days. Now, where are we… It’s in this central movement of the film, in the early stages of this final movement that the theme of love, which was the theme in the opening, where they meet, but here the theme really returns and becomes the main theme. Because, you know, some people think that the disgrace of the David character is the over-riding theme, but I always thought that really the theme was love.

A: And it’s a kind of redemption for the character.

B: Maybe, yeah, it’s, uhh the redemptive power of love. And that’s where Dieter was so clever, I think, in putting together a script where you can hardly tell between disgrace and redemption… because really, when you look past the surface, maybe they’re the same thing really?

A: And that, for me, is very poignant, and very true, and especially in light of what happened to Robin in the, you know, in later years.

B: Yes… I don’t know if we want to go —

A: But it’s hard not to mention it, because it’s a part of my life now too… I mean after I’d been married to Robin, and we had Jamie, and even though he was the most wonderful father, there was still a real danger about him. He still had dangerous tastes, and that was part of why he was exciting, like David in the film, but also, I suppose, it was his flaw, I wouldn’t say tragic flaw, but clearly it got him in a lot of trouble later on.

B: In those days, of course, we were all a bit more wild. I mean, the Seventies… It’s worth pointing out that when we were shooting, Robin was a total professional. And Dieter, who’s a little older than the rest of us, he had his teenage daughters on set a lot of the time, they were thirteen, fifteen, and I don’t think he ever felt there was any risk in that. Robin was a gentleman with them. He was debonair, if anything, always paying them compliments, paying them attention.

A: Of course. It was a different time. It was a very… free, very liberated sort of era really. And don’t forget that I was introduced to this world, this world of heated whirlpools and mansions in the hills, and all of these wonderfully charismatic, witty men, surrounded by young girls, and I was just a young girl myself. So in a way it could have been me, that he… In a way it was me, I mean if I’d been a few years younger, I’m sure I still would have found him equally attractive. And clearly the girl that came forward first did find him attractive, I mean she admitted to that much. She wanted to be a model herself, and you don’t go back to the home of this famous so-called lothario, I mean, knowing that he’s married and so much older…

B: Yes, really the… uhh, the circumstances…

A: Well, Baxter, I do want to talk about it, just a little, because really it’s been part of my healing, part of the healing I’ve found in my life, after a period when I had really lost my way, to face up to that aspect of the past. It was in that lost period of my later life that these things, these allegations about Robin came out, with what I still see as a persecution, I mean rounding up old men for things they’re said to have done forty years ago, of course they can’t remember any of it. So it affected my life too. It made me look back at all the past, and for a while I guess there was a time when all I could see in the past was a sort of disgrace, like everything had been tainted by what they said Robin had done to these girls. And the things that were said in the deposition, you know, with the Quaaludes and the merlot, I do recognize that lifestyle…

B: Yes, uhh… In the movie here, the David character is now under arrest, and awaiting trial, and it’s a really tense part of the film, where David and Shawna are separated after her father has intervened, and we can see that the sheriff here, who was wonderfully played by Carl Liebling, is sort of caught between who to believe —

A: You know, Baxter, I was never really satisfied by this part of the movie. I think that once the romance had been established, with that really kind of brooding, atmospheric, uhh, atmosphere, I think after that, the transition to a more thriller-like movement doesn’t really work for me. Maybe it just becomes too much of a boy’s movie, with all this business with the sheriff.

B: It’s interesting you should say that, Marlie, because I really think that part of the great appeal of Dieter’s movies is the way they appeal to everyone —

A: I’m not saying the movie doesn’t appeal to me, it’s just that, for me, I find something lacking in this part of the film.

B: I wonder if it’s because your character has a much smaller role in this part?

A: No, Baxter.

B: Okay, uhh… Well, we now have this courtroom scene which is really pretty dialogue-heavy, and again this was all filmed in the studio, so everything you see here, all the benches and the gallery and everything had to be especially constructed by the very talented set design crew we had, who really did a wonderful job. Do you have any memories of the studio work we did for this, or about life on the set, Marlie?

A: You know, not really. I was really just taking everything in, and trying not to screw up my big break as an actress, you know?

B: Well, maybe we can talk about, you mentioned your healing, then, your journey of healing?

A: Yes, that was what I called it, and when I called my book Journey of Healing, which has just been published, I wanted the word journey to work on two levels, because on one level I was making an actual journey, and in another way it was a sort of metaphorical journey. So the journey was a metaphor for a different sort of journey, a journey into myself, I guess.

B: And this is with the Amazon, the tribespeople there?

A: Yes. So, I’d always wanted to go up the Amazon, in fact I’d talked about it with Robin years ago, and we never did it. And then I found myself not getting hired so much, when I got to a certain age, and I suppose also with the stigma of the whole Robin case getting dug up. I had time on my hands, anyway. And I knew someone who was taking some people up the Amazon, to go and meet with this shaman and just to be with him, in the jungle. And I was pretty sceptical, you know, but the more he told me about it, the more I became interested. So I went, and we went up the river in this little tiny boat, and it’s the most amazing place, because you’re going along, and there’s the monkeys, and the vines and stuff on all sides, and when the little motor cuts out, you can hear just silence and nature for miles around. And after a few days we landed at this village, and we walked deeper into the jungle.

B: And that where you had your, uhh, experiences?

A: That’s where I discovered the Ayahuasca experience, yeah. Ayahuasca is a plant, a vine. But it’s also a psychedelic, like mushrooms, and it’s really a medicine. We met this shaman who you knew was the most wonderful kind man just from looking into his eyes, you knew you could trust this man. And the shaman is really the doctor for the whole community. The healer. But unlike our modern doctors, there the shaman takes the medicine along with the patient, and they have this experience together. And the Ayahuasca is the major tool of the shaman. We’re losing track of the film here!

B: Yeah, no, David has been released now, and he and Shawna are back together again, and they’re sort of wondering what to do… But this is interesting, let’s keep on this. You really think of it as being like a medicine?

A: I was sick, yes. I was sick not in my body, but in my soul, and for the shaman, for these people, who are primitive in some ways, but in other ways infinitely more wise than us, for them that’s just as real of a sickness. The shaman brews the Ayahuasca for three days, and it’s mixed up with another plant which activates its kind of properties, and it’s a real involved process, and you drink it down, and it’s a pretty strong thing to drink and to hold it down. I can taste it in my throat if I just think of it. Then it lasts for about six hours, and it’s like mushrooms, but it feels a lot more pure, if that makes sense. After we drank, the shaman walked us further into the jungle, we walked to this sort of temple he had built, and as it came on, it was clear that we were journeying towards the god within. You know? It was a great emptying of the self, a purgative effect, and then a great journey towards silence, away from the senses, and just a drifting inward, where you discover the most wonderful visions. I wrote about all this in my book, which has just come out. And it’s part of a whole cleansing ritual, you drink these things — the shaman gives you other things to drink — and then it’s really, you know, coming out both ends, excuse my vulgarity! And he boils these roots, and you rub the liquid on your skin, and pretty soon your skin and your nails go blue. All incredibly blue, like a smurf.

B: So the dye is a symbolic, uhh, representation of the changes that are happening inside of you?

A: Well, Baxter, you have a tendency to take things to all these extraordinary levels of analysis, but for me, it was just a detox. I don’t like to complicate things. It was just a cleansing, inside and outside. Altogether I stayed with the shaman for around two weeks, and I used the Ayahuasca I think six times in that period. And each time, I felt myself looking deeper into the god inside myself. But the funny thing is, after a certain time in that environment, you hardly need to take a drug anymore, you’re freed into this wonderfully exalted and sort of euphoric and pure state of mind where you can just be, you can just sort of reside in your own being.

B: It’s a wonderful story, Marlie.

A: Thank you. It was a wonderful thing.

B: And we can see now, we’re almost right at the end of the film, where Robin walks off into the sort of sunset on his own, in that famous ending that seems so full of ambiguity and potential…

A: And Shawna is left on her own.

B: Is that your understanding, that the characters won’t see each other again?

A: Yeah, I think it is, and certainly that was how I played it, in these final scenes, as if she wasn’t going to see him again, even though it’s not stated in the script. But… seeing Robin here really at his most beautiful, you know, I want to mourn for him. Not that he’s dead, but that so much has been taken from him, with all these allegations and charges. And I just feel so sad that in all his life he’s never known the sort of quietness of being that I experienced on the Ayahuasca.

B: Well, here come the credits… Thank you, Marlie, this has been a lot of fun, and I hope the audience has learnt something. I’ve been Baxter Fields.

A: And I’m Marlie Prince.


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