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TAYLOR, ROD : WELCOME TO WOOP WOOP

NOT LIKE A PHONEY
He’s back : after 42 years, Rod Taylor is acting an Aussie again, and bloody lovin’ it, mate, he tells ANDREW L. URBAN over a beer in his desert caravan on location making Welcome to Woop Woop. He also talks about his painting and his furniture making . . .

Veteran film star Rod Taylor looks like something the cat’s dragged in. His craggy face is dirty. His hair is tussled around a blue and white bandana, but the white gave up long ago. His torn footy shirt bears the scars of many mishandled snacks and a few beer stains as well. But his grin is as friendly as a bloke who’s won the chook raffle, as we settle into his caravan on location, as the night falls on the centre of Australia at Alice Springs. His appearance - even the cold can of beer he clutches - echoes Daddy-O, his wild and dangerous character in Welcome to Woop Woop, but his talk is about the Rod Taylor who left Australia at 24, 42 years ago, "because there was no film making here … there was nowhere to go."

"Oh hell,"

He walked in through the gates of MGM and saw Clark Gable coming out "with his arms full of stuff from his dressing room and only the cop at the gate said ‘goodbye, Mr Gable’ and I thought: "Oh hell," so I was at the tail end of the great Hollywood days, the very tail end. It's become so commercial and run by so many ex-agents and attorneys and accountants. There's nothing charming and wonderful and exciting about it really, it's just immensely expensive masturbatory work."

He’s bored with it. Which is one reason why he’s grinning and talking without taking breath, excited to be on set IN AUSTRALIA.

"It's waiting to burst, the Aussie in me you know"

"Reading this script, I thought, this is my dream, because I kind of lived with my mates out here, I lived with the feeling of it….you know, it's waiting to burst, the Aussie in me you know. And this seemed to be like a gift: I really fell off the chair laughing and I said: "I'm damn well doing it," and I'll have a ball here. And I love Daddy-O, even though he's tyrannosaurus Rex, a dinosaur, but he really believes in Australia."

But Taylor continues to live and work in America; tv series and major dramas fill his schedule, movies of the week, including one recently he really enjoyed doing, Outlaws, in which plays a bad sheriff.

Taylor’s home base is a house in Beverley Hills, but has another in Santa Barbara (at Carpenteria), "so I can get the hell out of Los Angeles, and I’ve got my ocean and my surf and stuff like that," says the man who has retained his broad Australian accent, and the archetypical, colourful, strong varnecular (much of which has been edited out of this interview).

"For once he doesn’t feel like a f. . . . . . phoney,"

He quips that for once he doesn’t feel like a f. . . . . . phoney, "because maybe out of 60 motion pictures I’ve only played two Aussies, you know. . .one in the VIP’s, with Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie Smith and Orson Welles - and The High Commissioner, with Lily Palmer and Christopher Plummer."

But Taylor hopes he can do it again - play an Aussie, and preferably here in Australia. "I really hope this is opening the door for me to do at least one a year here, which would be lovely - if they're at all impressed … I would love to gradually ease my way back, I just adore Sydney and Carol, my wife, loves it too."

"I just saw you on television and you're fat. . ."

Taylor met Carol during the shooting of the series Hong Kong, over a dozen years ago. He tells the story in his trademark larrikin style: "She was an art student who played hookey from art school to be an extra on the thing and so this lecherous old tiger takes a look at this 17 year old hanging around 20th Century Fox . . . and we had a little friendship and then I didn't see her for years, years and years and years. She became a dancer and went to Vegas with Flower Drum Song, then owned a business in Vegas, needlepoint or something at the Desert Inn - and after years and years she called me in Los Angeles and said: "I just saw you on television and you're fat. . ." and I said: "Come over here and say that!" and we took up again and eventually got married. We’ve been married for 12 years going on 15 now."

Taylor has an only daughter from his second marriage,( "I married a little girl called Peggy Williams and she’s still here in Sydney … " ) who is the anchor for CNBC Financial News in New York. "Dunno where she got this from," says Taylor puzzling over his genes.

But his life in Hollywood is not all movies of the week and surfing.

"I write and I still paint"

"I write and I still paint, I was . . . not a hippie, not a beatnik, what are they called - a bohemian. I went to East Sydney Tech and that's how I got into the business, doing illustrative stuff and ceramic pottery. I'd listen to these soap operas on the radio, and I said, I can do that. So I went and did an audition and became the biggest radio actor in Sydney and that's how it all started. There's a book - just came out in the US called Actors as Artists: you may see some of my work in that."

Taylor the painter works in oils and other media: "oils take up too much time and it's too messy but I do a lot of pen and wash and stuff like that. But when I'm not working if it's not writing, it's yearning to do something in the industry. But I also make furniture. I’ve got a work shop, with a lot of dangerous toys and I like to make tables and chairs."

Taylor slugs another mouthful of his can of XXXX beer and keeps talking without a pause.

"One of my follies was I bought a ranch..."

"One of my follies was I bought a ranch over there because I wanted it to be like the farm I used to go to. My treat every Christmas holidays was to go up to Uncle Charlie who was a real country bastard, who would work me from 4 in the morning till dark. So I got this ranch, I built windmills like I remembered, I put up water tanks and I sank wells and got no friggin’ water . . . it was just a total folly. Total stupidity.

Is it still there?

"Yeah, it's still being paid for. Some idiot bought it that couldn't afford it . . ."

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