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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cool Ass Cinema Presents: An Interview With Bobby Rhodes

Bobby Rhodes is a name and a face well known to lovers of Italian genre cinema. Many fans either discovered him, or remember him best from Lamberto Bava's phenomenal 1985 Euro gorefest, DEMONS. His character of Tony the Pimp managed to take on a life of its own, becoming something of a cult film icon; and especially popular in the last few years with the resurrection of the character in a short film web series.

At top: Bobby Rhodes as Black Dog in TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE (1987); above: Rhodes with Mel Ferrer in BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER (1979); insert: Rhodes as Tony the Pimp from DEMONS (1985)

Born on October 15th, 1947 in Livorno, Italy, Bobby Rhodes has enjoyed a lengthy career that has lasted over four decades. He's worked with, and shared the screen with some of the Silver Screen's biggest names as well as acted in assorted cult horror-fantasy-action pictures guided by many of Italy's best known directors.

Mr. Rhodes was kind enough to take some time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions with CAC about his career, those he's worked with, and also what he's got on his plate for the near future. 

Cool Ass Cinema: Growing up in Italy, how did you come to be interested in taking up acting as a profession?

Bobby Rhodes: I got the acting bug while still in school, where I started as a drama aficionado. Unfortunately, starting my career wasn't easy as I was the only black Italian actor. I started as an extra and little by little I was offered small parts both in TV movies and cinema stuff. I have to thank the several American productions that took place in Italy for which they needed black actors.

CAC: What was your very first role and what was that first experience like?

BR: My debut was in [1967s VIRGIN OF THE JUNGLE] an Italian star-studded movie where I played the black American prisoner. It was at the same time scary and fun. It was then when I realized that acting was all I ever wanted to do!

CAC: You did two adventure-horror films by Sergio Martino in the late 70s, L'ISOLA DEGLI UOMINI PESCE (ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN, SCREAMERS [1979]) and IL FIUME DEL GRANDE CAIMANO (BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR [1979]). How did you come to be cast in these two pictures and did you enjoy the experience?

Bobby Rhodes (right) with Barbara Bach (left), Claudio Cassinelli (middle) from Martino's BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER (1979); above poster and insert image: ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979)

BR: I was definitely a fan of Sergio, as I was always a 'frequent flyer' at the local cinemas. I first worked with Sergio on the ISLAND, which got me the part on the second. He admired my acting skills as much as I admired his work. He did such big productions with big names, in exotic locations, that made my experience worthwhile. Sergio as a person was rather intellectual and somehow threatening at first, but really a nice friendly guy and great to work with.

Bobby Rhodes (right), David Warbeck (middle), Tony King (left); above and insert from THE LAST HUNTER (1980)

CAC: You had a sizable role in THE LAST HUNTER (1980) for director Antonio Margheriti. How long were you in the Philippines and what was this shoot like?

BR: Antonio, or Anthony as fans might remember him, was introduced to me by a friend who worked as a producer. We met and he immediately asked me to be in his film. He fought in my corner when the executives asked for an American actor to be brought in instead of me. In the end he prevailed and I was part of this very nice film. We stayed in the Philippines over the course of a few weeks and the environment wasn't the easiest, I'm afraid! One funny thing to mention: while on this picture, Antonio asked me to shave my head saying it would change my career and he wasn't wrong! Roles came fast after my slight hair style change!

Bobby Rhodes (left) and Maurizio Merli from THE REBEL (1980)

CAC: You were a silent, but formidable foe against Maurizio Merli in Stelvio Massi's POLIZIOTTO, SOLITUDINE E RABBIA (THE REBEL [1980]). How was Merli to work with?

BR: Maurizio Merli was definitely a very peculiar character. Without getting into particulars and details, let me just say Maurizio was the stereotype of the Italian Casanova!

Rhodes manhandles Merli in THE REBEL (1980)

CAC: Where was this film shot? Was it a pleasurable shoot despite the cold, wintery setting?

BR: It was an Italian/German co-production and we shot it between Venice and Berlin. It's easy to see from the footage we were covered in snow... and now that I think about it, Berlin was definitely in my cards, considering DEMONS.

Rhodes in a brief scene in Cozzi's HERCULES (1983)

CAC: You played a King in Luigi Cozzi's HERCULES (1983). How was this experience working with so many familiar Euro cinema faces?

BR: A truly bizarre Italian project by my long time friend, Luigi! It was fun and scary I must admit, surrounded by so many well known faces. And the delightful Ferrigno, whom I didn't know was deaf at the time. Such a surprise and a chance to respect him even more for his total dedication and professionalism.

CAC: ENDGAME-BRONX LOTTA FINALE (1983) was another picture packed with Eurocult stars including yourself. How was Joe D'Amato's directing style compared with Cozzi's?

BR: Joe was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me at the beginning of my career. He was not only the director but also the DP on set. I was fascinated with his skills with regards to photography and composition. I was in awe of him, I have to admit. I respect him and loved his works. Eastman was great fun to work with: humble, friendly and welcoming! I was still at the beginning of my career and I couldn't help staring at all the stars as I worked alongside them!

CAC: Arguably your best known role outside of Italy is Tony, the authoritative pimp in DEMONS (1985). Was their an audition, or was the role made with you in mind?

Geretta Geretta (left), Bobby Rhodes (middle), Fabiola Toledo from DEMONS (1985)
BR: Actually there was a proper audition! I was told by my agent I should attend it that same morning and so I did. When I met Bava and Argento I felt rather intimidated and I was sure my audition wasn't that good... but to my great surprise they absolutely loved my rendition of Tony and gave me the part that same afternoon!

CAC: The role definitely made me take notice and say, 'Wow, who is that guy?' Do you have any interesting stories that DEMONS (1985) fans may not be aware of?

BR: I have told my fans all over the world, through my short docs on youtube and in person during conventions, pretty much everything. Sometimes it seems like I'm repeating the same things and that people might think of me as boring but then I realize if fans ask me about the behind the scenes, it's because they really want to know a bit more of what happened on the set and then I keep talking! Have a look at THROUGH HORROR AND BACK; it's also listed on IMDb, on my Youtube page and let me know what's missing!

Rhodes as Hank from DEMONS 2 (1986)

CAC: DEMONS 2 (1986) is a bit different in some ways from the first film. What was your impression of this picture then and now?

BR: We all knew the second film was going to be geared more towards television than the cinema; nonetheless we put our best efforts to make it as good as the first. I liked it, especially because I had the chance to work alongside the assistant director with whom we studied the character to the very last detail, in true Actors Studio style!

Rhodes with the late Ernest Borgnine from the star-studded TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE (1987)

CAC: You've been in virtually every genre, particularly action and fantasy pictures. L'ISOLA DEL TESORO (TREASURE ISLAND IN OUTER SPACE [1987]) is one of the biggest productions you worked on. Can you tell us anything about working on this unusual epic?

BR: I would concentrate everything in a single name: Ernest Borgnine. I loved him from the first moment I met him and I had the great fortune to meet with him again the year before he passed away, in New Jersey. We spent a long time chatting and reminiscing of the old days... a great man!

Rhodes (right) and Ennio Girolami (left) in JONATHAN OF THE BEARS (1994)

CAC: You were also in a rare 90s Italian western, JONATHAN DEGLI ORSI (JONATHAN OF THE BEARS [1994]). Were you a fan of Castellari's work and of westerns in general?

BR: Of course! I grew up on westerns; dreaming that one day I'd become like John Wayne!

CAC: You're currently working on a new movie, 6 DANA 66 GODINA, a film that reunites you with your DEMONS co-star, Geretta Geretta. Can you elaborate on what this film is about and your role in it?

BR: The script for this horror film was written --with US based writer Michael Rodriguez -- by my dear friend Alex Madia Levi, who also co-wrote (with Gerry Nappo) and directed the mini-web series that brought Tony the Pimp back to life. He wrote me a role that I can't wait to act in! It's molded on a real person we both met in Serbia, a lone wolf, I'd say, someone who used to work for the Secret Service. I can't give too much away, but I can only say the script has got everything necessary to become a cult film in the making! It's an incredible story of ghosts of Nazi soldiers, killing sprees, and thrilling character drama! I can't wait for it to go into production. We also have a Facebook page for the film, which my fans can see: 6 DANA 66 GODINA.

Bobby Rhodes as Carlos in Margheriti's THE LAST HUNTER (1980)
CAC: Throughout your career you have worked with so many of Eurocult cinemas biggest filmmakers. Was their one director you enjoyed working with the most? If so, why?

BR: It's really difficult to choose one over the others. Maybe I'd say Antonio Margheriti has left more than just a sign. We remained great friends over the years and I was very sad to learn of his death.

Bobby Rhodes as Hank in DEMONS 2 (1987)
CAC: Looking back on your career, is there anything you'd change if you could go back?

BR: I'd convince Bava to finish the DEMONS trilogy! I can say that I would have been in DEMONS 3 had Bava gone through with the project. He wrote the main character for me. The film was handed to Soavi when Bava decided to withdraw. Soavi changed it radically (it became THE CHURCH) and decided to give the character that was written for me to some other black actor... but I still wanted to play the priest!

CAC: Aside from 6 DANA 66 GODINA, what's on the plate for Bobby Rhodes?

BR: Alex Madia Levi is a very prolific filmmaker and has an incredible talent as a writer. He has started writing the third and last episode of DEMONS, where we'll see Tony the Pimp coming back in all his glory! I read the first 30 odd pages and fell in love with the twists and turns he has given the story and most of all with the incredible depth that he manages to give his characters, including Tony. Meanwhile, I will take part in a couple of films overseas: one in Australia and the other in Arizona, THE FALLEN ONE. Then in the Spring, there will be a cameo in a UK production and eventually, early summer, will see the shooting of 6DANA66GODINA! My fans can definitely keep up with my projects on my Facebook page.

CAC would like to once again thank Mr. Rhodes and his agent Alex Madia Levi for this interview. For more information on their upcoming movie, click HERE.


Maynard Morrissey said...

Very cool, very interesting review. Had no idea that the planned Demons-threequel eventually became "The Church", one of favorite horror movies of all time.

I also remember Rhodes from Antonio Margheriti's cheesy "Commander" which I've seen sometime back in the 90s.

venoms5 said...

I think there was an article in an old Fango or Gorezone back when it was the sister mag to Fango about the change from DEMONS 3 to THE CHURCH. There was another movie that bore the title of THE OGRE that went out in some areas as DEMONS 3: THE OGRE if I remember right. I never saw it, nor have I see COMMANDER, Harry. Rhodes did quite a few movies for Margheriti. A really friendly guy, Rhodes is. It was a pleasure conversing with him on about his movies.

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