Being in Harold and Maude

I have John Schlesinger to thank for my role in Harold and Maude. I’d been in Sunday Bloody Sunday for John. He had given Hal Ashby my name to look up when Hal was interviewing all the famous English dames in a penthouse suite at the top of London’s Dorchester Hotel. The dames were all very much up for Maude. It’s a wonderful part, and they were all so keen for it. After the interview, Hal decided to play Maude as American and Mrs. Chasen as English-American.

Harold and Maude is the only job I’ve done where I haven’t wanted to change something after I’ve seen it. Hal was so inspiring, with a most wonderful, genuine, appreciative smile of warm approval that spurred you on. He really loved my ideas—particularly for my favorite scene, where Mrs. Chasen fills out the application form for her son’s dating service. Bud Cort and I worked so well together on the film because we had very different styles and approaches as actors. Bud, like so many young American actors of the day, was very influenced by the Method, all that warming up and getting into the role, which is not my way at all—I find it very alienating—but it was right for him and it was right for the character and right for the scene. The difference in the styles works beautifully.

That scene was filmed in a house in San Francisco belonging to the editor of a major newspaper. A marvelous place. We only had it for a week. And we had to work very hard to finish everything in that week. And we did get it done. Hal’s editor side gave his director side a shortcut. I had brought some of my own clothes over from England, which we had altered, and, in the week before shooting began, I shopped endlessly for the rest with the costume designer, Bill Theiss. He was spot-on. Bill made the hat I wear in the scene, and he kindly raided his mother’s jewelry box to borrow antique jewelry for Mrs. Chasen. I worked closely with Cathy Blondell to design the hairstyles, some of which she used again on Julie Christie when she did Shampoo for Hal. Every member of the Harold and Maude production team was perfect—Bud, Bill, Cathy—but Hal Ashby and Cat Stevens were giants. I am so very, very privileged to have worked with them.

London, April 2012

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