Entertainment Weekly

Subscribe

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

David Carradine on kung fu, Bob Dylan, and sex: A never-before-published Q&A

Posted on

David-Carradine_l In 2003, just before the release of the first Kill Bill movie, I conducted a phone interview with David Carradine, who played the eponymous assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s martial arts duo-logy. Only a tiny sliver of that conversation has ever seen the light of day. Carradine, of course, died in Bangkok earlier this month at the age of 72 in circumstances that remain mysterious. For what it’s worth, as the interview repeatedly makes clear, the actor was someone with a tremendous zest for life, if also for life’s wilder paths.

And so, here’s the late David Carradine on taking a martial arts class with Bob Dylan, acting in drag, and almost dying on peyote.

CLARK COLLIS: The Kill Bill premiere took place last night. How did that go?

DAVID CARRADINE: Just great. I think everybody loved it.

It’s quite an extreme experience. Did anyone throw up?

Actually, one of the female members of the Carradine clan said she was

a little nauseated at the end of it. But she also loved it. So even

when they get sick they like it. And that’s Tarantino, isn’t it?

You’ve worked with some great directors. Where would you rank Mr. Tarantino?

Well, at this moment, at the very top. His movies are the absolute

cutting edge. With Pulp Fiction, it seems to me, he redefined

everything that we think about movies and directors. And he managed to

do it again with this picture.

How did you get along with your Kill Bill costar Michael Madsen? In many ways you two seem cut from the same cloth.

In a lot of ways actually. Oh, we fell in love. Michael is a rough and

tough guy. Probably rougher and tougher than I am. And that’s saying a

lot. But at the same time he’s a poet, and a lover of art, and a very

caring person. Yeah, we just absolutely fell in love, that’s all

there is to it. He’s definitely going to be a very close friend of mine

for the rest of my life. I wish I’d met him earlier.

addCredit(“Francis Specker/Landov”)

You had an extensive physical training period before filming began?

Three months, yeah.

But you were already proficient in various forms of marital arts?

Oh yeah. I’m proficient in just about any one of these things. Samurai

swords I had not had any particular experience with. But I was a

fencer. I did Shakespearean plays. You have to be a fencer. I’d

never done wire work, and that was a lot of fun. It’s painful. I

probably have scars on my back that won’t go away, because it bites.

But, you know, you’re flying through the air swinging a samurai sword.

You’re willing to put up with a lot to do that.

Your 1995 autobiography Endless Highway is a hugely entertaining read. At one point

you describe being pecked in the balls by a parrot, Then, on another

occasion, a huge dog bites your penis. What is the appeal of the

Carradine nether regions to the animal kingdom?

Fortunately, it was just a gesture on the dog’s part. He wasn’t really

trying to bite it off, he was just trying to show me who’s boss.

And then you punched him?

Yeah.

There just seems to be a bit of a theme with animals and your unmentionables.

Well, twice in 66 years…. But part of that I think is the fact I’ve

spent a lot of time in a lot of dangerous positions and situations. I

don’t know if you’ve gotten that far in the book, but I had my nether

regions blown up on a set once.

I was going to ask about that. You shot yourself in the groin?

Yeah, I shot myself. But another time when I was standing on top of a

movie explosion and it went off. It hurt. It hurt for a while.

You’ve made over 100 movies. What’s the weirdest film you’ve ever been involved in?

Probably the weirdest was a movie that was called Natural Selection.

They changed the title to…uh…I can’t remember…. It’s Monster

something…. Monster Chase? Monster Killer? Monster Detective? [The film was actually called The Monster Hunter.]

I play a detective who is famous for tracking down serial killers. It’s a

comedy. Mike Bowen, my little brother, plays the serial killer, which

is why I did it in the first place. Like I say, it’s a comedy and the

serial killer detective is a lot crazier than the serial killer. It’s

completely goonie. It’s probably the most bizarre performance I’ve ever

given. Unless you want to talk about Sonny Boy.

That was a movie in which you acted in drag. Tarantino has said that is one of his favorite performances of yours…

Well, it would be, yeah.

…although he’s still not sure whether you’re playing a woman or a man.
That’s the idea. You can’t figure it out. And I probably

shouldn’t tell. It’s a very strange movie. It’s violent, it’s

perverted, it’s really perverted, and at the same time it’s sweet, it’s

romantic, and it’s funny as hell. It’s the most amazing combination of

stuff. Just really kinky and weird.

You originally learned how to fight in prison?

No, in reform school. I’ve never been in prison. I’ve

been in jail a lot. But I’ve never actually been sentenced to anything.

Why were you in reform school?

I was a truant. And if you’re a truant in New York City, the truant

officer gets after you and then you get into the courts and then things

happen which they really shouldn’t. But I ended up in a very sweet reform

school. It’s the place you go to if you’ve got a really kind judge. It’s literally there for rehabilitation. It’s not there to punish

people. That was quite a trip.

Is it true that you taught Bob Dylan kung fu?

Yeah, well, briefly. He didn’t stick with it. And I didn’t actually

teach him. I got him to get into a little class which consisted of me

and Bob and I think maybe one or two of his kids with my own kung fu

master.

Was he any good?

He was a natural. But he turned to me and

he said, “Is this kung fu?” And I said, “Well, Bob, you have to get

through this to get to it.” Kung fu: You’ve got to spend your whole life

at it before you’re kung fu. And I don’t think he wanted to spend his

whole life at it. But, yeah, he had potential that’s for sure. He’s a

boxer you know.

I did not know that.

Yeah. Amateur, of course. He and Quentin used to spar together if you can imagine that: little tiny Bob and huge Quentin.

Bob Dylan?

Yeah.

Are you pulling my leg?

No, I’m not.

One of the most dramatic parts of your autobiography is when you sever

an artery while doing peyote. Did you learn anything from that

experience.

That’s a good question. I think I mention in the book how everything

changed from that moment on. But I don’t know if I was very volitional

about it. You know, most of the things that have happened in my life

have been pretty arbitrary, I walk into a room and someone hits me with

a two-by-four and that changes my life. I’m not sure what I’ve learned

from anything. I mean, every minute that I’m alive is a learning

experience in some way or another and that makes for trillions of bits.

You’ve had a lot of peaks and troughs in your career. Do you still get excited by making movies?

Oh, every time. Even some of these tiny little exploitation movies. When I’m making a movie I really am lost in it and the set

becomes home to me. And most of my movies are made on location, so it’s

just as well because otherwise all I’ve got is a hotel room.

You once said in an old interview that your favorite past time was sex?

Well, isn’t it everybody’s? People just don’t say that.

You had an extensive physical training period before filming began?
Three months, yeah.

But you were already proficient in various forms of marital arts?
Oh yeah. I’m proficient in just about any one of these things. Samuraiswords I had not had any particular experience with. But I was afencer. I did Shakespearean plays. You have to be a fencer. I’dnever done wire work, and that was a lot of fun. It’s painful. Iprobably have scars on my back that won’t go away, because it bites.But, you know, you’re flying through the air swinging a samurai sword.You’re willing to put up with a lot to do that.

Your 1995 autobiography Endless Highway is a hugely entertaining read. At one pointyou describe being pecked in the balls by a parrot, Then, on anotheroccasion, a huge dog bites your penis. What is the appeal of theCarradine nether regions to the animal kingdom?
Fortunately, it was just a gesture on the dog’s part. He wasn’t reallytrying to bite it off, he was just trying to show me who’s boss.

And then you punched him?
Yeah.

There just seems to be a bit of a theme with animals and your unmentionables.
Well, twice in 66 years…. But part of that I think is the fact I’vespent a lot of time in a lot of dangerous positions and situations. Idon’t know if you’ve gotten that far in the book, but I had my netherregions blown up on a set once.

I was going to ask about that. You shot yourself in the groin?
Yeah, I shot myself. But another time when I was standing on top of amovie explosion and it went off. It hurt. It hurt for a while.

You’ve made over 100 movies. What’s the weirdest film you’ve ever been involved in?
Probably the weirdest was a movie that was called Natural Selection.They changed the title to…uh…I can’t remember…. It’s Monstersomething…. Monster Chase? Monster Killer? Monster Detective? [The film was actually called The Monster Hunter.]I play a detective who is famous for tracking down serial killers. It’s acomedy. Mike Bowen, my little brother, plays the serial killer, whichis why I did it in the first place. Like I say, it’s a comedy and theserial killer detective is a lot crazier than the serial killer. It’scompletely goonie. It’s probably the most bizarre performance I’ve evergiven. Unless you want to talk about Sonny Boy.

That was a movie in which you acted in drag. Tarantino has said that is one of his favorite performances of yours…
Well, it would be, yeah.

…although he’s still not sure whether you’re playing a woman or a man.
That’s the idea. You can’t figure it out. And I probablyshouldn’t tell. It’s a very strange movie. It’s violent, it’sperverted, it’s really perverted, and at the same time it’s sweet, it’sromantic, and it’s funny as hell. It’s the most amazing combination ofstuff. Just really kinky and weird.

You originally learned how to fight in prison?
No, in reform school. I’ve never been in prison. I’vebeen in jail a lot. But I’ve never actually been sentenced to anything.

Why were you in reform school?
I was a truant. And if you’re a truant in New York City, the truantofficer gets after you and then you get into the courts and then thingshappen which they really shouldn’t. But I ended up in a very sweet reformschool. It’s the place you go to if you’ve got a really kind judge. It’s literally there for rehabilitation. It’s not there to punishpeople. That was quite a trip.

Is it true that you taught Bob Dylan kung fu?
Yeah, well, briefly. He didn’t stick with it. And I didn’t actuallyteach him. I got him to get into a little class which consisted of meand Bob and I think maybe one or two of his kids with my own kung fumaster.

Was he any good?
He was a natural. But he turned to me andhe said, “Is this kung fu?” And I said, “Well, Bob, you have to getthrough this to get to it.” Kung fu: You’ve got to spend your whole lifeat it before you’re kung fu. And I don’t think he wanted to spend hiswhole life at it. But, yeah, he had potential that’s for sure. He’s aboxer you know.

I did not know that.
Yeah. Amateur, of course. He and Quentin used to spar together if you can imagine that: little tiny Bob and huge Quentin.

Bob Dylan?
Yeah.

Are you pulling my leg?
No, I’m not.

One of the most dramatic parts of your autobiography is when you severan artery while doing peyote. Did you learn anything from thatexperience.
That’s a good question. I think I mention in the book how everythingchanged from that moment on. But I don’t know if I was very volitionalabout it. You know, most of the things that have happened in my lifehave been pretty arbitrary, I walk into a room and someone hits me witha two-by-four and that changes my life. I’m not sure what I’ve learnedfrom anything. I mean, every minute that I’m alive is a learningexperience in some way or another and that makes for trillions of bits.

You’ve had a lot of peaks and troughs in your career. Do you still get excited by making movies?
Oh, every time. Even some of these tiny little exploitation movies. When I’m making a movie I really am lost in it and the setbecomes home to me. And most of my movies are made on location, so it’sjust as well because otherwise all I’ve got is a hotel room.

You once said in an old interview that your favorite past time was sex?
Well, isn’t it everybody’s? People just don’t say that.