PopWatch Trivia: What do 'Law & Order: SVU,' 'Weekend at Bernie's,' and 'First Blood' have in common?
The answer is not Idolatry. (Although, that would be amazing.) It’s that the same man, Ted Kotcheff, who directed First Blood, also directed Weekend at Bernie’s (!) and is now an executive producer on 200-episode-old Law & Order: SVU. That delights me more than I can say, which is why when I talked to Kotcheff for EW.com’s gallery of SVU‘s Oscar-nominated guest stars, I had to ask him how exactly that happened.
“Well, I hate to be pigeonholed,” he said. “I can do drama and action, and I can do comedy. People thought The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz with Richard Dreyfuss was a comedy. Certainly Fun with Dick and Jane [starring George Segal and Jane Fonda] was a social comedy. Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? [with Segal and Jacqueline Bisset], and, of course, Weekend at Bernie’s are comedies. There’s nothing more satisfying than making an audience laugh. You go in the audience and you get concrete evidence. But at the same time, I’m interested in serious films about serious subjects. So the reason, I guess, is in my personality: I like both aspects of life, the comedic and the tragic.”
How did he make the move from features to Law & Order: SVU, you might be wondering: His agent called and said Dick Wolf was looking for someone to help run a new series that he was calling Sex Crimes. Kotcheff knew nothing about episodic TV, so he asked his agent to get him a gig on another show so he could test it out. That ended up being CBS’ short-lived 1998 drama Buddy Faro. I guess he liked it.
After the jump, Kotcheff shares a few stories about his hero Billy Wilder, just to make this audience laugh.
“We met in Munich,” Kotcheff says of Billy Wilder. “He was doing Fedora. I was doing Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?. We were staying in the same hotel. He was my big hero because I love his comedies. Those are the kinds of comedies I’d love to direct. And I said, ‘I’ve got to tell you, Mr. Wilder, that I think your films are — ‘ ‘I know, I know, I know,’ he said. And he goes, ‘Well I want to tell you, Ted, that I think Duddy Kravitz is one of the funniest — ‘ ‘I know, I know, I know,” I said. [Laughs] Then he told me a great story. You know Marthe Keller [who starred in 1978’s Fedora with William Holden] is not a very good actress. I said to him, ‘How’s Marthe Keller, Billy?’ He said, ‘What a day we had today. She was brilliant. It was one of the great performances.’ I said, ‘Well, what was the scene about?’ ‘She had to lay dead in a coffin all day.’ He was a pisser.”
Another story, which Kotcheff confirmed with Wilder when they had dinner together:”Billy Wilder goes into MGM to see Louis B. Mayer, and he says, ‘Louis I want to make a film about Nijinsky.’ Louis Mayer says, ‘Who?’ ‘A famous Russian ballet dancer.’ ‘You want to make a film about a Russian ballet dancer?’ Billy says, ‘Yeah, and it’s great because at the end, he went crazy and had these incredible visions.’ ‘You want to make a film about a crazy Russian ballet dancer?’ Billy says, ‘Yeah. And at the end, he had delusions that he was a horse.’ ‘You want to make a film about a crazy Russian Ballet dancer that thinks he’s a horse? Get outta my office.’ So Billy gets out of his office, and at the door, he turns and says, ‘Louis, you’re missing it. You’re missing it.’ ‘Missing what?’ ‘One of the great boffo endings of all time?’ ‘What ending?’ ‘He wins the Kentucky Derby.'”