Actor Peter Weller’s many screen credits include the 1984 cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! and David Cronenberg’s 1991 adaptation of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. He has also directed a host of TV show, including Hawaii Five-0, The Last Ship, and FX’s Sons of Anarchy, on which he played the role of ex-cop Charles Barosky. But 30 years after the release of director Paul Verheoven’s ground-breaking science fiction extravaganza RoboCop, Weller remains best known for portraying the film’s titular character Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop who is murdered and then resurrected as a heavily-armed, and armored, cyborg. How did Weller land role? In a rare interview about the film, Weller explains just that.
“My agent, Rick Nicita, said, ‘This guy, Paul Verhoeven, he’s making a robot movie,'” recalls the actor. “I said, ‘I’ve seen everyone one of Paul Verhoeven’s movies. Soldier of Orange. Spetters. The Fourth Man. I think he’s one of the most insightful, gifted filmmakers.’ I said, ‘It’s going to be more than about robots. Rick laughed and said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I’m reading it, and it looks like a robot movie.’
“I went to meet Paul and the first thing I said was, ‘This is going to be an operatic film with a small story in front of it, that’s how you make all your films.’ He said, ‘How do you know that?’ I said, ‘Because I’ve seen all your films.’ We started talking about this theme of making tiny personal stories with the backdrop of, like, the Russian revolution going on, not unlike Chekhov.
“So, he wanted to meet me again, and then he wanted me to audition. Now, I don’t audition. I’m half-dyslexic, I’m a very slow reader, I do not audition well, I do not make sense out of words on a page. I’ve kind of conned my way into a career without auditioning. I think I’ve auditioned four times in my life. I bulls—ted my way into a career and I certainly bulls—ted my way into doing RoboCop. They flew me out to audition. I said, Listen, guys, I’m not going to audition. Finally, in the room, Paul said, ‘Well, do you know any mime at all? Would you move through this room?’ I had not met Moni Yakim, who designed the movement for RoboCop, but I did know dance, and I did move for Paul, and he said, ‘Okay.’
“The next thing I know, I’m waiting for this offer, and Rick Nicita says, ‘Hey, by the way, [legendary Italian producer] Dino De Laurentiis wants you to do a reboot of King Kong [1986’s King Kong Lives]. Do we want to hold out for this offer for RoboCop? Or do we want to talk to Dino? I said, ‘What do you recommend?’ He said, ‘I recommend that we go talk to Dino, because you’re going to get an offer for, like, seven figures to do this King Kong movie.’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got nothing to lose by meeting Dino,’ but, meanwhile, I’m hoping that this robot movie happens.
“As I walk in the door with Dino, the first thing out of his mouth was hysterical. Rick said, ‘This is Peter Weller.’ Dino says, [adopts Italian accent] ‘Peter Weller, Peter Weller. How much money you want not to do this f—ing robot movie?’ Wow. That was Dino. No beating around the bush. He didn’t have time for it. But, the ‘f—ing robot movie’ — astounding! All of a sudden, you’re a younger actor, and you’ve never made that kind of loot before, and you start thinking about Ferraris, and all kinds of other jazz. [But] about two hours after meeting with Dino, the offer came in for RoboCop, so I went there.”
The decision would prove extremely wise. A box office hit, the film’s mix of action, special effects, satire, tragedy, and a string of unforgettable performances from its cast — which also included Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, and the late Miguel Ferrer — would over time elevate it to the status of a bona fide classic. To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, Birth.Movies.Death., SYFY, and the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain have combined to present a special screening of RoboCop at City Hall in Dallas — the exterior of which doubled as the headquarters of the film’s sinister Omni Consumer Products (OCP) corporation — on Sept. 10. Weller himself will be present at the screening to take part in a Q&A which will be live-streamed to Alamo Drafthouse theaters around the country.
“I’m done talking about RoboCop, really,” says Weller. “Basically, I vowed not to talk about it again — I’ve said everything I want to say. But this is special because (a) it’s the 30th anniversary, and (b) they’re having it in the city where it was shot, and (c) I grew up in that state and around that city. Many of my dear friends are still in Dallas. So, it’s an homage to the city.”
Watch the trailer for RoboCop, above.