Mike: 0:00 - What you’re about to listen to is a piece of film history. This episode’s guest Peter Lamont was recognized as one of the world’s greatest Production Designers helping to design the sets of 18 James Bond movies, James Cameron’s Aliens and even Titanic for which he was awarded an Oscar. He was known by all he interacted with for his gentlemanly demeanor, fairness to crew and genuine creative mastery.
When I recorded this episode in November last year, Peter was 91 years old, and the following month, he very sadly passed away. This podcast stands as his last recorded interview. I’d like to thank my friend and Peter’s daughter, Mads for her help in making it happen. Though I only spent a short time with Peter, I could tell that all the stories I’d heard of his kindness were true. I hope this interview does you and your family proud. Now please enjoy lessons for life and stories of Hollywood from a verified cinema legend. Thank you for your time, Peter. It was an honor.
(TEASER) Peter: 1:00 - Jim came straight over and said, okay, will you? So I said yeah course I will thinking it's Spider Man. He said you'll get a script at the end of the week, but don’t take any notice the title and it said Planet Ice...it was Titanic.
Mike: 1:18 - Hello and welcome to Red Carpet Rookies. My name is Mike Battle, a film production Jr. working for Studios in London. Each episode I bring you advice and stories from film, TV and content professionals to help demystify and democratize the industries for juniors and fans alike. Thanks for joining me. Let’s get started. I’m very proud to introduce today’s guest. I feel humbled to be interviewing a true hero of the film industry production set designer, set decorator and art director Peter Lamont. Now 91 years old, Peter gained his first credits in the late 40s and 50s as a draughtsman before working on classics such as Chitty Bang, and Fiddler on the Roof.
It was the Bond franchise though where Peter found his home, having worked on 18 of the movies. The only one he missed during his time working was Tomorrow Never Dies. Most people would have perhaps taken a sabbatical. But no, no, Peter spent the break designing James Cameron’s Titanic no less. Jim decided to work with Peter, based on their previous partnerships on none other than Aliens and True Lies. No amount of time would be long enough to talk to Peter about his career. But I’m very excited for the time we do have welcome Peter, how are you?
Peter: 2:31 - Yeah, I’m fine. Thank you.
Mike: 2:33 - How does it make you feel when I list that incredible list of accomplishments from your career, Peter?
Peter: 2:40 - It’s sounds amazing. I don’t think of it like that. It was just, how I grew up and how it all evolved. I’ve been very fortunate.
Mike: 2:51 -The lights of Hollywood must have felt a very long way from you as a young English boy. And I know your father worked in the industry. Is that how you came into the business?
Peter: 2:59 - Yeah, well, you see, I can remember, my father was a signwriter. And in those days, there were no graphic arts at all. It was all done by hand. And my Dad was bloody clever. I really mean that. And we lived at that time in Borehamwood. And there were three studios. And my dad went to work one Sunday, about 10 o’clock, he came back my mother said, “I thought you’re working.” He said, “Yeah, it was but the bloody place got burned down last night” and the all old BND studios, British and Dominion, got burnt down that night, as it happened, Pinewood and Denham were opening and Teddy Keefe who was a master painter at BND said to my dad, “Do you want to come Denham with me?” And would you believe it I only worked there once and that was with Carmen Dylan when when Disney did Robin Hood and his Merry Men. My dad, it was well 200 yards away. I now it sounds ludicrous but and I do have lots of memories of it. You know when I used to go to the studios my Dad had a shop above the paint shop and the paint shop was down below and I knew where the fellas there and are next door was a place called the patterns shop. Well the pattern shop used to do all the patterns for they had a non-ferrous foundry there run by what was his name - George Pottal. And I can remember going down once this is during the war when they were doing one of our aircraft is missing. And Don Harold who was the supervisor of their shop next door was building a model of a Wellington and it was made just like the real Wellington here with the way Barnes Wallace designed it. And it must have been about three or four feet in wingspan maybe a bit more, but it was made exactly the same as it was. So the geodetic construction. And I remember seeing the film, because when they came back, and they all bailed out. the plane flew on hit a pylon, and they of course blew up. Of course, when it exploded, you saw all the framework that I had seen, and this was to me magic.
Mike: 5:27 - Do you remember your first responsibilities in your first role in the industry?
Peter: 5:31 - Yeah, I left art school in 1945. And my dad got me a job at Pinewood. And I remembered going over to Pinewood spending fortnums on the bus to Uxbridge and fortnnums on the bus to Pinewood. And I got a job as art department runner, assistant print boy. And it was 25 shillings a week, plus cost of living bonus, which made up to two guineas. And I was lucky enough to go work with Teddy Carrick on individual films, and they were then shooting at that time capture boycott. And Teddy was a real treasure of a man. And Teddy was very nice. He said look, we'll give you a drawing board. And he would set me things to do in the other time that I wasn’t doing things running around the studio on my bike, or delivering prints with Bill Wooler. It was an antiquated print system, darline prints with a number marked off. There was always a stamp on the bottom of the drawing. And it was all marked off who got it. So we did the number of prints that were necessary. And then I would take it to the appropriate department.
Mike: 6:52 - What was the industry like for a junior coming in at that time? Was it quite welcoming or quite fierce place to ...
Peter: 6:59 - No, no. They’re were nice people. You know, they appreciated that I was a youngster. I was the only youngster there you know, in in my department. But next door there was there was Cineguild and they were gearing up to do Oliver Twist. John Bryan was the Production Designer, I could wander through and they would all talk to me and I was always looking to see what people were doing. John Bryan was amazing fella. The way he would design sets; he’d do a charcoal sketch. And then it was given to one of the draftsman, who would then make a model with a little viewfinder. And that was how they came to what the set was going to be like, not projecting, like you normally do it. It was another way of doing things.
Mike: 7:54 - When you were that young print boy, obviously, you probably didn’t guess all of the glamour, you’d go on to with all of your large films in the Bond and winning an Oscar, what do you think you would tell yourself that 20-year-old Peter Lamont all those years ago from your position now?
Peter: 8:09 - Experience you can't buy. Been there done that. I’ve had the kicks you know, not a clip round the ear hole you have to do things and those days, we only had a party line telephone at home. And I was trying to answer the phone, and you think now all the gadgets we’ve got, “How the hell do we ever survive?” There were no printers. If you want anything printed, the call sheets, they’re all rodeod you’d have to speak to the production secretary who would then type out a skin. And then obviously, if you’re one of the juniors in the production department, you’d go to the rodeo room, put the ink on, put the skin round the thing and the start it, put the paper in. And the call sheets would always be delivered onto the floor before everybody wrapped that night. And in those days, everybody started at half past eight. And when I first went to the studios, you finished at half past five, but you worked Saturday mornings. And then it came into 48-hour week, where they’re divided up into the five days. Then there was a 44-hour week and then it was actually coming down to 40 hours, which is half past eight to half past five, five days a week, with an hour for lunch. And the next hit was going to be 37 and a half hours, Latin French and I think they have now just under 35 hours and our lot seem to be ridiculous. Seem to work all hours.
Mike: 9:43 - So what’s your opinion on the way that you’ve worked all those years for the industry and you’ve seen the hours go up and up and up? You know, as it’s changing? How do you feel about that now that is certainly moving away from that?
Peter: 9:53 - I think a lot of people don’t do their homework. You know when when Michael Powell, he was my favorite director and I’ve got all his books. His big demise was unfortunate Peeping Tom. Well, if you see it now, you think what was all the fuss about, but it ruined his career. And he used to arrive in his Bentley, leather coat and flying helmet and goggles, and be on the floor at half past eight. And half past five, they wrapped. In those days, if you didn't wrap on time, you didn’t just get the quarter. So if you set the quarter, that was problems if he wanted an hour, it’s like, Oh, my God, catastrophe. And then he would possibly go into the cutting rooms with silver myers. Then they went home. And I just don’t know. just recently, when I finished I used to say to the kids in the department, go home go home you know there's nothing to do and someone will ring me about half past eight and say we just got the call sheet out for tomorrow morning and I'd stay what you doing that for. That’s ridiculous. You know, in this day and age, you don’t have to do it. If I say go home I mean go home.
Mike: 11:19 - What you said there reminds me of something that my previous podcast I’ve had before. My guest, Dominic Lavery, was talking about you as one of the best bosses he’s ever had, the best boss he’s ever had. And he was saying, he’s a lovely guy. And he was saying that that’s because of your patience and management style. And you’ve touched on it a little bit there with the way that you treat some of the youngsters. What do you think are the most important traits to embody? When you are leading a department like that?
Peter: 11:43 - I’m the head of the team, and you’ve got to treat your team. Well, my dad would have made a good publican, but my dad would have never made any money. He was people [unclear 11:59] drink for me and stuff like that. That didn’t come as part of the spec. I’m sorry. I know a lot of people think that I’m a bit too free with people come in and have a cup of tea. [unclear 12:12] I always get the coffee and crumpets. And I treat people like human beings. My doctor said last week, “You’re the only person who does this for us.” Well, why not? We all are human beings; they do a good job. I pay them and they, you know, I don’t know. As I say, experience you can’t buy. And the biggest thing that did happen to me was going into services, because suddenly I was mummy’s boy. I’d never been away from home before. And I’ll tell you, it’s a bit of a bit much suddenly, in that first night, and the administrators think, Oh, my God, what’s going to be covered? But of course, I was quite good at writing and all that, I’ve got a reasonable skill. And I came the [unclear 13:01] and I was started organized paper, we go into the clothing store [unclear 13:05]. What’s your sizes you want? What’s this? So [unclear 13:10] to me the fact running it.
Mike: 13:12 - So do you think your career in the army helped you in the film industry after?
Peter: 13:16 - Yeah, definitely. You know, have you confidence. Because nobody is going to do it for you. You’ve got to do it yourself. And I would never ask anybody to do anything that I wouldn’t really wouldn’t only prove to myself, that includes shoveling shit. But I mean it. I would never ask anybody if I was happy to do it. I wouldn’t ask them to do it. I find the old fart, I suppose, people were like, he’s easy touch. I don’t think I’m an easy touch. No, I’m a human being. You know, when I made this feature for the Academy, I don’t get notes out. It’s all from the heart or my dashboard. Well, I know the whole thing. And say, Jim, John Ray, and my wife for your support. And finally, I’m only as good as the people around me. Ladies and gentlemen, you’re the best. Thank you. And I meant it.
Mike: 14:15 - That’s brilliant. You mentioned the art department team there. And a lot of the people who listened to this podcast or wanted to get into the film industry. Do you have any advice for those young art department people trying to get in?
Peter: 14:25 - Well we’re doing one film I forget who it was not sure if I was a bit advanced production designer or not as a young man from Liverpool Manchester Tom, he said, “Could I come?” And I said, “Of course you can.” Anyway, I thought he was going to have a half past 10 hours, anyways a telephone call. He saw no live station. Well, I’ve a station is the middle of nowhere. It’s not near either. So my car went picked him up. And I spoke to him and he bought a photo with him and it was good. And he said, I work very hard. I said, Tom, there was one criteria, you’ve got to have will so he said, If I’ve got the job, [unclear 15:14] was on Monday, I said, you got the job. And he came down from Manchester on scooter, Tom Brown is James Wood boy, he’s done well. And I never forget it was, he’d come down and follow up. Now he’s his own boss, but that’s [unclear 15:33] I’m a human being.
Mike: 15:38 - Your way of running a department sounds a lot more inviting than some of the type two you often hear these days.
Peter: 15:44 - Well, you’re saying, if you go into an art department, now you’ll find people in a dark room, all the headsets are all on computers. My art departments were like that we all have antiquarian drawing boards, T square set squares and all that. I had lots of light, although, about four or five, angle poises, which I used to have around my drawing board. And I’d have music playing stuff like that people can just come in. And everybody else did what they wanted. If they had music, I didn’t ask them to play loud music. But if [unclear 16:23] talk to me. But don’t come and talk to me. You know, and I shouldn’t really be asking you this. Well, if ever you shouldn’t be asked me. Don’t ask me, you know, but I tried to run a nice art department. And I do go out with all the kids at that show. We all were, we were a team.
Mike: 16:45 - You mentioned working as a team there. And I was thinking looking at your career with how many Bond films you worked on. Did that become a little bit of a team of family of sorts, working with the same people over many years?
Peter: 16:56 - Well, the thing is, with the higher authorities, Harry Cubby and or now Barbara, Michael, Stanley Chappelle all those people who were there at that time. They were known as the family and as I progressed, I got to know them. And, I remember Cubby, if I was invited to go up to South Audrey Street, and if this is when Ken was doing a picture of there is several we got to lunch, we go out the white elephant, come on with us. And it was great. I was I felt great and Cubby was a lovely man, he said, if you’re going to say I think anything to say, say it. It might be the stupidest thing in the world, but it might be the breath of inspiration. I’ve never forgot that. You’ve got something to say, say it. And I don’t know, when you do things on telephones, emails, telephones, or anything like that. Go and see people whose nowadays it’s very simple. If I were to cut you off, now I just closed the iPad. But you got to go and talk to so many people said, by emails have so many emails and all that and it’s not necessary.
Mike: 18:21 - Speaking of Cubby, who just to explain for people listening is Albert Broccoli, who was the original producer of Bond. He comes across as this amazing producer. And one of the things that people have said during the podcast is the nature of producers seems to be changing. What was it about Cubby? What was he like? And why was he so good at what he did?
Peter: 18:38 - Oh is a family man. I can’t remember but [unclear 18:41] has a little girl. Right out the cargo [unclear 18:45] is that was and his big thing rather like Roger Moore and also Pierce Brosnan. They knew everybody by everybody on the unit by Christian name, including the sweeper up on the floor. The standby chippy that they knew about the team and stuff like that. They knew everybody and they always say good bowling. That’s an accomplishment especially Roger. Remember that they got his [unclear 19:18]. So Rogers had Peter, [unclear 19:21] Roger. That’s true gentlemen. And Pierce was the same. Always on time. Beautifully, creased jeans, open neck shirt. Blazer. Nice man.
Mike: 19:36 - How did you first come on to the Bond franchise?
Peter: 19:39 - Well, at that time, I worked on I beach pilot for a long time and a friend of mine Harry Potter. He was over at Bekensfield and I done I’d been on the pitch for most of tutorials with him. And after he said, however, work with us. So, I cash in my chips at Pinewood and went to Bekensfield, as it was on by Leslie parkrun and Julian Winfield, who were part of the production teams that Pinewood had at that time and went out to Bekensfield and worked on Past Lady, This Sporting Life [unclear 20:25] which was Julie Christie’s first picture. And she was in Past Lady, then Their Sporting Life with Richard Harris. Rachel Roberts [unclear 20:39]. I remember being on the stage one day and I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, but there’s a bit where he’s, which is looking out the window of his room, looking out the window at Mrs. Hammond putting out the laundry and Lindsay Anderson saying that Richard Davis and Richard Harris exploded the poor continuity though, she was going to explode. You’ve never heard the speech of like it having a man or language. She’d never heard exclusively. He went on and on and on. And Lindsay just said, Okay, Richard, we can try it again. Hey, we got the shot. And I remember those pop into the stage quite often was mild visual, but literally 20 steps from the stage. And after they used to sit with lunch and talk to him, he said Peter, “If I’m not here on Monday, Carol take the picture of us, today.” Anyway, the end of the week came and Ted Sturgis who was the first assistant said, ladies, gentlemen, thank you very much for the week. And have a nice weekend. Richard got observation, gentlemen, not don’t people know this, this Lindsay’s birthday today. And Lindsay, I’m sorry for what happened during the week, his birthday party for and I can’t tell you that the whole lot came in [unclear 22:03] came in wonderful eats champagne. And I thought he was a human being, and then just finish the picture and it was a picture, it was difficult. But then that was part of it. And I think after that we did and father came to now we did a series called The Human Jungle, which is big [unclear 22:29], right with Herbert [unclear 22:30]. I did those. And we did I think the whole stretch of birds. And then unfortunately, kind of the money ran out of Bekensfield. And we’ll get fired. [unclear 22:43] And I was with by friends Paul Walker. My wife, Ron, who says I said, would you bring Peter Martens? So I rang Peter about and he said, look, we’ve got, I was in that time set decorating. So he said, I said, ‘Peter,’ he said, “Look, we’ve got to set their credit. If you’d like to have a draft for us on this James Bond thing. I’d be delighted.” So I say, ‘Fine.’ So see on Monday, so as that happened, which I believe that Grenada and slough they were showing [unclear 23:18] with love. So when it got in the queue with bye, bye, so I thought, Jesus Christ, especially that case, that whole thing, amazing. Also right there on the Monday morning with my bits and pieces. This is your drawable. This is it. And suddenly, Ken came in, I’ve never met him before I knew him by reputation. And he gave me a big wallet folder full of photographs for extra Fort Knox. blurb they get to give you for Fort Knox and bits and pieces like that. See what you could do with this?
Mike: 23:53 -This was on gold finger. Right?
Peter: 23:55 - yeah. So I spent the next four weeks. I had to choose all the measurements. There was you can’t the President of the United States can’t get into court not only the Secretary of the Treasury. So obviously when Harry and [unclear 24:14] all those were there, they were all outside the gates. So everything was done outside and just it was that just the blurb about sizes that I managed to deduce how big the thing was. They were power dividers and stuff like that. So during that time, I drew a quarter inch model that did all the quarter inch scale model plan elevations, details, the fence all that the roads and I think Ken said you better send off to being estimated and he came back 67,000 pounds. Crash they’re gonna kill me. Anyway Harry, Guy Hamilton [unclear 24:57] and they said to guy can we rationalize anything so he said yeah don’t build this site don’t do this. Don’t do that. I said I can again another way so I think I got 48,000 Then okay, do it. Next thing is where bulldozing the ground up on the lot, there’s cement being laid. We’ve got permission to go into black park with gold [unclear 25:22] road intersected with Bullion Boulevard. All the earthworks have been done and I can’t breathe in the office one-day sit down on stage. So I said no, he said when you go down to stage, see if you’ve got it right, so I went down on stage these days to Mammoth facade of footnotes. Oh, my God. I rushed back the art department. Oh my! Dividers out and they say I never heard any laughter anything. So no one said [unclear 25:56] about two weeks later Ken came and he said just to say those concrete roads up remember when I was there, there was a car so he went okay that didn’t have any laugh or anything but I said to my brother get your car going up a lot. The fence was in possession but I knew where all the bits were where the camera shots have been taken from took out the viewfinder puts cars in place. It’s fine. I think well with it. So a friend of mine phoned me up and said, “Look we got the set decorator on Benjamin run up your street.” So I said to Peter [unclear 26:37] he said that don’t need, leave don’t leave. He said, “You know, so big program here.” I said, “Well, I think Kendall really liked me,” said every time he says it to you by he said we’ve pest ourselves here laughing at you running around like blew our slides. We know everything is okay but just to see your reaction. So I stayed on to the end and then I was sent for by Harry Saltzman he said look we’ve got a big program have a two weeks apology on us. And then we’re gonna do other things. So [unclear 27:13] friend of mine birthday be on carry on clear. And then we reassembled in London when we did it, press five. Then one day came into the office, etc. Right children. The next one is thunder or somebody have been swimming underwater. Of course, we are in [unclear 27:31] the gardens. And we will just round the corner from our swimming pool. So lunchtime, I used to go out and swim. And on Fridays, I used to go to slough. So they gave me a crash course. And my job was to Vulcan. So when we were in at the Bahamas, I was the one designated to not only the underwater, but to build the bloody boats as well.
Mike: 27:58 - You mentioned the travel there. That must be one of the best things about working on Bond. Was there a particular destination that you loved more than others?
Peter: 28:08 - Well, I went for two weeks, the Bahamas stayed 14 and I swore when I came back. I would never go to the garden, Bahamas again. I’ll be back anytime it’s not true. As if it was the right place to go. That was the thing. I’m Casino, we did start off in South Africa. Looking at it was supposed to be the Virgin Islands and Madagascar. Well, we went down to Cape Town. Had a great time. We stayed in wonderful hotels. But it’s not the Virgin Island. The palm trees are all wrong. The best beach I saw was a Cape Point. had beautiful, beautiful sandy beach blue sea. But it could have been a Scotland but it was like also no ostriches running around. And when Martin came down, he sits, “What do you think?” And I said, “I think we’re in the wrong place. I think we either don’t rewrite the script about Cape Town, which we’ll never get rid of that bloody mountain. Or we go somewhere else.” He said, “Well, where should we go?” I said, “To Bahamas.” And it worked. Not that I’m some smartass. But the thing was, I’d had the experience of the Bahamas, I knew it would but especially with the construction of the hotel, which was a hotel that had stopped many moons before. And we actually use it for a camera platform on spiral up me. I was now being taken over by was totally been taken over by the Bahamian Defense Force. And also we went there and I said to when Martin came out, showing him I said, it’d be great to have this as a decrepit Hotel. Now, this is great. This shouldn’t be a building hotel. I remember Mike was like Good measuring. I came back and by March [unclear 30:03] the same James. Anyway, he did a fly through the whole thing that showed about him that he thought, that’s it. That’s what we want. And of course the hurricane has gone through that neck of the woods in New Orleans and portugais tower cranes without the question. So eventually what we had to do, we took two tower cranes with us a crane to load that to erect the tower cranes. And although I’m still one, and it all worked out by ship, I cleared the site. And I think there are three or four constructions of their own new steelwork. They generally are four or five days of course, where we were building became the [unclear 30:54]
Mike: 30:54 - I guess one of the things about filming abroad is it can be a little bit difficult and dangerous sometimes. Did you ever encounter any dangers in your travels?
Peter: 31:04 - Well, I got hijacked and we’re doing octopus scene.
Mike: 31:08 - You got hijacked.
Peter: 31:10 - Yeah. We were down in Udaipur. And I was bringing all the flight tickets back to our production manager. And I had all in my bag. got on the plane Udaipur to come up to Delhi and then get the plane that night back to England. Anyway, we went by a Jodhpur and remember, the table doesn’t fall under member sitting out front, [unclear 31:38] and when we took off, there was a funny door opening from the toilet and into the flight deck. And suddenly the captain came on. He said, “So ladies, gentlemen, being hijacked in the hall. And we can’t train to ration that we went through the hall.” And it was a he said, this is a dreadful hearing. We’re in touch with Mr. Gandy or this Sikh separatist who once released, you know, and he has a gun, hand grenade. And he won’t hesitate to use it. Anyway, he’s got sort of a hole and we circled over the airfield. There were trucks all over the place where we circled there for about an hour then the pilot was told to send come in for full landing, wheels down traps everything. Nobody moves of course, and we had to do an aborted landing and flew across the border, Amritsar we landed there, and we landed takes off the runway, and everything stopped run out of fuel. And I can’t tell you when you see where they do sweat on film beads it’s not like, they are like sheets, everybody was actually covered in perspiration. And as I say the plane wasn’t full. So, there first off there were a couple of ladies with babies. And by this time the Indian Defense Force and now ring the plane or their SMLs all were fixed bayonets and that’s it worked on the aircraft so they had to let these ladies down with the babies and then the doors closed again. And then this fellow said by like one of our production managers anyway he said, “Just get up, don’t take your belongings, just go to the back of the aircraft so we all crammed back and I had this bag with all the bloody flight tickets and I thought, “Christ, if we live today can I don’t take the sick is back Iris Kelby or this pedal is gonna kill us.” So anyway, I went back and sat with a fellow and his wife and he said [unclear 33:42] he said, “What do you do for a living?” I said I work for James Bond is heavily funded those gadgets so anyway, he got very hot, very hot and they move some of the women to the front. And he helped his wife up there and I saw him talk to the pilot when he came back. He said, “I spoke to the other fellows,” he said, “we were going to distract him, we get up and distracting while the captain tries to do something.” And of course he’d open the front door as well to get some ventilation, it was really hot. So we all got up and he had this hand-grenades little pen unfortunately. And his pistol captain went suck in back into the flight deck, got the fire axe and hit your head with it. And it real round tried to get the pin out there. Hand grenade a real down managed, he dropped the hand grenade and he managed to get hold of the frame of the door course lost his balance and fell out was that there was a fracture chat of machine guns and everybody just fell on the floor. [unclear 34:49] we thought he’s going to impact the body or something and we blow up. Anyways, the next thing is we’ve got the independent source coming up and getting in, they go over the main players are going through the other entrances. [unclear 35:05] and they said, “Well come down the back, we get you out,” so I retrieved by bag and the only person who got hurt was some fellow got out, went out the front door. And of course, even though a 737 there’s still a way above, of course holding a bag it was all out of balance patches ankle so the rest of us sit down, the main plane, were helped. We went back into the airport lounge and we had a quick debrief, and then we were taken to Amritsar to a hotel where we’re given other clothes and rooms in a hotel. We’re having supper and pilot came and said, “Ladies, gentlemen, Mrs. Gandhi is sending a new aircraft for us. [unclear 35:56] be examined, and your luggage is all on board. When you finish your meal [unclear 36:02].
Mike: 36:04 - Wow. I mean, that was an incredible story, Peter. Haven’t heard many like that before. I think we should probably take a little breather there. How did you first come to meet Jim Cameron?
Peter: 36:18 - One day, I telephoned Paul. I think it was Easter. It was good Friday. I had a call, [unclear 36:25]. And they said, would you be interested in doing Aliens? Of course. And it’s funny, I’ve just got the book outside is that making of Aliens and what I said the time is all in there. And they said, “Well, how much you want per set?” So I said, “Well, what’s your budget?” They said, “15 million.” So I said, ‘10%?’ I said okay, good. How the hell we did it? I don’t know. Because at that time, Pinewood was a proper working studio. It wasn’t full. All the pseudo practice it had to be adhere to. And I got the job. And later found because I was having a drink with [unclear 37:12] True Lies. And I said, “Why did you pay me and not Michael Seymour?” He said, Well, I choked. [unclear 37:20] raving about how he got on with England. [unclear 37:26] especially that how [unclear 37:28].
Mike: 37:29 - Could you tell on those? Because he must have been quite young then could you tell there was something about him that you thought he would go on to the great things that he did later?
Peter: 37:36 -The first thing I did learn about Jim, there was [unclear 37:39] possibly he cooked animosity. There could be the biggest rounds, today. Yesterday, it was a new day. And that says a lot because you know people can take umbrage or don’t. And of course, I knew the Pinewood system. And I used to beat people kind of work all night and got those what else? Anyway, we finished it. And when I saw it, I was called more than happy.
Mike: 38:06 - Because am I right that this was during quite a difficult period in the film industry.
Peter: 38:10 - That was out of work for about well, two and a half, three years. It was that time when BBC got rid of all their designers and I was going for films, I was overqualified and asking too much money, anyway. Our house was paid for and we had a good life. But we were running out of money. And out of blue, my agent phoned and she said Jim would like you to come and work for him again. We’re going to send you over a script. There was True Lies. So they said what you’re saying so, yeah, love to do it. So talk to your agent. So my agent ran out on a Tuesday and this is the offer I sent around coming to Los Angeles to work was 5-day money. Anyway, they come back to those days, especially the pro rata and they said come Friday. So I went Friday had a first class return ticket. When I got to the airport, there was town car to take me to Santa Monica Beach Hotel. There was strong bucks for the keys of the car, and [unclear 39:15] said see you tomorrow. The only thing was, it was all gonna be done on the East Coast versus East Coast picture, but Arnold’s wife was going to have a baby and so it was divided up.
Mike: 39:27 - Well, True Lies was another famously huge blockbuster. Why was it that you and Jim Cameron had such an affinity working together on those?
Peter: 39:35 - Well, the thing was, he said after Terminator two, he said to his producer, Stephanie and her [unclear 39:45] to be going on to my agent said and they said find [unclear 39:51] There’s no of course when True Lies finished again. It was difficult pitch up as what was the bloody earthquake. And I don’t know what else. And it was all finished. And Jim gave me a part at the end. He didn’t come on board, he was ill. And he said to me, How about the next one? So I said, “Jim, it’s amazing.” The people have said to me, what do you do my last pitch? And I said, they never asked me. I thought it was some spider man because he had all the drawings and sketches in his office of spider man. But of course, there was a big legal tangle with 21st century films and Marvel Comics and all that anyway. It was dropped. And I was doing then Cold Night. And they had a premiere in London for True Lies. So we were all invited. And I went up, met Jim again. And no, I didn’t reach him. But they had all the actors on the stage [unclear 41:03] wasn’t there and afterwards ran to Planet Hollywood and my daughter’s boyfriend at the time. We went up to this big private room, they had [unclear 41:14] big table over here for Lamont, there’s a couple of places, the champagne [unclear 41:19] Hollywood. So we went over and sat down. And Jim came straight over. He said, Okay, well, you signed up. I also think of it Spider Man. He said you’ll get the script at the end of the week, but don’t take any notice the title [unclear 41:35] Titanic.
Mike: 41:38 - You’ve commented that at the end of Titanic, you said to Jim, that it was a hell of a trip. Do you think it was the biggest journey on a project you’ve ever taken?
Peter: 41:46 - I would say if you’re thinking about it, we do. We couldn’t have done anywhere else above Mexico. And we had to build a studio and the studio when Fox built the ground 90 days later, we shot the ship. We use Churubusco studios to build the interior sets and then bring them up to Rosarito. He was quite a quite a trip I tell you. I was there for three Christmases. And I think was their first question was where to the RV on the beach. And Jim said he just concluded a deal with Fox for 500 million over five years. Well, when we started Titanic, the shit hit the fan. They fossil, they’ve got another clear patcher on their hands. Jim said to me, we had to make things work and we were getting what we wanted in Mexico is very difficult. The one thing is people don’t realize how the Mexicans work they work fine, but their way of doing things. You know, I spoke to one of the production managers of Lady Propecia rancher from and she said, “What can we do to help,” so I said, we need to get stuck over the border quick. Those who are talking to the chief customer value in Mexico City biggest mistake, you’ve got to talk to the man on the border with the old money and but fella who actually built the studio, he was Mexican. And he said, I’ll have anything out of the border within 15 minutes for you. For example, would you believe you cannot take done into Mexico? Berry, our prop master got this beautiful automatic cow’s body guard is all engraved with beautiful, not allowed to take it in. So we had to find another one. I think it costs four or $5,000. So get it done. And please cheap sensory $400 at the very end take it out when you’re finished. They don’t mind they think it’s too corrupt. But that’s the way things are done. But anyway it’ll ever have it worked and we did it. We did have one funny incident. Because the stern of the ship all that bench was going up in the air was all shot before is on the ship. And we had two days to get it onto the ship when we’re going to do the departure. So the first day we actually got from A to B we got onto the stone of Titanic and [unclear 44:20] was all the kind of put it together making it and Jim came up that night and it was lovely weather and he said to me, “Anything I should be aware of?” I said, “Yeah, check out the paint not might not be dry.” And anyway I can’t tell you. Evening came there was a storm, there was rain. And this is where the mixer so you go and rattle it up and the whole lot came out everybody. They got tarpaulins, they got dryers [unclear 44:49]. Anyway about five o’clock in the morning. The sun came out. Everything was fine. Jim came up he said, great job, anything else that I should know. Paint’s not dry. And all the extras came over and [unclear 45:03]. And everybody laughed. And that was great.
Mike: 45:15 - On Titanic, it was such a huge build. And I know it went a bit over budget and things like that. And you mentioned it was lunacy. Was there a feeling that it was going to be a huge movie? And in a way, I guess it kind of had to be.
Peter: 45:28 - Well, I left on the third Christmas and they’ve been shooting I relied on I got myself packed up back to Los Angeles on the way home. And I went out [unclear 45:38] gave me a hug and said, [unclear 45:42]. So I said, yeah, he gave me a hug. And he said, “See you at the Academy Awards.”
Mike: 45:47 - That’s very cool.
Peter: 45:49 - Of course, when we went to the Academy Awards, I can’t tell you, Jesus Christ, that whole family were there. And it happens. Every other year. After the first one Awards, which are for supporting actors, it comes out to torture photography or production zone. But that one, it was Russell. So it was there, he was the first one I host them were very long. And I think we want all the technical ones. They’ve been two or three breaks, [unclear 46:21] responses, all that. And then it’s now coming down to the next one is going to be production, design. And Chris would have on he said tonight, later down. It’s the 70th anniversary. And we’ve gathered all the stars who are still living to celebrate the 70th anniversary. So we’ve been there for maybe three hours. Anyway, that’ll finish. Meg Ryan came onto the stage. I mean, how do you feel I was really frightened [unclear 46:51]. And I said to my agents, I said, don’t worry about it. It’s beautiful, but it’s boring. So anyway, [unclear 47:01] came on and she went through the whole thing. And she was Titanic starts with it. And she opened the envelope. I said [unclear 47:07] Titanic relief, relief. And that was it. I thought it I thought [unclear 47:17] or everybody that worked with one, one allowed one by myself, which was great.
Mike: 47:22 - How did it feel to be that little print boy from England standing up on that stage all those years later?
Peter: 47:29 - The only thing that did slightly nickel me I’ve never been a member of BAFTA. And we had 14 nominations. I was got nothing. I didn’t want anything. I do have one of their masks. And I was one of the kind of people who got the first one. It was a tricky conliffe mask. And remember, it was [unclear 47:56] somebody came to see me and they had this plastic one. Probably you’ve dealt with Bandra. They had this one made of fiberglass, and they said what do you think about that? If you go to male throw that you said, smartass? What would you do? So when we saw this father of this friend of mine, Harry Potter, he had a foundry it was striking for new co-founders. I took it out. I said what I can do with this. So did one bronze. And we had it polished. We had put it on a lot with a little plot. And they liked it so much. They all get 200 immediately. I don’t know if they still do it anyway. Many years later, as I was finishing my well my job, the fellow who was out running new co-founders came over and saw me Mr. Chips. He said, “Oh, by the way, what should I do with this?” And it was the original. So I have the original rail mounted on the block with a natural cloth on it, I said, Titanic [unclear 49:02] the one that got away
Mike: 49:09 - How does it feel yourself that your work has changed culture? So like millions of people can reference the Titanic stairs or we haven’t spoken about it yet. But you helped design the Golden Gun. How does it feel that anyone can say that in the world and people know what they’re talking about?
Peter: 49:25 - [unclear 49:25] for such a stupid [unclear 49:29] I said the big thing is, if you get a really inferior material, and you make it look like it costs you only fortune and labor, you pay a bit more for the material if you’ve got the raw material. And believe me when the Mexicans Polish things they don’t use that you should have seen that [unclear 49:48] was something that should be held.
Mike: 49:50 - Was there one bit about it that you were most proud of whether it was a big thing or a small thing?
Peter: 49:54 - I like the volume. Jim said to me, I like Dante’s Inferno. So we’re five boilers wide, but we haven’t got enough room for five. So we had two and a half. And we mirrored it was we did some mirroring on Aliens, which he never forgot how these Mexicans got this bloody great mirror and I don’t know. Anyway, Tommy Fisher was fresh off. He did these furnaces beautiful, I can’t tell you my setback, we’ve got real steam coal and all that. And of course it was hot. And there was a patina. You know, with all these further, they’re shoveling coal. And suddenly you’ve got those kind of white lines going up to the nostrils where they were breathing. And everybody said, Well, that’s us over there. So Jim said, how do you know it’s us? That’s the other side of the ship. You have a look at it. It’s a mirror one. It was good.
Mike: 50:53 - If you had to go back to relive one particular movie that you had the best time on? Is there one that stands out in your history?
Peter: 51:01 - I like to say, I was fortunate, working with Roger Campbell, we reinvigorated the Bond with a new Bond on don’t die. And then we went back to square one was Casino with Daniel with [unclear 51:21]
Mike: 51:24 - Were you involved in those conversations? Because I know it got grittier. Were you involved in all that?
Peter: 51:28 - No, no, no, no. We used to have talks that sub scrip eyes recovered, ask ideas, how we can do, how we can do that. But so for people don’t realize that when we take the old guy, we went to six or seven different places before we ended up at Leaves den. And then the deal had to be done. And then we had to convert it into a studio. There are two factories there. But it was better that we use factory two.
Mike: 51:55 - This is really interesting, because for anyone who doesn’t know what you’re talking about is how you are the ones who first kind of built up Leaves den Studios, which is where Warner Brothers now are in the UK and made all of the Harry Potters.
Peter: 52:07 - Yeah. And so that heads up people voted into office it well, offices, were there, but does it affect that soft role was director and art department then you come down the next flight there was production, then what was catering and then not found on the other side, there was all the other ancillary ones, like our pair, dressing rooms, all that then we had, I think we built in that building five, four or five stages. And of course, what people don’t realize that’s going on, we’ve got a script. And we’re now I visited Switzerland three times. We went to Russia twice, went to Puerto Rico twice, we went to [unclear 52:58] Del Monte Carlo monte-carlo couple of times and also went down to France from Leon down to Gap and then down to ever spatio, this is all trying to get the place up and running and location set as it halfway Puerto Rico is very close. Friends of mine have been with me on Titanic, the American so it’s American territory are those sort of state, they could just come in and do the job without work permits which was great. I met him again.
Mike: 52:48 - Now to finish up on Red Carpet Rookies, I like to ask my own version of the in the Actors Studio questionnaire. So it’s just a quick fire. So say whatever pops into your head, Peter, the first question is, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Peter: 54:01 - Don’t attempt something if you know you can’t do it. We upfront but I never had to say I can’t do it. But that would be one of the things that is impossible. Nothing’s impossible given time. But we’re Titanic. You know, as I say, from this home, they bought the ground. And 90 days later, we shot the ship. And it was so great team of men and women. We had one team down in [unclear 54:31], which were very up. We built three stages, one with a huge pay. And then obviously, the whole lot with all the ancillary things that went with it.
Mike: 54:46 - Incredible. Number two, do you have a favorite film?
Peter: 54:51 - My favorite film is of all time is A Matter of Life and Death. Beautifully shot. I watched it the other day, would you believe?
Mike: 55:00 - Very cool. Number three is what when you’re working gave you a reason to get out of bed for an early call time and go to set?
Peter: 55:06 - I always used to enjoy go to work. There was only one time that I’ve ever wanted to stay in bed and cut my head with the sheet. So there’s all Aliens was, it was getting so difficult. We were run out of money. And it was getting really difficult. And I was hoping when we did True Lies, but we started with a test suite that’s attached to the house, which they rehearsed off for two weeks. And then they shot it for two weeks. So the next thing was the men’s washroom in Washington. And it started off small, and it got bigger and bigger. And it was all glazed tiles. Ceramic tiles are all real, unfortunate all the stores, you could buy off the say, and we got bigger and bigger. And I remember like when they finished where they think they were going to shoot it in two days or 10 days later, they’re still shooting. And Russell [unclear 56:08] came on the floor one day put his arm around my shoulder said know how he felt was I told him about Aliens [unclear 56:18] he was the deep head it was bloody difficult here now.
Mike: 56:25 - Number four is which job in the industry would you have done? If it wasn’t for any of yours?
Peter: 56:31 - Funnily enough, I already got the camera that’s it takes was use actually goes here fellow called Frank Caffrey 50, Frank Campoli to go [unclear 56:39] or something and he if he wanted to get you as a clapper loader. But anyway, I think once I started at Pinewood, and I pretend to character and they were so good that I thought it’s a job on your on the floor. You don’t go out anywhere. People, they go abroad, but they never see what we see. They’re just [unclear 57:06] it five minutes.
Mike: 57:10 - Amazing. Number five, which person living or dead? Would you have loved to have worked with before you retired that you never did?
Peter: 57:18 - After jungle would have been amazing. I was bit too young. But he was amazing. What he did. And one of his protegees was Eddie Scott. And I still see your son every probably every other week at the pub. And his dad was clever. When you look back and you say about other films, and other ones stands out, I still don’t know how [unclear 57:45] did Blade Runner. Do you think that the age you have now, the age he had the most amazing picture?
Mike: 57:55 - So you would have liked to work with Ridley?
Peter: 57:57 - Yeah.
Mike: 57:58 - And then the last thing I’d like to ask you, Peter, is I like to ask people when they won their Academy Award. Who did you think and why?
Peter: 58:05 - Well, you know what I said that night was the day I left Titanic, Jeremy said to me, “It’s been quite a trip.” But believe me, it was Jim, John, Ray and my wife. Thank you for your support. Finally, I’m only as good as the people who work with me. And ladies, gentlemen, he would very best thank you. That’s it. I didn’t have any notes. I knew what it was going to say it was nothing. It’s worse when people get notes out. I was always frightened, I was gonna win it, I’ve been there three times before, we were supposed to be handset winners and it’s really low when you don’t win it.
Mike: 58:49 - So you think people are pretending when they look all modest when other people win?
Peter: 58:54 - Well, you get 30 seconds. When you go to [unclear 58:58] said finish, finish, finish and there’s a clock with 30 going down. [unclear 59:05] but say something about his experience.
Mike: 59:11 - That’s amazing. Thank you so much for joining me today, Peter. Your advice has been incredible. And thank you so much for talking to me. My pleasure.
Now is the time I would usually play my Red Carpet Rookies outro and pitch all my social media handles, but for today, we will simply be played out by the soundtrack to Peter’s favorite film, Powell and Press burger, his 1946 Romance, A Matter of Life and Death. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please share with a friend. Thank you.