- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Despite playing the ornery, cantankerous personality of Sgt. Taggart, a character of few words, actor John Ashton is warm and funny and filled with great stories and an infectious energy as he tells them. It’s a testament to just how good an actor he is. To celebrate Paramount Home Entertainment’s release of the newly remastered Beverly Hills Cop films, featuring new bonus features on the Blu-ray edition, Ashton spoke to us about the film’s surprise box office reception, working with different directors, and how he’s ready for Beverly Hills Cop 4.
The Beverly Hills Cop trilogy is available now from Paramount Home Entertainment on remastered Blu-Ray and Digital-only 4K versions.
HTF: Were you surprised at just how successful Beverly Hills Cop was. It’s been more than 35 years now, but did you have a sense that what you were making had all the ingredients to really make a big splash, or were you surprised after it was released and it really took off?
John Ashton: No, it totally surprised me. I mean, I got my degree in theater, Neil, and I did theater for a lot of years. [In theater] you just go in and do your job, hope for the best and hope you're doing the job well. I don't think ahead, I just go in day by day and do my work, do the best that I can, and hopefully, it turns out well. But I don't think of results when I'm working. I just think of the moment. And [on Beverly Hills Cop] every day was a pleasure, and then luckily, it came out to be a huge hit. Judge [Reinhold] and I were blown away by the reception it got. And of course, after that, you can't walk down the street. So it was quite the surprise but a pleasant surprise.
HTF: The first two Beverly Hills Cop movies still stand out as some of the very best comedic action entertainment, certainly some of the best of the '80s. Watching the films again recently I was struck by how scrappy and underdog the first film was when you compare it to the second film, which had a little bit more gloss, with obviously a larger budget, and the stylings of director Tony Scott. Did you feel pressure to sort of capture lightning in a bottle the second time, or did you have a sense that, "No, we got this," going into the sequel?
“The script on the first one was written as a very, very gritty film. Mickey Rourke was going to do it, and then it went to Sylvester Stallone, and then it became a big action film. But it was originally a very gritty script about a guy avenging the death of his buddy.”
John Ashton: I never felt any pressure going into the sequel. I mean, Judge and Eddie and I had developed our relationship, and we were together three months on the first one. You had two different directors [between the films]. Marty Brest and Tony Scott are two different types of directors. Tony's more into the whole bigness of everything, and Marty's a bit more character driven. The script on the first one was written as a very, very gritty film. Mickey Rourke was going to do it, and then it went to Sylvester Stallone, and then it became a big action film. But it was originally a very gritty script about a guy avenging the death of his buddy. It was a very gritty script. And we took that grit and made a comedy out of it when Eddie took it over and Marty directed it. We took those gritty moments and found the humor in them. And I think that's what made it so successful because the basic script was gritty, but we added that humor to it. When we got on the set of the second one, we already knew our characters, and we trusted one another as actors. I think there was more pressure on the studio than there was on us because you're doing the sequel to a huge hit movie, and they'd get a little nervous about that, but we weren't. We were just doing our job. So I never felt any pressure. I was enjoying it, and I think we all were.
HTF: A huge part of the fun of watching at least the first two films, besides Eddie's outward comic energy, is the relationship you share with Judge Reinhold's character. I’m interested how you two developed your characters and what it was like developing that relationship on screen with Judge because I know a good portion of what ended up on screen was improvisational. How did you two come to be the odd couple that worked so well in those roles?
“So we went in and we winged the audition. A lot of what we did in the audition they put in the film. So right off the bat, we had that chemistry.”
John Ashton: Well, again, I credit Marty Brest for giving us the freedom to create those characters and opening it up to us because a lot of what is in the film, is improvisational and ad lib. It really started with our audition. By the fifth callback, they were mixing and matching people, and by chance, they put Judge and I together. Judge came over to me- we hadn't met each other and were there for the final audition-and we introduced ourselves, and Judge said, "Hey, how do you like the script?" And I said, "I don't know. I haven't read it." He goes, "You haven't read the script?" And I said, "No." [chuckles] So he was hurriedly trying to tell me the storyline and I said, "Oh, to hell with it. Let's just wing it. We'll have a good time."
So we went in and we winged the audition. A lot of what we did in the audition they put in the film. So right off the bat, we had that chemistry. And then when we got on the set, Marty just let us run with it. There was a scene in the car where all it says in the script is, "Taggart and Rosewood wait in the car," and that was it. So we shot it two or three times with sipping coffee and looking up at the windows, and then Marty said, "Okay. We got that. Now you guys run with it." And Judge happened to have a magazine in the car to read between takes. So all of a sudden, they rolled the cameras, and Judge started reading, "Hey, did you know there's 12 pounds of undigested meat in your system when you're 50 years old." And I said, "Why are you telling me that? What makes you think I'd be interested in that at all?" He said, "Well, you eat a lot of meat." [laughter] That was all ad-lib stuff and they put it in. Marty gave us space to create.
“[A] lot of the stuff we did was ad lib and improvisational, and Marty gave us the freedom to do that. A lot of directors don't do that, but Marty was wonderful and gave us that freedom to create.”
[The scene where we’re jumping over the wall,] that was all ad lib. The real end of the wall was about five feet to our left, Marty said, "Okay. Just have trouble getting over the wall." And I said, "But the end of the wall's right here. Why don't we just go around it?" And he says, "Well, that's not funny." He said, "Do something." So we did the whole climbing over the wall thing, and that was an ad lib. So, I mean, a lot of the stuff we did was ad lib and improvisational, and Marty gave us the freedom to do that. A lot of directors don't do that, but Marty was wonderful and gave us that freedom to create. I can't give him enough credit.
HTF: I love that kind of story. As an actor, you've enjoyed a very long and successful stage career. I know you've toured extensively through Europe throughout your career. In theater, there is an immediacy when you're performing in front of a live audience on stage and that's very different from the experience of making film and television. As an actor, what's the draw between the two mediums? If you're acting on film and television, do you get a bug like, "I’ve got to get back on stage"? Or when you're on the stage, do you think, "Let me explore film and television roles"? Is it different for you?
"Stage is the only real actors' medium there is. When that curtain opens at 8 o'clock, it's your deal. Nobody can yell, "Cut." Nobody can say, "Let's do it again." I mean, it's your deal."
John Ashton: Yes and no. There's an immediacy about stage. Stage is the only real actors' medium there is. When that curtain opens at 8 o'clock, it's your deal. Nobody can yell, "Cut." Nobody can say, "Let's do it again." I mean, it's your deal. And believe me, over my years, I did summer stock in Cape Cod, and I toured Germany and England and Scotland, and when that curtain opens, it's your deal, and there's just no getting around it. And believe me, there were a lot of times when people would go up on their lines and stuff like that, and you’ve got to work yourself out of that when you're in a live audience. On film, you do have that luxury of blowing a line, and they yell, "Cut," and then you start over again. You don't have that luxury [on stage].
Film is really a director's medium, and you have no choice. You could do a take eight times, and you don't have the choice, as an actor, of what take they're going to use. You might feel like your second take was the best, and they choose the eighth take and put it in the movie. So, it's not really an actor's medium. It's a director's medium. It's an editor's medium. There's a whole lot of different processes that go into filmmaking than goes into stage. And with television, it's really a producer's medium. It could be because all they're worried about is getting advertising money. So, it doesn't care how good it is as long as it's getting a lot of ratings and they're getting advertising dollars. So that's not really an actor's medium. The only actor's medium is stage. But I try to approach my characters even when I'm doing film and television the same as I approach them doing theater. I concentrate on the character and that's my job. I try to do my job, and hopefully, I do it well and then they do their job well. I only see my movies once. I go into the premiere, I watch it, and that's it. And I never see them again.
John Ashton: I have a couple of movies coming now, and I've been going to these festivals. I went to the first festival. I watched the film. I did the Q&As after the film was over. And the next time they showed it, I showed up for the Q&A after. And the director said, "Well, don't you want to watch the movie again?" I said, "No, I've already seen it." I can't change anything. I've done my job. I watch it to see what the music is like and what the cinematography is like and stuff like that, but I can't change my performance, so I don't want to sit there and get frustrated. So you get the immediacy of stage as an actor, but you better be on. When that curtain opens, you better be on. And you know when you're not. And having none of that control on film or television, that kind of takes something away from an actor, but I can't look at it that way. I have to approach my character as I do on stage and do it as best I can and leave it up to the gods after that.
HTF: I wanted to ask you about your experience working on John Hughes-related films. You worked Curly Sue, Some Kind of Wonderful and She's Having a Baby. They were either directed by John Hughes or written by him. You must have developed a good relationship with him to have gotten called back again. John Hughes movies, for so many us, are important films from our youth. I grew up watching John Hughes films so wanted to ask about your experience working on those films for John.
John Ashton: John was terrific. Bless him. I did Some Kind of Wonderful, John wrote that and produced it, and Howie Deutch directed it. As I was shooting Some Kind of Wonderful, John called and wanted me to be in She's Having a Baby which he was shooting in Chicago. We were shooting Some Kind of Wonderful in LA. But John wanted me to be in She's Having a Baby to play Kevin Bacon's neighbor, and I said, "Okay. Fine." So, I actually shot both of them at the same time, flying back and forth. And John loved me. I loved John. Then about a year or so later, he called me again and wanted me to do a little cameo on Curly Sue. He liked to do that. He did with Kevin [Bacon] in Trains, Planes and Automobiles. John was like that. He was very loyal to his people, and we got along great, and I can't say enough about him either. We lost him too early, but he was terrific. And he was known as the king of the magazines because in those days, we had film. We didn't have digital stuff. It was all done on film, and you had to process the film that night to watch it. John would literally put a magazine in and just keep it running, and he'd go, "Do it again. Do it again." So he wouldn't yell, "Cut." He'd just say, "Again. Again," and he would just keep the camera rolling the whole time till he ran out of film. So he was known as the king of the magazines. He was terrific to work with and a very creative guy and a lot of fun.
“I'd love to come back and do 4 and get together with all of us. They've been talking about it for years, but I think it's becoming a reality now”
HTF: Has anybody called you for Beverly Hills Cop 4? There's been more rumblings about a fourth film potentially being made, and I think the world's ready for it. But are you ready for it, and have you been called about it?
John Ashton: I'm ready for it. I'd love to do it. As you know, I didn't do 3 because I had some conflicts [as I] was doing Little Big League in Minneapolis at the time. But hey, I'd love to come back and do 4 and get together with all of us. They've been talking about it for years, but I think it's becoming a reality now, and Eddie said that's what he wants to do next. So hopefully, I'll be involved, and I'm waiting to hear. We're just waiting to find out. I don't think they have a script yet or anything, but the actors are always the last ones to know anyway. So once they get the script and the crew and everything, then they'll call us.
HTF: That's funny.
John Ashton: Hopefully, I'll get a call. I'd love to do it. I'd love to get back together with the guys and do it again.
HTF: I think we would all love to see that. Well, John, it was a real pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much
John Ashton: Thank you, Neil!