index magazine
indexed

Lena Dunham's hilarious web series. Click here to watch seasons one and two!
gray
Name:
Email:
Daniel Day-Lewis spoke with poet, Eileen Myles in this 2002 interview. Photography by Terry Richardson.
 

Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.



Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.


Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.


Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.
 
  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Joe Dallesandro,1998

WITH TINA LYONS
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BRUCE LA BRUCE


At first, the idea of meeting Joe Dallesandro was a bit daunting. He is, after all, someone I've seen in films, admired, and hell, whose completely naked form — in the Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey trilogy: Flesh, Trash and Heat — I've ogled since I was a teenager. But I was meeting Joe at the Silverlake home of a friend, filmmaker David Ebersole, who wrote a part for Joe in his new screenplay, Flowers For Albuquerque, so I was put at ease. Joe was there along with Tony Ward (Hustler White) and Mary Woronov (actress and force of nature) for a publicity photo shoot and a reading of the script. Joe was over an hour late, but as soon as he got in front of the camera, the Dallesandro charisma was such that even Tony Ward was in awe.
The other thing that worried me was my lack of knowledge about what Joe's been doing for the last 25 years, aside from a Calvin Klein ad, and appearances in Gun Crazy with Drew Barrymore, and in John Waters' Crybaby. I thought a quick trip to the Web would cure my ignorance — but to my disbelief I found not a single site dedicated to this much-loved cult actor and the world's first true male sex symbol. Thankfully, a book will be out soon on Joe Dallesandro's films, including many hours of conversation, anecdotes and, of course, gorgeous photos.
Dallesandro's life has been an odyssey, as was my one day with him. I was going to take him somewhere quiet where we could talk, hopefully be in air conditioning, and smoke. Finding this place proved impossible on a Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles — so we went to his home in what he calls "the Chelsea of Hollywood." But first we went to his dry cleaners, where he just took off the shirt he was wearing and changed into another right in front of the cash register.
I have to say he looks great for a grandfather pushing fifty, the flesh on his compact frame virtually unchanged. For a rather self-deprecating curmudgeon, he's completely aware of both his former youthful beauty and just how well certain parts have been preserved. And for someone who's known for being laconic in his performances, in reality he's quite a talker.



TINA: You were speaking before about playing mobsters when you were living in Italy in the '70s, after Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and Dracula. But there was a chance to do that in Hollywood as well. Tell me the story of your involvement with The Godfather.
JOE: That was my finale with the Warhol people, because I was up for the part of Michael Corleone. At the time, Hollywood was doing a lot of copies of work I had done. Midnight Cowboy was, with its hustling theme, like Flesh, and Pacino's work in The Panic in Needle Park was compared to Trash. My stuff was so raw that it was considered documentary, that it was really Joe you were seeing. But if you knew anything about the Warhol people, or at least Paul Morrissey, they were completely anti-drug.
At the time, you had movies like Easy Rider glamorizing drug use. But we were showing what drug life really was. The biggest thing a drug addict had to look forward to was getting on welfare, maybe a couple of methadone programs. We were lucky to get Sylvia Miles for Heat. She'd been nominated for an Academy Award. She was a real actress, and we were just street people! We made Flesh in a couple of days, Trash in four. But a lot of people lost their minds to the ego thing of being a "superstar." Paul, who was my mentor, impressed it upon me to remember that we were only making movies for three fucking thousand dollars. "Get outta here, superstar — you're a stupid star!"

TINA: So why didn't you get the part of Michael Corleone?
JOE: I was up for the part, and Paul Morrissey said, "You know, I just don't think he can work from a script," because we'd always improvised, and Warhol said, "You know, I think he does drugs." So I was branded a risk. These were people I made millions of dollars for. In that period, the return on what we spent was phenomenal. Remember, our biggest expense was the blow-up from 16 mm to 35 mm. I really didn't make any money because I thought the experience might lead me to bigger money down the road. But the people I'd been working with didn't give me the push when something came along.

TINA: But later you did work for Coppola.
JOE: Years later I got to meet Francis again, and he gave me a gift. He was having a hard enough time keeping The Cotton Club going, and I didn't want to push it. I don't do that. Just like with Andy's films, where whoever could talk the loudest and the fastest was the star, that was not my kind of thing. I was a child, and I just couldn't fight that hard — or care that much! At the time that I met Francis, I had just gotten sober, and I was working as a chauffeur. And when I told Francis that I could do The Cotton Club, but that I needed to get back to my other gig — driving a limo — he just let out this big belly laugh.

TINA: When you were driving a limo, did you ever pick up anyone you already knew, or who recognized you?
JOE: Yeah, one person I already knew was Klaus Kinski. And Dom DeLuise recognized me. He was fantastic, great to talk to.

TINA: So what happened when you got to The Cotton Club set?
JOE: I got to the set, and I found people had been sitting around the set for six months — collecting money, paying their mortgages. But I took only a short break from driving to play Lucky Luciano in the film. And I came up with the idea that when Lucky comes in for the meeting, he closes the curtain, so we wouldn't have to shoot a whole scene with me. It makes sense — Lucky Luciano is not gonna sit in public while he's taking an important business meeting. I sat around the set for a week and a half, we shot my scene in two days, and every piece of footage he shot with me he used. There were people who shot for months who ended up not getting one fucking scene in the movie.

TINA: I remember there being a particularly large cutting room floor for that film.
JOE: I did no spectacular performance in that film. I know how to carry myself as a don, and I got to perfect it while living in Italy because I played it often enough, but it's pretty simple for me to play a bad guy. It's pretty simple for me to play a psychiatrist too. If you want to know whether or not I have to think about acting, the answer is no. It's like a lot of other things that I just intuitively know how to do. Give me the dialogue, I'll learn it, and I'll make it mine. The magic comes from everybody else's work — the costumer, the make-up person, the writer who writes the lines that fit my mouth and flow so that I sound like a psychiatrist or whoever I'm playing. Just try not to photograph me drooling ...

TINA: No, I think the drooling happens when other people see photographs of you.
JOE: [laughs a bit uncomfortably, but opens up a large trunk filled with memorabilia and photographs.] These are from before I met Warhol, when I did some male modeling.

TINA: Wow, these are gorgeous.
JOE: Sixteen years old!

TINA: I heard you did a gay porn film in the days before you were "discovered," unwittingly walking into the shooting of The Loves of Ondine.
JOE: No ... well, maybe I did, but nobody has it.

TINA: Maybe you did! Well, I have to ask you, as someone who's been married three times and is the father of two grown sons, how do you feel about being a gay icon, and a sex symbol for both men and women?
JOE: Well, first of all, it wasn't about being a sex symbol. I was a symbol for the freedom of the time. I was the first male to be completely, freely nude in a non-pornographic way on film. As for the gay audience, I think it's wonderful to have an audience that loves me. I don't really think about "gay" or "straight," it's just people who love me. Their sexual preference is not a big deal to me. But I will say, I don't really like people to be sexually demonstrative in public. Making love is private.

TINA: As I mentioned to you before, I've known a few people who've hustled, and there's a big dissociation from sexuality, and often a strong insistence that, you know, "I turn tricks with guys, but I do have a girlfriend!"
JOE: Why does anyone have to say they're gay or straight? Why does it matter? I turned tricks with guys 'cause I could deal with that better, and they were the ones who were attracted to me, they were the ones who would pay me! I have more gay fans than straight fans, but I do have both. I appreciate my fans, the people who follow me. It's nice to have people think you're a hot number!

TINA: I've thought you were a hot number for more than half my life, and now I'm sitting here with you! So tell me about the book that's coming out.
JOE: It's the first book about me that I've authorized. I've written a foreword. Each film is written about, and in some cases I tell stories, in others it's just all the information. I have a body of work that's larger than most people know. There are also stories from other people involved in the films, not to mention 110 photos from my private collection. I think when this book comes out, I'll be able to go to somebody and say, "Front me some money, and I'll write my own autobiography." I know I have an audience. I know the book will have an audience. I've paid my dues already!

TINA: Can you talk about your brother Bobby?
JOE: I've already started my autobiography, and the first chapter is The Bottom, and it details everything about his death, everything about our birth parents, the home we were placed in, our foster parents. My father insisted that Bobby and I not be separated. He was my other half, my life, and when he died it totally destroyed me. At first they called it an accidental death, but it wasn't. He did it on his birthday, December 28. Mine's the 31st. We used to get into "planing" — leaving our bodies when we were on acid together, and we got so good at it that we could do it without the drugs. I suppose a lot of things in my life happened because I was searching for love from my father.

TINA: A lot of people, even those who haven't come from a background like yours, feel they're in a never-ending search for parental, unconditional love.
JOE: Those are people looking for someone to take care of them. They're the hustlers! I've taken care of a lot of people in my life, and very rarely needed people to take care of me.

TINA: What was it like working with Paul Morrissey?
JOE: Paul knew I had a violent childhood, but also that I was very gentle and very kind. But we had fights during the making of Trash, for sure. Paul knew how to push my buttons. And I came close to losing it with Rex Reed.

TINA: That's funny, I had a fight with him once, too, over a parking spot in Bridgehampton. And I called him "Regina" — which in Latin means "queen."
JOE: I don't hold resentments towards people, because I'm honest with people. Although I have had, in my life, resentments towards people I've done good by — like Paul Morrissey, who fucked me over. For close to ten years, Paul would deny, even in front of me, that I didn't get a percentage from the films we made together. So I put him out of my life for six or seven years when I moved back to America. But then he called me up about some photographs from Flesh, Trash and Heat, and for a long time now we've talked about doing Trash II.

TINA: Trashier. So your split with Morrissey was over money?
JOE: Aside from the fact that I wasn't making any money, the money we were making wasn't even going back into making better films, which I wouldn't have minded because we were building my career. But we could have been making better quality films instead of watching Hollywood copy us. That's what pissed me off. We could have had the proper camera and sound equipment, and a good screenplay. We could have done much better films. There were people who went to the Actor's Studio who were told to go to my films to see how someone acts naturally! We were doing simple stuff, but the performers we had were really at ease in front of a camera. Some of them were just exhibitionists, but some of them have a quality that's really interesting to watch. I love to watch Jane Forth, and I even love watching Andrea Feldman, she was very funny.

TINA: And all the drag queens.
JOE: The drag queens did some funny shit, but the idea that I, as a real person, would hang out with Candy Darling was ludicrous! My life, at that point, was about the white picket fence, married with children, all that. It wasn't the insanity that was going on at the Factory. It's why I was looked to as someone who was stable and normal. And if anyone could write a book about the period, it would be me or Paul. We were the only ones who had any kind of sanity back then. We weren't doing drugs all day long. Billy Name just did a book, and back then it was part of my job, for five years, to make sure that he ate! Andy didn't want to see him, so he'd give me money to get food for Billy — a guy who had skin diseases because his skin hadn't been exposed to light in five years.

TINA: I don't want to treat you like your character in Heat, a former child star who's sick and tired of that being his only claim to fame, and I'm not sure if you want to talk about Warhol, but I'm wondering what your impression of him was when you first got in with the Factory?
JOE: I didn't think much about Andy at all. I didn't know about his work. I didn't know about him. I was only interested in what was put in front of me, in what they were trying to do with the movies. I thought it was ridiculous that they thought that what they were shooting was going to go into a theater. Surprise, surprise!

TINA: Did you think differently once the movies were actually playing in theaters?
JOE: No, not at all. I still thought that what they were shooting was ridiculous.

TINA: In a lot of the movies, you're this sex object that everyone's after. Were there people hanging around the Factory who were after you?
JOE: My job was to keep people from hanging around the Factory, and I did it with great pleasure. It was fun for me to have someone at the door saying, "Don't you know who I am?" "Well, I don't give a fuck, get the fuck outta here."

TINA: I know I speak for a lot of people who'd like to see you in movies a little more often. You should be cast in all those independents!
JOE: Well, I'm doing a reading of a script tomorrow night, and it's completely different now from what I first read and agreed to. They've added a shower scene with another male.

TINA: But if you got the part, would you turn it down because of that?
JOE: I'd have to give it a second thought.

TINA: You're a stubborn guy.
JOE: Yeah, but I've done my internship. I don't want to be taken advantage of anymore. A shower scene between two males is not what I would prefer to do.

TINA: Do you feel like you have a lot of great work left in you?
JOE: Work comes easy to me — not reading scripts, but what I do in front of a camera. There have been times I've pretended I couldn't read, to get out of rehearsing, and then I'd get in front of the camera and I'd just nail it. That's from years of experience. I've made close to fifty films.

TINA: You've worked with a lot of interesting people. Who haven't you worked with that you'd like to?
JOE: I dunno. I've been out of work for so long that I can't even think of who it would be. I'd just like to work.

TINA: I'm talking about in fantasy.
JOE: I don't even fantasize. I just really need to work. I gotta drop off some head shots this afternoon with this casting director. I used to think of the guy as a sleazebag, but he casts about thirty independent films a year. Last time I talked to him, he put me in contact with some mob people that I wanted nothing to do with.

TINA: Real mob people, or people making mob movies?
JOE: Mob people, making movies to legitimize their money.

TINA: I had an offer like that once. But then I thought about what life would be like in the Witness Relocation Program.
JOE: If you were lucky.
© index magazinegelatin1
Joe Dallesandro by Bruce La Bruce, 1998
© index magazinetobias
Trash, with Jane Forth courtesy to Photofest, 1970

© index magazinetobias
Joe Dallesandro by Bruce La Bruce, 1998
 
 

 

Copyright © 2008 index Magazine and index Worldwide. All rights reserved.
All photos by index photographers: Leeta Harding, Richard Kern, David Ortega, Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson, and Juergen Teller