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Interview Source: Total DVD. February 2002


The role of RoboCop made Peter Weller a star, but parts in Naked Lunch and Screamers confirmed his credentials as a genre favourite. Total DVD sent Phil Mason to speak to Hollywood's head hipster and authority on Italian art.

What was it that particularly appealed to you about the role of Murphy/RoboCop?

I read the script and knew right away that it was my kind of film - its themes are massive. RoboCop is medieval, man. You look at it and you see a kind of corporate, mercantile society crushing everything in its wake, just like in the Renaissance (Weller is just about to complete a Masters Degree in Renaissance Italian Art). Free trade and the massive flow of information has liberated society, but at the same time, you see an immense amount of greed - yuppies running all, saying I want that for me, man. RoboCop is an allegory about imperialisation, technology and humanity - this society takes the life of this guy (Murphy/RoboCop) and also robs him of his innocence.

The other reason I did it, of course, was that I was already a fan of Paul Verhoeven. I liked his Dutch films up to that point, because they were always profound and personal - like Soldier of Orange which is about how the Dutch responded to the German invasion of Holland, and Spetters, which is a personal story set against a backdrop of motorcycle racing. It is very hard to take allegorical ideas and put them in entertaining contexts, but he can do it - which is why he was probably the best director for RoboCop. If an American director had made it, it would have been a little too cute.

One interpretation of the film is as a take on the life of Christ. How true do you think that is?

Absolutely true - it's one of the best Jesus movies ever made. Dig it - they crucify this guy. It's not a mistake that the gangsters blow off his hand - that's the nails into the wood, baby. That's why I've got absolutely no problem with the level of violence in the film and with that scene. Crucifixion is absolutely the most horrible torture that you can possibly imagine - you die a slow death and the executioner is time. It's a slow, miserable, painful, backbrain-going-dead, apoplectic, horrific, fried-nerve-endings death. If Paul hadn't made it horrendous like that, it would have been just another TV movie and Murphy's resurrection at the end just wouldn't have been so powerful.

You can also see other parallels too. There's the Hebraic story of The Golem, where the village conjures up this being to rid it of trouble and at the end they don't know what to do with it. The only thing is, the thing's got a soul now and it doesn't want to go away. Same with Frankenstein or Beauty and the Beast - any story where the being has been trapped and created by man, and is looking for a way to freedom. It's all about these reoccuring themes of salvation and redemption - the life of Christ has the greatest f**king third act in the world.

Is the film still relevant now?

I think that it's more relevant now. At the moment, you've got all the problems with the World Trade Organisation, multinational companies taking over the world, small businesses freakin' out and all that. The resistance to globalisation that we've started to see is foreshadowed by RoboCop. I made another movie called Screamers based on a Philip K Dick novel (The Fourth Variety), and that takes the theme a bit further. In it, the world is no longer divided by geographical, language or ethnic boundaries, so much as it is corporate ones. It's all about money.

You bring a lot of humanity to the role of RoboCop. Was that difficult to achieve?

I approached the role as if I was playing an autistic character. When he's confronted with fundamental human questions like 'Who am I?' and 'Where am I?', I figured that there should be a disparity between what he thinks and what he feels. I prepared for sixth months with the Head of the Movement Department at Julliard who introduced a dance movement element to it - very slow and articulated, very legato. I also watched Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible for a week. Everything's naturalistic in that film, but the actor's huge, and when he turns, it's like Dracula. For about five minutes I thought f**k, that looks stupid, but after about ten minutes it's great. To be honest, the hardest part of doing the role was having to be in that suit. It was tough because it was 120 degrees in the studio, and I could only be in it about five minutes before I really started hyper-ventilating.

Have you had any involvement in the making of the RoboCop DVD?

I was asked to do a DVD interview for RoboCop, but I was off in South Africa at the time making a film, so that was the end of that. I'm glad that it's finally ended up on DVD, because I love the format. The image is fantastic, and extra features always deepen the experience of watching a film. With the commentary, I'm also hoping that Paul will get to explain the film theologically.

Another sci-fi film of yours, Buckaroo Banzai, is about to be released on Region 1 DVD. Is there any word on the long promised follow-up or TV series?

Your guess is as good as mine. The director's hiding out in Boston somewhere, the guy that owned the rights shot himself in a hotel room in Century City and the rest of us have gone on to live happy lives. We've all been approached 100 times, and I'd certainly do it if it all came together - I don't understand that movie myself, but people love it... we'll see!

Total DVD, February 2002