David & Lisa

Keir Dullea, right, and Janet Margolin in David & Lisa. (Promotional Photo / July 3, 2012)

David & Lisa

Friday, July 6th at 7:30pm, the Ridgefield Playhouse Film Society "Lost and Found Film Series"

 

Best-known as astronaut David Bowman, the man who talked to HAL, the ship's computer that sabotaged the mission to Jupiter in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Keir Dullea has been an actor in films for over 50 years. This week, The Ridgefield Playhouse screens David and Lisa (1962), the film for which Dullea, a Fairfield resident, won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Male Newcomer and a San Francisco Film Festival Award for Best Actor.

Director Frank Perry knew Dullea's work from TV and his first film The Hoodlum Priest, but thought the actor, 26 at the time, was too old to play David, a teenager sent to a special school for students with emotional problems. However, the actor chosen for the part dropped out to pursue a more lucrative offer, leaving Perry desperate for a replacement. Dullea, who wore long hair in Priest, turned up for his screentest with short hair, looking like he had shorn off eight years as well. He got the part, and to this day recalls working on the film as one of the best film-acting experiences of his life. "It was a fabulous time," he says, working on the low-budget film that was financed largely by Perry's friends, "the camaraderie among the tiny crew was wonderful." The cast includes Howard Da Silva (formerly blacklisted) as David's warmly sympathetic psychiatrist and newcomer Janet Margolin as the schizophrenic Murial/Lisa, who insists on speaking in rhymes. When David, a neurotic unable to bear being touched, starts rhyming with her, they form a bond.

Preparing for the role wasn't difficult, Dullea recalls, as all he needed to know about the character was in the script, by Perry's wife Eleanor, and in the book, written by a psychiatrist, from which it was adapted. Dullea moved about among many schools in his youth and knew the feeling of being the "new kid"; he was also an overweight child, he says, and knew what it was like to be bullied. These were the sorts of memories Dullea, trained in Method Acting, drew upon to find the character of David, an astute teen who is a mixture of cold detachment and needy emotions.

Dullea, who first got his Actor's Equity Card in 1957, has played a lot of roles. He calls David "one of the landmark performances I'm proud of," and also concedes that he is "a logo" for 2001, as the poster of him in a red helmet from Kubrick's film has become iconic. Recently, he was asked to provide commentary, for a DVD Box Set, on an episode of Bonanza he appeared in. It was filmed in 1963, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dullea says, and all he can recall, besides the fact that everyone ran to their transistors at every break to hear news coverage, was that he found himself thinking: "this could be the end of everything, and here I am on a fake Western set wearing a cowboy suit."

Of course, it wasn't the end of everything, but only the start for this charismatic actor whose latest film, Isn't It Delicious?, filmed in Connecticut, will have a screening later this summer at the Fairfield Theatre Company.