They unplugged all the electricity to the trailer. While legendary stop-motion special-effects artist Ray Harryhausen’s mythical monsters proved a box-office draw, the gods themselves were portrayed by a pantheon of great actors, like Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, and Laurence Olivier. No, that will never work. They didn’t want me to cut Medusa’s head off with a sword. I said, “Hey, put the camera down just for one second.” I got into that position. Most actors, you can’t remember their toga movies, but something was right with this movie. They wanted me to do a poster, I remember that — that’s another reason they were pissed off at me — they had a picture of me in the scene with the scorpions where I’m kind of splayed out with a sword in my hand. Basically, the togas were shammies. I think all those things came together and made it work. So Clash of the Titans opened in second place to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is respectable. Clash of the Titans, a retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Perseus and Medusa, was just such a movie. I had no interest in doing movies, whatsoever, and then I got cast in Movie Movie. A big mythic epic — or the modern-day equivalent of one, a superhero movie? But, it wasn’t Clash, it was Making Love that caused that to happen. That also really pissed them off because they had an impetuous actor on their hands. They were not happy with me on the set, let’s put it that way. They kept sending in people to try to change my mind all day. I wanted to have something from the movie as an artifact, and they were so mad at me for — well, starting with my resistance to not cutting Medusa’s head off with a sword, and then not going on the press tour — they were going to give me the sword, but they never gave it to me. Before all that, though, he defeated Medusa and the mighty Kraken as Perseus — although it turns out there were many, many other battles to be fought on the set of Clash of the Titans, which turns 40 this week. I could’ve taken one back and washed my car. I sort of wanted to style my career after his. “I walked into the room and they were taking Polaroids of me, and I walked out of the room and they were sending me down to wardrobe for fittings. You say Laurence Olivier was one of the reasons you took the role, but you don’t really share the screen with him much. I loved the traveling, and the horseback riding, and the fantasy, and the whole love story. This was obviously before cell phones, and we were shooting somewhere in the middle of a forest in Malta. Yeah, I just never made another [studio] movie. It was Olivier, playing Zeus, who got a young, classically trained actor named Harry Hamlin interested in a fantastical “toga movie.”

In the spring of 1979, Hamlin, who at that point had only appeared in the throwback double-feature Movie Movie the previous year, was in talks to star in a film version of Tristan and Isolde with Kate Mulgrew and Richard Burton. The producers never spoke to me again after that. They said, “You can’t cut her head off with a sword because we got a telex from London that said they’d determined that if you cut her head off with a sword, it would get an X-rating for violence for England, and we would lose this gigantic audience of preteens.” And I said, “Well, how does her head come off? No, I just wanted to meet him. And we’re walking out of the temple and it’s starting to rain. It’s not like digging ditches. I don’t even know if I read for it.”

Hamlin didn’t end up sharing the screen with Olivier (the gods kept to Mt. We were shooting at this Greek temple and I wanted to hold the head up like a Benvenuto Cellini statue. How many actors have done toga movies, and then how many actors have done toga movies that had legs that went on for 20, 30 years — or, in this case, 40 years? I’m just all for work at this point in my life, and I’ve been very fortunate in the past nine weeks to have done three projects when most of my cohorts are not working at all, so I’m very fortunate for that. I wanted to approximate the exact same position as the Cellini statue. “I went, ‘Wait a minute. And I’ve been very fortunate in my entire career. Do you have any sympathy for blockbuster actors these days who have to do so much green-screen acting where they’re fighting … nothing? It gave me a great career. There was another shot that I wanted to be in the movie. They thought we could have been much more competitive with Raiders of the Lost Ark if we had done that tour. He was so mad at me when I came off. Clash wasn’t the problem, but playing a gay man in Making Love was a huge problem. Were you afraid it wouldn’t work? Because I’ve got to be able to take it and hold it up to the Kraken?” And they said, “We’ve devised this method whereby you’re going to toss your shield like a Frisbee and it’s going to bounce off a wall and inadvertently cut her head off.” At which point I locked myself in my trailer. I was really excited. This is another reason why they did not like me. I think it worked. I actually quit the movie when they told me they wanted me to do this thing. At the end of the day, they had to relent. Who wins this battle?’” Hamlin remembers. But Clash … the script was terrible. It looks a little bit like that famous Raquel Welch poster from that movie that she did. And we did work on it. If you call this owl Bubo, it’s going to conjure up a blistering bleeding boil.” He said, “Only doctors will know that, and we’re not depending on doctors to make the box office.”

I rewatched Clash last night, and boy, those are some short togas y’all are wearing. At one point they wanted me to do something that would have definitely killed the movie had I done what they wanted me to do. Every day with the director we worked on the dialogue, of which there was very little. I called up Charles Schneer, the producer, and I said, “You can’t call this owl Bubo. How do you feel about Bubo the robot owl 40 years later? Would you work in genre again? Genre movies weren’t exactly cool and mainstream in ’80s the way they were today. It ended my career. Ray and I had some friction around a couple of things. It wasn’t necessarily from the producers’ point of view, but I loved it. Olympus, a separate set, though Oliver insisted on being onstage for a scene where Zeus communicated with Perseus through a magical shield, rather than just doing it via a postproduction bit of recording.) Still, the two actors formed a friendship, one that led to Olivier — the legendary actor best known for playing Hamlet, King Henry the Fifth, and a role in Spartacus — eventually apologizing for being in the magical monster movie, which at that point wasn’t the cult classic it is now. I said, “I couldn’t help myself. “In a letter, he said, ‘Sorry to have met you under these circumstances, but I have so many mouths to feed,’” Hamlin remembers. It might have opened in first were it not for my insistence that I not participate in a worldwide press tour. “He was basically apologizing for being in the movie that I was the star of, which I thought was kind of funny.”

Hamlin would go on to have a successful career, though not the one he envisioned when he first started. But I’m fine with that. They had all the countries we were going to, but the big kickoff party was going to be in Johannesburg. Then he got the call from MGM about an opportunity to co-star with Olivier. I think there was some of that, but I think what was on the other side of it, the popularity that it had [outweighed that]. The story worked, the love story worked, the casting worked, having all those big players who were classically trained megastars. If there was a role that was appropriate for my age in one of those big Marvel movies or whatever, I’d be happy to take it. I went to Ray and I said, “How about I put my arm up and catch the tail just before it’s going to come down and get me, and then I slice it off with the sword?” And he says, “No. I did it because Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith were in it and I thought maybe there would be some way to dust up the script a little bit and make it better. That moment is also in the movie. Well, you did all right. But I did the best I could to elevate a pretty dreadful script. Related

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Given the state of Hollywood today, it seems all but inevitable that, at some point, every respected actor is going to take a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or another, similarly gargantuan blockbuster franchise. I just imagined this thing stinging me and then I cut the tail off.” That shot is in the movie, even though he told me that he didn’t want me to do it. I went on TV, but I never made another movie. Don’t even try it.” So, I do it anyway because, hey, camera’s rolling and they can cut it out if they want. They had this whole poster campaign set up, and for the very reason you’re talking about, I declined to do it. I was locked in the trailer for a good seven hours, knowing that they were going to have to let me out at some point, and that’s when I would fly back to L.A. Having been classically trained for years, that was my journey — only classical theater. Doubtfire

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Tags: Having done Clash was one of the highlights of that career from my point of view. I had a Fulbright scholarship to study Shakespeare in London, and I had to blow that off in order to do the movie. That was the last studio picture I ever did. There wasn’t much to it. They cast him on the spot. He took the meeting with MGM, and they thought he looked the part of a half-divine hero of myth. He later starred in L.A. You have to imagine that there’s a scorpion in front of you. They came to me and said they wanted to do this global press tour. My mother made me do that. But back in the 1980s, it was much more notable when a major, more “serious” actor appeared in a genre popcorn flick. What was it like to film those scenes where you’re swinging a sword at a giant scorpion who wasn’t actually there when you were shooting? Before every take, there was a woman who had a bucket of baby oil and she would come up and slather baby oil over all of my exposed skin — which was most of it, because those togas were very small. And, every time they left, they were on my side. Did you feel like you missed out? Richard Burton … Laurence Olivier. This interview has been edited and condensed. Law (which helped him get voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1987) and landed memorable roles in Veronica Mars and Mad Men, and he’ll soon be seen playing Tom Brokaw in the second season of National Geographic’s The Hot Zone, a dramatization of the post-9/11 anthrax attacks. The cinematographer had the camera on sticks over his shoulder. He said no, absolutely not, we’re not going to have that in the movie. I don’t have any sympathy for anybody who gets to do a big blockbuster today. Did you feel any sort of stigma as an actor in the wake of Clash? But in terms of working with nothing, it’s somewhat challenging.