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Mac McDonald Interview - Joker Goon actor in Batman (1989)
Posted on
Tue, 6th Sep 2016

Mac McDonald is known to many in sci-fi circles as Captain Hollister on the BBC TV series Red Dwarf (now going into its 11th series). He has been working on films, TV shows and video games for over 40 years. Everything from Star Wars to Aliens to The Fifth Element and now his latest film Somnus.

Mac in the museumMac, who grew up as a self-confessed "comic book freak" has starred in both a Batman and a Superman film. In Superman 4 he played a prison warden who becomes the victim of Lex Luthor's escape plan. In Batman (1989) he was one of the iconic Joker goons - the nefarious henchmen dressed in leather jackets and sunglasses.

Paul Rodgers spoke with Mac about his time on those films.

Paul: You grew up in Long Island. Did you have much exposure to comics?

Oh yeah, i mean we were all comic book collectors. Everybody had hundreds of comics. I liked all the Justice League guys – The Flash, Green Lantern, Batman and Superman.

Paul: How did you first envision Batman when you went to audition on the film?

I was a comic book freak when i was a kid. I read every comic book going. I loved all of DC Comics. I was a Batman fan but also I grew up with the TV series. I was a teenager at the time, so my idea of Batman was really kind of formed by that. I just had it in my mind that it was just kind of funny. I mean, it was funny.

Batman was a good series - all that was really new then and it was great. It had really good people on there like Ceasar Romero played the Joker. Frank Gorshin played the Riddler - he was a really well known impressionist. We used to watch it all the time, so when I went to audition for Batman that was what I had in my mind. I had no idea what the Dark Knight [Returns] was because I had stopped reading comics for a long time before the movie came out. When I got the audition I found it was way different from how I thought it was going to be, but it sounded really interesting.

  
Paul: What did your audition consist of?

Improvisation. Doing loads of improvisation. I’ve no idea now what any of it was...it was so long ago! That was it really and then we got called back about a week or two later. They’d kind of narrowed it down cause there were a lot of guys up for the goon parts. Then we did a little more improv. We did the auditions together in groups but not with the guys who ended up getting the parts. Not Richard or Carl.

Paul: Richard Strange and Carl Chase.

Richard or Carl were the two actor goons. There were a lot of other stunt goons who got prominently placed like Terry [Plummer], George [Lane Cooper] and Philip [Tan]. They auditioned as stunt men I think.

Paul: So did you already know Richard Strange before shooting?

Well he says that. I don’t believe that’s true. He’s a liar anyway [laughing]. I remember working with him after that on a couple of things. We got to be friends on Batman.

Paul: You all spent a lot of time together on set?

Ah god yeah...and off set. They hired us for 6 weeks and were paying us really good money. So since they had us under contract they used to call us in everyday, even if there was very little chance that we were working – just in case they needed us to do cover or something like that.

Clowning around on set. Richard Strange and Mac McDonald in mime make-up

Paul: I imagine you guys you might have gotten up to alot of antics?

I don’t remember a whole lot but I do remember playing endless games of Scrabble. We just played Scrabble up the ass. We had a lot of downtime. We’d come in at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, cause it was mostly night shoot, and they’d say, "Oh don’t even bother suiting up guys, it’s unlikely you’re going to be used." So we might sit around in our street clothes the whole night and go home at 2 or 4 o’clock in the morning whenever they cut us loose. So yeah, we played loads of Scrabble...which I would always win.

Paul: What were your first impressions walking onto Gotham backlot?

It was amazing. You walked up a slight gradient going up to the backlot, and you could see the spires and stuff. When you shoot with most exteriors they have just a flat front of a building but because of the way they paint it and everything it will look three-dimensional. With Batman they had so many actual buildings that you’d walk into like the Town Hall and the Art Museum that it was really like a city on a hill. Some of the facades weren’t facades, they were the front a building they built. The museum interior was shot on the backlot.

Paul: How did you find working with Tim Burton?

He was great. In the beginning it was terrific, he really loved us because he loved the improvs we did.

He wanted to tell us in person that we got the job and tell us what it was going to be like. On that day he told us "The reason that we hired you is because of your improvisational skill. There’s not much on the page of the script for the goons to do but Jack [Nicholson] loves to improvise, so you guys will be improvising a lot when you’re out there. You’ll have a great time." So Tim was terrific and really loved us.

But what happened was, as we started into the first week we started feeling a tension on the set. The reason why is because the producers, it turns out, wanted to make one kind of a movie and Tim wanted to make a completely different kind of movie. He wanted to make a really quirky, dark movie and the producers wanted to make a “crash” “bang” “wallop” action pic with car chases and big martial art fight scenes. There was a conflict there and so it wasn’t a very nice feeling a lot of the time. It was tense. For me, he [Tim] lost a lot of his affability and became a lot more businesslike. I mean, don’t forget this was his first big film. He has enormous pressure on him and he wasn’t getting an easy time from the producers. He had to be standing up all the time for his ideas and what he wanted to do. That was my main impression of Tim - just being harassed and being under pressure. Not a happy camper really.

Paul: Was it still fun coming up with creative ideas?

It was a bit, but there was no improvisation. The promise that we was made, that "Jack loves to improvise. You’ll get to improvise", just went out the window. It was more or less "You run over there and point your gun this way". I mean we came up with some gags and some stuff. We worked out all the mime routines when we were in front of City Hall – there were loads of that stuff but you only use little bits of it. So just kind of set pieces like that. When we were on the parade floats we worked out all kinds of things to do on that, but I don't think we ever actually worked out anything with Jack.

I mean I think he was on the film a total of 11 days. Whenever you see The Joker, and he's not in close up, you can bet it's not Jack Nicholson. The stand-in shot a lot. I don't remember the guys name, but he was around all the time. They would work it out so that when Jack did his stuff he would go back to his trailer.


Terence Plummer, Phil Tan, George Lane Cooper, Jack, Mac, Carl Chase & Richard Strange

Paul: And the stand-in was in full make-up?

Yeah. If you're a stand-in you look, for all intents and purposes, as close to exactly like the person as possible. He had to put on the prosthetic and everything.

Paul: On the subject of Jack. How was he?

Well, this is my classic story. As I said, when I met Tim he said "It'll be fantastic, you'll do a lot of improvising with Jack. He's gonna love you cause you're funny." Other friends that I had told me that too. They had worked with him on "Reds" in the early 80's.

So I was really looking forward to meeting him and I had delusions of grandeur – he was gonna love me, invite me out to his place in Hollywood and tell me I could use it with my family when he wasn't there and all this stuff.

Anyway, the first day of the shoot we arrived at Pinewood and we were in the dressing room...me, Richard & Carl. We looked in the closet and there are all these beautiful Goon outfits. The purple leather jackets, the back trousers with the silver belt buckles. Turquoise jewellery . They looked fantastic and we thought "This is gonna be great". We were all excited and got dressed up. 

I think it was the 2nd A.D. who came in and said "OK fellas, we're gonna take up up to the backlot in 5 mins. Jack's shooting a scene right now, but when he's finished we'll have you meet him and then we're gonna go in and shoot part one of the crime lords scene [meeting room scene]."

So we ran up to the backlot, it was the first time we'd seen the set. As we started approaching the sound stage I could see a row of about 30 other goons all dressed in purple jackets and black trousers. They looked exactly like us. I thought "Wow that's a bit odd".  I found out that these were all the other goons. Stunt goons, stand-in goons, driver goons, running goons, jumping goons, dancing goons. They had all kinds of speciality goons. We were the only 3 that had lines, but there were all these other goons. The 2nd A.D told us to stand with the other fellas and that Jack would be out in a minute. So we walk over and stand in a line with all these other goons. I'm thinking "This isn't great, really - we're just like stand-ins".

A few minutes later Jack came out in his beautiful Joker costume. He looked fantastic. Then he walks up and down the line like a general surveying his troops with his hands behind his back and he's going, "Very nice. Very nice", nodding and all. When he gets to the end of the line he goes "Gentlemen...thank you very much.” He turns around and walks away. So that was it. I'm thinking "Wait a minute, we were supposed to get introduced to the dude. We were going to be working with him for the next 6 weeks." It just didn't feel good, ya know?!

Anyway, we go in and shoot the crime lord scene where he incinerates the guy at the table...and that was fine. At the end of that they move the cameras and lights to find new positions for them so they came over to us and said "OK fellas you can relax for a while while we move the camera around".

I went off to the side of the sound stage and I'm sitting in this 'easy chair' that was for some other scene and I look and about 20ft away from me is Jack. He was sitting there on his own. Nobody else, just sitting there. So I thought "If they didn't introduce me to him, I'm gonna introduce myself to him!" So I walk over to the rear of him, just to the side, and I said "Hiya Jack, I'm Mac, and I'm gonna be gooning for you for the next 6 weeks". He didn't look at me really, he just kept staring straight ahead, and after a little bit he goes "Goooooon ooonnnn, Mac". And that was it. I just kind of stood there for a while...I mean he wasn't gonna say anything else. So I just stood there like a lemon, and then after a bit I turned around and walked away. He never spoke to me again. Seriously. He spoke to all the other goons, including the running goons and the jumping goons, but he didn't speak to me again.


Mac with Richard Strange and Jack Nicholson - "Goon on Mac"

I was in make-up a couple of days later and I was telling this experience to somebody else in the chair that I knew and the make-up lady said "Oh Mac, I've gotta tell you. You committed an error in protocol". I said, "What do you mean?". She said, "Well, in Hollywood you never ever introduce yourself to the star. It's OK if they want to introduce themselves to you, that's fine, but you never introduce yourself. It just isn't done". So I thought that is f*cked up. I mean, we're all just people. Ya know what I mean?! He's supposed to be a nice dude...

Paul: I could understand if you didn't want ALL the extras coming up to you, because you'd be inundated with people, but you're one of the cast...

Yeah, absolutely! I've been in that position myself like I've been on a film like Memphis Belle. One day during lunch 3 or 4 guys came up and asked if they could get my autograph because...basically...they'd seen me in a hamburger commercial. And I said "Of course". I'm not gonna say "Go away I'm getting into character" or whatever. And just because I'm not Jack Nicholson, I don't think that changes the rules really. I think you should be a human being to everybody.

Paul: I think nowadays, everyone is a fan of somebody..maybe Jack never had that perspective?

Exactly. The change just goes right on. Everybody's got their fans. Those extras probably had their fans back home, ya know.

Paul: How was working with Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger?

I didn't have a lot to do with Michael Keaton to be honest. We did most of our stuff with The Joker. I think it was more or less that one day when we had that fight in the alley. Michael did as much as he could do. He was very agile and had worked out a lot before because he knew it was going to be physically exhausting.

Paul: Did you do the stunt yourself?

Yeah, I took the kick. They tie you onto a harness and have about 3 or 4 guys jerk the line and pull you right back into the bags. When the kick comes you take a little jump backwards - but not much cause it would look like you're jumping. You have to make look like the force of the blow is sending you backwards. It's all rehearsed up and the timing is impeccable. Those guys are used to doing it, so you gotta be ready for the jerk.

Paul: I feel sore just thinking about it!

It wasn't bad at all. I thought it was gonna be horrendous and put my back out.

Mac-attack! The spectacular alley fight with Keaton and Dave Lea.

Paul: That whole alley sequence is really good for the goons. I mean because you've all got a line, you're all given an identity. One of the things I've always said over the years is Jack is brilliant as the Joker, but the goons really add another layer to him. I was 11 when the film came out and I thought you guys were cool as f*uck!

[Laughs] Well, yeah, we took a lot of the menace part of that movie, cause I mean Jack was only on it for 11 days and there's only so many ways you can shoot a stand in, so they wanted to do as little of that as possible. They wanted to keep the feeling of menace and evil happening and so the goons were there a lot for that.

Paul: What about Kim then?

There was this one day, I think it was in the first week, we'd been working all week so it was a Saturday and they called us in. I was in the dressing room early on my own and I heard all kinds of work going on. Hammers, saws and drills. My dresser, Dave Whiting (he was a dresser on the film but went on to be a costume designer), came in and I asked him what was going on with all the noise. He said, "Listen Mac, there's been a bit of a kerfuffle this morning. Kim came in and apparently she had seen Jack's dressing room. So now, they're knocking the wall through between Kim's dressing room and the one next door, and putting in an arch to make it all one big room which will make it 10ft bigger so it will be bigger than his [Jack's]dressing room."

I just though "Ah man, it's all true! Hollywood has arrived in England." All this one-up-manship bullshit. But it probably wasn't even her [Kim]. She was probably on the phone with her agent and mentioned that Jack's dressing room was a little larger than hers...then [jokingly] the agent told Kim to put the phone down and he rang the producers and said "What the f*ck is going on over there??" That's how it works. So I wouldn't put it on her shoulders because she was very nice and very friendly.

Although, she wasn't approachable - simply because she always had a retinue around her of her hair stylist and...she had her own costume designer.

You'll notice in the movie that everybody else's costumes are designed by Bob Ringwood. Beautiful costumes. But on the day we first saw Kim, it was the day we were in the museum, she walks in and I said to Richard [Strange] "Isn't that Kim Basinger? What's she wearing?". She looked like she had just stepped out of the window of C&A. She was dressed like something the Producer's girlfriend's assistant would wear. We didn't know then, but we found out that she had to have her own costume designer. I think he made her look like a frump in most of the film. She should of stuck with Bob Ringwood I think.

Paul: So you did your own stunts in the alley, did you take part in shooting any other action scenes?

You know the scene in the alley where the goons go rushing under Batman and Vicki when he throws the rope up? Well...I don't drive, really. I had a drivers licence in America but I hadn't had it renewed over here [UK], so I didn't have a driver licence on the film. I had no need for one. So I knew how to drive but I hadn't driven in over 2 years.

One day Tim {Burton] comes over and says "Mac, listen, we've got a problem. The stunt driver who's supposed to drive the car today, and looks like you, didn't come in. The thing is, when the car goes under them [Michael and Kim] I want the driver to get as close to the camera position on the left as he can, because I want to see the goons faces." So I said, "Well OK", but I still hadn't got it! Tim says "So can you drive the car?" I said, "Yeah, of course", because every actor will always say "YES OF COURSE!" to any question. "Great wow, I was so worried. Thank you so much", said Tim.

This was all shot inside on the sound stage. It wasn't outside on the streets, so they could do all the camera work.

Tim said, "What I want you to do is just floor it coming around that corner. Stick your boot down. As fast you can go past the camera position, and get as close to the camera position...without hitting anybody...as you can." I went back and told the other guys that I was gonna do it even though I hadn't driven in some time. Richard, I remember, was really laughing about it - but it was fucking terrifying, I'm telling ya!

Tim said not to worry about Michael or Kim, because that was down to the leader of the stunt team. They were just on a line and he was pulling them up like you would on a pulley. So he said "Don't worry about them, you just keep your foot to the floor and worry about getting as close to that left hand-side camera as you can."

We rehearsed it once - ZOOM, past that camera and it was great. So I had to back up, which was a bad thing cause I'm shit at backing up anyway. I had to back up this narrow alley with all the goons in the car laughing cause they knew I was shitting myself. We did it about 3 more times. Sometimes things go wrong and they don't get it right, so they'll move the camera. I had to go past the camera 4 times at top speed without hitting anybody and I'm telling ya...my shirt was soaked with sweat. I was so terrified by the whole thing.

Mac in the driving seat

At the end of it (and this is about Kim's retinue) we were all wrapping for lunch and so walking down the hill from the lot to the restaurant I noticed that Kim was just up ahead of me with her dresser and all. I said "Kim", and she turned around. "That was kind of hairy, huh? When I went under you I could see the seem in your stockings!". Her wardrobe lady whipped around at me and went "Kim isn't even wearing stockings!"

[Laughing] Here's some little actor talking to Kim Basinger...how dare he! But I've always been like that throughout my whole career - I've just ignored any division between the status of people on a film set. Not even consciously - It's just never occurred to me.

Paul: Tracey Walter. Bob. Was he around much?

Yeah he was, but Tracey kept himself to himself. They story is that Jack got him on the film. He'd worked with Jack before and he really liked him. So really, Tracey took the Mac McDonald part in my fantasy – instead of Jack asking me to his house it was Tracey! Tracey was a strange bod. We used to joke that the only thing he ever asked about was when the film would be finished shooting so he could go home. He didn't really enjoy the experience of being here.

Paul: Were there any scenes you did that didn't make the cut?

I don't remember any specific ones. We did so much but stuff always ends up on the floor.

Paul: Did you work in the Battersea Power Station?

I went on that shoot, but I don't remember what I did. We were there a couple of days. That was for when Jack gets dropped into the vat of chemicals. I can't remember if we were goons or somebody else but I do remember being there.

Paul: One of the most memorable scenes is trashing the museum. Richard [Strange] told me he got to improvise quite a bit. How was it for you? I noticed you were doing quite a good boogie walking through the door...

[Laughs] Yeah, that was about it. Richard really capitalised on that scene. I remember he did some great improvisation. His stuff was really good. One thing I do remember was I wanted my picture, I think I had "Washington at Valley Forge" to deface. When we finished I said to the props guy "What are you gonna do with all this stuff?" and he says "Destroy it!"

We were pretty good friends with everyone by this point and I said, "Please let me and Richard have our pictures to take home. We won't show them to anybody". He said "Alright, alright. I'll put them to one side. When the shoot's finished we'll see what we can do". But...it didn't happen. Either they got destroyed or somebody found out. They would have been a great thing to have, ya know?!

Paul: Secrecy was a major issue on the film. How did this affect you as an actor?

This film was the first ever non-disclosure agreement that I had ever signed. It said that we would not talk to anybody (especially the press) about anything we saw or heard. No pictures and all. Under pain of death and all this. I remember one night early on Richard and I were walking back up through the set and we passed these garages. One of the doors had been left open and we saw a glimmer of something metallic. We went over and looked and it was the Batmobile!

Nobody had ever seen the Batmobile, nobody. "Holy shit man it's the Batmobile!" We looked around real quick , I had my camera with me that day, and Richard hopped into the Batmobile. I took 3 or 4 pictures of him. I don't know what happened to those pictures. I would kill now to have them. It was absolutely beautiful. It's very timeless.

Paul: You didn't get your painting from the film, but did you get any props from the film?

We didn't get to keep our goon jackets either. Our jackets were given away to some producers family member, but Jack actually sent jackets with the Joker symbol on one arm and Batman's symbol on the other arm to all of us. The weren't purple, they were black leather. They were really beautiful. It was a nice gesture from him to do that.

I'll give you a Jack Nicholson quote, which I heard him say to someone while we were all in make-up one day. They saw him sitting down in a scene and he said "Oh yeah yeah. Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down." I just thought that is great advice for an actor. It's absolutely true. If you're shooting anything for a long period of time you want to be lying down ideally.

Paul: Because of all the takes?

Because of all the takes.

Paul: Did you give your goon a name?

Nah. I think I was Goon 3.

Paul: Now, I'm also a huge Superman fan. You worked on Superman 4 too?

Yeah, I was one of the guards of the chain gang. Brad Lavelle (who sadly is not with us anymore) and I get trapped in Jon Cryer's car and get remote controlled over a cliff. We shot it in a lime quarry in Milton Keynes [UK].

Me and Brad had to go down to Pinewood and get moulds made of our heads so they could have 2 dummies in the car when it goes over the cliff. They wanted to have our faces on them in case they wanted to get close into it. We went down and did the whole thing. It was very unpleasant sitting there for an hour breathing through a straw. They made our heads and in fact I still have it up I the attic somewhere.

On the day of shooting, they had the car with 2 small rockets in the back of it that were electrically ignited. It would shoot the car off the cliff and they would film it. They had 3 camera positions down in the quarry so you could look up and see the car coming whopping out over the edge and catch it all the way through the air. They had another camera on the cliff and another somewhere else. I remember standing there talking to Sidney Furie, the director. He was a crazy guy. He reminds me of Peter Falk. So I'm talking to him and they're putting the dummies in the car. Then all of a sudden I hear "WHOOSH" and I turn around and I hear Sidney going "Oh shit!". The rockets had gone off prematurely and fired the car off the cliff with nothing in it, no cameras turning...nothing. The guys down the pit are running for their lives because they didn't even know where it was going to land! The car just smashed into cinders on the floor of the pit. Someone had touched a button and set it off. If they had done it a minute earlier there would have been guys inside that car. They would have been killed - there's no doubt. Someone said "There's $25,000 down the toilet" - which in those days was a lot. Luckily they did have 2 cars.

Paul: Considering the budget was slashed on Superman 4 that probably was a big chunk of the budget!

Exactly! Superman 4 was made for about £2.50!

 

I'd like to give a huge THANK YOU to Mac who was an absolute gentleman and so generous with his time. Also thanks to www.1989batman.com for the use of the first photograph in this interview. - Paul.

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Paul (ral)



Founder and editor of Batman-Online.com
An avid Batman fan since the summer of 89.
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