With the recent release of the entire Indiana Jones collection on Blu-Ray, everyone involved is feeling a bit nostalgic and proud of the work that stands the test of time. John Rhys-Davies, who portrays Indy’s sidekick Sallah, phoned Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview, taking us inside the filming of the movie that would become a classic. “I knew there was an outside chance that it was so original that it might become an iconic movie. You never know though,” Rhys-Davies said.
“This is a great adventure, but is there an audience? When I finally saw it, I went, ‘Oh boy.’ It was so much bigger than I imagined.”
One thing that has impressed Rhys-Davies the most is how it has not only aged well, but unified families across age groups. “It’s meant a lot to so many generations. I was at a fan convention in Toronto, I met -- and this is not the first time -- a grandfather, with his son, who had introduced Raiders of the Lost Ark to his grandsons. It’s become a multi-generational bonding thing,” Rhys-Davies proudly stated.
While filming the series across the globe with director Steven Spielberg, producer George Lucas and star Harrison Ford, Rhys-Davies had a front row seat to the magic that was the creative force of those three. The script by Lawrence Kasdan was solid, but the three men at the center of the Indiana Jones franchise made little tweaks along the way that sent it into the pop icon stratosphere.
“The script was really filled with scene descriptions, not a great deal of dialogue. A lot of the dialogue was written by Steven and Harrison, along the way,” Rhys-Davies admitted.
The Blu-Ray release of the Indiana Jones series contains many astounding behind-the-scenes features, and as Rhys-Davies points out, the most valuable may be the one that showcases how the Indy brain trust molded their story as it went along.
“You get this extraordinary sense of how Steven knows exactly what he wants to do visually, and how he wants these comic effects to work. You also see Harrison sculpting scenes. I had not realized until I saw the behind-the-scenes features, just how thoughtful, deliberate and conscious his character creation was of Indiana Jones,” he said.
“He had a gut instinct of how Indy should be. In so many ways, the film owes its success to his astuteness to help create this iconic character.”
The actor, who also made another film series of legendary stature, The Lord of the Rings starring Elijah Wood -- with his portrayal of Gimli -- learned on the Raiders set how important it was to have a producer that so believes in his director as Lucas did of Spielberg.
“I was blown away by the extraordinary supportive behind-the-scenes creative friend that ideally all directors should have. The producer as your friend is invaluable, and Steven had that in George. I also remember Steven telling us all, since it was George’s film as much as his, he was conscious of that. They behaved so responsibly together,” Rhys-Davies said.
“In a way, it’s a testimony to allowing producers and directors of genius to have their moments. Sometimes, all that careful studio control is designed to cover your ass and make sure the fault for failure isn’t mine, rather than giving creative people the chance to succeed. This is a tribute to both of them as producer-director. Their guidance was priceless.”
When asked to share one moment that stands out above all others, he recalls a moment that was equally hilarious for him as it had to be heart-stopping for filmmakers.
“One of my favorite ones was being on the hillsides overlooking the plane going up in flames and the necessity for putting the fire out. The Tunisian fire brigade had stretched out their hoses under the desert sand. I had an overview of this sitting on the hill,” Rhys-Davies recalled.
“I see Indy and Marion (Karen Allen) running away from the plane on fire and Steven calls, ‘Cut.’ Then the shout goes out for water to put out the fire and snaking suddenly underneath the desert sand -- you see these hoses coming alive and the sand getting wet. There is more water coming out of the leaks in the hose than was coming out at the fire!” Rhys-Davies said, laughing.