(In 1986, while I was film critic for The Houston Post, I had the privilege of interviewing Glenn Frey while he was on a promotional tour for his first film, Let's Get Harry. On the occasion of his passing at age 67, I want to share this piece that originally ran on October 30, 1986.)
First, there was the popular video — a mini-movie, really
— for his hit single, ''Smuggler's Blues.'' Then there was his well-received
guest spot as a seedy pilot on the Miami
Vice episode based on the same song. And now, Glenn Frey, the singer-composer who
continues to soar on the charts long after leaving The Eagles, has a key
supporting role in a feature film: Let's Get Harry,
an action-adventure set to open Friday nationwide.
What's next? The romantic lead in a Hollywood
“If I could stretch that far,” Frey said a few days ago
in his Inn on the Park suite, “I would like that. But with my limited
experience in this field, I'm looking for safe parts right now. I don't want to
overextend myself, or have a French accent, or do something I might not be able
to handle at this early stage of my acting development.”
In Let's Get Harry,
Frey plays Eddie Spencer, one of five small-town men who embark on a renegade
rescue mission when their best friend, Harry, is kidnapped by drug smugglers
while working on a dam project in South America. Led by a ruthlessly efficient
mercenary played by Robert Duvall, the working-class commandos make their way
into the wilds of Colombia.
When they reach the den of the drug smugglers, however,
there's some doubt as to whether Frey's character, a cocaine abuser, will
withstand the temptation of being near so much nose candy. With his background
as a musician, Frey joked, “Maybe the producers thought I knew a little bit
more about this subject than other people.
“But that didn't bother me. The thing that was attractive
about Spence was, he's just a regular guy with a cocaine problem. And I think
there's a lot of people like that. You know, you have the classic line, where
Spence says, ‘It's cool, I can handle it.’ Which is what every junkie says.
Even when they're doing five grams a day, they'll say, ‘It's cool, I'm not addicted,
Frey, a bearishly-built Detroit native with a lightly
sandpapered voice and an ingratiating bent for self-mockery, looks at Let's Get Harry as an educational
experience. He was especially eager to work with such respected actors as
Duvall and Gary Busey. His enthusiasm waned only slightly when he found himself
unnerved by Duvall's mercurial mood swings.
According to Frey, Duvall would often shatter the silence
on the set in Mexico by shouting, without warning, “‘What am I doin' in
a movie with a rock star!?!’” Frey couldn't tell for certain whether Duvall was
joking. But the animosity, real or affected, brought a certain vigor to the
scene where Duvall punishes Frey for opening a door without first determining
who's on the other side.
“Yeah,” Frey said with a grin, “we had a real good time
doing that one. That particular day, Duvall wouldn't talk to me. In
between takes, he wasn’t around — he'd be standing outside in the hall, pacing
back and forth. And then we'd do another take, and I'd open the door — and he’d
slam me up against the wall. I think he wanted to do that anyway. It was
always, ‘A (expletive deleted) rock star! I'd work with a million Gary Buseys
before a rock star!’
“And then, when they filmed my reaction shot, he held
this knife this far away from my throat,
and yelled, ‘I could kill you right now, you . . . punk!’ And then he just let me go. They started rolling the
camera — and I wasn’t acting. I was completely in shock.
“That was kind of interesting. But it wasn't exactly fun.”
So what does Frey think of his performance in Let's Get Harry? “I’d say I was
adequate. I don't think I was terrific, but I certainly didn't stink it up.
“I was kind of pleasantly surprised, actually. I was very
skeptical. While we were doing the film, nobody saw any rushes, nobody saw any
dailies. So I really didn't know what to expect. But when I saw the first
screening, I was a little bit surprised that I was able to just watch this guy
with the mustache.”
As Frey sees it, the only serious drawback to working in
movies is the lack of artistic control. “I'm not used to not having control,”
he said. “When we make records, what I turn into the record company is what
gets pressed, and what comes out. It's not like somebody at MCA Records says, ‘Well,
I think we should edit the bridge out of that, and add some bongos.’
“But in the film business — and I was quite surprised by
this — it's art by committee. After they shoot all the preliminary footage, and
do the director's first cut, they bring in four or five people who know
absolutely nothing about film, but are in charge.”
In the case of Let's
Get Harry, Frey noted, director Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Pope of Greenwich Vilage) had his
name removed from the film after producers insisted on re-cutting and
re-shooting certain scenes. (The movie is now credited to the pseudonymous “Alan Smithee.”) That's the sort of artistic conflict Frey rarely has to
worry about in his recording career.
When Frey recorded his last album, The Allnighter, Elektra-Asylum, his label at the time, was less
than enthusiastic. (“One of their comments was, ‘You know, it's not very contemporary.’ And I said, ‘Exactly.
And I don't want it to be.’”) Unperturbed, Frey brought the album — which
featured “Smuggler's Blues” — to MCA Records, the label that
eventually released it.
“Fortunately,” Frey said, “I was sort of vindicated. The Allnighter is sort of like Lazarus. It came out, and sold about 200,000
copies, and disappeared. And then Miami
Vice, and the re-release of 'Smuggler's Blues,’ put the damn thing right back on the charts, and I ended
up selling 300 or 400,000 more copies. So that was very gratifying.”
If he can continue releasing albums like that, Frey said,
you can definitely forget all the wishdreaming rumors about a possible Eagles
“So if you hear about an Eagles reunion — you can bet
your life that I've got income tax problems.”