A Chat with Dick Durock
Interview date: 02/02/2008
Run date: 02/20/2008
He's a stuntman by trade, but if you ask a well-informed sci-fi fan who Dick Durock is, the immediately reply is, "He's the guy who played Swamp Thing!" And they'll be right: Durock played the famed DC Comics muck monster in both of his cinematic exploits (1982's "Swamp Thing" and 1989's "Return of Swamp Thing"), then reprised the role for the full run of the USA Network series based on the character. We spoke to Durock on the occasion of the release of the first two seasons of "Swamp Thing: The Series" on DVD, quizzing him about his experiences on the show and his work as a stuntman. For our trouble, he provided us with his origins in the industry, why he ended up making multiple appearances on certain shows, and why there's a right time and a wrong time to be asked to walk like a lizard.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Dick, how are you doing?
Dick Durock: Morning, Will.
BE: How are you?
DD: I'm doing well, thank you.
BE: It's a pleasure to speak with you. I've been scouring through the "Swamp Thing" set, and I realized how few of these episodes I had actually seen. Did you actually watch the show yourself?
DD: Oh, absolutely. You know, you try to watch it objectively, see where you would have done things differently, and so on and so forth…as opposed to a regular person just watching it for entertainment.
BE: I wasn't sure if you were watching it at the time or not, or if it was a situation where you'd take off the makeup and you were done.
DD: (laughs) That makeup kind of grows on you after 74 episodes and two major films.
BE: Now, were you actually familiar with the character before you got the call for the original Wes Craven film?
DD: You know, honestly, I wasn't. I grew up in the era with Superman, Batman, all the classic older comic books, and by the time this came about, I guess I was past the comic book stage. In my era, comic books were strictly for kids, though, later on, they obviously had a great adult appeal.
BE: Your background was much more in stunt work than acting. How did you first get started as a stuntman?
DD: Well… (hesitates) I don't know. I guess it's kind of kismet, fate, or whatever you want to call it. I always knew that I wanted to be in the business in some capacity, even though I had no outside influences at all. I came out to California, met a guy that knew a guy that knew another guy that knew a stuntman, he introduced me to the stuntman, and he told me about a gym in Santa Monica where most of the…or a lot of the professional stuntmen worked out. So I went down there and kind of got into it and made friends with some of the guys. It wasn't a school, just a gym where the guys worked out. But a year and a half later, I got my first job. So things happened from there.
BE: Do you have any particular favorite gigs that you worked on as a stuntman?
DD: Oh, God. I just loved work, and I worked with so many really, really nice people; great people. There were some buffers, you know, where you got hurt a couple of times, but not real often. Overall, I think it just…I've had a heck of a run. A great run. It's really hard to pick one thing.
BE: Well, I know that you worked both as an actor and a stuntman on several Clint Eastwood films.
DD: Yeah, that's true. Really, you know, actors and stuntmen are the same thing, only you're acting in a different fashion. We belong to the same guild, the Screen Actors Guild. My advantage was being 6' 5" and having kind of the look of a heavy; directors started asking for me and saying, "Well, why don't you just do this part as the thug? And then we can still throw you out the window and down the stairs, you know, and we don't have to hire another guy and have another setup and another contract." So it became beneficial, and that's the way it worked: mostly by request.
BE: I love the fact that you were on three different episodes of "The Rockford Files," credited differently on each: "Thug," "Prisoner" and "Muscle."
DD: Actually I did…let me check, but I think I did seven or eight episodes of "Rockford." (pauses) Yeah, I've got on my resume eight.
BE: Oh, okay. IMDb only had the three.
DD: Yeah, there's a reason I do so many. I did a lot of…well, let's see: four "Magnum, P.I."; eight " Fall Guy," and, God you name it. But I did ‘em because these guys, the lead actors, are pretty good-sized guys. You know, Jim Garner is 6'1'' or 6'2"; Lee Majors is a six-footer; Tom Selleck is 6'3" or 6'4", and so's Clint. And, so, they didn't like beating up guys smaller than they were, because then they would look like bullies. It was advantageous to me in that respect. All those shows… "A-Team" is another one…but, God, those were all in multiples.
BE: You also appeared in a bunch of my favorite cult series as well. You were on an episode of "Quark," and you did an episode of "The Master," with Lee Van Cleef.
DD: Oh, God, yeah.
BE: And you even did "The Powers of Matthew Star."
DD: Wait, did you just mention "Quark?"
DD: I've got a funny story about that one. I'm playing a lizard, and there's these two great-looking gals chained to a pole on this little island kind of thing. They're bikini-clad, you know, really good-looking girls, and here I've got this dumb lizard suit on, and it's absolutely miserable to try to even move. I come out of the water, which is a feat in and of itself, and the director says, "Cut! Cut!" And he says, "Dick, you must walk like a lizard." And I just looked at him and said, "Tell me something: how exactly does a lizard walk?" It was just one of those things where you're trying to stay alive and not look like a fool, and then the director is asking you to be a lizard. A little of the method philosophy, I guess.
BE: Given how much time had passed after you did the first "Swamp Thing" movie, I'm guessing you were probably surprised when they called you for a sequel.
DD: Well, you know, in this business, they talk about it right away, but things don't happen immediately. You know, you have pre-production, getting the money together, and so on and so forth. I guess it was about seven years. But, yeah, I would say it was a pleasant surprise, in a way. I hated the thought of having to go through the whole thing of wearing 50, 60, 70 pounds of weight in the summertime in Savannah, Georgia, but the money was there, and it's a job.
BE: I guess that was your same rationale with the series as well?
DD: Well, yeah, I mean, the series…you know, you're working for an extended period, so it's good for the bank account. I guess it's good for the career; I mean, you're doing something.
BE: The series itself kind of evolved a fair amount over the first and second seasons. As you recall, was it kind of a learning process for the producers, where they were figuring out what worked and what didn't?
DD: Everybody had this artistic complex of which way to go…not me, but the writers and the producers. Like, "Let's see, which way should we take this character? We could make it extremely dark, like some of the comic books were, or we could try to appeal to the little kids in the audience." Which is why we had Jesse Zeigler, who played the kid in the first run, to appeal to the younger audience. You have this with any production: "Which way are we going to take this?" I guess we finally got it ironed out after the first 23, and with the next 50, we kind of tried to hit a balance.
BE: Mark Lindsay Chapman has got to be one of the more slimy villains on television.
DD: He did a good job, didn't he?
BE: Oh, absolutely.
DD: He's a good actor.
BE: I presume he had as much fun playing the role as it seemed like he did?
DD: Yeah, he did. We both did. I mean, fun is a…oh, God, it's kind of a subjective word. We worked so many hours. We were doing two shows a week, you know; we were doing one half-hour episode in three days and two of them a week in just a straight run. I mean, here's 10 pages of dialogue, get it done. Mark and I would try to keep it loose in our scenes together because, you know, that's the way you survive. But he did a fine job; he's a pleasure to work with.
BE: Some of your lines as Swamp Thing are…well, not really pretentious, but a little, uh, heavy-handed at times. Did you have to keep your tongue placed firmly in cheek?
DD: Well, you always do, but there's a reason for it. The writers write what they see, and…I guess that's the normal procedure, like, "Who wrote this stuff?" Or, you know, not "stuff," but the term for it, which I won't say. But that's quite normal, actually.
BE: Were there any particular episodes that you recall with great fondness?
DD: You know, not really. I guess the overall thing is that because we were under such constraints for schedule and budget and…well, blah, blah, blah. But I think I was proud of the whole effort of the crew, particularly, just because they were able to get it done. It hadn't been done before. We did 50 shows in a row with no breaks. So, again, six days a week, 10, 12, 14 hours a day. And if I'm working 12, that means the crew is working 14. So it was a trip, believe me.
BE: Your IMDb listing doesn't have any recent work listed for you. Do you consider yourself officially retired, or are you still fielding offers?
DD: I'm already happily retired. You know, the business has changed, and the day of the stuntman, I think, is coming to a close, due to computer graphics and all of that kind of stuff. You can't tell anymore, they're so good. I mean, I've had 40 years; it's been a great, great run, and I'm happy with it. We're traveling around, going to conventions; we have one this weekend in Austin, Texas, promoting the DVD release of "Swamp Thing." So it's fun.
BE: Yeah, I was going to ask you about the convention circuit. I guess that keeps you pretty much hopping throughout the year…or, at least, as much as you want it to.
DD: Yep, as much as we want it to. The last couple of years, we really have not been not doing it, we had a couple of health issues and other things that cropped up, like fixing up the houses and doing this and that. But hopefully we'll get back to it more regularly, because they are a lot of fun. It's like going back for Old Home Week; you see a bunch of people you worked with in the past, and it's fun.
BE: Well, it's been a pleasure speaking with you, and thank you very much for taking the time to talk.
DD: My pleasure.