Chatting with Ronny Cox

Ronny CoxIn a career that has spanned four decades, actor Ronny Cox has built an impressive resume: Robocop, Total Recall, Bound for Glory, Beverly Hills Cop and Stargate SG-1 is just the beginning. However, back in 1971 he was just another struggling New York actor, until he found himself cast in a film called Deliverance.

The Oscar winner starred Burt Reynolds—who had appeared on television and onscreen in spaghetti westerns and Jon Voigt—who had earned a best actor Oscar nomination for 1969’s Midnight Cowboy. For Cox and co-star Ned Beatty, this was their first time in front of a camera. No matter their level of experience, the four men helped to create a film that quickly became a classic.

To celebrate the anniversary of John Boorman’s classic thriller, Warner Bros. has released a new Blu-ray Book (see our Deliverance 40th Anniversary Digibook Review). Cox is also happily discussing his book titled, Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew. Released earlier this year, Dueling Banjos recounts his experiences making the film.

Movie Gazette Online recently got the chance to ask Cox a few questions. He talked about everything from his iconic film role, his recent book and his career as a musician.

MGO: Deliverance was your first film. How did you ever get a gig like this right off the bat?

RC: That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Boorman wanted to make the cast all unknowns, because he didn’t want any character to be safe.

MGO: In your book you use the example of Paul Newman. The audience would have known he wasn’t going to die…

RC: [laughing] I realized that was a bad example given what happens to him in Butch Cassidy. Also Boorman made the guys younger. Actors in their early thirties are sexier. Also, this was 1971; we were coming out of the Vietnam War and people in their forties were seen as part of the establishment, while people in their twenties were linked with the hippie movement.

MGO: “Dueling Banjos” is one of the most iconic scenes in film. I know you are an accomplished musician. [Cox has released a total of eight albums.] Did you actually play that?

RC: The fact that I could play the guitar was instrumental (pun intended) in me getting the job. I didn’t play the actual piece on the soundtrack, though. I would have had to miss a day of canoe practice and a day of rehearsal to record the song. None of us thought about it being a hit song. I’m not nearly as good a guitarist as Steve Mandell, who played the guitar on the soundtrack. John Boorman didn’t really care about that. He wasn’t worried about making a number one song. He liked the idea of a mountain boy showing up this city slicker.  Having said that, they got Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell to do that and then we matched the playback. And I matched it note for note. Did I play it? Yes. Is that me on the soundtrack? No. And because of that, I probably cost myself about a gazillion dollars.

MGO: When your character Drew’s body is discovered, his arm is horribly mangled. That effect was not achieved with makeup.

RC: It was my real arm. When I was about one, I had this slight case of Polio when I was about one and I can do this thing where my shoulder comes out of place and just completely dislocates.

I was in Georgia getting fitted for false eyeballs, because Drew was originally going to be discovered face up in the water, and I told Boorman that I could do this weird thing with my shoulder. Well, he almost fell over. Later, people attached all kinds of symbolism to it. Really though, it was just a happy accident.

MGO: Could a movie this brutal and uncompromising be made in today’s Hollywood?

RC: It couldn’t be made the way the way it was then. We did all that canoeing ourselves. With today’s CGI, it would be done in a completely different way. That rape scene was so raw, in some ways; I don’t know that films today would be able to pull that off.

MGO: Why did you decide to write Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew now? Because of the anniversary?

RC: I didn’t decide to write it because of the 40th anniversary. I’ve been telling these stories for years and people have been after me saying, “Ronny you need to put these down.” I just finally had the time to do it.

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