by Tim Birkbeck
Hearing the clinking of bottles and the screeching of “WARRIORS COME OUT AND PLAY” is something which changed how I viewed films. The simple story of a gang’s journey of survival across New York City has become an absolute cult classic.
Now nearly 40 years on from the 1979 classic, the cast of Walter Hill’s film are set to be reunited at the Edgbaston Stadium, in Birmingham for a special celebration of the film.
I managed to speak to the leader of the Warriors himself, Michael Beck, who played the iconic Swan, to find to discuss why so many years later people are still on the hunt for the Warriors.
I wanted to jump right in and ask you about The Warriors celebration which is taking place in Birmingham; how did that come about?
Vic Wright, who is the promoter of the event sent me an e-mail saying that he wanted to put on this reunion event and I got back to him and it just grew from there.
Do you enjoy doing these reunions and the panel appearances at comic and film conversions?
Yes, I really do. I enjoy the reunions on a lot of different levels, because it gives all of us in the cast a chance to get together again and even after nearly 40 years we all still like each other and we have maintained the friendship, so that part of it is really fun. But even when I appear solo at something like a comic-con I have always enjoyed meeting with the people who have given me a career. I mean if people never brought tickets to movies, turned on their TV or brought DVDs none of us would work. And the fans always have stories to tell. I am always intrigued, especially with The Warriors situation; a movie which has transcended generations; that people come up to me and say “I love this movie” and my first question is always who put you on to it in the first place? Inevitably, if they didn’t come to it through the video game, it’s their dad or a uncle or even mums- and I’m always really proud of those mums. I’m really a people person so I always enjoy those kinds of exchanges.
Touching upon the reunion aspect, you recently did the Last Subway Home short, how was it going back to the character of Swan all these years later?
I think we all had a ball doing it. I mean here’s all these grey haired old guys putting on their vests and getting on the subway. We all had an ironic sense of humour about it and what was endearing to me was that when we got on the train, there were commuters on the train and it was priceless to see people’s reactions. I mean we got on and generally speaking New Yorkers don’t pay much attention to what’s going on around them on the Subway, but there was a “THE WARRIORS ARE HERE”, which was great. So yeah, I had a huge smile on the inside when we were shooting that.
Since its release The Warriors has picked up this cult status and still today it feels very timeless and still holds it own. When you were filming was there ever a sense it would still be so loved today?
We had absolutely no idea. But that begs the question: does anyone involved in the making of a movie have an idea that it will become a cult movie which will transcend generations? I don’t think people can know that when they are making the thing. Everyone involved is just trying to tell the story the best they can. The rest of it really depends on the audience which receives it. We were all young actors just thankful to get a job.
Everyone who is a fan of The Warriors always seems to have a stand out scene they can always recall; looking back is there a favourite part of the film you really enjoyed?
There is a lot that stands out, and especially going to conventions over the years and speaking to people like yourself it certainly brings back a lot of memories. I loved doing and watching back the Baseball Fury’s. From us stepping out of the subway station, to seeing them on the street in the semi-circle around us to the conclusion- it was really fun to make that sequence and it is fun watching it. I love the bathroom fight as well in terms of action sequences. Another bit I loved and I loved doing with Deborah (Van Valkenburgh), as it said so much silently, was the bit with both of us with the prom couples. So, I would say those scenes stick in the memory.
Something else people will know you for is your role in Xanadu, which is the other end of the spectrum compared to The Warriors. How was it for you to do something so vastly different?
Well I think it was more just good fortune that Larry Gordon was the producer of both those movies. I find it really interesting that the two major roles that I did early in my career have become two huge cult classics. I’m grateful to have been in it and you are right, they are two vastly different characters and movies. I’m not sure if that is attributed to my acting but it was nice to be given that opportunity to work on such a broad spectrum.
Something else you have done more and are well recognised for is working in TV roles, how did you find the transition from film to television?
It is just more compressed and you have less time. You aren’t altering the process you go through as an actor; it just gets sped up due to time pressures. I did an hour-long drama called Houston Nights where in eight days you are shooting a 45 minute little film, whereas something like The Warriors is twice as long and it’s shot in four months, so there is a big difference.
But what you bring to it is, from the point of view of an actor, the same. You just have to do it in a more economical fashion because you don’t have the time. Also though, in a series if it goes on long enough, you don’t have to worry about having to figure out a character because you have played them for long enough. You look at television today, and I was asked if there was anything that I had seen recently that impressed me and I said ‘Sherlock‘. I mean what great television. And I am sure it is on a tighter schedule than some of the feature films that we see. But the writing, production and acting is wonderful so nothing really suffers.
Did you enjoy working under those tighter time constraints?
I did. I grew up in a highly dysfunctional family, so chaos was never far around the corner. I was an athlete as well in high school and college, so pressured situations when it’s golden light and the sun is going down and you’ve got one take, it’s a challenge. And rising to that challenge is something that I have always liked, not just in acting but in life.
With so many films being rebooted, could you see a Warriors re-make happening at some point and do you think a modernisation of the story would work?
Well the late Tony Scott for years talked about doing a re-make and setting it on the west coast, casting it with hip-hop and rap artists. I think if that movie had ever been made it would have been vastly different from what we did. I look at The Warriors as a quintessential New York movie, I mean the city is a huge character in that movie. If it was set in a different location it would give it a whole different feeling. The latest I heard was that the Russo brothers were planning on doing a television series of The Warriors but I don’t know what that would be, whether it would be trying to tell the same story or prequel or sequel, I have no idea. Re-makes to me in general have been going on forever and I don’t really care for them. If anyone does, they need to honour the original and tell their own story. Speaking to fans over the years, I think the general feeling is they would not want to see a re-make of it.
If there was ever to be a re-make could we see a Swan cameo?
Well I would cross that bridge if it happens.
Are there any other projects that you are currently working on?
Not working on, but there is an independent film which I was in called The Grace of Jake which we shot in late 2013 and has done the festival circuit. It’s a father son reconciliation movie and I can tell you I don’t play the son.
Have you ever thought of doing any work behind the camera?
You know, I have. I made some attempts to in the 90s but it didn’t quite get the traction I had hoped. But I am always available for that, but I think nowadays it would really need to be a property that I was invested in and have a passion for me to tell that story.
UK Conclave presents The Warriors Celebration at Edgbaston Stadium, Birmingham on 1st & 2nd April 2017. Visit: www.ukconclave.com