Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Harry Northup: "Pryor was fast, funny, explosive and imaginative"

Northup as the chief goon of Pryor's corporate bosses in Which Way Is Up? (1977).
Film actor Harry Northup was a valuable reference source on my new book, "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."  Northrup shared his memories and observations based on his experience working with Pryor on Which Way is Up? (1977) and Blue Collar (1978).  He described the comedian as "fast, funny, explosive and imaginative."

Northup got to improvise with Pryor during a bar scene in Blue Collar (1978).

Northup's work in films is something that I admire.  Some of his best work can be found in the following films.

Boxcar Bertha (1972)

Northup played a racist cop in Boxcar Bertha.  The actor said:
In one scene I had to call Bernie Casey racist names and beat up David Carradine with a blackjack. . . Before I shot that scene, I told an old black man who was sitting outside the courthouse, "I have to call a black man racist names and I feel odd about it because I like him."  And the old man said, "Well, sonny, it’s just a movie."  And that relaxed me a little bit.

Northup admitted to having a violent streak and said that he was "grateful to have been able to channel it in a creative way in film." 

Mean Streets (1973) 

Northup plays a soldier joining old friends to celebrate his return from Vietnam.

Unfortunately, the soldier has been deeply traumatized by the war and suddenly becomes violent.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Fighting Mad (1976)

Over the Edge (1979)
Northup said, "The best part I ever did was Sgt. Doberman in Over the Edge."

Used Cars (1980)

Tom Horn (1980)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

In The Silence of the Lambs, Northup played the father of a murder victim.  He said:
I have never experienced the death of a child.  When my son Dylan, whom I love with all my heart, was a teenager, he got into trouble several times and that caused me a lot of pain.  Being a Method actor, I chose a time when Dylan got into trouble and I recreated that particular time. . . I could have cried but didn't.  I remember asking Jonathan if I should have cried and he said, "No, let the audience do that."
The father, Mr. Bimmel, keeps pigeons.

Northup said, "A friend of mine kept pigeons, so I asked him to teach me about pigeons and show me how to hold one. . . He gave me one to take home and work with."  Northup kept the pigeon, named Champ, in a cat cage on his patio.  He said, "I got the script two and a half months before the shoot, so each day, for two months, I. . . took [Champ] into the bedroom after I had put papers down all over the place and spent an hour or two with him every day.  When you take care of a pigeon, he becomes your mate. . ."

Bad Girls (1994)

"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.

Reference sources

"Take a ride with Harry Northup," Retro Lady Land, February 11, 2015.

James M. Tate, "In Character: An Interview with Harry Northup," Cult Film Freak.  http://www.cultfilmfreak.com/harrynorthup/.

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