Deborah Kerr’s diary while the shooting of Night of the Iguana – Part 3
Deborah recalls the shooting of the scene with Ava and the beheading of the fish. Fun! Thank you Lisa!
NOVEMBER 1: Met Ava at ten-to-seven at the beach. She was going to water-ski over to work, but by the time the boats were all organized it was a little late and she decided not to. But she swam out to the speedboat nevertheless. She has the strength of an ox, that girl! We sped across, the sky quite marvelous, with the moon still vivid on the horizon to the west and the sun rising in the east, and the water like flat syrup. It was a long day – Richard and I didn’t finish till six o’clock, which is later than we usually work here. but we must have done about four pages. We had some long waits for difficult setups, and Ava and I filled in the time rehearsing the long scene in the kitchen we have together. It-s a difficult one for her – masses of “black stuff” – and I have to decapitate and clean fish! Always seem to have something strange to do with fish when I work with John. In Allison, Sister Angela has to eat raw fish – it’s all there was. I remember that the prop man had anchovies for me to eat, but John said it didn’t look like real raw fish – and in any case after a few 2takes” I was dying of thirst. So I ate raw fish. At least I got the expression of controlled disgust correctly.
NOVEMBER 2: Seven p.m. at the beach. No sign of Ava, so I took off with Grayson Hall, who is playing Judith Fellowes, and a very nice girl called Lo Wilson, who is a local and who is working as my stand-in. The engine of the speedboat happily gurgled to a standstill halfway across and a good ten minutes was lost while the boy cleaned the petrol filter. I needn’t have hurried, as someone had goofed and I wasn’t needed in the first shot at all. So I sat and sat and sat and sat. The more boring part of making a movie is the hanging around, and yet you must keep your energy going and your mind alert in case you are suddenly plunged into scene! Particularly if it’s a scene you hadn’t expected to do. Richard and I ran lines on one of the long scenes we have together. Finally Ava arrived and they were able to get on with the shot. She was very upset, and rightly so, about the ludicrous report in the press that she was to marry Emilio Fernandez, a Mexican movie director. Needless to say there wasn’t a word of truth in it. Of course, the world’s telephones have been humming – cables arriving from London, England to Sydney, Australia – all demanding more details. Budd Schulberg arrived on the set today, ostensibly just to visit everyone, but perhaps he is “doing a piece” as it is called. Who isn’t? We left him with Burton, the two of them talking “fight” talk (Richard is an authority as is Budd) and whizzed home with Arturo. Tomorrow is Sunday – What a relief! And I don’t have to be at the beach until eight a.m. on Monday.
NOVEMBER 4, MONDAY: John and I were discussing Ava today: how completely different she will appear to the public in this part; they have never seen an Ava like this – funny, rich and warm and human as well as beautiful. The part is marvelous for her and she is making it even better. As John said, what a real disadvantage it is sometimes to be so beautiful. It has been so for Ava and she has well and fully paid for her beauty. It has made her appear publicly as a person she is not, and in her work as made her appear the kind of actress she is not.
NOVEMBER 4, MONDAY: John and I fresh and quite cool – almost chilly. I found it very hard to get up, couldn’t believe the alarm when it went off at five-forty-five. Ava and I finished the introductory shot to the scene and the rehearsed the body of the scene which follows. She was good! It was really touching and had an extraordinary spontaneity. And it’s the scene she was the most rebellious bout playing. not much for me to do except stand there and hack off the heads of the fish. I still stink of the darned things. Columnist Herb Caen and his wife out on the set today, San Francisco is here in full force! We never did get the scene finished. We completed a long shot – over my shoulder on to Ava – before lunch. After lunch John wanted a closer shot of the last half of the scene. But it is a tremendously long scene and she had done it so many times she started “drying”. And at about four-thirty we packed it in. She hadn’t been feeling any too well – feverish and nervous – an with a long scene, at the best of times, after you have repeated it again and again, your mind goes soggy, and a complete blank. It will be fresher and better in the morning.
NOVEMBER 6: It was! And the scene was polished off before lunch. My part of the scene consisted of listening and asking quiet, probing questions while beheading and gutting fish. Sam, our prop man, had to do the actual shot of the head being chopped off. I tried, but they are fantastically tough and the spine almost impossible to hack through even with a sharp machete. After this scene was finished, two shots of Richard and one with Ava – a retake of him int he hammock being shaved by her – and then on to a rehearsal of the scene between Richard and myself after he throws Charlotte (Sue) out of his room. It’s a long scene – eight pages – and we had been running it at odd intervals for some days. Very humid, long day – very tired! Home and dinner. Peter managed to dig up a great steak from somewhere. Sensational after all the fish!