Multi-talented musician, actor, filmmaker and artist John Lurie resurfaced in Williamsburg last night at the screening of his early nineties cult-hit TV show, Fishing with John. For nearly the past decade, Lurie has been leading a more reclusive life, due mostly to a continuing struggle with Lyme disease. Having recently regained some of his health, he seemed poised for his post-screening chat at Nitehawk Cinema, proving himself to still be a lively and fascinating entertainer. After revisiting three episodes of Fishing with John -- the ones with Tom Waits, Willem Dafoe, and the two-part finale with Dennis Hopper -- and a music video that he directed for his band The Lounge Lizards, Lurie took the stage to answer questions about his process and experiences making the show.
Lurie had a unique rapport with the celebrity participants on his short-lived show (though sometimes only enjoyed by the audience), and his unguarded reaction to their quirks and unscripted behavior is what makes the show an absurdist joy to watch. Lurie confirmed that there was never a script for the shows, and all of the plot-lines were developed during editing. Lurie explained, "It would have ruined the childlike quality of two people just going fishing, seeing what happens."
The story of Tom Waits's appearance is fairly well known. Waits and Lurie were friends, and although Waits had agreed to do the show, the originally planned location (Alabama) was nixed, and the crew ended up rescheduling to meet Waits on his vacation in Jamaica. Lurie describes going all out for the episode: securing locations, boats, even creating fish aggregators (because even then Jamaica already had a pretty serious fish depletion) so that they might catch some fish. Waits, though initially on board, became more and more frustrated and unhappy during the filming. When asked how real Waits's grumpiness was, Lurie replied that it was "very, very real." After the show was filmed Lurie and Waits didn't speak for over a year. Lurie, in his very unassuming manner, assured the audience that their argument cleared quickly after that, though, and that he thinks very highly of Waits: "I hope I didn't make him out to be an asshole. Tom is not an asshole."
In response to questions about the episode with Matt Dillon: "It was really the Japanese that wanted Matt Dillon. I didn't know him at all." Dillon obliged Lurie and his Japanese backers to appear on the show, but the actor proved camera-shy and uncomfortable with Lurie's spontaneous approach, and their conversation became stunted. Lurie ended up having to fill in an entire 15 minutes of the episode with music, and the entire first half of the show played backward. (Regardless, some audience members surprised Lurie by saying it was their favorite episode.) Despite how uncomfortable Dillon appears while fishing (The New Yorker's Tad Friend, in his controversial profile of Lurie, said Dillon looked "dumb," and Dillon himself is rumored to have been very unhappy with his portrayal on the show), Lurie described Dillon as a very "nice, smart kid."
While doing an uncharacteristic fashion shoot in Japan, Lurie ran into Dennis Hopper and asked him to be on the show. "When I met Dennis in Japan I never thought he'd do the show, but he liked the Tom Waits episode and agreed to do it," Lurie recalled. "I said, I'd take him wherever he wanted to go and he wanted to go to Thailand...I remembered I'd seen an old Jaques Cousteau video about Thailand years ago, and so I dug it up, watched it again and learned it was all about how Thailand didn't have any fish! But we went there anyway. Dennis said it was the best time in his life. He obviously didn't remember the best time in his life."
Though Lurie didn't know Hopper very well, he says, "There's something about some people you only meet two or three times -- watching that scene with us eating at the end of the episode -- it looks like we could have been friends for 40 years."
Though Lurie admitted that he doesn't really like fishing anymore, when pressed for who he would invite on the show again if he had the chance, he responded without hesitation: "Flea. We've gone fishing a bunch of times together... and he's really easy to make fun of." Their good friendship and comfort with each other, he implied, would make for a very fun show. Other than his long-time friend Flea, he'd choose Roberto Benigni, his co-star from Down by Law. Unfortunately, Lurie said, "Benigni is afraid of the water."
For more on where Lurie's at these days, check this recent interview with Splitsider.