I met Keir Dullea tonight!

The Cleveland Cinematheque screened a new print of 2001: A Space Odyssey tonight and Keir Dullea, who played astronaut David Bowman, appeared for Q&A and autographs afterwards. The Cinematheque has shown several of his other movies recently, too (he’s made 25, but of course is best remembered for 2001).

  • Dullea was born in Cleveland but moved away with his parents when he was just three. He met up with the daughter of some of his parents’ friends while he was in town this weekend, and saw the neighborhood where he spent the first three years of his life but, not surprisingly, doesn’t remember it at all.

  • Someone asked him how he looks so young (he’s 75). He said, “Good diet, regular exercise, and most importantly of all, both of my parents lived to over age 95.”

  • He had seen Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory when it was first released and it blew him away. He knew then that he wanted to work with Kubrick someday. He didn’t even know that he was under consideration for a part in 2001. Then his agent called, asked if he was sitting down, and when he said he wasn’t, told him to sit down and said, “You’ve been offered the lead in the next Kubrick movie.” He was thrilled.

  • He enjoyed working on the movie very much, and found Kubrick very open to suggestions by the actors. He thought his best suggestion that Kubrick actually adopted was that he knock over the wineglass in the room at the end, so that he would have a more interesting way to look up and see the older “him” on his deathbed. He said, as far as he and Kubrick were concerned, the broken glass didn’t have any more weighty significance or symbolism than that. Kubrick did not do lots and lots of takes of the same shot, as was his habit on later films.

  • One of the trickier shots was in the habitat area of Discovery, when Poole is sitting at the table eating and Bowman comes down a ladder from the hub, walks over to get his meal and sits next to him. Gary Lockwood, who played Poole, was actually strapped into his seat, upside down, with prop food that wouldn’t fall out of the little trays. It was Dullea who was correctly oriented.

  • For the jogging sequence, Lockwood was alone in the habitat and had to start the small motorized camera cart himself.

  • The most difficult shot of Dullea’s was Bowman being blown out of the back of the pod into the airlock, simulating explosive decompression. He had to do the shot himself, since his character didn’t have his helmet. The camera was actually at the bottom of the vertically-oriented airlock set, and he was on a piano wire attached to a harness. A huge, very strong stuntman had measured the exact length of the wire so that Dullea would reach the bottom of the set but not hit the camera. Dullea jumped down towards the camera as the stuntman, on belay with the other end of the wire, an instant later jumped (off camera) from the same platform. The wire was tied to a heavy rope knotted in several places. As the stuntman fell he let the rope slip through his hands and caught it and then released it again at each knot, so that Bowman appeared to be shot into the airlock, then sail away, then shoot back towards the camera, and then away again. A low-tech but clever solution to a tricky sfx shot.

  • The movie was widely panned at the time of its release, and MGM’s chairman was, Dullea said, courageous in standing up for Kubrick and his vision. Dullea does remember that the film critic of Newsweek initially blasted the movie, but then a few weeks later came out with a second column admitting he had been wrong, and that it was a masterpiece.

  • Although Dullea worked very well with Kubrick, he had the same experience as Malcolm McDowell did with A Clockwork Orange: once filming was over, Kubrick moved on and didn’t make much of an effort, if any, to keep in touch. Dullea surprised Kubrick by visiting the set of The Shining more than a decade later, but Dullea said the director was obviously uncomfortable to have him there, so he didn’t linger.

  • The voice of HAL 9000 was initially to have been provided by Martin Balsam, but Kubrick decided he sounded “too New York.” Then a British actor was hired for the part, but after a few weeks Kubrick thought he was just “too English.” Canadian actor Douglas Rain wasn’t cast for the role until post-production, so during the filming an assistant director with a strong Cockney accent read HAL’s lines off-camera ("'Ere, Dave, I can tell yer upset; why not take a stress pill?"). Dullea said it took some getting used to.

  • Arthur C. Clarke was on the set from time to time, consulting with Kubrick and working on the novelization. Dullea didn’t speak to him at any length, but they mingled socially a little. When Dullea was first given the script for 2001, he thought it seemed very familiar, and it wasn’t until later that he realized he’d read Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel,” which partly inspired the movie, in his youth, when he was a rabid sf fan.

  • He had a nice experience with his cameo in 2010, but was only on set for about a week, and only worked with Roy Scheider. He liked the movie well enough, all in all, but said “It just wasn’t Kubrick… and some questions were answered that might just as well have gone unanswered.”

  • Dullea keeps in touch with Lockwood, and still sees him at sf conventions and autograph shows now and then.

  • His favorite part of the movie is actually the “Dawn of Man” sequence, which he still thinks is masterful. He also loves the six-million-year cut from the bone flung into the sky to the nuclear-weapons satellite in orbit - “From the very first weapon to maybe the last,” he said, appreciating the irony and chuckling, “Only Stanley would think of that.”

  • He said people always ask him what the movie means, and what really happens at the end, but that he has no better answers than anyone else. He thinks the movie is a Rorschach test of sorts - what you get out of it depends on who you are.

I spoke with him briefly afterwards, shook his hand, thanked him for coming back to Cleveland, and got his autograph. A very nice guy, and I’m glad I went.

Does he look exactly the same? He did for 2010. :wink:

That’s very cool. Thanks for all the tidbits he shared! What a great movie, and what an honor to be there with him.

I love it when directors & actors attend Q&A screenings. I’ve been to several (and going to another one tomorrow night with the director & lead actor of Attack the Block) and they’re always interesting. Yours is one of the more interesting I’ve heard of.

Now that is something cool. I envy the experience.

As with the other posters, thank you posting this. Very interesting.

Thank you so much for posting this. I have to admit to not being a big fan of space/science fiction films, but I of course made an exception for 2001 :smiley: I remember him best for “David and Lisa”.


Thanks for posting this. I’ve loved the movie since it was released and used to read everything I could find about it. I’m still glad to learn new tidbits like these.

Thanks, everyone. My pleasure.

He looked older and quite a bit thinner than I last saw him (in the movie 2010), and now has a mostly-black mustache, too. His hair is thinner and almost all gray. (Come to think of it, he doesn’t look all that much like the older Bowman - at any age - from the end of 2001). His hearing isn’t that good; a moderator had to repeat several questions for him.

David and Lisa was screened earlier in the weekend, but I wasn’t able to go.

I join the others in thanking you for the posting. I find him to be so intriguing and enigmatic - it’s good to hear he’s such a nice guy.
Thanks to an absurd bit of conversational Tourettes, in the singular household he’s always known as Clair de Lune. I’ll enjoy sharing this post with the SO.

It’s great to hear that a celebrity is a nice guy who doesn’t mind discussing the one work that kind of overshadows their career.

What a cool guy.

An interview with Dullea in our local paper: http://www.cleveland.com/moviebuff/index.ssf/2011/07/space_man_keir_dullea_star_of.html

I’ll echo everyone else. Thanks for sharing this.

Indeed, a nice post, well written, and initeresting to read. Thank you

Thanks for sharing, I really enjoy Q&As too. I like that you mentioned the comment about the takes. That is actually one of the biggest myths going about Kubrick. He did not like to do a lot of takes and addressed this in his 1987 “Rolling Stone” magazine interview. He said if he did 100 takes per shot he’d never complete a film. He also said he only did lots of takes when the actor showed up unprepared. The most noticeable, he said, was the look of searching in the actor’s eyes as he tried to remember his lines. That would ruin the shot.

Lee Emery, the drill sgt in “Full Metal Jacket” was constantly with a voice coach and practicing his lines so Kubrick never did more than 3 takes for his scenes.

Dullea and coy must have come to the set prepared everyday if he didn’t use a lot of takes.

I also like the comment about the glass. In the same interview Kubrick indicated that he doesn’t over think his movies the way some people think he does. A lot of what you get out of his movies or connections between his movies are purely coincidence or your own personal interpretation. He specifically stated he hated “conceptual” questions and although the interviewer grilled him on a scene in “Jacket” where a monolith type object appears behind an actor, Kubrick insisted no connection or reference to 2001 whatsoever.

I’ve been to that cinema in Cleveland, cool place, I wish I lived closer. I would have loved to attend.

I met Keir Dullea at a science fiction convention in 2001 (here’s a pic). Unlike most of the other fans, I was most interested in talking to him about his breakthrough film, David and Lisa. He seemed pleased to learn that anyone still remembered David and Lisa, and we had a very pleasant conversation. Of all the celebrities I’ve met, Keir Dullea was one of the standouts. He was courteous, kind, and seemed genuinely interested in talking with his fans.

Thank you.
You lucky, lucky bastard.


The large 2001: A Space Odyssey posters are now going for a song: http://www.historicaviation.com/product_info.po?ID=25022&product=Art&category=civil&subcategory=Space

Oh man, shiny!

I never met Keir Dullea, but I did get to see him in a stage adaptation of Harold Pinter’s The Servant, in Toronto in the late 1980s.

I’ll admit that I expected to see Dullea again playing the cold, scientific, and somewhat wooden Dave Bowman role on stage, but I was pleasantly surprised. The man really can act! He truly was the sneaky and conniving manservant Hugo Barrett in Pinter’s disturbing study of the British class system. As I said, I did not get to meet him, but it was truly a treat to see him live on stage, and acting.

Thanks! Just ordered one.