'He was very good as an actor and even better at rewriting scenes'

Volker Schlöndorff, Joe Lansdale and Hampton Fancher honour Sam Shepard

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Volker Schlöndorff on Sam Shepard in Voyager (Homo Faber): 'I was very fond of his performance and I think the movie is memorable because of his presence'
Volker Schlöndorff on Sam Shepard in Voyager (Homo Faber): 'I was very fond of his performance and I think the movie is memorable because of his presence'
The death of Sam Shepard at the age of 73 on July 27, 2017, from complications of motor neurone disease (known as ALS in the US) was announced by a spokesperson for Shepard's family. Shepard starred in Jim Mickle's Cold In July, based on the book by Joe Lansdale. Hampton Fancher, co-screenwriter of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, recalls meeting Sam when he was doing The Right Stuff, directed by Philip Kaufman, based on the book by Tom Wolfe.

Volker Schlöndorff, who directed Shepard as Walter Faber, opposite Julie Delpy and Barbara Sukowa, in Voyager, based on Max Frisch's book Homo Faber, with a screenplay by Rudy Wurlitzer, sent the following tribute upon hearing of his passing.

Schlöndorff writes: "Sam was not comfortable acting: 'I feel like a whore,' he said after six weeks of shooting and wanted to stop the movie. It's true that he did it for the money and he was very well paid. But he was very choosy as to the parts he condescended to whore for. And it's also true that he was very good at being an actor and he was even better at rewriting scenes so that he had a minimum of dialogue, giving all the lines to his partners. I was very fond of his performance and I think the movie is memorable because of his presence. After a farewell scene with Julie Delpy, I found him almost sobbing backstage, he turned to me and said: 'I just realised I could tolerate another loss in my life.'"

Sam Shepard with Michael C Hall in Jim Mickle's Cold In July, based on the book by Joe Lansdale
Sam Shepard with Michael C Hall in Jim Mickle's Cold In July, based on the book by Joe Lansdale
Lansdale writes: "I can't claim to have been a dear friend of Sam's, or to know him real well. My only contact with him was on the set of Cold In July, a film made from one of my novels. What I can tell you was how effortlessly he produced character, and how keeping the character he portrayed true to the origins he invented for them was of ultimate importance. I felt his role in that film was magnificent, and so did a lot of folks, because it was. Sam and I talked about music and books mostly, and we were both happy our papers and works were stored at the same university in Texas.

"I remember one incident where a scene was being shot, and there was some mild disagreement over who should be where and how they should react. It went on a while. Sam walked off the set just as I was walking out. He sat down on a concrete curbing and I sat down there too. I said, 'What's wrong, Sam?' Without looking at me, he said, 'Too many cooks'. That was my experience with Sam. He boiled it down to the essence. I wish I had had more time to spend with him. The rare moments when he opened up a little were fascinating.

"One last note. I brought a book of his and asked him to sign it, and he did, and I gave him one of mine. He politely thanked me, curled it up like a newspaper and stuck it in his back pants pocket. I found that amusing, and so much like I figured him to be. Utilitarian. Nothing fancy about him. He was there to get it done."

Fancher adds: "I met him once when he was doing the Right Stuff, but I've always loved him, kind of wanted to be him. A 'man', you know? Usually I'm not so interested in being a 'man', but I would like to have been him. I'd like to be Robert Mitchum too and Danny Day-Lewis. I like the way all those guys own themselves. Burt Lancaster. Shepard was one of those for me. I've always been fascinated by him. Sam. Even his name. People like that aren't supposed to die. Makes me howl a bit. (also, God, if he can die, the rest of us are push-overs for Death.)"

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