GREGORY HINES On... Fame, Family And His Years Of Living Dangerously
Star of two new movies gave up a marriage and a career in order to find himself
OF COURSE, it was madness, even for an experienced stunt man. Lying down in front of a moving train and remaining still while it passes just inches over your body is risky stuff for anyone. But for a dancer who depends on the split-second reactions of an injury-free body, attempting such a feat is more than dicey. It's crazy.
That's exactly what Eve of Destruction producer David Madden said when, just as the cameras were ready to roll on his soon-to-be-released movie, Gregory Hines dismissed the stunt double and insisted on doing the scene himself. "It's always a better shot when the actor does it and I didn't think it looked that dangerous," says Hines who stars as McQuade, a military marksman sent to kill a female android-gone-amok.
That was before he heard the train bearing down on him, before he realized he'd have to offer up his body seven times to get the shot exactly right. "I was scared to death," he confides now in an ocean-front Los Angeles cafe. "That thing was so loud, it was deafening. I guess it was a little crazy."
Hines, who turns 45 in February, has earned quite a reputation for being a little crazy when he really wants a part. To win the role of Sandman in The Cotton Club, he "instituted a reign of terror" on producer Robert Evans. "I started calling him every day and going over to his house telling him how perfect I was for the part," recalls Hines who, with the March release of A Rage in Harlem (see page 128), is starting the new year off with two films.
Unimpressed, Evans was blunt. "He told me if he got Richard Pryor he could raise another $10 million. With me, he might be able to get an extra $300 bucks." Figuring he had nothing to lose, Hines knocked everything off Evans' coffee table, sending expensive baubles crashing to the floor. Then he jumped on top of the coffee table and started to do what nobody in the world does quite like him: tap.
"I thought he was just Hollywood enough to dig something like that," says Hines, a hint of a smile lighting those famous come-hither eyes women would go to jail for. He got the part.
When he wanted to appear on Saturday Night Live, he displayed the same daring. Unable to get a meeting the conventional way, Hines, who was starring on Broadway in Eubie! at the time, showed up at SNL producer Lorne Michaels' office and announced he had an appointment, knowing full well he didn't. "When his secretary said I wasn't on his calendar, I said there's obviously some mistake. I'll wait."
Michaels left him cooling his heels for hours until he got the message and split. The next day, however, he was back with the same Lorne-and-I-have-an-appointment story. But this time it worked. "When she told me I was on his book, I said, `What? I am?' Obviously he'd told her if I came back he'd see me." Two weeks later, Hines performed a song-and-dance medley with legendary pianist Eubie Blake in what is now considered one of the series' classic shows.
In a made-for-movies twist, after seeing a rerun of that show, Luther Vandross decided to produce a Gregory Hines album, something the thrice Tony-nominated star had been trying to make happen for months. "Before Luther, I couldn't buy a record deal," says Hines who, in 1988, released his debut LP and scored a No. 1 hit.
Not that Hines' life has been fairytable smooth. It hasn't. At 24, for example, he had a wife, a baby daughter, a successful tap dancing career--and a profoundly painful life crisis. This was, he explains, no passing identity crisis, no spoiled former child star pondering what's it all about. This was a complete soul-searching, a fundamental examination of what he wanted from life, born out of a deep and unshakable unhappiness.
With older brother Maurice, he'd been tap dancing professionally since he was five. …