George Touliatos (1929-2017) is an actor whose film credits include Prom Night (1980), Good Boy! (2003), The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005), and Cosmopolis (2012), and whose television credits include such mainstream hits as The X-Files and Airwolf. Mr. Touliatos was artistic director and co-founder of one of the first professional resident theaters in the U.S., the Front Street Theater in Memphis, TN. Mr. Touliatos has also taught at prestigious universities, such as Cornell and the University of California, and produced at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., for three years. But to Vantage Point Interviews readers, he is best known as Colonel Rankin from Kinji Fukasaku’s film Virus (1980). Mr. Touliatos shared his memories of Virus in a 2007 interview with Brett Homenick.
Brett Homenick: How did you get involved in Virus?
George Touliatos: A casting agent called, and I got called in for an audition, and I went down to some hotel in Toronto and auditioned.
BH: Did you audition for Kinji Fukasaku?
GT: I don’t remember. I’m sure I did, yeah.
BH: Speaking of Mr. Fukasaku, what was it like to work with him as a director?
GT: Well, he’s a delight. He’s a gentleman, and he had a good eye. There wasn’t a lot of talking going on, but he knows what he’s doing. It was a pleasure, as was the whole crew.
BH: Do you remember how he would give directions to you and how he would set up a scene and basically how he directed the actors?
GT: You could tell from the angle of the shot and the lighting more or less what he wanted. He talked a little bit at the beginning, and that was it. He just let you run with it. It’s just like any good coach or any good baseball manager; they just let you play your game. There wasn’t a lot of specific “go inside of the actor and ram something in, let that come out” if that’s what you mean.
BH: Right. So, in other words, he was a hands-off director and let you decide what you wanted to do.
GT: I think so, yeah. He was hands-off with all of the people that I ever appeared with in the movie.
BH: Did you have any control over your dialogue if you didn’t think it sounded natural?
GT: No, I didn’t have control, but I didn’t say anything about it.
BH: In the first scene you appear in, you appear with an actor named Stuart Gillard (who played Dr. Ed Meyer). What was he like?
GT: Well, I’d known Stu for 10 or 15 years. It was just like working with a friend. He’s more of a low-key actor than I am. He’s more of a conversational actor. I’d noticed right away that that’s where he wanted to play the scene, so I tried to blend in with him, stylistically speaking.
BH: In the scene involving the Oval Office, you worked with a number of very well-known actors, such as Glenn Ford. What was Mr. Ford like to work with?
GT: He’s a dream, but he couldn’t remember his lines.
GT: He had cue cards and was reading his lines. Do you want me to tell you funny stories or what?
GT: Well, there was one scene in which the red phone rang, which is the phone coming in from whoever was head of the Russian government at the time. He went over, and of course as the President answered the phone, put it to his head, and he said, “This is … oh, what the fuck is my next line?!”
BH: (laughs) That’s great! (laughs) But he wasn’t angry when he said that, I take it.
GT: Oh, no, no. He was wonderful. He was a gentleman. He always had his girlfriend on the set — or wife. I don’t know who she was. He was a delight. Everybody was wonderful.
BH: Another actor I wanted to ask you about is Robert Vaughn, and essentially it’s the same question: What was he like?
GT: He’s a nice guy, but he works at it. I think underneath he’s like a lot of men who started out early and had a certain amount of success in the business, but never really went to the top. He was kind of resentful or “give me my just due” or something like that. There are a lot of guys like that.
BH: So he wasn’t very friendly on the set, I take it.
GT: Oh, no, no. I didn’t say that. It’s something you picked up after you’ve worked with a lot of men like that over a period of years. Some of them can take the fact that they’ve stayed somewhere in the middle. They’re okay with it, and they act like it. Some want to pretend as if they’re a higher actor than that. Robert Mitchum, for instance, would just come over and put his arm around everybody. He was just one of the boys, even though he was a big star. But guys who never became big stars always wanted to be treated that way by everybody, by the crew, by the actors. They wanted to be deferred to in a certain manner.
BH: One of the most interesting personalities who appears in the film, in my opinion, is Henry Silva, and I just wanted to get your opinion on working with him.
GT: Henry and I rode out to sets together. He had his family with him. He’s charming and full of fun and very witty in that kind of New York manner and fell easily into that villain thing that he plays. He was charming. He’s really a nice man.
BH: You mentioned the story with Glenn Ford. Are there any other interesting stories from the set that you’d like to tell?
GT: Something I found peculiar: They would say, “Speed, camera, action.” Then they’d say, “Start-o!” (laughs) We weren’t supposed to start until “Start-o!” (laughs)
BH: Well, is there anything else that you’d like to say, any other comments about the film that you’d like to make?
GT: Well, the other thing about it was that everybody was a gentleman. You could sense, because it’s the most Japanese I’ve ever been around, a sense of dignity and a sense of honor and a sense of respect and a sense of mutual respect. It was nice being around a culture I did not know anything about. That, I think, is what I took away more than anything because I’ve worked in a lot of different countries around the world, and you don’t get that.
BH: I take it all your scenes were filmed in Kleinberg (Studios), correct?
GT: No, they weren’t. We did some scenes somewhere on a couple of locations. They weren’t in Kleinberg. One was in a hotel, and another was an office building. I do remember that.
BH: So, actually, one of the scenes was filmed in a hotel?
GT: Yeah, somewhere downtown Toronto. I remember that I was picked up in a huge stretch limo, and they had flowers in the backseat, and got to wherever the make-up was, and there was champagne and something else. They were very nice. Really nice people, and you wanted to do good for them.
BH: Well, do you have any closing comments about working on Virus? What did you think of the experience?
GT: I thought it was novel because it seemed to me that it was one of the first of those “diseases that contaminates, and we’re about to have catastrophe on the planet” (movies), and then about a year later, we had a spade of them coming out. They got there first.