Q&A: Local Musician/Actor Billy Blair On Working With Robert DeNiro and Don Johnson in Machete, and Balancing His Two Careers
We'll have more on Darrow in the coming weeks, but we recently sat down with Blair, who plays in the local bands Messer and White Collar Ghetto, the later of which performs at the House of Blues tonight, about his appearance in the film.
To a degree, the appearance was old hat for Blair--he's scored some pretty sweet roles alongside names like John Malkovich and Don Johnson before popping up in Machete.
After the jump, we talk to blair about his acting career, his music career and having to puke up oatmeal in Machete. Check it out.
So, you're a local musician, and one that's not doing too bad for yourself in the entertainment world.
Well, I don't know. You are on the outside looking in. That's how it looks from your perspective. I'm inside, and have no idea how I'm doing. I'm just trying to do everything right, juggling two bands, and putting up with an agent who has decided he's going to bust my ass to try and go for the biggest opportunities.
I know about Messer. Tell us about your second band.
White Collar Ghetto is basically my old band, the Mother Truckin Skulldiggers, with the addition of Thurber, the vocalist from Pumpjack. That band is a slower moving process, with Thurber being out of town a lot, and (ex-Slow Roosevelt guitarist) Scott being very particular about the music. So we take our time with that project. We're opening for Ugly Mustard at Trees on Halloween weekend.
You went to school for theater training in Dallas. Where?
Yeah, I want to a place called Margot Manning studio and studied acting and theater. What really taught me a lot was learning drama later at Richland College. I learned about developing a character there. Learning about acting and theater is basic stuff, and once you kind of "get it," you're set. You're off and running with your creativity and ideas.
You've always applied a little theatrics to your musical endeavors--in your dress, and with painting your face up. What was the springboard for that inspiration?
Yeah, theatrics. Shock. I always wanted to try it, since I was five years old, listening to KISS. Then, in Junior High School, I saw the Motley Crue video, "Looks that Kill." As I got older, and you can see the influence in the Messer photos, I was most inspired by the mighty Adam Ant.
Do you think that factoring in a little theatrics into your local music stuff helped you break through that glass ceiling into the film world?
Oh, man, I don't know. I just really dug doing the makeup up, and being a little expressive.
Have you attempted to promote one endeavor while at the other? Do you try to slide a little local rock around to people on the movie sets, or no?
On the set, I try to keep it really professional. I don't want to bother anyone. I'm in, and I don't wanna fuck it up. With Robert Rodriguez, I was actually able to sit down and talk music. He's in two bands--a mariachi band and a rock band. So we talked about our bands sharing a show sometime.
You do music and movies and you're also a single parent. Are you also still bartending to make ends meet?
I have to. Some people think I'm driving a Porsche now. It's funny. I jump behind the bar when I have a free night--at a lot of different places. I'm on call for places like Sugar Shack, House of Blues, lots more. A lot of extra bartending doors have opened up since making a couple movies. [Laughs.] Bartending itself opened a lot of doors for me! Not only for music, and being seen--but with women!
What was the experience like alongside John Malkovich on the Jonah Hex set?
He's cool. He's a method actor. He stayed in character. The best example to describe it is how a friend of mine described trying to talk to Val Kilmer on the set of Tombstone. He tried to ask him a question on the set, and said "Hey, Val..." and Kilmer looked him in the eye and said, in Doc Holiday's southern drawl, "Doc don't know no Val."
In Machete, you started off more or less as an extra, and Robert Rodriguez sort of beefed up your role in the film. True story?
Yeah! We hit it off! Robert is a nice guy. He's real. It was a small role. It grew during retakes. Couple of scenes, couple of lines, and it started to change right there on the set! The craziest part was how I found out I was going to get to kill DeNiro.
That's my next question: You got to kill a Robert DeNiro character on screen! What an honor! That came about spontaneously?
I had no idea. It was the day we shot that scene, and we were standing around on set, and they called my name. Robert said, "Billy Blair? Today, you get to kill DeNiro." I swear, I didn't miss a beat. I looked him right back in the eye right away and said, "It's about time."
Any idea that your big scene would be a dramatic closer to the movie as well?
No idea. You don't know what all they're going to do with everything they shot until you come back for the screening and see the final product. It was very gratifying to see that. It was a "pinch me" moment. You wonder if it's a dream you're having. That kind of thing.
Any off-camera interaction with DeNiro?
I never really got to meet him. I tried, again, to just stay really professional on the set. But I remember thinking, right before we rolled, "Holy fucking shit! Is this really happening?" With the big actors, everything happens kind of fast, so I just stayed back and went with it.
How many takes? In other words, how many times did you get to "kill" him?
It was around four-take shot. I got to kill him four or five times!
Was it the same kind of encounter working alongside the great Don Johnson on the Machete set?
Don was really cool! I got to know him a little. Got to call him Don! [Laughs.] He knew my name his first day on the set, which was really flattering to me. Danny Trejo was like that too, really cool to me. Fist bumps as we pass, that kind of thing. Both of those guys are pretty nice.
So, you have a new film in the can, and another in production right now?
Yeah, Natural Selection. It's just really a cameo role, for me. It comes out sometime next year. It's sort of a white trash romantic comedy. And yeah, were shooting an independent film right now in town, called Hostility Hotel. I really like the director, Justin Powers. He busts his ass, like Robert Rodriguez. I'm loving getting to play a drag queen in that.
What was the puke recipe you vomited up--twice--in Machete?
Oatmeal! They had to keep watering it down because it was too chunky! So I had to keep puking that shit up, over and over.