The man in control of Bill

David Carradine has been cool since his starring role in 1970s'Kung Fu'

Movies

April 18, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Movie Critic

Is David Carradine really the coolest guy on the planet?

That's what at least one Internet scribe has suggested. And while he's not exactly embracing the tag, the 67-year-old actor doesn't shy away from it, either.

"There's probably some truth to it," Carradine says over the phone from his home in Los Angeles, where he's busy promoting his starring role as the title character in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 2. "I expect that, since there's 5 billion people on the planet, there's probably someone who's cooler than me. But I doubt he's living in L.A."

The response is classic Carradine, an actor as aware of his own standing and image as anyone who's ever walked the streets of Hollywood. And it's delivered in a manner of speech that's distinctly his own, a droll, inquisitorial style that seems to be dripping with the wisdom of the ages, yet is often punctuated with a laugh that's simultaneously reassuring and subversive.

Part of that laugh, no doubt, is the knowing chuckle of a survivor, a man who has been through the gristmill a few times, yet who always manages to emerge intact. His performance in Kill Bill (only his voice was present in last year's Vol. 1) -- has put him back on audiences' radar screens in a big way. In a role that demands that he seem both seductive and threatening -- as the sword-wielding former lover of Uma Thurman's Bride character, he orders the execution of his former beloved, then pays the price for his minions' failure -- he's as charismatic as ever. In fact, he's so good, so perfectly cast, that the thought that Warren Beatty was originally slotted for the role seems ludicrous. How could anyone other than David Carradine be Bill?

Over the phone, Carradine doesn't sound all that far removed from Bill -- prodding, challenging, sparring. He's even endearing, in a keep-your-guard-up sort of way. And if that persona sounds familiar to Carradine fans, it should: With only a few tweaks, it's the image he conveyed throughout the three-year run of Kung Fu, the 1970s TV series that made him famous. True, his character, Kwai-Chan Caine, didn't laugh much as he meandered the Old West, spreading Buddhist philosophy and trying to stay out of harm's way. But outside the humor, the demeanor that Carradine adopts during interviews seems a natural extrapolation of his TV character.

And we haven't even touched on stoic yet. Carradine is a man who delights in being restless, in rolling with the punches and embracing what life has next to offer.

"I've never been satisfied about anything my entire life," he says. "I'm on Social Security, I've got my pension, and the fact remains that I'm still trying to make a name for myself."

To the uninitiated, that might sound like complaining. But Carradine -- son of the legendary character actor John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath), brother to actors Keith and Robert, uncle to actress Martha Plimpton -- insists he wouldn't want it any other way. For more than four decades, his emphasis has been on being a working actor, accent on working. Change, he says, is simply a key part of the gig.

"I'm still moving upward," he says. "I never did think that many of the roads I took were permanent roads. I always knew they would constantly mutate."

That they have. Beginning as a frequent guest star on television dramas, Carradine has been a TV phenomenon, a Broadway hit, a Golden Globe-nominated film actor. He's also been relegated to exploitation films and gone for a stretch or two without any job at all. And it was all foreshadowed, Carradine says, in a dream he had back in 1960, when he was still a struggling actor doing Shakespearean repertoire.

"I was on an ocean liner that was taking me to a very important thing, whatever it was, along with a bunch of very important people," he says. "It sank, it went down like the Titanic, and I went down like the Titanic. And when I came to the surface, there wasn't even any wreckage or anything, there were no other survivors. But way off there in the distance, there was this one other person that I could see, who was a survivor of a different shipwreck.

"I tried to get the significance of this idea, and I realized that you get to a certain point, it comes to an end, and you find your way to a world that was outside the box you were living in. Once you get out there, you discover people, who were in other boxes, that you never met. Survivors of other shipwrecks."

So what does the next box hold for David Carradine? "What I'm looking for is destiny to give me a surprise," he says. "I think I rate one at this point."

To read The Sun's review of the film Kill Bill Vol. 2 online, go to www.baltimoresun.com / movies.

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