As Highlander prepares to arrive on screens in all its 4K glory, STARBURST talks to maverick film director Russell Mulcahy about how his rule-breaking approach to filmmaking helped the crazy little ‘80s fantasy movie find immortality.
STARBURST: So here we are talking about Highlander again. Do you ever feel like, ‘for God’s sake can we talk about one of my other films?’
Russell Mulcahy: [Laughs] Sometimes I do, but I guess for some reason it’s the one film that resonates more than the others. I guess Highlander has a unique quality that people respond to.
We think one of the reasons that Highlander struck such a chord was because you broke all the rules when you made it. You didn’t apply the normal film rules, you applied the rules you’d learned through making music videos.
I used the terminology, I think, of the music videos. Also, I was pretty much given free rein in a good way, and I had such wonderful talent with me. I had Alan Cameron, the production designer, Jim Acheson doing costumes and Gerry Fisher the DoP, just wonderful talent behind the scenes.
The first couple of days, I didn’t like the lighting so I asked if they could turn them off and go for natural lighting and they were like ‘Oh my God!’. But when they saw the first couple of days rushes, they all joined the party. They had a great time and there was this sense of creative freedom on the set.
There’s a rumour that the infamous deleted ‘orange scene’ was a case you just shooting something to see if it would fit.
It was the first day of principal photography and we were filming the duel on Boston Common. So we filmed that and there’s this beautiful house in the background of the shot, so we went up there. It’s not in the script but we thought; ‘let’s shoot this scene and maybe if it works we can develop it into another flashback’. But it never developed. It was just an experiment.
We imagine that’s something that these days, you just can’t do.
Yeah. What also helped was that it was an EMI film and I’d done a lot of work with them and Duran Duran on Wild Boys and whatever, so there was very little intervention. It was like, ‘Okay, erm, good luck. Make something good!’
It’s such a shame that the deleted scenes are lost forever.
There was another scene that’s not in the film. It was a fight with Kurgan and another immortal amongst a load of computers. We did all of that and it was fine, but when we saw the first cut we just thought, ‘we don’t need another fight’. It was overkill. The film was already 113 minutes and in those days that was quite a long film. Now films are regularly two hours.
One of the lesser-known deleted scenes involve a lot more of Detective Bedsoe. Was there any particular reason why his role was cut down so much?
It was really just down to pacing. There was already some subplots going on and that one just wasn’t that strong. It was just this guy sniffing around and there was no real conclusion to it. I think the only bit that stayed in was the bit where he’s outside Brenda’s house and spills coffee on himself.
And that scene is only on the American Cut.
I remember being at a test screening, one of the first with an audience and they said we should lose the Boston Common duel, but luckily that didn’t go. But they did cut out the scene in Germany where Connor finds Rachel as a young girl for the American cut.
It’s crazy because that’s such a great scene and it says so much about Connor.
Right, and also the thing about that scene is that it was in the script but it was never filmed because of time and whatever. We cut the film together and I was like, ‘hang on, that bit’s missing’. So I pulled together all of my people from music videos and made a rag-tag little crew and we went out on a Sunday, rented a tank and this and that. We had Nicholas Roeg’s son, Waldo as DoP and when the actor who was going to play the German walked off because it was taking so long, Waldo stepped in and became the German. And we just shot that. It was unbelievable.
Do you have a preferred cut? There’s been a few between the US, UK and the Producers one when they painted out the wires.
I hope they painted out the wires [laughs]. They were very thick! It is an ode to the past. But I am looking forward to seeing the 4K version, I haven’t seen it yet. The artwork looks great though.
It does, it’s nice to have a change from the same artwork we’ve had for so long.
It was a travesty what happened in the US with the poster artwork. It’s very unusual.
How has the creative freedom you had while making Highlander diminished as you became more popular and the budgets got higher?
There’s still a good amount of creative freedom, you just have to sell it a bit more. When you’re dealing with big budgets you can’t go wacko you have to have a reason. Highlander was made in the crazy ‘80s and everyone was a bit more free in those days. I couldn’t do that film now.
Would you ever return to the franchise?
No, no, no. It holds a very special place in my heart but I wouldn’t want to revisit it.
How do you feel about the reboot?
They’ve been trying to make the reboot for over 10 years and I wish them all the best. Whether it ever happens, who knows? It’s a great story, it’s got romance, the lore. That’s what attracted me to it.
So what are you up to now? You’ve just come off the Teen Wolf movie, right?
We do our final mix in four weeks and then that will be released on Paramount+ in January. There’s a few other things happening but I’m not going to mention them. I’m keeping busy.
Are there any of the upcoming projects where you foresee yourself being able to break all of the rules again in the way that you did at the beginning with Highlander?
One of them, maybe.
We’d really love to see that.
To really let my hair down? I’ll try not to disappoint you.
Highlander arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray this October 31st from Studiocanal.