Get Back, the Beatles documentary directed by Peter Jackson, has provided a stunning insight into the band, during a month in 1969 when they came together to record the album that became Let It Be. Michael Lindsay Hogg directed the film and was responsible for shooting the footage that Jackson has assembled beautifully. In this podcast, he spoke about that time, his relationship with his mother, the Irish actress Geraldine Fitzgerald and the man who might have been his father, Orson Welles.

Times of trouble

Dion Fanning: Michael, it’s very good to talk to you. I emailed you before Christmas and you said you were a little bit interviewed out at that stage. I wonder how it has been for you talking and doing so much about something that you were involved in as we’re speaking in January, it’s 53 years ago this month that you filmed Let It Be. How has it been to talk about that again?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Well, funnily enough, I thought it was going to be a chore and a depressing thing to do. But then I hadn’t seen Peter’s film when I was anticipating what it’d be like. Although I then obviously did, I saw it a bit early, because he sent it to me. It was very interesting seeing things again, which I’d lived through, some of which I had included in the original cut of Let It Be and then for a variety of reasons, took out or had to take out. I’ve good memory so a lot of stuff when it turned up in Get Back. I thought, ‘oh, yeah, I remember that. That was all right’. It wasn’t bad, the whole experience wasn’t bad.

You may say, ‘What do you mean by that? Three years ago, I was in London, and a friend of mine at Apple, Jonathan Clyde said, ‘Do you want to come over for a cup of tea?’ I said, Sure. And he said, ‘You know, there’s some movement going on on Let It Be‘. Which we’ve always been trying to find out what is the best time to re-release. I said, what’s that? He said, ‘Well, it’s more than that. It’s that Peter Jackson has seen some of the original footage and he wants to take a whack at putting it all together’.

Take a whack, as you know, is an Englishism for to do something which might be to our benefit, but not yours and I hope you’ll be okay with it.

He said, ‘How would you feel about that?’ I think what he wasn’t expecting, I said I feel great. A) because I like Peter’s work. And this goes before Lord of the Rings, a film he made with Kate Winslet when she was a teenager, I forget what it was called, it was very good. B)I don’t want to do it again, I did it 50 years ago. I made the movie that I wanted to make, with some things which came out and went back in, but more or less that was the movie I wanted to make for the times and I did.

I don’t want to spend another three years, which is what Peter spent on Get Back, doing it. But if I can be of any help to Peter, which I was a bit I think, I’m glad. So I’d completely signed off on it. Then he and I became friendly over the course of his doing it. Because every so often he’d send me an email saying ‘do you have any idea what happened on day six, I can’t figure it out?’ So that when I saw Get Back, just to answer your question, I was ok with it. And also if it leads to, which I think it will, the rerelease of Let It Be then I’ll be very happy.

DF: You said when you watched it, it brought back a lot of stuff and I I took from what you said that it brought back some of the pleasure of the actual shooting of it, because one of the things that struck me watching Get Back was that there’s a great amount of happiness in it.

MLH: Dion, exactly. Yes, there was a lot of happiness and there was a lot of goodwill. There were a few little bumps like if you’re flying from New York to Dublin, there might be a few little bumps,. But overall, those 28 or however many days we spent in 1969 were fun and pleasurable and they ended up with something great, which was the roof concert. I’d done videos with The Beatles in 1966 and then again in 1968, so I knew them a bit when all this started, and I guess they trusted me enough.

It all started with a video of ‘Hey Jude’ and then it morphed into what was going to be a concert and then it was going to be a big film about a concert, then it suddenly turned into a documentary.

The goalposts kept changing, but it was a very fascinating experience obviously. It would be spending four weeks with the Beatles watching them rehearse, nobody had ever filmed them rehearsing before for more than a couple of minutes. The only problem with Let it Be was it was released after they’d broken up. When we shot it, starting in January ‘69, there were four Beatles and when we finished shooting it, there were four Beatles and during the time we were editing it, which took several months, there were four Beatles. So they hadn’t broken up.

But then before the film was released, they broke up, they imploded. Then it was released a month, this is the American release, they had officially broken up so everyone thought, no one knew when we shot it, but everyone thought it was the breakup movie. Well, it wasn’t a breakup movie because they hadn’t broken up but it got looked at through the lens of depression and grief on behalf of the audience so therefore when you say it looked like there were a lot of good times, there were.

DF: How involved were they in the editing process because you say they hadn’t quite broken up but it was happening subsequent to the filming and as you said it was released after they broken up. Were they hands on in that?

MLH:  Weirdly given that they were by nature hands on, not unduly because they were the stars and also the producers of the film. For example, we showed the first rough cut, we showed it in the summer of ’69. You can date it because it was the same day that Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. We showed it to the Beatles and their significant others. Paul with Linda, John with Yoko, George came with Patti, his wife, and his father. Ringo came with Maureen, and a couple of executives from Apple. And it was about half an hour longer than what was released.

After that screening, John and Yoko, Paul and Linda, me, my girlfriend and Peter Brown from Apple all went out for dinner, and we stayed talking until two in the morning, drinking some nice wine. And it wasn’t about the movie at all. They were talking about growing up in Liverpool with their aunts. But there was nothing about the movie, like anyone was being depressed.

Everyone thought the movie had been…was on the way to being very good. About two days later, I got a call from Peter Brown, who was an Apple executive and had been one of the original ones that had come down from Liverpool. He said to me, I think the screening went pretty well the other night, didn’t you? And I said, Yeah, I think the movie’s on the way. And he said ‘Just one thing’. He said, ‘Do you think there’s too much John and Yoko in it?’

And I said, not really. I think you know, it’s very nice to see them together. We kept a lot in like when they were dancing. But we took out some shots, which I would say isolated the two of them a bit more from the rest of them. He said, let me put it like this. He said, I had three phone calls this morning. And the three phone calls said they thought maybe there was just a bit too much John and Yoko.

Now, exactly, you added up the numbers. They wouldn’t themselves particularly say too much, but it would be relayed to you. There’s probably too much John and Yoko and since it was relayed by Peter Brown who was part of the original Liverpool team, then you realise that the other three would prefer perhaps a little less John and Yoko because you had the sense that they were ok with various shots and episodes which showed them growing up like the sequence when Paul and George talk about – I’m not trying to get you, yes, I won’t play at all. That was just a kind of spat between two artistic temperaments, no more than that.

They were happy to be seen as now being 28/29 growing up and not being the Fab Four, the mop tops anymore. They were happy with that. But they were just wanting it not to look like the Beatles were splitting. So they wanted the edit to slightly bring John and Yoko back into the fold, which wasn’t that hard and wasn’t that different than what was really going on? My point being they weren’t heavy handed. But you would get the message relayed to you by someone who was acting as the messenger.

DF: To jump back a little bit, though, you mentioned about being involved with them with ‘Hey Jude’ and I think you also shot the promo for ‘Paperback Writer’ before that. I know from reading your memoir that you talked about Brian Epstein, at that point, being quite restrictive in terms of what ideas you could put to the band. When you went to them post his death. You have a line in your book when you say that – and you contrast that with working with the Rolling Stones – when you say when an idea was put out to the Beatles, it was something to be more like a piece of meat thrown into an animal cage. How intimidating was that for you? Not just in terms of, of their fame, but in terms of who they were. And like Lennon in particular being a very ferocious person, especially when he kind of felt threatened in any way?

MLH: Well, it goes back to what came out as part of your question about how famous they were. When I first met them in 1966, they were dauntingly famous. They were the most famous people in the world.

When I met them, as I say, in the book, I was waiting for half an hour in this room, which was like somebody’s sitting room at Abbey Road, but there was a table laid for dinner with a tablecloth and cutlery and silverware and bottles of wine open and everything unlike what rock’n’roll people would have for a meal as a break, which was usually pizza or something which came over from the local Chinese place.

So I was waiting, and then when they came in the room, they all came in together as it happened – boom, boom. It really was like someone opening the door and Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny all came in, because their faces were so famous and they’d almost passed beyond human reality as fame for a variety of reasons, partly because they were good, partly because the world needed it.

This was just before they were doing their final tour in ’66 – a lot changed when they stopped touring. They were very insular still, as Ringo said, only the four of them would know what it was like to take over. These four boys from Liverpool. I don’t know what the equivalent would be in Ireland. These four boys who came from a tough background and a tough port city. On BBC Radio until rock and roll hit, if you spoke with a Cockney accent or north country accent on a radio show, you were used for comic relief.

Within five years, boys from Eton and Harrow were trying to talk like Mick Jagger or John Lennon. So when I said it was like putting a piece of meat in the cage, yeah they’d toss it around, you’d start, one of them would say, Well, I’m not so sure about that. But maybe it’s a good idea. And then the other one would say, Yeah, but if we did that, not that. So it was very insular, the way they would receive an idea.

They’d talk about it amongst themselves, not including you particularly. Then their opinion, which would by then be a collective opinion, would come back and one of them and say, Yeah, let’s think about that for another few days. So unlike with the Rolling Stones, who were more individual, but collective, The Beatles were collective more than individual at that stage when I first met them.

Brian didn’t want…I had an idea for Paperback Writer, which would take place in a newspaper office, so that they’d be all at their typewriters, which, you know, as you remember what a typewriter was in the 1960s. McCartney would be in his little cubicle, typing away at a paperback novel. And then something would happen, but it would have a kind of narrative to a distant storyline. It wouldn’t be them standing there, it’d be them in in a location. They liked that idea. But a couple of days later, I got a message from the NEMS office, which was Brian Epstein’s company, saying Mr. Epstein just wants the video of the boys performing. I guess he thought that since it was going to go all over the world, these videos, mainly what the world wanted to see was the four faces.

DF: When you did Let It Be, one of the scenes in Get Back, is all about Allen Klein arriving and that kind of influence, they were they were four individuals, even though they were a collective. Were they more like four individuals at that stage?

MLH: Yeah, they were. But as you remember from Get Back, Paul talks about since Mr. Epstein died, we’ve had no father. He uses the term like their father. But the main big, big, big, big, big, big difference between the first time I worked with them and ‘Hey Jude’, was not only the death of Brian, but it was they’d stop touring. And touring keeps the songwriters together.

If you’re the Beatles, and you’re playing Minneapolis that night, and you’re in a hotel in Minneapolis. You get up, you have breakfast, you can’t leave the hotel, because there are a thousand fans in the street. So what are you going to do? You go up and watch TV for a while, and then you write a song. Then when they decided to not tour anymore after 1966, because it had gotten too crazy, they all sort of separated. Paul has a house in London, John had a house in the country with Yoko, the other two houses in the country.

So they weren’t even within walking distance of each other. They were a drive out to Sandringham or wherever the hell they all lived. They weren’t working together any more. I was interested in when we were putting Let It Be together and you see it in Get Back, the songwriters then were not collaborating, and they were more or less coming in and demoing the song with chord changes. So the others were not particularly invited to contribute to the song, but to play the song. That was the difference, the physical separation of their living conditions. And then also the fact that they weren’t working together anymore.

The creation

MLH: I was excited to be in the room while they were creating but at the same time I was thinking of my job, I don’t mean my job security. But how I would be putting all these pieces together. As I realised that something was happening in the sense that you’re asking me, would I get another camera on the sequence?

Would I get one of the guys to move the camera from over there to here so I might have two shots of Paul talking or I might have a shot with a camera where it wasn’t in position of John Lennon reacting to Paul’s creating of the song. But one of the things not being a musician of course, I was stunned by the speed and the skill they would come up with a song.

It might take place over 40 minutes or two days. It was really very quick, the way they would create. But another thing going back to my reaction what was happening. It started with, it was going to be a concert, it’s going to be a great concert. I wanted it to be in Libya for reasons which made sense to me. But then we moved – George quit and came back – and then we moved to Apple. So what I was gathering with this footage changed course, sort of overnight. Once we got to Apple, there was rehearsal, joined by Billy Preston, which was a great help, rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal.

I’m thinking ok, because I’ve worked in the theatre a lot, I know that unless you are a participant directly in the making of a scene or making of a song, it can get a little, dare I say it, tedious if it’s the 97th version, a bit of rehearsal of Long and Winding Road.

They got bored too because they do a bit and then they’d jam and they’d do Little Richard songs and they’d do something else and then they’d come back to the song again. So I realised for the audience watching it, I needed to have somewhere to go. Twickenham was a good start because it was interesting thing to look at, although they weren’t happy there because it wasn’t a traditional recording studio. It had an interesting look and an interesting scale to it. So you just have the four of them in a little island surrounded by this space, which had a visual appeal to me.

Then we go to Apple which is a much tighter physical space. It’s a much smaller room and looking around where I am now, it wasn’t much bigger than where I’m sitting now plus a bit extra and so that’s why I we came up with the roof which was a place to go as a conclusion, as a place to finish for the time being this episode, because I knew that if it was just rehearsal, followed by rehearsal and maybe getting to the end of a song, it wouldn’t be as satisfying as until you saw them in a performance.

Bugging The Beatles

DF: Did they know about things like the because you talked about George leaving in the film? Did they know about things like the microphones in the flowerpots in the cafeteria?

MLH: No, they didn’t know about them, but they had the control in that because not only were they the stars, they were the producers so that if anything – going back to ‘Is there too much John and Yoko? Can we cut down John and Yoko a little bit?’ –  they would have the final say so.

I think they thought bugging the flower vase was a kind of ingenious idea, The problem was, here’s what happened. The difference between 50 years ago – when I played back the tape, the bug, which had been in the flower vase, all I got was ambient noise really, of cutlery and plates. People talking in a distance conversation, you can read what it was. And it took precedence, audio wise over what The Beatles were saying.

Now, Peter had an extra year to cut the film over there in New Zealand because of Covid. What originally was going to be two, two and a half years, because he had a lot of footage to go through and he’s very diligent, was three years. And in the kind of extra year they had over there, Peter, amongst other things is a techno whiz, And he has a lot of machines over there which can do a lot of things. With the AI which is available to him he managed to be able to separate on the soundtrack, the spoken words with what was the ambient noise underneath. I couldn’t do that 50 years ago. It came to me as one lump of audio. Whereas Peter in the sequences, you know in Get Back when it’s Paul and John talking with the microphone bug, the dialogue is clear.

DF: Was it a disappointment to you that that you couldn’t use that and do you think The Beatles would have allowed that to be used if you had it?

Yes, well, that’s a two part answer to that. If we’d used it, and if we’d been able to use John Lennon after George quit saying, Oh, let him go, let’s get in Eric Clapton, he’s just as good and not such a headache. They would have been surprised we got that and would have, let us use it if things had turned out differently.

So therefore in the original cut, without that bit of evidence, but with the sitting around at Twickenham, after George had left, and just talking about what are we going to do. I could have gone into the fact that George left and came back. I could have found a way around it, not with the information that Peter has, because he got the soundtracks, but, and I did put in at one bit of a cut a reference to George leaving. The same person, Peter Brown, who I’m very fond of, came to me and said, ‘Look, George left for a week or so but he came back’.

So therefore, going back to what I said earlier – Peter said, we started with four Beatles, we have four Beatles again. So there’s no point in going into George leaving, because he’s back.

What he was really saying is, they were happy, the four of them, to have a film made in which they were shown growing up. They’d had such an extraordinary life and they’d been living in each other’s pockets for 10 years. And then they’re separating. To see them growing up and changing and to see their music changing. But they wanted at the end of it The Beatles to still be together. The four of them wanted a film that you could show many of the things we showed, but The Beatles start together and finish together.

That was one of the givens and also, it was the truth. That they started together. George left for a week and came back and they’re still together, while we were editing it, they’re still together. And it was only, as you and I were talking earlier, that come November ‘69 and the implosion happens, and Let It Be which was ready to be released, they don’t care about it anymore.

They didn’t come to the premiere in London. It was released in America week, a month after they’d officially broken up. so Let It Be was very much…Peter had a great word for it. Early on, when we met, he said, tell me the story of what happened on Let It Be. And I told him and then I told him the bit you and I are at now, it wasn’t supported by them or helped by them or anything like that. And he said, ‘so in fact, if it weren’t for you, Let It Be was an orphan’.

I thought that was a very sensitive remark, because that’s what it turned out to be, it turned out to be a kind of orphan. So would they have let me keep in the bug? Yeah, but it wasn’t germane in the end, because as the person said to me, start with four Beatles, end with four Beatles.

DF: As well as in 1970, The Beatles projecting this image of them together was very important, even though they were breaking up, that mattered more whereas with the passage of time, they are obviously more relaxed in some ways about how the world sees them. 50 years on.

MLH: Of course. Certainly. Peter’s been very wise about the whole thing, his comments, like he said, I –  this is Peter Jackson talking – I had a much easier time with them than you did because when I was showing cuts of Get Back to Paul and Ringo, Ringo was 80 years old and Paul was 79 and so I got them in an entirely different – and you know, John and George are dead – but I got them at an entirely different state of mind than you had them 50 years ago when they were ambitious, full of testosterone, full of getting in each other’s way, full of whatever. And he said for you it was like herding cats and for me was like just patting them on my lap.

Working with Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir

DF: We mentioned it’s 53 years ago since Let It Be, and you’ve a wide ranging career before that, as we said, and film and theatre, you mentioned Ready, Steady, Go. You directed Brideshead Revisited. But there’s a line in your memoir about Hilton Edwards about how he approached it. He wasn’t very much into the kind of method or into the motivation of the character as he said, just do what I’m asking and figure out why in your spare time.

MLH: My mother was an actress Geraldine Fitzgerald and one of her early jobs as a young actress was working at the Gate. But then she went over to England and then she went to California. When I was 19, 18, I guess, in the summer. I was at loose ends. I was in Ireland. I met Hilton who was a charmer, funny, kind, exuberant, blustery, and he said I’m doing a play in the festival called The Dreaming Dust by Denis Johnson about Dean Swift. Do you want to just be my assistant on it?

So I got to know you know, whatever he needed to look up something in the library to do with 1794 and Swift and stuff I’d go and do it. It was an interesting production with him playing Swift himself and Maureen Potter playing his love interest, I think, and Maureen, of course, was the great comedian with Jimmy O’Dea at the Gaiety. This is before your time.

And so then Hilton and Orson Welles – because Orson Welles had also started at the Gate as a young American actor. He came over, his father died, his mother died, he was 17. He got to Cork. He then hired a pony and trap and went up to Dublin in the pony and trap. And then he knocked on the door of the Gate Theatre and he said with his booming voice, which I can’t imitate, I am the leading actor of the leading theatre company in New York, and I’m here to grace your company with my presence. So he played an old part when he was 17.

They became – Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton – became friends, collaborators for the rest of his life. Then, this just going back to Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir. My whole life changed a bit because of the Dublin Theatre Festival. I was the floor manager at Teilifís Eireann and for three years from 1961 when it went on the air at the Gresham as the opening ceremony through til ’64. Being a floor manager then you’d be doing dramas, you’d be doing musical shows, you’d be doing farming shows in Irish. My Irish was not good. But then there’d be 45 minutes talking about how much the price of sheep was, which of course is important to farmers, but less to me because I couldn’t speak the language.

But it was fun, and I learned a lot anyway. In the 1964 Theatre Festival, I’d seen a play, I’d come up with the play and I thought this would be a good play for the theatre festival, if I can only cast it.

It was a two hander. It was about a psychiatric doctor and a patient, it was a comedy of sorts. Milo O’Shea was doing a quiz show, he’s the compere of a quiz show. I said listen, would you read this script? Milo was a very big star then, mainly in review and in comedy because he had a lot of comic stuff. He was very funny, but he was he was dyslexic.  So it was a real chore for him to read a script, eventually read it. He said he do it and then for the other part, I got Jim Norton, who is a fabulous actor. He’s a fabulous actor when he was 23 or 24.

That became Do You Know The Milky Way? It became the hit of the festival in 1964, with the English press, the Irish press, everybody loved it. So suddenly I’m a director, I’m a director. There was a scout who came over from one of the English television stations to look at stuff in the festival and go to the other festivals, Edinburgh Festival, and see if there are any writers who might be good for television drama, or maybe the art director. And so he said, if you ever direct at all – I hadn’t directed to that point – let us know and show us the tape- long story short, I got a job offer as a result of Do You Know The Milky Way? which I did on TV for television as well.

And then I got this job in England. And through stealth and ambition and good luck I got offered Ready Steady Go at the age of 24. Partly because I was the same age as the musicians, partly because rock’n’roll had changed my life. Prior to my doing it when I was 24, most of the directors were doing that similar type of shows were in their 40s and thought of rock and roll as yeah fun to do but slightly slumming. I thought rock’n’roll was the most important thing in the world. I also thought it was changing the world in ways which people had not expected.

Going back to your original question, Hilton Edwards lit the show, he lit the show for me, Do You Know The Milky Way? And then we took it down to Cork to play down there at a small theatre in Cork where Micheál Mac Liammóir was playing in the bigger house, the bigger theatre in Cork. Then we all had dinner one night with Micheál and the cast, Milo and Jim. It was just fantastic, as there was no greater raconteur in the old fashioned way than Micheál Mac Liammóir.

Even if his wig wasn’t on straight, he was the most entertaining, kind, curious man, who had struck out as a homosexual in the 1930s and didn’t pretend he was other than that. Hilton was very sort of blustery and manly. Hilton was like your bank manager. And then Michael was like, the gayest, most fabulous character. And he inhabited it. He was a handsome young man then he lost his hair and he wore the wig. And sometimes the wig didn’t even look like a wig, it look like a beret. 

He was the funniest man. They were the most fabulous couple. And as you know, they were called the boys around Dublin. The boys this and the boys that and they changed the theatre. I mean, there was the Abbey and the Gate. The Abbey was doing mainly Irish plays and the Gate was doing foreign European, experimental plays. They changed the map of Irish theatre. It’s a long answer for you.

Orson Welles and fatherhood

DF: I’ve listened to a few interviews you’ve done, a read a few interviews. And then I read your memoir, and you talk about Orson Welles in your memoir. And obviously, there was this story, your mother, Geraldine Fitzgerald, told a friend of hers that Orson Welles was your father. And you mentioned in the book that the first time this was said to you by a very attractive woman at a party, you enjoyed the kind of social currency that came with this idea that maybe he was your father, but are you tired of it? Because I’ve noticed in some of the interviews I’ve listened to and read with you, that, having read that line in your memoir about enjoying the social currency, it seems to be something that weighs you down a little bit more or you’re tired of it as a as a line of questioning?

MLH: Well, Dion you can ask me anything you want. So you’re clear on that one. When I was a teenager, looking to find my way in life, anything which gave me a little extra attention was okay. I was fat. I hadn’t been able to read til I was nine so I had a hard time in school. But anything which anyone thought gave me an interest because when you’re a teenager, I mean unless you’re really lucky unless you grow up like Mick Jagger who was very confident, you’re always trying to figure out who you are and how you fit and how you don’t fit.

So that that was useful, as you say, currency to me. It went on for such a long time. One of the big problems always was that Edward Lindsay-Hogg and I never looked alike. My father, one of my fathers, Eddie was very lean faced, slim man, taller than I  –  six foot one.  

He looked much more like Jeremy Irons, long nose, slim face, high cheekbones than I did. Because especially when I was fat. I did look more like Orson. Also I’d met him a couple of times. He was kind to me when I first met him when he’s doing King Lear in New York that my mother was in. And then the hilarious experience of doing Chimes at Midnight in the theatre, he played Falstaff that Hilton directed, which is in the book, and it was a real harum-scarum production. And then over the years, well, for example, we’d done Chimes at Midnight, which I was acting and he was half directing.

His next job was going to be directing Rhinoceros, the Ionesco play at the Royal Court in London with Laurence Olivier playing the leading part. And he said to me when we’d finished Chimes at Midnight, he said, ‘Do you want to come over and be my assistant on Rhinoceros?’

And I thought what a great opportunity, I was only 19. To work with Orson Welles in a show starring Laurence Olivier. I said I’d love to, and the night before he left Dublin he said, ‘Ok I’m going over in the morning, and I’ll call you in two days and tell you when to come’. I did not hear from him for five years.

He was very irresponsible in his relationships. Ok. I wrote my memoir and I finished it thinking that Eddie was my father. My mother, I loved her very much – we probably all say that about our mothers, but not everyone  – I loved her very much. I was very much in her thrall. She’s wonderful to be with, she was funny. But as I got into the writing the memoir, I realised that she is a much more complicated character than I had any idea growing up.

And that she maybe sometimes in life hedged her bets like, would be good if someone knew a little piece of information, but not all that piece of information. She was really a single mother like so many mothers are these days. When she’d got to Hollywood, her first film was Wuthering Heights, she was nominated for an Academy Award. World War Two started. Edward Lindsay-Hogg was in California, but he left us when I was two to go back to Ireland, which was a neutral country. But he wanted to help with the Irish Red Cross.

So we went back to Ireland, really leaving my mother and me and Mary Gillen, the woman who looked after, me without any breadwinner except my mother. My mother used to be picked up at seven in the morning to go to Warner Brothers and be back at seven o’clock at night. And whatever money was coming in was coming in from her and this went on for four or five years. So we didn’t see each other that much because she’d leave just when I was waking up, and by the time she got back, I’d be in bed and asleep.

So I loved her, but I didn’t get enough of her. So the end of the story is I write the book and by coincidence, this woman who was somewhat older than me, but who I’d had a romance with, when I was 40, had been a great friend of my mother’s, sent me a book that she’d written.

We hadn’t been in touch for a while. She was 85 and she’d written an erotic novel. which not everyone.

DF: As you do.

MLH: As you do, exactly [laughs]. And I recognised in her erotic novel, some things which might have been about our connection with each other. And then I sent her my memoir, which had reached a certain conclusion, and I hope this is making sense. Then she got back to me, and she says, I’m not sure about the ending of your book, but I really can’t go into it, because what I promised your mother, and so immediately, I’m like a hound with a scent. I get back saying what do you mean, and this is all epistolary, this is all based in the days of letters. She and my mother were friends. She’s younger than my mother, she was an actress, my mother gave her tips on acting. Although my mother was senior, they were very, very close, because they’d had quite adventurous lives, the two women.

So they’re having an intimate conversation and it was during the conversation that my mother said Orson is Michael’s father. Now a lot of things point to that, especially in the looks, I look much more like him. But as the reason when you say, do I not want to do it anymore, I’ve sort of done it. And whatever…the DNA is very hard. There’s one of Orson’s children living. And DNA, which I’ve investigated, between potential half siblings, is the most inaccurate one., especially if there’s no tissue involved, if there’s no actual DNA from the parents. Orson was cremated, my mother was buried. I called her dermatologist when this bit was going on and he’d taken some things off her face to do with skin cancer, but he burnt them about a week before.

I was brought up as much by a very, very strong Catholic from the north of Ireland, Mary Gillen as by my mother because of my mother’s work. And so I would get a glass of milk before I went to bed, and it was always, ‘Now say your prayers’.

Then one night, Mary said to me, say your prayers, and I did and she said, at least you’ll be alright. I said, ‘Well, who won’t be alright?’ – I was only seven or right – your mother and your father, they’ll go to hell, she said. And I said, why will they go to hell? And then she said because they’re divorced. Now sleep well. So I’ve been a good Catholic all my life. I still say prayers. You know, whoever the God I pray to at least it gives me a chance before I go to sleep to include the people I care about in my waking hours. And so therefore, the prayers I say are God bless Mummy and Boy who was my stepfather, who was really like my father. And Eddie. I don’t include Orson in that prayer. Dion, because you’re Irish, you’re getting a lot of intimate stuff. It’s the way you Irish do it.

I don’t say God bless Orson because he never was…even if he is my father or was my father…he never took that role with any responsibility.

The Forty Foot

DF: Before we go, you were last in Ireland, you told me you were swimming in the Forty Foot, that was when you made Frankie Starlight here, was it?

MLH: It was Dion and I feel I you know, when I when I talked to my cousins there, Carolina, Maggie or Sarah. I really hanker to get back. Even though I’ve lived in London for X number of years, now in America and all over the place. Ireland, I don’t mean to get out the orange, white and green flag, but I really have part of it in me. I remember when Aer Lingus was a real airline, maybe it is again. When I was in New York and was going to Ireland, I always thought when I got on the Aer Lingus flight that I was in Ireland again. I’m pro Irish, let me put it that way.

A friendship with Peter Bogdanovich

DF: Peter Bogdanovich died recently. You’d a complicated, but a very close friendship with him, at one stage in your life. I wonder how you felt?

MLH: Oh, well, I was sad. We were best friends when we were teenagers, 16,17, 18. We met in a summer theatre. We spent a lot of time talking on the phone when we should be doing our homework, talking about you know, Chekov or Stanislavski or girls.

Then we had a summer stock theatre together, we both were directing in it. We had a wonderful costume designer that we both fell in love with called Polly Platt. Peter married her, I didn’t like the way I’d learned about it and so then there was an estrangement all across the board. We made up in the last 10 years, we’d see each other occasionally. And then we’d talk again. Polly had died by this time.

And it was ok by the end. He read the book, the one you’re talking about. And he was very nice about it. Peter didn’t particularly always be nice about things. He had a little tremor that I’d noticed when we’d seen each other and I just wondered what it was. He seemed to be in good shape. I don’t know yet exactly what he died of except he died. I don’t know if it was Parkinson’s.

I don’t know what kind of illness it was. But I was sad because no matter what occurs in the interim between you, it’s like when the friendship began is the most important thing. Then in the interim it gets all mucked up and then your friend dies and then you feel a sense of loss.

He made two wonderful movies, The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon. He was someone who loved movies and he had a tortured life, because of his lover getting murdered by her husband. That sent him into a kind of spiral of despair. But he was worthwhile. He meant to do good for movies. He knew more about movies than any of us ever will. He made two good ones. I hadn’t seen him probably for two years. I was sad just because we were teenagers together.

DF: I’ve taken up an awful lot of your time on a Sunday, but it’s been really extraordinary talking to you. And next time, hopefully you come to Ireland and we’ll go swimming in the Forty Foot.

MLH:  Certainly we could go to Neary’s or one of the other ones and have a beer or something. Then we’d go to the Forty Foot.