Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: In the 1970s, when numerous football players were leaving the field and trying their hands at acting, Carl Weathers had a couple of advantages on the competition: Not only had he been a theater major in college, but he also scored a career-making role in one of the biggest motion pictures of the decade. In the wake of playing Apollo Creed in Rocky, which ultimately turned into a four-film gig, Weathers picked up leading roles (Action Jackson) as well as memorable supporting parts (Predator). In more recent years, has come to be appreciated for his comedic turns in Happy Gilmore and Arrested Development. Currently, Weathers can be heard voicing Combat Carl—and Combat Carl Jr.—in Toy Story Of Terror, now available on Blu-ray.
Carl Weathers: Two great characters, two lovable characters, two charming characters, two aggressive characters. [Laughs.] They take charge, they get in there, and they get the job done.
The A.V. Club: How did the roles come about? You’ve done some voice work, certainly, but it’s not necessarily what you’re best known for.
CW: Well, I’ve done a bit—video games, some commercials. But you’re right, it wasn’t what you could call my bread and butter. [Laughs.] It came about by being contacted through my agents about doing Combat Carl—which became Combat Carl and Combat Carl Jr.—and knowing that it was Pixar and that it was Toy Story, that right there was enticement. And then being delivered sides and reading the story and seeing the character, it was like, “Okay, this is beautiful. Let’s go!”
AVC: Has there been any talk of you reprising the role?
CW: Well, I’ve been talking about it. [Laughs.] I don’t know if they have. But I’d love to. I think it’s a great character, and it’s one of those kinds of roles that’s just a joy to be known for. And it also introduces me—it introduces a whole new audience to Carl Weathers!
AVC: Plus, it gives you the opportunity to speak in third person.
CW: Absolutely. Are you kidding me? Who doesn’t enjoy talking in the third person and constantly mentioning their own name? I mean, come on! [Laughs.]
The Candidate (1972)—actor (uncredited)
Magnum Force (1973)—“Demonstrator” (uncredited)
AVC: You’re not officially credited, so better to approach this with trepidation: Was your film debut as a demonstrator in Magnum Force?
CW: Oh, wow. You didn’t. You didn’t go back there. [Laughs.] My God, yes. I don’t know who dug that up, but, yes, that’s true. Yes, that was a billion years ago, in San Francisco. But, actually, you know something? I’m not sure that’s true, now that I think about it.
What I think the first was—I played an extra onstage in a scene that Robert Redford did in a movie called The Candidate. I remember that day because I was a theater major, and I wanted to be a professional actor. It was shot at a Grand Theater in Oakland, and I remember at the end of that day saying “never again.” Because I wanted to be Robert Redford! [Laughs.] I wanted to be a principal, not some guy standing out in an audience. So I think that was actually first, and then Magnum Force was after that, because in Magnum Force I actually had lines, which never wound up being on camera. But I did have lines, and I was paid as a SAG actor, not as an extra. Wow. That’s funny, recalling that.
AVC: When you made the transition from sports to acting, you obviously weren’t the first football player to try and make it as an actor. Were you concerned about that?
CW: Even though I played football in college—that was on scholarship to San Diego State—I was a theater major. I always wanted to be an actor even from when I was a young kid. I loved movies—grew up watching movies. So making the transition was, in a way, truly out of ignorance. I never really had a clue of the challenges of “making it in Hollywood,” so to speak. I came here expecting to make it, not thinking it was going to be a very tough transition at all. And I was just very fortunate that, within six months of arriving, I was working.
I worked on a lot of episodic television, a lot of Quinn Martin’s shows, and—I mean, good God, I worked on Kung Fu and Starsky And Hutch and—you name it. I ended up on Delvecchio and S.W.A.T. and Switch and God, it went on and on and on, those titles. The Six Million Dollar Man. I was very fortunate. All of that happened very quickly, and then I translated that into working in some movies for AIP, and then, you know, the big break—quote unquote—came along with Rocky.
AVC: With the AIP films, you had the advantage of knowing director Arthur Marks prior to signing onto those, correct?
CW: Well, I didn’t actually know Arthur, but I knew people who knew Arthur. There was a wonderful casting agent, a guy named Gino Havens, who I think is still around. And Gino cast me in that first Arthur Marks movie, and then there was a second. It was just good fortune at the time to work with really talented actors—Yaphet Kotto, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala—and learn the art of acting in front of the camera.
AVC: You played Hambone in Bucktown and Yarbro in Friday Foster. Did you have a favorite between the two roles?
CW: Good God. [Laughs.] Yes, such iconic roles as Hambone. Oh, my God. No, I didn’t have a preference. At the time, I just wanted to work, as most actors did, and being black in Hollywood at the time—I mean, come on, a character named Hambone? What can you do but laugh at that? That’s a far cry from Combat Carl, I’ll tell you that.
CW: I actually have a lot of fond memories from Death Hunt, because I got a chance to really—it was a time when actors got to spend time together on movies. Here I am, this young actor, and who am I hanging out with? Lee Marvin and Charlie Bronson. Wow, man. That was heady. That was big stuff. I spent a lot of hours with Lee and his wife, Pam, both on and off the set, and then I spent some time with Charlie and his wife at the time, Jill. I have really wonderful memories with them, including the social time when we weren’t shooting. It was a really great time.
AVC: When we talked to Ed Lauter for this feature, he said he learned some valuable lessons working with Lee Marvin on the film.
CW: Oh, sure, I remember Ed. He’s another one I got to know on that film, and then we crossed paths many times after that. In fact, I co-produced—with Robert Urich—a television movie, a remake of The Defiant Ones, and Ed was in that, along with many other actors that I love, including Bill Sanderson. A lot of wonderful actors in that film.
AVC: Was it intimidating to do a new version of The Defiant Ones, given the reputation of the original?
CW: Well, it wasn’t so much that it was intimidating, because it was something I wanted to do, and I actually convinced Robert—well, no, I didn’t convince him, but I asked him if he would be interested in doing it. Honestly, the original version was probably the inspiration for me wanting to be an actor—seeing Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis onscreen as a kid and just saying, “Wow! I want to do that.” That movie was seminal in so many ways for me as a kid, growing up in New Orleans—this unbelievably beautiful, striking black man onscreen playing a role that wasn’t subservient, a role where he was struggling, as both those men were. It really captivated me. And years later, when I was under contract to Warner Bros., I wanted to do that movie, and as it turned out, it wasn’t in their library. When I went to MGM, though, it was in their library. But we couldn’t convince them to do it at first. We went to the execs, and they said, “Nobody wants to do that.” But after I talked to Robert and he agreed and said, “Sure, let’s give it a try,” we went into the network chained together. [Laughs.] That’s how we sold it: Carl Weathers and Robert Urich, chained together! But it’s one of the things I’m most proud of, in terms of things I’ve been involved in behind the camera, and to this day it’s a fond memory.
Happy Gilmore (1996) / Little Nicky (2000)—“Chubbs Peterson”
Eight Crazy Nights (2002)—“GNC Water Bottle”
CW: Chubbs! Yes. Bless Adam Sandler for creating such craziness. Of all the great stuff he’s done for me, Happy Gilmore is the greatest. It’s such an entertaining movie, and it’s so rooted in the kind of charm that Adam has and the kind of stuff that he can deliver. For me, it was just a joy to be a part of it. Bernie Brillstein was sort of the reason I became involved in that. He was a real advocate for me—he ran Lorimar when I was under contract there for a while—so it was because of him that all came about. So bless Bernie for that, and bless Adam for creating such a crazy character!
AVC: It would be fair to say that you weren’t really known for comedy at that point in your career. Was that something you’d been wanting to try your hand at?
CW: Well, nobody else thought I was funny. [Laughs.] It was just me, you know? So to get a chance to do that was just wonderful. It was right in my wheelhouse of doing crazy characters, and Chubbs was as crazy as I’ve ever done, so—it was just perfect. But it was a joy because I was just getting the chance to do something different. I had a lot of fun on that movie. I laughed at lot. Working with Adam is about laughter. So it made it kind of an easy, enjoyable gig.
AVC: How many times have you been asked to demonstrate your hip move?
CW: Are you kidding? That’s one of the catchphrases: “It’s all in the hips!” [Laughs.]
AVC: You also briefly returned to the role of Chubbs in Little Nicky.
CW: Yes! I do my little dance there, and I walk out with, “It’s all in the hips!” Adam’s got a way of sort of reprising these characters in the oddest ways. It’s just strange that Chubbs should show up, coming from heaven in a wacky scene. That movie was actually just on recently, and I found myself watching it because—I don’t think it did really well at the time, but it’s such a funny movie in so many ways. I think it was ahead of its time. It’s a little peculiar and a little bent, but it really has some funny stuff in it. So, yeah, Chubbs showing up again allowed me to do some work in Eight Crazy Nights as well. I’ve done some strange, off-center stuff. [Laughs.] It’s been a varied road I’ve walked on.
Arrested Development (2004-2005, 2013)—“Carl Weathers”
CW: Oh, yeah—a version of me that, quite frankly, is about a million miles from me, but it was lovely to play the one guy who was trying to get on everyone’s tab. I mean, that to me is as funny as things get. You know, in too many cases I’m the guy who’s actually picking up the tab. But in this one, I thought, “I’ve known people like that,” and Mitch Hurwitz just took that and ran with it and made it as funny as anything could be. So it was a tremendous joy to try and get a stew going all the time. [Laughs.] At someone else’s expense, of course!
AVC: Was that a case where they came looking for you specifically?
CW: Yeah, they had a different idea that they wanted to do, and I just wasn’t as keen on that idea, but they asked me, “Well, what would you like to do?” And I thought, “Well, there happened to be this thing that happened today…” And I told them about it, and it was one of those instances of somebody trying to get on your tab, and they loved it. I said, “I’d like to play that guy,” and they rolled with it. Hence Carl Weathers in Arrested Development, the stingiest guy in the world.
AVC: When they did the fourth season for Netflix, you turned up again. Do you know if they’d always intended to have you back, or if it was due to you mentioning in interviews that you’d be perfectly willing to come back?
CW: I don’t know, but Mitch had been talking about doing a movie, so once the movie idea got into the works, I just had to tell him: “Man, come on! I want to be in this! Include me!” It was all about keeping that character alive. I love that character.
CW: It was very brief, and it was just after I’d finished Rocky, actually. About a month after, I got this call from Steven Spielberg’s offices, and they sent the sides over to my house—and all I had was my side. I didn’t know what the other characters were doing or even what the story was about. But it was Steven Spielberg! So I got on a plane, I flew to the East Coast, I got off the plane, I went and had a bite to eat, got into makeup and wardrobe, went to the set, did the scene, went back, had another bite to eat, met [François] Truffaut and a couple of other people, saw the beautiful indoor set that they’d built where the spaceships come flying over the highway, got back on a plane, and went home. All within 24 hours. [Laughs.]
AVC: You’re not in all of the versions, but you were in the original theatrical release of the film, right?
CW: That’s right. Every once in a while, they’ll still play that version on television, and you’ll get a chance to see me.
CW: A creation that came about when I was doing Predator and talking to Joel Silver, who loved blaxploitation movies. Joel said, “Well, you know, why don’t you put something together?” So during that time of shooting down in Puerto Vallarta, I created this story and came up with this guy—or at least this title—Action Jackson. And Joel found a writer [who] wrote the screenplay, and that was it. We got it made. In fact, that was a movie Bernie Brillstein green-lit when I was under contract at Lorimar.
AVC: Vanity was one of your costars in the film.
CW: Yes. The lovely Vanity. Remembered by many, many, many more men for being in Action Jackson than they remember me! [Laughs.]
AVC: Presumably you anticipated that it had the potential to be an action franchise.
CW: I was hoping so, yeah. But Lorimar sold the lot to Sony and sold the library to Warner Bros., and that was that. It never resurfaced again, unfortunately.
AVC: Since you brought it up, how did you end up in Predator?
CW: I got a call at the time, and Joel wanted me in the movie, so we had a conversation. I had some reservations, and he said, “Oh, we can work that all out.” And he did, and it wound up being one of the best experiences in making movies I’ve ever had, and one of the most enjoyable. It was also crazy and wild, being in Puerto Vallarta, in the jungles in the day and the nightclubs and the bars at night. [Laughs.] And the beach on our days off? I mean, come on. What a great situation. One of the first-class movie producers in this town, Joel Silver, and a great director in John McTiernan—wow. We just had a great time. Well, I did, anyway.
AVC: You said you had some initial reservations. What did he have to do to turn things around for you?
CW: Well, the role at the time was just really thin. It hadn’t really, in my mind, been fleshed out, and I just didn’t see—I mean, why me, you know? In fact, I think the character was originally written for a very different kind of actor, and not a physical actor. But Jim and John Thomas—the writers of that—and I talked a couple of times, and those guys really made some adjustments. And then, of course, on set, with McTiernan, there were things we worked out, and—it all gelled. I think it ultimately all worked for that sort of iconic, larger-than-life group of macho guys out there for whom those adjustments were made. I was very pleased to have been a part of it and to have been involved with all of those other guys who were in it.
CW: Force 10 From Navarone. Yes! With the great Robert Shaw, as well as Edward Fox, Franco Nero, Harrison Ford, Barbara Bach, Richard Kiel, and a host of wonderful British actors. It was really an interesting experience—five months in Europe shooting a movie in multiple locations, including the then-Yugoslavia, Malta, Isle Of Jersey, and in the U.K. A pretty long shoot, an intense movie, but a lot of wonderful actors on that.
AVC: Was that the first big movie that you filmed post-Rocky?
CW: Was it? [Pauses.] No, it would’ve been—well, first came that small role in Close Encounters, but then I did a movie for Rankin-Bass, who were mostly known for animation. But they did this live-action movie, and we had a Japanese director [Tom Kotani], but—I can’t remember the name of it.
AVC: I only know this because it’s available on DVD: The Bermuda Depths.
CW: That’s right! Yeah, it was a sci-fi movie. But I think I did that, and then I went off to Europe and did Force 10. I think that’s the chronology there.
AVC: You made a point of mentioning Robert Shaw. Were you fortunate enough to have a few drinks with him while you were working with him?
CW: I spent so much time with Robert. I had a lot of time with him. In fact, the first night there, I spent time with Robert and his first daughter, Deborah, who I’m actually still acquainted with today. She’s married to a producer out here in Los Angeles, and I see them from time to time, because she has a company that does press for foreign movies. But, yeah, I had a lot of time with Robert, and I really, really liked him. A brilliant man. Absolutely brilliant. Off-camera, we had social time and family time together, and he was just tremendous.
CW: I loved it. Absolutely loved it. That was something that I not only enjoyed doing but wanted to do more of. Being on a show of that type, that tone, with a character like that—oh, where I could’ve taken that thing. The role was short-lived, unfortunately, but it was a whole lot of fun.
AVC: Clearly, someone cared enough about the character to bring him back several seasons after his initial appearance.
CW: Yeah, exactly! I wish it had been more, but what a wonderful show, and I’m just happy to have been a part of it at all.
AVC: When you got the role of Apollo Creed in Rocky, you were still effectively an unknown. How did you get the part? Was it just a standard audition situation?
CW: Yeah, they—meaning the producers—didn’t know who I was, and I think they were looking for—either a seasoned actor, or a boxer who could act, or some celebrity or movie star at the time who would’ve been good in the role, because nobody else really was a big name. I mean, Burgess Meredith was the biggest name that was in it, you know? And he wouldn’t have been considered “box office” at the time. So I went in to audition in a cattle call with God knows how many other young guys and was just fortunate enough to say the right things, do the right thing, and be physically right for the movie. The right guy at the right place at the right time. That’s really what the case was for that. And thank God it happened.
AVC: Over the course of the franchise, do you have any particular favorite moments that stand out?
CW: Well, you know, being onstage with James Brown wasn’t a bad thing. [Laughs.] That was probably one of the pinnacles. Are you kidding? Being on the same stage as James Brown, and having James Brown walk over and slap hands and give you dap? That is too cool, man. Come on! And for me to dance while James Brown is singing? Just—come on. I grew up idolizing James Brown, as most of us did. If you were a black kid growing up, listening to R&B, listening to James Brown was like going to church. So being onstage with him? I couldn’t have dreamed that up. That’s one of those moments in my life that I cherish.
AVC: When the decision was made to kill off Apollo in Rocky IV, were you okay with it?
CW: Of course not! [Laughs.] But what are you going to do? That’s the way it was written, man, and that ended Apollo Creed. Hey, Apollo Creed is dead, but long live Apollo—he’s not going away anytime soon, that’s for sure, because he’s in the iconography, and I’m happy to have had a chance to portray such a vibrant character in such a great series.