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Scots movie maestro Michael Caton Jones has revealed how he sweet- talked Bruce Willis into appearing in his latest hit ... by promising him a few HAIR-raising experiences.

The Broxburn-born director lured the Die Hard star into the lead role as a master-of-disguise assassin in The Jackal by helping Bruce lose his chrome-dome look.

Michael laughs: "You ask any bald man if he wants the chance to put some wigs on - Bruce loved it. He was determined to do something here that would stretch him - and I was determined he wouldn't do his trademark smirks.

"He had no glamour problems doing it at all and it was a lot of fun concocting all these different looks for him and giving them all these different backgrounds.

"My personal favourite is Charlie Murdoch because he doesn't look like Bruce Willis at all.

"He has curly ginger hair, a moustache and thick milkbottle glasses. We padded Bruce up in a fat suit and gave him a false nose. When he arrived on set, the crew didn't recognise him."

Now The Jackal - which stars Richard Gere as a convicted terrorist who teams up with FBI agent Sidney Poitier to try to stop the hitman - has shot to the top of the US box office charts.

Its success has confirmed Caton Jones as one of Hollywood's hottest talents

And it means Scottish directors have been responsible for the top American film for four of the past five weeks. Former Cardiac Arrest director Jim Gillespie's surprise smash I Know What You Did Last Summer spent three weeks at the top.

As far as Caton Jones is concerned, his Scots upbringing is one of the reasons he's so successful.

He explains: "I think the upbringing I got as a kid has stood me in good stead.

"Success doesn't come to everybody -you've got to work your a**e off. And I think the Scottish combination of belligerence and hard work has eventually paid off."

He also reckons his strong accent makes him a standout when pitching to the movie studios, who listen to what he says - even though they sometimes have difficulty with his West Lothian burr.

He said: "That's what makes me unusual out here - I speak my mind. I think they find that refreshing - even if they don't always understand what I'm saying."

Michael still keeps in touch with home and the staunch Labour supporter took time out to fly back to Broxburn to help local MP Robin Cook campaign for votes in the run- up to the General Election.

He says: "I like Robin Cook very much -he fights the good fight and I believe what the guy had to say. It was time to stand up and be counted."

That he should get involved in politics is perhaps ironic since it was the story of a scandal which brought down a government that shot Michael into the big league.

Beginning his career with Scandal - the story of how Christine Keeler's affair with War Minister John Profumo led to the downfall of Harold Macmillan's Tory government in 1963 - Michael has worked with some of Hollywood's biggest stars in a variety of movies.

He steered Michael J. Fox through the comedy Doc Hollywood and persuaded Liam Neeson to romp through Scotland in Rob Roy. He's also launched the acting career of crooner Harry Connick Jr in Memphis Belle and gave Titanic teen heart- throb Leonardo DiCaprio his first leading role opposite Robert DeNiro in This Boy's Life.

Michael admits: "He was about 15 when I met him. I saw about 400 boys for that role and I knew it had to be him. I'm really proud of Leo, he's done well."

After a bunch of critically acclaimed and often hugely profitable movies, Michael Caton Jones isn't doing too badly, either.

His latest hit - the story of a cold-blooded gunman being pursued by government agents - is loosely based on the 1973 thriller The Day Of The Jackal.

Originally, it was to carry the same name as the original, prompting a legal wrangle between studio bosses and The Day Of The Jackal director Fred Zinnemann, who died last March aged 89.

But Michael says: "I haven't actually seen the original film. As soon as I knew I was going to do this, I stayed away because I wasn't making a remake.

"But I don't care what it's called. They're different films."

In his dollars 60million non-remake, the storyline has been given a 1990s overhaul. Now Willis has the Edward Fox role of the hired assassin of unknown name and origin.

In the original, the target was French President Charles de Gaulle, but in the 1990s Willis's character has his sights set on a high-profile Washington figure.

Initially, the film was to have starred Matthew McConaughey and Liam Neeson as the assassin and his pursuer, but the actors couldn't fit it in their schedules.

Then Bruce Willis and Richard Gere made it known they'd seen the Scots director's films and were big fans.

Michael particularly liked the idea of casting Willis as a baddie. He explains: "Of all the action heroes, he's probably the best actor, but he's never played a villain before.

"Bruce is usually the guy who saves an entire building full of innocent people."

And The Jackal caused gasps in American cinemas ... when Willis had his first screen kiss with a man.

One of his disguises takes Bruce's character into a gay bar, where he seduces a White House pen- pusher with a passionate gay kiss.

Michael admits: "I really enjoyed taking this very macho action star and making him tongue another guy. And it was a very brave thing for Bruce to do."

Casting Willis meant finding a good guy of equal weight who would not be blown off-screen by Bruce.

So Richard Gere was given the role of Declan Mulqueen, one of only a handful of people to have seen the chameleon- like killer. Since Mulqueen is also a convicted IRA terrorist, Gere's role is bound to cause controversy. But Michael says the reasons for making the character an Irish activist were practical, not provocative.

He insists: "At the end of the day, it's not a documentary, it's a movie. The film was never about the IRA. It's about someone who is a member of a terrorist organisation and it could have been anywhere.

"But it was easier to make him Irish because they speak English there. "

He adds: "I can't control what people think of my films. I can't influence what people write about it. So I just walk away and go make another one."

His next project, Like Being Killed, which he hopes to write and direct, is set in New York's mean streets. So it looks like Michael won't be back in Scotland in the near future, although he hopes to make more films on home ground.

But after his stint as a canvasser for the Foreign Secretary earlier this year, does Michael plan to do a Sean Connery and make a move into politics himself?

"No!" he laughs. "Politicians are terrible slimy people. Apart from Robin Cook, of course."

Pity that. Michael on the stump with Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis and Leonardo DiCaprio could even have given Big Tam sleepless nights.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Synnot, Siobhan
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 26, 1997
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