More than 30 years after its release, Alex Cox’s cult classic “Repo Man” still holds up with its truly authentic punk attitude and black humor. This was proven to be the case when a special screening of the movie was held at the New Beverly Cinema which brought out many fans who were eager to see some of the actors that starred in it. Among them was the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton who plays Bud, the Mr. Miyagi or Yoda to Emilio Estevez’s Otto. Also there was Tracey Walter who played the philosopher of mechanics, Miller, Olivia Barash who played Otto’s would-be girlfriend, Leila, and Del Zamora as Lagarto, one of the Rodriguez brothers.
“Repo Man” is so defiantly punk and proudly refuses to fit into the realm of regular mainstream entertainment. Never politically correct, it delves into a highly exaggerated, not to mention intense, depiction of the life of a repossession agent. Watching it makes you realize that there are not enough movies like this these playing at the local multiplex. We need something to balance out all these watered down blockbusters that comes to us like McDonald’s Happy Meals from the world of corporate cinema. This movie was actually intended to be a UCLA student film, but somehow it managed to become something much bigger than that.
The actors came out immediately after the end credits had concluded onscreen, and they looked really happy to be at the New Beverly. Stanton, however, looked like he was three sheets to the wind and occasionally spoke about things that were not really related to “Repo Man.” At one point he even asked, “Can I smoke in here?” The other actors sympathetically told him that they weren’t sure the theater would allow him to smoke. “We can’t smoke in here?” Stanton said, “That’s fucking nonsense!” The crowd couldn’t help but laugh as Stanton looked like he was perfectly prepared to keep smoking for the rest of his days.
Stanton said he couldn’t remember exactly how he got involved in “Repo Man,” and added this lack of memory up to being one of his “senile” moments. Walter, however, said he got his role after having previously worked with producer Michael Nesmith on “Timerider.” Barash said she was originally encouraged not to do the movie on the advice of her agents as they didn’t know the people involved in it very well, and they thought it might be dangerous for her to even go to the audition. But Barash was and still is a huge punk rock fan, and she got immediately sold on “Repo Man” upon seeing that bands like Black Flag were going to be involved. She even told us that Iggy Pop, who composed the movie’s theme song, was her neighbor in the apartment building she lived in back then.
Zamora didn’t say exactly how he got cast, but he did remember how Cox got Nesmith involved as a producer. Simply put, Nesmith’s car had gotten repossessed so he could relate to those car owners who were not paying up on what they bought. Zamora also talked about how Cox got both Stanton and Estevez involved in “Repo Man.” Basically Cox caught up with Estevez and told him Stanton was already connected to the movie even though he wasn’t at that point, and then he went to Stanton and told him Estevez was connected to the film even though he wasn’t. Suffice to say, both actors did become involved.
Stanton then went on to say that he and Cox didn’t always get along. During the shooting of “Repo Man,” Cox got so sick and tired of Stanton telling the actors what to do and threatened to fire him on the spot. To this Stanton replied, “Kiss my ass! Fire me so I can get paid!” Later on Stanton asked Zamora to let Cox, whom Zamora is still in touch with, know that he’s not mad at him anymore and that he would welcome him as an honored guest the next time he saw him.
“Repo Man” also had an abundance of generic food and drink items on display, and the audience couldn’t help but laugh at just how openly generic they all were. Product placements are usually reserved for big budget movies that are more likely to be bland and inoffensive. Zamora said they really had no money so they did talk with companies who were willing to do product placements in the movie. And then they read the script… What they ended up using was a generic brand from Ralphs Supermarket, one of the most dominant of supermarket chains in Southern California today. Of course, had “Repo Man” been made today, Ralphs might not have been as inclined to be involved.
In the end, Zamora and Walter said the art directors did the majority of the work and succeeded in creating the world of the movie which was very convincing despite the low budget. Then Stanton spoke up again and asked who Zamora played in “Repo Man,” and he answered that he played Lagarto, one of the Rodriguez brothers, to which Harry replied, “How many brothers were there?”
Speaking of the Rodriguez brothers, Stanton’s character of Bud has this intense confrontation where he wields a baseball bat which he threatens to bash the brothers with. Stanton said Cox gave him a rubber bat to use but that he wanted to work with a real one instead, and this led to a fight between the two of them. Zamora remembered this moment on set and said that Stanton was under control, but Stanton, who was starting to remember more of the filming, made it bluntly clear that he was really crazy and didn’t have any idea of what he was doing.
Walter was asked about his famous “shrimp monologue” scene, and he said it was originally meant to be just an audition piece. It wasn’t intended to be in the film, but Walter fought for it. Indeed, it makes for one of the most memorable moments in “Repo Man” as his character of Miller describes the way he sees things:
“A lot o’ people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch o’ unconnected incidents ‘n things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice o’ coincidence that lays on top o’ everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”
To this day, Walter says that every once in a while he runs into someone who utters one of his signature lines from “Repo Man” like, “John Wayne was a fag!” But of course, the real signature line of “Repo Man” really belongs to Stanton’s character of Bud who says, “The life of a repo man is always intense.”
One audience member asked the actors if they still talk to Estevez after all these years. Zamora and Walter said Estevez still works, but more as a producer and director these days because that’s where his passion lies. Estevez still acts occasionally, but it apparently doesn’t interest him as much as it used to.
Wrapping up the evening, the actors were asked if they knew they were making something special during the filming of “Repo Man.” Some of them believed they were, but Stanton bluntly said, “I didn’t give a shit if it was special while making it.” Despite his apparent demeanor and not being able to remember his entire experience on this particular movie, Stanton still had us laughing hysterically. Never did he once try to ruin anyone’s’ appreciation of “Repo Man.” Whether he realizes it or not, no one could have played Bud better than him.
Many were in agreement when Stanton said that both “Repo Man” and “Sid & Nancy” were truly the peak of Cox’s directing career. We haven’t heard as much from him since then, but Barash said he just finished making a quasi-sequel called “Repo Chick” and that she has a cameo in it. However, this has not stopped Universal Pictures from sending Cox cease and desist letters as they insist that only they have sequel rights to “Repo Man.” Still, Cox has been showing it at festivals so it looks like nothing is going to stop him.
Before everyone got up and applauded, another audience member asked a question which brought to mind one of Bud’s great lines from “Repo Man,” “Is there any good place around here to get sushi and not pay?” Stanton left us with his best answer of the evening, “That’s where we’re going right now.”