Star-studded action movies don’t get much more studded with stars than 1978’s The Wild Geese. Filmed, controversially at the time, in South Africa the film finds big screen legends Richard Harris, Richard Burton, and Sir Roger Moore playing mercenaries recruited by Stewart Granger’s sinister merchant banker to rescue the imprisoned president of an central African state. Does all go to plan? It very much does not – and in a manner which involves some of the most thrilling action sequences of the era.
Tomorrow, Severin Films is releasing the Andrew McLaglen-directed film in an extras-packed Blu-ray/DVD set which also includes a documentary about the film’s producer, Euan Lloyd, and a new interview with the movie’s military adviser – and real-life mercenary – Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare, amongst other bonus features.
To mark the occasion, we spoke with Sir Roger Moore about making the film, working with Richards Burton and Harris – and why you should never put a rubber snake in James Bond’s bed.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You made a few films in Africa during the ‘70s, including Shout at the Devil and Gold. But I understand you were really out in the sticks on this production.
SIR ROGER MOORE: Yes, we shot in a place called Tshipise, which was on the then Rhodesian border. We were there for about 3 months. The production company took over an entire health camp, a spa. And there were about five houses on a hill that belonged to the administration staff and they rented those. So Burton had one, I had one, Harris had another, and the other was Andy McLaglen and the writers.
I love the idea of you and Richard Harris and Richard Burton being neighbors.
[Laughs] It was a good idea. If there happened to be a day off you could always entertain. You had a little house, and a kitchen and everything else. It was very nice. And then you could go down to the springs—I think they were sulfur. The only thing you had to watch out for were the snakes.
Speaking of which, could you please tell the story of the time you ended up putting a rubber snake in Richard Harris’ boot?
I came into my little house I thought, “Mmm, there’s something very strange.” So I didn’t just jump into bed, I pulled the sheets back very slowly, and there were rubber spiders and a snake, all inside the bed. And I could hear [Harris] sniggering outside the window, waiting for me to scream. Which I never did, because I found it. But the next night I took the snake and put it in Harris’ boot. Then I listened to him scream in the morning.
Is it true your part almost went to O.J. Simpson because of some confusion in America over the description of your character in the script as being “Black Irish”?
Yeah. “Black Irish,” which one of the American agents thought meant that he was black. He thought OJ Simpson would be perfect. [Laughs]
You had real mercenaries both advising on the film and acting in the movie. What was that like?
Well, we had “Mad Mike,” the Colonel. He really was a soldier and he was in charge of getting the mercenaries that we had. We had a few of them that were rather terrifying. They’d pull their bayonets and you’d be up against the wall with the point of a bayonet at your throat.
Richard Burton and Richard Harris both famously enjoyed a drink. Is it true they stayed on the wagon during the production?
Harris was actually a last minute replacement. I think it was Robert Mitchum who was not available. And Euan Lloyd, the producer, managed to find Harris free but [the financiers] wouldn’t give the closing finance for the film unless Euan Lloyd put half his salary in escrow, and Richard Harris’ salary was in escrow, and it was only released if Andrew McLaglen signed a chit at the end of shooting each day saying that Harris had turned up sober and known his lines. Which was no problem because he was sober. He didn’t drink. Except on one occasion when he came in to what was our club, where we all congregated, and he ordered Irish coffee for everybody. I think he did it about six times. “Irish coffee for everyone!” Which was pretty good. No, Richard Burton and Richard Harris were both marvelous actors – and they tolerated me. [Chuckles]
I believe another of your costars, Ronald Fraser, also stopped drinking during the making of the film—but found something with which to replace the demon booze.
Yeah. I remember Ronnie said, “Ron-Ron can’t drink any more.” And so he discovered gangi, the South African weed, marijuana. He used to put five cigarette papers around…It was about the size of the inside of a toilet roll. And he would be on it from 7 o’clock in the morning. He never drank again, but he was addicted to pot.
I never thought I’d be talking about pot with James Bond.
Neither did I.
You can watch a trailer for The Wild Geese below.