Exclusive Interview: John Milius on ‘Milius’

The legendary filmmaker explains what's wrong with the Red Dawn remake and where he would have gone with the Conan franchise.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

On January 11, Epix premieres the documentary Milius, about the one and only writer/director John Milius. Featuring anecdotes from Milius colleagues and contemporaries like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a who’s who of others, the doc includes legendary stories of Milius pulling guns on executives and actors (pacific Martin Sheen included), battling Dino De Laurentiis to cast Schwarzenegger as Conan and even his involvement in creating UFC.

Milius himself appears in an archival interview as he is now recovering from a stroke, and so could only conduct this interview via e-mail. I submitted my questions and Milius responded, true to form. Even now, his short answers show the same take no shit attitude as the writer of Apocalypse Now and the U.S.S. Indianapolis speech from Jaws, and when he got rolling, you can feel the bravado of the director of Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn.
 

CraveOnline: If CGI had been available to you, would you have made your films any differently?

John Milius: Lawrence of Arabia didn’t need CGI, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.
 

So much action today is shaky from handheld cameras. What do you think of this style of filming? Would you have liked to employ it?

No. Its awful.
 

There are always rumors of a five hour cut of Apocalypse Now. Are you aware of this footage? 

Yes.
 

What material from your script was filmed and could still be recovered?

You’d have to ask Francis [Coppola]. He is diligent, he probably has a lot of material that’s unreleased on all his films.
 

When did you become aware that the U.S.S. Indianapolis speech from Jaws was quoted and remembered by others? 

Right away people told me it was a favorite. Especially people in the military really enjoy that speech. I love what Shaw did with it, its great. Steven remarked about how long it was when I gave it to him originally, it was so long!
 

You are credited with story, so how involved were you with the infamous 1941 with your buddies Spielberg and Zemeckis, and were you surprised how it turned out?

It was my idea originally. It didn’t turn out as we’d imagined.  
 

We hear how Dino De Laurentiis didn’t want Schwarzenegger for Conan, and you suggested Dustin Hoffman. How did you ultimately convince Dino to hire Schwarzenegger? 

I insisted. There was no one else for that part.
 

If you had been allowed to direct the second Conan, what would it have had in common with Conan the Destroyer, and what would have been completely different? 

The only thing it would have in common is that Arnold would definitely be in it. As for what would be different, Conan the sequel would be epic and brutal and a very serious movie. We need to know what happens to Conan when he finally becomes King. The first one was a revenge story, Conan avenges the death of his family and the next one should have been equally as important in its scope, the story was meant to have gravity and focus. And certainly nothing like the newer Conan. Even Conan the Destroyer is better than the newer one. I actually wrote a sequel to Conan the Barbarian and I can tell you that it would have been a great movie. My sequel deals with Conan as King Conan.
 

Red Dawn was the first PG-13 movie. Did you know about this new rating while you were making the film? Did it give you more freedom with violence or less?

I wasn’t thinking of the rating while I was writing or making the film, no.
 

Flight of the Intruder and Farewell to the King are not talked about as much as Conan, Red Dawn and Big Wednesday. Are these later films equally important to you?

Yes. I think the culture had changed and that is why my films were less accepted. I still think those are also great films, Farewell to the King especially.
 

What did you think of the Red Dawn remake? Would it have been any better if they’d kept the enemy China instead of changing it to Korea?

I haven’t seen the new Red Dawn and I don’t think I ever will. The Red Dawn I made, there was a superpower enemy which at that time was the USSR, I never really thought about it beyond that. Neither China nor Korea make any sense. If we were making Red Dawn the video game, maybe, but Red Dawn the film was about the impending possible reality, which at that time was an actual fear of the Soviet Union invading this country. People actually thought that way, that’s why I made that movie, that’s why people liked it. The fear was real and it played on that, that’s what made it an exciting movie. In the original when the Russians parachute into the school and the kids see it, that was a real idea at the time, that’s what made it exciting. I don’t think there’s many kids sitting around thinking about Korea landing on our schools.

Steven made Close Encounters which was about very real encounters with aliens. In this case I made a movie of the same vein but with Russians. It’s like a zombie movie with Russians. That’s what it was like at the time. People were paranoid about aliens, and people were paranoid about Russians. It was Close Encounters with Cold War Russians.
 

Who would make a good director for your Genghis Khan script?

Mel Gibson.
 

When was the last time you were able to go surfing? Where was it? What do you remember about your last surf? 

When I was 50. When I reached 50 it was time to stop surfing. There was a big swell at the point, 8 ft waves. It was a great day. Laird Hamilton was there.
 

What is the best cigar on the market right now?

Monte Cristo 2.
 

What is your favorite John Milius story that didn’t make it into the documentary?

There are many. The romance!
 

How gratified are you by the success of UFC and UFC stars now making it as actors too?

Back when I made Conan, no one had ever made a movie like that with real athletes. Sandahl was a dancer and Jerry was a surfer, and Arnold was Mr. Olympia. They are serious, hardworking people, they work harder than anyone. People in the UFC are the same. Seeing Arnold go forth and become governor, it’s a great feeling. For me the UFC is like that.


Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.