I Was a Double for Claudia!

Gail Fear and Alan Parker

An Interview with Gail Fear by Dale Pierce

You were born in England , correct? If so, how did you end up in Spain and involved with the Spanish cinema?

I realized that being an actress would be a long, hard slog with possibly nothing at the end of the road. So I decided to go to Spain, work as an extra, get a good tan and eat good food. It was great; I did it for four years.

Presently, you write books, scripts and have your own production company?

After a while, in 1970-something, I went to the other side of the camera – working in production – and really enjoyed it. When I came back to Ibiza in 1990 I started to do production services.

When was this company formed and what type of productions do you do?

I worked in freelance for several years, then had a production company before going back to freelance in 1999. I prefer it to all the paperwork involved in running a company.

Since you arrived in Spain at the height of the western film era, you worked as a double on several westerns, correct? What are some of the titles?

It is a long time ago and, unfortunately, my book was lost in a move many years ago. But here are some that I remember: Once Upon a Time in the West, El Condor with Lee van Cleef, Tepepa with Orson Welles, one with James Garner that I think was called something like A Man Called Sledge, 100 Rifles, and a whole bunch of Italian movies whose names I cannot really remember (Giuliano Gemma was one of the stars)

Most notable was your work as a double for Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon A Time in the West?

Yes, it was great. I found my old contract in a book a few years ago. I had forgotten how much I made but for those days it was an enormous amount.

What was your impression of Sergio Leone as a director?

Well, in those days I did not understand a lot about directing, but I remember that he would do what appeared to be really difficult shots with lots of people and things in next to no time, but would spend hours and hours taking a close up of eyes or hands. He would stand and, when he got excited, would sort of scrunch up his hands really fast over and over again.

And of Cardinale?

She was absolutely great, really kind and generous

Did you get to meet and mingle with many of the other stars from this classic?

I met them all. Charles Bronson was also really nice, as was Henry Fonda. But his wife was a pain in the neck and would wander round the set shouting “Oh Foonddaa, where are you?”

For curiosity, you can find much on the big stars from this era in film and the regulars, but little on the extras and doubles. Do you recall any other extras or doubles on the Once Upon A Time in the West set, who they were, or what they did? They may well have escaped any attention at all?

All I can remember is that Charlie Bronson had a double was Spanish (I think). I would love to be able to hunt down people from that era and see what they have done – who carried on in the biz, who did what etc. I posted once on IMDB but got no replies.

Any other interesting stories about your involvement on this and other western films?

Yes, but you are too young to listen to them!

It is true, is it not, that though these films were titled Spaghetti Westerns and branded as being from Italy, many were shot in Spain, with Spanish actors and directors?

About 50/50 really. There were a lot of co-productions, obviously, but as far as directors go all I can remember are Vic Morrow, Orson Welles and Sergio Leone. The rest are lost in a blur.

Did you actually like this genre or was it, for you, simply a place to find needed work at the time?

To begin with it was just for the kick, and then I got to like it. I think the western is due to make a comeback on the screen, even if it i””s not cowboys and Indians – but shot in a western style, if you know what I mean

Do you have any present or upcoming film projects you are working on?

My last film job was UPM on Its All Gone Pete Tong, which was shot in Ibiza last August. Unfortunately, we do not do a lot of films on the Island. I am in the process of writing a couple of scripts; a couple of producers liked the ideas, so…

In Spain , whom do you consider some of the best directors of the moment, as opposed to some of the better known from the past, such as Romero Merchant, Iquino, Ossorio or whoever?

The truth is I really do not like modern Spanish films all that much – Amenabar would be the man if I had to choose one.

Have regulations on the film industry changed a great deal since the Franco era?

Well, I always say “never buy a second hand car from someone who works in movies”. Face it; if you have the money you can do the job.

Anything else you would like to talk about that we may have missed?

Only that if you could track down any of the other extras / doubles etc I would love to get in touch with them.

Closing comments?

Yeah – when I finish my scripts and all the other things I have clogging up my computer we will talk again. Thanks a lot, bye!

Thanks to Gail Fear and Dale Pierce for this interview

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