You’ve seen his face, you know his voice, and if you don’t know him by name yet, it’s way past time you learned.
Rhys-Davies is inarguably one of the most prolific and recognizable character actors of the last several decades. From his unforgettable roles as Gimli in the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy and Viscount Mabrey in “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” to General Leonid Pushkin in Bond film, “The Living Daylights,” and the lovably loyal Indiana Jones sidekick Sallah, Rhys-Davies steps into every role with seemingly effortless fervor.
In his latest film, “Camera Store,” Rhys-Davies takes on the role of Pinky Steuben, a character that is equal parts affable and approachable, yet a bit rogue and distasteful. Steuben is a character deviation for the actor, yet in his studied and knowledgeable manner, Rhys-Davies truly brings various character facets into clear focus throughout the film.
A Role of Departure
Something remarkable happens when the viewer encounters Pinky Steuben in his first scene. Initially one sees Rhys-Davies; robust, larger than life and with a swagger that we all know and love. While coming to work at his daily grind, the character of Pinky encounters new seasonal employee, Pete (Justin Lieberman). Pinky recalls an interesting story to Pete from his character’s earlier career when he acted onstage in London with Sean Connery.
Anyone who remembers Rhys-Davies as Sallah in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” will get a good chuckle from the on-screen recollection. To his credit as an actor, when I heard the Connery story told in “Camera Store,” I ran to Google to fact check to see if perhaps this story might actually be true! After a few moments on screen, the initial Rhys-Davies persona crumbles away to reveal Pinky; a man stuck, a bit broken and with his vices.
The rich characters and the writing of the screenplay attracted the actor to “Camera Store.”
“I read it first the first time and I thought, ‘Actually, it’s quite well-written, but it’s very dark, isn’t it?’” he says. “Oh, dear me! It’s a bit bleak, but there was something about the writing. I read it again, and it just got under my skin.”
The film was shot in 2015 outside of New Orleans in an older mall that perfectly reflects the 1994 era in the film.
“It’s a life spiraling out of control,” says Rhys-Davies of his character. “Both the Larroquette character and my character are both drowning. His is a quiet sort of unarticulated despair; fighting for dignity and internalizing his pain. Mine is the drinking too much, too loud character and he knows it.”
At this point in the interview Rhys-Davies dropped the f-bomb in his description of the character and it was nothing short of completely charming when it comes with that distinguished accent.
In one pivotal scene, Pinky springs to life as the fire of the salesman he was in years’ past reinvigorates him. In a scene that features creative quick cuts and Rhys-Davies’ command of facial expression and enthusiasm, the audience is afforded a rich look into who Pinky once was and might be again someday.
The Times They are A-Changin’
The film is set during a time when digital photography was getting ready to supplant traditional film. The viewer is quick to realize that instant film and photography as it was known back then would change categorically, much as the characters in the film do on one Christmas Eve night in the retail store.
Rhys-Davies has spent a fair amount of time in the United States and recently recounted a recent beautiful trip he had traveling from San Diego and to Arizona, where he did a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. He explained that America is incredibly beautiful.
“I love driving America,” he notes. “What a jewel you’ve got. The real America isn’t LA and it isn’t New York. The real golden heart of America is in between the two. That America is hurting. When we shot ‘Camera Store’ in New Orleans exactly a year ago, we filmed in a shopping mall and we had the entire wing to ourselves because it was unoccupied.”
In between takes he recounts that he would stroll through the mall; lamenting the loss of stores and jobs not only in the New Orleans area, but elsewhere in the U.S.
“You’d be hard-pressed to see 5, 10 or 15 people shopping in the mall on a given day,” he observes.
The Elephant in the Room
There has been much chatter about the fifth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. Will Rhys-Davies reprise one of his most memorable roles as Sallah?
“Well, what I sayeth is that there has been no gentle feeling out as to whether I’d like to do it or not,” he gracefully answers. “Here’s the thing -- if it’s not set in Egypt, then we have a bit of a job getting Sallah there, but good writers can do anything.”
He added that the character of Sallah possesses a more important attribute than simply being Indy’s friend.
“There is also this caveat,” he explains. “When you think of it, Sallah is probably the last culturally popular Arab in the last 50 years of Western culture. Our perception of Arabs has changed. Perhaps we are no longer willing to see a decent, honest, loyal partner with that face?”
Certainly America could embrace this colorful and fun character yet again.
About the Production
A Provocator Production of a Scott Marshall Smith film, “Camera Store” stars John Larroquette, John Rhys-Davies, Justin Lieberman, Laura Silverman, Paul Ben-Victor and Maddie McCormick, with David James Elliott and Cheryl Ladd. Written, directed and produced by Scott Marshall Smith, along with producers Robert Reed Peterson, Albert T. Dickerson III and Nicholas Cafritz. Director of photography is Yaron ‘Ron’ Levy. Editor is Ryan Dufrene. Composer is Justin Burnett. Production Designer is Nate Jones and Costume Designer is Jillian Kreiner. Special Effects Coordinator is Dave Nami and Stunt Coordinator is Kevin Beard. “Camera Store” was filmed entirely on location at the Esplanade Mall in Kenner, Louisiana, in the fall of 2015. Visit www.camerastorefilm.com for additional information.
John Rhys-Davies Behind the Scenes ‘Camera Store’ Featurette