One to One with Steven Bauer: Scarface, 80s Hollywood and the World of Breaking Bad

FutureSounds takes you back to Patrick Fakeman’s interview with the one and only Steven Bauer.

Those of you who are readers of Patrick Fakeman will know how much I love Scarface. So you can only imagine my excitement when movie legend, Steven Bauer, agreed to an interview.

Steven has starred in some of the biggest movies and TV shows over the past 40 years. From playing Manny, Tony’s right-hand man in Scarface to Don Eladio in Vince Gillian’s groundbreaking TV shows Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Steven has had a movie and TV career that many would envy and with a number of projects in post production, the acting great is still making his mark. 

So take a seat because we are going to get straight to it and chat to Steven about his amazing career, his iconic roles, working with some of the worlds most exciting directors and how he feels about being an 80s movie and cultural icon. There might also be a few surprises in there too!

PF: First of all, thank you very much Steven for spending some time and talking to us about your amazing career! You’ve stared in so many movies and shows that I consider to be my some of my absolute personal favourites, for many different reasons. Scarface is a stone cold classic with such a great Oliver Stone screenplay and that score! Can you tell me a bit about how it was to work with Brian DePalma, who was already such a seasoned director by the time it came to making Scarface?

SB: Yes, he had directed a few films that were successful, but I was not a fan of his filmmaking style.  I felt too much of the director’s presence in the films themselves… but, he turned out to radically change his approach by allowing the story and the characters to drive the film, not the style so his style ended up being perfect for Scarface. 

Director Brian DePalma with Steven and Al Pacino on the set of Scarface (1983)

PF: Similarly, what interactions did you have with Oliver Stone during the production around what we was looking to see from the screenplay? 

SB: Oliver Stone was not very pleased with the cuts that were made from his original screenplay. So he became a bit of a nuisance to the filmmakers especially Brian.  Him and I did always have a great rapport.  In fact, he brought me 2 of his screenplays hoping after Scarface I would catapult to a star status to get these films made.  Those movies were Born on the 4th of July, and Platoon.

Steven on the set of Scarface (1983) with Al Pacino, Director Brian DePalma and Screen Writer Oliver Stone

PF: I always considered the relationship between Manny and Tony to be one of Manny being the anchor that tried to bring Tony back down from his manic way of making decisions.. I’ve read that you and Al hit it off well in preproduction. How did you find it working together to bring to life the really important relationship between the two characters? 

SB: It’s true that we had perfect chemistry and affinity from the start as people and it translated to the filmmaking process where we just bounced off each other.  It turned out to be a tremendous acting mentorship for me then and the rest of my career.

Steven and Al Pacino in Scarface (1983)

PF: How did you feel about the critical reception it got at the time of its release? It was so split at times that it must have been a challenge to understand how the world was responding to the movie and, let’s be honest, its violence! 

SB: Yes, the film was released at a time when there was tremendous political correctness being applied to the content and graphic nature of films, and Scarface was the epitome of what mainstream film criticism was against.  Therefore it was this way for years that any mention of Scarface brought negative responses from film people.  I felt very dismayed and disillusioned, knowing that it was truly a groundbreaking film and that for the most part audiences excited by the movie. 

Steven in Douglas Day Stewart’s Thief of Hearts (1984)

PF: Not long after Scarface you play the lead Scott Muller in Douglas Day Stewart’s ’Thief of Hearts’, a movie that I think is so underrated and of course was one of the early Simpson / Bruckhiemer productions around time of Beverly Hills Cop.  There are so many examples of Don Simpson and his methods of producing.. What do you remember of the days on the set of that movie and how did it feel to step into the shoes of a lead character? 

SB: The character was a challenge to me because it was nowhere close to my actual nature and core beliefs, but I received a lot of support from Don and Jerry to go all the way with this complex character.  Unfortunately, Don and Jerry were brought the opportunity for Eddie Murphy to step into the role of Axel Foley in ‘Beverly Hills’ Cop near the beginning of filming of TOH.  Therefore they spent most of their time and energy for that film instead. So we lost a lot of support from them and the studio in terms of marketing and release.  It turned out to be a very disheartening process. 

PF: Whilst we are still talking about these two movies, how aware have you been of the success of their scores and soundtracks? As a huge Moroder and Faltermeyer fan I feel that they elevate both Scarface and Thief of Hearts significantly and are part of what makes them great. How do the scores and soundtracks play into your view of the movies once post production ends?

SB: I also was a fan of those composers and I felt that in both cases the scores greatly add to the finished product.  I’ve been pleased throughout the years to have people point that out including my late father who was an enormous fan of the music of Thief of Hearts. 

PF: Staying on the music point, Underground Junction was a project of yours that passed me by here in the UK. I really liked the vibe of the band but I know your long term collaborator and band mate Glenn passed away last year. Are you still making any music? Is there an Underground Junction without him? 

SB: Unfortunately, no that was a moment in time where Glenn and I were able to put together certain individuals who fit the vibe we had in mind.  Those days are long passed, Glenn went on to more great songwriting and producing, and I have generally not had that many opportunities to immerse myself in a musical venture.  I do take special opportunities to play live here in Los Angeles with other great musicians or as a solo act. 

PF: I wanted to talk a little bit about one of the cult movies on your filmography that not many people tend to bring up in conversation with you. Gleaming the Cube! One of those movies that was all seemingly written around a sport, much like Rad and BMX Bandits. What did you think of the premise at the time and how did you find working with Christian Slater? 

SB: Christian was really a joy to work with because he was already a big fan of my work in Scarface, so he was willing to look to me for guidance in our work together.  It’s a funny history that Gleaming the Cube has had, especially since a very young Tony Hawk was in the film and subsequently became such a great star and ambassador for skateboarding.  And im so happy for him as well as Christian in his very prolific career. 

PF: With the part you have played in some of these classic 80s movies, what are your thoughts on being seen as a movie icon of not only that era, but beyond? 

SB: I appreciate it, because I know that in spite of some missed opportunities totally brought on by the turmoil in my personal life during those years, i know that when i did have the chance to take on different roles, I gave 100 percent. It’s nice to be recognized for my work in lower profile productions.

Steven as Don Eladio. First seen in Breaking Bad and then reprising the role for spin off Better Call Saul

PF: What I have always liked about your career is how it has sustained and developed over the decades. Primal Fear is a great example of another great thriller you had a strong part to play in. Breaking Bad and Ray Donovan also signify that move into the TV market when the box set culture came and grabbed us all by the balls! How would you describe that arc of your career and how was it to work with TV writers such as Vince Gilligan? 

SB: I’m absolutely thrilled at the upward trajectory in my recent years especially being chosen by Vince Gilligan to create the role of Don Eladio and have the opportunity to reprise it in Better Call Saul.  Due to the newfound stability in my personal life, I expect this trajectory to continue for the rest of my career. 

PF: The final question for you Steven, which I do like to ask as many people as possible is, what music are you listening to at the moment?! 

SB: I’m listening to classic music.  A lot of Stones, Beatles and Bob Dylan.  The Eagles.  I am thoroughly enjoying the tremendous wealth of documentary footage available on youtube!

I want to say a huge thank you to Steven Bauer for his time and willingness to chat with me and to Julie Suronen at Flicka Entertainment for her help and assistance.

Now you’ll need to excuse me, I have to return some videotapes.

Written by Patrick Fakeman

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