Tony Scott: A Legend Remembered
From "Top Gun" to "Unstoppable," his movies were action-packed masculine crowd-pleasers made all the more memorable for those who knew him by his sense of humor and warmth.
He's a bull, and I am too. Nothing takes him down. We have enormous pain resistance." Those were the last words Tony Scott spoke to this reporter during a conversation in April for a profile of his brother Ridley -- and in the wake of his apparent suicide on Aug. 19 at the age of 68, they have taken on a haunting resonance.
While he was ostensibly talking about Ridley, Tony couldn't help but also speak about himself. The two men -- however different their individual films sometimes were -- couldn't have been closer, exhibiting the tightest of bonds. Ridley, more than six years Tony's elder, cast his younger brother in an early short film, 1965's Boy and Bicycle; Tony followed Ridley to London's prestigious Royal College of Art; and then both became partners in their various commercial and film companies, where they shared a similar obsession. "We are workaholics," Tony told me. "Our drug of choice is work."
They developed their undeniable work ethic while growing up in a working-class family in the north of England, where Tony was born in 1944, toward the end of World War II. Before his birth, he said, his family had been "living in Ealing [just outside London] during the bombing raids that were horrendous, so they were right in the eye of the storm. Then the family moved to the Lake District and I was born in North Shields."
After the war, Ridley, Tony and their eldest brother, Frank (who would enter the merchant marines and die of cancer at age 45), moved to Germany, where their father, Francis, worked until he brought the family back to England and became a docks manager in Stockton-on-Tees.
While the family faced some financial struggles, "We had a brilliant upbringing and we never wanted for anything, even though we went through highs and lows of finances," Tony observed. "Dad was a very gentle, sweet man. Mum was the matriarch and the patriarch of the family. She ran the roost with a steel fist, but at the same time there was respect and love for her. The driving force Ridley and I have comes from Mum, but they were chalk and cheese. There was a real big, sweet heart to her and at the same time a determination and toughness." He added, "We were a very, very tight family."
While Tony and Ridley were each drawn to drawing and art early on, "Frank was different and didn't have any artistic leanings; he was closer to Dad in terms of personality."
Despite their later achievements, the two younger Scotts showed no sign of early brilliance. "Academically, we had no interest; we barely got through," Tony said. "I didn't graduate to the grammar school," the public schools that took the brighter kids. "Our interests lay in sports and painting and drawing and rugby."
Ridley led the way to a career in the arts, forging a path for both. "He has a brilliant photographic eye and is a brilliant technician, and he inspired me to draw," Tony said. "Dad never understood why Ridley wanted to go to art school, and then I came along six years later and wanted to do the same thing."
After failing to get into London's Royal College of Art on his first attempt, Tony studied art in the British city of Leeds, where he made a short film in 1969 based on an Ambrose Bierce story, One of the Missing. Just as Ridley had once cast him in a film, Tony gave his brother a role. "The movie cost 1,000 pounds" (about $1,500), he remembered proudly.
Like Ridley, Tony made commercials for many years before getting his first feature, the 1983 vampire tale The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and David Bowie. And it was another three years before his career really took flight with the box-office success of Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise. Finally, at age 43, Tony had cracked the A-list. But why did it take so long?
"I was finishing eight years at art school and Ridley had opened Ridley Scott Associates and said, 'Come and make commercials and make some money' -- because I owed money left and right and center," Tony explained. "My goal was to make films; but I got sidetracked into commercials and then I took off -- I had 15 years [making them] and it was a blast. We were very prolific, and that was our training ground: You'd shoot 100 days in a year, then we gravitated from that to film."
No matter how different Tony and Ridley's films, their bond remained intact. "We are very close; he is my best friend," Tony said. "It's been a brother-mentor relationship. But Rid and I are as tight as it can get. We are very tight and have had a brilliant relationship."
FRIENDS & COLLEAGUES RECALL TONY SCOTT
Richard Kelly writer/director: "I always felt he had a punk rock spirit. He had this wild sensibility of wanting to push everything to the edge. He was really fearless, whether it was narrative, visual design, music or sound design. Often, a lot of his films wouldn't be appreciated for many years later. I was always very happy when people appreciated his work. I was always rooting for his films to make money so he could push through the system. It's so tragic that we won't have any more Tony Scott films."
Jerry Bruckheimer producer: "He was not only a brilliant filmmaker but a wonderful man and dear friend. He was thoughtful and warm and had an irrepressible sense of humor. I was fortunate to have worked with him for 30 years, an experience that I will always treasure. Tony was a true original, and he will be terribly missed by everyone who knew him. My heart goes out to his family."
Robert Towne writer/director: "When we were doing Days of Thunder in Daytona, I came to the set and Tony and Cruise were parachuting down to the set for a day of shooting. That was typical of Tony. He parachuted down, looked a little dazed by the descent, but he was fine. He got out of the parachute and went to work. He loved excitement. He never seemed to sleep. He'd be doing little drawings for the shots the next day. He had a lot of generosity and warmth, and that spilled over into his characters. I just loved him, everybody did."
Joe Carnahan writer/director: "For all of Tony's bravado and toughness, it was his sensitivity that made him great. You need look no further than Man on Fire to see him at his utmost. To see him redefining his directorial style at the age of 60. What gravitas and guts. He made five or six movies that other directors would proudly claim as their magnum opus."