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Santa Barbara A Tribute of Love to Roy London

Santa Barbara- With several of his former students on hand, the late acting coach Roy London was feted during the Santa Barbara Film Festival showing of "Special Thanks to Roy London". Actors Sharon Stone, Gary Shandling, Julie Warner (who is also a producer of the film), Elizabeth Berkley, Arye Gross, and Rhonda Aldrich joined producers Tim Healy, Karen Montgomery, and director/producer at Santa Barbara's Victoria Hall Theatre on Saturday to screen the film. Afterward, film introducer Stone and company held a lively Q and A session.

Twelve years after his death, acting coach Roy London continues to thrive. His teaching still resonates in the work of actors like Academy Award winner Geena Davis, and Golden Globe winners Sharon Stone and Brad Pitt. And after a nearly five year “labor of love” (as former student Julie Warner put it), the love of his life, some close friends, and an army of his former students have put together a fitting tribute in the form of the documentary film “Special Thanks to Roy London.”
Although it is not a premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (it debuted in the Tribeca Festival in Manhattan last year), with its star studded attendance “Special Thanks to Roy London” will be treated as such during its Saturday showing at the Victoria Hall Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara. Along with the producers and director of the film, actors such as Sharon Stone, Gary Shandling, Lois Chiles, and Arye Gross will attend. Stone will introduce the film, which is directed by Christopher Monger, and produced by Karen Montgomery, Julie Warner, and London’s former life partner Tim Healy.
This kind of attention usually reserved for the red carpets of Hollywood and not a smaller art house theater, is indicative of the feelings (which the viewer will see) the participants had for their coach.
It is also apparent in this tribute from his loved ones and students that they have learned one of his major tomes, revealing ones self. Over 50 actors were interviewed for the film that took three years to complete.

London, after struggling with his acting on the East Coast, moved to Los Angeles and began to coach others in the craft. After enjoying a small modicum of success, his career took off in 1989 when Davis, after winning an Oscar for her performance in “The Accidental Tourist”, personally thanked London in her acceptance speech. His answering machine apparently became so filled with messages, it stopped working.
The reason for such praise is because his teaching was unique and unprecedented, according to his former student Warner. Warner, who has several movie (including “Doc Hollywood” and “Tommy Boy”) and television (“Family Practice”) credits, said that his teaching was more about revealing yourself in the moment within the character, than interpreting the lines.
“Roy would really want you to go out there, in the scariest of places, to learn and live in the role,” Warner said. “We go over it repetitively until we got it.
His professional good karma stretched out into his personal life when he met Healy.
“After he came to California, his life came full circle when he got together with Tim,” Chiles said.
Healy agreed.
“I think he was ready for a whole new world,” Healy said.
The couple enjoyed a partnership that lasted over a decade. The relationship took an unexpected turn when London learned that he was HIV positive. By the time he was 50, he already knew that his time was short so he began to think of a legacy. Healy began to act.
There were a few problems, not the least was the stubbornness of the subject.
“When he was alive, I couldn’t get permission from Roy to film,” Healy said. “I had around thirty minutes of recording from a documentary. This was done without him talking about any specific actors he worked with. The film itself, if someone doesn’t know about acting, and then it seems circular. But if they do, (the viewer) can see he really gets to the meat of it.”
Selling the product was made more difficult by the lack of material that existed.
“When I would bring it to someone, they would say ‘Great, where is the rest?’” Healy said. “But since Roy didn’t allow anyone in the classroom to tape, let alone take pictures, we didn’t have what they wanted. Plus he was insistent that the project get funding.”
London passed away with lymphoma in 1993, and was buried in the Santa Barbara Cemetery. The project was virtually forgotten and we all fell out of touch.
“It was too painful to even address,” Chiles said. “I think it was too close.”
“A little while after the funeral, a few of us talked about doing something,” Montgomery said. “But we all felt it was too soon to do anything, especially Tim. That was understandable, we just weren’t ready. I definitely wasn’t ready. ”
But the idea of making a tribute was never too far away. Despite his reluctance to go to a place that may release a torrent of sadness and grief, Healy kept thinking about the project.
“After a while, I had resigned to myself if I got flush, I would pay for it myself to do it the way I want to do it,” Healy said. “I was thinking of making a DVD or a Web site so people would look at it, while allowing his students to contribute on their own time.
For years, the project remained not only in the back of Healy and Montgomery’s mind, but of his former student Warner’s as well.
The actress had received the tape of London’s interview from a friend. In a roundabout way, she came into contact with Healy, Montgomery, Chiles, and Rita Taggert.
“I wasn’t as close to Roy as Karen, Lois, and most especially Tim were,” Warner said. “But I really felt that we needed to make this film. My boyfriend (Rhino Films President) Steve (Nemeth) encouraged us to make a documentary
Also included in the group was director/producer Monger. Monger, who has several producing and directing credits including “The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain” (producer), was ironically London’s coach in the teacher’s only foray into directing. In 1992, “Diary of a Hit Man” played in the SBIFF and won the audience award.
The movie was named such because of a tribute Shandling after every episode of his series “The Larry Sanders Show.” The principle shooting of the film was done over a ten day period. Single interviews with Davis, Stone, Shandling, and a few others followed in about a year’s time. They would then be spliced together into one film. Thinking they had only “about 15 minutes” (Monger) of usable film, they were surprised to learn that they had over four hours worth of quality footage.
“When you see actors being interviewed, they are usually selling a movie,” Monger said. “Or they are selling themselves, trying to get a job. There is nothing wrong with that. I’m not knocking that. That is there job. That is part of being a star, selling you.”
In this film, they are not doing that. You see people who are trying to be straightforward (on who Roy is). I felt a lot of people came to testify. ‘I was there. This is what I saw.’ And there was no pressure, like ‘you have to use this bit Chris.’ There was none of that. The actors spoke easily and freely.”
With the interviews done, Monger decided that there would be no narrator.
“I didn’t want one voice to overshadow any of the others,” he explained.
While Monger did all of the interviews off-camera and away from the microphone, the subject of London’s death had Anderson and Warner going to another room. Healy stayed away all together.
“I really didn’t want to hear these stories again, I already lived them,” Healy said.
“I couldn’t sit through the interviews because here was this guy who learned how to love unconditionally, who I was with, and now he’s gone and then have to listen to people talk about it…”
After some discussion, it was decided that this particular subject would be covered in the movie.
“I am sure it was difficult for Tim, Warner said. “We really wanted to focus most of it on his teaching. But I really felt that this was too important to leave out because it reveals a lot about someone who had only two short interviews for us to work with. And it allows people to express that they really miss Roy. ”
*Writers note: In the film, Stone’s explanation of one of her final visits with London is worthy of an award …if it wasn’t real. I was most touched by the interview of Chiles near the end. (Hint: Bring the tissues.) The final part of the movie embraced what was surely a difficult moment for those involved in the project; the death of their loved one. This allows them to reveal themselves in front of the camera while not being able to hide in a character or role they play. It is something that Roy London surely would be proud of.
By Mike Takeuchi

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