Nearing 50 years on, Stone remains one of the most prolific Ozploitation films of all time. Released in 1974 and directed by Sandy Harbutt, the film tells a gritty tale of a detective who goes undercover in a bikie gang as a means to discover who has been assassinating some of its members.
Stone has been re-released in both DVD and Blu-ray by Umbrella Entertainment, as part of their Ozploitation Classics label.
Stone was said to pave the way for Mad Max, which you are also in. Could you elaborate on this a little bit? Was the direction very different?
Very similar [films]. Different attitude. The directors were totally alien to each other. But the content of the film [was] very similar: bikies going berserk, taking over. But of course, Mad Max had the cars involved. We didn’t have the cars – it was purely a biker film.
Sandy Harbutt was very proactive. He was a biker and rode in the film himself. But George Miller was very docile. Very laid back. Took maybe 20-30 minutes to do a shot. So Sandy was very volatile, while George was quite relaxed.
We read that being on the set of Stone was like being at a six-week party.
You could say that! It was fun and games.
I was working in a theatre at night when Sandy offered me the part. I said I’d love to do it but I [wouldn’t] be able to do night shoots because I [was] working in the theatre at night – wearing a dinner suit of all things. [Sandy] said that was fine, and that we could shoot around [my schedule]. It got to the stage where I would roar to the theatre at about seven o’clock on my motorbike in my bikie gear, pull up at the front, run inside and put a dinner suit on, come on stage for a couple of hours and then put the bikie gear on [again] and off I went for a night shoot.
But yeah… A lot of rock and roll going on! It was a party. It was a good time.
The bikies aren’t portrayed as villains in the film, but as anti-heroes. This obviously goes against what most people would think. What were your thoughts on that at the time?
More anti-heroes, yeah. But they are outlaws – against the law. They don’t follow [the] law, as we found out!
When Sandy offered [the role] to me, I was quite pleased to do it. I was a biker myself; I had a motorbike when I was seventeen. I still had the motorbike, as a matter of fact. I didn’t know anything about bikie culture, though, so I went in there a bit naive about the culture of bikies and got a bit standoffish about the attitude [of the cast and crew] towards bikies. They revered the bikies! When the Hell’s Angels turned up, all the girls we had on set were going berserk: Oh, my God! Aren’t they gorgeous! They were these dirty, scruffy-looking guys!
I was rehearsing a fight scene where I had to throw one of our blokes into the back of a utility. I picked him up over my shoulders and threw him into a utility, which had padding in the bottom on the day [of filming]. But when I was rehearsing with him, I was standing by the utility and one of the Hell’s Angels came up and picked me up and threw me into the utility – and not in a good way! I ripped all my shins all over the edge of the utility, tore the skin off my shin bones and everything. Well, I leapt back out and was just about to deck this guy when I realised [who he was].
He stood there with a big smile on his face and said, “You were going to hit me!”
By then he was surrounded by 50 or 60. I said, “If I did hit you would that pack of dingoes come in and kick the hell out of me?”
He said, “Yeah!”
He became a close friend that I couldn’t get rid of. He turned up to my house every day for the next fortnight. He just loved me because I was about to hit him! He loved that. That’s the sort of mentality they’ve got […] I disrespected them. And normally, anybody else who disrespects the Hell’s Angels would have the shit kicked out of them! But they respected me for doing what I did.
The word went out: Be careful of the big Gravedigger.
What do you think this film did for your career as a screen actor?
I was lucky that I got it. I’ve been very lucky with films [since then]. I just grabbed what I could in those days as a working actor. I was very pleased to do films, but I had been doing television professionally for probably seven years or so before Stone.
Why do you think this film had such an impact at the time?
In those days, the Barry McKenzie films were on, Stork, Alvin Purple – very simple, entertaining comedy films. There wasn’t a film like Stone at all on the Australian agenda. It was a cult film, and it became a cult film because of the content.
Were you around when Peter Armstrong, the stunt man, famously drove his bike off the 80-foot cliff?
Yes. That was exciting.
Peter took a lot of risks. I’d driven with him just on a social drive and, my God, it’s like the Redex Rally just on a social trip with him! He loved the excitement, loved breaking records. On a motorbike, he did a wonderful job and he broke a record that day. He did hurt himself very badly when he landed. They had underwater spearfishermen waiting for him, to rescue him, which he did need. But he didn’t mind damaging himself for the records. He was recognised in the industry.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing quite a lot of films at the moment! I’ve got a group of people I do a lot of films with. They started off on shorts and are now moving into features. I’m actually doing a script reading tonight for a television series. I’ve got the script here as well for another film I’ll be doing [in] December/January. There’s quite a lot. I get a bit confused, actually, with all the scripts around me! I go to bed trying to learn this one and get confused with that one!
Stone has been re-released on both Blu-ray and DVD and can be purchased on Umbrella Entertainment’s website. The Blu-ray edition of the title includes many extra features, including deleted scenes from the film and an interview about Stone with Quentin Tarantino.