‘Clash of the Titans’ at 40: Harry Hamlin reveals the story behind his on-set romance with Ursula Andress

Harry Hamlin as Perseus in the 1981 action movie, 'Clash of the Titans' (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

Harry Hamlin as Perseus within the 1981 motion film, Clash of the Titans. (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

To hear Harry Hamlin inform it, Clash of the Titans precisely describes what occurred onscreen and on the set of the special-effects heavy fantasy movie, which opened in theaters 40 years in the past, on June 12, 1981. 

Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, the actor — who performed demigod hero Perseus — recollects plenty of “contentious moments” wherein he discovered himself at odds with the movie’s director, Desmond Davis, and its legendary visual-effects artist, Ray Harryhausen. “I said at the time, ‘This is never going to work,'” Hamlin remembers with a chuckle. “‘This is a paycheck for me. I’ll go home, and the movie will never see the light of day.'” 

But in opposition to the chances, Clash of the Titans clicked with younger moviegoers, in addition to the young-at-heart audiences who grew up throughout Harryhausen’s heyday within the 1950s and 1960s. To today, the film stays a nostalgic favourite exactly due to its dated particular results and campy dialogue. And it is a private film for Hamlin, as a result of he discovered love amid these behind-the-scenes clashes, kindling a romance along with his co-star — and worldwide intercourse image — Ursula Andress. Their high-profile relationship lasted for 4 years and produced a son, Dimitri Hamlin. 

American actor Harry Hamlin and Swiss actress and a sex symbol Ursula Andress attend the 1979 Deauville American Film Festival. (Photo by © Caterine Milinaire/Sygma via Getty Images)

Harry Hamlin and Ursula Andress attend the 1979 Deauville American Film Festival. (Photo by © Caterine Milinaire/Sygma through Getty Images)

While Hamlin hadn’t met Andress previous to Clash of the Titans, in a manner he’d already recognized her for years. Born in 1951, the actor was 12 years previous when he noticed her breakout efficiency in Dr. No, the inaugural entry within the James Bond franchise. The then-26 12 months previous Andress made an impressionable entrance because the first-ever Bond Girl, Honey Ryder. Roles in in style films like What’s New Pussycat?, Once Before I Die and the 1967 Bond spoof, Casino Royale, quickly adopted. Andress was 43 — 15 years older than Hamlin — when she arrived on the Clash of the Titans in 1979, appropriately forged as Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.

“Not only had I seen Dr. No, but for some unknown reason my parents gave me a five-year subscription to Playboy for Christmas when I was 12,” Hamlin says now. “I never knew why they did that. Now that I have kids, I think, ‘That’s an odd thing to do!’ But Ursula was featured in one of those Playboys, and I remember that very well. I don’t think I’d told her that when we first met. I’m not sure I said, ‘By the way, Ursula, I loved your layout in Playboy when I was 13!'” 

Hamlin notably would not share any scenes with Andress in Clash of the Titans. While Perseus is combating all method of mythological creatures on Earth, Aphrodite stays in Olympus alongside a bevy of different well-known European performing icons, together with Laurence Olivier as Zeus and Maggie Smith as Thetis. “I think they liked the paycheck,” Hamlin says of how these titans of the British stage and display ended up in Clash. “Laurence Olivier wrote me a letter, which I still have framed upstairs, where he apologized for being in the movie! He knew I revered him and basically said, ‘You must understand — I have so many mouths to feed.'” 

Hamlin and Andress’s fateful first assembly occurred at a forged dinner in London organized by the film’s producer, Charles Schneer. “Everyone came, and they sat me next to Ursula,” he recollects. “I didn’t know what to say to her exactly, but somehow the subject of flea markets came up, and I said that I’d been to a flea market the week before I flew over to London. When we got to Rome to start filming there, she called me at the hotel one day and said, “I’m solely 5 homes down from the resort, and there is a flea market tomorrow on the Porta Portese. Do you need to go?’ So that is how that occurred!” 

Ursula Andress and Harry Hamlin at the 54th Academy Awards in 1982. The couple met on the set of the 1981 film 'Clash of the Titans' (Photo by Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Ursula Andress and Harry Hamlin at the 54th Academy Awards in 1982. The couple met on the set of the 1981 film Clash of the Titans. (Photo by Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Hamlin and Andress didn’t try to keep their love connection a secret from the Clash crew. But the actor remembers that Davis came to believe he was carrying on more than one on-set affair. “He thought I used to be having it off with somebody from the make-up division, and he was additionally enamored with that particular person,” Hamlin says. “He was completely jealous of me the entire time! He would keep on the identical ground as me within the resort to maintain his door open and see whether or not or not I used to be operating off into the make-up girl’s room. I might say to him, ‘Desmond, I do not know her. She simply does my make-up!’ But he was fixated on that the entire time; it was very odd.” 

Andress gave birth to Dimitri in 1980, one year before Clash of the Titans finally arrived in theaters. She and Hamlin eventually parted ways in 1983, and the break-up made international headlines. (Hamlin has since been married three times, wedding his current wife, Lisa Rinna, in 1997.) But the two remain close, reuniting for Andress’s 70th birthday in 2006 alongside their grown son. And like a lot of ’80s kids, Hamlin says that Dimitri watched Clash of the Titans over and over again growing up. “Perseus loses his magic helmet in a swamp within the movie, so each time we’d drive by something that seemed like a swamp, he would say, ‘Dad, possibly the helmet is in there. Stop the automobile!” 

Edinburgh, UNITED KINGDOM: Swiss Hollywood film star Ursula Andress (C) arrives with her son Dimitri Hamlin (L) and former partner Harry Hamlin at The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh, Scotland, 18th May 2006, to take part in a special party to celebrate her 70th birthday. Andress was the original 'Bond Girl' having become famous for her role as Honey Rider in the James Bond film, Dr. No. AFP PHOTO/GORDON JACK (Photo credit should read GORDON JACK/AFP via Getty Images)

From left to right: Dimitri Hamlin, Ursula Andress and Harry Hamlin celebrate her 70th birthday in 2006. (Photo credit should read GORDON JACK/AFP via Getty Images)

For the 40th anniversary of Clash of the Titans, we spoke with Hamlin about his own background in mythology, his feelings about the 2010 remake and Harryhausen’s unique working methods. 

Yahoo Entertainment: I understand that you studied mythology in college, so you actually knew a lot about the Greek myths that inspired Clash of Titans.

Harry Hamlin: Yes, I studied mythology at Yale and got my degree in Jungian mythology. So when I read the script, I thought it was pretty thin. It was this kind of hybrid Greek mythology: you know, Bellerophon had actually flown Pegasus, not Perseus. And they felt they had to get a love story in there, so they invented the one between Perseus and Andromeda [played by Judi Bowker]. So it wasn’t the actual myths, but the story still made sense in a way. I think the love story is actually one of the things that made the first one work, and it was the thing that didn’t really work in the remake. In that one, Perseus [played by Sam Worthington] was in love with a goddess who was going to live forever. And I was like, “How does that work?” 

Do you remember if you were up against any other actors for the role?

I was actually in another movie at the exact same time called Tristan and Isolde with Kate Mulgrew and Richard Burton. Kate and I worked on that for a couple of weeks, and then I was called into MGM to meet on Clash of the Titans. It was a case where I was like, “Do I do a film with Laurence Olivier the place the script is not superb, or do I do a film with Richard Burton?” And I decided that I really wanted to meet Laurence Olivier! It later turned out that Nicholas Clay, the actor who ended up playing Tristan, had also been up for Clash and really wanted the role. [Tristan and Isolde was released in December 1981 under the title Lovespell.]

Hamlin, Sian Phillips and Judi Bowker in 'Clash of the Titans' (Photo: MGM/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.)

Hamlin, Sian Phillips and Judi Bowker in Clash of the Titans. (Photo: MGM/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.)

The film opened the same weekend as Raiders of the Lost Ark, which seems incredible to think now.

Yes, and neither Charles Schneer nor Ray Harryhausen spoke to me for years after the movie came out because they thought we would have killed Raiders at the box office if I had gone along with the world publicity tour they had set up. The tour was underwritten by the city of Johannesburg, and I was on an apartheid committee in Los Angeles. They came to me, and said: “We’re going to go to 20 international locations, and it may make this movie the most important hit of the summer season.” 

I said, “I can do each different nation however South Africa.” And they said, “Well, South Africa is underwriting the entire tour, so if you cannot go, we will not do the tour.” We ended up not doing the tour and they believed they lost millions of dollars from that. Charles never spoke to me again, but Ray called me up 25 years later and asked me to join him for a retrospective he was doing in L.A. [Schneer died in 2009; Harryhausen died in 2013.]

You’ve mentioned before that Harryhausen wasn’t the easiest person to work with.

He had his fixed ways of doing things. There’s that scene in the movie where I’m fighting with the giant scorpions. I said to him, “Hey, Ray, why do not I think about that the scorpion’s tail is coming right down to sting me, after which I’ll put my left hand up and catch the tail after which the reduce it off with my sword?” And he said, “Absolutely not. I do not need that to be within the film.” 

Well, he rolled the camera, and I did it anyway. I figured he could cut it out of the movie if he doesn’t like it. He was so mad at me. He said, “Cut, reduce — I advised you not to do this.” But if you look at the movie, he ended up using it!

The Medusa sequence still holds up beautifully. I think that’s up there with the best of Harryhausen’s work.

Well, of course, Medusa was not there when we shot it! [Laughs] I remember that I was locked in my trailer for most of that day, because they wouldn’t acquiesce to my demands to let me cut her head off with my sword. They were afraid of getting an X-rating, so that was a tense day. They had all these camera angles worked out for the killing of Medusa, but since we only had an hour left to shoot, they just put the camera down and shot some footage, then kept moving it closer, and that’s the way they build the tension. It’s very streamlined, and I think the scene works because they had to shoot it so fast. If we’d had all day, there would have been more angles and less tension.  

Since there was no Medusa on set, what were you interacting with?

My mind’s eye! [Laughs]. I didn’t even know what Medusa was going to look like, or how big she was going to be. Ray’s process was that you would do the performance, and then he would build the monsters according to what I’d done on set. So he built Medusa after principal photography. I remember visiting him at Pinewood Studios in England when he was doing the stop-motion, and that was fascinating because it was just Ray alone on this big soundstage. He’d have a chair and a little stool next to the chair, with a bottle of Cynar, and a small glass. 

Ray Harryhausen working on the Medusa monster seen in 'Clash of the Titans' (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

Ray Harryhausen working on the Medusa monster seen in Clash of the Titans. (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

He had this cord that came from the camera, and he would push a button to take a frame. Then he would get up walk over to the monster, manipulate it and move the lens just a fraction of an inch in all directions. Then he would walk back to his chair, have a drink of Cynar and push the button again. He would repeat the process all day long. He was probably tanked by the end of the day! 

I understand that you weren’t a fan of Perseus’s sidekick in the movie — the mechanical owl, Bubo.

I had read The Plague by Albert Camus, so I knew what a “bubo” was. I told the producers, “You cannot title the owl Bubo, as a result of that is a bleeding pustule!” And they said, “Only medical doctors will know that, and that is not our viewers.” So they named the owl Bubo! [Laughs] It’s good to have a little sidekick, I suppose. That’s the one reference to the original that’s in the remake. Sam Worthington walks by a shelf, sees the owl and throws it in the trash! 

They wanted Bubo to have motion on set, but they could never get it to work. I remember we’d have to stop filming, so someone would futz with it and try to get the eyes to move. So most of the motion was put in after the fact. They also had a hell of a time trying to get the snakes to move on the head of Medusa! They actually had two heads: one that had all the mechanics stuff in it so it weighed about maybe 30 pounds, and one that was just rubber that hardly weighed anything at all. 

During the big climax, when we had to throw the head at the Kraken, we were shooting in these big water tanks in Malta. The water in there was so horrible; if I fell in, they’d have to spray me down instantly with noxious compounds that would kill all the bugs. So I was throwing the rubber head, and they lost it! It was at the bottom of the tank somewhere. 

Finally, they said, “You’re going to need to throw the one which has all of the mechanics in it.” The dang thing weighed as much as a bowling ball! In the film, I think I’m throwing it with my left arm, because I threw my right arm out. And then they lost that head, too, so both heads were missing at the bottom of the tank, and they couldn’t find a diver who was willing to go into that noxious water. Eventually they cut the two takes together, and that’s what’s in the movie.  

I appreciate the way you’re both baffled and pleased by the enduring popularity of Clash of the Titans. What’s the legacy of the movie for you?

Like you said, I’m kind of baffled by it! [Laughs] I think it’s mainly luck. Certainly, the script didn’t have a lot of depth to it, the dialogue isn’t exactly fluid and the effects are totally dated. But there’s something about the chemistry of the love story, and the creepiness of Harryhausen’s special effects that make it work. It’s much more creepy, oddly enough, than watching those computer-generated monsters they had in the remake. If you can look at the movie as a bouillabaisse, there’s somehow just the right amount of shellfish, the right amount of fish stock, the right amount of saffron, and the right amount of rice. It just worked. 

Clash of the Titans is available to rent or purchase on most VOD platforms including Amazon and Vudu.

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