As I write this, I’m sitting in my office about 50 yards from the house of the Stanley Kubrick family. It’s a beautiful summer evening in St. Albans, and I’m catching up on work I left behind while I was in Burbank recently.
   This is a lovely location, with rolling hills, rather like the area where I was born, in Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire. From here, you can be out in the countryside in minutes and in London in just 20. When Stanley was alive, I frequently worked in a room in his house, which gave me extremely close contact with him day and night. I spent 27 years with him altogether, beginning in 1976 when I auditioned for the role of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon. (I auditioned on video tape—I think Stanley was one of the first directors to audition his actors that way. ) I had graduated in the late 1960s from one of the top drama schools in England at the time, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Stanley liked what I did, and we finally met on the set in Salisbury, in Wiltshire, at Wilton House, when I turned up for the shooting. I felt a tap on my elbow, and I turned around and there he was. And he very quietly said, “Hello, Leon, I’m Stanley Kubrick. ” It just went from there. Originally, I was to shoot for 13 days over a period of eight weeks. It stretched to something like nine months, because he had written some extra scenes.
   We had a real rapport right from the start. There are many reasons for that, I suppose. We had the same birth date, July 26, but 20 years apart. If you’re astrologically inclined, you might think that had something to do with it. Also, we shared exactly the same interest and felt very easy in each other’s company. It also helped that as an actor I knew my craft, and anybody who knew their work got on quite well with Stanley. And people who showed a genuine interest in the process of filmmaking always appealed to him. Stanley encouraged me to ask questions, and he would patiently answer them all very fully. Even during the days I wasn’t shooting on Barry Lyndon, I still had a close contact with him. We talked about acting, play texts, sports, soccer, and just about everything under the sun. I quickly discovered what a mine of information he was.
   As an actor I particularly appreciated the improvising Stanley encouraged us to do. The way he worked with an actor was inspirational: He would come to the set and ask you to just play the scene while he wandered around with a viewfinder. He insisted you do every rehearsal and every take for real, in case something accidentally happened that might change the whole way he thought about the scene. It’s so stimulating for an actor to be told, “Show me what you can do, and give me everything you think about it. ”You always felt like it was just you and he on the floor, no matter how many people might be around. For his part he would come up with ideas of his own at the most casual moments, sometimes when we were just standing around. Suddenly, he would throw a suggestion at the actors just to see how they would react. He was very open like that when he was working. There’s this myth about him being so closed off and secretive and almost misanthropic. You can’t be like that when you make films. He was one of the most communicative directors I ever worked for or worked with.
   After Barry Lyndon, I thought things might end, but later while I was living in Stockholm, he sent me a book through the post with one of his terse notes: “Read this!” I read it. It was The Shining. The next evening, the phone rang and it was Stanley’s voice, saying,“Did you read it? Did you read it?” I told him I thought it was fantastic. Then he asked me if I would go to America and do the casting search for the part of little Danny. I was to follow the same process he had done in casting my part in Barry Lyndon, that is, find a boy more through a process of improvisation rather than sitting applicants down and having them read through lines. I saw upward of 4,000 boys for the video auditions, over a period of six months.
   In later years, in addition to conducting more auditions, I did some acting coaching for Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. And there was so much else to do. I quickly learned that Stanley was always working. Even during slack times away from a picture he and I worked on the video transfers and the telecine [a film-to-video process] for screening of his films on television. His films were always being shown somewhere in some form. We would do layouts for pointof-sale material, video wraps, and posters for everywhere in the world, except for America. There were all sorts of reasons why I have often felt like a member of his extended family. Very often we would work in the kitchen while eating. If Stanley was comfortable with you, he would want you back on other projects. This fact can be clearly seen when you consider the number of times people such as the cinematographers Douglas Milsome and John Alcott, Margaret Adams, his production coordinator who often did the job of producer during production, Les Thompkins and Ray Walker, production designers, and June Randall who worked on continuity on many productions, worked with him over the years.
   There was always something going with Stanley, right up to the very end. When people ask about A. I. and its Pinocchio theme, it reminds me of the time around 1990 when I was reading the story for my little boy, Max. I was reading the original version to him, and a little time afterwards, I started finding copies of it lying around Stanley’s house. So I asked him if he was reading it, and we talked about its darkness, and he wanted to know if I wasn’t worried reading it to my son. I said I felt the darkness in it was a positive thing and he started telling me how he thought it could fit integrally into A. I. As you know, that project went on for a very long time before his death. He kept putting things off because he doubted that the necessary special effects would be possible. There’s no doubt that after finishing the video marketing and video mastering around the world for Eyes Wide Shut, we would have gone straight into A. I. , had he lived. It’s difficult to say how he would have proceeded with the script, especially the ending. Stanley always had several alternative ideas in play at any given time. That was certainly true of his other films. None of them would ever be firm until the last moment. In the case of The Shining, for example, he finally discarded an ending he shot in favor of what we have, something much more ambiguous. Recently, I’ve been supervising the digital transfers of Stanley’s films for the DVD release of The Stanley Kubrick Collection, seven films plus the documentary (Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures). Stanley and I began this particular project three years ago. We understood that the work required was going to mean starting almost from scratch, going back to the basic picture elements to improve the source material from which to do the transfers onto new and highly sophisticated digital machinery. And of course, we mixed the sound tracks from the original mono mixes of the past and updated them into the 5. 1- and 2-track stereo mixes required today. I think this collection is a testament to his spirit, his originality, and his stature as one of the greatest moviemakers of all time.
   His death came as an absolute shock. But, come to think of it, you can look back at that time and see how extremely tired he was, readying Eyes Wide Shut for the heads of Warner Bros. to see in New York. But in our last conversations he was talking very normally about future projects. Those were on a Friday and a Saturday. He wanted me to get a detailed screenplay written from the finished film. We were probably on the phone for two or three hours. I was ready to come in on a Sunday morning to start work. And that was when I heard the news. It didn’t really strike home, I suppose, because there was so much work to do to get the film ready. It was when I kicked the last foreign version out of the lab in October that it really came home to me. So, for about two or three months, I went through quite a serious depression.
   If you could see my office here at St. Albans, you might think it a shambles. It’s both a personal working space and a kind of Kubrick archive as well. I have kept a very full inventory of just about everything pertaining to his films. Sometimes Stanley was not very meticulous about preserving or organizing the paper trail he left behind him on his films-handwritten notes to himself, tape recordings of his comments on the set, photographs, that sort of thing. When Jan Harlan was working on the documentary, it was difficult to get everything together (although he had more material that he could put in). Also here is a lot of personal memorabilia of my family, bits of art work, and a picture of Stanley—the one you know with him looking over the top of his glasses. I can still hear his voice. If I think I’ve been lazy about some detail or other, I can hear him yet, urging me to get on with it. I’m still a fan. I’ve seen every one of his films hundreds of times, simply because of my work. But if I see one on television, I can sit back and enjoy them without being bothered by all that—just watch them to enjoy. I loved him deeply.
   —Leon Vitali
   Assistant to Stanley Kubrick
   St. Albans
   June 26, 2001

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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