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An interview with actor Timothy Bottoms

In 1971 Timothy Bottoms made his feature film debut as Joe Bonham in Johnny Got His Gun and in the same year he was also cast as the lead in The Last Picture Show. Throughout the 70s Timothy starred in acclaimed films such as Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973), The Paper Chase (1973), The White Dawn (1974) and Operation Daybreak (1975). His later films include Elephant (2003) and The Girl Next Door (2004), as well appearing in numerous TV shows such as East of Eden (1981), The Twilight Zone (1988), Land of the Lost (1991-1992), That’s My Bush! (2001) and Dirt (2007). In 2023 Timothy published his debut novel, The Pier.

I spoke with Timothy about pursuing a career as an actor, working with Dalton Trumbo and Peter Bogdanovic, collaborating with his brother Sam, reprising his role as Sonny Crawford in Texasville, and his novel The Pier.



Did you always want to pursue a career as an actor?


Timothy Bottoms: Nope. I wanted to be a cowboy. That meant having a horse and a rig to rope from which I did not have. Horse required land, did not have that either. Cattle required land, lots of land. I had no idea how to make that happen. I was just a little kid. So I spent many hours day dreaming about it. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school and was faced with trying to make some money to further my education at Santa Barbara City College that the opportunity to go to Hollywood was offered. Robert Raison attended a performance of a play I participated in in 1970. He came backstage after the performance and told me I could be a star in film and make enough money that summer to afford College. So, I took him up on it and he was right. I made enough money but was having so much fun I did not go to College.

Who are your acting heroes? Were there any performances that inspired you to get into acting?


Timothy Bottoms: The majority of actors are not heroes. But they get to portray heroes. I admired many actors. Jason Robards, Warren Oats, Ben Johnson, Maggie Smith, Kim Hunter, E. G. Marshall, Geraldine Page, Anthony Quail, Richard Widmark, George Segal, Louis Gossett Jr., Earnest Borgnine … to name a few I was honored to exchange dialogue with on film.


Timothy and Maggie Smith in Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Jason Robards in A Thousand Clowns. Kim Hunter in A Streetcar named Desire. Richard Widmark in The Alamo. Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Again, just to name a few.

How did you land the role of Joe Bonham in Johnny Got His Gun?


Timothy Bottoms: Robert Raison sent me to a casting session in an office on Sunset Blvd. So I borrowed my mom’s VW Bug and drove from Santa Barbara. When I got there my name was not on the list but Tony Monoco said to me: “Kid you look hungry. Want a sandwich?

“Oh, yes please. I have not eaten all day.”

“Help yourself, I will be right back.”

He gave me a strange look over his shoulder as he left the kitchen area. I slapped together a sandwich and was about to take a bite when the door abruptly opened and a smaller older man with white hair and white mustache with nicotine stains below each nostril just stared at me. He said in a somewhat gruff, gravelly voice “Eat your sandwich". Then closed the door. Tony returned and said “Can you do a screen test tomorrow?” I returned home. Told my Mom what happened. Her reaction was “Dalton Trumbo! I have the book!”

Anyway, the next day I drove the VW back to LA. There were several actors there auditioning for this role. Peter Fonda, Anthony Geary, David Soul and others. I was last to give it a go. I got halfway through the rehearsal Dalton stopped and said, “Will you play this part for me?”


Timothy as Joe Bonham in Johnny Got His Gun

What was the process like working with Dalton Trumbo?


Timothy Bottoms: “Timothy, the reason I cast you for this role is because you are eighteen and I want a boy that is at the age he becomes a man. Don’t act. Just react to the situations. As you would as yourself.” I did my best. He was very kind to me. Like a Grandpa.

Johnny Got his Gun and The Last Picture Show were both shot around the same time. What was it like balancing two very different performances?


Timothy Bottoms: Back to back leading roles were difficult. Summer, Fall and Winter. Nonstop. My life when I was not working was the most challenging. My mother and father were divorcing, which affected me and my brothers. My career as a movie star was taking off and my life at home was seriously changing. Very emotional time. All I could do was stay healthy and be on time.

Timothy and Cybill Shepherd in The Last Picture Show. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

What was it like collaborating with your brother Sam on the film?


Timothy Bottoms: My family was falling apart. My Mother was having a very difficult time. I was giving her as much money as I was making but her hands were full and she asked if I could take Sam with me to The Last Picture Show location for a while. So I took him along. I loved Sam and we had a great time together. He helped me stay grounded in all the filming chaos and our family dysfunction. Peter Bogdanovich and Poly Platt were in the same boat as my mom and dad and this situation tore me up inside. I found comfort with Sam by my side. Peter saw Sam and asked if he could play the part of Billy. His braces on his teeth would have to be removed but the company would pay for removing and putting back on his teeth. Big deal for my Mom but she agreed. He was my brother and I treated him that way on film.



Sam Bottoms and Timothy Bottoms in The Last Picture Show. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Dalton Trumbo and Peter Bogdanovich were both writers before turning their hands to directing. Did they have very different approaches when it came to directing?

Timothy Bottoms: Dalton was a writer. A great screen writer. I don’t believe he ever wanted to direct or act. Luis Bunuel was set to direct the film but did not work out for whatever reason. Dalton told me that Bunuel encouraged him to direct his controversial film. Dalton worked very closely with his cinematographer and his son in law Bruce Campbell. He also acted in the film. Two firsts for Dalton Trumbo. Directing and acting. Peter Bogdanovich on the other had craved attention and was full of ambition. Our Producer Berton “Bert” Schneider wanted me in The Last Picture Show. Peter wanted me to play Duane because he wanted his friend to play Sonny. I did not think the part of Duane was a part I understood. I understood Sonny. Think this miffed Peter. Peter loved getting his hands on the camera. I recall him getting very upset with Robert Surtees, our Cinematographer on the film. Peter told Robert to operate the camera movement in a certain way. “I will show you what I want!” He got behind the camera putting his hand on the two wheels, and was very rude to Mr. Surtees in front of the company. Robert got off the camera and told Peter “Get a monkey”. He called for his limousine and drove back to wherever he was staying. The problem was resolved, probably by Bert. Mr. Surtees eventually returned to set. Peter had a very big ego. Peter was in contact with Orson Welles often during production. Not just for the book he was writing about him but advice about directing and casting of this film. I liked Peter but I did not like the way he treated his wife, Polly Platt, who ironically was Peter's biggest cheerleader. They had one daughter and one born during production. Polly deserved much more credit for the success of The Last Picture Show than she received.



What was it like reprising your role as Sonny Crawford in Texasville?


Timothy Bottoms: I did not want to do it. But the offer was hard to say no to. I needed the money. Remodeling a home in Montecito. Helping raise three children. Spending a lot of time on the ranches with my family, horses and mules. Small herd of cattle. Packing and hunting with friends in Wyoming. Celebrity roping with Ben Johnson’s Cowboys for Kids charity. Sailing the South Pacific with my brother in law on his schooner. Surfing with friends on the Hollister ranch. Life was good. That picture Texasville for me was all about making money. I had a nine day contract but the magic, if you want to call it that, was gone.


A parade of motor homes and movie stars.


Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms and Cloris Leachman in Texasville. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures


Is it ever conflicting working with other actors who have very different methods to your own?

Timothy Bottoms: Well, I suppose so. Do not recall any particular instances. I try to soldier on. Do my best to work with whoever and whatever is thrown at me. I do not consider myself that good of an actor. I take dialogue and direction given and try to make choices that pleases the director. The only person I trust on a film set is the director. Now when it comes to firearms and ammunition on a set I only trust myself. I went through firearms training at thirteen so I could acquire a hunting license to hunt with my dad. A firearm even with blanks can be lethal at short range. So I always double check. My job is to be on time, know my lines, take direction and hit my mark.



You’ve collaborated with film makers such as Dalton Trumbo, Peter Bogdanovich, Lewis Gilbert, Gus Van Sant, James Bridges, Philip Kaufman, Jan Troell, and many more. What’s the biggest thing you’ve taken away from working with them?


Timothy Bottoms: The biggest thing is… and I can only say this now, is the memories. From meetings to table reads to playing the scene. Getting to know the cast and crew. The meals and good times. Wonderful locations. Fabulous hotels. So many interesting people. Some of the best people in the world are film people.



Are there any particular filmmakers, or actors you’d like to work with?


Timothy Bottoms: Oh sure. But it doesn’t matter who I would like to work with. In my case it all depends on getting the offer to audition. Moving past the casting process and meeting with directors and producers. I am not very good at that. Otherwise working with a particular director or actor is just pie in the sky. I will keep auditioning for projects if my manager can pitch me and casting will give me a shot. Meanwhile enjoying my life and folks I am close to and just contemplating existence in this old world is enough. But I continue to dream. My father used to call me his “Soaring Dreamer.” Life turns on a dime.


One never knows in Hollywood.



You recently published the novel The Pier. Is writing something you’d like to focus on?

Timothy Bottoms: Thank you for asking. It’s just a little book, about 120 pages. A two hour read. A young boy spends the day fishing on a pier. I wrote what I knew about. I was motivated. I wanted to put it in my mother’s hands before she died but alas, no luck. I have two other books I am working on. Focusing on putting a new steel roof on my little Adobe in the mountains of Big Sur. It will be sixty two years since I walked into the valley and fifty years since I have been living there come August 2025.

175 views2 comments

2 ความคิดเห็น

13 พ.ค.

Timothy’s book, “The Pier”, is a bright, golden ribbon on the wonderful career of a kind, yet humble, genius of an artist.


22 เม.ย.

"Love Pain and The Whole Damn Thing" is a fabulous movie. I hope TB was well.

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