STACK caught up with Aussie actor Roger Ward to discuss the 1974 bikie cult classic, Stone – now available on Blu-ray.
The quote on the old VHS cover reads, “Before Mad Max there was Stone.” It was a signal to fans that although Max (1979) was a rip-roaring sensory overload, it was actually cut from the same oily rag as Stone, an Australian cult film from 1974 that’s unlike any other.
Following a notorious biker gang from the inner suburbs of Sydney, the GraveDiggers, Stone tells the story of an undercover cop who rides with them in order to investigate the murders of several members. Although reluctant to let a blue blood into their brotherhood, the gang induct him and put him through various rituals and traditions. He becomes fond of them and before long proves to be a loyal ally.
The legacy of Stone is huge, and the film has undergone various re-releases over the years, the latest of which is a stunning remaster on Blu-ray thanks to the ever reliable Umbrella Entertainment.
STACK caught up with Stone and Mad Max star Roger Ward, who regards the film with fondness but admits that little consideration was given to its potential at the time.
“In those days we were doing films pretty well every week.” he admits. “And when Sandy asked if I wanted to be in it, I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ He said it was a bikie film and I said, ‘Oh that’s great.’” (Sandy being the late great Sandy Harbutt, who wrote, directed and starred in Stone).
Elaborating on his somewhat nonchalant response to Harbutt’s invitation, Ward adds, “We were all on a weekly wage. I had a weekly wage coming in from there, and I had a weekly wage from the theatre. I was just happy as an actor making a living. So, I didn’t really know or care how important the film was going to be.”
One of the most infamous aspects of Stone was its use of real-life Hells Angels’ gang members as extras, and the chaos they created on set. This and other amazing stories are chronicled in Mark Hartley’s hugely informative documentary Not Quite Hollywood, as well as the special features packed into this latest release.
When we ask what such an experience must have been like, Ward confesses that he was completely ignorant at the time.
“Despite the fact that I rode a motorbike since I was 17, I had no idea of motorbike clubs. I had heard of the Hells Angels of course, but they didn’t affect me one way or the other and I didn’t care about them. But when we shot with the Hells Angels on one particular day, all the girls we had with us, who were models and actresses and so on, went absolutely apesh-t.” he recalls with amusement.
“And I thought, ‘What? That group of scruffy looking a-holes? What’s so wonderful about them?’ So, I got a bit jealous, you know, because I couldn’t win one of the girls over. I got angry and walked to the balcony of the hotel and yelled… [abuse at the Angels] at the top of my voice. And the cast all thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to be kicked to death now. But then the word went out [amongst the Angels] to watch out for the big GraveDigger, which was me!” he says with a laugh.
The greatest tragedy of Stone, which might also one of the biggest crimes against Australian cinema, is the fact Sandy Harbutt never made another film, despite having created one of the most iconic genre films of a generation. On this fact Ward says that it wasn’t from lack of trying.
“He did try to make other films, and he said to me not long ago, ‘I’ve written another film called Rock and it will be about a rock band, and I want you and Hugh (Keays-Byrne) in it as roadies.’ And he said, ‘I sent it to a young director, but he didn’t even answer my call. And Sandy just couldn’t believe that someone wouldn’t answer his call.”
We can’t believe it either. To think that a spiritual follow-up to Stone was right there on paper, begging to be made! Perhaps that’s something for future producers to take note of and, well, take a run at.