Originally created 03/16/04

David Carradine finds big-screen renewal as Tarantino's Bill



LOS ANGELES -- Globe-trotting hit man Bill may be ready to meet a bloody end, but kung fu hero Caine lives on.

David Carradine, riding a career resurgence as the title character in Quentin Tarantino's two-part saga "Kill Bill," is revisiting his martial-arts roots with Tuesday's DVD release of season one of "Kung Fu," his 1970s television series.

The two characters could scarcely be more different - Bill the worldly father figure of a pack of crack assassins, and Kwai Chang Caine the soft-spoken refugee from a Shaolin monastery, serenely spreading wisdom and kicking bad guys' butts in the Old West.

Through more than 100 feature films with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman and Hal Ashby, Carradine remains best known as Caine. He reprised the role in a mid-1980s TV movie and played Caine's grandson in the 1990s syndicated series "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues," but most of Carradine's work the last 20 years has been on obscure, low-budget movies.

Carradine, 67, hopes "Kill Bill" will reopen doors in Hollywood the way Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" did for John Travolta and "Jackie Brown" did to a lesser extent for Pam Grier.

"All I've ever needed since I more or less retired from studio films a couple of decades ago ... is just to be in one," Carradine said in an interview at his home in Tarzana, in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.

"There isn't anything that Anthony Hopkins or Clint Eastwood or Sean Connery or any of those old guys are doing that I couldn't do," he said. "All that was ever required was somebody with Quentin's courage to take and put me in the spotlight."

Carradine was a shadowy presence in last fall's "Kill Bill - Vol. 1," in which one of Bill's former assassins (Uma Thurman) begins a vengeful rampage against her old associates.

The first film hits home video in mid-April just before the theatrical debut of "Kill Bill - Vol. 2," in which Thurman's character comes face to face again with Bill himself. The title implies Bill's fate, but Carradine is mum on whether the character meets his demise.

Though he's the heavy, Bill has more depth than run-of-the-mill bad guys, Carradine said.

"Bill is more fun than anything," Carradine said. "Bill has virtually no human problems. He's just kind of put himself above it all. He's actually a very charming guy. Yeah, he kills people for a living, but ... As far as him being a villain, there are no good guys in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Everybody has an agenda, everybody is a criminal, and everybody has a certain nobility."

The son of character actor John Carradine and brother of actors Keith and Robert, Carradine had the title role in the short-lived Western TV series "Shane" in 1966 and co-starred in Scorsese's 1972 film "Boxcar Bertha" before shooting to stardom with "Kung Fu."

He left after three seasons, saying the show had started to repeat itself. After "Kung Fu," Carradine starred in the 1975 cult flick "Death Race 2000" and played Woody Guthrie in Ashby's "Bound for Glory" the following year. He starred with Liv Ullmann in Bergman's "The Serpent's Egg" in 1977 and with his brothers in the 1980 Western "The Long Riders."

Despite Carradine's well-deserved reputation as a quick-to-anger actor and hard-drinking partier, the public image of the unflappable, inscrutable Caine lingers. Fueling that is Carradine's own continued interest in Oriental herbs, exercise and philosophy. He wrote a personal memoir called "Spirit of Shaolin" and continues to make instructional videos on tai chi and other martial arts.

Yet the actor said Tarantino's Bill is closer to the real Carradine than Caine. Tarantino has "written more the guy I really am. The art collector, the musician, the philosopher and the drugstore cowboy."

Carradine, who said he has not had a drink since 1996, talked candidly about his past boozing and narcotics use, mainly "a lot of psychotropic drugs."

Now he sticks to coffee and cigarettes, saying he gave up alcohol because "I didn't like the way I looked for one thing. You're kind of out of control emotionally when you drink that much. I was quicker to anger."

Carradine has been married four times and has three grown children. He lives a seemingly placid life with his girlfriend, her four children and a couple of dogs. Questions about his wilder days have grown tiresome, and Carradine said he may just brush them off in the future.

"You're probably witnessing the last time I will ever answer those questions," Carradine said. "Because this is a regeneration. It is a renaissance. It is the start of a new career for me.

"It's time to do nothing but look forward."