A Budapest institution since the 1980s, Actor/Director/Writer/Radio Show Host/Ouzo Connoisseur Richard Rifkin continues to delight and amaze local audiences with his wit and charm. Here’s the newest take on one of the city’s favorite characters.
First, a quick and dirty Bio:
For more than 40 years, Richard Rifkin has been entertaining people through his work in movies, radio and workshops. A Pennsylvania native, Richard moved to Los Angeles, California, as a teenager. He got his first role in professional theater at 15 and has never looked back. School and university classes followed, as well as his own workshop classes in Los Angeles and Poland. Richard has performed in many movies over the years alongside major industry professionals. After visiting Budapest in 1984, he returned in the early 1990s and became the first American commercial radio DJ (Disc Jockey) in Central Europe.
Since 1973 Richard has lived an expat life in London, Detmold (West Germany), Corfu (Greece), Morocco and Spain. His love of things Hungarian brought him back to Budapest in the early 2000s, where he has lived and worked ever since. Richard continues to act in many of the movies filmed in this area, including such recent releases as “The Martian” and the TV mini-series “Houdini”; he will also be in the new soon-to-be-released horror film “The Basement”, where he plays a really nasty psychotic Loony (Richard loves playing those guys).
Richard’s energy and passion for his work are evident in his continuing efforts in producing new film scripts, plays and TV series. He may move a touch slower these days, but he’ll obviously never slow down.
I met with Richard again recently at Komédiás Kávéház over a glass or three of ouzo to find out what’s happening in his life.
Richard, we haven’t seen each other in, what, two weeks? It’s always great to connect again and to talk about our favorite subject, the movies.
How do you choose your roles?
Well, that’s a pretty easy one. If a role is offered to me, I choose it. No problem.
What is the best role you ever turned down?
I only turn down a role if I am unavailable, i.e., doing another shoot, traveling, etc. And, of course, as a working actor, if the money isn’t right, neither am I.
Name the five movies in which John Wayne died.
(Movie buff that he is, I had to do this to Richard. He got the first three no problem, stumbled on Number 4 – got it with a small clue – but forgot Number 5. It isn’t often I win a movie trivia contest with The King)
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in your professional and personal life?
After meeting by accident, my lifelong friend Bill was probably the most interesting person I’ve ever met. He was spontaneous and fun and could talk his way into anything. He could put away tequila like a Mexican bandit, and when under the influence, well, I’d tell you but I think the Mexican police may still want to question me about a little incident in Baja California ;-).
Did you have a Mentor early in your career?
I never had a mentor per se, but I did have several acting workshop teachers who helped me and encouraged me, like Guy Stockwell, Bruce Glover and especially Clu Gulager (who used to call me The Mad Polack).
What is your favorite owned piece of movie memorabilia?
I actually try to keep a souvenir of each movie I’ve done. I think my favorite is a mock-up dagger from Pillars of the Earth; it was a thoughtful gift from the Prop Department, plus it’s one of the few times I was given a weapon in a movie.
What would you say is your biggest success?
I’d have to say it was making it to this age with no major issues. I’m still healthy, I still enjoy my life and work immensely, I’ve survived to this age with what I hope is still a young outlook and I still dearly love to make movies. I do wish, however, in my future movies they’d give me some weapons.
What was your favorite movie location?
The wonderful old castle of Burg Kreuzenstein, near Vienna, when filming Pillars of the Earth,
Expat life is not for everyone; what attracted you to it?
Whew – tough one! I think, for me, it was an escape from the so-called normal life we were all supposed to live back then. You know, college, good job, nice car, marriage, house, kids, the whole ball of wax. I never had the fear of travel and the unknown that so many of my friends had, and I always wanted to see what was over the next hill.
True or False: Clint Eastwood once played a gay character in a movie.
(Richard’s Answer: False. Braaack! Sorry, Richard, Mr. Eastwood did in fact get into character as a gay delivery man in a movie with George Kennedy.)
What DON’T you miss about the US?
A: Another tough one. I’d have to say the violence; I don’t miss that at all. Also, the automobile traffic, especially on those LA freeways.
How would you describe Budapest to a first-time visitor?
Geez, where did you come up with these questions? My other interviews weren’t this taxing. (Richard took another slug of ouzo and continued). Well, OK, I’d have to say in addition to the beautiful architecture and the fact that Budapest is a great walking city, Budapest just has so much energy! There are things to do all day and all night; there’s not much you can’t find in Budapest. It’s also a great central location for travel to other countries in Europe.
In the little time you have when not working, what are some of the favorite things you enjoy doing here?
I really enjoy the summer months when I can sit at an outdoor café, sip an ouzo and watch the lovely young women of Budapest pass by. Even with all its energy, Budapest is a great city in which to relax and just enjoy life.
Plans for the future?
I’m finishing a short film called “Teeth” and hope to preview it shortly in Budapest. After that, I’m working on getting a project going in another country. I can’t tell you much about it yet, as it’s still confidential, but we plan to have several of America’s favorite and recognizable TV and film stars join us on the project.
After three ouzos each it was time to call it a day. We did our manly abrazos (tougher these days with Richard’s very full and long white beard) and vowed to get together again soon; maybe next time at Piaf. I staggered off to catch a bus and Richard went off in search of weapons.