Interview with Dan Richter

by Roderick Munday

© 2000 Roderick Munday/Dan Richter. All Rights Reserved

Dan Richter played the part of Moon Watcher in 2001: a Space Odyssey. This interview came out of a brief e-mail correspondence I had with him in October 1999.

Rod Munday

RM - Can you talk a little about your background?

DR - I was born and grew up in Darien, Connecticut, a gentle suburb of New York City. My father was and is a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine. My mother was a painter. I went to the Kent school in Connecticut and then to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. At the academy I met Paul Curtis, the founder and director of the American Mime Theatre. I joined the American Mime Theatre where I spent almost five years. During this period I became its lead performer; taught mime at the American academy and the Gene Frankel Theatre Workshop, and began a study of the history of mime. Traveling around the world on sabbatical to study mimetic forms I ended up in London teaching private mime classes and publishing the poetry review Residu.

RM - How did your involvement with Kubrick start?

DR - We met through common friends - he wanted to talk to a mime.

RM - Do you know how you came to be chosen for the role?

DR - I showed Stanley what my approach to the sequence would be, demonstrated some movement and he hired me on the spot.

RM - What were your first impressions when the project was explained to you?

DR - It would take a lot longer than planned.

RM - How much research did you and Kubrick do to create the choreography of the hominids. For instance, did you base their movements on existing primates or on the speculations of palaeontologists based on fossil skeletons?

DR - We did extensive research. Stanley as always was very thorough. I spent months studying not only early man, but also, primate movement and behavior in great detail.

RM - How closely did you work with the costumiers and how much of the performances of the hominids was either inspired or constrained by the costumes you wore?

DR - Stuart Freeborn was the make-up artist who created the costumes and we worked very very closely. The costumes and the movement were developed simultaneously and were inseparable.

RM - Was it possible to do any choreography before the suits were ready?

DR - The movement and costumes where developed together. My studies of primate behavior and movement in some instances preceded the costumes.

RM - Was the structure and objectives of the 'Dawn of Man' scenes worked out beforehand, or improvised on set?

DR - Scenes were not choreographed in the dance sense were each move is precisely given to sync to a beat of music. Stanley had specifically looked for a mime. Being a mime I was able to develop character and movement that was free of the linear-structural limitations of dance.

We had a script which Stanley expanded upon as we shot. He allowed me the latitude to improvise during my scenes, but always guided by him towards his creative goals.

The high energy movement were extremely difficult and could only be sustained for very short periods as the costumes were very hot and the movement controls physically demanding. I had developed very precise movements for the man-apes in order to sustain the illusion. I gave them a great deal of training in behavior and activities as well. Because of this Stanley had the freedom to move us about and experiment freely on set. We all had characters, activities, and relationships within the tribe.

RM - Do you have any recollections about doing the bone to spaceship jump cut scene?

DR - Long and hard. A lot of time was spent getting the speed correct. The match it was to lead in to was critical.

RM - When you saw the finished film what was your reaction?

DR - Amazement and pride.

RM - I believe John Lennon was quoted as saying that 2001 should be played in a temple 25 hours a day - did you ever discuss the film with him?

DR - We talked about it a number of times. John was an artist and a communicator, it appealed to him on that level.

RM - Did you feel a lot of people misunderstood what you were trying to do with the Dawn of Man sequence, if so why?

DR - I think they got it, don't you? The details of the story were secondary.

RM - What are you doing now?

DR - Payroll for the entertainment industry, writing a memoir, [Moon Watcher's Memoir] mountaineering, head of leadership training for the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club, and trying to be a good father.

These questions are hard to answer without going into great detail. That is why I am writing my book. I worked for ten months on all aspects of the development of the 'Dawn of Man' and then stayed on during post for another five I think. I was my good fortune to work with Stanley for over a year on pretty much a daily basis. He gave me great latitude and was always deeply supporting and always an inspiration.

For more information on Dan Richter, visit his homepage at