John Wayne always had a very distinctive voice and way about him that both made him unique and sought after as a Hollywood star. But his former co-star James Caan was around the Duke long enough to capture a few Wayne’s mannerisms.
In a 2018 interview, Caan embraces his inner John Wayne, pulling out an impressive impression of the late actor. For a moment, you could almost imagine the Duke instead of Caan giving the interview. But Caan wasn’t trying to make fun of the late actor.
Instead, he recounted stories from the set of working with Wayne on the movie “El Dorado.” The two sometimes butted heads while making the film. But eventually, they also became friends as well, that made each other laugh.
“He was great because he could intimidate you,” Caan said. “He’d stay on you forever, and you’d just crumble. I mean, he’d just try you.”
While working on the film, both Wayne and director Howard Hawks, also known as Coach, called Caan by the nickname of Kid. They also both offered Caan conflicting directions on the film.
“So this one night I remember I was between he and Mitchum and Howard Hawks was about 72 at the time, and we’re outside in this old Tucson,” Caan remembered. “This big old western town and Hawks comes up and says, ‘now look, Kid, when you say that line, here’s what’s going to happen. Duke, you go down the middle of the road right down the center because we are going to surround this bar. Mitchum, you go around that way, and Kid, you go around.’ I said, ‘alright, Coach.’ because that’s what we called him, Coach.’”
But Wayne had a few directions of his own. He wanted Caan to flip around and give him a certain look instead of following Hawks’ instructions.
“So now he has to walk back up 50 yards back to the camera. There’s all kinds of extras, and he’s walking back, and the Duke looks at me and goes, ‘now look, Kid.’ He says, ‘when you say that there line, I want you to turn around and give me that look you give me.’”
James Caan on Working with John Wayne
James Caan and John Wayne started off rocky while working on the film. But over the course of filming, Caan grudgingly began to respect Wayne and his accomplishments.
“He was a piece of work,” Caan said. “I enjoyed (him), but it took a little while. He’d try and get ya intimidated. And we became pretty close, only because he knew I was like this half-ass stunt man. That’s what he liked. … And he would really try and intimidate you. First week, it was like me and him.”
Caan often felt amused at Wayne and his gruffiness, smiling or laughing at his antics. But Caan earned the nickname Jiminy Cricket from his co-stars as a result.
“And I’m looking at him and I can’t believe I’m listening to this,” Caan said. “So every time he talked, the only reality was I was smiling the whole way. So when [Robert] Mitchum came in, he look at the dailies and said “you’re doing a lot of smiling, Jiminy Cricket. He called me Jiminy Cricket. I said “what do you want me to do? I had a really good time with those guys. Course, I had to wear lifts this big between those two guys. “