Dear Mr Mel Novak, thank you for agreeing to this interview. As we know very little about you, could you please give us some basic informations about yourself? Where were you born ? Was acting your first career choice ?
Well , here goes... My real name is Mi'lan Mrdjenovich & I was born in a little town ( 12 miles west of Pittsburgh ), Wall, Pennsylvania , went to Wilmerding High School & lived in Turtle Creek before I moved to California. I had 60 scholarships in American football from major universities, 16 in basketball, but signed a professional baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which was always my desire & first career choice. My baseball career ended with a severe rotator cuff injury to my right shoulder, & the surgery crippled me. I was a gimp for several years. My career was gone & I was a cripple at 19. It was at this time I also had throat surgery ( I had 10 throat surgeries from 19 to 29 ), so I was at the crossroads of my life, sinking in dispair. I was told by a Christian friend who was a counselor that at my age when all the dreams collapsed & being a gimp on top of it that 93 % would turn to drugs or alcohol to medicate the pain. I turned to God & thankfully, I never drank nor took drugs.
How did your acting career begin ?
I had done some plays in school & a couple in small theatre, but it was to meet girls. In L.A. I got a job with an insurance company as a bodily injury claims adjuster. I just wanted to pay off all the medical bills & the loan for the money the scholarship did not pay. It was there that I met a gal that set up a meeting with her cousin that was a modeling agent. I worked as a model for several years, ramp shows & photography, while still working as an adjuster.The agent had me go to an acting school & I studied with some excellent acting coaches. I became very good at cold reading & camera technique.
The shooting of "The Game of Death" was interrupted by the tragic death of Bruce Lee and the movie was completed later on without him. How did you get to work on this production ? How was the atmosphere on set ?
After the Black Belt Jones wrapped, Robert Clouse came over to me & said he had a role for me in "Game Of Death", to be shot in Hong Kong. (This was after Bruce died.) He said they were going to finish it. It was great to work with Hugh O'Brien, Gig Young & Dean Jagger. Robert Clouse was a man of his word. I've had dozens of promises that were never kept, but that is Hollywood. He liked the fact that I was so natural & could do my fights & stunts. I was an athlete & hung out with the stuntmen, learning from them, always asking questions & practiced. In karate, experts like Pat Johnson, Bob Wall, Sonny Barnes, Lou Cassassama, & Tadashi Yamashita taught me.
You played in movies along some of the most famous actors in the world like Steve Mc Queen, Jim Kelly, Christopher Lee and Chuck Norris. What memories do you keep of these people ? Any memories/comments about "Tom Horn", "Black Belt Jones", "Eye for an eye", "Cat in the cage" with Sybil Danning and Garry Marshall's"Exit to Eden", for example?
The biggest star I worked with was Steve McQueen. When he was on screen it was magic. He did not like the " Hollywood I, me & my actors", he liked down to earth people. Years before I was in Horn, I went trap shooting with an attorney buddy & Steve was there along with Steven Spielberg, Ken Hyman, & John Milius. He never shot trap & with my shotgun, he nailed them all. Coppola sent Milius to talk Steve into playing in Apocalypse Now the role Duvall eventually did. Two weeks in the Philippine for 1 million & he turned it down.Years later he remembered me. I ministered & prayed with him on the phone many times while he had that horrible cancer.I liked him!
Garry Marshall is one of the nicest human beings you would hope to meet. His talents are in every field of entertainment. It was a terrific time for me to work with Dan Aykroyd, Rosie ODonnell, & Stuart Wilson. Garry had Dan & I do an improv in a scene & we got an ovation. As you know not everything gets up on the screen. In fact when Garry filmed "Dear God", he wanted me to play a street minister ( he knew I have a Skid Row & prison ministry) where I had a lot of dialog. It almost all ended uo on the cutting room floor. Think of this . Garry is a mega star in movies & TV, producer ( films & his playhouse), yet he took time out & sent me a letter saying I was excellent but he shot 35 minutes more than he needed. He said he was sorry , that it could not be helped. What a guy!