Directed by John Carpenter
Screenplay by Frank Armitage
Based on “Eight O’clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson
The one thing I can say about John Carpenter is that he’s a crazy genius. Leave it to him to cast “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in the role of a drifter who discovers a pair of sunglasses that enable him to see the subliminal messages of an alien race intent on lulling humans into a false sense of security. Piper is perfect as Nada. Carpenter realized that his experience as a professional wrestler would come in handy for two reasons. Piper’s microphone skills were the ultimate screen test for the hilarious one-liners he delivers in “They Live”. “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum”. “Life’s a bitch…and she’s back in heat.” “You know, you look like your head fell in the cheese dip back in 1957.” None of these lines could have been delivered with any kind of authority by anyone but Piper.
The other reason Piper is perfect for the role is his ability to sell a fight scene. Watch the fight between Piper’s character Nada and Frank (Keith David-“The Thing”, “There’s Something about Mary”). The scene is played out like an “I Quit” match. The sunglasses that Nada so desperately attempts to have Frank try on take the place of the microphone that Piper would shove in his opponents face in the hopes of hearing those words.
“They Live” works in other ways besides Piper’s casting. Carpenter may not be the most subtle director; but he has a point. Haven’t you always wondered that there was something more to what you read and watch on TV? Who knows, maybe I’m sending out subliminal messages with this blog. Maybe I’m saying “READ THIS BLOG” “YOU LOVE THIS BLOG” “THIS BLOG IS YOUR FRIEND”.
I can dream, can’t I?
The line “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum” was ad-libbed by Roddy Piper. According to director John Carpenter, Piper had taken the line from a list of ideas he had for his pro wrestling interviews.
The fight between Nada (Roddy Piper) and Frank (Keith David) was only supposed to last 20 seconds, but Piper and David decided to fight it out for real, only faking the hits to the face and groin. They rehearsed the fight for three weeks. Carpenter was so impressed he kept the 5 minute and 20 second scene intact.
John Carpenter wanted a truly rugged individual to play Nada. He cast wrestler Roddy Piper in the lead role after seeing him in WrestleMania III. Carpenter remembered Keith David’s performance in The Thing and wrote the role of Frank specifically for the actor.
Roddy Piper’s character never gives his name nor is he referred to by name throughout the entire movie. He is simply referred to as “Nada” in the credits, which means “nothing” in Spanish. The name is most likely a reference to George Nada, the main character of Ray Nelson’s short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” which was the basis for ‘They Live’.
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