Billy Hayes spent most of the seventies in a Turkish prison after trying to smuggle hash out of the country. His experiences were made into the film Midnight Express, which starred the late Brad Davis, and he is now a happily married film maker living and working in LA.
His 2002 directorial debut was with the film Cock and Bull Story, a violent but earnest tale about a sexually confused boxer and his friendship with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.
Billy spoke with Mark Adnum in March 2003.
MARK ADNUM: Billy, my first love was Brad Davis as yourself in the 1976 film Midnight Express. It’s a performance that’s had an impact on a lot of people. What response have you had to it, at the time of the film’s release, and over time in the almost thirty year’s since?
BILLY HAYES: I loved what Brad did because his heart was into it. He touched people, like yourself, for example, and that’s what I still want to do—affect people and change the world in whatever small or large way I can.
MA: Most people, when they think of “Billy Hayes”, imagine Davis, the sexily suicidal movie star who doesn’t resemble you physically or otherwise. Apart from your book, your profile is limited, and the film didn’t stay true to all the facts you detailed in your memoir. What’s it like to have a partly-fictionalised reputation, personified by someone else?
BH: My reputation, like all of us, is a Rashomon-like portrait. All I can do is try and stay true to my heart, which guides me. The fictionalized part is due to the film’s liberties, the book’s inability to say everything I wanted, although it’s a fairly accurate rendition of who I am, or rather, who I was. Hopefully one is constantly growing and changing…
Billy Hayes (right) visits Brad Davis on the set of Midnight Express in 1978. The dog is a stray, adopted by Brad on the set. He named it Patrick, and took it home after filming wrapped and gave it to his mother.
If you click on the image, you can see it full size, and note Brad’s Marlboros and matches, scuffy sneakers, and patched jeans. Note too, the beauty of his forearms, and Patrick’s food-stained face.
For Billy Hayes, being arrested in 1970 and sentenced to life in a Turkish prison was both the worst and best thing that ever happened to him. As chronicled in the book and film, Midnight Express, and now in the sequel book, Midnight Return, this fascinating journey into peril, fame, and fortune was a strange voyage of discovery that extended far out beyond the bars—from the isolation of a prison cell to worldwide notoriety.
Midnight Return takes us on that ride, using photos, maps, and old handwritten letters in this vivid portrait of a most unusual experience.
Midnight Express is a masterpiece, a mess, and a mystery. Brad Davis, who died of AIDS in 1991, had limited regular acting talents, but a metaphysical power which was off the scale. Very handsome and athletically built, his tendency to growl, mumble and scratch his chest during scenes leant him a magnetic, blue-collar sexiness, while his mix of boyishness and femininity created a compelling erotic charisma. His two famous roles, this one and Querelle, have him shirtless and sexual a lot of the time, struggling to survive in an s&m prison, and stabbing and fucking guys at a homoerotic sea-port. Not incidentally, he plays objectified bottom in both, stripped, spreadeagled and ogled then repeatedly raped and beaten here, but taking control and aggressively bending over in Querelle.