For anyone who has ever seen the cult 1982 horror Xtro there is a scene early on when a couple out driving late at night encounter the warped monster from the movie resulting in their nasty demise. If you remember the scene you will remember the character of Ben who runs from the vehicle when they hit the evil alien warning his lady friend to “Stay in the car!” What you might not know is that playing this part is Robert Pereno a man of many talents and a ton of stories that also played a major part in the shaping of the 80’s in the UK as we know it.
Through an extremely random set of events, worthy of one of Robert’s many amazing stories, I happened to get the chance to interview the man himself shortly after having seen Xtro for the very first time and just before its release on Blu-ray for the first time ever. Arriving at his beautiful flat in South East London I sat at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee, unsure of what my encounter would bring forth much like Ben in Xtro, and so began one of the most entertaining interviews I had ever done.
After apologising for how Xtro specific my questions would be Robert laughed and says “For all my faults I can certainly talk” and he was not wrong. Charming and engaging Robert is a wealth of information and opinions all of them fascinating. As he put it himself “This psychiatrist once called me a loquacious narcissist years ago but I’ve got over that. I’m just loquacious now.”
Unfiltered and unafraid to tackle any subject from his career to his personal life to politics and social media he says “I always hold on to these sad facts in my sad almost career that the people I admire, like the William Blake’s, were kind of ignored in their lifetime” I countered with a buoyant retort saying you never know what will happen once you’re gone and he replied “But I’m not being ignored in my lifetime because I am being interviewed right now.”
Attempting to start at the beginning of Xtro I ask how Robert became involved with the crazy horror Sci-Fi in the first place and he launched into some backstory from his fascinating past jumping about in a way only he can while keeping his audience totally enthralled.
“I’m 61 right in the 80’s whatever I say, however much I deny it I had a moment, perhaps. I went to drama school, I was an actor. Dirty Den went to the same school as me. A bit before me, in fact I acted in a movie with him a couple of years ago in a terrible film called Mob Handed the Movie. It’s out there. I’ve got the main part in it but on the DVD cover its Dirty Den because he is better known and they might sell more copies in the mind of the director.”
Robert refocuses “So going back I had an acting agent, I had a band Shock which I formed to get an Equity card but it kind of took off so we ended up almost having a hit. It was short lived because I am very dramatic I suddenly decided I wanted to leave and form a proper band because we were a mime group really.”
He carried on “Anyway in the 80’s I’m in this group which is suddenly supporting Suicide in New York which was a pivotal gig. I thought ‘my god I’m miming here to these cool New Yorkers’ so I grabbed a mic and Shock kind of imploded because I wanted to change direction. It was a crazy night because I had a fight with John Belushi who was trying to pinch the bottom of Carole Caplin who was in the group, I’m name dropping she ended up becoming Cherie Blair’s guru.” Interestingly for horror fans Shock also included Barbie Wilde better known as a writer and the Female Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II who Robert is still good friends with.
“So I’m in this mad rock and roll cocaine bubble” he continued “at the same time because I’ve got an acting agent I meet Harry Davenport (the director and writer of Xtro) So basically like all these things I didn’t think I auditioned even. I can’t even drive by the way, I have no licence” he says referring to the fact that his character Ben nearly runs over the alien in the scene he stars in. “I got paid, I did a job. It was a night shoot” he carries on “Irony of all ironies this film was after Shock imploded and the monster who kills me is played by Tim Dry who was in Shock too. He probably didn’t have to method act he probably wanted to kill me.”
I ask if Robert knew Tim had gone for the role and he pauses for a moment “It’s such a good question, the thing is as I get older I ponder about things with discussing this. There was so much happening I was also becoming a really successful nightclub promoter.” This role promoting many of the top London nightclubs such as The Camden Palace, The Wag, Crazy Larry’s and SW1 to name a few was what lead to him having so many impressive connections in the music, acting and media world and so many star studded stories although as he says “I hated being a promoter I was just good at it. I did it because I needed the money but I actually hated it.”
In fact Robert’s time working in various clubs forms the main thrust of a documentary about him from 2013 called The Promoter. It transpires he was approached by a couple he knows who says let’s make a documentary because as they put it he was ‘the most famous person no one’s ever heard of.’
“I have a fear of success rather than failure” Robert states delving deep into why even with all these contacts and chances he has never broken through into mainstream success “There was a moment. I’ve done Minder, Dempsey and Makepeace all the usual stuff. I’ve done a Hollywood film with Diane Keaton The Little Drummer Girl terrible film John le Carré book but it was enough of a part where I could have gone somewhere with it. My agent was busted for ripping off people. Caroline Quentin was with her too, who I know, I did a film with her too another terrible film called Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire made by the guy who made Scum. Whatever. Anyway after that I kind of got disillusioned, I didn’t try and get another agent.”
“There is no doubt I’ve been through difficult periods” he states “A lot of my own making. I come from a wealthy family. Twice I’ve blown inheritance, I’ve done rehab, Flaubert says the greatest vice of all is not drugs or drink but self-pity so I don’t know whether I will it.”
Discussing his constant habit of giving things away to people, as he had been trying to do to me during the entire time I had been with him, Robert says “I haven’t got children, I have depression issues, I’m surrounded by stuff I inherited. A part of me on certain days wants to just get rid of it all because I don’t want the responsibility. It’s not generosity, it’s so that you are now responsible for this stuff. The moment I got a copy of Xtro I bumped into a friend and I say ‘have this’ and he says ‘are you sure there’s not someone round the corner you want to give it to?’”
I take the opportunity to move back to Xtro “It was just one night amongst many, many nights” he recounts “That night I was doing that film. I think a lot of people think it’s a load of old nonsense, but a lot of people really like it because it’s a mash up of Alien and all these other films. He’s obsessed Davenport, I think you’d get on with him.” I laugh unsure whether to take this as a compliment or not as Robert carries on “It defined his career. He also liked making music and obviously because I liked making music we clicked. In fact another Shock member is in Xtro as the toy solider brought to life Sean” Crawford that is who went on to become Tok to Tim Dry’s Tik popularising robotic mime in the UK in the 80’s making 3 members of Shock in 1 film, coincidence I ask? “I don’t know” he muses “He would have been aware of our group. We weren’t famous, we weren’t big and we were in NME and all these things.”
Wondering what Robert makes of the weird and gory movie all these years after he made it and if he knows why it is still considered such a cult classic I ask if he has seen Xtro since he made it. “I had a film club a few years ago where I would show things like Jubilee, my era, it was in the West End and one night we showed Xtro. I could obviously talk about it and so could Tim (Dry) who was there that night. So we are showing a film we are both in and it was packed. There is no doubt that it has a following, a cult following.” Robert goes on “A cult following means just a few people like something and Ed Sheeran means a lot of people like something. But then the cult lot won’t like Ed Sheeran because too many people like it so the success of it is that it’s not that successful.”
I counter that a cult following is many times more loyal than a popularist fan base who will give up their loyalty as soon as the next big thing comes along hence why people still love Xtro. Robert thinks on this and carries the idea on “That’s right” he says “the success of Xtro and my band Shock was that it they weren’t successful. So there still is a small band of people on social media who remember them. Perhaps if either would have become successful the fans would have deserted them.”
“I thought it was kind of funny” he says about watching Xtro “I enjoyed it as an oddity. It had a strange colour.” I decide to put forward my reasoning for why his character Ben is far more pivotal in the film than it may first appear being that the alien steals his clothes leading to a change in heart by the beings ex-wife later down the line when she discovers a ton of money and a picture of a woman in her reincarnated husbands jacket all of which Robert seems happy with. “So I am the ghost in the machine” he smiles and says jokingly “You’re right the film would not have happened without me.”
I tell Robert that according to Wikipedia in March 2011 Director Harry Davenport confirmed that Xtro 4 was in the works saying. Davenport is quoted as saying ‘A script by Daryl Haney is in the works, and my sales guys are salivating. It’s going to be a very odd movie indeed. Sort of back to the roots of the first one, but much stranger and, hopefully, more uncomfortable.’
Although there has been no more news since then I ask if he would be interested in coming back as Ben if it was a possibility. “Yes” Robert quickly answers “Is there money in it? I’m back. I’m there. This time I think more than just stay in the car.” I say that perhaps rather than die he could have been transformed into an alien so it would be more a case of ‘stay in the spaceship.’
As he chuckles at this I run Robert through my opinions on Xtro being far more shocking and highbrow than it first appears (all of which you can find in my review HERE) and that it is in fact actually a film all about divorce in the 1980’s, an idea he seems to find interesting. “I like that. You’re stating obvious things that we missed because they are so obvious” and this leads into him interviewing me for a time asking about Love Horror and how it came about all of which I won’t bore you with in this far more interesting piece.
After a barrage of questions he stops and says staring right at me “I do talk a lot right?” I laugh and reply its fine “That’s the whole point isn’t it?” he says and again I agree. Chatting about what he has coming up he grabs a picture from the side and hands it to me “At Christmas I am going to be the face of the Salvation Army” and I see him transformed from the smart waist coated gent before me into a washed up stereotypical old homeless man covered in snow and sadness. “I’ve done quite a lot of work for the opposition party of Bangladesh” he states laughing “I’ve done voice overs for their adverts.”
“I’ve also got this album out” he carries on “It’s called Aftershock, I’m looking back at my career.” He suddenly leans into the Dictaphone employing his best voice over tone “Aftershock it’s the new album from Robert Pereno. Autobiographical, dramatic, electronic, a lifetime in the making, stay in the car.” I laugh. “It is in Classic Pop magazine and they have said ‘it’s like Benedict Cumberbatch being David Bowie’ or something. I was nearly in The Hunger” Robert drops in mentioning Bowie’s vampire movie from 1983 “I spent a day with Bowie. I was in The Hunger but I wasn’t in The Hunger” he cryptically adds “I have done quite a few films where I am actually on set like The Bride with Sting where I was in the South of France for a month and they cut me out. I was paid which is the best bit.” I put forward that perhaps these scenes may be part of the special features on Blu-ray releases like the ton of extras on Xtro however Robert has moved on or back to Bowie and another epic and almost unbelievable tale from his past.
“I’ve met him three times” he tells me “I did a new year’s eve party where I earned a lot of money like 8 grand cash that night. So the next day I thought ‘I’m going to Mustique (a private island in the Caribbean) So I got a flight with 8 grand on me and I was off my nut. I got to David Bowie’s house where there was this post new year’s eve party going on and I saw my friend and I pushed him in this pool. Bowie asked me to leave so I left. I left with this pretty girl that happened to live on the island and we nicked a golf cart went down to the port jumped on a boat ended up on another island with Interpol looking for us because I didn’t know this girls parents where very well connected.”
“The chaos of my past is the interesting bit” Robert states “but it’s the tragic bit because in a sense here and there if I had taken myself more seriously maybe” he trails off then bounces back to a more buoyant mood “ I’m part Byronic part moronic.” We go over the idea that if perhaps he had made more clear headed decisions he could have achieved the fame he seems to crave however it would also mean he wouldn’t have the life he has today including a loving partner to share his life with.
“On a good day it was like it was all meant to be” Robert starts to say “On a bad day the regrets come. We all see the past as it suits us. So imagine right now the phone goes ‘Robert you won’t believe this you’ve got a big part in a film’ suddenly Xtro becomes something else in my memories.” There is a palpable pause but before it can be comment on its gone swallowed up “I can’t believe we have talked for an hour about a film called Xtro” Robert blurts out as I realise he is right and an hour has passed since I started recording. “Great name though. Shocks a good name too. They are simple. It’s the way they spit out. If you called it The Extra-terrestrial Suburban Family Divorce, I’m being ridiculous but you know in Italy in the 70’s there was a trend to have films with really long, long, long titles.”
After discussing Giallo and long film titles and then sidetracking into the perils of social media with a side order of politics Robert snaps back to the subject matter at hand “What were we talking about?” he says “Stay in the car, she died anyway it didn’t really help.” I chuckle and say that because he only has that one line it makes the role much more memorable. “I had to wear very conventional clothes for that role.” Robert remembers “You have to remember I never wore conventional clothes. I had to change everything. I’ve always dressed up from childhood. They told me to be normal whatever normal is.”
I turn off the dictaphone and start leaving although I could have happily stayed for another hour having been so encapsulated and wrapped up in Robert’s words and his world past present and future. As we natter some more and just before I finally leave Robert makes a startling final connection between Xtro and his life. “I guess in many ways that part in Xtro was a way for my mother to see me as she always wanted me to be” he concludes “She always wanted me to be that straight laced, well dressed, 2.4 children kind of guy and in a way she got to see that.”
We say our goodbyes and I get into the lift as the doors close he fixes me with a smile and yells out “Stay in the lift!” just as the doors begin the close.