The Man Who Made Billy Jack Go Berserk: A Conversation with David Roya

"Billy Jack"(1971): History's most successful grindhouse film.

It has been often said that screen villains are even more interesting then the heroes.  Fabled villains such as Darth Vader, the Joker, the Wicked Witch of the West and Hannibal Lecter have proven this time and time again.  However, some of the screens most complex villains are the ones who seem to often miss out on the iconic status that they deserve.  Bernard Posner, played by David Roya, is one of these villains.  The mean spirited mayor’s son in the grassroots independent hit film Billy Jack, Bernard Posner is a bully, a rapist, a bigot and a murderer.  However, despite his crimes, the viewer understands that the reason he is a bully is because he was bullied, and the reason he commits the atrocities he does is in a twisted attempt to gain his father’s acceptance.

Released in 1971, Billy Jack, the story of a kung fu fighting Indian who protects a freedom school by battling against rednecks, law enforcement and “the man” in an attempt to promote love and peace, has become one of the most important grindhouse films in the history of cinema.  Written, directed and starring the enigmatic and controversial Tom Laughlin, Billy Jack became the first major independent film success story in an age when independent films were only released in porn houses and drive-ins.  Although the film has become dated and preachy as the decades have moved on, Billy Jack is still a beloved film for film fans worldwide, and still lends a powerful impact in a world where political corruptness and social injustices are as much as a reality as they were four decades ago.

David Roya as the villanous mayors son, Bernard Posner, in Billy Jack.

David Roya as the villanous mayor's son, Bernard Posner, in "Billy Jack."

Yet every good film needs an even better villain, and David Roya stepped up to plate to play the emotionally damaged young stud Bernard Posner, in which he gave, only after Laughlin and his leading lady/wife Delores Taylor, the most memorable performance in the film.  Whether he is dumping flour on Indian kids, striking out with Little Miss Up Yours or driving his car into the lake, Bernard Posner was the villain you loved to hate, but you also hated to love.  In David’s portrayal of the character a third dimension that is rarely given to grindhouse villains was created.  Underneath the cocky bad boy was a timid and tormented kid who was just as victimized as the people who became his victims.  While you wanted to see Billy Jack kick his sorry ass, deep in the viewer’s hearts you couldn’t happen to feel sorry for Bernard Posner.

So if his performance was so unique and so powerful, why has David Roya disappeared from the pop culture radar?  The answer lies in the filming of Billy Jack itself.  A combination of what could only be described as a stormy relationship with Tom Laughlin which lead to a lawsuit, mixed with a number of mistakes that David himself made, created a negative reputation for the dynamic young actor, eventually putting to an end what was a promising career in Hollywood.

Today David Roya lives in New York City with his two children.  A former school teacher, David has found a new career as a martial arts and yoga instructor and a health advocate.  Taking a strong interest in health and fitness, David Roya has been busy filming a yoga DVD and enjoying a successful life that he was unable to find in Hollywood.  However, despite his success and happiness, he admits that his heart is unfulfilled for the stardom that he never found.  Out of the public spotlight for decades, and not talking to the media for years, this is the first time in decades that David Roya has had a chance to tell about his career, his mistakes and the challenges of working on Billy Jack.  Join us as




Early David Roya publicity photo

Early David Roya publicity photo

I spoke to David Roya via telephone in January 2009

Sam Tweedle:  What originally got you interested in acting David?

David Roya:  Well Jeff Chandler was my cousin, and as a kid everybody said I looked just like him.   His real name was Ira.  They’d say “David looks just like Ira and he has a low voice and he’s just a little kid.”  So I always wanted to be just like Ira.  But I was very shy in social situations.  I had my friends and played ball and everything, but with girls I was very shy.  But I used to act tough.  My father was kind of like a tough guy, and he was my idol so I used to act tough, but really I was quite shy.  I used to think if I acted tough enough I wouldn’t have to talk too much.

David Royas cousin, Hollywood leading man Jeff Chandler:  Secretly I wanted to be like Jeff Chandler, but I never told anybody.

David Roya's cousin, Hollywood leading man Jeff Chandler: "Secretly I wanted to be like Jeff Chandler, but I never told anybody."

But secretly I wanted to be like Jeff Chandler, but I never told anybody.  I really would have liked to be an actor.  So, when I was a senior in high school some teacher in the lunch room told me to clean up some garbage on the lunch table that wasn’t mine, and he touched me or something, and I threw him down on the ground.  So I got suspended.  All my friends were athletes, but all my friends were also very smart.  So we all applied to the top schools and the Ivy League colleges and everything and I always wanted to be with my friends.  But [the suspension] went on my record and [although] I had very good grades, I got rejected from all the schools and I had to go to the Brooklyn College, which wasn’t very far from where I lived.  That was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do.  To be in town.  I wanted to go away.  So I went to this school and I was very lonely there, and brooding, and didn’t wanted to be a part of the fraternity stuff.  It just didn’t interest me at all.  And I was kind of a non conformist kind of guy.  One day after school I wandered into some area…I guess it was the theatre area…and I just looked inside and everything was all dark and smoky and some girl came out and said “Come in!”  I said “No no no.  I don’t want to come in.”  Anyway she convinced me.  I came in there and there was a stage and they were doing improvisations and they said “Come on.  Do this.”  I said “No no.  I’m just gonna watch.”  Finally they got me up to do something and when I got on stage.   I think I did something about picking up a girl, and as I told you, I was very shy with girls.  But as soon as I got on the stage I was a total different person.  I could be myself really.  More myself.  I didn’t have to be afraid of anything.  Afraid of making a fool out of myself.  So I did that, and it was very real.  People were laughing, and I never made people laugh.  And then something got me angry, and I got real mad…and then I could hear a pin drop.  But I did it in the context of the improv.  I felt fantastic!  I felt like I was flying and I remember coming home and I said “That’s it.  I want to be an actor.”  It was so powerful to me.  The feeling of it.  Not that I wanted to be in movies.  It was just the actual sensual feeling that I could be myself.  It was like I was drunk but I didn’t have any inhibitions.  So then I started doing the plays at school, and that’s how I started acting.

Sam:  What got you to head out to LA?  Did you head out soon after college?

Karen Black: I fell in love with her.  She was wild.

Karen Black: "I fell in love with her. She was wild."

David:  Yeah.  Pretty soon.  After college, which was around 1965, I did summer stock and off Broadway.  Summer stock was very interesting.  I did something with Karen Black.  I fell in love with her.  She was wild.  At that time she had just gotten into scientology.  Scientology was brand new and she was one of the first people into it.  Also in Summer stock was the famous Yiddish star named Eli Mintz, and he was in one of the first popular TV shows in the 50’s called The Goldbergs.  He played Uncle David on that show.  He was a star of the Yiddish stage, but his brother was the top star and he always had this thing about how he wanted to be as good as his brother.  He acted like a Prima Donna.  On the TV show he played this little meek Jewish guy, but in the theatre he thought he was the top dog.  I also worked with Christine Jorgenson.  You know who that is?

Sam:  Yeah.  That’s the first sex change operation.

Famed sex change patient Christine Jorgenson: "She was great. She was so funny. A wonderful person."

David:  Exactly!  The first sex change!  This was in North Port, Long Island.  We lived in this big farm house, and there was many many acres and her family lived out there.  She was great.  She was so funny.  A wonderful person.  It was a real interesting mix of people.  So I did that, and then I went to Off Broadway.  I remember this one incident having to do with altercations that seems to come through a lot of my stuff.  The director was gay and he kept being lascivious with me, which I didn’t like much.  Anyways he kept saying “How come you didn’t smile” and I said “You never saw John Garfield smile.”  John Garfield was one of my heroes.  So after I said that somebody found a picture of John Garfield and they put it in my room.  Well anyways, the play went to off Broadway and I got into the union.  Before that I wasn’t in the union, and before that the actor had to do everything.  Clean the theatre, clean the outside, mow the grass, pull up the bamboo shoots.  We had to do everything.  Well when I got into the union I said “I’m in the union now.  I’m not cleaning the theatre” and then I got fired.  I couldn’t say that’s why they fired me, but I got fired.  From that I headed to California.  I thought I’d try it out and I was there for sixteen years.

Sam:  You said your first acting job was on F-Troop but I found an earlier production called The Love Statue, which was an LSD movie or something.

As soon as I got on the stage I was a total different person.  I could be myself really.  More myself.  I didn’t have to be afraid of anything.  Afraid of making a fool out of myself.

"As soon as I got on the stage I was a total different person. I could be myself really. More myself. I didn’t have to be afraid of anything. Afraid of making a fool out of myself. "

David:  The Love Statue?  That must be some piece of crap thing that I don’t want to remember.  I don’t know.  I don’t know the titles but there was some crap I did.  Actually, through those kind of things is how I heard about Tom Laughlin.

Sam:  You wrote to me about something about a film that almost mirrored the Charles Manson murders before the murders even took place.

David:  Yeah.  That was some weird thing I did where the money ran out on it in the middle, but there were people getting slaughtered and slashed and death rituals and crazy stuff.  I didn’t even know what the hell was going on!  It never got completed, unless they pieced it together and put something out.  I don’t even know.

Sam:  So it was through this sort of thing that you got involved with Tom Laughlin.

David:  Yeah.  Someone on there said “You ought to send your picture to this guy, Tom Laughlin.  He’s looking for people.”  So I sent the picture and then he called me to his house.

Sam:  What were your first impressions of Tom Laughlin.

Billy Jacks writer, director and star Tom Laughlin:  A controlling sort of figure.  He had to run the whole show.

Billy Jack's writer, director and star Tom Laughlin: "A controlling sort of figure. He had to run the whole show."

David:  Controlling sort of figure.  He had to run the whole show.  He seemed to have a group of people who had worked with him before.  He had a lot of young people.  He had some sort of montessori school that was closed down because there was some kind of murder that wasn’t solved.  I didn’t know that at the time.  I just knew that he had some kind of acting class and he had some young people who were part of his deal.

Sam:  Can you tell us about the audition process at his house?

David:  It was an audition where I’m doing an improv on the scene in the car where I rip off Miss False Eyelashes’ bra.  So we were doing the improve on that and I didn’t have the script.  He just kind of told me what was going on.  Everyone was there.  It wasn’t separate and it was at his house and there were a lot of people there.  So I just got up, and I had no idea what I was going to do.  So I just looked at this girl and I didn’t say anything, and just by the fact that I just looked at her and wasn’t saying anything she was getting very nervous.  I just held that silence for a minute and all of a sudden I grabbed her and threw her down on the ground and they stopped me.  One of the reasons I did that was because I heard that Tom Laughlin is a real method actor and he likes things very real.  Now I thought “Forget it.  I’m not getting it after that” because nobody wanted to talk to me after that.  They thought I was really like that, which I’m not.  But they called me back again.  So I came back, and there was another improvisation.  This was the scene in the candy store where they go to get the ice cream.

Sam:  Which is one of the most iconic scenes in the film.

Tom Laughlin and David Roya had a stormy working relationship:   I don’t know what I said, but next thing I knew I’m down on the ground and he’s on top of me and ripped my shirt and was trying to punch me.  I was blocking the punches and he was going insane.

Tom Laughlin and David Roya had a stormy working relationship: "I don’t know what I said, but next thing I knew I’m down on the ground and he’s on top of me and ripped my shirt and was trying to punch me. I was blocking the punches and he was going insane."

David:  Right.  So we were doing a take off on that scene, and the girl who eventually [played Kit], who was one of his students, made it real when she was made to hit me.  She really hit me in the ear and I said “You do that again and I’m gonna punch you right in the mouth.”  So Laughlin came in and he said something and I’m in the role, but I’m also angry that she hit me.  I mean, that’s not acting.  She didn’t need to hit me.  He said something and I said something to him like “Shut the hell up” or something.  I don’t know what I said, but next thing I knew I’m down on the ground and he’s on top of me and ripped my shirt and was trying to punch me.  I was blocking the punches and he was going insane.  And he said “Get out of my house’ and he throws me out of the house.  He comes and throws my jacket at me.  My shirt is ripped up.  I’m scratched up and I think I’m bleeding and he’s outside of the door and I said “Boy, that was some good acting Tom.”  He said “What?  You were acting?”  I said “Of course.  Weren’t you?”  He said “No!  I was trying to kill you!”  I said “What the hell?”  He said “That was the greatest acting I’d ever seen in my life!”  So I said “Do I have the part?”  He said “Yeah, you got the part, but don’t say anything yet.”  So that was kind of what I had in store for me.  This kind of guy.

Sam:  Well the part about the method acting makes a lot of sense, because when watching Billy Jack, a lot of the time the actors were just playing themselves.  However, Bernard Posner was a more interesting character because, unlike a lot of the villains in most grindhouse films, he was a lot more three dimensional.  I mean, he is a bully because he is bullied by his father.  Yet that doesn’t stop him from being a murderer, a rapist and a bigot.

David Royas character Bernard Posner was a bigot, a rapist and a killer:  I hated the role.  To me he was just a coward, and I didn’t like that.

David Roya's character Bernard Posner was a bigot, a rapist and a killer: "I hated the role. To me he was just a coward, and I didn’t like that."

David:  Well I hated the role.  To me he was just a coward, and I didn’t like that.  He was written as a coward and it seemed like that name was in there from the beginning.  Bernard Posner.  Why would he create a name like that?  Such a stupid name like that out in the west?  It makes no sense whatsoever.  Just to annoy me?  I don’t know.  I hated it.  I didn’t like it.   So I tried to bring a different dimension to the character.  Like when I’m looking at him through the scope of the gun on top of the cliff and I’m thinking “I could do this.”  I’m supposed to be a coward in the movie and I say “I could do that.”  But I was actually thinking “I COULD do that!”  I could have shot [Laughlin].  Also, when he [killed me] at the end.  Terrible.  It was awful.  I told him.  It was a crap scene.  There was no kind of fight.  All of a sudden he comes in there and chops me in the throat?  It was pathetic!  I guess I was a kind of a little antagonistic.

Sam:  Did you find that by playing the villain that you were alienated by the rest of the cast?

Davids castmates were unable to seperate him from the character of Bernard Posner:   I really felt the alienation because the people really thought that I was like the character.  I was very lonely on that set because people were treating me like I was this guy.

David's castmates were unable to seperate him from the character of Bernard Posner: "I really felt the alienation because the people really thought that I was like the character. I was very lonely on that set because people were treating me like I was this guy."

David:   It did alienate me from the rest of the cast!  I really felt the alienation because the people really thought that I was like the character.  I was very lonely on that set because people were treating me like I was this guy.  I got a little friendly with the Miss Up Yours girl, but all of a sudden she kind of turned on me.  And then there was one instance, and when I look back this had a lot to do with me.  [Members of the cast] were in my room and we were playing guitars and singing folks songs and all of  a sudden I got a knock on the door and it was one of the town girls that wanted to see me.  Now no matter where I went there were always girls.  They always came on to me.  I was a young guy and I didn’t think much of this so I cleared everybody out of my room and took the girl in.  Looking at it years later I thought that one of the people who was in the room with me was Tom Laughlin’s daughter [Teresa Laughlin, who played Carol].  That young little girl.  Thinking now, years and years later she probably told him and he though “What an asshole!”  So I felt this chilliness from all the young people, and Tom Laughlin also.

Sam:  So you and Laughlin didn’t have a good relationship during the filming.

David had a stormy relationship with Tom Laughlin:  Years later he still had it in for me!

"Years later he still had it in for me!"

David:  I don’t think so.  I remember one time [during filming] in Arizona, we were waiting for a car to take us to a location from the motel and we’re waiting for Miss Up Yours and she was late.  So she finally came but he was screaming and yelling at me, but I was ready the whole time.  But he was taking it out on me, and I was real annoyed.  I remember doing the thing where I drove the car in the lake.  I said “It doesn’t feel right to me.  What’s my motivation?  You tell me to drive my car in the lake and I’m going to drive the car in the lake?  That’s bullshit!  I’m not driving no car in the lake!”  He tried to make it like “If I was the toughest guy in the world and you were afraid of me?  What if I was Master Han?”  So when I was driving the car in the lake the stunt coordinator said “Oh it’s very simple.  You just floor it and it’ll actually go slower and it’s no big deal.”  So I floored it and it went in head first and when it went under the water the suction, even though it was a convertable, had me under the water for what seemed like an eternity.  Its like I couldn’t get out from under the water and it was very scary.  When I finally got out of it I had a kind of a smile on my face like “Jesus…what the hell was that?”  Incidentally, a number of years ago, there was some kind of show where they watch movies and they make comments on it.  So they were watching Billy Jack and commenting on it, and Tom Laughlin called in and he told him “Yeah, the guy who played [Bernard Posner] was a real coward.  He was afraid to drive the car in the lake so I had my son drive the car in the lake.”  Of course that was a complete lie.  What kind of idiot are you that would have his thirteen year old son drive a god damned car in the lake?  So this was years later he still had it in for me!

Sam:  Shouldn’t you have had a stunt double of some sort for that scene?

Character actor Bert Freed, who played Royas father, Billy Jacks arch nemisis Mayor Posner, was unhappy about the scene where Bernard drove his car into the lake.

Character actor Bert Freed, who played Roya's father, Billy Jack's arch nemisis Mayor Posner, was unhappy about the scene where Bernard drove his car into the lake.

David:  Well the man who played my father, Bert Freed, was the vice president of  the screen actors guild.  Well in the scene after I drove the car into the lake, he was really yelling at me in real life, and we used it in the scene, “Why the hell didn’t a stunt man do that, and why the hell did you do that?  I don’t give a crap about you, but if you got hurt the production would have been stopped.”  I didn’t know.  I was a young guy.  They say drive the car in the lake I was gonna drive the car in the lake!  I didn’t know.  The way that scene was supposed to be was that I was supposed to say “Because I was scared” very meekly but Freed was banging me around and slapping me and whatever, and I was real angry and it came out “BECAUSE I WAS SCARED!”  I did it real strong.  I wasn’t scared.  I was just angry.  The sound guy had it tuned to low and said that I almost blew his ear drums out.  He wanted to kill me, but I think they used it that way, which is to Laughlin’s credit.  So afterwards Freed is really yelling at me and saying “Why the hell did you drive that car?  Don’t you read the union rules?”  So I’m in the screen actor’s guild, but in this movie Laughlin got everybody to not sign a contract.  Somehow Bert Freed found that out and said “What? You’re doing this without a screen actors guild contract?”  I said “No, well he said I could trust him.”  So when I went back to speak to Laughlin about it, he was very angry.  He was very angry that I wouldn’t trust him anymore.  He said “I’m a man of my word.”  I said “This is what Bert Freed said.  It’s against the rules.”  So Laughlin gave me a contract.  He wasn’t happy about it but he gave me a contract for the last three or four weeks at the minimum of five hundred dollars a week.  If it wasn’t for that I would have never got any residuals after that, so it’s good that I did that.  So Laughlin was angry at me for that and after the movie was over it seemed that somebody called the screen actors guild and he was getting a lot of flack for that and he thought that I did it.  I didn’t do it.  I had nothing to do with that.  But he was accusing me.  But  after we did the scene with the car in the lake the money ran out.  He came on set the next day and said “I have to shut down the shooting because we don’t have the money to complete it.  We have to wait.”  That was in November or December 1969.  I was waiting for the thing to resume.

Sam:  Did you think that the film was going to restart, or did you go on to do something else?

Due to filming Billy Jack David Roya had to pass up an opportunity to work with Sal Mineo:  He was a very interesting character, and I thought working with Sal Mineo had to be great.

Due to filming "Billy Jack" David Roya had to pass up an opportunity to work with Sal Mineo: "He was a very interesting character, and I thought working with Sal Mineo had to be great."

David:  Well during the hiatus I got offered to do a play with Sal Mineo.  Sal Mineo was having auditions for Fortunes in Men’s Eyes.  He was doing the play in Hollywood, and he was going to take that play to San Francisco and then Broadway.  He was acting  in the one in Hollywood, but he was going to direct the other productions.  So he was looking for someone to play his role and I got casted.  I hadn’t seen the play.   So he said “Come see me in the play.”  So I went and saw it and I was shocked.  It was about reform school, but there was a homosexual rape in it.  Now I might see it and might not feel nothing, but at that time I was shocked.  I remember going back to his house, were he actually got murdered, and the walls were all painted black and there were bars on the windows and pictures of James Dean all over.  He said he communed with James Dean.  I asked him “Why do you have it all black and with bars” and he said “I have it like a prison so when I go outside I feel so wonderful.”  Very strange.  But he was a very interesting character, and I thought working with Sal Mineo had to be great.  But I didn’t know when Billy Jack was going to start again because it was off for about six months.  So I called Laughlin and told him that they offered me the play and he said “If you do that you’re fired.  I’m not going to have you back.”  So I didn’t do it.  I felt real bad about it.  The guy who got the role was Don Johnson.  I worked with Don Johnson years ago and he was a real cool guy.  We were doing push ups together and he said “You must have made a lot of money from Billy Jack.”  I said “Naw.”  He played a rock star on drugs and I played his manager and we were filming in the amphitheatre at Universal and there was this young girl, about fourteen years old, who was in the audience.  Don pointed her out and said “You see that little hippie girl?  She’s after me.  That’s Tippi Hedren’s daughter.”

Sam:  Ha!  Melanie Griffith.

David:  Yeah!  Isn’t that interesting?

Sam:  Can you tell me about working with Bong Soo Han?

Tom Laughlins stunt double, Master Bong Soo Han, who did the marital art scenes in Billy Jack.

Tom Laughlin's stunt double, Master Bong Soo Han, who did the marital art scenes in "Billy Jack."

David:  Bong Soo Han was the guy who really did the martial arts on Billy Jack, who was a very good friend of mine.  I studied with him.  He just died about a year ago.  He was one of the fathers of Hopkido in the US.  Wonderful guy.  Sweet guy.  If you look at the scene in the park…you know that scene?  Where Billy Jack’s  jumping up and he does that double kick?  Well if you slow that down you’ll see a Korean face.  Laughlin, I might add, was telling people in the industry that he was doing everything, which was total bullshit.  Just before that movie Laughlin had a bit of a weight problem.  He was taking some sort of injections to get real thin, and after the movie finished he got really fat again.  We didn’t finish it and we had to redo it and he had to get thin again.  But :Laughlin really thought he was Billy Jack..  He really got into that character.

Sam:  Now when going through the different Billy Jack commentary tracks on the DVDs Tom Laughlin never says much about you personally, but he always goes out of his way to mention a lawsuit between the two of you.  He doesn’t go into many details though.  Do you care to discuss that?

Despite being promised co-star billing, and for having the most prominent part in the film after Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor, Davids name did not appear on the poster.  Instead it went to actor Clark Howart who played supporting character Sherrif Cole

Despite being promised co-star billing, and for having the most prominent part in the film after Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor, David's name did not appear on the poster. Instead it went to actor Clark Howat who played supporting character Sherrif Cole

David:  Well what the lawsuit came out of was that I was supposed to get co-star billing.

Sam:  Well that makes sense because after Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor you give the most memorable performance in the film.

David:  Yeah.  Anybody who saw that movie can say that!  So he told me that I’d have co-star billing, but after the movie was over and it was being edited I started seeing his secretary, who was a pretty girl, and he told her “If you him anymore you’re going to be fired.”  When I found out about that I was really livid.  So I went with her to see a rough cut of the movie and many parts that I really liked were cut out.  So I wrote him a very angry letter.  So then the movie came out and, if you see the movie, I’m down at the end of the credits!  My name is somewhere at the end of the movie!  So the movie was getting publicity and I wasn’t on any of the posters.

Sam:  The poster says “co-starring Clark Howat.”

Davids legal battles with Tom Laughlin was a factor in ruining his professional reputation.

David's legal battles with Tom Laughlin was a factor in ruining his professional reputation.

David:  Clark Howat was the tall guy with the hat.  I’m not sure what the heck he did.  Well that was ridiculous.  That really pissed me off.  Well as you know, when the movie came out it did nothing.  Laughlin stole the master tape and he was withholding it, and he had a lawsuit against Warner Brothers that he won, and they had to bring it out again.  That’s when it became a hit.  Well I was getting no kind of publicity and I was trying to get by and nobody knew who the hell I was.  Those were the days when Hollywood was not interested in independent films.  Well I had a friend who was a lawyer.  At the time he was district attorney and he worked for the government and when he was not being a lawyer he was hanging out at the beach.  Well he said “You know, you ought to sue Laughlin for breach of contract.”  I said “Nothing is written” but he said “All contracts are good.”  I said “I don’t know.”  He said “I’ll do it on contingency.  I’m starting a new law firm.  Let’s do it.”  I said “Okay.”  Looking back on it it’s a very stupid idea.  You don’t sue anybody in the movie industry that has power.  But we did it, and of course it took many years before it even got to court.  But in the meantime this lawyer friend of mine started his law firm and before you knew it he had ten lawyers working for him.  So a day before the trial he says to me “No, I can’t make it.”  I said “What?”  Instead he sends a guy who looked like a substitute teacher, only this was a substitute lawyer.  He had a smoking jacket on with patches on his elbows.  Meanwhile, Tom was saying “This guy’s a punk and he’s lucky to be doing anything and I got this punk off the streets” and since I kind of acted that way anyways people were thinking I was this person.  Of course I lost, and right afterwards my lawyer ran after Laughlin and had a script in his hand and said “Can you read this?  I’m a big admirer of yours!”  So I did myself in in more ways then one.  Afterwards I really tried to patch things up with Laughlin.  I tried to get in touch with him a number of times but he would never have anything to do with me.  I wanted to bury that hatchet.  I thought a lot of it had to do with what I did and my attitude and I could see how things could happen that way and I wanted to bury the hatchet but it never happened.

Sam:  Did you find it hard to get work after that?

David was supposed to be in The Boys in Company C (1978) but was dropped by director Sandy Furie.

David was supposed to be in "The Boys in Company C" (1978) but was dropped by director Sandy Furie.

David:  Yeah.  There was this famous casting director named Joyce Selznick, who was the niece of David O. Selznick, and she once said to me “You’re one of the best young actors in town and the reason that your not working is because Tom Laughlin said this and that” and she said “Look.  A lot of people know that he’s off the wall but it doesn’t matter.  Once the rumors stop that’s it.”  And also, my choice of representation was terrible.  I was being represented by this guy who was representing Michael Parks, John Gavin, and me.  And everybody who this guy handled had their career go downhill.  But I was doing other stupid moves.  There was this famous director named Sidney Furie.  He was making a Viet Nam movie called The Boys in Company C.  It was going to be filmed in the Philippines for two months.  He kept interviewing people and he had the cast and then we started rehearsing before we were going to the Philippines.  Well Furie says “I really like you, but how come you haven’t made it?  There must be something not quite right?”  I said “I don’t know.”  I was so stupid and naive and I didn’t know it at the time, but he took the cast out to eat and I was a super health guy.  I was a vegetarian and I said “Naw, I don’t want to eat.”  So I didn’t eat.  And he said one of the reasons he liked me was because I was so outspoken.  So this is how stupid I was.  Not only did I not eat, but I was criticizing what he was eating.  I was saying “You’re putting ketchup on your eggs?  You’re smoking over your food?  This is insane!”  I went on and on like that thinking that he said he liked me because he said I was outspoken so I’ll just be myself.  So a few days later he decided that he’s just taking me out to eat alone.  He takes me out, I do the exact same thing.  I don’t eat and I criticize him.  By the end of the week a car was supposed to pick me up and bring me to the airport where I was supposed to be going to the Philippines.  My bags were packed.  I had rented out my place.  I was supposed to go for two months.  So I’m waiting and the car is supposed to be here and there was no car.  I called the office and I asked “What’s going on?”  His assistant said to me “I asked [Furie] if he was sending a car to you and he said ‘No, I don’t want that guy.’”  I remember racing to the airport myself where I was going to tear him apart myself but I never got there.  I never heard from him again.  Never had an explanation.  I was so stupid that I didn’t figure out that Furie was thinking that he had to be on location with me for two months that if I was a problem here, what kind of a problem would I be in the Philippines?  But I was to dumb to realize that at the time.  So you put all these things together plus my reputation and there you have it.

Sam:  So what films did you manage to make despite your reputation.

David played Kid Jelly in White Buffalo (1977) starring Charles Bronson, Clint Walker and Jack Warden

David played Kid Jelly in "White Buffalo" (1977) starring Charles Bronson, Clint Walker and Jack Warden

David:  I did a western called White Buffalo.  Charles Bronson and Jack Warden were the stars of that.  Jack Warden was a great guy.  A terrific actor.  A real pro.  I really liked him.  Clint Walker, was in it.  When I was a kid he was in a TV show called Cheyenne and I loved Clint Walker.  He was one of the guys that I really liked.  We worked together and he was such a great guy.  Big, 6 foot 7.  Deep deep voice but a real warm guy.  He told me a story about when he was skiing and he had an accident and he remembered himself lying there and he had a ski pole in his chest and he remembered somebody saying “That’s Clint Walker.  He’s dead.”  And a doctor came and opened up his chest and did open heart surgery right there and he was saved.  After that he became a born again Christian.  Kim Novak worked on that film also, but I didn’t get to meet her.  There was another guy named Stu Whitman who was also a big star at one time.  John Carradine was there.  He was an old man at the time.  Interesting people.

Sam:  So what was working with Charles Bronson like?

David gets gunned down in White Buffalo.

David gets gunned down in "White Buffalo."

David:  I remember that we’d be hanging out but Charles Bronson would be in the corner and was very unfriendly.  I said to Jack Warden “What’s with Charles Bronson?”  Warden said “That’s just Charlie.  He’s alright.  That’s the way he is.  He’s just stand offish.”  But I remember that Bronson had his wife, Jill Ireland, and he wouldn’t like anybody looking at her.  Well he was one of my heroes too.  I really liked him.  But when they first introduced me to him I went to shake his hand and said “It is really great to be working with you” and he kind of looked at my hand for what seemed like an eternity before he shook it.  So right away it seemed like a weird feeling.  I had a really small part in the movie.  I played this gun fighter named Kid Jelly.  There was an advisor on the set who was telling me how to do a fast draw.  He would say that a gunfighter would have the hand on the gun.  He’s not going to fight a fair fight. So I was practicing that way for a good long time.  So the scene involved Bronson and Warden sitting at a table in a bar and I call Bronson a “Dirty old windbag.”  So when we started doing the scene, I kept beating Bronson to the draw, which wasn’t supposed to happen..  So what happened was that we ended up doing this scene over and over and over until Bronson finally said something.  I knew he had to draw first, but I didn’t mean to keep beating him.  So each time we did I would get shot with a pellet gun between the eyes and I’d fall over a table, and it was a whole big scene that would have to be reset each time.  So this is going on for a very long time.  So Bronson finally said something to me and he speaks very low.  I couldn’t understand it.  I said “Excuse me Mr. Bronson but could you repeat that.”  He said it once again but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.  So he called over somebody and Bronson whispers something to him and the guy comes over to me and says “Mr. Bronson said you can’t walk around with your hand on a gun like that.  That’s like a fighter with his hand cocked.”  Well; I said “I don’t know.  I’m just following what this advisor guy told me.”  And I’m looking all around for this guy and he’s no where to be seen and nobody seemed to know who he was.  So I’m there with the egg on my face.  So when he finally said something to me I went over to him and said “Excuse me Mr. Bronson.  Why did you wait so long to tell me?  We’ve been doing this for hours,” and he said “I wanted you to learn for yourself.”  He was calling the shots more then the director.

Sam:  Did you do anything memorable after White Buffalo?

David:  I also this science fiction thing called Escape from DS-3 with Bubba Smith.  It was written by Steven Spielberg’s sister Anne Spielberg.  She wrote a few popular scripts, but this wasn’t one of them.  It was a low budget thing but it was pretty good.  So they liked me in that and three or four months later I did another one called Warp Speed with Adam West.  He was loads of fun.  He’s a character.  He was trying to crack me up every chance he had.  We’d have both cameras on me and he would look at me and make one eyebrow go up and he’d get me hysterical.  Well those movies didn’t go anywhere.

Sam:  So what made you decide to quit acting and move back to New York?

David Roya today.

David Roya today.

David:  Well I wasn’t getting any acting work and I started going to this acting class.  There were a lot of people in that class.  Cheryl Ladd and Bob Urich  but I just couldn’t get any work.  I wasn’t getting any money and I started working on the docks, and I was in love with a girl and we broke up and from that I met another girl and got married in a rebound thing.  Before you knew it we had a child.  I’m not going to say much about this ex-wife of mine.  A beautiful girl but marriage wasn’t one of her things.  So we had a little baby and she didn’t know the first thing about what to do.  I didn’t know what to do and I wasn’t getting any work so I figured I should get back home where my parents were with the baby.  So I came back and I had to make money.  So I started teaching and before you know it I was pretty much out of the business.  I still did a little bit here and there but I didn’t pursue anything.  We had another child, but before you knew it the marriage was broken up and I was just trying to survive with two children and being a single parent.  I started teaching a lot of karate classes and I didn’t have time to do any acting.  Every once in a while I’d get involved and go off and do an off-Broadway show, but I never had anybody good behind me.  Years passed and there you have it.  But I just have this feeling that I got to do something.  I have this unfulfilled feeling even though I’m happy and healthy and have two beautiful kids.  I’m basically a very creative person and I need that creation.  I’ve been very successful but I have this yearning that I was never fulfilled.

After years away from the film industry, the ego of David’s youth seems to have been stripped away, and replaced with a highly enlightened and confident man who has had experiences beyond most people.  Although not dedicated to a single doctrine, David is one of the most spiritual and intense individuals that I have ever spoken to and he has been a valued friend to me since I conducted our interview.   Whether we are just talking about movies, or if he is sharing wisdom that he has to offer, David has a calm way that puts me both at ease and peace and always leaves me with something to think about for hours, even days, after we talk   Yet, obviously, David is still searching for that place on the pop culture radar, and brings a world of experiences, many that he learnt by his own mistakes, to the pop culture journey.  Hopefully it’ll only be a matter of time before somebody takes notice and David can finally meet his unfulfilled goals as an actor.  He defiantly deserves it.

  1. Forest’s avatar

    Yes he does. I hope he gets it. This interview was very enlightning

  2. Lisa’s avatar

    I thought the article on David was really well written. I am friends with David, and he is such a great man. I could never image that he was so shy back in his younger days. I love all the detail you gave about his life. Those are great photos too. David is in fantastic shape from all his years of healthy living, I would love to see him make a big comeback. His role in Billy Jack, absolutely is what made the movie such a huge success. I love the movie, but the parts David wasn’t in, it kind of dragged in those scenes. His scenes were amazing, he did such a great job in that movie.

  3. J. Joaquin Adames’s avatar

    I finally found information on what happened to David Roya. I always wondered what happened to this talented actor. Another actor that I wondered about was Elizabeth James who played “Vicky” on the original Billy Jack film “The Born Losers.” She just disappeared, although I read that she co-wrote the screenplay with Tom Laughlin. I cannot fathom why David Roya was not able to capitalize on his “Billy Jack” fame. He was the “villain” who contributed so much to the success of the film. He should have received co-starring billing, along with Bert Freed, Clark Howatt and Julie Webb who I believe was the daughter of Jack Webb of “Dragnet” and Julie London, the singer and actress of “Cry Me a River” fame. In life you have to learn to be resilient, i.e., the ability to bounce back from adversity. Let me give you an example: Champion fighters get knocked down early in the fight but through persevearance and sheer will, rally back in the late rounds to win the fight. From my own experiences in life, I had to deal with disappointment and other setbacks, but I never gave up. That’s what life is all about. Learn from the past “but don’t be chained to it,” as George Forman has said in his inspirational book. He made a wonderful comeback as a champion fighter and cookware Icon after suffering years of mental and emotional anguish due to the constant verbose harassment over his loss to Muhammad Ali in Zaire, 1974. David, resiliency is the key. I am sure that we will see David Roya back on the screen. He deserves to be there.

  4. Max L.’s avatar

    I really enjoyed this interview. Billy Jack has been one of my guilty pleasures for many years. For one thing, it’s probably the only martial arts film ever shot in my adopted home state of Arizona. But more importantly, it evokes memories of my own childhood. Born in 1972, I attended progressive schools through eighth grade, and even a progressive summer camp. Maybe time’s distorted my memory, but I would swear five minutes couldn’t go buy without somebody whipping out a guitar and leading us in a protest song. “We’re a rainbow/Made of children;/We’re an army/Singing songs” would have fit right into the repertoire.

    And yes, thanks to David Roya, Bernard Posner was the character who fascinated me most. Sam Tweedle sums up his appeal perfectly. He’s a vicious prick, but given a father like his, who alternately spoils and abuses him, who wouldn’t be? One can picture Bernard’s childhood all too easily: He’s just given up the winning run in the Babe Ruth League playoffs and is yearning to be comforted. His father calls him a pansy, and storms off to shoot mustangs or raise money for Goldwater. Tragedy in the making.

    But it’s to Roya’s credit that the character isn’t too sympathetic. Bernard may not like his father, but it’s obvious he likes being his father’s son. If he hasn’t become a hippie, it’s not out of principle, but because he simply can’t imagine life without a Corvette, willing flunkies like Dinosaur, and (had things gone differently) his tuition to ASU paid in full. When Billy Jack deals him a fatal knife-hand to the larynx, we feel bad, but we get over it. It’s not like the sunbelt really needed another cocky real estate baron.

    Bernard Posner may not have achieved the iconic status of, say, a Darth Vader, but I would argue he’s influenced American cinema far more than he’s given credit for. He has served as the prototype for an especially loathsome stock figure: the obnoxious rich kid. Before Billy Jack hit theaters, you never saw them; ever since, they’ve been driving their sports cars and dirt bikes out of the woodwork. Johnny Lawrence, the Karate Kid’s leg-sweeping nemesis; the Ted McGinley character in Revenge of the Nerds; the James Spader character in Pretty in Pink; Lorraine Bracco’s would-be rapist in Goodfellas; even Bill Lumbergh in Office Space — all these are Bernard Posner’s progeny. And a fine, vile brood they make.

    Like David Roya, I was intrigued that the character had such a Jewish-sounding name. Roya doesn’t say it quite so explicitly, but that’s what he means; being Jewish myself, I savvy the lingo. A Mormon friend swears that most of the town rowdies would have been Mormon, while a Catholic friend has the character of O.K. Corrales, one of Billy Jack’s colleagues at the Freedom School, pegged as a former Jesuit seminarian. (In fact, when Jean Roberts, Billy’s love interest, watches enrapt as Billy experiences mystical communion with a rattlesnake, he points and groans, “That’s it. That’s Vatican-freaking-Two right there!”) By choosing to make the villains Chosen, was Tom Laughlin making some sort of subtle anti-Semitic statement? One hopes not, but if so, Lorne Greene and Michael Landon, two other Jewish boys who looked good scowling over virgin desert, should have dealt him a klop in tuchas.

    Anyway, I was very sorry to read that Roya mourns his chances for stardom, but it seems a little premature to give up hope. Comebacks happen — Mickey Rourke managed to claw his way back to the top of the pyramid, and this after wrecking his face and brain in the boxing ring. Lindsay Lohan’s career isn’t dead yet, even though — given the life she’s led — she should be. A bad reputation is bad news, but as Bernard Posner himself might have said, it’s not an insurmountable problem.

  5. Paul Close’s avatar

    I sure do own Mr Roya a “very belated” apology!

    I absolutely Hated Bernard Posner!

    I had already been studying Shotokan karate for a number of years and was a Huge Billy Jack fan.
    (I didn’t know until much later that Bong Soo Han was the one doing the fight scenes)

    As a matter of fact, it was my sensei who introduced me to Master Han, years later.

    Mr Roya, it has been a ‘double edged sword’ for the both of us over the years .. My hate for Bernard Posner and Your being responsible for that hate .. Simply because you were/are .. One Hell of a fine actor!! lol

  6. Schani’s avatar

    What a revealing article, which was very insightful. Not only did it reach new levels of investigative reporting, but it was a soul searching revelation about the thirst for fame, and the dismal business that Hollywood really is. I used to work in Hollywood for many years as a cameraman, and saw (and heard) many stories like this, having worked with many actors. But the sadness of this industry is that fame is so illusory, and so few ever reach it. However, it’s even sadder when you reach it instantly, and it fades away in a nano second. Great job, Sam!

  7. Marc’s avatar

    Though I was only a kid when BILLY JACK came out, Bernard Posner was the way I saw villains for the longest time, especially that blend of arrogance and charm which I hope I’ve been able to channel in certain moments of my own stage career (I tend to get cast as the villain quite, even more when I hit my mid to late 30s).

    I agree that Bernard’s death is ridiculously anticlimactic, especially following the wonderful build up as Billy Jack approaches the bed and he fires the gun over and over again. I tend to think it should not have been put on screen, but left to the imagination. It seems like the intention was to heighten and generate sympathy for the main character, which is why the murder of Bernard Posner is soft-pedaled and justified in the film. Although Laughlin talks endlessly in commentaries about the “two sides” to people, you never get to see a really dark side of Billy Jack. It would seem to me that a good exercise for Laughlin in making that film would have been to watch the original CAPE FEAR two, no three times through.

    Still, the Up Yours scene and the ice cream scene remain for me moments of iconic screen villainy. I don’t agree with the earlier poster who says that David Roya was the first of those smarmy screen villains–his Bernard Posner reminds me of some of those equally aristocratic villains on Dark Shadows, or Alan Arkin’s slimy Mr. Roat in WAIT UNTIL DARK, not to mention the sort of thing that Roddy McDowall used to do extremely well (and was doing in a very celebrated performance as Mordred in CAMELOT). But the performance does reframe those particular villains on a much more human scale.

    The politics of the industry are unfortunate, but always there. And I find the descriptions of physical scenes ungoverned by choreography all in the name of the so-called “Method” extremely outrageous. I had to do a short run of a show with an actress who had to slap me onstage and was more or less totally incapable of selling choreography–and I had to give her the green light to slap me for real. And she hit hard. So I know how it feels. Needless to say, I’ve never attempted to work with that director, company, or actress again.

    It’s somewhat comforting, I suppose, to learn that the same shenanigans goes on at a much higher level–although no stunt doubles, no SAG contracts? Kind of exactly the reputation that has been hurting indie film for years….

  8. Greg Gibbons’s avatar

    I was one of those who saw Billy Jack several times in the theatre and I wondered about the credits at the time because David’s performance of Bernard was obviously more believable than many others and the character was central to the plot.

  9. Steve Dingler’s avatar

    David’s performance in this movie is a bonifide credit to his acting abilities. A very convincing role as a vilian. No wonder this persona would carry over to what the perception of his true personality would be. I regret that he did not get many other acting roles to further demonstrate his tremendous acting skills. His performance in “Billy Jack” will always be one of my favorites. Good luck David.

  10. KC’s avatar

    David, you did a great job in Billy Jack. You are a great actor but this interview made you appear to be a cry baby screaming over spilt milk. If Tom did wrong, I am sorry for that. If you were black listed, I am sorry for that as well. I was black listed 12 years ago so I can relate. I would make a comment if I had not walked at least a mile in similar footsteps.

  11. casper’s avatar

    david roya is great and gifted and very underrated. its very unfortunate that tom and david couldnt work out their priorities-david being an actor obviously thought that he would be working under actors’ rules. tom however, wasnt doing billyjack for hollywood purposes, but as a vehicle for his ideals and philosophies. i love billyjack, as well as the entire cast, but perhaps it woulda been more fair had tom more clearly explained his motivs behind the project to everyone involved at the beginning of production, so that an actor like david who was struggling and needed the work could have passed and waited for something more lucrative, and they could have found some amature whod gladly act in a large production for dirt cheap…but for how it turned out, davids job in the film was top notch and i couldnt imagine anyone doing it better. i wish him the very best!!!

  12. Suzi’s avatar

    I was a young teenager when Billy Jack came out. Myself, and all of my cousins fell in love with this movie. I always wondered what happened to David Roya. I was one of the many who had a love/hate relationship with Bernard Posner. David’s acting talent brought this character to life. I would have loved to have seen David in more movies. I think Hollywood did a great injustice to this highly talented and gifted actor.

    To David: Good luck in the future. Enjoy your children. Even without the co-star credit, in my eyes and the eyes of my family, you gave the best performance in the entire movie. Thank you for giving the only believable acting performance in the movie. All the others seem cheesy now, but your performance stands out these many years later.

  13. david’s avatar

    i was a little kid when my dad took me and brother to see billy jack . he instantly became our hero and has been for years, until now.hes a phony and a fraud . my brother and i both became blackbelts in tae kwon do, after this movie inspired us, lol. and now to find out all this crap is kinda like learning that santa doesnt exist.. so lets think about the real implications of this story is it about guy who got a bad deal or is it about tearing down an iconic legend ?

  14. david’s avatar

    and btw i noticed at the top of the page A QUINN MARTIN PRODUCTION. why dont you do a story on why they arent making tvshows anymore ? and what happened with that?

  15. Sam Tweedle’s avatar

    You know David, perhaps Tom Laughlin didn’t do all his black belt tricks, but he pretty much lived and breathed the political, social and morals that Billy Jack stood for. Tom Laughlin IS Billy Jack, and he has inspired myself and thousands of others. I think its sad that the martial arts aspect tainted your vision of a very unique and inspirational film maker because thats what he was – a film maker…not a martial artist. I hope you’ll rewatch the films and think about Tom Laughlin again in those terms.

  16. John Schenk’s avatar

    Thanks, Sam, for this insight into the life and career of David Roya. He truly did help make Billy Jack such a cult success. He was a villain you loved to hate, he mark of a good actor. Nice to hear that s guy who was often his own worst enemy has grown into a fine father and human being.

  17. David Samuel’s avatar

    Interesting interview. Thinking of a clever slant on the situation would be for David to play Billy Jack in a final sequel. Outline would be Billy Jack becomes something of a villain representing the outcome of the “Billy Jack” sub culture which seems to demand a higher standard of integrity of others than they hold themselves to. It would give Laughlin a chance to exhibit the “forgiveness” Billy Jack preaches.

  18. Clayton-Ted’s avatar

    I think if David put a little time into it he could get a big break and get a starring role in T.V. or film!

  19. Bubba Gump’s avatar

    Though some of this stuff may be true, Roya sounds like a bitter guy and is blaming everyone else for his lack of success.

  20. Sam Tweedle’s avatar

    Although I am not trying to be bias (if so I would have deleted your comment) I don’t agree with you Bubba. I think David puts a lot of things in perspective, and I think he actually beats himself up a lot for his past failures. I think he pretty much says it like it is. I am a huge Tom Laughlin fan, but I know for a fact, and most of his fans will agree, that he wasn’t always the easiest guy to work with. But, for the other side of Laughlin, read my interview with Debbie Schock.

  21. Vic Noto’s avatar

    I met David years ago in Brooklyn in Prospect park on a set of Saturday Night Live,it was a short film Directed by Randy Quaid,some Nutty thing. Anyway,he seemed to me a nice Settled guy who was a teacher in Brooklyn.
    He pretty much laid out the SAME story I see in THIS interview. Both of us being “Physical fitness Nuts” we spoke on the phone several times and I asked him about exercise in Lieu of Weight training and he actually drew me sketches of Muscle development,which I still have. I found him to be a nice fellow,but then again,I’ve been “Accused” of being volatile also,probably because of MY outspoken personality. I’m still kicking around as an actor,it’s a little more difficult as the Culture seems to have Drastically changed…”Tough-Guy” actors are shocking to the caliber of decision makers in the industry,they’re not sure if you REALLY are that way….sorry David had to experience Short Sighted people back then,but it’s only gotten worse,Good Luck to BOTH of us David,being misunderstood is Noble,Misunderstanding is COWARDICE.

  22. Vic Noto’s avatar

    The entertainment “Business” is the MOST unusual in the Solar System. It’s unlike ANY other business in that there’s NO pattern to “Promotions”.
    There isn’t any Viable understanding as to how and why one actor is “Successful” and others are not,and ABILITY in Show-Business is NOT correlated TO Success,after all,Ability in Acting is relegated to mere opinion.
    Most of those who “control” these decisions have High EGO which essentially is nothing more than Low-Self Esteem. My uncle,the late Lore Noto the producer of the longest running Musical in the HISTORY of theatre,THE FANTASTICKS,flat out to my face in his Forest Hills home told me:”don’t become an actor”. I didn’t listen to him,with NO regrets.
    Maybe I should have but ANY artist doesn’t Choose to BE an artist,IT chooses THEM.
    David Roy Chandler(David Roya)is a GREAT actor and I feel that HE was responsible for at LEAST 30 % of the Repeat BILLY JACK business.Yes,his situation is a Shame,there are MANY such instances as his.
    Interesting that JEFF CHANDLER is among my favorite top 5 all time favorite Actors and I’m sure had he lived past 1961 he would have given encouragement to his cousin David to pursue his Art. I think that those that stay in the game like myself,should go to the Local hardware store,purchase a shovel and dig up the Bones of SIGMUND FREUD for Counseling.

  23. Gene Ridge’s avatar

    He is the biggest reason Billyjack is so memorable. Roya was the convincing factor in Billyjack. After the strange death scene B. Posner the film devolved into lefty fantasy.

  24. The Muse’s avatar

    I’ve seen Billy Jack almost 20 times, most of those times when it first came out. I went to Hollywood in 1975 to become an actor. While I was working on the docks, I saw David Roya working there. I believe it was “Yellow Freight”. He was ending shift, and I was beginning mine.

    I had admired his acting in Billy Jack. As he was standing there waiting for a check, I said, “You’re Bernard Posner from Billy Jack. I really liked your acting.”

    He looked at me with anger in his eyes, and said, “Fuck you.”

    Boy, was I let down.

  25. pweb’s avatar

    Good interview. Sounds to me as if David is his own worst enemy.

  26. Nick Constantinou’s avatar

    That has to be the biggest irony of this situation; David realized that you don’t sue someone in power in Hollywood; IOW, you can’t fight the establishment and in this case, the establishment was Tom Laughlin, the maker of the most anti-establishment film of all time.

  27. Brian Patrick Clarke’s avatar

    Interesting read. I, as an actor, am terribly saddened to see/read what happened to Mr. Roya’s opportunities in the industry.

    For whatever it’s worth, I – once – played tennis at Tom and Dolores’ house, when a friend invited me up in late 1984. I was lucky enough to be working regularly at the time, so I guess I “passed muster.” Others there, but not all were playing, included Lynn Swann, Genie Francis, Alan Thicke, et alia. Apparently, you had to be “cleared” before the guy allowed anyone to bring a guest.

    Laughlin was an asshole. No other word for it. I remember it vividly, even nearly 30 years later. Pompous, fat, completely-enamored-of-himself asshole. He also seemed to believe, those many years later, that he actually WAS “Billy Jack.” What he really was was Billy Jackass.

    So sorry that David’s career was derailed by what should have been a huge career break. Unfortunately, the guy who controlled the reins was ego-maniacal.

  28. charlene hill’s avatar

    This is to David, I was 11 when the movie came out. I think you were great. That movie would have really sucked if you were not a big part of it. You done something better by raising two children Good Man/Daddy. Charlene Hill, Savannah,Ga

  29. Tamra Victoria Coke Pool’s avatar

    I am sorry you have not been able to make up with him. I just lost my best friend. We did not speak for about 3 years due to a wall I put up because she hurt me really bad. I should always forgive – maybe not forget – but forgive & move on. I will never be able to talk with her or laugh with her again in this life. Maybe you should put pen to paper and ask him to forgive you so that you could have time to talk and laugh in this life – he does not have to forget. I know you will not either… But I guarantee it will be worth it! Life is a circle & all living creatures must try to get along & love each other… Peace, Love, Happiness No, I am not stoned & I am not a flower child. I was a child when the Billy Jack movies came out & I they made a permanent impression on me! I even did the pass it forward before it was made popular, even if it was only a smile or a favor. I am Not a perfect person or little miss sweetheart all the time – I’m female – but I Try!! If we All did, this world would be a Lot better place & I would have talked with my friend before she passed away… Now go give it another shot – ok? Please?

  30. John Clinton’s avatar

    I was 13 when Billy Jack came out and it is still one of my 2 or 3 favorite movies of all time. I tell that to my friends and they think that I’m mentally challenged. Up untill now I never realized that a truly great actor played Bernard Posener. But no, I don’t think he should ever even have been considered as being the co-star.
    I have allway’s wondered how much of that movie’s success was due to that theme song, “One tin Soldier”?
    It will allway’s be one of my favorite songs.

    John Clinton

  31. Billy Jack’s avatar

    “When think of the number of years that David had to carry in his memory the savagery of that idiotic moment of Tom’s, I just go BERSERK!”

  32. Mark Ellis’s avatar

    I loved the movie Billy Jack. Laughlin was perfect for the part, but I heard he was difficult for almost everyone to deal with.

    Too bad the sequels were totally dominated by Laughlin because THEY SUCKED.

    As for Mr. Roya’s acting, it is a real shame that he didn’t get more roles, because he was sure a convincing actor. You really couldn’t help hating Bernard, because the acting was so great.

    God Bless,

    Mark “Elmo” Ellis

  33. John Alvarez’s avatar

    Great interview. He should’ve been a superstar. He has that Richard Gere vibe going for him when he was younger. He’s also in King Kong, the 1976 version. If you blink, you will miss his scene which is at the beginning. He has no lines, just doing something in the ship’s control room. Glad he’s still around.

  34. Tex Jade’s avatar

    Brian Patrick Clarke, you wouldn’t have said that to Laughlin’s face, you wait for him to die, and then like a coward, snivel over some perceived slight, while you cower in a corner.

  35. Pam Maccabee’s avatar

    B.J. is my favorite film of all time. Bernard Posner was an amazingly conceived of character. David Roya made him so real. His portrayal was impeccable.

  36. Chuck Leftwich’s avatar

    I was 16 when Billy Jack came out in 1971, it has always been one of my all time favorite movies. I’m so glad I own the Billy Jack DVD collection so I can watch them whenever I choose to. They remind me of much different times we use to live in. For me I prefer the way many things were back then compared to today. When I watch Billy Jack the scene I always remember with Bernard Posner is when his father tries to make him shoot the Mustangs. That came across to me as being a way to try and prove his son was a real man. Being an animal lover I could relate to his feelings being unable to shoot and have no use for anyone that kills animals. When Bernard threw the rifle back at his father I thought he can’t be all bad. To look back at what Tom Laughlin accomplished being an independent film producer is truley amazing.

  37. Homeless Bob’s avatar

    I wish the author would do an interview of Elizabeth James. I’d love the same kind of piece about her story. She is another young actor who just seemed to have disappeared after Born Losers. I saw a reference somewhere on the web that she would have played in Billy Jack, but was replaced with Laughlin’s wife, Delores Taylor. There has got to be an interesting story behind that and Ms. James lack of participation in any of the later films.

    Maybe it’s just as well not to know. It’s a shame to find out that these celluloid heroes have more than their share of personality issues that harmed people like David Roya. It pulls down their mythological persona to a level of human commonness, even unkindness. Funny that as an adult, I am still saddened when faced with the reality that a fantasy character I admired as a youth was, in real life, a small, egotistical jerk.

    Just when I think it’s better if we don’t imagine these heroic characters, I think of Santa Claus and those sweet years when a child is allowed to believe someone is counting their good deeds and will visit their house with presents on Christmas Eve. Maybe those magic moments in those beliefs are better than a lifetime never having had such sweet dreams. But I digress…

    Great interview and write up! Mahalo!!!

  38. SC’s avatar

    Tom was under an immense amount of stress, as was Dody. I’m sorry, but the fact is when you are an actor, you do NOT argue with and antagonize the director, who has to co-ordinate a helluva lot of things on and off set.

    It’s good to at least hear that David can see his own hand in his career stalling. Reputation on set spreads far, and until and unless you have DeNiri star power, you just cannot be a hard headed, smart mouthed person. Tom had a quick insight into people’s task personalities and was extremely perfective of his family. He was not going to allow ANYONE to get near himself or then that drank, smoked, or used drugs and foul language. I cannot fault him for that. He was also VERY aware of his own temper and worked very consciously to control it, which is why Billy Jack had the same feature. But Took didn’t go around karate coping people. He would, however, get very blunt, very fast if he sensed someone was our might be problematic for him. As for Delores playing Jean, Tom made that decision before filming, though Dody did not know it until the day before filming! She didn’t even want to be in the movie and has no acting training. So, the remark someone else made about summer other actress possibly ‘should have been in the movie’, is nonsense. Tom only ever had Delores in mind.
    And when Brando was floored by her performance, sorry, but that really says something about her very natural talent, even if she didn’t think much of it herself. Neither Brando not Tom were into phony celebrity nonsense and neither really played the Hollywood game. Perhaps that is why they were friends. I don’t know if David was aware of that then, but if he was and he didn’t realize that pissing off Tom could risk putting a possible negative attitude on him from Brando, who blessed the careers of many young actors with a word, then that tells me that David lacked a certain instinct about his own career. That can’t be put on Toms back. Despite rumors, great actors do not cause trouble for other people working on the project. Especially the director and producers.

    Tom turned the Industry upside down at the time, achieved things that were then copied and he never really got the kind of credit for that he deserves.

    If you go back to acting David, which you really should if the itch is still there, please remember that checking the Ego at the door of the studio/stage/set is *crucial* to getting more gigs. You played that nasty little brat Posner very well!! Easily as well as a Bruce Dern would have. That’s a good credit on the old resume, right? Get yourself back into workshops, classes, and audition, audition, audition all over that city! Don’t let yourself get too close to the grave with our having tried!

    BTW, as mercurial as Ton was from your perspective, had you been able to get along with each other, you may have learned from him if he shared it, that he was a big believer in Jungian theory, and I believe you might come to understand both his and your Humanity more acutely and compassionately. He would most assuredly say to you to FOLLOW your instincts. If that itch to act is still with you David: use it! Don’t repress it even one more day. Don’t argue with it, don’t find excuses to ignore it or put it off, don’t allow external opinion to stifle it. It’s a part of your Authentic self, so go back to nurting it and shaping it with Acting training and projects. There are no small parts, right? Right! So go for it.

    Tom was actually a really decent guy. And his life, both good and bad, can serve as an inspiration to anyone who cares to see it. Best regards…

  39. karl’s avatar

    Ok, I can totally tell exactly what you’re talking about with the over justifying, over reacting, actually bullying movie people.
    What one sided goofy acting fruits.
    You were the other half of Billy Jack and yes, people did not care and were bored with all the Jean and school scenes.
    That’s my whole life. People judge by looks and over sensitive, self absorbed “snits” really use that opportunity. Sorry it was like that.
    Happy trails

  40. phil lindholm’s avatar

    I spoke with Elizabeth James several times (by telephone) in the late ”70′s. She never did explain why she was fired from ‘Billy Jack” after working on it for at least a year. (This is well documented) Laughlin claimed he and his wife wrote the screenplay for ”Born Losers’.’ Ms. James did tell me that she had written it under the name ”E. James Lloyd’ her real name. She was given screenplay credit by the writers guild-and she is listed as sole writer in the movie’s credits, as well as al advertising material for the film. She was great to speak with, and has no ax to grind. Today, she writes mystery novels under the pen name ”Beverly Hastings”.

  41. Laura Pasley’s avatar

    This guy sounds like a whinny, complaining looser who blames every one else for his problems. Seems he was more concerned with arguing and complaining than taking the awesome good fortune of being a part of a movie that means so much to so many of us. Sad because I liked him – until now.


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