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What It Was Like to Be Stanley Kubrick's Assistant for Three Decades

In the memoir <i>Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at His Side</i>, the director's longtime assistant sheds light on Kubrick's famously controlled sets and offers a unique portrait of one of the 20th century's most famous filmmakers.

Emilio D'Alessandro (left) with Stanley Kubrick. Photo courtesy of SkyHorse/Arcade Publishing

Nearly two decades after his death, Stanley Kubrick remains one of Hollywood's most revered filmmakers. His career included some of the greatest films of the 20th century, and his influence can still be found in the works of everyone from David Fincher to Nicolas Winding Refn. Still, the man behind the camera has remained a mystery. He was considered a recluse by many and spent almost his entire career living outside of Hollywood while filming exclusively in or around the UK due to a lifelong fear of flying.

One of the people to belong to Kubrick's inner circle was Emilio D'Alessandro. A former Formula One driver who spent the latter half of the 1960s as a chauffeur in London, D'Alessandro was spotted in a newspaper by one of Kubrick's employees in 1970, which led to a meeting and a job offer.

D'Alessandro worked with Kubrick from then until the director's death in 1999, serving as his personal driver, on-set assistant, and lifelong right-hand man on films from A Clockwork Orange to Eyes Wide Shut. Gradually, their relationship shifted from the merely professional to the personal. "I would always call him Mr. Kubrick," D'Alessandro recalls, "and one day he said, 'Emilio, pack that in, and just call me Stanley.'"

His new memoir about their shared triumphs and tribulations, Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at His Side, is coming out next week from Arcade Publishing. Through detailed anecdotes and tender accounts of life both on location and off, D'Alessandro sheds light behind the scenes of Kubrick's famously controlled sets and offers a unique portrait of the man himself. VICE spoke to D'Alessandro from Italy about the filmmaker's notorious perfectionism, how they learned to work together, and the day Kubrick died.

Emilio and Ray Lovejoy on the set of 'The Shining'

VICE: Why write this book now?
Emilio D'Alessandro: I was never ready to tell this story. To me, Stanley never died. He was a friend of mine, and I never really believed he would die. Any time he felt sick, the following day he was perfectly OK. It really took me forever just to accept the thing.

Was it just a matter of telling his story once you'd come to properly grieve?
Stanley believed that whatever was to be written about him by someone else was someone else's story. He never trusted that many people, he didn't like the way people did things, and he didn't like arguing either. He was a peaceful man. That's why I stood with him for so long. He was like a father, but better. My father was with my family for 17 years, but I was with Stanley for 30.

Did he purposefully make his sets feel like that? Like a family?
Yes, he trusted these people. He and his family even came to my children's confirmations. Once you worked for him, he knew he wanted you back again. For instance, six months to a year before a film, he would ask people what they were doing around the start date. He would try to hold the film off from starting until everyone was available and he would always work to keep the team consistent.

Why are people so fascinated by Kubrick?
People who had never met him would always be terrified before meeting him. But he was so private, so he fed off this mystery. He would make me say that I do work for him, never that I work with him. People would ask and I would have to lie! But as I worked for this company for so long, I would see people go in scared but come out smiling. People just did not know him. They did so much to make him feel like somebody who never wanted to meet people, but it's not true at all.

Were you a big fan of his films prior to working with him on A Clockwork Orange?
I didn't have any interest in film, I was just interested in racing. After about two months of working for his company, I still didn't know who Stanley Kubrick was. When [we were finally introduced], I saw this person who looked like Fidel Castro and didn't realize who he was. I thought, "Oh dear, here we go." I expected him to smell like perfume or be more put together. When he came towards me and introduced himself as Stanley Kubrick, I nearly fainted.

Kubrick was a notorious perfectionist. Did any of his habits or demands stick with you?
Unfortunately, yes. I have to have a shirt with double pockets, on one side is the pen, always. I don't carry exactly 500 pounds in my pocket anymore, I find it too difficult.

You wrote about not seeing the finished movies for a long time. Why did you avoid watching the films you worked on?
First of all, they were too long. It would take me a couple hours-plus [to watch], and I thought why spend all this time sitting on a chair watching those films when I could be doing something else. He would say, "Why won't you watch them?" And I'd said, "Stanley, if I watch your films, who is doing my work? One day, I will watch your films." Which now, thank God, I've watched them all.

Do you have a favorite?
I love Barry Lyndon, because there is no swearing, it's very nice, picturesque.

Emilio on the set of 'Eyes Wide Shut'

Kubrick was known for having many rules that people who worked with him had to follow, but were there any rules of yours that he had to abide by?
Yes, no guns. Growing up during two wars, there were so many dead young soldiers, kids who didn't know what they were coming here for—to be shot. So I don't like guns. He loved guns, but I use to say, don't leave any guns anywhere. Put them back in the locker and lock it. I had to once take guns to be serviced, and I said, "If you give me your firearms locked in a box, only then will I take it." I had a half-dozen keys of his on me at all time, except for that one. Differences in our personalities like that were sometimes very difficult.

What were some of the projects that you would hear him talk about that didn't end up being filmed?
Anytime we would be working on one film and we'd go down to a location, he would always be making notes or moves for another project. It was A.I. once, or Napoleon, which he really, really, really wanted to make. But he was always working on other projects while he was filming.

The thing he loved doing just as much [making movies] was the research. He had boxes and boxes of research done, so if one day he was able to finally make, say, this Napoleon movie, he would be ready. And I would keep it safe for him in case [producers] decided to actually do something with it. I would be ready to unearth it all myself. He never stopped researching, ever.

Do you remember where you were when you heard he'd passed away? Were you with him?
I'll speak briefly because it really hurts me now, still. But yes, I was with him, I left him a note the night before on his desk like I always did. I said, "Everything is OK down in your office, your fax is clear, people got their messages. Please stay and have a rest, you're very tired. You can come down in the afternoon—I'll be here in the morning as usual." Then unfortunately midday I got a phone call telling me that Stanley had died in the night. And I just screamed the biggest swear word, and I never swear. I had to drive to his house before I could believe it. And even when I got there and his wife took me by the hand to tell me, I still wasn't sure it was real. And I drove back home that night not believing it. Sometimes I still don't know if I do.

Has the book helped?
The book has helped me understand. For years, I've been grieving him, but now writing the book has helped. He talks to me again now.

'Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at His Side' is out May 17 through Skyehorse/Arcade, pre-order the book here.

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Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article contained a photo caption that misidentified Ray Lovejoy as Jack Nicholson. VICE regrets the error.