Okay, so here’s the thing about me, and if you haven’t already picked up on it, I’d be surprised, but…I really like doing interviews.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I love doing them.
Because of this, even though I probably did upwards of 100 interviews over the course of 2014, I can honestly say that I don’t even need all of the fingers on one hand to count off the conversations that left me with a bad taste in my mouth about the person I was chatting with. As such, this retrospective of my favorite memories and moments from throughout the course of the year could’ve been much longer…and if I’m doing my job right, then you’ll still end up thinking, “Oh, man, I can’t believe he didn’t mention [INSERT GLARING OMISSION HERE]!”
Then again, I spend all freaking year having people saying that – hello, Random Roles commenters! – so I’m more or less used to it.
I hope you enjoy this look back as much as you enjoyed reading the original pieces – hopefully you’ll find a few funny bits that you missed or discover interviews that slipped by you in the midst the ridiculous number of links I shared – and I offer my heartfelt thanks for all of you who’ve supported my efforts, not just this year but all the years before this. I hope you continue to have my back, and in turn, I hope to continue being able to provide you with stuff that makes you happy while still leaving you wanting more. (Nobody’s perfect, so that’s about the best I can hope for.)
Best Bucket-List Interview That Felt More Like a Conversation: Dick Cavett. And if you happened to have been following me on social media right around the time the interview took place, then you know that he’s the one who said that of the interview, not me. At that moment, I’d been having a rough time, but his remarks – which came more or less after the proper interview had concluded (although I detailed them in this post-script piece) – boosted me back up. It may have just been the sort of thing he says to any journalist who praises his work, but I don’t care, he still said it to me, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget…along with the first few words he said to me, which I detailed in the opening paragraphs.
After introducing himself, Cavett can’t resist making an observation about the familiarity of his surroundings: “You know, this is the same lobby where I stood when I was out here for two weeks auditioning to be a writer on The Jack Paar Show.” As has been the case for Cavett on more than few occasions during the course of his half-century (and then some) in the TV business, this observation proves to be only the first sentence of an anecdote.
“I came into the hotel one night and I heard singing,” continued Cavett, glancing and vaguely gesturing at the entrance to a nearby ballroom. “I opened a big door, and Judy Garland was onstage. The lights came on, and there were George Burns, Jack Benny, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, and about a hundred more. It was a huge charity thing. You couldn’t see any face that you didn’t know!”
With this brief recollection, Cavett immediately confirms that at least one of his lines during his memorable appearance on The Simpsons was absolutely spot-on: he really does have some wonderful stories about famous people that involve him in some way.
Best Bucket-List Interview – Comedy: Bob Newhart. I don’t think this really requires any explanation as to why it was so awesome, because…well, I mean, really, does it get any better than Bob?
Most Fulfilling Interview for the Most Geeky Reason: Steve Jones. As a result of chatting with the former Sex Pistols guitarist about his arc on the final season of Showtime’s Californication, I completed a mission which began way back in 1993, when I chatted with John Lydon while he was doing press for his autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. That’s right: I can now say that I’ve talked to all four members of the pre-Sid lineup of the Pistols. The only other band I’m closing in on doing that with is The Monkees, so fingers crossed that I can finally hop on the phone with Micky Dolenz in 2015.
Most Punk Rock Interview That Wasn’t With A Member of the Sex Pistols: Jello Biafra. Come to think of it, it was probably also the fastest turnaround I had for an interview in 2014, too, since I’m pretty sure I came up with the idea – to interview the former Dead Kennedys frontman about his various acting roles – and got it okayed, set up, conducted, transcribed, and turned in within 72 hours…maybe even less. (The whole thing is kind of a blur.) Jello was as funny, forthright, and opinionated as he always is, and I was extremely happy with the results, but more importantly, so was he: Alternative Tentacles shared the link on social media…and Mr. Biafra is not one who suffers shitty journalism gladly, so if he hadn’t approved of how it had turned out, you know that never would’ve happened.
Interview That Made 16-Year-Old Me Incredibly Happy: Debbie Gibson. Shame about the TV series that led to the opportunity to chat with the girl whose videos made me swoon even when I was deep into discovering The Smiths, The Cure, R.E.M., and any number of other heroes of alternative music, but she was just as nice as I’d figured she was when I sent her a fan letter back in the day. Okay, fine, so I probably mostly sent it because I thought she was cute. But I still think “Out of the Blue” is a darned fine piece of pop.
Interview That Made 21-Year Old Me (Not To Mention Me At Every Age Since Then) Incredibly Happy: Sherilyn Fenn. The conversation actually took place in the final months of 2013, but it had more or less been in the works since 2012, when Kelly Lynch assured me during a phone interview that she’d do what she could to try and set something up in conjunction with Fenn appearing on Magic City. Weirdly enough, though, what led to the interview finally coming to fruition was a happenstance encounter while my wife and I were having drinks with Lynch and her husband, Mitch Glazer, when Lynch noticed that sitting behind her was – of all people – Fenn’s publicist. The next thing you know, Lynch has introduced the two of us, the wheels were set in motion, and before long I was on the phone, chatting with the woman whose visage had once graced the walls of my dorm room. Better yet, I walked away from the conversation feeling as though my 20+ year long crush hadn’t been for someone worthy of my one-sided affections.
Best Supposedly Not-Great Story from a Random Roles: Maura Tierney, who assured me that she didn’t have a great David Bowie story from working with the Thin White Duke on the 1991 film, The Linguini Incident, only to offer up the following:
“I remember I had this one scene where—it wasn’t even really a scene with him, but he was a bartender and I was a waitress. And I found out from Richard that David Bowie liked the Pixies, and I loved the Pixies at the time, so I just kinda sorta casually dropped the Pixies into the conversation so that David Bowie would think I was cool. And then he, like, sent his person out and had him buy all the Pixies CDs that existed, and we played them in the dressing room, and it was fucking awesome. It was an amazing moment to, like, hang out with David Bowie and listen to the Pixies.”
Most Touching Stories: Maura Tierney and Tim Meadows, but we’ll start with the latter, since he’s the one whose picture you see directly above you. Ever since I chatted with Neil Flynn a few years ago about his connection to Del Close and what an important figure he was to so many people in the Chicago acting and comedy community, I’ve always tried to ask folks who studied in that city if they have a Close story to share. You’ll see one from Ted Levine at the close of this piece, but Meadows’ contribution to the field made me start to mist up even as he was telling it.
(Del) did this show called “Honor Finnegan Saves the Universe,” and it was performed at the ImprovOlympic, and he told Charna Halpern that he wanted certain actors to be at this rehearsal, and she told me that I was one of them. So I was sitting in the rehearsal with all these other people, and then he looked around the room and he said, “What are you doing here?” Talking to me. And I go, “Oh, they told me I was supposed to be here.” He said, “No! Get out of here! You’re not supposed to be in here!” And I got up and I left the room, and I was really embarrassed. Nobody said anything.
A couple of days later, I was at the bar, I’d just done a Harold and it was really good, and Del came up to me, and he goes, “Look, I didn’t want you in this show because I don’t really have anything for you, but the next show I direct, I want you to be in it.” And I said, “Oh, okay. Thanks, Del!” And he barely ever talked to me! But the next show he directed was for Second City, and I was in the touring company, but when he took the job as the director, he told them he was only going to take it if he could hire the cast that he wanted for his main-stage cast…and it was me, Chris Farley, David Pasquesi, Joel Murray, Joe Liss, Holly Wortell and Judy Scott. Those people were the people he picked to be in this cast.
So he kept his promise to me: he said, “The next show I direct, I want to hire you for,” and that was the next show he directed. So he changed my whole fucking career based on that…and it all started with him yelling at me to get out. [Laughs.] The last time I talked to him, I reminded him of that story, and we both started crying. I was talking to him on the phone, and we just started crying. I told him, “Del, I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me. You changed my life in more ways than one.” He was great.
As for Maura Tierney’s story, you might start getting teary as soon as I say that it was about Phil Hartman, but if that doesn’t do the trick, then the story itself probably will.
I do remember one thing he said to me. Joe Rogan was being so fucking mean to me one day—and mostly we were all friends, but Joe could be a weirdo—and I was sort of upset about it, so I was just sitting over in the corner. And Phil came over and put his arm around me, and he said, “You know, I just want to tell you you’re loved.” Isn’t that really nice? I know you expected me to tell some wacky story about Phil, but he was like that, too. He just put his arm around me and said that. He was so sweet. He was a really nice man.
Best Answer to Not Much of a Question: Pam Grier. As I was wrapping up a short chat with Ms. Grier at the January TCA press tour, for the hell of it, I asked her about appearing on The Love Boat, and when she said that the experience led her to want to do more comedy, I asked – more or less rhetorically – “So I presume you enjoyed doing Mars Attacks, then?” The short answer, which is all that question really warranted, was that she did indeed enjoy it, but having brought up the film, she was inspired to explain how she almost didn’t do it.
I was familiar with the comic book, and Tim Burton had called me to audition, but one of my dogs was dying of cancer, so I wasn’t in the frame of mind to audition to do that role. So I said, “I can’t,” and I turned down Tim Burton. And I remember one of my dearest friends who I knew before he became an actor –Michael Keaton, who was in Beetlejuice and should’ve won an Oscar for that role, he was so brilliant – I told him that I’d turned Tim down. I said, “I’m just not ready to read, because one of my dogs, one of my family members, is very ill. I just can’t do it. So I passed.”
But they called back again, and they said, “Well, would you put something on camera?” And I said, “No, because what I’ll put on camera is sadness, and I’m not ready to do that right now.” I’m one of those people who can afford to say “no.” Even to Tim Burton, as badly as I wanted to work with him because of Beetlejuice. And he related. He respected that.
And then they called back again…and they said, “Well, you’ve just auditioned. Because in the story, she’s a mom who protects her children. Even under the worst situations, she won’t leave her children. She’s a true mom.” And I wouldn’t leave my dog, not for anybody – including Tim Burton – or for a huge salary or to work with Jack Nicholson or Glenn Close or the rest of the stellar cast of that film. So he said, “You passed the audition. You wouldn’t leave your family for me, so you’ve got it. And we’ll shoot around you. We’ll wait, and you let us know when the time is right, when you’re ready to shoot.” And I said, “Thank you, but it could be awhile. I don’t know. But I’m not leaving his side, because I had cancer, and he was with me.”
But they waited. They shot around me until I was ready to say, “Okay, he’s passed on. He let me go.” And Tim and I have been great friends ever since…because I said “no.” Sometimes you just have to say “no.” But once I was in it, it was such a joy working in those scenes, and with Ray Jay and Brandon. And it was great to work with Jim Brown. We had scenes, too. It’s amazing when you work on films of such stellar directors, you know the budgets are gonna be incredible and the sets are gonna be incredible. There’s no expense spared. It’s just gonna be fabulous. When you work with directors like that, on that level, you go, “Oh, my God, just enjoy it!” [Laughs.] Because you know it’s just going to be a superb experience. And not only did I learn a lot about myself, but I learned that I want to work with Tim Burton in anything. He’s just a very special person.
Best Great Story from a Random Roles That You’ll Never Hear: Tim Daly‘s remarks about the experience of working with Sean Young on Dr. Jekyll & Ms. Hyde. You needn’t read more than the first line of Daly’s remarks on the film to know how he feels about it in general (“Oh, Jesus Christ. Goddammit, I knew it. Goddamned Internet!”), but when I noted that he pointedly avoided any mention of his co-star, I knew I had to at least note as much and ask him outright about his experiences with Ms. Young, and the look on his face immediately indicated that anything he might say was probably going to be toned down considerably from whatever was going through his mind at that moment.
Rather than reply outright, however, he instead gestured toward my recorder and said, “Turn that thing off and I’ll tell you.” So I did. And he did. And I’m still not going to tell you what he said. But I’ll at least add that what he told me was hysterical not for anything Young did but because of what he said to her when they were first introduced, and as a result of what he said, they got along just fine.
Best Cameo by a Former Random Roles Participant in a 2014 Random Roles Interview: Christopher McDonald, who confirmed an otherwise-unconfirmable reference by Kurtwood Smith to McDonald’s participation in the 1983 Saturday Night Fever sequel, Stayin’ Alive, which isn’t referenced on his IMDb page. After I reached out to McDonald’s publicist, the actor left me the following voicemail:
“Yes, I was in that movie, and I got a chance to work with Sly Stallone and all those people as the reader. I was playing Travolta opposite all of the girls who were coming in to read for the movie, so I hung out with Stallone and the casting directors and all that stuff for a while. Then they threw me a bone and I got into this beginning scene with Kurtwood, and he was great. He was the big director guy, and I was his assistant. Unfortunately, that scene never made it into the movie. It should be in the DVD extras or something!”
Most Interesting Case of S.H.I.E.L.D. Serendipity: When I interviewed Titus Welliver for Bullz-Eye in February 2014 about Bosch, I couldn’t resist asking him briefly about his very first on-camera role, which was in Navy SEALs. During the course of the conversation, he mentioned casually how he’d recently had the opportunity to work with him again for the first time since then, so before we got off the line, I asked with equal casualness if perhaps that recent occasion had been on an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., since I knew Welliver was a part of the Marvel cinematic universe and that Paxton had been doing an arc of the series as well. I could practically hear him twitch when I asked this, but – with the immediate caveat that it had to stay off the record for the time being – he confirmed that, yes, that’s exactly how their onscreen reunion came about. To make the most of this information, I went ahead and ran the interview with Welliver on Bullz-Eye without the Navy SEALs and S.H.I.E.L.D. bits, then turned that bit into a separate Newswire piece on the A.V. Club.
Here’s my favorite bit:
“I came on that set (of Navy SEALs, and I was very, very nervous, and Bill Paxton and Charlie Sheen—I mean, they were all sweet, but specifically Bill and Charlie—just kind of took me under their wing. And I just remember Billy saying to me, ‘Hey, man, it’s the same thing you do on stage, only a little bit smaller. Don’t worry about it. We gotcha.’ And Bill and I have seen each other off and on over the years, and, of course, I just worked with Bill again, and I’ll never forget him for that, because it was such an act of grace that he saw the green kid really kind of trying to figure it out, and he just came in and allayed my doubts and bolstered my confidence. I mean, this is a guy who I had enormous respect for, whose work I had enjoyed over the years, and here I was actually acting in a scene that he was in. And he fulfilled all expectations that I had.
“I always tell that story when I see him, and Bill always laughs, and he goes, ‘Aw, shut up…’ [Laughs.] But, you know, I still draw from that. He kind of set the bar from me. It made me realize that it’s incumbent upon actors with experience, when you’re working with someone who does not have the experience, to extend yourself to them. And Bill did that. And I’m forever in his debt for that. It was a very, very beautiful thing.”
But that wasn’t the only bit of S.H.I.E.L.D. intel I got out of Welliver. He also revealed something else I hadn’t known about his connection to the cast of the series, namely that he’d been roommates with Clark Gregg when they were in college together at NYU.
As such, when I was fortunate enough to chat with Gregg for Indiewire a few months later, I took advantage of the opportunity to ask him if he had any stories to tell about Welliver from their college days.
“Titus was really fun. He’s always been a larger-than-life character. I remember being shocked to learn that he was my age, because he just seemed so much more experienced when I met him in college. He seemed to have some… I don’t know, some mysterious paramilitary background! And he was an almost professional darts player, and he would go to this bar called the Kettle of Fish, which was famous because (Jack) Kerouac and all his crew used to hang out there. Titus could be seen there on a first-name basis with all of these crusty bartenders, dominating the dart board and never paying for a drink. We all wanted to be Titus.
“I remember he bailed me out. A girl dumped me savagely and kicked me out of her apartment — which she probably was wise to do –and I had nowhere to go, and Titus took me into his loft and kind of just left me. He was one of the first people I knew who really studied film, and he had a VCR and tapes, and he kind of just sat me down in front of the whole Scorsese and Coppola collections.”
Favorite Oral History of a TV Series: Hill Street Blues, for Indiewire.
James B. Sikking: I’ll tell you a funny story: at one point, because he’d tried to off himself, Howard was in the hospital, which is where he met Nurse Wulfawitz. And Nurse Wulfawitz was really quite attractive, very nice to him, and they started having a relationship. And then they had a better relationship, and it was really moving towards marriage. And then they were both in bed together, and she said, “You know, I would really appreciate it, because I’m Jewish, if you could convert.” And Howard looks at her and says, “Convert? Convert? You mean like that black entertainer?!?” [Laughs.] Well, then, I go to do “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” promoting the show for NBC…and the, uh, black entertainer is on the show also…and they show that clip. And when they come back on, Sammy Davis, Jr. is on the floor, on his back with his legs in the air, laughing. He thought it was the funniest damned thing he had ever seen.
Favorite Oral History of a Film: UHF, for The Dissolve.
“Weird Al” Yankovic (star, co-writer): Michael Richards was someone I really wanted to work with in the movie. I’d seen him in comedy clubs around L.A., but at the time, I think he was probably most famous for doing these really outlandish characters on Fridays, which was sort of the ABC version of Saturday Night Live, and I just knew he’d be able to play the physical comedy. He seemed pretty fearless, and I knew he’d really embody the character of Stanley Spadowski, which was difficult.
Jay Levey (co-writer, director): Michael wasn’t available the first time around, though. We both thought the role was perfectly made for him, but my recollection is that we put out the feelers for him to come in and talk to us and perhaps to read a little bit, although…I don’t think we were going to require him to read all that much, if at all, because we thought it probably wouldn’t be necessary. But we did want him to come in and talk about the part, because that’s just something you do with any actor, at the very least, even if they’re not reading for it.
But he wouldn’t even come in to read for it. It kind of blew our minds, because we just thought it was so perfect for him, and we couldn’t understand it. And we couldn’t get a straight answer, either, as to why he wouldn’t come in. So we kind of let that percolate for a short while, and we couldn’t come up with anyone who was remotely as good, although I’m sure in the end we could’ve found somebody.
Yankovic: There were a couple of other people that we were talking about for the role. Christopher Lloyd was somebody I loved as well—in fact, I wrote a lot of Stanley’s lines sort of having the Reverend Jim character from Taxi in my head—but at the same time, I knew Michael would be able to play the physical comedy perhaps a bit better. Michael was always my first choice.
Favorite Look Back at a Forgotten Series: George Burns Comedy Week, for the Onion A.V. Club.
“Steve (Martin) went to CBS, and he basically sold the show by saying, ‘I want to do the same thing Steven Spielberg is doing with Amazing Stories, only I want to do half-hour comedy films and have it bookended by George Burns,’” said Marcia Zwilling, then the director of development for Martin’s production company, 40 Share Productions.
“Steve Martin is such a good salesman, he can sell anything,” said David Axlerod, one of the show’s writers. “You talk to him in the room, and he says, ‘How about we do this and this?’ And it sounds like a brilliant idea! And then later when you’re writing, you’re, like, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t that good, but… it sounded so good when he said it!’”
Why George Burns? Aside from the obvious advantages of an instantly recognizable comedian’s imprimatur, it came down to five words: “It worked for Rod Serling.”
“Anthology series didn’t have a standing cast, so you never knew who was going to be on every week, which means there’s no habit viewing for the audience,” said (series co-creator Carl) Gottlieb. “The only truly successful anthologies were The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, and they had Rod Serling, who was intimately involved with the shows. He wasn’t just a presenter: The show reflected his sensibilities. He addressed the camera directly, but he was also responsible for the content and feel of the show, so you looked to him as a real host, and he’d be the familiar face every week. We hoped we had that with George Burns. But apparently not.”
Memorable Moments from Random Roles
MT: The film that forced Gene Hackman into retirement. [Laughs.]
AV Club: I’ve always suspected you might’ve had something to do with that.
MT: No, it wasn’t me, it was the film! But Ray [Romano] is such a great guy, and I think Gene Hackman is really—I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of amazing actors. Like, a lot. [Laughs.] Like, Academy Award-winning actors! Not that that means everything, but you know what I mean. And I found Gene Hackman to be incredibly delightful to act with, one of the most relaxed, engaging actors. I loved working with him so much. Him, and Jimmy Woods on ER. They’re just—I don’t know, it was just a wonderful experience.
AVC: Perhaps he sensed retirement was imminent.
MT: Maybe. [Laughs.] No, I just think he’s just a very pleasant actor.
AVC: What’s funny is that I’ve talked to several people who’ve worked with him, and they’ve generally had nothing but praise for him when he’s on-camera, but most of them have said that he’s not one for small talk off-camera.
MT: No, but you know what? He was nice to me. He didn’t like the director. But I don’t think he likes directors. I think that’s his schtick. I mean, he did, I believe, tell the director at some point to, uh… [Starts to laugh.] “Will you just shut the fuck up and go over there and say ‘action’ or whatever it is you do?” Now that’s funny.
AVC: That is funny.
MT: [Laughs.] But he was nice to me! He was lovely. That part was great. Unfortunately, that movie wasn’t the greatest, either, but—easy come, easy go.
CF: Oh! That was… [Starts to laugh.] Well, first of all, I played a crooked cop, and one of the reasons that was fun was because I don’t often get to play a bad guy. I mean, it was comically nefarious, but I still really enjoyed it. But my partner was a guy named Wiley, and he was played by Slim Pickens. Other than Judd Hirsch, Slim Pickens is my favorite actor I’ve ever worked with.
There was an episode called something like ‘B.J. And The Seven Truckers,’ where there were these absolutely beautiful young women who were truckers. And you don’t meet people when you’re doing these television things, you just do them, so I don’t know the name of this girl, but I’ve never forgotten this scene. We were rehearsing a scene up in the Angeles National Forest, and I’m directing her to drive and a take a detour, and when she gets to the bottom of the detour, they’re gonna hold her up.
Anyway, I hadn’t met any of the girls or anyone else, but they sort of lock the truck into place, and as we’re doing the rehearsal, the door to the truck swings open, and this absolutely breathtaking young woman comes out wearing mules—you know, the shoes?—and a bandana tied around her hair, with her shirt tied under her breasts so her belly was exposed, and she had the kind of breasts that just sort of stood up there and dared you to say something. She was the kind of person that I’m so jealous of, you know, so I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, it won’t cost me much to be mean to her.’ [Laughs.]
So she comes down, and my line is, ‘You’ve got to take the truck and go down that way,’ which I delivered in my usual crusty but benign manner. And this girl—I swear to you—she did, like, a Betty Boop kind of move with her hands up in the air and her eyes wide, and she said it like this: ‘Oh! I can’t go… that way! I’m carrying… eggs!’ And understand that I’m someone who actually pays attention to what other people are saying and how they’re saying it. So we’re getting ready to shoot it, and Slim was standing right next to me, and he says, ‘You know, ’Chata, I’d’ve given a million dollars if they’d’ve had a camera on your face when that girl said that!’
He was extraordinary to work with. One time he threw me in the lake because he told me if I did my own stunts I’d be more valuable. [Laughs.] He called it ‘the picture business,’ and he was one of those guys who could wear a 10- to 20-gallon hat onto the set and never cast a shadow with it. That’s how well he understood the picture business. I told him I would always carry the image of him riding the bomb down in Dr. Strangelove, and he told me, ‘You know, ’Chata, I wasn’t supposed to do that picture, but Peter Sellers got hurt and he couldn‘t ride the bomb down, so they hired me to do it.’ And he says, ‘You know, I’d done, I don’t know, maybe 75 pictures when I did that, but I did that movie, and everything in my life changed. The money got bigger, the dressing rooms got bigger, and the A.D.s started saying, ‘Hey, Slim!’ instead of ‘hey, you.’
Oh, I know another one! We were in Las Vegas, shooting some scene, and I was sitting there beside him when a little boy came up and asked him for his autograph. And he signed the autograph book, and then he handed it over to me. And I looked at him, and I said, ‘Slim, he doesn’t know who I am. He doesn’t want my autograph.’ And Slim looked at me, and then he looked at the boy and said, ‘Well, she’s the fat broad on B.J. And The Bear!’ [Laughs.] He could just do things like that. Usually, if anybody says ‘fat’ in front of me, I’m hurt. But not Slim.
DL: Well, I was very young—if it wasn’t my first feature, it was certainly one of them—and I was supposed to just be mopping the floor. I had, like, three lines, and then Kim Basinger came down the stairs, and I stroked the broom handle. And the director got pissed off! He said, “Do it again without doing that!” So I said, “Okay, okay…” So I did it. And which take stayed in the film? The one where I’m stroking the broom handle.
AVC: It’s certainly memorable.
DL: Yeah, well, I was looking at Kim Basinger, you know? You know where my thoughts went! [Laughs.] And that’s what the film was about! It’s as close to porn as I’ve done!
MF: Uh, yeah, that was… [Long pause.] That was okay. I mean, there were some good episodes and some bad episodes, and I was on the receiving end of lots of mail from people saying, “I have an alien in my back yard. Is there any way that you can come fix this?” [Laughs.] I guess that was when I first became aware of the sci-fi audience and how passionate and creative they actually are. They’re really quite sensitive and talented. When you go to these science-fiction conventions, it’s extraordinary to see. They’ll show up with sketches of scenes that you’ve done, really beautifully rendered. A lot of them are very shy and sensitive, but they’re very talented. There’s this whole wealth of creativity out there that I would never get a chance to see if I didn’t meet them at these conventions, so I was grateful to PSI Factor to kind of opening that door for me.
AVC: The greatest bit in the Wikipedia entry for the show is the revelation that, “in 1997, the Committee For Skeptical Inquiry, then called the Committee For The Scientific Investigation Of Claims Of The Paranormal, awarded [host Dan] Aykroyd a ‘Snuffed Candle’ award, for ‘contributing to the public’s lack of understanding of the methods of scientific inquiry.’”
MF: [Bursts out laughing.] You know, you mention that, but—I can’t remember exactly how many episodes they did altogether—I think I did about 50 episodes myself—but in the first season of it, I think they said, “Ripped directly from the files of the Office Of Scientific Investigation And Research!” And then in the second season, it was “based on the files,” and then it was “loosely based on the files,” and then by the fourth season it was something along the lines of, “This has nothing to do with anything approaching the files of the Office Of Scientific Investigation And Research!” [Laughs.] “The Office Of Scientific Investigation And Research doesn’t exist! We’re making it up! We’re making it all up!”
AVC: At last, the truth can be told.
MF: That’s right. The truth is out there. Nowhere near here, but it’s out there! [Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, God, there’s a lot of two-headed pigs and stuff, I’m sure, but…what do you want me to say? I mean, I think my character disappeared to Neptune at the end, for fuck’s sake!
KF: See, now you’re trying to hurt me. [Starts to laugh.] Okay, I’ll start from now backward: They just re-released No Holds Barred on Blu-ray, and I don’t know that they did it for all of it, but a lot of the way it was marketed was as one of the worst movies of all time. But it’s one of those that’s so bad it’s good.
Again, an early job, and I still knew nothing about acting. I was a terrible actor, and that’s why I got the job: I would allow myself to be so bad that I lowered and got down to WWF standards. [Laughs.] I’m sort of this insane Donald Trump-like head of the network, and I was working with Hulk Hogan. I have nothing bad to say about Hulk Hogan. In fact, compared to what I have seen in the press and all the high jinks of his life, I didn’t see any of that coming, man. He was just a businessman who worked out, you know?
But there was a scene where I offer him money to go to my network, and he’s supposed to shove a check down my throat, and his line is, ‘I won’t be around when this check clears.’ But nobody told him that, on movies, you fake it. In wrestling, they really do a lot of the stuff. But he shoved a check down… my… throat. And I couldn’t stop him. I literally thought I was going to die. We finished the scene, and I coughed it up, and he said [Does a spot-on Hulk Hogan impression.] ‘Oh, sorry, brother, I didn’t know we were supposed to fake it!’
At one point I said to the director, ‘You know, I’m being really loud. Is this too big?’ And he said, ‘Kurt, you’re standing next to a guy who’s 6-foot-9 and wearing red spandex. You can’t be too big.’ I said, ‘Well, I guess you’re right.’ But he was wrong: you could be too big, and I was! [Laughs.] You know, there are some things you can’t unsee, and there are some movies you can’t get off IMDB no matter how hard you try. That’s all I’m going to say.
JH: That was the first time I ever had to do my own stunt: going out the second floor of a building. I’ve got blood bags on me, and I had to go backwards out of the window—really falling out of a two-story Manhattan apartment—into an airbag on the street. A guy showed me how to do it, and he said, “Can you do that?” And I said, “Yeah, I can do it!” Okay, so I do it, and I come back, and they say, “Can we do that again? Because something went wrong.” You know how they throw a switch and the blood bags go? Well, I had a shotgun in front of me, and when I came back, I came back with dots on my face, and they thought it was because of the shotgun. So I said, “Yeah, sure, okay, I can do it again.” And I come back with more dots on my face, and I said, “You see this?” “Yeah.” “It’s not the shotgun.” They found out it was the explosive device with the blood bags. “Can you do it again?” [Laughs.] I was in a play at the time, so I was filming during the day and doing the play at night, so I said, “Well, okay, but I’m not doing it anymore!” Meanwhile, people on the street are going, “Hey, look at that guy who keeps falling out of the window. That’s Judd Hirsch! He’s doing a play down the street!”
TD: Oh, gosh. Wow. Okay, so the funny story about that. Hey, I’ve got a lot of good stories! [Laughs.] I was doing The Glass Menagerie, playing the Gentleman Caller, with Amy Irving—that was when I was being an artist—and I got this TV movie called The Girl Of His Dreams. And there was this beautiful, long scene that’s sort of the centerpiece of the movie, with Lew Ayres, the old cowboy actor, who I was a fan of, and I thought, “This is great! I mean, it’s kind of a little bit cheesy, but… it’s Lew Ayres! I get to work with him!”
So, literally, I did the closing night of The Glass Menagerie, and they hired a little two-engine prop plane to fly me from where I was, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to L.A. to start work the next day. So I fly on this plane, I go to this office in L.A., and there’s Lew Ayres and Teri Copley, who played “the girl,” and the producers and the director. And they hand me a script that’s now rainbow-colored, right? It’s red and pink and blue and taupe and whatever other colors they make up. And then on the cover of it, it says, not The Girl Of His Dreams. It says I Married A Centerfold. I’m like, “What? Huh? What’s this?”
Anyway, we read through the script. The big, beautiful scene was completely gone, and Lew Ayres, after the reading, politely stood up, and he handed the script to the producer, and he said, “Thank you very much, but I really don’t think you want me for this part. It’s not what I signed up to do.” And he walked out. And I was like, “Whoa! Holy shit!” So that was that. And at the time, I had, I think, an 8-month-old baby—my son, Sam—and they were paying me some absurd amount of money for me at the time. Like, low five figures, but it was still five figures. So I did it. And the rest is history.
AVC: But, hey, at least you got to meet Lew Ayres.
TD: I did get to meet Lew Ayres, who was a cool guy. He was very sweet, and I admired him for just kind of being old enough and cranky enough to say, “You know what? Fuck this. I’m out of here.” [Laughs.] “I’ve been around too long for this. See you later.”
TG: Okay, so I get a phone call one day, a message on my answering machine. “Tony! It’s John Turturro! I’m doing this movie called Romance & Cigarettes. It’s a musical, but it’s not your normal musical. It’s with Susan Sarandon and Jim Gandolfini and Kate Winslet, and there’s this character of Susan’s ex-lover. It’s hard to explain, but basically you have sex on Jim’s grave, and then you piss on the grave, but—okay, I know that sounds really weird, but I really want you to do it, and it’s only one little scene…” [Starts to laugh.] “So call me!” Click. And I heard this message, and I went, “I don’t know what it is, but I have to say yes to this movie.”
AM: Yeah! That was my first real movie. Hardly been in front of a camera before that. I was so green, the carpenters were giving me notes. [Laughs.] But what an experience. Spielberg was already a star director, Harrison [Ford] was already a star actor, we shot most of it in England, and they cast me in England. It was like a weird dream, in a way, because up until then I’d just been working in the theater. I wasn’t a star in any way. I was a busy actor. I was a jobbing actor, busy working, doing plays in small theaters or maybe the occasional bit of television. One TV job I think I’d done before that. But the theater was essentially my employer… and then this job came along.
I met with Steven, and he didn’t even ask me to audition. I was expecting to have to audition, like you did in the theater. I had my Shakespeare piece ready, and I had my modern piece ready. [Laughs.] But we just talked. We just sat across a table, and we just talked. He said, “This is what the movie’s about, blah blah blah, there’s a character here you might be interested in,” making it sound as if it was completely up to me. I had no idea of the protocols. I didn’t realize the protocols were so polite and pleasant! And then he offered me the job, and… I can remember the offer was £1,000 a week, and it was for three weeks’ work. At the time, at the theater where I was working, the top rate was, I think, £200 a week. Or at least that’s what I was earning. And I kind of went, “What? Yeah!” And my agent said, “We’ll try to get it up more,” but I said, “No, no, that’s okay, I’ll take it!” Because my daughter was about to be born. When we finished filming, my ex-wife was in her seventh month of the pregnancy, and I’ll tell you, that money came in real handy. I mean, we bought a cot, we bought a push chair, we bought a stroller, I got the little room that was going to be her bedroom decorated. I was broke when that movie came around, and I’ve thanked Steven publicly many a time. And I’ll do it again. [Laughs.] Thank you, Steven. You saved my bacon in more ways than one.
AVC: How many times have people come up to you and said, “You know, you really should’ve thrown him the whip”?
AM: [Laughs.] It’s amazing. I think the reason why it got such a high profile wasn’t because of the size of the role. You might be a bit too young, or you might remember, but at the time the movie was released, all the trailers featured me very prominently, because my little chunk of the movie had nothing to do with the rest of the film. It was just, like, a little introduction to Indy, so it didn’t give away any of the plot, so they used that 10-minute sequence at the beginning, because it introduced Paul Freeman’s character [Belloq], it introduced Indy…
AVC: It introduced the boulder.
AM: Exactly! All of that. So in the trailer, it looked as though I had a huge part. It looked as if it was like me and Harrison. So I was getting phone calls from people saying, “Oh, my God, I’ve just seen the trailer!” I’m like, “Yeah, relax. I get popped off in, like, 10 minutes. I barely make it past the credits.” [Laughs.]
AVC: In the wake of The Electric Company, you found considerable success on the stage, including earning a trio of Obie Awards (for Coriolanus, The Gospel At Colonus, and Driving Miss Daisy). Did you always have a desire to do more work in front of the camera, or were you happy sticking with the stage?
MF: No. From early childhood, my thrust was to get into the movies. [Laughs.]
AVC: It seems like your first big break of note, movie-wise, was playing Walter in Brubaker.
MF: No, that wasn’t my first big break. My first big break was playing Fast Black in Street Smart.
AVC: Well, I knew that you’d gotten an Oscar nod for that, certainly. It just seemed like getting a memorable part in a Robert Redford movie would be a pretty big deal.
MF: Well, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. [Laughs.] But to tell you the truth, it was a role that I fought not to get. In the script, this guy that I played weighed about 240 pounds, and he could tear a toilet off a wall! Bob Rafelson was the original director, and he asked me to play the role, and I said, “Man, no! That’s not… I can’t even pretend to be somebody who can do stuff like that! No, thank you.” But, you know, it finally happened.
AVC: How did they finally sway you?
DJ: Oh, I loved Harry Madox. An amoral drifter. That was sort of one of the modern noir films. Dennis Hopper directed, and I’ll tell you a story that not a lot of people know. Mike Figgis had written a script called The Hot Spot, and it was a heist movie. Three days before we started shooting, Dennis Hopper came to all of us, he called a meeting on a Sunday, and he said, “Okay, we’re not making that script. We’re making this one.” And he passed a script around the table that had been written for Robert Mitchum in the ’60s… or maybe it was the ’50s… and it was based on a book called Hell Hath No Fury. And that was the movie that we ended up making. This was three days before we started shooting! So he was kind of looking around the table at everybody and saying, “Well, you know, if Don Johnson bails, we don’t have a movie.” [Laughs.] And I read the script, and I said, “Wow!” I mean, the Figgis script was really slick and cool, and it was a heist movie, but this was real noir, the guy was an amoral drifter, and it was all about how women were going to take him down.
AVC: Barry Corbin said that Dennis Hopper would always wear a tie when you shot in the jail so they’d know he wasn’t supposed to be there.
DJ: [Burst out laughing.] Dude, Dennis Hopper wore a suit every fucking day to the set! We shot that in August in Austin, Texas, but he still wore a suit every day to the set. And I thought, “What in the hell?” Because, like, we’re all melting. I’m going, “Dude! Relax! You’re the director! You can get away with not dressing up!” I don’t know what the hell he was thinking.
TL: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was one of those things where I was on a little vacation with my wife, who was very pregnant at the time, and I didn’t know where the next gig was coming from. I remember that day we were sitting by the pool, and I was having my breakdown where I was going, “I’m never going work again, I’m not getting any good movies, and I don’t know what’s going on with Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil and A Good Old Fashioned Orgy,” which were dumped as far as I knew at the time. And then I got a phone call from my Canadian agent in Vancouver, and he just said, “How’d you like to do another movie with [James] Franco?” And I was, like, “Yeah, but, uh, what is it?” “Oh, just a little installment in a franchise called Planet Of The Apes!” I was, like, “Oh, my God!” My mind raced, and I’m going, “Surely Tim Burton’s not directing this one.” But he knew it was Rupert Wyatt, and I knew Rupert’s work. Plus, it was shooting in Vancouver, so I got to go home, shoot in the city, and work on this huge potential blockbuster. It was really great. And it was one of those reminders that things do come along. Whenever I get into my despair mode, usually something pops up, and it kind of keeps me sane.
So it was a great filming experience, and Franco and I—who had previously left kind of a bad taste in my mouth after we shot Flyboys—we really didn’t get along very well. He didn’t really get along with anybody, to be honest. So I took Planet Of The Apes not only because it was an awesome project, but partially because I was, like, “I’m going to go stick it to Franco, man! I want to get some fucking answers as to why he was such a dick when we were in London!” And I told the producers that, and they were like, “Are we going to have a problem?” I’m, like, “Nah, I mean, I might just punch him in the face, but…” And, they’re, like, “Look, we will fire you. You can’t punch James Franco in the face.” “Okay, obviously I’m not gonna punch James Franco in the face. I’m just joking!” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “I might punch him. I don’t know what I’m going to do!” [Laughs.]
But, no, I met him on the first day that I was shooting, and he came up to me and gave me a hug, and he was, like, “It’s so great to see you, man!” And I kind of put it on the back burner for two days, talking to my wife and planning all the things I wanted to ask him about, but finally I just gave him a gentle nudge and said, “What was going on in England? What happened with you and [director] Tony Bill? And why were you so miserable?” And he just laid it on the line. He told me everything. He just copped to everything, and we had a really great bonding moment. He was really apologetic about his behavior and basically asked if I could just give him another chance. So I’m like, “Yeah, obviously.” And now we’re buddies. So, you know, Planet Of The Apes was great even if it was just for that, and I was like, “I’m really glad we got to work this out.”
XB: “Dr. Landru.” Wow. [Laughs.] Dr. Landru I’d completely forgotten about until you reminded me—and there’s one to make one humble! [Laughs.]
I hadn’t been to Orlando, Florida before. I’d been to Miami a few times, but I’d never been to Orlando, and I’d sort of enjoyed the climate of Florida, so I thought I could bring my girlfriend at the time down and we’d get to check out Disneyworld and other places down there. So this was my career motivation at the time: You travel, you get a nice hotel room, and it gets paid for by someone else. My agent said, “No one watches this show, so you don’t have to worry about it.” I said, “Well, what is Super Force? It sounds terrible!” “Look, you’re doing a double episode, they’re paying you for two episodes, you only have to be there for four days… Really, do you want to question this?” And because I had avoided pilot season three years in a row by doing obscure independent films internationally, I thought I’d better just say “yes.”
And I get down there, and… oh, my God, this is how ignorant I am. I had just done The Rookie, with Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen, and when I get on set for Super Force, this girl comes up to me who I’m going to be acting opposite in this thing—I’m playing a cult leader—and she says, “You know my boyfriend Charlie!” And I said, “Who? What? Huh?” “Charlie Sheen! You just got through working with Charlie. He said to say, ‘Hi!’” I said, “Oh! Oh, well, say ‘hi’ to Charlie.” And she said, “You know I am, don’t you?” “Um… no, but I don’t really watch TV or too many movies, so you’ve got to forgive me.” She said, “Well, I’m the leading adult film star.” And I honestly didn’t even know what that meant. I’m, like, “You’re the most famous grown-up actor?” [Laughs.] “You barely look grown-up! How can that be?” And then with that said, she takes me over to her trailer and shows me. She says, “You have to see what I got Charlie for Valentine’s Day!” And she proceeds to bring me into her trailer and show me all this intense erotic paraphernalia. And I went, “You know, I… I’m just gonna run back to my trailer. I’m gonna head back over there for just a minute. But I’ll see you on set. Nice to meet you!”
Well, as I’m sure you know, the actress was Ginger Lynn. And in literally the very first scene that we did together, she’s being inducted into my cult, and she’s on her knees in front of me, and I have a sword sort of resting on her head… and TV Guide just happened to pop up on set. [Laughs.] Like, I never got publicity for anything, but this I’m getting publicity for: They’re flashing all these pictures of me in a compromising position with Ginger Lynn at my crotch. That’s all I remember about Super Force… but that’s a good story, huh?
Timothy Dalton on Sextette
TD: Ah. Well. Well, well, well. Now, then. Let’s see how we can dance around this one…
AVC: You can dance while “Love Will Keep Us Together” plays in the background, if you like.
TD: Yesssssss. I tried singing that, you know.
AVC: Oh, I know. The clip is on YouTube.
TD: Well then, you know I’m not a good singer. [Laughs.] But I don’t think that’s me doing the singing! I don’t think it is, anyway. Anyway, as you can imagine, it was one of the remarkable, interesting, and extraordinary pieces of work that I have ever been in. Well, for me, it’s more notable for meeting Mae West and getting to know her. She was… well, nobody really knew how old she was then. I think they lied to the insurance company—maybe they didn’t—and said that she was 84. But other sources said, “No, no, she can’t be 84. She’s got to be at least 87!” And one very reputable source said, “All wrong: She’s 91!” I mean, this woman was one of the great comedic film stars of, what, the ’20s? The ’30s? How long did her career go? Into the ’40s? Probably! But she was one of the great stars.
So I found myself talking to a woman who… [Hesitates.] Well, she couldn’t remember very much about now. That was hard. But she was pin sharp and crystal clear about life in New York in the 1890s! Now, when you’re talking to somebody who’s got that kind of experience and memory and can communicate it, it’s fascinating! I mean, this is a woman who, basically, lived at a time when the fastest a human being could travel wasn’t much faster than a horse could pull a wheel! Yes, they had steam engines, and maybe even the beginning of motorcars. I can’t remember when the motorcar was invented! Essentially, though, it was at a time when few people could go faster than a horse could pull a wheel, and by the time I was working with her, men had landed on the moon! In the movie, we even have a reference to “a small step for man.” She hadn’t a clue what that was about. [Laughs.] She had no idea what it was referencing. But her life had spanned the greatest technological upheaval in the history of human beings ever.
Anyway, she was fascinating in that sense to talk with, and she was fascinating to talk to about theater in New York. And, of course, beyond that, George Raft turned up for a line! I mean, it was an amazing, odd bunch of people as the cast. It was, again, a great experience. But not a good film, of course.
AVC: How much interaction, if any, did you have with the rock-star contingent of the cast?
TD: Oh, do you mean Keith Moon? [Laughs.] He was great! Again I’m going to say it, but they were good people. He was terrific. But most people are, particularly if you’re having fun!
JW: I loved Battle Of The Network Stars. It was the stupidest show in the world, but I took it very seriously.
AVC: You and Robert Conrad.
JW: [Laughs.] Well, a lot of people didn’t. But I took it very seriously. And what happened was… we got our asses kicked, CBS, every year. By Penny Marshall. She fucking destroyed us, every year. So one year, Bo Svenson… I forget the name of the show he was on, but it was a show about a sheriff or some garbage. But we had never won, so Bo Svenson got in contact with everyone, and he said, “We are gonna win this fucking thing!”
We went out, and we took rowing lessons, we took swimming lessons, we took basketball lessons, and son of a sea dragon, when the actual game came, it was easier than the training! We destroyed everybody. And I loved it. And I still… [Starts to laugh.] I know it sounds stupid, but it’s one of the highlights of my career, winning the Battle Of The Network Stars. Thank God we finally got ’em. We kicked Penny Marshall’s ass!
AVC: Detonator feels like a must-ask just because it’s such a brilliant/ridiculous action-hero name: Zack Ramses.
SB: Ugh. Detonator. Well… [Sighs, then starts to laugh.] Uh…
AVC: If you start to discuss this and find yourself making a statement you wish to retract, let me know.
SB: No. What happened was, I got a call to do a Roger Corman film, so I thought it was going to be an actual film by Roger Corman. You know, something along the lines of, like, Little Shop Of Horrors or something like that. A cheesy horror film. But then I read it, and I was like, “Uh, well, okay, this isn’t what I was expecting, but I guess they’re gonna turn it into something.” So I agreed to it, because I still thought it’d be cool to do a Roger Corman movie. Then I got to the set, and that’s when I realized that they weren’t trying to make a Roger Corman movie. The director was trying to make a serious movie! And I just went, “Oh, God… I’m stuck!” [Laughs.] And that was it. Sometimes I should read stuff a little bit closer than I do. I don’t like reading very much, and sometimes I get burned. But you know what? Nobody saw it. And even if they did see it, who cares anymore?
AVC: There’s not even a clip on YouTube, so you really dodged a bullet.
SB: [Surprised.] Is there really not a clip on YouTube?
AVC: If there was, it would absolutely be accompanying the piece. But there isn’t.
SB: Listen, I don’t know if that’s worse that Skatetown, U.S.A., or if Skatetown, U.S.A. is worse than that. I’ve seen neither one.
AVC: Well, you opened yourself up for this one, then: let’s talk about Richie, Skatetown, U.S.A.
SB: I did not remember that character’s name. I have blocked that movie from my memory, it was so bad. I remember shooting it at the Hollywood Palladium. I remember taking a picture with Patrick Swayze. He was in it. A lot of people were in it. I think the idea was, “If a lot of people are in it, maybe people will go see it.” That was that whole time where Xanadu and Roller Boogie and all that crap was coming out. That was one of those things where they sent me the script and I said “no,” but they just kept calling and offering more money! I mean, they offered me a lot of money. And finally I said, “Well, hell. What is it? Two weeks’ work? Whatever, okay, fine.” And it was… You know, sometimes money isn’t everything. [Laughs.] It was just bad. I mean, it was bad shooting it. I’m trying to think of any real stories that I have, but it was just insanity. When was that? ’79? It was just a guy making a film who didn’t know how to make a film, and I don’t even know what the story was! But Greg Bradford was in it, who I worked with later in Zapped! I’m sure you’re gonna get to that one. But Skatetown, U.S.A., that was crapola.
AVC: You made that comment about how a lot of people were in it, but it’s interesting to look at the headliners of the film: It’s you, Flip Wilson, Ron Palillo, Maureen McCormick, and Ruth Buzzi, none of whom were particularly known for film work.
SB: Exactly! I think that and Can’t Stop The Music with Bruce Jenner might be two of the worst films ever made. That, and maybe The Lonely Lady, with Pia Zadora. That’s another real stinker.
Oh! I just remembered a great story about Skatetown. We were working nights, and we were on the Santa Monica pier. We were at the top of the pier—it must’ve been about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, so it was completely dead, except maybe for a couple of junkies walking around—and the camera dolly was on top of the hill. I was sitting there, talking to somebody, and out of the corner of my eye, I can see the camera dolly starting to move very slowly by itself. And I didn’t really do anything, because it didn’t register. All of a sudden, it starts going… and going. And nobody can get in the way of this thing, because this was a big dolly. It got all the way to the bottom of the pier, hit the railing, the camera came off the head, and went flying into the ocean. It was awesome. [Laughs.] So there you go, there’s a story for you.
Pamela Adlon on Grease 2
PA: That was my first movie, and I couldn’t have been more excited, because I was obsessed with Grease. So being a part of that was amazing. For my audition, I sang “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” and I sang it really dirty. [Laughs.] I was this little dark, swarthy girl who came in and did this! My final audition was actually the table-read of the movie, and they did something so awful, something I think they would only do in the ’80s: There were two of us who were reading for the same part, and we shared a chair at the table-read. She would read one line, and I would read the other line. Then at the end of the table-read, they told me that I got the part… after we had both had a private audition with Maxwell Caulfield. That’s so fucked up! I can’t even believe it when I look back at it. I’m like, “This is so bad to do to young girls… or anybody!” I can’t imagine how the rest of the cast might’ve felt about that. Like, “Well, this is awkward. Don’t make eye contact—or friends—with either one of them, because they could be on the chopping block in five minutes!”
But I loved doing that, and I was really young. Everybody else was a grown-up. I was the only minor in the movie, but I had a ball. Then at the end of the movie, I got into a bad car accident and I couldn’t finish. So when everybody’s jumping into the air off these mattresses, I couldn’t do it, because I was in bed with a broken knee, nose, a concussion. It was terrible! To this day, it’s so funny, because there’s this certain group of women and gay men who are totally obsessed with me because I was in Grease 2, a movie that everyone was very ashamed of when it was made. [Laughs.]
AVC: Christopher McDonald said that, if pressed, he could still do his songs from the film. Could you?
PA: Oh, God, yes. [Laughs.] Are you kidding? Every single note of every song.
CM: Man, you’re… [Starts to laugh.] You’re really bringing in the hard stuff, aren’t you? You’re throwing me fast balls! That was kind of… interesting. I think that was my first TV gig, so it was the first time I actually made what was to me very serious money. And I thought, “Wow, this is going to be my career!” And it lasted one season. I didn’t know they liked to get rid of their quarterbacks every year on that show. My high school football experience got me that job, and oh, boy, that was a tough one. That was tough.
AVC: How so?
CM: I mean, it was an excuse for T&A, you know? And I didn’t realize it wasn’t Shakespeare. [Laughs.] I think I was a little bit at cross-purposes. Yeah, that was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. God, man, you’re making me sweat…
AVC: I’m sorry.
CM: No, you’re not. [Laughs.] No, you are not sorry. You are not sorry one bit!
KS: Well, you know, working with Bill Murray… [Laughs.] Bill co-directed that [with Howard Franklin] and cast it. And I got to work with Jason Robards! So it was fun. The thing was that, when I got the part, they said, “We don’t want him to be mafia,” and I said, “Okay.” So when I read for it initially, I just read it kind of like some executive, and they were like, “Great!” Then when we started shooting, they said, “Could you be more mafia?” And I was like, “What? That’s not what…” If I had thought about it and worked it up, it would’ve been fun, but there I am, on the set, and now they’ve decided they want me to be more mafia? It was a little perplexing to me. But that wasn’t coming from Bill. That was coming from Howard. But I had a fabulous time working on the movie because of all the people. I like Bill, and I got along great with him.
AVC: Do you have any specific anecdotes from the experience?
KS: We had a scene in the first-class section of this airliner. In fact, they moved the entire movie. The movie was shot entirely in New York except for this scene. They moved the entire picture to Florida where they had a mock-up in a studio of the first-class section of an airplane. So that’s where we were, and we had lots of extras; the plane was full. Jason was in the scene. I think Randy [Quaid] and Geena [Davis] were, too. So there were just tons of people. And we got ready for Bill to call, “Action!” So he said, “Okay, everybody ready? Sound? Everybody…?” And then he starts singing. You know the song “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)”? He starts singing it kind of like the lounge guy he used to do on Saturday Night Live… and he sings the entire song. All the verses. The entire song. Then he says, “Action!” [Laughs.] It had nothing to do with anything. But we were all quite entertained.
AVC: Supposedly, when you were first offered the role of Jame Gumb in The Silence Of The Lambs, you actually called Del Close in Chicago to ask him what he thought about you taking it.
TL: I did! Wow. Wow! Yeah, I’ll tell you why that happened. I had gotten the part and went to New York for a read-through, and this was one of those ones where everybody was pulling their weight, and everyone was there at the read-through. All of these departments were there. And Locations was there, and they came up to me with a pile of Polaroid photographs—we used Polaroid photographs in those days—to show me these locations that they were considering for the Jame Gumb house. And I’m flipping through these pictures of houses… and the hair on the back of my neck started rising up. And I said, “Where the hell… Where are these houses? Where is this?” And he goes, “Well, we found this really depressed little coal-mining town on the Ohio River.” And I said, “Bellaire, Ohio?” He said, “Yeah!”
Now, Bellaire is where I was born and lived until I was 11 years old… and the house they were looking at for the Gumb house was the haunted house next to my little girlfriend’s house, where would go for lunch because my mom, being a physician, worked. And this house was this scary house next door to Megan’s house, down by the river. They’ve all been bulldozed now for a stupid highway, but this house… They didn’t end up using it. They used a house a few doors down. But Belvedere, Ohio, where Jame Gumb allegedly lived, was actually Bellaire, Ohio, where I was born and raised.
So it freaked me out… and I didn’t know what to do! And I knew that Del was a warlock-y, black-magic kind of guy, and since I was kind of freaked out and Del was a bit of a friend, I called him up. And he said, “Oh, it’s a wonderful thing!” He was all happy about it. And I said, “Okay, good.” So I guess it turned out to be a wonderful thing. But maybe I sold my soul at the time. I don’t know.
AVC: You’ve said before that you thought your audition was better than your actual performance. It’s hard to imagine how disconcerting your audition must’ve been.
TL: Oh, yeah, well, sometimes when something just comes flying out, off the cuff, it can be better. I’d done a bit of work, obviously—I’d read the book a whole lot—but I hadn’t nailed something down. I actually read with Brooke Smith, who played the girl in the pit. She read Jodie [Foster’s] part in the audition. Again, there was sort of an ensemble feel about it, because I guess Brooke had already been cast. And Jonathan [Demme], I don’t know, he just sort of likes actors to read with actors. But that was pretty cool from the get-go, because right then she and I kind of hit it off, which made it a whole lot easier to do the work and to make a separation between that insane misogyny and the actual person. So that was a real gift, to be able to get to know Brooke so soon, so early on in the process.
AVC: One of the best quotes describing Buffalo Bill during his dance number, as it were, is when you referred to him as “a would-be glitter rocker.”
TL: Oh, yeah, for sure. Well, the dance… You know, actually, that’s from Chapter 20, where he was in the shower and did the little penis-tuck deal. That wasn’t in the original script, and I asked that that be put in there because I thought it was really pretty key, because it made it totally accessible to the man on the street. “Just look at yourself as a woman,” which is basically what he was doing. It made this psychotic monster accessible, in a strange sort of way. But in a weirdly gentle sort of way.
Actually, my ex-wife tells a story of how she was on a plane to Vegas with a bunch of girlfriends, and there were a bunch of guys on their way to Vegas, too, for a stag party. And everybody’s drinking on the plane—the girls are all drinking, the guys are drinking—and one of the guys is saying, “Yeah, we do this thing, we’ve done it three times now, where we get drunk enough and then we do that thing that the freak did in Silence Of The Lambs!” They do this at the stag party for each other! [Laughs.] Which I think is kind of funny. I wonder how many dates have gone, “Hey, why don’t you do that thing we saw in the movie tonight, sweetie? Go ahead, do that.”
AVC: And how much did you have to drink to film the scene?
TL: Well, I did drink. [Laughs.] I did. I drank some… I think I had some scotch. Or maybe it was tequila. But, yeah, I had a few drinks before I did it. But like I said, the set was very cool. Jodie tells the story where she had a scene in the shower where she had to take her shirt off, and the whole crew took their shirts off, too, so she was comfortable. So the set was very cool that way. And I’d done some nudity on stage and stuff with the Remains Theater, so it wasn’t that big a deal. I wasn’t too upset about that. But I did have to shave my ass. That was a drag. I shaved my whole chest and all that. I did a little Brazilian on myself. And that growing back? Yeah, that wasn’t fun.