Book Review: Keith Morris’s “My Damage: The Story of a True Punk Rock Survivor”

“My Damage: The Story of a True Punk Rock Survivor”
Author: Keith Morris w/ Jim Ruland
Da Capo Press
Hardcover: 309 pages

Our score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Keith Morris is known the world over as the real deal, a seminal figure in hardcore punk, revered by any fan of the genre. As a co-founding member of Black Flag and as the front man for the seminal west coast punk band Circle Jerks “My Damage” is a memoir that covers not only covers Keith’s forty-year history in music but also his struggles with his health and drug use, told straight through the eyes of someone who shared the stage with just about every major figure in the industry.

From page 1 to page 309 “My Damage” keeps the reader’s attention making this a hard book to put down. Through candid accounts of Black Flag/Circle Jerks front man Keith Morris’s early struggles within the Hermosa Beach community to the reincarnation of “FLAG” close to 40 years later the book covers immense ground in an easy to follow format which for readers who may not be as familiar with Morris’s work is a great feature. The books drive matches that of the author as it moves quickly and is unrelenting in details. No matter how edgy or unsettling the story may be Morris pulls no punches and tells the story as it was from his perspective. No phony names or reader friendly versions here folks.

The sheer realness of “My Damage” makes this book appealing to not only punk rock music fans but to readers looking for a candid takes-no prisoners approach to storytelling. Keith cuts out the unneeded drab and quickly gets to the guts of his life and his experiences in the music business. At times over shadowing those story is his struggles with drugs and alcohol which at several points made me question just how the author is still with us and able to recount his journey in detail he does. “My Damage: The Story of a True Punk Rock Survivor” is a must read for biography and music fans.

Roy Scheider: The Lost Interview!

In September 1977 I was given permission by Roy Scheider to start his Official Fan Club. As a 16 year old kid whose favorite film was (and still is) “JAWS,” I was in the proverbial hog heaven. Roy passed away on February 10, 2008 at the age of 75. This weekend I was going through a box of some old fan club material (fan letters, etc) and came across an interview I did through the mail with Roy in February 1980 shortly after he was nominated for an Academy Award for “All That Jazz.” He was also appearing on Broadway with Blythe Danner and Raul Julia in the play “Betrayal.” The papers are yellowed but Roy’s handwritten answers to my question are still bold. Unless you were a member of the Fan Club you are reading this for the first time in what is truly a MovieMikes exclusive. Enjoy!

Mr. Scheider, let me first say congratulations on your Academy Award nomination!! I found your performance to be fantastic!! (NOTE TO THE READERS: Please excuse all of the exclamation points. I was 19 years old at the time) I am crossing my fingers from now until April 14th (the night the awards were presented) Though your ability is all that’s necessary to win the Oscar a little luck also helps! Congrats again!

Q: There is much talk of “All That Jazz” being almost a Bob Fosse biography. What is your opinion? I noticed some similarities.
ROY SCHEIDER: Yes – in New York there is too much “bio” talk. It is somewhat biographical but only 1/3. The rest of the nation identifies with the character of “Joe Gideon” as just another crazy workaholic.
Q: You were nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “The French Connection” but lost out to Ben Johnson in “The Last Picture Show.” Now you’re nominated as Best Actor for “All That Jazz.” What do you think, truthfully, your chances are for the Oscar? I personally think your closest competition is Dustin Hoffman (nominated that year for “Kramer vs Kramer”), who you worked with in “Marathon Man,” and the closest he is second!
RS: Ben Johnson won because he had a very dramatic private scene and because he was a veteran actor. We all pay our dues. Dustin will win – – -he has paid his dues. (Of course, Roy was right. The winner on Oscar night was Dustin Hoffman)
Q: I recently saw your first film, “The Curse of the Living Corpse,” on television. What, in your opinion, have been the major breakthroughs in films and production qualities since then and “All That Jazz?”
RS: “Living Corpse” was my first. It cost $35,000. “Jazz,” my last, cost $10.5 million and was directed by a genius filmmaker.
Q: There was talk some time ago about a film from the people who did “Animal House” and Zanuck/Brown to be titled “Jaws 3, People 0.” Were you approached to perform in this film and, if you weren’t, would you? I am aware of your reluctance to do “Jaws 2.” Also, hope you didn’t mind the “All that JAWS” poster!! (I had sent Roy a mock up poster combining his characters from “JAWS” and “All that Jazz” entitled “All That JAWS.” As this was early 1980 I’m going to go ahead and lay claim to being the first person to come up with that).
RS: 1. Definitely NO! 2. Not bad – – “J’s” seem to be lucky for me.
Q: What was the hardest part of making “All that Jazz?” I’ll assume it was the dancing.
RS: Yes. Not the learning or the doing but the repeating, again and again, for the camera angles. I’m getting older and those were muscles I’d never used.
Q: What was it like returning to the stage in “Betrayal?” Did you realize you had missed the live audience? Would you like to do another play in the near future?
RS: It is refreshing. Like getting on a bicycle again. It’s good to be dealing with ideas. I’ll be tired of it by June. Yes – – I’ll do it again in the future.
Q: What other projects do you have in the works? Films, plays…giving dance lessons?
RS: Reading film scripts.
Q: Finally, when you win the Oscar can I have the carnation you wear in your lapel?
RS: I won’t, so there goes your carnation. If I do you’ll get it!

Interview with Jim Krut

Jim Krut is well known for his small but very notable role as the Helicopter Zombie in “Dawn of the Dead”. Since then Jim has not done many films but he has been quite involved with the genre. Movie Mikes had a chance to ask Jim a few questions about his working on “Dawn of the Dead” and his career.

Click here to purchase “Dawn of the Dead”
Click here to purchase “Deadlands 2: Trapped”

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you got the role of the Helicopter Zombie in “Dawn of the Dead”?
Jim Krut: I got the role of Helicopter Zombie in “Dawn of the Dead” when Tom Savini asked me to do the role.  At the time, I was living in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, working in live theater with a traveling repertory company called the Ironclad Agreement.  I was literally on my way to see a movie in Oakland, when I ran into Tom.  Tom said, “Jim I have a great role for you in the George Romero film that’s being made here in Pittsburgh.  I think you’ll really like it.”  I told him, “Tom, in a few minutes I’ll be in a movie.” Tom said, give me a call and we’ll set up the makeup sessions.

MG: How long have you know Tom Savini?
JK: Tom and I had had known each other for a number of years, since we were in college together in Pittsburgh.  There, we acted in student productions.  Tom and I were the two actors in a version of Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story.” During that run, the real knife that we used made a real impact on Tom’s midsection.  But, as they say, show must go on.  Tom didn’t flinch; we finished the show and no one ever knew that he’d been injured.

MG: Tell us about the makeup process for your character?
JK: We got together for the makeup sessions in Tom’s workshop, in the basement of his home.  He needed to do a head cast of me.  This entailed my breathing through a straw for about 20 min. while plaster was slathered all over my face until it hardened.  Then, the back of the head was done the same way.  It helps you appreciate the old movies where fugitives are hiding in a stream and breathing through a hollow reed while they stay concealed.  In this case, however, Tom called me a few days later and said that the plaster cracking we need to repeat the process.  I returned to Tom’s workshop.  He completed the plaster molding of my head and from that was able to build the rest of the prosthetics.  To make the removable headpiece proportional to the rest of my head, Tom applied the beard, mustache and a bit more hair.  It seems like only a few days from that point that we were on set at the Monroeville airport.

MG: How long did it take to shoot your scene?
JK: In my recollection, I was there two days.  The first day was pretty drizzly and a lot of the indoor shooting was done at that time.  There may have been some uncertainty about the helicopter arriving if there was rain.  I believe the first shooting day at the Monroeville airport was a Sunday and I pretty much stayed inside the little office building for most of that.  It gave me a chance to watch how others were working and how George Romero was directing.  It was my first time on a movie set.  As a struggling actor in Pittsburgh, it was also great to have access to the lunch wagon from craft services.  As for the costume, there were at least two identical sets of clothes for me. We only needed one, since everything was done in one take.  Applying the makeup and appliances took about an hour, as I recall.  Tom had everything ready to go and seemed to be everywhere on the set at the airport.  As for direction, I believe that Tom had worked far enough in advance with George that George trusted Tom to pull off the effect.  I’m pretty sure George directed all of the camera angles, but Tom worked on the timing and the execution of the effect.  Again, everything was done in one take.  Time may have been a factor, but everything seemed to go very smoothly because of the earlier planning.  Both Tom and I are Vietnam veterans.  We were both familiar with helicopters from that experience. Stepping up onto the loosely arranged boxes, while focusing on the “meat” refueling the helicopter was probably the trickiest part of the shot for me.  I wanted it all to be right.  Even if this would be my only time ever in a movie, I was going to give it my best.  It was surprising, but very gratifying, to learn we didn’t have to repeat the shot.  People on the set said it looked great and seemed to be really happy with the way it turned out.  I believe the shooting involving the Helicopter Zombie scenes took about an hour altogether.

MG: Although being in the film for only a short time, you character is definitely well known form the series, how do you feel about that?
JK: As for being so well known for this relatively short sequence in a cult film, all I can say is I’m extremely happy to have been a part of it!  You have to remember, at the time, George Romero was breaking a lot of new ground.  From what I saw of the effects, language and action, I figured that my family and friends at the time might never go to see this movie.  But, that’s what taking a chance is all about.  I’ll always be grateful to Tom Savini for including me in this movie.  My being part of this George Romero classic has since become a huge source of conversation and pride for my family and friends.  Once the shooting was done, then came the nervous before the screening in downtown Pittsburgh.  Inside the packed theater were the actors, crew, friends and hundreds of zombies it seemed.  There was the nervous anticipation of wondering if my scenes would actually make it up onto the big screen or end up on the cutting room floor.  It was a huge thrill to see how the scene worked into the grand scheme of “Dawn of the Dead.”

MG: You didn’t do many films post “Dawn”, what was the reason?
JK: Within a year after the release of Dawn, I was married to my wife Linda.  When our first daughter was born, we left Pittsburgh to find a place with cleaner air and less traffic.  We settled in central Pennsylvania, where I worked for a time in audiovisual sales for 3M company.  Then I was hired as an editor for a weekly newspaper, making use of my journalism degree from point Park University.  Within two years we moved to the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area.  There I had a job as editor of the statewide magazine for the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association.  I love the work and travel, but it didn’t leave time for other pursuits such as acting on stage or in film.  Seven years later we moved to Gettysburg, where I became involved with a startup theater company.  Around the year 2000, I was invited to Cinema Wasteland in Cleveland, from “Dawn of the Dead” reunion.  It was great to see some friends I worked with in theater in Pittsburgh, who also happen to have been in “Dawn of the Dead”.  It was also a chance to get to know some of the other actors from the from the movie.  The really amazing thing, however, was the fans.  I knew Dawn had become a cult classic, but it was hard to appreciate just how widespread the reach of that movie had become.  For the Cleveland show, someone had flown in from Japan.  People had driven in from California, Texas, New Jersey and other states.  It was overwhelming!  I’ll always be grateful to Ken Kish, who runs Cinema Wasteland, for tracking me down and bringing me back to the public eye!  That horror convention led to other appearances over the last several years.  Between those appearances and some of my theatrical performances, I was asked to take on roles in other movies.  First came “The Guatemalan Handshake” in which I had a small role, but it was great working with the cast and the director.  That I met Gary Ugarek, who offered me a lead role in his film “Deadlands 2: Trapped.”  I love the role and a chance to play an evil government official.  It seemed there were so many role models to work from!

MG: Where you a fan of the horror genre before working on the film?
JK: As for being a fan of horror movies, I have been since I was a kid.  I would stay up late at night and watch them on television.  I would go to the movies and watch “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, “The Wolfman”, and more on the big screen.  The Thing, Them, all sorts of monsters and creatures! Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, and the classic horror actors were my idols. My scene from “Dawn of the Dead” has been classified by Bravo Network as one of the top 100 moments in horror movies.  No matter what else I’ve done or where I’ve traveled, nothing seems to be as well known in my life as the role of the Helicopter Zombie.  It’s absolutely been great!  And, I remain grateful to Tom Savini, George Romero and especially the fans who helped to keep the “dead” alive!

MG: What else are currently working on?
JK: I’ve done a few other independent films since then.  One was a short, “Squirrel,” that has not yet been released but has appeared at a few film festivals.  Another, “Dead Island,” was directed by Josh Davidson.  He shot the entire feature-length film on iPhones.  That was just a few months ago.  Another indie film, with the working title of “Bunnyman Bridge,” was being shot entirely with digital SLR cameras.  I’m not sure about the release date on those.  There was also Joe Shelby’s “The Green Man” being shot in Pittsburgh.  Joe was one of the motorcycle raiders in Dawn of the Dead.  My role in that film is just a brief appearance.  There possibly three films that I may become involved with in 2011.  I can’t say much about them at this point, but I’m just happy to know that there are folks interested in having me work with him.

Click here to purchase “Dawn of the Dead”
Click here to purchase “Deadlands 2: Trapped”

MovieMikes’ “$#*! My Dad Says” Interview Series

In case you do not know “$#*! My Dad Says” started as a Twitter feed authored by Justin Halpern and it just consisted of quotes made by his father, Sam. Luckily, CBS was the first studio to produce a show based on a twitter feed and today we have one of the funniest shows new show on television.

The show stars William Shatner as Ed Goodson, Jonathan Sadowski as his son Henry, Will Sasso plays his other son, Vince and Nicole Sullivan plays Vince’s wife Bonnie. Ever since the pilot, the show has improved with each episode and that is rare for a show definitely a first year show.

Movie Mikes has been able to interview this show’s fantastic cast. You can check out the interviews below.  If you have not checked out this show, support it and let’s keep our fingers crossed for season two!!

$#*! MY DAD SAYS CAST INTERVIEWS:

Jonathan Sadowski

Official premise for show via Wikipedia:
“Ed is a very opinionated 72-year-old who has been divorced three times. His two adult sons, Henry and Vince, are accustomed to his unsolicited and often politically incorrect rants. When Henry, a struggling writer and blogger, can no longer afford his rent, he is forced to move back in with Ed, which creates new issues in their tricky father-son relationship. As weeks go by Henry is unable to find a job as a writer, mostly due to the lack of good material. He finally lands a job, when during his interview Ed interrupts with an irrational phone call that sparks the interest of the eccentric editor conducting the interview. Henry is ultimately hired, but is forced to continue living with Ed in order to be able to continue to write about his father’s unsolicited rants, hence the title “$#*! My Dad Says”.”

<p style=”text-align: center;”><strong>$#*! MY DAD SAYS CAST INTERVIEWS:</strong></p>
<table class=”tblInterviews” border=”0″ cellspacing=”0″ cellpadding=”0″ width=”100″>
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<td><a href=”/2011/02/interview-with-jonathan-sadowski/”><img src=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/jonathan_sadowski.jpg” alt=”” hspace=”7″ width=”100″ height=”100″ /></a><a href=”/2011/02/interview-with-jonathan-sadowski/”>Jonathan Sadowski</a></div>
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<td><a href=”/2011/02/interview-with-nicole-sullivan/”><img src=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/nicolesullivan1-300×269.jpg” alt=”” hspace=”7″ width=”100″ height=”100″ /></a></p>
<div><a href=”/2011/02/interview-with-nicole-sullivan/”>Nicole Sullivan</a></div>
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<td><a href=”/2011/02/interview-with-will-sasso/”><img src=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/will_sasso.jpg” alt=”” hspace=”7″ width=”100″ height=”100″ /></a></p>
<div><a href=”/2011/02/interview-with-will-sasso/”>Will Sasso</a></div>
</td>
<td></td>
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>

Interview with Peter Stormare

Peter Stormare has appeared in over 100 films which include such memorable roles as Gaear Grimsrud in “Fargo” and Lev Andropov in “Armageddon”. Movie Mikes had a chance to speak with Peter recently about his career and what he has in store for the future.

Adam Lawton: What made you get into acting?
Peter Stormare: At the time in Sweden, there were really no other alternatives for me. It was either become an outlaw, a poet or an actor.

AL: Can you tell us what it was like working with the Coen Brothers?
PS: It was sheer pleasure. They are always so prepared and know exactly what they are doing. They kind of have an old school way of thinking in that 90% of the movie is made during the preparation stage. A lot of young directors never seem to do their homework. As an actor it’s very disturbing to come prepared for a shoot only to meet a director who doesn’t have a clue where the camera should be or what they want the scene to be about. More so lately I say “If you don’t do your homework…why should I do mine!”

AL: What was it like being a part of such a great movie and cast in “Armageddon?”
PS: I love Michael Bay and all of his craziness. He let me improvise throughout that whole movie. We really found some golden nuggets which made it into the film. The crap we cut out. That line “American components, Russian components they’re all made in Taiwan”. That was all me!

AL: What was it like returning to work on the “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” after Heath Ledgers passing?
PS: It was sad and strange all at the same time. There was a gathering of people around Terry Gilliam who wanted to rejoice in the sheer energy Heath had and shared with everyone. The entire cast from one liner’s to the bigger parts came on board for little to no pay. We did it for Heath and for Terry Gilliam. I had the privilege to get to know heath. He was so talented even beyond acting. He was an artist in all ways. He made some amazing photos, drawings and music. Sadly some of us have to say good bye early. Heath was one of them. During “The Brothers Grim”, I used to sit and watch him on the monitor. He reminded me of Johnny Depp. To me Johnny is one of the most innovative actors in the history of filmmaking. No disrespect to Brando, DeNiro or Pacino but for me Johnny Depp has it all and so did Heath Ledger.

AL: If you had to pick one of your performances as a favorite. What would it be?
PS: I think it’s impossible to pick. I hope the next project will bring that to the tale. The past is forgotten and will never return. I am a today kind of guy mixed with a little bit of future on the side.

AL: Can you tell us about any of your upcoming projects?
PS: No! They are all top secret. Just kidding…I have many projects in the works right now. Hopefully some of them will become real. I do want you to watch “The Superball” as there might be a cheese head that shows up holding a beer in his hand.

Interview with James Arnold Taylor

James Arnold Taylor is known best for his voicing of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Cartoon Network’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. Besides voicing Obi-Wan on the show is also voices numerous other characters, including Plo Koon. James is a very talented voice actor who also does voices ranging for the show “Johnny Test” to Fred Flinstone commercials to Emmett Brown in the recent “Back to the Future: Video Game”. Fighting a terrible cold and with barely a voice, Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with James about his role of Obi-Wan in “The Clone Wars” and his various other projects. James was nice enough to bare with me through my lack of voice and provide one of the most fun and easiest interviews to date.

Click here to purchase “Star Wars: Clone Wars” merchandise

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you originally got started with “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”?
James Arnold Taylor: When I was first introduced into the “Star Wars” world and “Clone Wars” was for the micro series that Genndy Tartakovsky had done. I auditioned like many other people had. I thought it was just for a line here or there that they needed to replace. I had done some Ewan McGregor voice doubling in the past. When I found out I got the job and found out what it was, it was really quite a shock to me. I was so humbled by it all. We got to do that series which was great, then from that point I started doing video games. I did video game for “Revenge of the Sith”, which mirrored the film mostly. I got to see a lot of the movie as it was being made which was really cool, since I had to kind of redo what Ewan was doing in the film. Then I moved into the new series of “The Clone Wars”. I remember the first meeting with Dave (Filoni) and Henry Gilroy. I told them that I was just flattered to be involved. It has been about eight years since that I have been involved and I am just thrilled to be in it.

MG: Your character has a great storyline this season, can you tell us about it?
JAT: Season three has been so awesome. As a cast, we all have gotten to know each other better through the years. We are all very comfortable with each other. When we get into the studio to record each other it is like a reunion and a bit of a party. It was really a new direction this season. We are dealing with things that “Star Wars” has never really dealt with before especially with the “Mortis” episodes. We have the final one of the three part series airing this Friday. I can’t wait for everyone to see it and then we can talk about it more. Clearly these are new territories that we have never taken these characters into before. Not even in the films, we find out what the force is really all about and Anakin being the truly labeled as the chosen one throughout the galaxy now. So for Obi-Wan, it is kind of fun when we were doing these episodes. He had a lot of [speaking in Obi-Wan’s voice] “Yes…Well…I don’t know…Let’s check over here” [laughs]. I was wondering how it was all going to come together and then you see it and it is just brilliant.

MG: How does it work for you about getting the scripts in advance?
JAT: I was keep in the dark like everyone else. When we get the scripts, if we have more than ten lines we get them in advance by 24 hours. If we have less than ten lines we usually get them just the day of the record. For me what I try to do is not to read outside of Obi-Wan’s parts. I do not want to know the ending. I want to be surprised like everyone else and I have been really blown away. It is just a blast because we always work as a cast and is it a treat to be involved with this “Star Wars” universe.

MG: What is the most challenging part for you playing Obi-Wan Kenobi?
JAT: Yeah, actually that is a great question. I am always trying to give homage to Ewan McGregor, of course…but also to Sir Alec Guinness. I take [speaking as Ewan McGregor] ” a little bit of Ewan McGregor’s voice and” [speaking as Alec Guinness] “a little bit of Alec Guinness’ voice”. I try to combine them into my Obi-Wan. I have been watching so many of the episodes lately and listening to my performance, myself being the most critical. I see that I am not necessarily doing Ewan McGregor any more, I am just doing an “Obi-Wan” voice. I get a lot of feedback from my fans on my Facebook and Twitter pages. Everyone has been saying its great because it is just Obi-Wan. I tell myself to take that as a complement. I naturally want to be matching and give the actors the respect they are due. But it is pretty amazing to think that I have voiced more of Obi-Wan than any other actor now. It is fun to think that this character is a part of me now. I really am so thankful to George Lucas and Dave Filoni for giving me the ability to do that. Funny enough, I recently had a cold as well and I was in the studio and was having trouble getting some of the lines out. I have always said that Obi-Wan has had those two different kinds of voice that Ewan McGregor gave him. [Speaking softly as Obi-Wan] “You seem a little on edge, relax be patient Anakin”, he has that kind of calm and then he has [screaming as Obi-Wan] “You are the chosen one!!”, which has a little more knife to it to his voice. There are always those two different levels of Obi-Wan that you want to do and hit them at the right time. There is some pressure in that. The most fun is coming up with different voices. I try and challenge myself, so the people watching the show don’t go “Oh that is just James Arnold Taylor doing that voice there”. I love it when there is an episode where you do not know that it was actually me as another character and Obi-Wan having a conversation. I also voice Plo Koon, so when two of my voices are talking to each other it is cool. Plo has a life of it own and a fan base of its own as well. It is fun to challenge myself in that way.

MG: You also play various other roles for “Clone Wars”, do you ever find it difficult to distinguish between roles?
JAT: What I do is that I have my scripts and I will distinguish each of the lines. Obi-Wan gets a circle around all of the lines. Plo Koon gets a line on the left and the right and a scribble on the top and bottom. If there is a third character I will do something else. I will be able to look at the script and if they are all talking to each other I can distinguish it. Since I was about four years old, I knew I wanted to do voice over in general. My brain works pretty well in switching back and forth. Every once in a while you can get confused on a character. I do a show called “Johnny Test” and I was just recently doing one which featured three characters I voice talking to each other. You had [Speaking as Johnny Test] “Johnny Test who is right here [speaking as Darth Vegan] and you have Darth Vegan who is almost like a Darth Vadar character and [speaking in British voice] and then I was doing a character more like this”. So I was switching back and forth between the three characters and I did get a little confused at one point. I think I went to Johnny when I was suppose to go to Darth Vegan or something. It happens everyone once in a while.

MG: In 2010 alone, you not only worked on “Clone Wars” but also “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”, “Johnny Test” and a few others, do you have any free time?
JAT: Yeah [voice of Obi-Wan] “I am always on the move” as Obi-Wan would say. I am very blessed to say I am always working. Between the animation work with the shows you mentioned, I am actually even working on a pilot for a Disney show that is going to be for the UK, but I do not think I can give too much info on it yet. Then you have the video games and promo work. I do a lot of regular promo work for the Fox network [in announcer voice] “Coming up next, it is a full hour of “Cops” or for SpikeTV “It’s a thousand ways to die on Spike”. I have got all those things, so I try and juggle them all throughout the day. Luckily I am able to do a lot of my work out of my home studio. It makes it easier. I like busy though, it keeps you moving. It also helps people realize that voiceover work is not just standing there talking and thinking it is easy. There is a lot of work to it, but it is very rewarding and so much fun.

MG: You voice the iconic character Emmett Brown in the recent “Back to the Future: Video Game”, how was stepping into that role?
JAT: Boy, what an honor. I got the audition from my agents and they said “James, come on this is the “Back to the Future” game, you are a shoe-in for this”. I have a stage show I am working on and you can see bits of it on my YouTube page. I do a live scene from “Back to the Future” playing and switching between both Doc and Marty. [speaking as Marty McFly] “Well wait a second Doc, you built a time machine out a a Dolorian…[speaking as Doc Brown] The way I see it Marty, if you are going to build a time machine out of a car, why not do it with some style!” I go back and forth to picture. I sent them that. Then I got in touch with Bob Gale, who is the writer of “Back to the Future” and is involved with the game and I said I really hope to be involved with this project. I had actually done some much of Michael J. Fox’s voice doubling in the past. The young man, AJ LoCascio, who had been doing Marty in the game is just brillant. He and I have been in touch and he said to me “I hope you don’t mind me stepping on your toes” but I told him he is just great and sounds so much like Michael J. Fox. For me it fun to be a character was not so known then since it was Emmett Brown, the young Doc Brown at the age of 17. So I was trying to figure out what would he sound like. It gave me the opportunity as a voice actor to take Christopher Lloyd’s voice, who is actually voicing Doc Brown in his older normal age, and take that try and figure out what would he sound like as a kid. We played around with it a lot. It is tricky, basically I had to blend some of Doc that you know and love from the films.  So he might sound a little older at times than a 17 year old might but Doc Brown is an old soul anyway. So you get [speaking in Doc Brown’s voice] “Dr. Emmett Brown here and you know when [speaking in Doc Brown’s voice at age 17] when he is a little younger he gets a little more crack and squeek in his voice every once in a while”. It has just been great fun getting to do that and we are still recording some of it too. The folks at Tall Tale Games have been great. It has just been such a fun project. I have been successfully managing to work my into every big film franchise that I can. From “Star Wars” to “Back to the Future” to “Jurassic Park” to “Transformers”, whatever I can get in there. It is really cool.

MG: What has been your favorite character to voice in your career to date?
JAT: Well Obi-Wan Kenobi has certainly become the one that I have grown the fondest for. I guess for so many reasons, one being seven years old and seeing “Star Wars” for the first time. I never dreamed at that time when the first film came out that I would be Obi-Wan Kenobi. Especially because Alec Guinness was playing him and he was this old guy. So I would have never guessed. I like what the character represents and that means a lot. I have been so blessed, I got to tell you Mike, to be all of these very famous characters.  I am still doing some commercials for Coco Pebbles as the voice of Fred Flinstone, and then also you got Tidus from the “Final Fantasy” game series. It is like choosing your favorite child, it is just really hard. Leonardo from “TMNT” is also a favorite. I am looking out the window in my studio and looking at all different action figures I have lined up and I am just like “Wow, I get to be all these different characters”. I do not know if I have a favorite but I certainly love voicing Obi-Wan and Johnny Test is also great. As a voice actor, every day or every hour is a different time and a different character and different person to be and that is what makes it so much fun. At times it is a thankless job to be an voice actor because if we do our job right nobody knows we exist. I can’t tell you how many times I am in a restaurant and the kids at the table next to me have Obi-Wan and “Clone Wars” shirts. I just think [speaking as Obi-Wan] “If they only knew” [laughs]. I just love whoever I am voicing at the time. I am just grateful to be getting that opportunity.

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Interview with Kelly Asbury

Kelly Asbury is the director and co-writer for Touchstone Picture’s “Gnomeo & Juliet”, which is a modern day take on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet…but with garden gnomes. Kelly has directed previously with “Shrek 2” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”. He has also worked with Disney on various films ranging from “Beauty and the Beast” to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” to “Toy Story”. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Kelly about working on his latest film “Gnomeo & Juliet”.

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Mike Gencarelli: You are no stranger to animation, what drew you to “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
Kelly Asbury: Well, my producer Baker Bloodworth, who I have known since my days back on “Beauty and the Beast from Disney, gave me a call and said he had a project for me.  He said he thought it had a lot of potential if it was handled right and he thought I was the guy to handle it.  He told me about Elton John, who I am huge fan of.  He told me about the gnomes and I said “Ok, they haven’t done that yet”.  They when he said they were taking “Romeo and Juliet” and putting a twist on it with the gnomes, I thought “Well, that hasn’t been done either”.  I thought it could be a good challenge and thought it was worth a try. That is really what drew me to it.  From that I was given the opportunity to start with a clean slate and we started over and re-wrote the script.  We turned it into what I and my team thought was the better way to go.  We had fun with it.

MG: How did the red vs. the blue come into the story?
KA: Red vs. blue was always there.  I came up with idea that the blue garden would be owned by old lady Montague and the red garden was old man Capulet.  She has a blue themed garden and he has a red themed garden.  I have been asked if there was some political message and there is not.  Red and blue are the best opposite colors and it is common for gnomes to have either red or blue hats.

MG: How does working on “Gnomeo & Juliet” for you differ than your other projects?
KA: For me, it was great because I got to live in London for almost two years.  Then I got live in Toronto for almost two years. I got to meet a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures.  There were fewer people involved in the decision making process. I really felt supported by the people I was working with.  It was done outside of the normal studio system.  It almost had one foot kind of in the independent film boat.  It was something I have never done before, so that was really the difference for me.

MG: The film is filled with celebrity talent voices, can you tell us about the casting of them?
KA: Yeah, the way that I like to cast…is to design the character first.  I would then keep that character in mind as casting director Gail Stevens and her group would send us voice samples.  But I wouldn’t let them tell me the name of the actors.  We didn’t cast for box office draw or marquee value.  We didn’t cast for star voices.  We tried to get voices that were appropriate to the character.  That is how we cast everyone of them.  In some cases we knew the character of Terrafirminator was made for Hulk Hogan.  Some others we wrote the part of Dolly Gnome for Dolly Parton.  But besides them, the others were created by really listening to the voice and made sure it was the right voice for the character design.

MG: You also appear as a voice in the film as well?
KA: I do.  I play the little red goons and I also play the goon that gives the prologue.  It was really out of necessity.  We did what is called scratch dialogue, which is using local talent till we get the real actors.  I did the goons and everyone would laugh at them.  So I said “You can’t argue with a laugh”.  So we just used my voice and that was fine with me because I enjoyed doing it.

MG: Who came up with the idea to include the music from Elton John in the film?
KA: Well originally I wasn’t around for that.  The film had been in development for some years before I came in.  It was Elton John’s company that originally brought the project to Disney.  It was always pictured that some way Elton John’s music would be incorporated.  There wasn’t a clear vision at first for it, there was always a questions as to “How?” I decided to use the music like they did with Simon and Garfunkel in “The Graduate”.  We wanted to let the music and the score incorporate familiar songs but at the same time get you in the emotional life of the characters.  It helps the cue the audience into the emotions that they are seeing as well as feeling throughout the film.

MG: What do you have planned next?
KA: I am looking around.  I am thinking about all kinds of things.  I do not have a full decision yet.  I am getting married in May.  So, I am going to take the Spring off and let things gestate and by Summer I will know what is up next.

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Interview with Jonathan Sadowski

Jonathan Sadowski is the star of CBS’ new hit comedy “$#*! My Dad Says”. The show is definitely one of my favorite shows on TV and since the shows pilot it has only seems to better and better with each episode. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Jonathan about working on the show and what it is like to be playing William Shatner’s son.

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Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you got the role of Henry in “$#*! My Dad Says”?
Jonathan Sadowski: So back in February, I auditioned for the role. I was suppose to screen test for it but Larry Charles had this unscripted sitcom and he offered me a role. I ended up working with Larry for this pilot. That show ended up not being picked up and they wanted to recast the role in “$#*! My Dad Says”. So like two months went by and I will never forget it was a Friday, Max (Mutchnick) and David (Kohan) wanted to meet me on that Monday. So I went in on Monday…Tuesday I did a screen test for Warner Bros…Wednesday I did a screen test for CBS…and Thursday I got the call that I got the role.

MG: What did you originally think about the show since it was based on a Twitter feed?
JS: I never had a Twitter account or anything like that. But I had a lot of friends who were big fans of that Twitter feed. Everyone once in a while, they would send me one and of course, I thought it was hysterical. I think it is something that everyone can relate to. Everyone has one of those family members that says things that are a little off color or make you just want to bury you head in a hole. I think it is cool that network television was the first to explore that.

MG: How has it been having Willam Shatner play your dad in the show?
JS: He is awesome. He is a lovely man. We talk about life and love. We have breakfast together. I even watched the Super Bowl at his house and like Monday Night Football. He is just fantastic. He is a totally pro. It is like winning the lottery being able to work with someone like that everyday. The guy is like a TV icon, he has been acting longer than I have been alive. It is just amazing. It is the best apprenticeship ever getting to follow around someone like that all day on set.

MG: Everyone on the show seems very close on the show, have you all formed good friendships?
JS: On Tuesday, we taped our season finale and everyone was bummed. Like really really bummed. At the end we were all sitting around and me, Nicole, Will and Bill all kind of gave each other a big hug. We were thinking who knows it could be the last day ever for our show. It was really emotional. So yes definitely.

MG: Do you think we will be seeing a season two?
JS: Look there is a lot of positive energy for the show and a lot of positive push behind us. But who knows what can happen between now and May.

MG: What has been your favorite episode to date?
JS: I would have to the pilot episode is the most memorable. Having my family in the audience for the first taping and knowing the show was going to be on the air. It was cool for me because I was the new one in the show and the show was about that too. I was the new one coming up to this family I haven’t seen in years. So it was very true in that sense, plus I got to slow dance with William Shatner. In those moments when we were shooting those scenes, I keep thinking “ask me a year ago about what I would be doing”. I never taught I thought when I moved to LA, I would be slow dancing and playing William Shatner’s son in a show for CBS. I would have never guessed that.

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Interview with Michael-Leon Wooley

Michael-Leon Wooley is know best for his role as Louis the Alligator from Disney’s “The Princess and The Frog”.  Michael-Leon is also known for his various commercial voice-overs ranging from Radio Shack to Subway and Broadway roles and other stage productions.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Michael-Leon on what it was like playing Louis and found out what else he is up to.

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Mike Gencarelli: Your character Louis steals the show in “The Princess and the Frog”, tell us about playing him?
Michael-Leon Wooley: It took a long time to find out who Louis was going to be. At first he was like a germaphobe, but he lived in the swamp. He was also really Cajun like the firefly, Ray. But they axed that idea, probably because my Cajun accent isn’t as good as Jim Cummings. Essentially, he is crazy, fun and just a big kid. He is the most fun I have ever had in a recording studio ever! I loved playing Louis the Alligator.

MG: Do you actually play the trumpet?
MLW: I am not playing it in the movie. It is a guy named Terence Blanchard. He is a great trumpet player from New Orleans. I am doing all the singing though.

MG: How did you get involved with the movie?
MLW: Well it started really crazy. I got a phone call like a few years ago from Jen Rudin, who was casting for Disney. She used to cast for theatre on Broadway. She called me and asked me to record myself saying a few lines and singing a song. I got a couple of friends and we setup a camera, one of them played the piano and I sang a song. I’ll never forget the song, it was “Frim Fram Sauce” a very funny Nat King Cole song. I also had about four or five pages of dialogue they sent me to read. So I recorded it and sent it off.  I didn’t hear anything for months. Shortly after rumors were spreading online that John Goodman was voicing Louis the Alligator. So I said “I guess that’s over” but obviously the rumors were wrong. John Goodman was playing ‘Big Daddy’ La Bouff. In September that year, I got the call from Disney saying they wanted to fly me out for some tests. After a couple of tests, I got the call saying that I am Louis the Alligator. That was a pretty good day…I must say. As a voice over guy, I do voice overs for a living. But to be a Disney character, that is like the brass ring. It doesn’t get better.

MG: How was it working with Disney?
MLW: I have been at recording studios a lot. But I feel that after doing Louis at Disney’s original sound stage and working with Doc (Kane), Ron and John and the rest of the creative team, it was kind of like graduate school for voice over. I walked away from there with a lot of tools I did not have before. Not a bad thing to say. It was great, such a great experience.

MG: Did you get to work with the other cast in the recording studio?
MLW: It was all done separately. Usually we have people standing in though reading the lines. Expect for the songs, Anika (Noni Rose), Bruno (Campos) and myself were all together in the studio for that. It was a lot of fun.

MG: Any cool stories from the recording studio?
MLW: There was a scene that was cut where Louis gets caught in the wheel of a riverboat. I had to make the sounds of him going up and down and through the water, the whole time while screaming. I had like two huge bottles of water and I was like pouring them all over myself, while screaming. There was water all over the studio and the microphone but it was the best working day of my life.

MG: Did you have any footage to refer to during your sessions?
MLW: There was some footage. But a few months before the film came out I had to do some ADR in which I had to match some changes to the already finished product. It was me in a big studio watching Louis and matching the lines. The first time they put me up for testing it was so exciting! I get there and they have like a wall of like twenty images of alligators and showing me the process through to the final design for Louis. By far the best moment was my second session in the studio though. Before we started, Ron and Jon asked me if I wanted to see some footage of me doing Louis to some pencil sketches. I was like [screaming] “YES!!”. It was only about seven seconds. Eric Golberg, Louis’ animator, he had drawn this using pencils during my session. For me it was life changing. At that moment there, I realized I was the voice of a Disney character.

MG: You also lend your voice to the popular TV series “Ugly Americans”, do you enjoy working on that show?
MLW: Yeah, that is a lot of fun. Right now we are in the middle of recording our second season. I just recorded a draft of a script over the weekend. When I get sent scripts for this show, I never know what to expect. It is usually completing out there. If you have ever seen the ‘man-birds’ episode, even though I recorded it, when I watched it I was slack-jawed and laughing hysterically. It is cutting edge and exciting.

MG: How did you become involved with “Ugly Americans”?
MLW: I was working on a project with Matt (Stone) and Trey (Parker) from “South Park”. I did a reading for their Broadway show, “The Book of Mormon”. During that somebody from Comedy Central saw me at the reading and that was that. So I actually have to thank Matt and Trey for that.

MG: Do you prefer working on the stage or on film?
MLW: Like everyone else I am trying to work less and make more money [laughs]. I think that is the goal in life. I think I would like to focus on film right now. I love Broadway and I have done like five or six shows. But Broadway is really hard. It is six shows a week and the roles are usually very demanding. It takes a toll on the body to be screaming and dancing eight times a week for up to a year or how ever long it goes for. But it is great and exciting much more than TV or film. As it looks now, I will probably be back on Broadway come this Fall. So you never know.

MG: What is next for you? Any upcoming features or stage productions?
MLW: I just finished on a movie called “Premium Rush”, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and it comes out January 2012. It is an adventure movie. Besides that I got “Ugly Americans”. I am also being called in to do some writing for the show “Jump for Joy” which will be opening in the City Center this November. I am constantly on call for various advertising agencies, ranging from Radio Shack to Subway. So it is all good.

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Interview with John Garvin

John Garvin has been acting on stage in the UK for over 10 years. He is currently co-starring in the upcoming James Cameron film “Sanctum” a film in which he also helped write the script for. Movie Mikes had the chance to talk with John about his first onscreen film experience and getting to work with James Cameron.

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Adam Lawton: How did you become involved with “Sanctum?”
John Garvin: I first became involved with “Sanctum” around 2005. I was invited to Los Angeles by James Cameron and Andrew White. They had an idea for and underwater survival drama and were looking for a screen writer. They had read one of my previous screenplays and they were looking for a writer with a diving sensibility and also someone who could write action sequences. I was lucky enough to have a sample script that covered all of those points. After what should have been only a twenty minute meeting with Andrew and Jim turned into an eight hour meeting.  We talked about diving and other things I was offered to come on board.

AL: Can you tell us a little bit about the story line of “Sanctum”
JG: “Sanctum” is predominately a father and son story. The father character is one of the world’s leading cave explorers and in hopes of instilling a sense of discipline into his son he invites him along on this expedition. A freak storm comes and floods the cave basically trapping the crew inside. It’s really a rite of passage story based around the son character.

AL: Besides being a writer on the film you also have a role in it as well?
JG: Yes that is correct.  The only way to get acting work in Australia is to write your own part! (Laughs) I had been acting in the UK for about 10 years in various stage productions however I had never done a film role. During the early stages of developing the script James and Andrew told me to be sure I wrote myself a part. I created the Jim Sergeant character who is a bossy British dive instructor that basically barks orders at everyone. It was fantastic to be involved in that process and to get to act again.

AL: Can you tell us what it was like working with James Cameron?
JG: James was extremely supportive throughout the entire writing process. I really learned a lot from him. It was a little nerve racking upon our first meeting but after a little bit I realized that James is first and for most a very enthusiastic diver who makes these huge movies to fund his diving passion. I found that when we were talking it was more like two divers talking rather than a screenwriter talking to a director. James was always supportive and it was an incredible opportunity to get to work with him on this project.

AL: Did James and Andrews diving back grounds make it easier or harder when coordinating the dives in the film?
JG: They both have a huge amount of experience working with water and films with underwater themes. This I think helped tremendously in preparing the crew. When water is added to any type of film project you can almost guarantee that things are going to take longer and that safety is going to be crucial. What we found with “Sanctum” was that we were breaking a whole new realm of diving. We were doing stuff that had never been done. A lot of the diving equipment we used is real pieces of equipment that only experienced divers would get to use. We didn’t use a lot of props or anything. We then combined lights, cameras, and other various gear in this dark overhead environment. A lot of the very difficult scenes were shot with the actual actors. We put the actors through some extremely hardcore underwater stunts, they should all be very proud of themselves.

AL: Can you tell us what it was like behind the scenes?
JG: Everything went really smoothly. The set was run similar to a dive expedition. Each scene was very well thought out and would be rehearsed in depth prior to shooting. On the last day of shooting Richard Roxburgh who plays the Frank character had a very bad cold. This makes diving very tough even for an experienced diver. We had just that one day left to get everything filmed so Richard even though he was in pain stuck with it and we were able to get the shots.

AL: What type of work are you looking to do next? Acting or Writing?
JG: Hopefully a bit of both. A have a number of screenplays that I have been working on that I hope will move into the next stage of development. Getting to see “Sanctum” completed was really great after being involved with it for so long.

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Interview with Keith Gordon

Director Keith Gordon is more recognizable then most filmmakers. That’s because before he went behind the camera he starred in some of the most popular films of the 1970s and 80s. His first film was 1978s “Jaws 2,” in which he and his fellow teens are terrorized by a great white shark until police chief Roy Scheider once again saves the day. He shared the credits with Scheider in his next film, playing the young Joe Gideon in Bob Fosse’s Oscar winning “All That Jazz.” Roles in films like “Dressed to Kill,” “Christine,” “The Legend of Billie Jean” and “Back to School” kept him busy until, in 1988, he went behind the camera to direct “The Chocolate War.” He followed that film up with his adaptation of William Wharton’s “A Midnight Clear.” The film was a critical success, earning comments like “Gordon shows the kind of filmmaking talent that creates genuine excitement” from the Washington Post and “Gordon is uncanny in the way he suggests the eerie forest mysteries that permeate all of the action” from Roger Ebert. His other films include “Mother Night,” starring Nick Nolte, “Waking the Dead” and “The Singing Detective,” which stars his “Back to School” co-star Robert Downey, Jr. as well as Robin Wright, Mel Gibson and Adrien Brody.

Currently you can catch his work on television, where he has directed episodes of “House,” “Rubicon” and “Dexter,” even scratching the actor’s itch by appearing in one of his “Dexter” episodes. While planning his next project, and anticipating his 50th birthday on February 3rd, Mr. Gordon graciously took time out of his schedule to sit down with MovieMikes:

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Michael Smith: Let me start by wishing you an early happy 50th birthday!
Keith Gordon: Well thank you! It’s a strange one coming up. I usually don’t think much about birthdays but I will say that 50 gives one pause. I does make you reflect on your life and what you’re doing and what you have done…where you want to go. It’s really my first birthday ever where I’ve thought, “wow, this is kind of wild!” It’s really a big number. Half a century. You realize you’ve lived more of your life then you have left to live. I find it very perspective changing. And again, I still haven’t fully digested it. But it’s the first one where I’ve thought, “Wow!” I’m going to be 50 and I realize I only have so many vibrant years left. Hopefully 30 or 40 of them. Hopefully there will be many. My father died this year and that also reminded me of my own mortality. So there’s a lot of thought about what do I want to do with my days? What’s important to me? What’s valuable to me…what do I want to focus on? How much money do I want to make versus what do I want to do to satisfy myself artistically? It really makes you wonder where you want to be.

MS: Both of your parents (Mark and Barbara Gordon) were successful stage actors. Did they influence your decision to make acting your profession?
KG: Obviously when you grow up in a theatrical household you’re going to be influenced by it one way or another. You’ll probably end up running and screaming from it and become an investment banker! I went into it. It’s an interesting irony with my parents because they were always very verbally discouraging of my going into this field because they felt, and it is, a cruel and harsh business. So few people make a living at it. So they would always give me the speeches… “you don’t want this life”…and yet I saw in my father the artistic joy that he had, even when he was struggling, and how much it meant to him to be part of that creative process. And I learned a lot from him. My mother was not really a working actress when I was growing up. She quit when I was born and really only did bits and pieces much later after I left home. Most of her career was before and after my childhood. But my dad…that was his thing. If you grow up with a father who’s a preacher you’re going to learn a lot about the Bible. I grew up with a father who was not only an actor but an acting teacher and a director. So that was the subject of conversation around the dinner table a lot. I absorbed a lot through osmosis and found that I was truly drawn to it instead of being bored by it. If my folks were alive today they’d tell you, “No! We never told him to do it,” but I think being around it and seeing the good sides, as well as the bad, certainly drew me to it. And of course it was my own interests as well. I’ve always primarily focused on film while my father was mostly a man of the theater. He did T.V. commercials and films and episodes of T.V. shows to make money but his passion was really the theater. I was the other way around. I worked in theater as a training ground but I’ve always really been in love with films from a very young age. Even before I thought about it as a career I was a movie geek!

MS: You co-starred as Doug Fetterman in “Jaws 2.” What are your memories of the production? Were you part of the original group of kids cast for the film?
KG: I was one of the few people to make it through the incredible carnage of that film…not so much on screen as off screen. As often happens with Hollywood blockbusters, when things aren’t working people get fired left and right. I think it was because my part was originally so small that no one thought to fire me! I had friends on the set that got fired without shooting a foot of film. They hadn’t had time to do anything wrong. It was really a panic. They had already put so much money into the movie…the shark wasn’t working right…John Hancock wasn’t working out. So they had to let him go and throw out the footage he had done. (NOTE: John Hancock was the original director of “Jaws 2.” Unhappy with his work, the producers replaced him with Jeannot Szwarc. As Hancock’s wife, Dorothy Tristan, had written the script, there was a great delay in the filming schedule. For more on the making of “Jaws 2” please see my interviews with Joe Alves and Carl Gottlieb). So the studio went into a panic state, which will happen when you’re suddenly spending millions and millions of dollars that you hadn’t planned on. I mean, as it turned out, “Jaws 2” made a ton of money and was very successful but I don’t think they were convinced it was going to be. Sequels were not as common at that point…certainly not blockbuster sequels. I think that as our budget doubled and more from what they had planned on there was a lot of fear. And the funny thing about making movies is that fearful thinking about wasting money always leads to wasting more money. You jump on one solution then you jump off of that one to another solution. They brought in new writers to re-do the script but they kept all of us on location during that time, which was something I never really understood. There were all kinds of strange decisions being made, mostly I think because they were in scramble mode.

Click here to view our ‘Jaws” interview with Carl Gottlieb
Click here to view our ‘Jaws” interview with Joe Alves

MS: Your next movie also put you back on screen with Roy Scheider when you portrayed his character, Joe Gideon, as a young man in “All That Jazz.” What are your memories of working for Bob Fosse?
KG: That was a film I begged to be a part of. A friend of mine was working in the art department and I read the script long before production started. I read the part of the young Joe Gideon and called my agent and said, “look, can you get me in?” They were looking for a dancer, which I’m certainly not. I almost fall down walking (laughs). But somehow they convinced Bob to let me read. He liked my reading enough that he said, “we’ll make the dancing part work.” And that’s his genius because when you watch the movie it actually looks like I’m dancing and that I know what I’m doing. And that’s a combination of brilliant cinematography, brilliant direction and brilliant use of a double for a couple of wide shots of the harder stuff. It was interesting to work with him because he was a huge hero of mine. Yet he worked in a way that as an actor…and I think this was because I wasn’t there long and I was young…that was very challenging. If somebody who wasn’t such a genius and directed me the way Bob directed me I think I probably would have bristled at it. But I think that when you work for a Bob Fosse…or a Martin Scorsese or a Stanley Kubrick…and they say “stand on your head and quack” you do it. You don’t question. Bob directed me very much like a choreographer. He was really obsessed with my body language. It was always, “ok, after this line count to three and then move your left hand from this bottle to that bottle and let it sit there for five beats…” My physicality was super choreographed. We didn’t talk a lot about the emotions of the scene, which I thought was an odd technique. But it worked and the scenes came out really well. Obviously the guy knew what he was doing. Another thing he did, which I later learned was a classic “Bob” thing to do…there’s the moment with the strippers where they have me in a corner and they’re sort of molesting me…it’s sort of erotic and terrifying at the same time. For me as an actor…I was seventeen years old when I shot that scene and either a virgin or close to it! The women in the scene were overwhelming…they were real strippers…one was a transsexual…they were a little creepy for somebody that young. Bob came over to me just before we shot and said, “it would really be good if you could actually get hard for this scene.” Then he walked away. And I was terrified. All I could think was that I was now a failure on every level because there was no way I was going to. And I realized later that what he was doing was getting the fear in me…he did it with that manipulation. And I heard lots of stories later about him from people…he would kind of play mind games to get actors into states that way. But he did it magnificently and got brilliant results out of it. So many actors give their best performances in his films. And part of that was because he found ways to push buttons, even if they weren’t conventional and a little disturbing at times.

MS: You had a great horror film double feature with roles in “Dressed to Kill” and “Christine.” Are you a fan of the genre?
KG: Yeah I am! Or I should say I’m a fan of really good horror films. There’s a massive amount of schlock out there…I’m not one of those people that like horror films just because they’re horror films. I think a well made horror film is a great movie. But then I like every great movie. I don’t think there’s a genre that I prefer. I just like great movies.
MS: What was the best part about working with Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School?”
KG: Obviously he was hysterically funny. There was nobody quite like him. He was arguably the best stand up comedian of his era. There was a new kind of comedy coming out with people like Richard Pryor which was genius in its own way. But Rodney was really the last of the classic stand up comics. In terms of working with him it was challenging because Rodney wasn’t the most comfortable at making movies. I don’t think the process of acting was something that he enjoyed that much. I think the person who really deserves a lot of credit on that movie and doesn’t get it is Alan Metter (the director of “Back to School”). He got a great performance out of Rodney and really got a performance out of Rodney that was not only funny but very human. You really liked him. And that was hard because Rodney was not comfortable revealing anything. He was most comfortable hiding behind a wall of jokes. And if you asked him to show anything that was more “human”…that was scary for him. It was difficult for him and I think Alan really did a beautiful job of getting him confident enough to let him have a handful of moments in the film that were more human…that balanced out all of the wackiness. I think that’s why the film works so well. It’s extremely funny but you also care about Rodney as a character. And I think Alan did a remarkable job working with him to allow that.

MS: You made your feature film directing debut with “The Chocolate War?” Having worked for some great filmmakers in the past (Fosse, Brian De Palma, John Carpenter), did you use anything you may have learned by studying them on set in your approach to directing?
KG: Sure! I could give you a two hour answer to that question. Everything I did was influenced by the directors I worked with. They were my teachers…I never went to film school. I learned a lot about directing actors from my dad…he did a lot of that. I was a nooge on the set. I followed De Palma and Carpenter around on the set. I did it with Fosse but he was a little more stand-offish and busy. I went to all of them and told them “I want to do what you do. Can I come into the editing room? Can I watch dailies? Can I ask you questions? Can I be annoying?” (laughs) And they were all incredibly gracious. Brian especially because he was a teacher…he taught filmmaking at college. In fact the first film we did together, “Home Movies,” was a college project. He directed and the students did everything else. I acted in it and it was an amazing learning experience. It was set up to be a learning experience. I was hired as a professional actor but I ended up acting like one of the students…like I was part of his class. He would literally be directing the film and at the same time explain the choices he was making. Even on “Dressed to Kill” he was endlessly patient in explaining to me why he was doing a certain thing with the lights or a camera movement or a filter. He’s such a brilliant technician in how he uses visuals. I really think I learned a lot from him. So by the time I got to my first set I was ready. I learned from all of them. I loved the way John Carpenter ran the set of “Christine.” It wasn’t like the crew was here and the actors were over there. He constantly works with the same people so the set has a very familial feeling to it. People were laughing and having a good time. You got the feeling that people wanted to be there. And I remember thinking when we were shooting the movie, “God, if I ever do get the chance to direct I want my set to feel like this!” Making movies is hard. Sometimes you’re working fourteen or fifteen hours a day. It’s draining. And my feeling is, if you can’t make it fun people are just going to burn out on you. Before the movie is over you’re going to start losing the focus and loyalty and enthusiasm of your crew and cast. And I think that John did a magnificent job on a film full of stunts and effects and long hours. That was a huge lesson and I try as a director to set that kind of tone with my crew and my cast when we’re on set.

MS: You earned high praise for your WWII film “A Midnight Clear,” which I once declared in a poll as my fourth favorite Christmas movie of all time (behind “A Christmas Story,” “Die Hard” and “Love Actually”). What drew you to that project?
KG: That was actually a project that somebody approached me on. I had made “The Chocolate War.” It wasn’t like people were throwing offers at me. It was an odd little indie movie that had gotten some good reviews. It didn’t make a lot of money or anything. So mostly I was approached with things that were kind of schlocky and didn’t interest me at all…bad horror movies…whatever. I had been approached by one producer with a very Hollywood movie, but it was not me. It was an action/teen movie…not something that I was drawn to. It wasn’t horrible and would have been a very “smart” career move. I was kind of heading towards doing that but not really excited about it. Of course, like what happens with so many studio movies, that movie never even got made. But somewhere along the line A&M, the studio that had made “Birdy,” bought the rights to several other of William Wharton’s books , “A Midnight Clear” among them. (NOTE: like “A Midnight Clear,” the film “Birdy,” which starred Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine, was based on a novel by William Wharton) But it was hard to set up as a studio film. I believe that Tom Cruise was attached for a time. He wasn’t at the top of his fame yet but he was climbing. He had already done “Risky Business.” I forget who the director attached was but he was somebody who had already made a real splash. But none of the studios wanted to make it because it was too subtle…too sad. Meanwhile, A&M is saying that they don’t want to keep spending expensive option money on this book if we’re not going to get it made…we need to do something with it or let it go. And they had the idea of doing it like it was an independent film. At the time independent films were just starting to get a lot of attention…it was a fairly new concept. After “Sex, Lies and Videotape” it started to catch on but it wasn’t as much a part of the lingo as it is now. They had liked “The Chocolate War” and asked me to come in and share my approach to the material. I liked the book a lot and one of the things I said was that I didn’t think I would change much about it. It works very well…it’s a very cinematic book. And in a funny way I think that’s what got me the job. A lot of times in Hollywood when you come in as a writer or a writer/director they want to hear all of the ways you’re going to make the story different. That makes it seem like you’ve got a lot to say. But because I thought of myself as a director first and a writer second I didn’t feel like I had to try to out-write William Wharton. He was a brilliant writer. I told them “this is a great story.” Yes, I would try to do things with images to mirror what he did with words but I would keep the basic story the way it is and use a lot of his dialogue, which is really well written. I would function more as an editor rather than a writer because they had a really good book on their hands. I think the liked somebody coming in an saying THAT instead of saying, “well, let’s change the setting to Vietnam…let’s do this…let’s do that.” That’s sort of the Hollywood thing. You get the job by showing that you’re going to make it better. But I think when you’re working with great writers…and I’ve worked with some great ones…Kurt Vonnegut and William Wharton and Scott Spencer…you don’t necessarily have to try and out think those guys! They’re pretty smart. All you want to do is help it work in a new medium. So A&M took me on. I wrote a script and they seemed really happy with it. And then there was the very slow process of putting the money together. It came together and fell apart a whole bunch of times. We thought it was happening…it didn’t happen. We thought it was happening…it didn’t happen. And it really came down to where the teen motorcycle movie I was supposed to do for the studio was getting closer to happening. They needed an answer from me and they gave me 48 hours. I told A&M that they better close something fast because I couldn’t afford to turn the other movie down. And in that 48 hours they found the rest of the finances needed to do the film. It was really cobbled together. There were probably eight or nine different sources of money. But they were able to meet the deadline and I was able to do the film I wanted to do.

MS: You returned to the great war, and its aftermath, with “Mother Night.” Do you see this as almost a bookend to “A Midnight Clear?”
KG: I didn’t think of it that way going in because they’re just different kinds of stories. I was aware that I was back in WWII again but it was such a different universe. I wasn’t on the battle field. It was really a different kind of character study. So to me it was an interesting irony that I was in the same universe but it wasn’t something I intended or set up for. I think the reality of most filmmakers lives, certainly mine, is that I think people see patterns. They see you did “this” movie and connect it to “that” movie but they don’t realize that at any given time you probably have five or six movies that you really want to make and it’s just the luck of the draw when one of them actually gets going. And if a different film had gotten going people would be drawing very different conclusions about what you were interested in or what your body of work was trying to say. Because at the same time I was trying to make “Mother Night” I was also trying to make a broad, black comedy about the U.S. justice system. And if I had made that movie people would have said, “ah, he’s interested in ‘X’ instead of ‘Y’.” It’s a funny thing. People look at somebody’s work and they don’t realize that, there but for a role of the dice, you could have had a very different career at any given moment.

MS: Any truth to the rumor that you got a job on the film “I Love Trouble” just so you could give the “Mother Night” script to Nick Nolte?
KG: That is absolutely true. That was basically a lesson in what you have to do to get independent films made. It was such a character piece that we needed a big actor to carry the lead role. Fine Line, which was New Line Cinema’s now defunct art film arm, loved the script and wanted to make it. But they basically said that there were only three actors that they’d do it with: Nick Nolte, Robert DeNiro or Daniel Day Lewis. So we went to Nick first and his agent told us that he was absolutely not interested. “Nick makes $8 million a movie and he has no desire to make a small film. Thank you very much but no thank you.” So then we went to DeNiro and we waited FOREVER for an answer. Finally we heard from his company that he was interested in directing it but not acting in it, which didn’t do me any favors! Daniel Day Lewis we could never reach…he was literally hitchhiking around Europe. He’s known for that…he doesn’t want to live an actor’s life. He was hitchhiking around Europe and his agent couldn’t reach him. Months went by. And then, as sometimes happens, luck becomes part of your career. I wasn’t really acting much anymore but a casting director who knew me was casting “I Love Trouble.” She told me they were trying to get some cool, interesting people in cameo roles in the movie and asked if I’d do it. I asked her to tell me more about it and she told me that Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts were in it. And I immediately said “if you can get me in a scene with Nick Nolte I’ll absolutely do it!” She asked me why and I told her I was a big fan. And I embarrassingly showed up for my couple of line part with a copy of the script under my arm. And Nick…he could have been a top of the line jerk but he turned out to be a real sweetheart. He could have screamed at me or thrown me off the set but he was really nice and extremely gracious. Another big piece of luck is that his then assistant had seen “The Chocolate War” and “A Midnight Clear” and knew my work and said to Nick that this was somebody he should take seriously and look at it. It took months. Nick is famous for losing things. Months went by and we didn’t hear anything so we figured he’d passed. Then his assistant called and asked if we could send another copy of the script because it had “just disappeared.” So we did. And a few days after that I got a message on my answering machine: “It’s Nick…I love the script. It’s great. Come on up to the house and we’ll talk about it.” Now Nick on the phone sounds like me doing a bad imitation of Nick. I figured it was Bob Weide, one of my oldest friends, who had written the script and was producing the film with me. And it took me a while to realize that it really was Nick. I went up and we met. We had a great time. We hit it off immediately and we talked about how we liked to work. We were really in sync with the character and the script and he was in. Much to his agent’s consternation. He wasn’t happy that Nick, who was making $8 million a movie, was going to take a tiny fraction of that to come do this film. But Nick was at the point where he just wanted to do work that he was excited about. And really, if you look at his career since then, that’s really what he’s focused on. He kind of burned out on the Hollywood thing. He went on to do “Affliction” and a lot of amazing movies. He didn’t really care about making a lot of money anymore. He was someone who wanted to do challenging work. I feel glad that we helped him get back to that part of himself. I think he had a really great time doing the film. I think he enjoyed having the freedom to work on a role that was that complicated and dark and full of taking chances. I think he really had fun doing it.

MS: You pretty much gave up acting to concentrate on directing, though you did appear in an episode of “Dexter”. Is there a role out there that would get you back in front of the camera?
KG: I haven’t put a sign up saying “Will Not Act.” I still enjoy acting. But there just wasn’t time to pursue a career as a director and as an actor. I like acting. Acting is a lot of fun. But the life of an actor…the audition process…going back three or four or five or six times for a part…having to be available at a moment’s notice. That didn’t fit with me trying to be a filmmaker. I was putting my time and effort into trying to put movies together. Would I have loved to have had Sean Penn’s career? Would I love to be in the position where people say, “not only will we pay you to be the lead in our movie but we’ll wait until you’re free and work around your schedule?” That would’ve been amazing. But I just didn’t have the time to take on two careers. But if I had to pick, the writing/directing side is more rewarding then the acting side. Now if somebody called me tomorrow and said “here’s a wonderful role…come do it,” I would have a blast. I just don’t feel like doing what it takes to get that. Which is a major time commitment. I don’t think people realize how hard the life of a non-superstar actor is. You’re constantly chasing roles. Doing audition after audition. Getting one out of the thirty or forty things you go up for. It’s a grind unless you’re a big star who’s always getting offered stuff. But if somebody called me and said, “hey, we’re doing a film of “Hamlet,” do you want to be in it,” I’d say “yeah, sure… of course!”

MS: What are you working on now?
KG: As any indie director does, I have a number of projects that are in the “close but not there” situation. I teach a lot too and one of the things I always teach is that the hardest thing about independent filmmaking…what makes it very seductive…is that getting from nowhere to close is really not that hard. Getting from close to “here’s a check, go make the movie” is what’s impossible. I have a lot of things that are one phone call away from happening. But that one phone call may never happen. Or it may be two years from now. You never know.

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Interview with Michael Baldwin

Michael Baldwin is known best for his role as Mike Pearson in the “Phantasm” series. Love them or hate them, the “Phantasm” films are one of the most influential horror series of its time. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Michael about his involvement with the series, his love for “Star Trek” and what else he has been up to.

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Mike Gencarelli: Can you tell us how you met Don Coscarelli?
Michael Baldwin: That would have been at a casting call for “Kenny and Company” way back in probably around 1974.  A long time ago…back when there were covered wagons coming across the plane. I think that’s how long ago it was. I met him at a casting call that my agents sent me on.  I went there and ended up getting the job.

MG: Did you and Reggie Bannister get into any trouble while you were working on the film together?
MB: We also did “Kenny and Company” together. I was trouble the whole time. Everyday I would get into trouble. You know, I was 13 years old and starring in a movie. I mean that has trouble written all over it right there. We had a lot of fun…a lot of fun indeed.

MG: Can you explain to us what “Phantasm IV” is actually about?
MB: [laughs] I really think it would be unfair for me to place my own point of view upon the mystery of the “Phantasm: Oblivion”. That’s up to you guys. It works well when the fans get to lay their own meaning on things. It works less well when the filmmakers try to do it.  Some people think that’s a good thing about that movie, you know? Even if I had the answers, I wouldn’t tell you what my opinion is. I really think it’s better when the fans have an opportunity to spend the time and effort in trying to place their own point of view on the story, if there is one. I think that’s really going to work best.

MG: What is your favorite “Phantasm” film in the series and why?
MB: I think that it’s fair to say for me that “Phantasm IV” is my favorite one. I mean, the original Phantasm is an awfully long time ago, and it’s such a part of my childhood and of course that was a very special time. But as the producer of “Phantasm IV”, that really was one of the more challenging jobs that I ever had in my life, producing and starring in a movie at the same time. As anybody that knows anything about filmmaking would tell you…that’s a very challenging task. The film isn’t perfect or anything, but I am proud of the work. I think for the money that was spent…the movie looks like we spent millions of dollars on it when, of course, we did not.

MG: Mike, has there ever been any projects that you’ve turned down?
MB: Well, yes of course. I’ve been in the business my whole life, so there’s been all kinds of things that I’ve turned down. And there’s been jobs that I’ve wanted and didn’t get, obviously. “Phantasm II” comes to mind. It’s a business and there are things that people want you to do and you don’t do them for various reasons. Then other times you really want to do something bad and you don’t get to do it for various reasons. So when the stars align and you find yourself actually making a film, that’s a great thing.

MG: Do you have a favorite movie today? And if we date back, maybe a favorite movie 20 years ago?
MB: You know, I’m a total movie geek, for one thing. I love movies. I always have been a movie geek.  It’s just one of my favorite thing to do is sit around watching movies. In the horror genre though, I haven’t seen that many because that’s just not my favorite genre.  My favorite movie of all time, I’m going to have to just go with tradition and probably say “The Wizard of Oz”. To me, that’s just the Hollywood at its peak, doing it’s absolute best work.

MG: Is that today and 20 years ago? Does that still stand?
MB: That still stands. My top five favorite movies of all time in no special order probably are (and they’re no surprise, they’re not off-the-wall movies), but for me it’s “The Wizard of Oz”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Casablanca”, “Citizen Kane”, “The Godfather I and II”, and “Lawrence of Arabia”.  There is one of my favorite movies of all time that is like a guilty pleasure and that would be Sean Connery in “Zardoz”! I’m not sure why that movie speaks to me so loudly, but I’ve seen that movie probably a hundred and fifty times.  I just love that film a lot. I’ve actually tried to get people to sit and watch that movie, all excited  “Oh my God, you’re going to love this movie!” and then ten minutes in they say “Baldwin, you’re out of your mind. This is the worst movie every made.” And I say, “No, no, you don’t get it. Just wait! It’s fantastic!”

MG: Are you currently working on any scripts at the moment?
MB: Yeah, I write all the time, constantly. Yes, I’ve got four or five different projects that are always in various stages of development. I work very closely with one of my business partners, Richard Gabai. He’s an old friend of mine. We’re working on a number of exciting projects and hope to make them come to fruition soon.

MG: Tell us a little bit about how you got started teaching acting.
MB: I knew it was something that I wanted to do, and I moved to Austin some years back and started teaching. I built something really cool, sort of a studio out of my three-car garage, with a stage. It was like a recording studio slash theater slash office space slash editing suite. It was so cool, so I started teaching there.

MG: Do you have a favorite “Star Trek”?
MB: Yes, that’s another area where I’m a total fan boy. I’m just like the geekiest “Star Trek” fan that there is. It’s a little bit embarrassing. When I was a kid, I started acting professionally very young. I made my first film when I was, I think, seven years old or something like that. So I was very little. And then by the time I was nine, I had an agent and was working professionally. So for me, I just loved “Star Trek” so much.  I barely remembered it when it was on prime time. I would have been two years old or something, or three years old. I just could not get enough “Star Trek”. William Shatner became my personal hero. To me, Captain Kirk was my hero and William Shatner was my “Acting God.” Here’s the thing, I actually believed at that time that William Shatner was probably the greatest actor on planet Earth. That’s how much of a geek I am! I’m coming to realize — fortunately — that he very well may not be the greatest actor that ever lived. When I was nine or ten years old, I just thought he was the greatest, greatest actor. He’s a guy that I never met that I would love to meet. I can’t think of any so-called movie stars that I’d like to meet…except him.

MG: Have you never met him? He’s at conventions all the time.
MB: I’ve never met him! I think I might be willing just to stand in line with everyone else and pay my $40 for my picture taken with him, or whatever it would be.

MG: Do you have a favorite episode or movie out of “Star Trek”?
MB: That’s a good question. Favorite episode? Wow. Well I think “Spectre of the Gun” is up there at the top. And I think “Mirror, Mirror” is also up there at the top. You know, by the way, very recently, just like 12 months ago, I made it a point to watch every old “Star Trek” episode on Hulu. They did that whole remastering thing where all the space scenes and anything that would have been in outer space, they remastered and re-shot all these things. So the new old episodes are really, really beautiful.

MG: What else is in store for Michael Baldwin in the future?
MB: Just working a lot. I’m writing a lot every day. I’m trying hard to finish my novel and I’ve got a different type of book under way as well. You know I’m trying to get a feature produced for 2011 lined up, and you know, just working as always. Raising my two beautiful children. And that’s it.

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