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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