Tracey Walter is one of the great character actors of our time. He has been in filming ranging from 1989’s “Batman” to “Conan the Destroyer” to last year remake of “I Spit on Your Grave”. He is has worked with some amazing actors such as Danny DeVito, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve McQueen. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Tracey about his films and what he is working on currently.
Mike Gencarelli: How was it working on the remake of “I Spit on Your Grave”?
Tracey Walter: One of the unique things about the film was…although auditions are nice the drawback with auditions is that you might not get the part…what’s better is when they call your agent and say “I want to offer Tracey the part,” which they did. When I first got involved with the film it was called “Day of the Woman.” I was not familiar with the original “I Spit on Your Grave” movie. But I got a call from my agent who said “they’ve offered you a role in this film and they’ll be sending over a script tonight.” That happens all of the time in the movie business. Not just to a “Tracey Walter” – type actor but even to a “Brad Pitt” – type. I just finished a movie…a beautiful movie called “Savannah.” That happens to actors like Jim Caviezel. You’ll get a call and they want to start shooting tomorrow….I’m going to answer your question, I promise (laughs). And that also happens on “A” type films. On “I Spit on Your Grave” I got a call. They wanted to know if I was interested in playing the role. It was really the only character, other than the sheriff’s wife, that was not a really brutal and sadistic character. In fact what lead to his death was his concern for the woman. He calls the sheriff and the sheriff come by, takes him out to the woods with a bottle of whiskey and then blows his brains out. My character was the only decent character in the picture. I’ve been acting for 40 years and I always think I’ve seen it all. But this film was a new one because not only had I not met the director prior to filming, I didn’t even know his name when I showed up on the set (NOTE: his name is Steven Monroe). That was unique. The actors in that picture were really talented and it’s always interesting to work with actors who are not big names. You haven’t seen them before and it makes you realize how many good actors there are out there. If you saw the movie you know what Sarah Butler went through on that movie. No complaints. Same with the actor who played the Sheriff (Andrew Howard). I thought “he’s got a great southern accent.” At the end of the day we finish work, get in the car and drive to the hotel. And I realize he’s English! He pulled off a “Hugh Laurie” to some extent! Whether it’s a film or a TV show, how I get hired has a slight influence on my taking the job. Did they make it a three act play? Was there someone else they wanted to hire? Or, as in this case, did they call and make an offer? They were very respectful. With the conditions while filming and being with the other actors it became really a great experience. And I hope that set experience
does good things for Steve Monroe’s career.
MG: Are you generally a fan of the horror genre?
TW: Not only am I a fan but…Danny DeVito has for the past two years had a web site where he does tributes. The name of the website is www.thebloodfactory.com. And he has created really bloody and over the top tributes to the horror genre’. I did a couple of them. They’re about four minutes long and usually shoot in one day. One had me as a psychiatrist married to Carol Kane. She decides I’m no longer listening to her so she decides to shave my ears off! A real bloody mess. Another one I did I played a doctor who gets revenge on another doctor who has done some botched abortions in the past. That’s also bloody as you can imagine. We just finished another one. DeVito directs them. I haven’t done a lot of horror. I did do some episodes of “Freddie’s Nightmares.” But I love the genre.
MG: How did you get involved with the TV series “Monsters?”
TW: There’s really not a big story behind that. They made the traditional call to the agent and they offered me a part. I’ve still got a great 8×10 photo of me transforming into the monster.
MG: How long did the make up process take for that part?
TW: About two hours.
MG: What was it like to work with Jack Nicholson on 1989’s “Batman”?
TW: I met Jack in the summer of 1977. He directed and starred in a movie called “Goin’ South.” He played a character named Henry Moon and I was a part of the ex-Moon gang. He get’s sentenced to marry Mary Steenbergen and we (the ex-gang) try to get him to come back to the old ways. So I’ve known Jack since 1977. It was great shooting “Batman.” We shot in London. I’ve done two films in London. “Batman” and another one that was based on a book by Larry McMurtry called “Buffalo Girls” with Angelica Huston and Jack Palance. Jack (Palance) also worked on “Batman” but we didn’t have any scenes together. And we also appeared in “Cyborg 2,” though again we had no scenes. I’ve worked with Jack on four pictures, the fourth one being “City Slickers.” He played the sandpaper-faced cowboy and I was “Cookie,” the authentic western cook. The “Batman” experience, on a scale of 1-10 was about a 12! Tim Burton was fantastic to work for. I haven’t worked with him since but I’m surely not ruling it out (laughs). The entire film was a great experience for me. They even made an action figure of me. I’ve really been blessed. As humbly as I can put it, I’ve really been blessed with terrific success in films.
MG: Tell us about working with Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Conan the Destroyer”?
TW: That was an incident where I replaced another actor to play Malak. It was the classic call. My agent called me and asked “can you be on a plane to Mexico TONIGHT?” I was single at the time…no dogs or cats…so I was able to pack a duffle bag, get in the car they sent for me and head to Mexico. That’s how it happens some times. You can imagine how great it was working with Schwarzenegger. We’ve remained friends since. That’s the kind of genre’ that an actor likes to try at least once. Plus I’m a big basketball fan and Wilt Chamberlain, who was in the film, loved to talk. He wasn’t the type of guy who, because he was a basketball star and basketball was his big claim to fame, didn’t want to talk about it. I was reading a book called “Giant Steps” by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and I showed Wilt some photos that he was in. He could tell me, just from looking at the photos, what was happening…where the game had taken place. You know, even with the Internet, there are places that stars can go and not be recognized. Even Schwarzenegger…there are probably places in the world where no one would know who he is. But there was no where on the face of the earth where you could go and not have Wilt Chamberlain turn heads. He was just your average 7’2 millionaire that lived next door! It was a dream come
true for me to do that picture.
MG: Which projects really stick out as most challenging among the ones that you have worked on to date?
TW: Again, humbly, there have been many. “Batman” and “Goin’ South” with Jack Nicholson….”The Two Jakes,” which was a sequel to “Chinatown” that Nicholson directed. “Erin Brockovich” was another great film. Steven Soderberg is another great director. Edward Lachman (the film’s cinematographer) made me look good in that one. Another favorite is a western television series I did called “Best of the West.” I was in “At Close Range” with Sean Penn, Christopher Walken and a talented group of character actors. It’s hard to say what’s challenging. A smart man once said “if you like what you do you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Again, I’ve been very blessed. This last project I was involved in…”Savannah” with Jim Caviezel…has a wonderful director named Annette Haywood-Carter. She did a real rarity. When I got hired she called me at home to say “welcome aboard.” That’s beyond nice! Directors don’t usually call Tracey Walter – like character actors who appear in the middle of the film. When someone does that you’re ready to not only jump through hoops for them but make a complete fool of yourself. Another film that was a treat to work on was “Raggedy Man” with Sissy Spacek. I also appeared with Steve McQueen in his last film, “The Hunter.” Steve Monroe is a huge fan of McQueen so when I showed up for work that was the first thing he wanted to talk about. “How was he?” “Did he look good?” He died right after making the film but he looked fantastic. I was shocked that he passed away so quickly.
MG: Besides “Savannah,” what other projects do you have coming up?
TW: I just did something with director William Dear. I started working with him in 1981 on the movie “Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann.” It was a sci-fi western. We filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We’ve worked together several times since then. He just took over a picture called “Love Obama: The Election of Barack Obama.” It’s a humorous look at the campaign…especially campaign headquarters. I play an aging hippie…it’s really a dream come true.