Interview with Marilyn Burns

Marilyn Burns is best known for her starring role as Sally Hardesty in the ground breaking 1974 Tobe Hooper film “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Media Mikes had a chance to talk with Marilyn about her role in the film and some her other experiences in the movie business.

Adam Lawton: How did you end up working on “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as your first starring role?
Marilyn Burns: I had been with the Texas film commission and helped start that up way back when. I had also gone to the University of Texas and received a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. I was doing any film that came to Texas such as Robert Altman’s “Brewster McCloud”, Sidney Lumet’s “Lovin’ Molly” and “The Great Waldo Pepper” with Robert Redford. They were all little walk on parts practically but I also tried to work with the production people and do my best to learn something. When I was doing “Lovin’ Molly” I knew these two film makers Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel. They came on the set one day to see what we were shooting. They happened to be serving chicken that day for lunch and I think Stephen Friedman who was a producer on the film saw these two people who were coming to eat chicken that weren’t part of the cast or crew. They came over and told them to put the chicken back. I recognized them and we kind of looked at each other before they were hustled of the set. A short time later I was called in for a reading for the part of Sally.

AL: What did you think when you first saw Gunner Hansen in the Leather face costume?
MB: Gunner had stayed away from the cast because he was the scary guy. They didn’t want us to do a lot of talking or become buddies. He looked very scary in his outfit and it was very impressive! We didn’t have to really fake it when we saw him. The mask and the different costume changes were frightening. Plus if you see an actor with a chainsaw and you’re a bunch of kids running around in the dark you’re going to be scarred! I don’t know what we were thinking because Gunner could have tripped and that chainsaw could have gone up in the air. They had taken the chain of it but everything else was still moving and it could have done some damage. When we were doing the chase scenes Gunner did trip and that was really scary. Another time when I was hiding in the bushes and Gunner was trying to get me with the chainsaw he couldn’t see very well out of his mask and my hair had gotten tangled in the branches. I was sitting there praying someone would yell cut before he tripped and got me with the chainsaw. It was pretty intense and when I look back on it I wonder what we were all thinking. It was crazy!

AL: What do you think was the most difficult part of the shoot?
MB: The dinner scene. That was a 26-28 hour shoot that was a smelly mess. It was so hot and we were all getting sick. We just kept working and working while the chicken and head cheese was rotting.  The lights were very hot and Gunner’s costume smelled quite bad because he didn’t have a change. It was a very intense evening.

AL: How was it working with Tobe Hooper?
MB: Tobe had already done “Egg Shells” and he was kind of looked up to in the Austin area. Everyone in the film and drama department was aware of anyone that actually made movies.  I was really pleased to work with him. He was delightful.

AL: You also worked with Tobe on “Eaten Alive”. How did that experience compare to working with him on “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”?
MB: “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was all made up and we did everything for real because we didn’t have a sound stage or anything. We used real gas stations and houses. We did everything on the road in the van and it was just too many people in one van sweating trying to get the scenes.  Everything was very real. “Eaten Alive” was done on a sound stage where there was a pool for the alligator to run around in. Everything had sort of a surrealistic different kind of feeling. It was in Hollywood so that makes a big difference.  I had the spider monkeys put by my dressing room which didn’t smell very good! There is always a touch of realism as you do these things. I think they may have put the monkeys by my door on purpose. (Laughs) There were always fun little things happening on the set of both films.

AL: What are your feelings toward the remakes of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the upcoming 3-D version?
MM: They are all interesting and entertaining. I was concerned at first thinking they were going to redo the film and that I was going to be competing with another actress in the role. I realized that no, they weren’t the same movie. They were all enjoyable and different.  “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” with Caroline Williams and Dennis Hopper was brilliant. There have been some good things but I don’t know how we are going to take a chainsaw in 3-D. It’s going to be interesting.

AL: Were you a fan of the horror genre prior to making the movie?
MM: It wasn’t the career choice I made.  I was surely a fan as when I was a kid I would go to all the Saturday matinees and watch all the movies. I like mystery and suspense but I never thought in a million years that I would be noted for the horror genre. However it has been very good to me and it’s a fun and exciting place that I have enjoyed.

AL: What do you think has been your favorite role from your career so far?
MM: “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has legs that I never thought would be possible. It’s amazing how much it still keeps going and the interest is still there. The part was very hard to do and it took a lot out of me but I have to give the part credit and people know me very well because of it. I also enjoyed doing the film “Helter Skelter” which was about the Manson family. It seems I am always offered these great gruesome pictures. I have to say that whoever would have thought that after all these years Sally Hardesty would still be so popular. It’s just amazing!

AL: Can you tell us about your role in the upcoming film “Bone Boys” and any other upcoming projects?
MM: I’m in “Bone Boys” for just a second. If you blink you will miss me. Kim Henkel who helped Tobe write “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” wrote “Bone Boys” and that’s his puppy. Being a great friend of Kim’s we had a good time. I actually saw him recently and we had dinner at the house we shot “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in. It has been turned into a beautiful restaurant. They had a showing of the film there and while we were eating I realized I was sitting in the same spot as I was in the scene. It was very surreal to be there during the dinner sequence in the movie and to be back sitting in the same place which is now a beautifully restored restaurant called the Junction. I have another project that I am working on right now however I don’t want to comment on it just yet. As soon as I know everything I will be glad to let everyone know about it.

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