NerdBastards recently had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Zach Galligan (Gremlins, Waxworks, Hachet) to discuss what he’s up to, the upcoming 30th Anniversary of Gremlins, and Zach’s appearance at the Walker Stalker Con in Atlanta November 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
Before we get into the interview, I’ve got to say what a pleasure it was for me (Mark) to talk with Zach. I really struggled with my inner fan-boy during the interview and Zach was fantastic, putting me at ease and understanding when my fan-boy glee slipped out a couple of times. Zach has a number of social media accounts to keep in touch with fans.
Facebook: Zach Galligan Official
The Wizard World news is as follows. I am appearing at Wizard World in New Orleans Feb 7th 8th and 9th. I’ll do all three days. For whatever reason, they are, I don’t want to say they are on the fence with me, but let’s just say it’s sort of like a trail appearance. I think they want to see how I’ll do. I guess their not certain if I’m really Horror or Pop Culture. Which is funny to me because I never think of Gremlins as a horror movie. So basically I’m going to do the New Orleans one, and quote unquote, depending on the response, their going to maybe put me onto the tour. So what I’ve been exhorting my twitter followers to do is to simply tweet to Wizard World. Tweet @wizardworld hey Wizard World, I’d love to have this guy on the tour and coming to my city. and if they get a few hundred people tweeting hey, we’d like Zach to come to our city, then they’ll just add me to the tour and I’ll do all 14 cities or something like that next year for the 30th anniversary of Gremlins. How bad-ass would that be?
You mentioned the 30th anniversary of Gremlins. Are there any plans you can let us in on?
Well I can tell you this right now, I’m not even sure I’ve told anyone this or not, basically because people haven’t really asked the question. but I have just finished a book proposal where I tell the story of me getting the part, shooting the first Gremlins, the gap between gremlins one and then shooting and getting Gremlins two and shooting that. basically it will be kinda of like my story as an actor but framed with the framing device of shooting both of the Gremlins movies and I will go into incredible detail about getting the part, working with everybody, making the movies, the effects, everything that I’ve held back over the years, it’ll kind of be like what Bruce Campbell did for Chins could kill, but instead of talking about my whole career, it just focus on those two movies and the period in between the two.
The Gremlins chainsaw scene . . .
I think I know what you’re talking about, if you’re talking about where we’re shooting the department store sequence and so Joe (Joe Dante – Gremlins Director) and I were looking at the set and how amazing well stocked it was. The production design was really great. It really looked like a department store. Of course it wasn’t it was just a set.
So we were going through it and looking at some of the stuff they had stocked fishing rods, color TVs, electronics section, and over here they had the gardening section, and what not. We were choreographing the sequence where Strip comes over the shirt rack with the crossbow and shoots me in the arm. So I was practicing swinging the bat, and how I was gonna fall back, into the tennis ball can display.
I happened to see a bunch of chain saws hanging on the wall. and I said to Joe, “Why don’t we do a little Tobe Hooper tribute here, you know, Texas Chain Saw Massacre throw that into the movie.” Joe looks at me all serious and says, “How would you do it?” I don’t know, I’ve got a baseball bat already. So he (Strip) comes after me with the chainsaw and we have a baseball bat chainsaw fight. and Joe said, “Wow I like that idea. So when would it happen.” I said after he hits me in the arm and I’m most vulnerable he’ll attack me with the chainsaw and I’ll have to fend him off, and when Phoebe turns the lights on, instead of blinding him with the crossbow, it’ll blind him with the chainsaw. Joe then said that sounded great, let’s shoot it.
So we choreographed it and asked Chris Walas if he could rig the chainsaw to the same kind of Kung-Fu grip kind of thing that the Gremlin Strip had. It fit perfectly well.
I just can’t believe some studio suit didn’t step in and say, “Wait a minute, what happens if something goes wrong with this chainsaw?”
Well, there were no . . . this was back in the days when suits came the first week in April, looked at the dailies and sort of went about their way. There were no suits on the entire set after the first two weeks. Also, Spielberg was like, “Don’t worry about the suits.” Steven was god back then, and he still is a god but back then he was a demigod because he had just done E.T., when we were shooting Gremlins, E.T. was the most successful movie of all time. So if Spielberg said, “Don’t worry about it, everything looks great.” Then what are the suits going to say? “Fuck you, you don’t know what you’re talking about?”
I understand that when Gremlins burp, that’s you:
You mean in the second one. Well it goes even bigger than that. What’s hilarious about it is that I went in, I can belch inordinately loudly. I can just fucking rip them, and I used to do it on the set and Joe would be like, “That is disgusting.” But then one day he turned to me and he goes, “You know, you could probably come and do some really good gremlin belching. When we do the sound thing, I’ll have you do some Gremlin belching.” So he called me in to do my (sound) loops, and I did all my lines, and when it was done I put down my headphones, OK cool I’m done, and Joe said I wasn’t done yet. “You’re gonna do some Gremlin belching.” So I went down the hall to the cooler and grabbed a Diet Pepsi, which is particularly fizzy, and I walked back into the sound room. so he (Joe) was sitting behind the board with two sound engineers, and he says, “This is wild Gremlin belching take one.”
So I pop the top off and take four or five enormous gulps, and then there was a pause, and I just let rip, and I’m just ripping, and I had my back to them (Insert Zach’s best burping imitations here) huge long ones, I’m cracking myself up but I’m still going, belching, belching, belching. Finally, I got exhausted and I stopped, turned around and went, “How was that?” The two sound guys have their heads on the sound boards trembling with laughter, laughing their ass off. Joe, who had heard me do it before sat there calm and cool as a cucumber and said, ” That was pretty damn good. There’s a couple of really good ones in there.”
One take burps.
It was probably about a full minute and a half of me just going for it, So Joe told me, and its true, is they found a particularly wet one that was just disgusting, and Joe said, “We really like the timber on that one. In fact it was so good, that they decided to take the old burp off the effects reel that everybody uses in all the movies, and they put your burp on the effects reel. So when ever they use an effect for someone burping they’re gonna use your burp.” I said, “Suck the fuck up, that’s insane.” Low and behold, when you see an episode of Sienfeld, every time Kramer has a major belch, it’s my burp from Gremlins 2.
That’s a great story, but I understand that you don’t get any residuals from your burp.
No, I don’t get any residuals, I just get swelling proud chest.
You thought you were the hero of the first Gremlins movie, but they changed it . . .
That was the first screening, with Joe, Dante, Mike Finel, Phoebe, and myself, They gave us a private screening to gauge our reactions. At Warner Bros Studio at some tiny little screening room that seats something like 20 to 30 people. At first I was stunned by it, because of the cartoon-ish quality, and the tone of it. I should have been prepared for it because I had seen Joe’s Twilight episode, but I guess I just thought we were doing a different kind of movie.
I thought it was gonna look more like Aliens, more like a straight ahead action movie, and instead it was so cartoony. The bar sequence with all of that crazy shit, I was like, what is this Frank Sinatra Gremlin, drowning his sorrows and then this guy comes with a hand puppet and hits him over the head with a mallet, is this a loony tunes cartoon? So funny, some of the jokes in there are so clever.
I was baffled. and then at the end here comes the whole part were I did all my own stunts, and I dive over the potted plants, and I pull the lamp shade, and I save the day, and I’m the hero after blowing up the movie theater, and I watch it and they cut it and like Gizmo, gets in the car and flies up they did a little insert of his hand pulling the lamp shade. I turn to Joe and I go, ” You had the little fuzzy thing save the day? I’m the hero of the movie” and he (Joe) looks at me and goes, “Um the title of the movie is Gremlins.” and I went, “Wow, that’s cold-blooded.”
They made it up to me at the end of Gremlins 2, you notice I am the one who gets to electrocute all of them in the lobby.
What is the craziest Gremlin product or thing that anyone has tried to pitch to you?
I gotta tell you, people don’t try to pitch products to me really at all, and people don’t even try Gremlins 3 ideas much, very rarely, it’s much more interpretations of what the movie really means. They’ll say, “You know what the movie is really about?” and they’ll tell me these insane theories, and say, “You know that was what you guys meant when you did that.” but really there was no social commentary, you would turn on MTV and Jennifer Beals was on every poster and video, MTV showed videos back then it was in our face every day. It was fresh in our minds. So we said let’s do a Flashdance Gremlin.
If Gremlins came out this year, and had the same level of success it had in 1984 what would have happened?
I can tell you right now, if I was 21 years old and Gremlins came out right now and made the same amount of money, I’d get offered seven more studio movies. Back then, it was kinda like, who is this kid, what has he done, and no one thought, “Everyone loves him.” They thought, “The name of the movie is Gremlins.” The kids an after thought and nobody cares.
You teach acting, the audition process is your specialty. How has technology changed the audition process since you began acting.
Well, it has. I would say the number one way that it’s changed things are people will send you sides in email, and want you to put yourself on tape, and send us this audition. So rather than going and doing your audition and having professional people put you on tape, you have to have your own HD camera, direct yourself, wear the appropriate clothing, do multiple takes, and edit it, and send it to them. So in some ways a lot of the time the audition is just you trying to read their minds and send them the movie that’s in their minds. Which is crazy when you think about it.
So will the Traditional audition process ever fade away?
No, I would say this. The traditional audition process is identical to the way it was 30 years ago. For example. a week ago I went for an ABC TV series called Black Box, and it’s the same as it was 30 years ago. Two people sitting on the coach, looking kind of bored and anxious, hoping that the actors that come into the room are the right ones, a casting director putting me on tape, and me with three or four pieces of paper in my hand, stapled together, reading the script in a room,in Manhattan, trying to bring it to life. So to a certain extent it’s exactly 100% the way it was when I started 32 years ago.
I think where the difference is now the lower budget stuff, are the ones where they are like, “You do it.” The higher budget stuff works the same way it always has, because that’s the best way to do it. Get the creative people all in the same room together, make a nice digital copy of what they are doing, watch it when your relaxed, see who you like, and cast that person.
Are there any of your acting students that we would recognize?
Actually, I’m proud to say that there are, probably the most prominent is Miles Teller, he was in Rabbit Hole, he was the lead in Project X, he was also one of the supporting people in the remake of Footloose and he was one of the leads in 21 & Over. Then did you see Precious? One of my students named Xosha Roquemore, was in that, she played Joanna, who was this sassy student, and now she is on the Mindy Kaling Show The Mindy Project. Alexandra Miller is on The Carrie Diaries, and Brooke Bundy plays Octavia in the Hunger Games Movies.
What drew you to teaching?
Well, if I’m really honest, the fact of the matter is that teaching is always a way to do what you love and make money without having to do things like wait tables and what not. It’s a mixture of being artistic and making a lot of money. Quite honestly, I make a lot more money teaching at NYU than I ever could bar tending.
It’s what I do financially when I’m not acting. I have a lot of flexibility with the studio that I work at. They’re very, very cool, They know that I could call them up tonight and say. “I booked a commercial tomorrow, can you get a sub?” and they will scramble and do it. The nice thing is that everyone who works for them is a working actor, so they’re kind of used to that happening. On top of that, it gives the school a lot of credibility, so instead of people just being teachers, they’re actual people who work in the business. Who knows better what it’s like on the set than the person who was just on set yesterday?
Is there a role that you turned down and later regretted?
You know it’s funny, people have asked me that and the answer is no. And the reason why is that I’ve never really been in a position where I could turn down roles. There have been things that I have been unavailable to do. Where I’ve been working and then the project conflicted and I couldn’t do it because because of a conflict. I can think of two major examples of that. But it wasn’t because I turned it down, it was because I wasn’t available.
One was the Dorthy Dandridge Story (Introducing Dorothy Dandridge) with Halle Berry on HBO, and the other more significant one was I got offered the Alex Keaton role on Family Ties. That went to Micheal J. Fox. I was doing a movie called Nothing Lasts Forever with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and I was like, fuck some sit-com, I’m doing a movie with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Then that movie never came out and Family Ties was huge. So it just goes to show you don’t know what is going to be big.
Your going to be at The Walker Stalker Con November 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Are you a Walking Dead fan?
OMG I’m a massive fan of it, from the beginning, I was a fan of The Walking Dead when it was just a comic book that very few people had even heard of. I was like, Who is this Bob Kirkman guy, he’s a fucking genius, this is so well done. There were a couple of times I found myself reading the comic and I’m crying. The situations were so perfectly drawn and illustrated, and so deeply sad. Make no mistake of it, The Walking Dead comic book and The Walking Dead TV show are some of the most deeply sad entertainment your ever going to see. There was so much pain, and death, and misery, and suffering, in that show. I’m stunned at how popular it is because it is a such giant downer. To me, it’s the Pink Floyd of television. Did you listen to those records, do you know how depressing The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, all are?
The biggest downers and people love them, same thing with The Walking Dead. What makes it, is that every other zombie movie or horror movie for that matter with the exception of maybe The Exorcist. The Exorcist really plumbed Ellen Burstyn‘s misery at her daughter’s condition. That’s what grounds that movie in reality.
A lot of Gremlins fans are now having kids of their own and introducing them to Gremlins – Are you seeing a new generation of fans?
I do, and in a major, major way. I think it’s fantastic. The thing that I try to do the most, I’ve worked really hard any time someone has asked me to promote Gremlins as a Christmas movie. I’ve gone out of my way to do stuff, for example two weeks from now I’m doing a BBC two-hour long special The 50 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time, and Gremlins is number four or number three, or something like that I think. So I’m doing a long interview for the BBC to talk about Gremlins.
That’s the secret. When Gremlins stopped being a summer movie and an 80’s movie, and started becoming a Christmas classic, I now have people, and this started in just the last four or five years. I now have people say every Christmas they get their family together and they sit around the TV and watch Gremlins, every Christmas, like The Wizard of Oz.
Gremlins is the gift that keeps on giving, it’s hard to describe. It really is. I think what happens is, the longer it goes on, and the more stuff that I get from it, and the more people like it, and the more that I see that it moves them. The more people kinda come up to me trembling and talking about how it is a huge part of their childhood, the more it kind of messes me up emotionally. I’m totally serious about this, and people sometimes think that maybe cause I’m an actor that I’m faking it, but what really is true is, as this thing grows and what’s weird about it is that it hasn’t faded in any way at all, I would argue that it’s as big now as it’s every been, even when it came out.
For example now, when Christmas comes along, I get multiple offers to come and host a Gremlins screening and a Q&A afterwards, and meet people, and do a meet and greet, and I’m doing them. I’m going down to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin TX. on December 18th. I’m doing one in New Hampshire, and there’s a few other people who want me to come down. That’s never happened before, that didn’t happen 5 years ago, ten years ago. It’s not going away.
Zach Galligan is a class act. If we didn’t ask Zach a question you’ve always wanted to ask him, and you’re in the Atlanta area November 1st 2nd and 3rd, swing by The Walker Stalker Con and meet Zach. If that’s too far for you to travel, have your friends Tweet @wizardworld to book Zach for your closest Wizard World Convention city for next year.