Sunday, July 14, 2013

FEEDING HOLLYWOOD AFTER MIDNIGHT: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ZACH GALLIGAN


To become an icon, to truly establish oneself as a prominent figure in cinema is something that every actor dreams of.  The nostalgia obsessed culture of horror fans holds their icons near and dear to their heart, and regardless of how much time passes, these individuals will forever be ones we admire.  Zach Galligan, known for Gremlins, Waxwork, Surviving, Cut, Hatchet III, and countless other films is without a doubt one of the most beloved of all figures in horror cinema.  Bursting into our homes as Billy Peltzer in Gremlins, the bright-eyed owner of everyone's favorite little Mogwai quickly sky-rocketed to success, and has managed to somewhat stay there.  While most child actors grow up and have more toxins coursing through their blood streams than an episode of Breaking Bad, Zach Galligan has not only managed to overcome the child-star death trap, but is continuing to work on a variety of productions.  Thanks to the power of Twitter, I was fortunate enough to have a one-on-one skype interview with Zach Galligan, and peer inside the mind of someone that I've admired from childhood.  An icon for horror fans, and a beloved celebrity for convention-goers, Zach Galligan is sincerely one of the greatest working actors.

Day of the Woman: The other night on Twitter, you were posting a lot of different memes and seemed to spark a little war with some of the ever-powerful Daryl Dixon fan base. Which, as you know, they’re insane.

Zach Galligan: INSANE. That’s kind of why I like to mess with them a little bit.

DotW: They’re absolutely apeshit. Have you ever experienced absolute crazy fanatics, like, “I watched Waxwork eighty-five times naked?” Do those people exist?

Galligan: See, the difference between Norman Reedus and myself is that I think his persona is an intensely sexual one. I think mine is an intensely sweet one.  Sweet people tend to attract less sexually aggressive people.  Whereas, “sexy guys” like Brad Pitt and Depp and Robert Downey Jr. and Reedus have this swaggery sexual thing that whips women into a sexual lather. They get frothy.

DotW: That’s an amazing way to put it.

Galligan: I mean, they get whipped into a sexual frenzy, and I don’t do that with any of my performances. I have found at times that when people meet me in the flesh, I’m so different from the “Hi, Mom! Hi Dad! I’m home” kind of sweet thing that I play, that I’m nothing like and what I’ve never been like at all…what I do find sometimes, and it’s pretty rare, several times when I’ve met women, and it’s almost always women, sometimes it’s gay men too, and sometimes even straight dudes who have just watched me 150 times when they were a kid and they’re just freaked out that I stepped off the screen or something like that, but I have had some women that have been trembling when they met me. They’re all sweaty and clammy and I’m like “Breathe, It’s okay. Breathe. I’m just a dude.” 

DotW: Wooooow.

Galligan: There was one time when I went to Japan and there was this line of Gremlins toys that were really cool, like LJN toys, you could probably find them on the internet, they were really cool, and I went and I signed some boxes for the toy company, and they flew me out. After this convention there was this VIP meet and greet where you could pay a little extra money and have dinner with me and 60 close personal friends, that kind of a thing, and there was one young woman who was probably about your age, 23-24 years old, Japanese girl, and she was sitting in the corner with her friends staring at me.  Obviously most of the people there spoke Japanese, because you’re in Japan, but finally this guy who spoke English pretty well dragged her over to meet me.  As he dragged her over, she was pulling back like she didn’t want to and I was like, “Don’t force her if she’s not feeling good.” She came over to me and she was shaking violently like she had a 28 Days Later virus or something.  So the guy introduces her and says her name and I said, “Hi, how are you?” and I shook her hand, and she fainted. She collapsed.

DotW: That. Is. Amazing.

Galligan: And I was with my then-wife at the time and when the girl fainted, I turned to her and said, “See, what’s your problem? Why don’t you faint when I touch you?” (laughs) But I don’t get the sexual frenzy thing that The Walking Dead people do, or that Reedus does in particular.

DotW: I cannot imagine having that kind of fanbase. I wonder what his life is like?

Galligan: I certainly know the feeling of when Gremlins came out, basically after a month of it being out, I couldn’t go anywhere in Manhattan. For me at 20 years old, it was really, really weird.  It’s hard to describe to someone your age that grew up with so much media, but back in ’84, ’85, there were six magazines.  Time, Newsweek, Us Weekly, Rolling Stone, TV Guide, and that’s it! If you were on one of those magazines, every fucking person in America saw you.  There were six magazines, now, there’s like six thousand.  There are all these tabloids and they’re all the same, just fifty shades of Kim Kardashian.  So what would happen is, I did the cover of People Magazine with Molly Ringwald, which every single woman between the ages of 15 and 45 read like the bible.  As soon as they put me on the cover, it was basically sending a message across the entire country that said, “Are you thinking of sleeping with a young guy? Because this is the guy you should be sleeping with.”  It’s hard to describe to people who weren’t there, but it was insanity. Once you did Seventeen and Tiger Beat…

DotW: Were you on the same page as River Phoenix?

Galligan: River Phoenix was in that movie!

DotW: I know that! But were you on the same page?

Galligan: River Phoenix came up to me on the set of Surviving because I was big then and nobody knew who he was. He was 15 and probably a year or two away from getting really famous.  He came up to me, and he was a very mischievous 15 year old.  He was 15 and I was 20, he was adorable and I was all method back then, so I’d give him piggyback rides back to his trailer.  He’d see me between takes getting swarmed by girls in Oklahoma City, and there’s nothing to do in OK City than watch the clay turn slightly redder, so when the girl from Sixteen Candles and the guy from Gremlins are shooting a movie down your block, it’s pandafuckingmonium.  So there’d be girls behind police barricades and I’d be signing shit and they’d be screaming and wetting their pants, and River comes up to me one time and goes, “Hey Zach, if I become a big star like you, am I gonna get the same quality ass you are?”
DotW: (dies of laughter) Oh my god. That is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. So, did you have any idea how big Gremlins was going to be?  Obviously it was big when it got released, but the cult following that stayed with it is kind of insane.
Galligan: We all knew it was going to be huge before we even started, because you have to put it into context.  We started production in April ’83, and E.T. was still in theaters.  It was still blowing up and was the world’s biggest movie.  So Spielberg was coming off the hottest movie ever made and we were basically doing an E.T. variation.  So even if we did a quarter of the business E.T. did, we’d do 150 million, 300-400 million dollars worldwide, which I think we ended up doing.  That’s in 1984 dollars, and a billion dollars in merchandise.  It was a massive hit.  It only doesn’t seem like as massive of a hit because it was slightly overshadowed by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and even more by Ghostbusters which was released on the same day.
DotW: I have never even made that connection, before. Wow.
Galligan: To answer the second half, if you had told me three decades later, and thirty years is a long fucking time, that people would still be watching it, love it, and show their kids it, and that’s what is so cleverly constructed, is that there’s almost nothing in the picture that dates it to 1983.  So it’s like Gremlins is almost trapped in time.  It has a timeless quality in Anytown, USA.  It’s actually pretty progressive, with having a black teacher, when a lot of ‘80s movies where all white.  So you see it now, and if you were an idiot and someone told you it was shot in 1997, it’s conceivable. You pop it in, and it’s just a story, and it works.
DotW: I can see that, totally.
Galligan: It’s weirder for me now because back then, I expected it to be big.  It’s so surreal; it’s impossible to explain.  I don’t know if you caught my interview with Entertainment Tonight, but I was at a club one time and Marilyn Manson came up to me and asked me to sign his Gremlins lunch box.
DotW: What? No way!
Galligan: See, to me, here’s how fame works.  If you were famous before I was, you’re fucking famous.  I grew up in the ‘70s, so The Fonz, Henry Winkler, that fucking guy’s famous.
DotW: He does have a bronze statue in Milwaukee…
Galligan: Exactly!  But then I meet Brad Pitt, who got famous like seven or eight years after me, but I’m like “Oh, cool, whatever.” I’m not saying I’m not impressed by what they’ve achieved, because I am, but to me, famous is people who were famous before I was famous.  When they become famous after you, it’s like they become part of your peer group.  It turns into “Oh, hey, that’s my actor friend. I remember when they came on.” Does that make sense?
DotW: I think that mentality totally works.  It’s like when people get upset when younger people win Oscars that mentality totally works.  Now, this is a question that probably only I care about, but how in the world were you able to sit in the same room as Phoebe Cates delivering the greatest written monologue of all time?  I’m sorry, Shakespeare, no, the “Why I hate Christmas” monologue is the most brilliant thing ever constructed.  Knowing you got to be a part of that, to me, that is the coolest thing anyone can ever say.  Okay, that was my fangirlness. It’s gone, I can talk to you like a normal person now.

Galligan: The interesting thing about that monologue is that Joe Dante loved it, and Spielberg had very mixed feelings about it. He thought it was a clever piece of writing and liked it, but he wasn’t sure if the E.T. crowd would get it or if it would ruin the tone.  Joe’s idea was that this is the tone.  The whole movie is like a big prank on the audience because the first 45 minutes are like “Oh, it’s ET 2” and then NOT.  We were trying to get you to lower your guard so then we could go “Gotcha!” and it was perfect for that.  So here’s the thing with Phoebe.  Phoebe Cates was 19 years old at the time. She was a kid, but she was a very, very sophisticated young woman.  She grew up in Manhattan, hung out with Warhol, was a model at 14, did the Studio 54 thing, this was not her first rodeo by any stretch of the imagination.  She claimed at the time, and I believe her, that the only reason she took the role because she didn’t think it was much of a role except for the monologue.  The monologue was the entire reason she took the role.
DotW: My heart is just dancing right now.
Galligan: And she worked on that monologue night and day. Over, and over, and over. And she ran it for me dozens of time and she’d change a word here or agonize over this word, it was her raison d'etre for doing this movie, and I totally believe her.  So the day came, and she was nervous but kind of excited, and we shot it, and it went great.  Everyone thought it went great.  Then they showed the dailies to Spielberg or people at Warner Bros. and somebody there hated it.  Not her performance, but were like “this is sick.” And we were like “that’s the point!”  It was a Tim Burton, (who didn’t even exist then) Charles Addams, joke.  And so Joe told Phoebe and she was beside herself because her feeling was, “This was the whole reason I did this.” And I can remember she was really distraught, but Joe Dante said, “Well, lucky for you, I have final cut.” Which he did. “And as far as I’m concerned, it’s staying in, because I think it’s great.” “I promised you it’s staying in, and it’s staying in.” And as you and everybody knows, it stayed in.  Even though there were a lot of people involved in the movie who thought it was in poor taste and a bad joke and dreadful, but of course now it’s a movie legend.
DotW: The first time I watched that, I was probably about 8 or 9.  I just remember sitting back and thinking, and I was totally desensitized from watching sick movies with my mom, but I remember thinking “that is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”  I didn’t even need blood for that, it was just sad.  It became my favorite.  So I get to college and I had an assignment where I had to do a monologue and the challenge was to do a monologue my teacher couldn’t place, so I did that one.  And I did it, and I did it so serious and my professor knew that he knew it, but he didn’t know what he knew it from, and he just goes “Ugh, God, that’s just so wrong and sick.” “What is that from?” and I looked him dead in the eye and went, “Gremlins, mothafucka!” and walked out. So yeah, what you just told me just met the peak of my fandom. 
Galligan: (laughs)
DotW: Switching gears, so, you were just in Hatchet III and you got to play a “character,” but what is the most fun about being in a movie like Hatchet III which is just a gorefest and such an Adam Green style movie.  I love his style and the references and for him, and he is a total fanboy about Gremlins, I mean, the first rule of the “Holliston Nation” shirt is “Don’t date a girl who hasn’t seen Gremlins, because it’s dangerous.” Clearly, he knows your shit.  What’s it like working with someone who is that big of a fan of your work.

 Galligan: You have to understand, I’m used to people being obsessed with Gremlins.  I hear about it at least every other day for three decades, so you kind of get used to it.  What was great about Adam was that he was such a fanboy about it, and it figures so prominently with the relationship with his wife.  He credits Gremlins with saving his relationship with his wife and it’s a beautiful story, so I knew it had a ridiculous impact on him.  I’m was so grateful, and still am grateful for him to just throw me that role.  I didn’t even have to audition for it, he just sent it to me and asked if I wanted to do it.  I was really grateful for him to sort of, get me back out there.  It’s important for people to see you do something recent, they can’t just see shit you’ve done in the past.  When we did the L.A. portion of shooting Hatchet III which was everything inside the ambulance boat, that whole sequence was shot in about 4 days about a half mile from his house in a set in his back yard. Just goes to show you the magic of filmmaking.
DotW: What? No way. I never would have guessed that.
Galligan: No one had any idea. You step outside the ambulance boat and it was like Adam Green’s backyard.  So I wanted to do something special for him as a way of saying thank-you, so I got him and Joe Lynch and they came over and we threw on the Gremlins blu-ray and I did the R-Rated, no one could ever publish, no one could ever know about, behind the scenes, ultimate scene-by-scene commentary through the whole movie for Joe and Adam.  They’d stop and ask questions and I’d fill them in and I’d point something out and say, “See that, that’s where this happened.” And they’d freak out, but they got the ultimate Gremlins commentary and they’re the only two who will ever get it.
DotW: That is the best present anyone could ever have, and probably could ever ask for.
Galligan: They seemed to really enjoy it, they still talk about it.  But a lot of crazy stuff went on behind the scenes.  I mean, it was me, Phoebe Cates, and Judge Reinhold, we were college kids. We were insane. I don’t want you to think I ever had a relationship with Phoebe Cates, because she and I never dated.
DotW: Yeah, my creepy obsession has let me know that.
Galligan: People wanted us to have dated.
DotW: Could you imagine if tumblr had been around in the ‘80s? Oh my god, just imagine the creepy fanfiction people would write about you two.  I don’t even want to know what they’d do with Gizmo in these stories.
Galligan: Yeah, no. People wanted us to have but it didn’t happen, and I’m not gonna make it up just to make people happy.
DotW: People just want the “met on the set, fell in love, blah blah blah” stories.
Galligan: Oh, we met on the set and I had a huge crush on her, it was just never reciprocated.
DotW: (laughs) That makes it so much better. So I’ve been going through other interviews to make sure not to ask you something someone else has already asked.
Galligan: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, BJ. You can ask me anything.
DotW: Okay, hm, well, was there ever a time when you were just absolutely sick of Gremlins or Waxwork?
Galligan: Yes, absolutely. I think all actors who have a big hit go through that and come out the other side.  You look back at it, and you kind of accept it, and at the end of the day you’re glad it stood the test of time and you’re associated with something people enjoy so much.  I can tell you the exact moment when I went from “God, Gremlins, I wish people would just shut up about it” to “Hey, you know what? This is pretty cool.”  I was sitting on my couch in Los Angeles watching TNT and Gremlins was on the guide.  I hadn’t seen it in years because I don’t sit around and watch my own movies, but it turned away to commercial and in between the commercial it said “You’re watching the New Classics: Gremlins on TNT” and I thought “The New Classics? I like that. I like the sound of that. Are they really saying that about that movie? Fuck yeah!” And now they play it all the time on Christmas and it’s become one of the top 5-6 movies around Christmas.  I think it’s kind of amazing now because I’m fairly certain that after I die, they’ll still play it around Christmas.  Kind of like how Jimmy Stewart’s gone and they still show It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s kind of an awesome feeling to knowing that you’ve done something that will stand the test of time and probably outlive you by a couple of years and keep your image and your likeness and the fact you existed on this planet out there. That’s pretty bad-ass.
DotW: If I’m being totally honest, as morbid as this sounds, I think Gremlins will outlive you by more than just a few years.  There are a lot of people where Gremlins is their Christmas tradition.  So, we haven’t mentioned the film in one take, Cut, and I wanna know how that was.
Galligan: You saw that?!

DotW: Yeah…but I can’t tell you how I saw it…
Galligan: I only saw it once in a theater and the sound was off, and it was incredibly exciting to do each take but I don’t think it worked as a horror movie. I didn’t think there were any scares.
DotW: Yeah…I have to agree.
Galligan: It just wasn’t really scary.  It was fun as hell and it came at an amazing place in my life, so it was a great experience for me.  I don’t know how good the movie is because I’m too close to it, but from everyone’s reactions to it on imdb, it seems like it didn’t really work.
DotW: When I saw it, I was told “I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but I want to see if you can find the good in this.”
Galligan: And you couldn’t find anything good in this?
DotW: I thought that it would be an incredible exercise for an actor, but I can also find the good in The Happening.
Galligan: I guess you thought it was pretty bad if you could find something good in The Happening but you couldn’t find anything good in Cut, I think we have a problem.
DotW: Hey, if you watch that movie thinking they’re all in on a joke, it becomes one of the most hilarious movies you’ll ever see.  If you think they’re all just trolling us, when Marky Mark delivers the speech to the plastic tree, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Galligan: I think the best thing to do is to get into some form of an altered state, and just imagine that he’s being chased by demon farts. Just giant farts chasing him. That’s the villain.  It’s the funniest thing imaginable. 
DotW: Whoever wrote the police reaction line of, “Cheese and Crackers” needs to be shot. It was at such a tense moment annnnd it’s gone.
Galligan: It had a good trailer.
DotW: It did have a good trailer. It also works as a good drinking game. Drink everytime Zooey Deschanel doesn’t blink, you’ll be drunk the whole movie. I think she blinks three times in that entire film.
Galligan: (laughs)
DotW: So, of all the characters you’ve played, which one is the closest to you?
Galligan: Hm. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that.
DotW: YES! This is what success feels like. You could always go the other way and choose which one you’re the furthest from.
Galligan: Well, I played a gay Hollywood agent in The Storytellers with Mitzi Kapture, Brad Dourif, and Tippi Hedren, I’d have to say I’m pretty far away from the gay Hollywood agent, although I’m not much like a Houston Sheriff, either. 
DotW: That’s true.
Galligan: The one that is the most like me, is probably the one I did with River Phoenix, Surviving. I’m essentially playing myself there.  Right around that time I had a strained relationship with my dad over certain things, like my character did. I was discovering a lot about the infidelity that wrecked my parents’ marriage like my character was. I think I was moody. I think I was a lot like my character, I was a bit of a jock but I had to quit to do the theatre. I was a good student like the character and kind of a romantic/monogamous person like the character, so, yeah; I think I’m the most like “Rick” in Surviving.
DotW: So, do people ever quote things at you?
Galligan: Of course! When I first moved back to New York in 2003, I knew I was really back when I got out of the subway and was walking down Mulberry St. in the SoHo area and people across the street were going “What’s up, Billy?!” and I knew I was home.  I think it was also sort of rare for someone to look the same, like I have. People seem to think that I look at least similar to Gremlins 2. 
DotW: I guess being called “Billy” is better than someone creeping up behind you and screaming “Bright Light!”
Galligan: I only really get called “Billy” at conventions.
DotW: This is going to take me so long to transcribe.


Galligan: Yeah, it’s going to take a while; it’s been like an hour and a half. But it was fun, wasn’t it?
DotW: Yes! It was lots of fun!
Galligan: Now you look back at the beginning, being nervous, and know you had nothing to be nervous about!

4 comment(s):

Real Queen of Horror said...

That is so awesome that you were able to interview him! He seems like a cool, down earth guy.

CashBailey said...

That was a genuinely fucking awesome interview.

So many great stories.

Anonymous said...

Even though I'm a fan of the Gremlins and Waxwork films, I never really gave a second thought about Zach Galligan. In fact, I didn't even intend to read the entire interview, just skim through it. But after the first couple'a paragraphs, I got hooked and read the whole thing. What was great about it, was that it was more conversation than interview, like I was at a bar with the both of you, just listening to you two shoot the shit.

So kudos to you, BJ-C on an awesome interview! Keep up the great work.

Chris

Helena Philomena Liebekraft said...

Incredible interview and a wonderful, underrated actor. Thank you!

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