Zach Galligan ('Hatchet III' / 'Gremlins')
'Galligan's Island of Work'
Zachary W. Galligan may well be one of the stars of the horror film 'Hatchet III' (coming to Blu ray very soon), but his breakthrough role was as Billy Peltzer in the Steven Spielberg-produced 1984 blockbuster 'Gremlins.'
Following the first 'Gremlin's film, Galligan appeared in 'Nothing Lasts Forever,' and in 1988 he starred as Mark Loftmore in the horror comedy 'Waxwork.' He also reprised his role as Billy Peltzer in the 1990 sequel 'Gremlins 2: The New Batch.'
Indeed, Galligan’s passion for acting has never waned, and over the years he has gotten several parts on TV shows like 7th Heaven, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Law & Order: Criminal Intent and films such as 'Point Doom,' 'Legion of the Dead,' 'Nightbeasts' and 'Cut.'
Chatting recently with the conversationalist himself, Zach Galligan, I first wondered, being that his IMDB resume of work had been slow to grow these past few years, if he been in some form of self-imposed retirement there for a while? “I don’t think so. I think what actually happened was that I moved to New York two years ago and it’s much harder to have a career here. I’m a decent theatre actor, but I’m a much better film and television actor. And the fact of the matter is in New York it’s much harder to have a film and television career because it’s 1/10th to 1/20th of the activity that is going on in Los Angeles. You just can’t really compare the two.”
“So, my output has diminished greatly, but all because of me moving here. And I really did need to move to New York and get away from LA after 15 years out there. I was burnt out and I needed to kinda remake my life. Redo my life over a little bit and get away from the rat race. So yeah, my credits have been few and far between, but I did not retire. It’s just more of a struggle now to get roles when you’re in this city. Because it’s such a theatre-orientated town.”
Well, I just sat down last night and watched all three (3) Hatchet movies back-to-back-back! And, of course, in the third one there you are as Sheriff Fowler. So, with the movie headed for Blu ray soon, and you not really a horror actor in general, what made you take on this role? “Well, I have to tell you that you’re one of the first people that thinks I’m not just a horror actor! Because people, at least in the industry, everyone points to ‘Gremlins,’ ‘Waxwork,’ Tales From The Crypt and now ‘Hatchet III.’ So I’m glad that you say that, and I’m glad that you’ve seen me in a lot of other stuff, but you certainly could argue that my biggest flashes have been in the horror genre, couldn’t you?”
Sure, I’ll give you all of those - save for ‘Gremlins’! “Sure, but here’s the thing: I like to do fun roles. Roles that can make me stretch a little bit. And Adam Green [Writer, Executive Producer of 'Hatchet III'] basically offered me the part on a silver platter. And so I called him back and I was talking to him and BJ McDonnell [Director of ‘Hatchet III’] and I was pretty much like, ‘Can I do with this what I want to?’ And they told me that within reason I could do pretty much anything I wanted with it.”
“So, I was kind of aware that my persona was that of a North Eastern US person. And so playing a deeply-New Orleans Southern Sheriff like that I just thought that if I just came in and played myself, like a lot of actors would do, I just didn’t think that I would believe myself as a character. So, that’s why I went for the regional East Texas, Houston kind of George W. Bush accent. Because it worked very well for Caroline Williams, who actually is from Houston and was playing my wife.”
Did you go deeper and actually talk to each other about a back story for you two? Oh yeah. The back story we came up with was that we met each other in Houston and then I got transferred to New Orleans, which is about 200 miles away and so is a very believable transfer. So once I came up with that and then I got my Southern character nailed, then I was really kinda excited about it. And yes there’s a horrific supernatural element to it, but there’s also a lot of Sheriff Fowler where he’s just a person under pressure. Which I found kinda interesting.”
When you undertook the role of Sheriff Fowler did you realize that it would be such a pivotal role in the movie? “Well, I had a feeling that if I did it correctly he could emerge as the moral center. If there is such a thing in movies like this. He could at least be the person that you were maybe rooting for to survive, possibly. Ideally. So, I really liked the pissing match I get into with Derek Mears character where he’s just sort of the jerk and I’m the person who’s not really interested in egos and jurisdictions and is just trying to get the job done. And Derek’s all about the strutting and preening. And I kinda related to that in all sorts of ways with some of my own true life experiences, you know.”
Always knowing that your character couldn’t possibly come back for Hatchet 4, the way you get taken, after all you fought off along the way just seemed a let down to me, sorry! “Yeah, well, that of course is the problem with Victor Crowley. You make one tiny little mistake and that’s it! And that’s what kinda makes it scary is that there is literally zero margin for error. I mean look at Rileah Vanderbilt, who’s next to go after me. All she does is reach underneath the hole for the hammer! And then she gets pulled through and then skinned alive,” he says, gently laughing.
So, what made Sheriff Fowler, a disciplined man most all of the way through the movie until his dumb ass move that gets him killed?! “I think, and this part wasn’t really that developed because it’s a horror movie and horror movies sometimes, to their detriment don’t develop characters as much as they could. Which is never a good thing, because the more developed a character the more you’re always going to relate to it better. But, if you watch the very ending again, right before my character dies, all through the movie there’s kind of the notion that me and my ex-wife don’t like each other, but still love each other. It’s a very love/hate kind thing. It’s that conflicted thing that you feel about someone that’s been a big part of your life. So, I’m super cautious until the irrational happens and that’s when I hear my ex-wife’s voice. And that makes me come towards the hole and sort of, shall I say go to my heart rather than my head. And just for a split second abandon reason and follow emotion. Which leads to my downfall.”
Behind-The-Scenes of ‘Hatchet III’
Fair enough. OK, what behind-the-scenes tidbit can you reveal, good or bad about working on the ‘Hatchet III’ set? “I guess one of the kinda funny things is when I die and we were going to do the very last scene I shot in the movie. Partially because it involved getting covered in blood. So much blood that they basically spray it at you out of a hose! And what was kinda funny was that they showed up but somewhere along the lines there was a bit of confusion about what was going to happen to my character. In the script it seemed fairly clear to me that I was going to get my face sanded off by the boat sander. So my face was just going to be sanded off and what you’d be left with is the reveal of the gleaning polished white skull underneath it.”
“And then they came with the prosthetic that I stuck on my shoulders and everything like that, but really what it was was this flesh-colored nub! It was like my entire head had been sanded down to the top of my spine,” he laughs. “So there was no head at all, just the nub of my spine just sitting there! And so I was like looking at it wondering what the heck it was. And even BJ McDonnell was looking around at people wondering where the face to the skull sticking out of it was!”
“And so we didn’t really know what to do as we had an hour to shoot it. So I just put the thing on and we shot it. And you can see that it’s done in very quick cuts to try and make it look vague and uncertain. But if you go back and watch it in slow-mo you can see that when my head falls back out of the hole after I’ve been killed that there’s a very strange looking prosthetic that quite honestly doesn’t look anything like a head with a skull,” he laughs.
‘Hatchet III’ on Blu ray!
With the ‘Hatchet III’ Blu ray coming out soon, are you to be found on the Special Features, perhaps? “Well, I didn’t do an audio commentary as they just did those in LA. But they had a camera around when we were shooting. So there’s probably a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff of people horsing around. “
You say “horsing around,” so as much as it was a horror movie was it a fun set to work on also? “I think everybody was having a lot of fun on it. If there was any damper in the fun it wasn’t due to Adam or the director, it was due to the fact of the conditions we were working under were just so abysmal. If you’ve ever been in the Bayou, in the swamp in the middle of June and it’s 95 degrees and it’s 95% humidity and there’s thunderstorms every other hour and clouds of mosquitoes and spiders and snakes everywhere. That’s arguably when the Bayou is absolutely most alive. So, basically you kind of felt that the location was an organism in and of itself. It felt like one giant single cell, or multi-cell organism that was kinda writhing all over you while you were trying to work!”
Wow, so how long was the shoot? “Believe it or not, the swamp portion and the new Orleans portion was just under three weeks. And then we did about five days in LA. So the whole movie was less than four weeks.”
Wow, again! So, how was that made possible? “Well, the reason why we were able to do that, and probably the smartest thing was that we had three sometimes four cameras going at once. And that’s another reason why it edits together so well, because you’re editing basically the same thing from four different angles. Which are, of course, cut together beautifully because it’s the same event. So the multiple cameras were absolutely huge. Because there were times when we‘d wonder how we were going to do a certain shot with the sunlight coming up in 45 minutes and still two and a half pages to go. And what we would do is just rehearse it a couple of times until it was like pretty much good enough to shoot. And then we would just do two or three takes shot from all different angles. And if you got one that was good you had a good scene, because you‘d then shot it from four different angles.”
Gremlins was your first movie role and wow, what a way to kick off your acting career! You certainly fell on your feet! “I’ve always kinda wished there was a more exciting story about me getting ‘Gremlins,’ but believe me I just went in on a series of auditions in less than a week. Basically, I went in on a Tuesday and met the casting director, then she called me back Thursday and I met the producer and read one scene for him. Because there was no script. There was just a scene of me asking Phoebe out on a date. I knew that the title was ‘Gremlins,’ but you didn’t know anything about it. There was no mention of Gizmo, Mogwai or blowing up movies theatres or anything like that! So it was just me being a teenager and asking a pretty girl out on a date. So I went in and read for Mike Finnell, the producer, because Joe Dante was sick that day. He got plane sick, he’s not a good flyer, apparently.”
“And so the next day I was scheduled to go to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break - because I’m 19 years-old, with a bunch of my guy friends and ready to chase girls, you know. And I got a call that Thursday night asking me if there was anyway I could come in early the next morning to be put on tape. And as luck would have it my flight was at 1.00 pm rather than like 6.00 am, because then I would have been hosed! So I got the earliest appointment with them that I could at about 10.15 am and they paired me with Phoebe. And we just read our lines together and then I left and went straight to the airport and flew straight down to Fort Lauderdale.”
“Then they called me that very same night! I arrived in Fort Lauderdale at like 3.00 pm and I basically got the call at about 7.30 pm from my mom at the hotel. For some reason I was alone on the beach, not with my guy friends, and someone came up to me and told me I had a message back at the hotel. And so I went back to the hotel and my guy friends all went down to a bar and ordered Margaritas! Because you’ve got to remember that the drinking age in 1983 was 18 years-old at the time. They didn’t change it to 21 years-old until like 1987 or 1988.”
“So I went down to see them after the phone call with mom and I just told them I’d gotten the part, but that I had to leave tomorrow! And so they were bummed that I had to leave but so happy for me. And I can remember just sitting there by myself on the beach watching the waves come in and thinking, ‘Everything is gonna change right now. Big time!” Because when you say Spielberg, and that you’re going to be in a Spielberg movie, you know something’s gonna happen to your life!”
Fame comes a-knocking!
So, once it was filmed, what was the most immediate change that you saw happen to your teenage life? “Believe it or not, even back then without the internet word traveled very, very quickly. Everybody, including your family and friends and your class mates just talk, talk, talk about it. So the word spread like actual wildfire. And I actually felt it even before I left LA to do it. I had about a month to think about shooting the movie before I even left. I got the part March 17th and the shooting began April 17th. So, I had about thirty days to think about it, you know. And that’s a lot of time to think about getting ready for something. I’d rather would have just plunged right into it like two days later, but instead I just sat around and got nervous.”
“So I went there and I did the film and I could feel things starting to change as I was doing it. Like, and here’s the perfect example, I’d go into a restaurant with Phoebe … and Phoebe was very recognizable at the time for ‘Fast Times’! So everywhere she went she was always known. Whereas I was always unknown. And you’ve got to remember this, we were both 19 years-old. 19. We were like two little college sophomores, you know what I mean. We were kids. So we would go somewhere like the Moustache Cafe in Westwood and we’d get a booth and we’d sit down and the waitress would come over and immediately be stunned by Phoebe’s presence. So she couldn’t help but ask what we were doing there and we’d tell her that we were shooting ‘Gremlins,’ because we were kids and we were excited. And so she would go back to the bar and would tell all the other waitresses and then they’d all start giggling and looking over at us.”
“And then they would one-by-one all start to come over and ask for Phoebe’s autograph ... and then they started asking me for my autograph! And I was just one week into filming and I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is nuts!’ I mean, I was new to all this so I would just watch it all happen. Then you can just imagine what happened when the movie came out. It just increases exponentially. It’s an exponential growth rather than a linear one, you know. So every other day you can basically feel the difference. Each day the movie was out you would go into a restaurant and two people would recognize you. And then three days later you’d go back in and 50 people would recognize you. And then a month after the movie’s out you’d walk back into that restaurant and everybody would just stare at you and watch you eat the entire time you were there. So I literally went from being this completely unknown person with privacy to being like in a goldfish bowl in a matter of a couple of weeks.”
Which, I can imagine was both very hard and very exciting for a teenager at that time? “Well, at first everybody kinda has this dream; especially when you’re young and you’re a goof ball, people actually want me to sign stuff. I’m special now! So you sign it. And then you do it another 50 times and still kinda cool. And then you do it another 100 times and it’s still kinda ok. Around time 250 reality starts to kick in and you start to think to yourself, ‘Am I going to be doing this for the rest of my life?!’ You know, is this going to happen to me where I’m never going to be able to go into a restaurant without someone walking over to me and going, ‘Sorry to bother you’ … as they bother you?!”
Meeting Steven Spielberg
What is still to this day your favorite moment about being on the ‘Gremlins’ set? “I guess one of my favorite memories is the first time Spielberg came on the set. He wasn’t on a lot, because he was also doing ‘Indian Jones & The Temple of Doom’ so he was in Sri Lanka a lot of the time. I’d never met him before until he came on the set that first time, which was very much towards the end. We shot from April to the beginning of August so my guess is he probably didn’t actually come on the set until the end of July. So we had a couple of months of shooting without his presence at all because he was busy doing a massive undertaking like ‘Indiana Jones’.”
“But what was so cool, what was so interesting to me, and I think I was just aware enough to get it, was that I saw a group of the crew people heading towards me and rather than walking in a leisurely way they were kinda hustling back to their trailers and this and that. They were walking with a sort of spring in their step. They were walking purposefully towards me and then past me. So I asked them what was going on and one of the crew members looked and me and she said under her breath, either ‘Spielberg’s here’ or ‘Steven’s here.’ One of the two. And she said it kinda like an episode of Game Of Thrones where one of the villagers runs past you and they say, ‘The King is coming’! In that kind of hushed, reverent, almost alarmed but excited tone. So immediately there was this feeling that the 'King' was coming so everybody needs to look busy,” he gently laughs.
“And so I felt a kinda surge go through me, because suddenly I realized, oh snap, I’m gonna meet him now! And what happens if he hangs out on set all day and he’s sat there with his arms folded and he’s just gonna watch me! So after two months I was very relaxed on the set, very comfortable and confident. And now I was like, oh, snap! I was kinda freaked out a little bit.”
And so how was that very first meeting with Steven Spielberg? “Well, he came up and he shook my hand, asked me how I was and then asked Phoebe how she was too. He was super-friendly to the actors which put us at ease. And Phoebe didn’t even seem all that nervous. She was always a super-cool customer because she was a model and she was hanging out with Warhol and all those people when she was 15 or something like that. So it took a lot to impress her. A lot! So, she was very calm, cool and collected which helped me be calm, cool and collected.”
“But what I noticed, which was so interesting and which still makes me smile is that I saw how panicked a lot of the other people were. And how I saw people just look down at the ground and not make eye contact with him. Some people were almost like just doing their business, fiddling with stuff behind trees so Steven couldn’t see them,” he laughs. “It was a real lesson that with power comes respect. And I’m not saying Spielberg did anything bad. He was literally just showing up and being affable. But what was interesting was that with that amount of power you also inspired so much fear. I found that to be a really fascinating lesson.”
‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’
Six (6) years later and you undertook the role of Billy Peltzer again for ‘Gremlins 2,‘ but it just wasn’t as successful. What went wrong? “I really think that everything with the movie was fine. I think a lot of it has to do with the way they released it. They were going to release it in a really beautiful slot like right around May 3rd or May 10th. So, early in the summer and against no competition. Now that seems obvious as it’s now like the ‘Iron Man’ slot right around early May. But back then everyone was super excited about that release date. It was a genius time to open it ahead of everything. And at the last second Warner Bros. got cocky because they did this test screening and they got the highest scores from a test screening in the history of Warner Bros. So they thought, based on the scores that they had this gargantuan hit so at the last second they moved it from May 10th to whenever it was ‘Dick Tracy’ was coming out. And they decided they had the biggest hit of the summer and they were going to crush the rivals studios’ film by putting them head-to-head and stealing the audience. And they just completely underestimated the fact that Madonna was in it, and that Madonna would do something incredibly media savvy like start to date Warren Beatty just as the movie was coming out!”
“And so in that month from May 10th to June 10th we missed our window and people went to see ‘Dick Tracy,’ of course. And the numbers came back low. And so everybody then sees that and says, ‘Oh, I guess it’s sh*t,’ you know. And that’s what happened to it. It didn’t happen overseas like that though, because it did 100 million dollars overseas. Whereas it did about 48 million dollars in the States.”
I watched it again the other night and it’s not a bad movie. It’s just too, well, ‘cartoony’ for my liking! “Well, that’s Joe Dante. Joe has one of the largest collections of cartoons of any person that I’ve ever seen. He’s even got them on actual film - like reel to reel. So if you don’t like ‘cartoony’ you’re generally not going to like most of Dante’s work! Especially stuff like his episode of The Twilight Zone. Which is very, very ‘cartoony.’ So yeah, I see you’re point.”
“My problem with ‘Gremlins 2’ is this: in the first ‘Gremlins’ the puppets and the humans were woven together so seamlessly and beautifully. Whereas in the second one you have humans and then you have ten minutes of puppets. And then you have humans again and then 15 minutes of puppets. So there’s a time when you’re watching it when go, ‘What am I watching here, a Muppet movie?!” You just don’t get that feeling in the first one because there’s always humans interacting with the gremlins at almost every juncture except for the bar scene. In that bar scene there’s like two or three minutes of chaos but still you have Phoebe to cut back to, to ground you back in the human world.’
‘Gremlins 3’ …?
Was ‘Gremlins 3’ ever discussed back then? “Oh yeah, they were looking at all sorts of different scripts. And they were discussing new CGI and whether there was going to be animatronics. And then whether there was going to be Gremlins in Vegas, Gremlins in London, or Gremlins in this or that. So yeah, sure, any time you’ve got a franchise like that you’re gonna want to exploit it. But Joe Dante was very vociferous about not wanting to just wanting to do CGI.”
‘Gremlins’ 2013 … Reboot!
Will there ever be a ‘Gremlins 3’ now? “Well, I guess you haven’t heard yet, but Warner Bros. are going to reboot it! They hired someone who did ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ and he’s gonna produce it. And they will hire a writer to do a complete reboot of the first one.”
So what are your thoughts on this reboot? “Well, you know, I’m disappointed as I think there’s still a lot of possibilities for a ‘Gremlins 3.’ But if I was a studio executive I’d probably have done the same thing. We’re talking 25 years between sequels and that’s kind of a long time.”
What they tend to do is throw a cameo role to the original actor, so you might just get a phone call soon! “Obviously if I was in charge of it, my fantasy is they have three-quarters of the movie as the new story and then they don’t now how to fix it. And so they go on the internet and read about Kingston Falls and then they call me in to sort of put out the fire!”
Oh now that’s brilliant! “Yeah, maybe the kid goes online and tells his mom that he’s found the answer. Basically, I’m Max von Sydow in ‘The Exorcist.’ I show up outside and the kid goes, ‘Don’t worry mom, I’ve solved the problem for you,’ or something like that. And they open the door and I’m standing there at the door and I’ve got Gizmo with me!”
Again, pure genius, my friend! “Wouldn’t that be kind of fun?”
Twitter … Release the Kraken!
Your Tweets on Twitter seem to be eclectic, to say the least - and seemingly kinda always involve a blue shirt! Can you explain this a little further, please?! “Yeah,” he loudly laughs, “that’s like a long-running joke that you kinda had to be in on the ground floor of. The internet, and Twitter especially is very, very silly so I came up with this mythic idea. I have this one picture of me in this blue shirt and everybody always says it’s the best picture taken of me ever and that I look really nice in blue. So all I did was sort of extrapolate on that and gave my blue shirt these mythic qualities. So now it’s like I’m not really sexy it’s just if anyone were to throw on the blue shirt that the women would all just fall to pieces. That was the joke behind it.”
So you take this shirt everywhere with you, I guess! “Well, that’s why when I was in Louisville last week I was ironing the blue shirt and put the quote ‘Release the Kraken’ under it! Because now it’s like my secret weapon. It’s like here comes the blue shirt,” he laughs.
You don’t usually Tweet photos yourself though. Is there a reason for that, perhaps? “I do post some photos of myself, but I very rarely do ‘selfies’! Because I find that most ‘selfies’ of most people are extremely unflattering, so what’s the point of doing that,” he laughs.
As you do Tweet quite often per day, and even respond to fans’ questions, are there still days where you just won’t go near it? “I mean, well, yeah. Sometimes it does feel a little bit like a job, sure. But doesn’t everything in life you do just feel like a job sometimes? Sometimes I get in the shower and I say to myself am I really taking my 26,000th shower or whatever it is?! It’s like you get to a certain age and you do start to begin to become aware of the unbelievable tedium of existence at times. Brushing your teeth, showering, having to eat three times a day. You’re just like really? But what are you gonna do? Pretty much by this age you kind of have to accept it, don’t you.”
So, what's upcoming for you that we can all look forward to seeing you in soon? “Well, I can’t really say right now just because they’re in a delicate stage of getting financing. But let’s just say it will be a horror film but more along the lines of ‘The Conjuring.’ In other words, it’s much more of a haunted house-type deal.”
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins! Do you also have any love, or thoughts about them, perhaps? “Sure, I mean who doesn’t like Penguins? I’m suspicious of people not liking Penguins! It’s like people not liking pizza or ice cream! Indeed, the Penguin is the opposite of Gizmo: it likes bright light, it likes to get wet, and it loves to eat after midnight!”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Blu ray Purchase Link
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