Q&A: "Hatchet III" Star Zach Galligan Celebrates His Career With Us
June 14th, 2013 3:30pm EDT
For those of us who grew up in the 80’s, the name Zach Galligan is a recognizable one. Having made a big splash in films like "Gremlins" and "Waxwork," Galligan was the quintessential leading man – good looking, charismatic and truly talented. Along the way he also made memorable turns in shows like "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Law & Order Criminal Intent" (going toe-to-toe with Vincent D’Onofrio no less!), but ultimately turned teacher helming acting classes affiliated with Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. His most recent role sees the actor once again taking on the horror genre, this time playing a local small town sheriff faced with the task of hunting and taking down movie monster Victor Crawley in "Hatchet III." (In Select theaters and VOD June 14 from Dark Sky Films) We loved seeing Galligan back on the big screen doing his thing, so we thought we’d celebrate not only with a little "Hatchet III" cool one-on-one Q&A, but also a full career interview that spans the decades and examines his impressive body of work. From "Gremlins" to "Gremlins 2," "Waxwork" to "Tales From The Crypt" we go in depth to get the inside scoop on some of the most prolific projects that made Galligan a star and for fans he’s delightfully candid. (And thanks to him for putting up with our grilling!) Here is cool 80’s man and now "Hatchet III" star...
How did you become involved in "Hatchet III" and had you heard of the other two films?
Zach Galligan: I opened up my email and there was ‘new from Amazon.com’ and ‘new from this and that’ and ‘Hatchet III offer’. I thought I don’t really want a "Hatchet III," I didn’t know what it was or if it was a Blu-ray and I was about to delete it. Then I saw it was from my agent and I clicked on it and it was an offer for a film. You have to understand probably the top fifty actors and actresses in the world get offers all the time – the rest of us have to work to get our roles. And now all of a sudden this was just falling into my lap, so I went okay, what is a "Hatchet III?" What is a "Hatchet" one? What is a "Hatchet?" So I hit IMDB, started doing some research, noticed the script was attached, read the script, saw it was shooting in New Orleans – one of my favorite cities in America other then New York – also a week in LA and you can’t beat that. Plus I saw that Adam Green was attached and that he has the whole career arc going. I told Adam, ‘I will grab onto your coat tales and fly up into the stratosphere’ – I was onboard for sure.
It’s hard to say if your ego driven Sheriff is a good or bad guy – how would you describe the character?
ZG: Is he really ego driven?
At times – how would you describe him?
ZG: I would describe him as a guy who is seven years away from retirement. I’m gonna take it easy, bust some drunks on Marti Gras, break up some domestic violence things – he’s that guy. He’s just counting his days for the pension and then all of a sudden he gets thrown into this really surreal and unbelievable situation. I see it as, other than the first fifteen seconds of the movie, a total nightmare for him. The situations get worse and worse and he’s forced to try and believe things that a normal human being would think impossible. So I don’t know if he’s ego driven, unless you’re talking about the jurisdiction pissing match that goes on between Derek and me. But I don’t see that as ego as much as it is this is his territory and he knows it better – Derek Mears’s character is the ego.
There’s an interesting backstory that’s only touched upon between Sheriff Fowler and former wife Amanda – care to share any ideas that you may have devised before filming?
ZG: I only had ten days to prepare for this role and I’m pretty aware of the persona that I bring to it. I’m a Northern/Eastern accessible guy. So if suddenly I show up and I’m playing some Southern sheriff, there’s no way I can just be me. Talking like me people would say, ‘What is he doing – it doesn’t make any sense.’ So when I came up here, especially when I saw that Caroline Williams was cast and she’s from Huston, the backstory was that she and I had met in Huston, fallen in love, she was a journalist and she was covering one of the cases that I was doing. So we fell in love, I got transferred to New Orleans, she came with me and was unhappy about leaving. She then got into the Victor Crawley stuff and started being fruit-loopy and excessively tabloidy and that put a huge strain on our marriage and we fell apart. But since I figured we would sound like each other and finish each other’s sentences, I basically took my accent from her. And to be quite honest a Cajun accent is incredibly difficult to master in about two weeks. So I’m either going do a bad Cajun accent or a good George W. Bush accent – so I decided to go with the W!
Were you at all apprehensive about jumping back into the horror genre after being so prolific early on?
ZG: I have a complicated relationship with the horror genre. I love it, I loved it as a kid growing up and I watched Chiller Theater in New York. So I loved it, but then you do feel if you do it too much you’re stuck there. But I felt I’d done enough things in the last couple of years – I’d done this cute little indie mumblecore movie called "Let Them Chirp Awhile" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and had some nice scenes with Vincent D’Onofrio – where I was showing that I wasn’t just getting killed by mummies. So I spoke to a good friend of mine who said, ‘You should definitely do it. Get out there and get in front of the camera - you’re never gonna get on Starpulse sitting on the couch!’
Past Work – "Surviving" had a very notable cast, but there were two names in the cast that I wanted to ask you about specifically. Both young Heather O’Rourke and River Phoenix – what do you remember about each working on that film?
ZG: It’s a very sad situation because they played my brother and my sister. So that was the three siblings – I was the oldest, River was the middle and Heather was the youngest. And within ten years of shooting that movie they were both gone. Those things happen, but I remember both of them incredibly well. She was naturally beautiful as a child and she was cute on camera. She was like an angelic, cute as a button; sweet girl and she didn’t have any kind of spoiled bratty stagy quality about her at all. She was just a little angel, which makes it all the more heartbreaking. And River was the breakout star of that movie. You know when Ellen Burstyn comes over to you and says ‘That kid’s really something special’ you better take notice of that. She’s an incredible actress – she’s about as good as it gets if you look at her best work. But what I remember was I was pretty good friends with him from then until he passed away. When he was fifteen he was wide-eyed and excited and the whole thing was a burgeoning explosion of possibilities for him. I always liked to try and do things with other actors that are going to help the characters the way they work in the picture, so to foster a sense of brotherhood since he was my younger brother I would give him piggyback rides back to his trailer after shooting a scene. I would go ‘come on’ and he would jump on my back and I would carry him to the trailer. Very, very bittersweet memories. Sweet kid, super talented. He’d really probably be like Brad Pitt now had he survived – I don’t think he was going anywhere. But a very interesting family though - very different people with unique perspectives. He’d grown up and lived in a commune in Belize or Columbia or something for years. Very unconventional childhood and it showed because he was an unusually mature young kid. Great kid and a good friend – I miss him.
I read that you auditioned for a role in "Taps" – any truth to that rumor?
ZG: Yeah – that was the first thing I ever tried out for. I was sixteen and I’d done some school plays and Shirley Rich who was the casting director spoke to my drama coach. So I got a call asking if there was any way I could come and audition. And I was like, ‘Audition for what – like a play?’ And they were like, ‘No it’s a feature film for Paramount.’ So I got on a bus two hours into the city and read for the role that Sean Penn got. So I don’t really feel that bad about losing out in retrospect to Sean Penn – I’m kind of okay with that. But you look at that movie its Timmy Hutton, Sean Penn and Tom Cruise. I saw Tom Cruise at every audition I went up for and he was a friendly go-getter back then. You gotta remember in New York I would go up for something, I would sit and in the room would be Matthew Modine, Matthew Broderick, Andrew McCarthy, Tom Cruise and Kevin Bacon. Kevin Bacon and I went up for the same stuff and people would say, ‘You and Kevin have the same quality.’ I was like, ‘I do?’ I remember seeing Footloose and thinking how do I have any kind of quality that that guy does?
"Gremlins" – first off how did you get the coveted lead role of Billy Peltzer?
ZG: I wish there was something interesting I could tell you about that, but I met Susan Arnold the casting director and she said, ‘Can you come back tomorrow?’ ‘Sure.’ Came back and Michael Finnell the producer was there. Joe Dante was very sick from flying and he hates flying – he’s very Kubrickian that way. So I read for Mike and he’s like, ‘That’s great - any way you can come back and maybe read with some girls?’ ‘Hell yeah!’ So I’d actually scheduled a trip to Fort Lauderdale for Spring break – remember (smiles) I’m nineteen years old, the goofy kid. ‘What time is your flight?’ ‘Noon.’ ‘Could you come in at ten and read with Phoebe Cates?’ I’d read with her a couple of times for other things and I was like, ‘Oh yeah! I can come in. I can come in at 5AM and read with Phoebe Cates!’
So the interesting thing about that was they had us stand shoulder to shoulder against this backdrop to do the scene instead of profile. It was the scene where I had to ask her for a date and so Joe was there and I did everything the same way. Same choices – I was taught don’t change anything from callback to audition. That’s why they liked you, so don’t alter it. So I did it and then apparently at the end, I don’t really remember doing this, I looked into the camera and didn’t have anything to say so I put my head on her shoulder. Like gorgeous beautiful girl, I’m in love, joking around. And apparently Spielberg who had casting approval was watching the tape and he went, ‘Oh my God – look at that. He’s already in love with her. I don’t need to see anybody else. Turn it off - relationship is already there. I don’t need to see the rest of the people.’ So whoever was after me, they just turned the tape off and that’s how I got the part. It’s weird how one little gesture can change your life forever.
The film was directed by Joe Dante but of course was touted as Steven Spielberg presents – how involved was Steven during the filming and production?
ZG: He really didn’t have a lot to do with it during the actual filming because he was busy doing "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" in Sri Lanka. But at the front end of the picture he discovered the script from Chris Columbus, worked on multiple drafts with Chris and had casting approval. But he did not have final cut – Joe Dante had final cut. That’s why Phoebe’s monologue about going down the chimney with her Dad is still in the movie. He was like, ‘You can’t do that!’ And Joe was like, ‘Yes I can!’ It’s just so not Spielberg’s kind of sunny disposition. So he was gone for most of it and then he came back for about the last two weeks. Then he was on the set all the time and that was really interesting – to see how the dynamic changed on the set when he was around. You would hear he was coming before he arrived. It was like the general coming to the barracks for inspection. You have to remember he had done "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and "E.T.," he was thirty-six years old and he was the king of Hollywood. So he would show up and people would get nervous and freak out and walk away because they didn’t want to be in front of him and screw up. Some people would bail – they couldn’t handle the pressure.
So by contrast was your relationship with Joe more down to earth?
ZG: Joe was super cool – he knows what he’s good at. He knows his strengths and he knows his weaknesses. His strengths are composition, editing, shot selection, ect. And maybe it’s a strength now, but at the time he didn’t really feel he knew all that much about acting. And so he was like, ‘You and Phoebe are going to do your performances. If it feels like it’s too big, I’ll tell you. If it feels like it’s too small and it’s not registering – (smiles) which is rarely a problem for me – I’ll tell you that too.’ So basically what happens is we found out I had one tick where if I got really scared or excited about something, which happens a lot in "Gremlins," my mouth would open. So I was like, ‘How’s that?’ And he’d go (shows two fingers apart being closed together) like that – his symbol for close your mouth. But he was great and he let us do our thing.
You got to pair with a young Phoebe Cates – as the lust of every young man of that decade. So what was it like to work and be romantic with her?
ZG: What’s so interesting about our relationship was you would think at nineteen I would have been like ‘Oh my God. I love her – I have to date her!’ But she was and is so nice and so smart and so kind, that I developed a massive crush on her. But rather than wanting to make out with her what I really wanted to do was sit on the couch and hold her hand and have her look at me and tell me I was amazing. (Smiles) That’s what I really wanted! I really wanted her to like me and I think probably Spielberg saw that.
The actual Gremlins and Gizmo – how much of that stuff was on the set vs. things that were shot later?
ZG: It was all there. You have to remember they shot for seven months. So four months was us with the gremlins and the gizmos and all the humans and animatronics and then there was three months of just animatronics. So I remember finishing and going to New York and then I went back for ADR and they were still on the set working on the same movie. And Joe and Mike were burnt to a crisp – they had the thousand mile stare going on. I walked in and I was like, ‘Hey! How is everybody?’ And they were like, ‘Shut up.’ They couldn’t wait to be done – long hours and some of the stuff kept breaking because it was new technology.
When you finally saw the film was that the first time you got to hear the Howie Mandel voice of Gizmo?
ZG: Yup. They didn’t know how he was going to sound and all I heard while shooting were clicks and whirls – when he would move it made sounds. So they got rid of those and put in Howie Mandel and Michael Winslow and Frank Welker and all of those incredible voice actors that do miraculous stuff with their voices – so talented those guys. But let me tell you about the first time I saw the film. Joe and Mike had a special screening for just me and Phoebe at Warner Bros. and they were like, ‘Before you go to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and see the premiere the next night we want you to be aware of what you’re going to see.’ So this was interesting. First of all, Joe and Mike I felt were so nervous about our reaction. So Phoebe and I both watched it and when the credits rolled they were like, ‘What did you think?’ Phoebe and I were like, ‘Can we have a minute?’ ‘Sure.’ So we stepped outside and I said to Phoebe, ‘What the hell was that?’ And she goes, ‘I don’t know – it’s like a giant cartoon!’ I thought I was doing an action movie. It was so strange with the Frank Sinatra gremlin and he’s playing a saxophone and the whole bar sequence – was I in a Warner Bros. cartoon? None of that was in the script. It would say gremlins parade around the bar causing chaos, destruction and general mayhem and that was a license for Joe Dante to use his imagination. And so I was like, ‘Is it any good?’ And she was like, ‘I don’t know.’ It was so different from what I saw in my mind. Then the next night we went and we saw it at Grauman’s Chinese theater to a sold out capacity and the response was off the charts – it was insane. And I turned to Phoebe and I went, ‘I get it now.’
At what point did you realize that the film was going to change your life?
ZG: I realized that from getting cast in it. Spielberg’s track record was so good and the script was so solid. Just Steven Spielberg Presents coming on the heels of "E.T." – even if it did a quarter of what "E.T." did. "E.T." did something like a billion dollars or something grotesque like that. And it ended up doing I think four hundred million dollars worldwide in 1984 and that’s 1984 dollars. And "Ghostbusters" helped too – it opened the same day.
You went on to make "Waxwork" – what was it about that film that made you choose it as a follow up?
ZG: I didn’t – I didn’t want to do it. I read the script and I thought it had an interesting idea, but it had terrible dialogue because it sounded like a British guy writing American dialogue for Americans. So I met the director Tony Hickox, we had lunch down at Hugo’s and Tony Hickox could sell ice cubes to eskimos on a daily basis. He was like, (in a British accent) ‘You’ve got to realize that this is gonna happen and that’s gonna happen and I’m gonna throw this out and you guys are gonna write the dialogue and look at the girl that I cast for this.’ So by the time I was finished with that lunch I was like, ‘I’m doing it – I am doing this movie!’ He had sketches and he had art designs. It was like he knew this was his one shot and the threw the kitchen sink at me. He was so engaging and became and still is one of my best friends.
Is that why you ended up working on number of horror films with him?
ZG: Well, I did the two "Waxwork" movies with him and then Tony’s a hilarious guy. If you don’t know him he’s a madman and if he reads this he will just laugh when I say that because he knows he’s crazy. So I show up on the set of "Warlock: The Armageddon" to visit and have lunch. I show up and he goes, ‘Come here.’ And he points to something and he goes, ‘That’s your wardrobe.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘The scene you’re going to do today!’ ‘I’m not doing a scene – I’m here to have lunch.’ He’s like, ‘You’re doing a scene. It’s with Julian Sands, come on!’ ‘Alright fine, I’ll do it.’ So I had no idea, but he knew my sizes from the other two movies, so it was like stunt casting. And in "Hellraiser III" I get impaled with a pool cue. It was the same thing – ‘I’m coming for lunch, but I’m not doing a part!’ ‘That’s fine you don’t have to do a part - you can do a bit part!’ He’s crazy.
When they came to you with "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" were you at all apprehensive?
ZG: I was surprised it took so long. I was like six years – what’s the matter with you people? Jump on that! I mean they made the three Hangover movies in like three or four years. My feeling was it’s about time. But apparently what happened was it was all about the script. I would hear in 1987 ‘we have a script, it’s great, it’s "Gremlins" in Vegas.’ Then they got rid of it and it was "Gremlins" in London. Then it’s "Gremlins" in New York and I live in New York - probably not as exciting to me as Vegas or London. ‘Don’t worry about it. We’re shooting all of it in LA except the first three days, which we’ll be shooting in New York.’ I thought the script was funny and I like the movie very much. I think it maybe has one flaw in it – I think that there are too many sections where it’s nothing but puppets instead of humans and puppets intertwined. I think the first one really benefits from the puppet/human interaction. But most of it is hilarious.
Was there different things going on behind the scenes and did you feel it was creatively as open as the first one was?
ZG: It felt creatively similar, but it was a very dissimilar experience for me because of the shooting schedule. When I did "Gremlins" I worked everyday, whereas with the second one I had a break of about six or seven weeks in the middle of the shooting. That’s a long time to leave the set – it’s very strange. And then Phoebe got injured about ten days away from finishing. She did that scene where she floats up in the elevator and she banged her knee and she actually fractured her kneecap socket. And so that shut things down for two or three weeks. So it wasn’t as fun for me to film because it wasn’t as intense – it was like a start, stop, start, stop, start. I like to work all the time and really immerse myself in the project. Which is why "Hatchet III" was so cool because it was very intense long hours – or maybe they just seemed long because they were in the swamp!
In the "Tales From the Crypt" Episode 'Strung Along' you had make-up effects master Kevin Yagher directing – what was that experience like?
ZG: Kevin was great. Kevin was awesome – he’s an awesome director. He had a very good sense with actors. I hadn’t seen that episode in at least fifteen years and I just watched it about six weeks ago as luck would have it. And I thought it held up really well and it was a great experience. Donald O’Conner, a Hollywood legend, I got to act with him. Patricia Charbonneau’s a fantastic actress and probably my best on-screen kiss was with her.
You of course went on to not only write screenplays yourself, but became a teacher of acting as well – what was the genesis of that?
ZG: That was interesting. Gail Levin, a casting director over at Disney, called me up and said we’re doing this movie called "Jerry Maguire" and Tom Cruise is out of town and unavailable. And we have a couple of actors that we’re interested for this film and we were wondering if you could come in and read with them? And I said, ‘Sure – who are they?’ She said, ‘Well, one’s an unknown kid who’s up and coming. His name is Owen Wilson and he’s reading for the Bob Sugar role. And then we have Kelly Preston who’s reading for the role of Tom Cruise’s fiancée. It’s only going to take an hour – it would be you, Cameron Crowe, James L. Brooks and the actors.’ And I was like ‘I’m so there.’ But before I got there I got a call from Kelly Preston’s people saying, ‘We understand you’re going to be reading with Kelly and she’d like to run lines with you so that you guys feel like you’re on the same page.’ So I went over to Mr. and Mrs. Travolta’s house – he was away shooting something because it was 1995 and he had just exploded with "Pulp Fiction" the year before – and she and I read some stuff and she asked me what I thought. And I gave her some ideas and she took some of the ideas and we went in and read the next day and she ended up getting the part. The next day I woke up and she’d sent me flowers – she’s one of the nicest human beings on the planet – with a note saying something sweet like ‘thanks so much couldn’t have done it without you,’ a nice thing like that. So I sent a stuffed Gizmo to their son as a right back at you. And then I saw the movie and lets just say I saw some suggestions that I had thrown in the movie. So I thought maybe I’ve got a possibility of doing this a little bit. I’m not trying to take credit for her performance mind you or say that I created her performance which is not the case – it’s ninety-nine percent her. But there are a couple of little things where I was like she decided to go with that, good for her. I put my little two cents in there and maybe helped in a small way, so I wanted to try it with other people. So I started privately coaching people in LA and people started booking stuff. So then when I moved to New York I started teaching by running a private class out of my apartment. Paying taxes! (Laughs) And I did a film that I didn’t realize at the time was directed by the woman who’s now my boss. And she was like, ‘I run a film acting conservatory affiliated with NYU Tisch School of the Arts – would you have any interested in teaching during the summer for the entire semester because one of the teacher’s just fell out?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I had six weeks to prove myself and I did a massive amount of preparation, went in and I’ve been teaching ever since.
Finally I notice you have a very cool Twitter account. (Fans can go to: https://twitter.com/zwgman) What’s your take on the internet revolution - especially with the mysterious poster and secrecy behind Gizmo and the gremlins back in 1984 – and do you think it has taken away the movie surprises of today?
ZG: Definitely. That’s kind of like saying do you think there’s less privacy now. I think the evidence is indisputable. I know that there was a "Hatchet III" screening in Cannes for a buyers convention and a Hatchet fan snuck in, got all the details and leaked all of them on the Internet purely to spoil it. But I went to "The Empire Strikes Back" when it opened, first show, 86th Street and 3rd in Manhattan. It was a 10am show and Darth Vader was Luke’s father – oh my god! And I walked out of the theater in the bright sunlight and there’s a line stretching down the block and it’s so awesome. Suddenly, this huge burly guy bumps into me, walks up to the line and goes, ‘Darth Vader is Luke’s father!’ And the entire line sags – what a jerk. Why would you do that? What kind of person wants to do that? The humanity – it’s like the Hindenburg all over again! I told that story to Adam Green and he turned green - he got queasy. So the spoiler nature has been around forever and that’s how it works now – it is what it is.
"HATCHET III" OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS AND VOD ON JUNE 14 FROM DARK SKY FILMS.
Photo Credits: Photos Courtesy of Dark Sky Films