That’s right you bunch of long-pig lovin’ BBQ rib-suckin’ sons of the Lone Star State!!!
Gunnar ‘Leatherface’ Hansen talking to yours truly about TCM, his favorite films, the new state of horror films and, of course, GIMME SKELTER!
I recently had the opportunity to ‘grill’ the man behind the greatest Texas roadside BBQ pork in film history – and sink my pointy, sauce encrusted fork tines into his recollections on his most recent project.
Yep, I’m talkin’ Gunnar Hansen, the man behind the macabre mask of ‘Leatherface’ in the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and star of such genre faves as HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, CAMPFIRE TALES and the recent underground hit CHAINSAW SALLY.
I spoke to this legend of the horror genre about his performance in Scott Phillip’s GIMME SKELTER; a film that Hansen himself is so pleased with that he entered it in the Fright Night Film Fest in Louisville, KY, where it won the Best Soundtrack Award. Here’s what The Man has to say about SKELTER, TCM and being revered for wearing a mask made of human skin!
Axel – How did you first become involved with GIMME SKELTER?
Gunnar Hansen – I saw Scott’s earlier movie, STINK OF FLESH, which my niece, Kristin, was also in, and I was really impressed. So I was very interested in being in his next movie. We arranged it without her knowing, so that my role as her “father” would be a surprise to her.
A – Well, that clears up a point of contention I recently uncovered. The IMDB has you alternately listed as both father and uncle of Kristin Hansen.
GH – Kristin is my niece, though I often spell niece wrong.
A – How would you describe your experience being directed by Scott Phillips?
GH – It was fine. He was willing to listen to other people’s ideas, including the goofy little exchange we have surrounding Porter’s mispronouncing ‘chubacabra’, which Kristin and I worked out while we were rehearsing.
A – Despite being best known for your portrayal of the iconic ‘Leatherface’ in the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, you have appeared in over 25 films, written several screenplays and directed documentaries. Do you prefer acting, writing or directing?
GH – Well, I’ve always preferred writing. In fact, for years I turned down movie roles because I just wanted to stay home and write. It was funny — I thought of acting as a distraction taking me away from writing. It was only
when I agreed to be in Fred Ray’s HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS that I realized I could do both.
A – After being so closely identified with one character for 30 years, is it difficult for people in the industry to see you outside of that typecasting?
GH – Well, I think people think of me first as Leatherface. But that’s fine withme. I understand that the reason producers and directors are interested in casting me in their movies is because of that role. Still, it hasn’t kept them from casting me in non-killer roles. In SKELTER, of course, I’m a
victim. And in BRUTAL MASSACRE, a comedy which I worked on last winter, I played a comic character, a burned-out Vietnam vet.
A – How did the character of “Porter Sandford” differ from some of your previous roles?
GH – Well, the biggest difference is that he’s a sympathetic character. As I said, I have played non-killers in some movies, but generally these
non-killers have been comic characters or at least unlikable. Porter, on the
other hand, is a real person dealing with his real concern about his daughter’s moving away.
A – Did the familial link with Kristin aid in adding emotion to your scenes as father and daughter in the film?
GH – No. I’m not big on this idea that reality makes for realistic performances. The connection did help, though, in that I stayed at her house while we were filming, and that gave us extra time to rehearse and get the characters where we wanted them.
A – The relationship between Porter Sandford and his daughter is really at the emotional core of the film and provides the sympathetic element needed to humanize the town. How much of that relationship came from script and how much of it was generated by Kristin and yourself?
GH – I think it really was in the script. It was helpful, as I said, to be able to spend time rehearsing with her. We were able to talk though the characters and determine what we wanted their relationship to be — and to
make some decisions about what had happened to Porter’s non-present wife. That helped us determine how we were going to play our references to her.
A – How did you enjoy working with the other recognizable names in SKELTER -Trent Haaga, Elske McCain and Kenneth J. Hall?
GH – I enjoyed working with Elske — she was very funny. I didn’t really work with Trent or Ken, though. I met Ken many years ago, in LA, so it was a real pleasure to see him again at the premiere and do some catching up.
A – You have many of my favorite line deliveries in the film. Is it true that you completely improvised the ‘Fu Shits’ story? How free were you to experiment with the material and ad-lib dialogue?
GH – Well, it was an almost complete improvisation. In the script, Porter is supposed to tell a short story about the doctor’s cat, so when I was working on my lines I wondered if I could create a kind of riff instead of telling the scripted story verbatim. So I made up almost all of it and worked on it long enough that, though I was just talking off the top of my head during the filming, the different takes would (I hoped) be consistent enough that they would cut together. This was another example of the kind of room Scott gave me. Off-set I asked him if I could riff on the story and tell something quite a bit longer. He was willing to let me try, though for it to work he realized that much of the story would have to be told off-camera, voiced over some of the other action. Happily it worked. But ad-libbing is not always a good idea. You have to ask the director’s permission ahead of time so he has a chance to think about it and make a decision.
A – Who are some of the best filmmakers you’ve worked with and why?
GH – I’d be afraid to answer that one.
A – What are your thoughts, as someone intrinsically associated with the ‘ultraviolent’ horror of the 70’s (as it was labeled at the time), on the current crop of much more excessively violent and gory films being released in the mainstream?
GH – Well, I don’t think I’m associated with “ultraviolent” horror. CHAINSAW was brutal in what it did to the audience psychologically. Ideally the moviegoer would leave the theatre unnerved and fearful. But there is less blood and explicit violence in CHAINSAW than in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. As for the current crop up extremely violent, graphic movies, I’m not a fan. I think that, as horror, they’re missing the point. The primary job of horror is to unnerve and truly disturb the moviegoer. The “boo!” factor is secondary. And shock and disgust are a distant third and fourth.
A – Who/what are some of your personal favorite directors/films?
GH – Well some of my favorite movies are CHINATOWN, BLADE RUNNER, THE SEVENTH SEAL, RAN and THE HAUNTING (1963). Among the more recent, I would include LIVES OF OTHERS, HERO and RAISE THE RED LANTERN. I’m sure that as soon as I leave here, I will think of ten others that should be on that list, and reasons why some of these should not. There’s only one horror movie on my list, THE HAUNTING. In it the audience never sees anything — it’s all implied, and the movie is terrifying.
A – OK, now we get to our version of the Inside the Actor’s Studio ridiculousness. What is your stimulant (or sedative) of choice? (I prefer a hardcore espresso-based beverage.)
GH – Well, to be as specific as possible, these days my stimulant of choice is strong coffee from east Africa. Sedative is a good cigar. Or at times a glass of whiskey from Scotland, preferably from one of the islands, served neat.
A – I can definitely appreciate those answers, being a Kona addict and having a taste for the Macanudos and Balvenie Doublewood Scotch. Finally, what are your Top 5 ‘Desert Island DVD’s’ (Discs you couldn’t live without) and why?
GH – In truth I could live without just about any movie.
Thanks also to Scott Phillips who put me in contact with Mr. Hansen and supplied the set pics.