Horror Month: Interview with Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes/Devils Rejects)

IMG_0733Horror Month – June 2015

We spoke with legendary actor Michael Berryman known for his many unique roles in films such as The Hills Have Eyes (1977), The Devil’s Reject’s, Lords of Salem, Weird Science & One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest as well as appearing in TV shows such as The X Files,

 

 

“….One day a gentleman walked in and asked me “Are you an actor?”  I found that pretty funny.”


What inspired you to become an actor?

Inspiration comes in many forms. For me, the thought that I could support my family in the Film Industry, never found a place in my mind. I was inspired to become a veterinarian. I loved Nature and the outdoors, camping, surfing and conservation. My years at the University of California were filled with vet science, art history, and public speaking classes. But I soon learned that my fingers were not any good with the skills I needed to perform as a vet.

I ran out of funds for a degree in business management and returned to Los Angeles. A while later I was a part owner of a small art/plant/shop in Venice Beach, Ca. One day a gentleman walked in and asked me “Are you an actor?”  I found that pretty funny. But he was intent on having me play the Coroner in his film, ‘Doc Savage’.

Inspiration came to me when George said he would pay my SAG dues and give me a Taft-Hartley contract. All he asked in return was that I always let people know that I was ‘discovered’ by George Pal. His vibe was classy and old-school Hollywood. I remember getting a wardrobe fitting at Warner Brothers Studios. The building was old, wooden, and the racks of outfits went on forever. I was transformed when I was fitted in the tux for the role. The team effort that is needed to film a movie and tell a good story was something I was very keen on. So, ‘Thank you George!’

You portrayed Pluto in the horror classic The Hills Have Eyes and its sequel – how was it working on these films?

My second film was ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’. 127 days of fun! I had a lot to learn and we had the best crew in the biz. I was in Art Heaven! Not long after, I was in the desert with a bare-bones crew and company, helmed by Wes Craven. We had no permits, only a small Winnebago for make-up, wardrobe, green room, dressing room and we were in the desert with snakes and scorpions and Hollywood actors that were in TV shows. I was in the ‘Hills’ family of film actors and we started to tease and harass the ‘white-bread-family’ from day one!

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 This tension played out well, especially at the ending when the Carter family survivors, became brutal and vengeful. We had it coming.

I found Wes to be intelligent and he had a youthful humour about what we were attempting to create. ‘Hill’s is a cautionary tale. By this I mean, that when circumstances create no other option; a peaceful, city family on vacation will do what is needed to survive. The film has very little gore, and very limited graphic footage. However, the tension, builds and the threat level never stops. The effect on audiences is quite profound. No one that I have spoken with, after seeing the movie, is un-affected. The ending is raw and powerful, and leaves the viewer with many questions and sleepless nights!

Have you seen the remakes – and if so what did you think of them?

I have seen the first re-make. There are moments that hit the mark, and I know that the director had his own interpretation, however, I feel that today’s audiences want more gore and effects and less character development. I am a Art and Film/Storyteller. There needs to be an arc in the roles that I play. The actor must create something aside from action alone, meaning that I need to become this character. I need to let the audience understand the mind of the role and I have the responsibility to be honest within the values (as questionable as they may appear) of the character. The most effective scenes in the re-make were in the very beginning.

As the film progresses, I feel the action/gore took center-stage. I am not a fan of re-makes. But talk to me after I see the ‘Blade runner’ re-make. I pray it’s worthy.

How did you find working with director John Hughes on Weird Science?

John Hughes was the most honest filmmaker in regards to youth and awkwardness of that era. I truly love to see this movie whenever it airs. The cast was truly perfect. We were given freedom from the Director, to create and embrace the scenes with (in-the-moment), suggestions. Often it is (stick to the script) rigid on set. But John understood how to keep a scene fresh and very funny and spontaneous.

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Here is an example: At the end, of the fight scene, we exit and John asked me what my character did for a real job. A teacher fit perfectly! A chance to get back at the brats but also teach them courage and self-worth. As I exited, I faced camera and added ‘God Bless’ because I wanted to give a nod to Red Skelton he always said those words at the end of his tv show. I knew Red, and he had lots of class!

John agreed that we should go in that direction. It is a sweet moment. 

What was it like working with Rob Zombie on The devils rejects & The lords of Salem? 

….’Rejects‘ was a chance to work with many of my friends. It is a treat when a cast has personal history. It is a chemistry that evolves over time. Clevon was a fun role. The whole chicken scene was the result of an actor (the hillbilly) running away with a few ad-lib lines. I was ready to say my lines but the actor kept building the how to fuck a chicken dialogue and Ken and I had to wait for a chance to speak. By the time we could I was pretty peeved and so I let it ride and Clevon went into danger/anger mode. It is humour veiled with danger. It worked! Bob is very involved in all aspects of his films. He takes it all on-the-chin. I mean that he sticks to his vision and fights to have artistic control. 

You have portrayed many roles over the years which has been your personal favourite? 

Of all the roles I have portrayed, two stand out. The Skull Cowboy was one, but it died with Brandon. The scripted role was amazing. The X-Files is my favorite. Owen Jarvis, the guardian angel. Season 3 episode: ‘Revelations’. Getting the part meant I had to audition. Me and 99 other actors. When I got the script, I was jazzed. I told Chris Carter that the actors in the lobby were good but I was the guy he needed. I read and the people at the table just smiled and they asked me not to let anyone know, but the part was mine. I was not easy to exit the room without a cartwheel. A guest starring role on a top rated show! Pretty cool. What I loved about Owen, was his commitment to protect the boy. The scene with Scully and Mulder was awesome. David and Gillian were gracious and in the moment with me. The scene plays so well! Thank you Chris and (George Pal) for the chance to be a storyteller!

Are you a fan of horror movies yourself?

I grew up watching all of the Hammer Films and Universal classics. The realms of the mind that are presented in stories in this genre are seeped in human conditions. The protagonist and hero are often woven together. The grey areas of the human condition are of interest to me. The danger factor is important. We can learn about ourselves in horror films. A splatter/gore film is weaker in the sense that the humanity is lost and the effect is more unsatisfying because (chase-kill-chase-kill) is more like a video game than a story.

I like good writing!

What is your favourite movie of all time? 

My all time favorite Horror film: The Wolfman

     Favorite Sci-Fi film: Blade Runner

     Favorite Cult film: Evil Dead

     Favorite Drama film: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Be looking for ‘The Shed Of The Dead‘ 


See Also
Interview with Robert Mukes (House of 1000 Corpses)


 

Get involved with Horror Month!

Take part in our Survey for a chance to win some horror goodies and tickets to HorrorCon UK 2015! Contest details here.

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