Thursday, October 5, 2017

Interview -- Brandon Crane (Actor: "It" - "The Wonder Years")


"We were all freaking out wondering if we were going to be deported."
~ Brandon Crane ~

Child actors come and child actors go.
Some we remember, others...not so much.
Still, there are a special few...you just can't forget.

As a successful child actor, Brandon Crane appeared in a variety of tv sitcoms from "Full House" to "Step By Step."  But it was his recurring role as Kevin and Paul's chubby goof...Doug Porter in the coming-of-age tv series "The Wonder Years" that garnered him the most attention.

However, like many other tv viewers,  I first became a fan of Brandon when he landed the role of Ben Hanscom in the original adaptation of Stephen King's..."It.”
Here, he finally got the chance to hold court in a non-comedic role.  Brandon's underrated performance was filled with subtle nuances in both speech and facial expression that appear very much in the moment and wonderfully unforced.  Go back and watch it again.  Roger Ebert once said that some of the best actors are often the last ones to know.  Whaddyagonnado?


BRANDON CRANE INTERVIEW  --  OCT. 2017
Brandon Crane

Casey Chambers:  I understand acting runs a little bit in your family.  How did that bug finally get to you?

Brandon Crane:  My grandfather, Fred Crane, came out from Louisiana to be an actor.  He went with one of his cousins to audition for "Gone With The Wind" (1939) and when the producer, David O. Selznick, heard him speak in his authentic Southern accent, he was asked to read and was almost immediately cast as one of the twins (Stuart Tarleton - Scarlett's beau) in "Gone With The Wind."  So, that was his start.  His aunt was a silent film actress.

On my grandmother's side, her father was a silent movie actor who later became a makeup artist after the advent of talkies.  I was about four years old when my grandfather was having a party.  And there was a lady there who saw me do some impressions and thought I'd do pretty good in the business.  So, they put me right to work.

Casey Chambers:  Cool.  Doing impressions at the age of four! Who were you taking off on?

Brandon Crane:  Oh, I was doing singing impressions of people like Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond.  And some Jerry Lewis, too. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Excellent.  Okay, so fast forward to 1990.  You gave a spot-on performance in the original adaptation of Stephen King's..."It."  Certainly, my favorite.  What was the auditioning process for the movie like?

Brandon Crane:  It was pretty intense actually.  Auditions...they always come and go.  And there was a lot of gap between the auditions and the callbacks.  Just enough of a gap for me to feel like I didn't get the part.  And I think on the third callback...it ended up being on a Saturday...there were a bunch of kids there so we could pair up and they could see what the chemistry would be with different kids. When you've got an ensemble, the chemistry is super important because they have to be able to relate to each other.

And I looked around the room and noticed...there weren't any other..."Bens."  There weren't any other fat kids just like me. (laughs)  I asked one of the...I think it was the camera operator casting assistant...'Where are the other Bens?'  And he said, 'I think there's a kid in Houston and I think there's a kid in Vancouver, but we think it's probably going to be you.'  And that's so unorthodox.  They usually keep it close to the hip and won't divulge that sort of information.  They make you stew in it for awhile. (laughs)  But then so much time passed after that...before I got the call...I just figured maybe the kid in Houston or Vancouver really did get it.  I didn't think it was me.  And it was a pretty long process.

Trailer  -  "IT" (1990)


Casey Chambers:  Were you at all familiar with the Stephen King novel when you got the part?

Brandon Crane:  I had read..."It"...courtesy of my neighbor.  He was a couple of years older than I was and kinda my key to pop culture.  So I had read the book about six months before I got the call that they were having auditions.  I was like...'Wow!  How timely.'  And I think that's what helped me get the role.  Having something to draw on.  I was familiar enough with the character that I could bring some education to the role.

Casey Chambers:  Now you had already been appearing in various TV sitcoms, so it must have felt pretty good getting the chance to shine in a totally different genre.

Brandon Crane:  It was, yeah!  It was great to not be doing...baseline humor.  It was great to not be the comedy relief.  I mean, there are some moments where that kind of thing is appreciated.  Especially in "It."  I mean, there are a few moments where levity is necessary, surely.  But I was feeling a little out of sorts...because this was the first time that I wasn't asked to be the butt of a joke or have something...ya know...food related. (laughs)  In fact, there's one scene in "It" where I'm in the barrens and I pull out some candy from my pocket.  And when we were rehearsing the scene, I asked the director, Tommy Lee Wallace, if this was even necessary.  He assured me that it was and it made sense...so I went with it. But I was so eager to detach myself from being the butt of a joke.

Casey Chambers:  John Ritter, who did mostly TV comedy as well, played your older self in the film. Did you have the opportunity to meet and discuss the character with him?

"Ben Hanscom in Derry" - "IT" (1990)


Brandon Crane:  I did.  I did.  And that was a great acting lesson, too.  I mean, he was a real professional and very good at what he did.  He was a very committed actor.  He wasn't all about the "Three's Company" pratfalls and all that, although that takes a certain skill as well.

I remember being fitted for clothes when they were shooting that scene where the adults are out front of Beverly's house...when Beverly returns home to see what's going on.  And the director, Tommy Lee Wallace, introduced me to John Ritter and said, 'Hey, why don't you two guys get together and see if there's something you can come up with to bring you together.  Find some mannerisms.'  And we ended up deciding on the fingernail biting as one thing we'd do.  And some speech patterns, too.  That was really important because...John Ritter and I...compared to all the other pairs...we looked the least alike. (laughs)  Everybody else looked like they could be taken right out of their school pictures as kids.  So, we really had to find something that brought us together and I think we did.  It was a great experience.

There were times when we were doing two different units...where they're shooting something and we're shooting something...and we're sort of inhabiting the same area.  And he'd make a point to come by and say hi and see what we were doing.  'What are you doing with your GameBoy?  What is this?  What is Tetris?  Interesting.  Can I play?' (laughs)  I mean, he was really cool and I admired him.  He was in a play in North Hollywood a couple of years before he passed and it was really nice to reconnect with him again backstage so many years later.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, I always liked him, too.  And I was shocked when he passed away so young.

Brandon Crane:  Yeah, I was too.  And I think it was not long after Jonathan Brandis had passed away as well.  I remember being at work and someone around me was making some crude joke.  The person didn't know that I was in a movie with him.  Didn't know I knew John Ritter.  And I was absolutely crushed that day when I learned John had died.  I mean, it just kicked the wind out of my sails.  'Cause he was so talented and so nice.  Just a great human being.


Casey Chambers:  You've had the opportunity to work with a lot of directors.  How did Tommy Lee Wallace take to directing you guys?

Brandon Crane:  Well, I think he had a real understanding of what kids were like...especially for the era that we were depicting.  He had a real vision for us.  I mean, to the point where the haircut that I had was a recreation of a haircut that he had when he was a kid.  So, I think he remembered and was fond of his own childhood in that respect.  He was certainly relatable to us, but I think he tried to put his own spin on childhood.  I'm trying to find the best words to come up with here.  But, I think he did understand kids.

I worked with a guy on an episode of "The Wonder Years" who didn't like kids.  I mean it was clear that this guy did not like kids.  He would compare working with us to a recent session with “professionals” like Albert Finney, implying that we weren’t “professional.”  When it was time to sign out for the day, we all signed out “Albert Finney” in protest.  We were just kids and he was working us like crazy.  But Tommy Lee Wallace was very friendly with us and very patient with us as well.  I don't think I remember a more patient director.  Especially with kids of our age.

Casey Chambers:  The old Albert Finney burn.  I'm gonna file that away for a future burn myself! (laughs)  Did the cast have fun hanging out together?

Richie (Seth Green), Ben (Brandon Crane), Eddie (Adam Faraizl), Bev (Emily Perkins), Stan (Ben Heller), Bill (Jonathan Brandis)

Brandon Crane:  We did.  Yeah, we did.  We all went to a screening of "Dick Tracy." (1990)  That movie had just come out with Warren Beatty and Madonna.  Jonathan Brandis and I would go across the street from the hotel to a pizza shop with a little arcade.  We spent time there.  We'd come up with Mom jokes.  I certainly remember that.  It was a great experience.  We were bonding.  Everybody was great.  They kept us apart from Jarred Blancard (Henry Bowers) and the other bullies to maintain a kind of distance which was good.  But we had lots of adventures.

I remember being with Seth Green and a couple of the other guys dropping water balloons off of our balcony at the hotel.  There was a convertible parked right underneath and the guy saw us dropping the water balloons into the backseat of his convertible.  And we were visited by the Mounties.  We were all freaking out wondering if we were going to be deported.  Of course, we're not going to be deported. (laughs)  But they gave us a warning.  And it was all good.  It was my first foray into troublemaking I guess.

Casey Chambers:  "They were Pennywise balloons, officers." (laughs)  And you mentioned the Mounties.  Did you know the filming was going to take place in Canada?

Brandon Crane:  I did.  I did.  They were pretty clear about that from the beginning.  I'd never been and I remember going up there...I'd say it was within a week of getting the notice.  And it was great.  There was so much publicity about the shooting because Vancouver had really just broken out into being the Northern Hollywood campus.  There was so much production going on.  "21 Jump Street."   I mean, you name it.  They were all starting to film in Vancouver.  And Vancouver was proud of that.  So, there was a lot of press.  And a lot of people recognized us as we were walking around town.  They were all very curious about what it was we were doing.  It was a great experience.  Great city.  Great country.

Casey Chambers:  You also hit the lottery earning a spot on the iconic coming-of-age series..."The Wonder Years"...and had a nice recurring role as "Doug Porter."

Brandon Crane:  Yeah, it was great.  It was a comedic role.  I didn't have the same responsibility that I had when I was doing "It."  But it was one of the shows I really, really wanted to be on.

"Coda" - "The Wonder Years" (1989)


"The Wonder Years" thing started interestingly.  When I first came on, I think my character's name was Doug Baker.  And that was in the episode, "Coda."  It was a scene where I'm just playing football in the street with Kevin and Paul.  And I thought that was going to be it.  But it was maybe a month or so later, I went back to audition for like...Boy #2 or Student Council Boy #2. (laughs)   That was for the episode, "Walkout" and I thought, 'Well, that's cool.  It could be two different people. Or maybe it's the same person.  Whatever.  That's cool!'  But then the "Odd Man Out" thing happened.  (S:3 E:6 - 1989)

Casey Chambers:  Great episode!  One just never knows when they might become the one on the outside looking in, right?

Brandon Crane:  Right. (laughs)  And they brought me back for that one.  And that was huge!  That changed everything.  And Todd Langen, I think, was responsible for making "Doug Porter" a larger part of the series.  And it was totally fortuitous but it took me three attempts to get on the show before I had a reliable character.  Or some reliable work.  But it was worth it.  Totally worth it.

I always preferred the episodic television that shot to film.  When you're doing something like "Wonder Years" that's shot to film, it's a much more epic undertaking.  You really get the sense of time and place.  I enjoyed that experience much more than the sitcom stuff that I'd done before because sitcom was...well, it's like theater, which is awesome, but it's all very rushed.  When the show premiered, it was a huge deal. It was right after the Super Bowl.  I mean, there was the kiss with Winnie and Kevin.  It was just the perfect rollout. The show was popular right away and I couldn't wait to be on it.

Casey Chambers:  Great show!  Let me change direction and ask you to recommend a good album for us to spin.

"Let's Get Out Of This Country"
Camera Obscura

Brandon Crane:  I really like the stuff that's come out of Glasgow in the last 15 or 20 years.  My favorite band right now is Camera Obscura.  They're in the same vein as Belle and Sebastian.  And it's super thoughtful music. "Let's Get Out Of This Country" (2006) is a great album.  It sounds like some throwback to the '60s.  Like Wall of Sound...but modern.  Totally underrated.  And definitely my band of choice at the moment.

“Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken” - Camera Obscura (2006)


Casey Chambers:  Sounds like good stuff.  I'll add a link for readers to check out.  One more question and I apologize for not touching on this earlier, but would you mind telling us a little bit about your experience working with "Pennywise"...Tim Curry?

Brandon Crane:  It was really incredible.  I mean, really incredible.  Someone like Tim Curry is just a master of his craft.  West End.  Broadway. He's a wonderful jack of all trades.  And it was a master class in acting just being there with him.  No disrespect to anyone else I've ever worked with, but Tim Curry has this...commitment and just this amazing ability to inhabit every single character.  I mean, there aren't many people with such a diverse breadth of work as that guy.

And just being on set with him when we were doing the finale...the end game...was kind of terrifying.  When the cameras weren't rolling, he was very easy to get along with.  'Yeah, okay.  I can do this.  And I can try that. And okay, let's run it.'  But when Tommy Lee Wallace would say, 'Okay do the line.'...instantly, he's Pennywise.  The amount of energy, it was frightening.  I mean, we weren't really scared.  Obviously, there were people standing around us while we're doing this confrontation.  But if you kind of put them in your periphery when he was doing his thing...it was terrifying.

I learned a lot from him.  I learned how to be present.  I learned so much that summer.  And a lot of it was from working with the other kids, too.  But most of it...the brief encounters I had with Tim Curry...I came back to "The Wonder Years" after that summer, a much better actor. (laughs)  It was a great experience.

Casey Chambers:  Good stuff!  Brandon, thank you for taking the time to share a few stories. I really enjoyed talking with you this morning.

Brandon Crane:  Likewise.  My pleasure.

Brandon Crane Official Website

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic!

Anonymous said...

awesome info on this interview