Saturday, December 23, 2017

Interview -- Larry Hankin (Actor, Director, Writer)

"...I wanted to be in on all that goodness going on too."
~ Larry Hankin ~

I like character actors.  I always have.  The ones that make you point your finger at the screen like Spicoli, and say, "I know that dude!"  They are the actors that make TV shows and movies better simply by being in them.  The ones you might not necessarily know by name, but you never forget their face. 

Larry Hankin is one of those actors who steal the screen.  And when I see him in a show, I stick around awhile.  Whether playing Old Joe, the junkyard magnet lender in "Breaking Bad" or Mr. Heckles, the downstairs neighbor in "Friends" or a host of other "there he is" appearances.  Larry makes the most with the face time he gets.

And I'm aware he's not just a one-trick pony.  He's also a comedian, a writer and a director with an Oscar nomination checked off his bucket-list.  Larry Hankin is like one of those fine spices that chefs reach for to make their dishes extra-special.  Go out and get you some.

Larry Hankin Interview  --  DEC. 2017
Larry Hankin

Casey Chambers:  Some might not realize that you wrote, directed, and starred in the film short..."Solly's Diner." (1980)  And received an Academy Award Nomination for your effort.  Could we talk a little bit about the film?

Larry Hankin:  At that time I had just moved to L.A. and I was living in a seedy part of Hollywood near Western and Hollywood Blvd.  It was a lot of hookers and stuff.  And there was this diner and a guy named Solly ran it.  Every time I went in the place, I was the only customer there.  And because of the slow business, he wanted to keep me as one of his regular customers. (laughs)  He would always give me more food than what I saw him give others.  He would just pile it on.  And I thought that was really cool because I was broke.  I was starving.  So  obviously I kept going there.

The actual instigation of me doing this film...I got a call from an actress friend (Anna Mathias) who said her husband was wanting to move up to cinematographer.    Harry Mathias was working big time movies as a camera operator and needed something on a reel with his name as cinematographer.  And she asked me if I would write something for her husband.  A movie.  I could direct it.  I could be in it.  And Harry'd be the cinematographer.  That was the start of it.  I've always wanted to do movies.  To make them.  A film short.  It was something I really wanted to do.  So I took the money and thought about "Solly's Diner."

That wasn't actually the name of the place, but that's what I called it.  And since there was hardly anybody in the place...ever...I was betting I could rent it real cheap to shoot a movie for a day or two. (laughs)  So I approached him about it and I was right.  He gave me the place for three days at, I think, $300 a day. Which is pretty cheap, if you're making a movie.

He tried to negotiate with me.  He said, 'Well, ya know, they're shooting a movie on this block on the same week that you're gonna shoot and I've been approached by several movie companies for $1,000 a day to shoot in my place here.' (laughs)  Now, I had never really negotiated any kind of deal on my own.  But I was starving and I didn't have an agent then, so I told him, 'No.  I only have this much.'  And I got the place.

So I wrote about this little restaurant.  It was 20 pages.  A minute a page for filming.  And 20 minutes...I didn't know how much that'd be.  I had no idea about costs.  I think I had about $10,000 leftover for this film, 'cause the rest of the money I used to pay off debts.

I shot the thing in three days.  At night.  It was always at night.  So instead of losing the light, we were always gaining the light.  The dawn would come up right through the front window of this restaurant.  We couldn't afford any huge blankets to cover up the front window, so we were stuck.  We started shooting late at night and had to finish by 4:30 or 5:00.

On the last day of the shoot, the sun was starting to come up and we had three shots to get.  We were just totally rushed.  When we saw the rushes of that final day, the camera was out of line.  They had changed lenses and it was not screwed in properly.  So it was all blurred. (laughs)  It was the final shot...which is actually the opening pan shot around the counter.  We had to go back for one more day of shooting.  And now Solly knew he had us.  'Ahhh!  Now it's going to cost you.' (laughs)  So we had to just pay.  And we did it.  That was the big adventure of how the film "Solly's Diner" all came about.

"Solly's Diner" (1980)

Casey Chambers:  When you finally finished the film, did you feel like you got it right? That it was going to garner attention?

Larry Hankin:  Completely the opposite.  I had never written or directed anything.  And I was looking for a director, but Harry kept insisting, 'You direct.  You direct.'  He convinced me that it wasn't going to be that hard and that he had a lot of help, but I was scared.  Me, being the director...that threw a wrench into the whole thing.  I was already the lead and I wrote it.  I figured a really good director could help me. And protect the writing.

So I became the director.  I was skittish the whole time.  I rehearsed my two actors and when we began shooting, everything was going fine.  Harry would sometimes say, 'Well, why don't we put the camera here instead of there' and we would talk about it.  And we were mostly on the same page until that last night when we were rushed to get three shots and then we had a huge shouting match in front of everybody. (laughs)

That argument was a very heated, awful argument.  Finally, he told me...'Okay, look.  This is my crew and we're both freaking them out.  And we got to get this done.  And we're gaining the light.  So, you walk around the block.  Cool out.  When you come back, we'll get the shot we agreed on, set up and we'll just shoot it and get the hell out of here.'  So I did.

And it was a big block, the one I walked around. (laughs)  When I came back, Harry had set up the one shot we needed in the exact opposite way that we had talked about.  He said, 'It looks better this way.'  And I said, 'No, no.'  And Harry said, 'Well, it's too late to change it now. Here comes the light.  Are we gonna shoot it or not?' (laughs)  I mean, it was a done deal.  Fait accompli.  But as it turned out, Harry was right.  I just couldn't see it until the thing was edited.  That shot was perfect. Looking at the finished product...yeah, thank God he told me to get out of there and walk around the block. (laughs)  And we got an Academy Award nomination for "Best Short Film."

Casey Chambers:  That's a nice feather.  Congratulations again.

Larry Hankin:  When I directed "Solly's Diner," I didn't have an agent or manager and I had no long term experience of being an actor in movies or in directing myself.  So there were doubts.  Am I doing this right?  Can I do this again? Thankfully, I've directed a lot of films since then, and I think I'm finally getting a sense.

I was talking to this well-known director one time, asking him about being in charge of so many people. Making decisions. On your feet. And about problems that come up that you can't plan on.  Stuff like that.

I told him about this one thing I did when I was directing "Solly's Diner."  It was about another shot I wanted to get.  A little experiment I had in my head about putting the camera in a certain place to capture a shot.  Harry didn't think it would work and said I shouldn't waste time.  It was always about the "losing the light" thing.  I wanted it, so I lied about why it was necessary to do this particular shot.  It was a blatant, artistic lie and he bought it.  We did it.  It always bothered me and I never told him.

So we're talking, and he says, 'Well what do you think?  Have you gotten over it?  What's your take on it now that you're a grown man and you've directed things?'  And I said, 'Well, I've kind of come to the conclusion...Cool man.' (laughs)  And he just slapped my hand and he said, 'Right on!' (laughs)  The great thing is you're standing on the shoulders of giants going in.

With directing, it's "the kid stays in the picture" thing.  Like that famous Jackie Coogan story.  Some stories are just pop folk, but this one isn't.  Jackie Coogan was a kid actor who'd worked with Chaplin and those guys.  And one time, and I don't know who the famous director was, but he had a crying scene.  And the kid wasn't crying right.  He was fake crying.  He was acting crying.  And so the director called him aside and said, 'Kid, listen we gotta stop production here for a second.  Some bad news has come down.'  He took Jackie aside and said, 'Listen your pet dog, Spot...well, he just got hit by a car.  He's dead.' (laughs)  And Jackie Coogan started to cry.  And the director rushed him in front of the camera and he said, 'Get this!  Get this!' (laughs)  And they got it.  And then he told him the dog was fine.  He's okay.  And that's a famous story.

Casey Chambers:  And if that didn't work, he'd tell him a nice plane crash story. (laughs)

Larry Hankin:  It's a story director's tell. (laughs) You gotta get the shot, man.  You gotta get it.

Casey Chambers:  At all costs.

Larry Hankin:  Yeah, at all costs.  On the set.  The sacred circle of the artists is there on the set.  And that's what I did.  I didn't realize that was what I'd done at the time.  I was very naive.  I still am. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  You have a body of work that stretches as far back as the 60's, so I'm just going to cherry-pick a few things.  John Hughes liked your work.  You appeared in a few of his movies.  "Planes Trains And Automobiles" (1987) is certainly a classic.

Larry Hankin:  Right!  We also did "She's Having A Baby." (1988)  And we did "Home Alone." (1990)

Casey Chambers:  Let's talk a little bit about "Planes Trains And Automobiles."  You were the cab driver named Dooby.  What do you recall about shooting that particular scene?

Larry Hankin:  Let me preface this story by saying I have ADHD.  I've had it all my life.  It's basically the way information is absorbed and how you process it.  It shuns information that should go to the left brain, to the right and takes information from the right brain and shuns it to the left.  So reading linear instructions to set up your internet, how to set up your very difficult for me.  And on that particular shoot, it came into play.

"Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987)

Sometimes I'm okay, but then ya give me just a little too much information and it gets scrambled.  And then I just lose the thread.  Anyway, he really liked me, yes...and liked me in that role.  He was favoring me in that whole thing.  I was the taxi driver and I drive Candy and Martin to their motel.  I get out and help them with their luggage.  And now, you don't see this next scene, but John (Hughes) says, 'Larry, why don't you carry the luggage inside with them?'

So, I'm inside now.  The scene is at the desk.  And I don't know what he said to me, but I didn't do it right, whatever it was.  And John Hughes is very on or off.  And I've heard this on all three of the sets I was doing when I worked with him.  He's either very easygoing or he's cold as...I don't know.

Casey Chambers:  That can put some edgy in the air.

Larry Hankin:  Yeah, and he could get angry and...what he'd do is fire you. On the spot. I remember once, 'Where's so-and-so?'  Oh, he got fired?  Why?  I don't know.  John didn't like what he did and just got rid of him.'  Just...boom.  I remember he invited us, me and about four or five other actors, in his stretch limo to a big soiree the suburbs were throwing.  And I saw that happen in front of me.  Going there, he was great.  Coming back he was...we didn't even know who he was.

So anyway, in the scene, we're inside this motel at the desk, and all of a sudden he goes, 'Larry, just get out of here.  Just get out.  No, out.  Get Hankin out of there!'  (laughs)  And to this day, I don't know why.

Casey Chambers:  Out of the blue.

Larry Hankin:  Yeah, and it wasn't like, hey we don't need you. He was just angry. Up until that point, we were getting along fine. But here's an interesting part to that cab scene.  I guess, now that I'm talking about it, I remember.  That scene wasn't shot on the road at all.  What happened was...we pulled into this snow covered driveway and there was a motel.  I mean, that was a real thing.  Driving up, letting them off, getting the suitcases out, and going inside.  We shot at the motel first.

Casey Chambers:  No city driving?

Larry Hankin:  I thought the entire ride to the motel would be shot traveling in a car.  But no. We went inside a Chicago soundstage.  And there was a taxi with no wheels in the middle of this huge empty soundstage.  All black.  I mean, ya know, not lit.  And in the middle was a taxi set up on four boxes.  To the height of...ya if it had wheels.  There was just two or three lights around it.  And a soda box.  A wooden soda box sitting next to it.  And John would sit on the soda box outside the cab's door.  If a passenger was sitting in the front seat, he would be sitting right next to them on the outside of the door.  And Candy and Steve were in the back and I was in the front.

John would say, 'Okay, do the lines.'  And we would do the lines and yeah, there would be kind of lights flashing and a crew member would run a tree branch if we were passing something.  It was really dinky.  I didn't think it looked real at all.  He had us run through it once.  And then he would disappear.  He went upstairs and I guess that's where the TV city was.  You know what a TV city is, right?  It's where the camera is attached to a TV set so they can watch what the camera is doing.

So this was upstairs somewhere up in the heavens of this soundstage.  He was gone.  We didn't know where he was.  But there was a microphone inside of the cab so he talked to us that way.  And obviously he was watching us because he would go, 'Alright, now do it again.  But this time, Steve...improvise.  Everybody else do the lines.  Steve, you improvise it.'  And then we'd do that.  And he'd say, 'John, improvise it.  Steve improvise it.  Larry, you just do your lines.'  And then we'd go around again.  'Larry, you improvise it.'  And we would just do this for the whole day.  I mean...three hours in the morning and about three hours in the afternoon.  Just that.

And sometimes he would come down and he would say, 'Improvise it.'  And he would watch us.  Now, here's the weird thing why he was who he was...John Hughes.  We must have improvised it maybe 20 times.  I'm not kidding.  Even more, obviously.  Sometimes you'd just do little sections.  He would remember every goddamn thing we said.  Like, he'd say, 'Okay do it again only Larry, remember in that improv where John asks which way you're going and you said...what did you say?'  I'm like, 'I don't remember what I said.'   He'd say, 'You said...'  and he would quote it to me.  And he would go up into the booth and he would say, 'No, John, you said blah blah blah in that scene.  So, just keep that line.'  So then we were finished.  And that was the most amazing piece of directing in one day that I've ever witnessed in my life.

So we did it.  It comes out.  I see the movie.  And there we are.  It's great.  I'm fine.  But about two years later, I'm working for Christopher Columbus in the movie, "Home Alone."  He says, 'Oh, by the way, I saw that film that you did with John Candy and Steve Martin.  Ya know, that cab thing you did.  I saw that movie.  Really funny.'  I go, 'Oh you mean "Planes Trains And Automobiles?"  He goes, 'No, no, the short.'  And I asked him, 'What short?'  He said, 'You know, where you were Doobie in the cab.'  I go, 'Yeah, yeah that was "Planes Trains And Automobiles."'  He says, 'No, no.  It was a film short.'  And I go, 'What film short?'  Chris said, 'I went to John Hughes house.  It was at a party.  Some birthday or something.  And he showed everybody a 20 minute...a 10 minute film short of you and John and Steve in a cab.  It was a short.  Just the three of you in a cab.'  And I go, 'Holy...that's what that soundstage stuff was all about.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  A-ha! (laughs)

Larry Hankin:  He took all the footage that wasn't used in the movie...and there was quite a bunch of footage.

Casey Chambers:  He saved all that!

Larry Hankin:  He saved all that and made a film short.  I would love to see it.

Casey Chambers:  Oh yeah, I would too!

Larry Hankin:  (laughs) It must be incredible.

Casey Chambers:  It would make for some great footage to add to the bonus features on Blu-ray.

Larry Hankin:  Oh, yeah!  He was taking all of that improv...writing and cutting it together...and using us as the typewriter, I guess.  So it just occurs to me...that's how Shakespeare wrote.  You know he had the actors improvise, too.  He didn't just sit at home and write out those plays in longhand.  He had a company of actors that were incredible improvisers.  I mean he would come in with written pieces exactly like John Hughes did.

Casey Chambers:  That actually makes a lot of sense.  You could have Shakespeare outtakes like, "Hamlet, drop the skull on the floor next time." (laughs)

Larry Hankin:  And he would say, "Come on, play with this.  Let's go.  Try it with Thee instead of Thou.' (laughs) Something like that.  So I can see how John could have constructed a really cool film short.  I mean...Steve Martin and John Candy... those two guys are pretty freaking funny, man.  I mean, I was a witness. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  No doubt.  I loved your Mr. Heckles character in "Friends."  Could we talk about that?

Larry Hankin:  Oh, okay!  Yeah!

Casey Chambers:  Every time your Mr. Heckles made an appearance, it was gold.  Was Mr. Heckles written to be a recurring character?

Larry Hankin:  No.  And again, my ADHD was in full blown mood on that shoot.  I didn't get along with...anybody.  I was Mr. "you're not really here, but you'll do this part guy."  It was my fault.  I mean, I just didn't get along with them.  I just didn't understand, socially, how to...Okay, what happened was, I got the job as Mr. Heckles before "Friends" went on the air.

Mr. Heckles on "Friends"

So, there was no clue to me or to anybody else what this was really about.  I just showed up with a script.  But I didn't know these people.  Nobody was famous yet.  And when I got to the soundstage where they were shooting, they were already in the middle of a scene.  And it wasn't even in the (apartment) set, it was a bank set.  I had no clue as to what the overlying idea of the show was.  I just sat there and watched and when it was my turn to do my piece, everybody else had left.  The rehearsal was just me and the two girls,  (Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow) and a cat. And the director.

Casey Chambers:  That would have been kind of weird.

Larry Hankin:  Well, on the day of the actual shoot, we couldn't do it in front of an audience because there was no room for that part of the set.  The girls were in the hall with a cat and I was just opening the door and looking out.  They had to build a little hallway off to the side where nobody could see us.  But there was no camaraderie in that first scene.  I didn't get along, because there was nobody to get along with.  The girls didn't know me.  They said, 'Hello. Goodbye.'  Boom.  Then I went home.  And that was my thing.

But the hookup was that the show wasn't on the air yet and I didn't know if it was ever going to go on.  When it did come out, it wasn't until the next year.  The second time I was on the show, they were already stars.  They were pretty famous and they had their own little group.  And they had been working together for a year now, so I was a total interloper.  And I rankled at the fact that after each shot, they would huddle up and I was left out. (laughs)

And by the way, when I did "Seinfeld," the same thing happened with them.  We'd do the scene and Michael and Jerry and the cast...they would all go off in the corner and just giggle together. (laughs)  The same thing with "Friends."  Hey, I guess if I was them, I'd do the same thing, but I took umbrage.  'Cause, hey man, I wanted to be in on all that goodness going on too.  The producers would talk with them.  The director would talk with them.  But nobody was talking to me.  So I was just...'Fuck you, guys.' (laughs)  And that's how it kind of went.

Before doing my fourth episode, my agent called me and said, 'Hey, I got some good news and some bad news.'  Now here's the rule.  The rule is, you do five, you get an incredible bump up.  Where you can buy a house if you do five.  Not that on the fifth one you get that amount of money.  But if you do five, you become a recurring.  It's called a recurring.  And if you are a recurring, you're going to do at least six, seven, or eight.  They don't hire anyone for five because when you're recurring, they have to pay you for several.  So, if you're hired for a fifth, you are going to get a lot of money down the line.

And so my agent says, 'I've got good news and I've got bad news.'  I said, 'Well, what's the good news?'  He said, '"Friends" just called.  You got a fourth show.'  And that was like...'Cool man.'  I'm going towards the fifth.  I can see a driveway and a house.  I can see it.  What's the bad news?'  He says, 'You have a heart attack and die.' (laughs)  And that really pissed me off.  Between the time I got a call from my agent telling me about a fourth show and then telling me I have a heart attack...there was like 15 seconds.  And in-between, I had already bought a house.  In those 15 seconds, I had bought a house and then they took it away from me.  So going in on the first day of my fourth show, in my mindset, I was going in to people who had taken a house away from me. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  First off, I would have sworn you did a dozen shows.  I loved Mr. Heckles.  You must've been steamin'!

Larry Hankin:  I was going in angry.  That, I know.  I remember I was just like...'goddamn it, man.'  So I get there.  And I didn't know it was the first day of the new season.  I didn't know that there was going to be this celebration.  They invited everybody that morning at eight o'clock for a big, huge brunch.  The cast and the crew and the guest people who are gonna come for the rest of the year.  The people from last year.  All the suits.  There was about 100 people in a special place where they have these breakfasts.  Ya know, sausage and eggs and champagne.

And I just burst into this thing and I'm looking for the producers because I want to complain.  'Hey man, that was really underhanded.' was what I thought I was gonna say.  'Hey man, that's really a cheap shot.'  That's what I was gonna say.  And in this room... everybody...I mean...there's no chairs and tables.  There's these little stand-up round tables that you just put your drink on and stand around it.

Casey Chambers:  The smaller the tables, the bigger the billfolds, right?

Larry Hankin:  Well, it was that kind of thing. So then here's the three producers huddled together.  Just standing alone.  Not around a table, just talking to each other in a little group.  Like a cocktail group.  And I rush over to them and they turn to me and they go, 'Oh Larry, hi,  welcome to our next season.'  And I go, 'What the fuck did you people do, man?'  I just started shouting at them.  'What the fuck did you people do man?'  I went nuts.  I just fucking went nuts, man.  Just lost it.

Casey Chambers:  I totally get it.

Larry Hankin:  Okay.  All of a sudden, the place goes quiet. (laughs)  And I heard it.  And I just shut up, but it was too late.  They just said, 'I think we should talk about this a little while later.  Don't you think so, Larry?'  And I just walked over to one of the food tables.  And as I walked over, everybody walked away.  This one actor comes over to me...(laughs)...I guess he was an extra.  He said, 'Hey man, that was really cool.' (laughs)

But when I showed up later to do the show and to rehearse and do the work...nobody would come near me.  And every time I went to the Kraft Services table to get a carrot stick or a cup of coffee, the people who were there would walk away and nobody would come over until I left.  So that was my last show.  That's how that went.  So you might get the feeling that I've got an attitude problem.  And I did.  It took me a year or two to kind of calm down.

Larry Hankin on "Seinfeld"

Casey Chambers:  But you did get a 5th episode at some point, didn't you?

Larry Hankin:  No.  No, no.  Because that was the show my character had the heart attack on.  I don't have it in the show.  It was the show where I'm in my new apartment and there's a cutaway to me sitting in a chair reading a newspaper.  It's kind of a medium close-up of me sitting in a Moorish chair reading a newspaper, and one of the girls was hanging upside down outside my window and was yelling, 'Help! Help! Mr. Heckles!  Mr. Heckles!'  'Cause the setup was she fell while she was hanging Christmas lights. And she was hanging by her foot swinging past my window.  A very funny shot!

Casey Chambers:  (laughs) I remember that one!  It was Jennifer Aniston swinging in the wind.  Very funny!

Larry Hankin:  We were talking about directing...let me tell you a quick story.  I did a movie called, "Viva Max." (1969)  It was directed by Jerry Paris.  He also directed some "Laverne And Shirley" and "Happy Days."  And we were doing a picture out in Italy.  In Rome.  At Cinecitta, which was where Fellini was shooting "Satyricon" at the time.  And one of the things I did was sneak onto Fellini's set.  Just to watch Fellini direct.  It was amazing.

Casey Chambers:  Now that would've been a cool memory to burn.

Larry Hankin:  Oh yeah, because when he directed, he was the whole movie right there.  In other words, he would act it out.  I saw him directing a crowd of people in the stands watching a bullfight. This was Roman mythology.  We were there watching the bullfighter fighting Minotaur which is a half man-half bull.  And he was directing the crowd in the stands.  He wanted them to cheer and then sigh and then boo and...he was doing it all.  He was standing in the middle of the arena...nothing around...talking up to this stadium and he was acting...not like a single person...but like he was a crowd. (laughs)  It was just amazing to watch him direct.

And there were these little old men all around his set.  A big set, obviously.   And these little old men were dressed in black suits and white shirts and black ties and none of them were younger than 80.  White hair.  Short guys.  They looked like they were from Sicily.  Like from some Mario Puzo script.

They were all around, but they didn't do anything.  I would be there the whole day and I never saw them do anything but stand around and watch.  Okay!  So I had this fight with my director one day.  Yelling match right in front of everyone.  Well, he was yelling.  My director was yelling and I would just whisper.  He'd say, 'Look, ya gotta do it this way.  I don't care what blah blah blah!'  And I'd say, (in soft voice) 'Hey, please don't...c'mon man, I don't want to do this blah blah blah.'  There was like hundreds of extras around watching.  After the whole thing was over, I was so unnerved I went into the production office in Cinecitta.  I just was standing there thinking...what am I gonna do?  And there was a secretary sitting there and she asked...what's the matter?  So I laid out the whole story about the argument and I turn around and there's one of these little old men from Fellini's set standing in the doorway just listening to me.  I had my back to him talking to the secretary.  He's standing in the doorway listening...and he says, (Larry using an Italian accent) 'You going to be going to be a director.'  And I go, 'Really?  Why do you say that?'  And he goes, 'Because you can't take direction.'  And then he walked away. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Truer words, no? (laughs)

Larry Hankin:  Yeah, that was kind of right. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Well, I'd like to ask one last question.  What kind of music have you been listening to?

"Bob Dylan 1966 Live"

Larry Hankin:  Blues and Bob Dylan.  That's about it.  I'm from the '60s and I was just listening the other day to the soundtrack from the Scorsese documentary about Dylan,  "No Direction Home" (2005)  That album and that 1966 concert...I guess it's a bootleg...Bob Dylan and The Band in England where he says, 'You're a liar.'   'Judas!'  Ya know, that concert is probably the livest, realest, musical concert I've ever heard.  It's amazing. And I like some of the old Delta Blues.  Stuff like that.  I'm trying to learn the blues on guitar right now.  But that's it.  And after that, it's just sounds. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, that's good stuff.

Larry Hankin:  One other thing.  Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live got his own TV pilot coming up called "Barry"...and I got a call out to do the show.  Bill plays a hitman who turns detective.  An ex-hitman becomes an outlaw for the police.  But it's a comedy.  It's an hour show on HBO.  The guy who's producing it is the same guy who produces and writes and created..."Silicon Valley."  Anyway, one of the first three shows in January I'm gonna be on.

Casey Chambers:  That's some great news.  You and Bill Hader both. That'll give fans something to look forward to.  Mr. Hankin, thank you very much for speaking with me this morning.  I hope your holidays are happy and thank you very much.

Larry Hankin:  Okay, thanks a lot, Casey.  This has been really cool.  Talk to you soon.

"Did You Have A Nice Christmas?" - Larry Hankin / Emmett's Dysfunctional Greeting Cards 

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

7 Favorite Books I Read in 2017

7 Favorite  Books  I  Read  In  2017

Every book is a new book if you haven't read it!  And so, let us begin.

"The Yard" - Alex Grecian (2012)
London, England, circa 1889, one year after Jack the Ripper had most of the city cowering at shadows and unexpected noises.  New murders are popping up and Scotland Yard has decided to hire a young detective to run a new team known as the, “Murder Squad.”  You can hear the clip-clop of horse carriages being pulled through the gas lit streets while reading this one.  Perfect novel for those cold, damp nights.

"Carrion Comfort"  --  Dan Simmons (1989)
This is a 700 page flibbityfloo.  There are a small number of these creepy people that need to feed on the human mind.  And in the process, they enjoy getting into the heads of others making them do...whatever they feel like making them do.  It's a fresh take on an old idea. An epic horror of flibbityfloo proportions.

"Pope Joan" — Donna Woolfolk Cross (1996)
Historical fiction of the Middle Ages. A time when only boys were allowed to read.  Joan discovers at a very early age that she is a quick learner, so when her brother is killed on his way to accept an offer from the church to continue his education...she disguises herself get it.  This is great storytelling with vivid characters and intense drama.  I loved it and so will you.

"Under The Dome"  -  Stephen King (2009)
This was the longest book I read this year.  I had only the vaguest ideas about this SK doorstop.  A small town under a dome.  Now whadyagonnado?  This wasn't horror.  Not quite a thriller, either.  It's in that ball park, though.   Whatever you want to name it, it had plenty of the wonderful minutiae SK likes to sprinkle into his stories that kept me occupied, so I simply relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Good stuff.

"HHhH"  -  Laurent Binet (2010)
Reinhard Heydrich was nicknamed the “Butcher of Prague”...and for good reason.   He was coldblooded, extremely ambitious and one of the top men in Hitler's creepy little circle.  This is about the plot to assassinate Heydrich.  It's a thrilling read and surprisingly enjoyable for such a dark subject. The author also brings the reader into the process of..." what to leave in, what to leave out. (like the Bob Seger song)  Don't be put off by the topic.

"Americanah"  -  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
Nothing to bite your nails about in this one.
Or cause your heart to AFib.
But this is a page-turner just the same.
The main character is so engaging, you just want to stay close.
It has a coming-of-age feel, but it's not. Not in the traditional sense.  We ride shotgun with this American Nigerian young woman while she discovers and weighs the cultural differences, both good and bad, and decides how she wants to exist in this world.  There is no way I can properly explain why the book is so enthralling.  But I know what I like and this one I highly recommend.

"House of Leaves" — Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
Oh, no! Not another haunted house story.  Yep, but this one ranks right up there with the very best. An absolute page-turner. You almost feel like you're being watched while turning the pages.  And this story will stay with you long after you've put it away. That's good writing!

And once again,  "Every book is a new book if you haven't read it!"  Go out and get you one.

"I'm Reading A Book"  -  Julian Smith

Good stuff!

Casey Chambers
Follow Me On FACEBOOK 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Interview -- Stephen Linsley (The Jim Carroll Band)

"There's no one
left that I even
want to imitate."
~ The Jim Carroll Band ~

The Jim Carroll Band made music that was both compelling and relentless and wrapped the noise around poetry that felt so real you could taste it.

And Stephen Linsley, the bassist and youngest member of the JCB by plenty...was poppin' the string for the entire ride.  That would be a 7 year, 3 album ride for those taking math.  But it was their eye-opening 1980 debut..."Catholic Boy"...that expanded the boundaries of truth.

"Catholic Boy" reminded us...that street life is extremely messy, time moves quicker than crosswalks, and choices are weighed and made in but moments.  And yet between the seedier shadows and darker reflections...glimmers of chance and strength share a soft breath with beauty.
Go get you some.

Stephen Linsley Interview -- Oct. 2017
Stephen Linsley

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to begin with the lost gem..."City Drops Into The Night" from The Jim Carroll Band's debut album..."Catholic Boy."  You co-wrote that song, right?

Stephen Linsley:  "City Drops..." was written while Jim (Carroll) was living in San Francisco in this room in an apartment with Terrell Winn's (guitar) girlfriend at the time.  She was a friend of mine from high school.  None of the rest of us actually lived in the city but we were playing in the city a lot. And we used the place as our base.  It was sort of our clubhouse as it were. So one night we were just hanging out enjoying a late evening of typical Jim Carroll Band partying and Jim and I and Brian Linsley (guitar) basically wrote the song.  I don't have a whole lot of specific memory writing it.  I mean, a lot of times we wrote songs in a very organic way.  They kind of happened without a lot of notice.

"City Drops Into The Night" was always an incredible song to play live and one of my personal favorites.  I was 10 years younger than everybody else in the band.  I was 18,19, 20.  And I wouldn't say I was completely impressionable, but I think I was a lot more open to what Jim was saying.  I took his lyrics seriously and that song, in particular.  Things like..."It ain't hip to sink so low unless you're gonna make a resurrection" was a particular lyric I really took to heart and I'm probably still alive because of it.

The Jim Carroll Band
(Stephen Linsley, Terrell Winn, Jim Carroll, Brian Linsley, Wayne Woods)

We were a hard-charging drug band, but I don't want to overstate that.  It was certainly part of it.  Many people often misinterpret that part of it.  Jim obviously had a big background in drugs and wrote from that place, but to again reference that line..."It ain't hip to sink so low unless you're gonna make a resurrection"... don't confuse...don't get lost in the drugs.  Look at what's going on beyond them.  We would have contact with people on the road who would get really enthusiastic only about the drug part of what we were doing.  But even though Jim was talking about hard drugs, his approach to those drugs was much the way one approaches more of a transcendent and spiritual path.

That's the long version.  It goes back to what Morrison was talking about and certainly, people like Baudelaire and Rimbaud were talking about.  As you probably know, Jim was heavily influenced by them.  Jim was turning the typewriters over to the monkeys.  Not just to get high and have a good time, but to actually create something.  And when I would be playing, I was not so much I was experiencing the lyrics.  It was like being in the audience and on stage at the same time.  It had that effect on me.

Casey Chambers:  Bobby Keys played the sax on that song.  How did he get involved in the recording?

Stephen Linsley:  Our manager, Earl McGrath, worked with Rolling Stone Records and was the president of the Stones label at the time.  And Bobby Keys was a big part of The Rolling Stones.  Played all over the Rolling Stones.  He was one of Keith Richards best friends and Keith liked us.  So Bobby came in and it was cool.

"City Drops Into The Night" - The Jim Carroll Band / "Catholic Boy" (1980)

Casey Chambers:  It's a great night driving song. It's perfect.  So the Stones were fans of The Jim Carroll Band, too?

Stephen Linsley:  Oh, yeah.  It was the fact that Keith really dug what we were doing that ultimately ensured we got signed.  When it came time for our record to come out, we switched over to Atco which at that time the Stones were part of.  It was Ahmet Ertegun's label...the guy who started Atlantic Records in the '50s.    Atlantic became such a huge label in the '70s that we forget it started off as a kind of eclectic label that was doing a lot of R&B ...which was rare at the time for white labels to be doing black music.  That really was Ahmet Ertegun's doing.  They've always been more experimental, and I think Earl realized we would probably get promoted better if we were over on the mother company's we swapped over to Atco.

Casey Chambers:  The band's explosive signature song..."People Who Died"...that was a game changer on many levels.

Stephen Linsley:  "People Who Died" was born at one of our rehearsals.  Whenever it was time to rehearse, all of us would show up but often not exactly at the same time. So we'd use that time to just warm up. Sort of start playing with each other at the beginning and a lot of times the easiest thing to play just to warm up is like 1-4-5 Chuck Berry type stuff.  Rock and roll.  Just jam shit basically.

And the band was warming itself up, playing some fast punk rock style 1-4-5 Chuck Berry and Jim sort of jumped in on it which he didn't usually do.  Usually, he would just be doing other stuff and let us get limbered up.  Or one of us would sit down with Jim.  Or a few of us.  Or...sometimes Jim wrote a song and he would come to us and say, 'I have some chords.'  Jim wasn't really a musician per say, but he would hear things in his head.  Like, "Catholic Boy" was something he had fully formed in his head oddly enough.  He said, 'Gimme that guitar.'  And he had that rhythm.  And I'm jumping tracks.

But with "People Who Died," Jim popped in and just started riffing on that thing.  It kind of spontaneously combusted right there.  And we were all like, 'Wow, this is an interesting song!'

Later, we went back and fine-tuned it and that's how that song started.  And this happens a lot with songwriting.  You start with some little kernel of a thought, a melody, a riff or something.  A rhythm.  And then come back to it.  It's like poetry.  Poetry a lot of times you'll spit it out.  And then you'll go back and hone it into something.  Not just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.  And the song went on to become our infamous hit.

"People Who Died" (early live version 2 years before album)

Casey Chambers:  What did that song do for you guys in terms of media attention?

Stephen Linsley:  Well, I think it was certainly a good hook and the song gave people a lot of stuff to latch onto.  In a lot of ways, "People Who Died" is the most like the "The Basketball Diaries" of any of the songs.

There are certainly other themes I can see showing up, but you can really hear the little stories...of friends lost...parsed from that book in this one.  And it was aggressive and very unique in its way.  I'm sure there must be other songs where people sing about people dying, but...

Casey Chambers:  I've never heard anything quite like it...before or since.  And I can still remember being knocked out hearing that song for the first time.  Like an anthem.

Stephen Linsley:  Yeah, and I was surprised by the number of covers.  I remember a few years ago doing a search on YouTube and was really shocked at how many people have covered it.  I mean, John Cale did a cover.  And there's a live version of Marilyn Manson doing it, which kinda makes sense. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Oh, I totally get it.  I'm sure he adds his own special flavor to the song. (laughs)

Stephen Linsley:  Yeah, it's an interesting cover.  Very stylized.  It wasn't somebody covering it literally. It's on YouTube, I think.

Casey Chambers:  I'll check it out. What would be really strange is hearing Olivia Newton-John bringing it to the house. (laughs)  And that song still continues to pop up in movies and tv shows, doesn't it?

Stephen Linsley:  Yeah, I know. And it's always weird when it shows up and I don't know it's there.  It's like being in a strange town and suddenly running into someone you know.  I was watching...this is actually my favorite combination...I was watching "Six Feet Under"   and on the final season DVD, they did this great recap of the entire show set to "People Who Died."  Appropriate that they would choose it. (laughs)  They literally just took video cuts of people dying throughout the series.

Casey Chambers:  Oh, that is cool!  And that show has been on my Watchlist for awhile.  Just haven't pulled the trigger yet.  And Spielberg must have been a fan too, slipping that song surprisingly into "E.T." (1982)

Stephen Linsley:  Oh well,  I mean it's actually a pretty anticlimactic use of it, but at the time it was huge to us.  It was the first time we had had anything like that done.  And of course, "E.T." was this giant...ya was phenomenally huge and it was just really cool to see it used in that film.  That was sort of a fun bragging rights be able to say, 'Yeah, and ya know that song was in "E.T."  But again, it's a little odd, contextually, where it is in the movie.  They segue "People Who Died" into "Papa Oom Mow Mow" or "Bird is the Word" or whatever that funny '50s song was.  It's like, what radio station are those guys listening to? (laughs)  But it was cool.

"Catholic Boy" - The Jim Carroll Band (1980)

Casey Chambers:  What was some television you did when the album came out?

Stephen Linsley:  Well, we spent Thanksgiving in New York with Earl in 1980.  It was the first time the band went to New York.  And a month after the record came out, we did The Tom Snyder Show in New York City.      That was a late-night talk show from the 70's and '80s.  And I saw that they recently released a DVD of music from that show.  We're unfortunately not on it and I've never seen our performance since.  And we were also the musical guest on "Fridays."  "Fridays" is available.  But I would love to see the footage of our performance on Tom Snyder.

Casey Chambers:  What did you guys play?

Stephen Linsley:  I'm sure we did "People Who Died."  And something else.  I don't remember exactly.  I'm sure we did two songs.  But Tom Snyder was the first time I was aware that we were actually famous.  We taped the show in the afternoon at 30 Rock which is where NBC is.  Rockefeller Center is such a big building in New York.  And when we came down the elevators afterward, there was a mob waiting for us.

That was the first time I had ever been mobbed by a crowd. (laughs)  That was so much fun.  It's like, 'Oh wow!'  I mean, I don't give a shit about being famous now.  I'm 56.  I had the career.  Fame is not healthy.  It's not for any real human being.  But when I was 20, of course,  I wanted to be famous.  Ya want to be a rock star.  This is when you're still climbing up the hill.  We hadn't even done our first real tour yet and our first album, "Catholic Boy" had just come out.  And you have all this energy of...'You just want it to be as fucking big as it can be.'  So, it was pretty cool.  It was probably the only time we ever got mobbed because we were never really a hugely famous band.  But it was fun.  It was really, really fun.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned the show "Fridays" earlier.

Stephen Linsley:  Yeah, "Fridays" was in the middle of our first tour.  We did three songs and it was shot in L.A.  When we shot Tom Snyder, it really had a lot of mystique.  It was really mysterious.  Being in New just had a lot of...mystery attached to it.  When we did "Fridays," it was really low-key.  I have always wished there had been a director there to direct us a little on TV.  It seemed like a really flat performance to me.  It was not a good representation of what we were like live.  Live, we were really edgy and hard.  And I didn't get that from that performance.  It's a skewed perspective 'cause I'm in the band, just seemed sedate to me.  When you do a show live,  you have the crowd and it quickly gets you up to this pinnacle of energy and that just didn't happen as much with that show.

"It's Too Late" - Jim Carroll Band on "Fridays" (1981)

Casey Chambers:  Do you have any special memories from that show?

Stephen Linsley:  Valeri Bertinelli was hosting the show that week.  And I got to briefly meet Eddie Van Halen there.  Most of us were huge fans of Van Halen and I was a huge fan of their first record.  You can't imagine now what it was like to have no Van Halen.  But the sound of that was just a total musical sea change.

Casey Chambers:  So, Eddie Van Halen was hanging at the "Fridays" show?

Stephen Linsley:  Yeah, because he was married to Valeri Bertinelli.  She was in "Three's Company."  No, what was that fucking show called?  Some weird show in the '70s.

Casey Chambers:  All the shows were weird in the '70s, weren't they? (laughs)

Stephen Linsley:  (laughs) Anyway, they were married at the time and she hosted the show.  I was sitting on the stage doodling with my bass.  I think it was after the soundcheck.  And Eddie Van Halen sort of walks up.  I was like, 'Oh shit!  It's Eddie Van Halen!'  In hindsight, I wish I had talked to him more.  I was kind of shy.  The funny thing is, even though other people saw us as rock stars, or whatever, I never felt that way.  I met lots of famous people.  I remember palling around with David Robinson from The Cars when we would play Boston and I always thought...'Oh, he's a rock star.  I'm just a normal person.'  I mean, that's the thing.  It's all just an illusion.  Nobody's a rock star really.

Casey Chambers:  Are there any possible plans of releasing any outtakes or live stuff from the band anytime soon?

The Jim Carroll Band

Stephen Linsley:  I am currently in the middle of digitizing every cassette of every show we ever did.  Partly why "Catholic Boy" is so good and has so much energy, is that we had been playing in clubs literally every weekend for two years before we recorded it in San Francisco.  I mean, "City Drops..." on record is great.  But live...that song was a monster.  I mean, I would leave my body playing that song.

Casey Chambers:  It'd be great to see some of those songs reach the fans.  We'd love to hear them.

Stephen Linsley: Yeah, some are epic.  When we were playing live, sometimes it would just transcend everything.  It was just that...mystical.

But it sorta stopped happening once we got out on tour playing every night instead of every weekend.  It became more like work.  It depends on the crowd, of course, but now you're in a business.  You have to push yourself harder to hit that energy and because you're pushing yourself, it's intentional and loses some of the magic.  But when it's right...

One of the most amazing lyrics Jim ever wrote and one of the most important songs we ever did was "Dead Heat." We never recorded it, which is a real shame, but we did this show once and played that song and we just hit this magic critical mass that was...on this other level.  We all remembered it.  You could ask any of the band members, 'Hey, remember that night we played "Dead Heat" at the Rio?'  And everyone would be like, 'Oh yeah! That was...'  Everybody knew.  "Dead Heat" was a song that lived in the band's collective memory. Something special happened.

And that's the way it is.  Sometimes it's punching a clock and going to work and sometimes it just goes beyond.  And there's no way to really tell why that happens.  I mean, I saw the band Television play a couple of weeks ago.  I'm a big fan of Television and heard they were playing.  And it was a perfect show.  I mean it was perfect on every...fucking...level.  It was mystical.  It was transcendent.  Like all the corny shit Jim Morrison would talk about. (laughs)

I felt so privileged to see it.  I liked it so much, I talked my way into the club and got to see them a second night And of course, the second was totally different.  (laughs)  It was good.  It was interesting to see.  I enjoyed watching it from a technical point of view.  Watching the guitar work.  But like, I never left my mind the whole time.  I was thinking.  Not feeling.  And it was like...'how weird.'  From one night to the next.  In the same club.  Totally different experience.  And that's just it.  It doesn't happen all the time.  But when it remember it.

I'm digressing a bit, but that's the way it was for us.  And for years before we ever dragged out the cassettes and found that song ("Dead Heat") it was just...'oh yeah, remember that night.'  And you really remember it.

Casey Chambers:  I have really enjoyed listening to you share a few of your memories off the fly.  And I hope those live recordings you're working with get released someday.  Thank you so much.

Stephen Linsley:  Well, it's my pleasure, Casey.  I'm really happy that the people who liked us...still like us.  Thanks for being a fan.

"People Who Died" - The Jim Carroll Band / "Catholic Boy" (1980)

Stephen Linsley Photography

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
Follow Me On FACEBOOK.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Horse Head Presents: 7 Tom Petty Lost Gems

Arrived --  October 20, 1950  
Took Off - October 2, 2017 

The Horse Head chose seven lost gems from everybody's brother...Tom Petty.  I tried not to overthink it...and went with the ones that hit me in the I remember.  (On a different day, different songs.)

"Square One"  -  Tom Petty / "Highway Companion" (2006)

"Square one, my slate is clear
Rest your head on me, my dear
It took a world of trouble, took a world of tears
Took a long time... to get back here."

"Dogs On The Run"  -  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / "Southern Accent" (1985)

"...some of us are different.
It's just something in our blood.
There's no need for explanations.
We're just dogs on the run."

"Change Of Heart"  -  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / "Long After Dark" (1982)

"You never needed me.
You only wanted me around."

"Swingin'"  --  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / "Echo" (1990)

"She went down swingin' Sonny Liston."

"Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)"  - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / "self-titled" (1976) 
"If two is one I might as well be three.
It's good to see you think so much of me."

"You Tell Me"  -  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / "Damn The Torpedos" (1979)  
"...I don't understand this
But that's alright, I can take a little pain."

"Dumbass Song"  -  Tom Petty 
"People think I'm not smart
...but I'm stupid."

Good stuff!

Casey Chambers

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 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

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 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 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 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 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