It’s always a joy because I love Burt. Having said that, there was some trepidation here because the entire team who created the first four were not with us – that is to say, Steve Wilson and Brent Maddock. There was some fear: will we get this right? They have always been such stalwarts in making this happen. I felt a special responsibility, as the only actor to have been in the first four, to make sure we got it right.
Did that always happen? No, there are some things about this that disappoint me to a degree; they may disappoint fans – they may or may not – as there are some things that I do differently, but it was impossible to catch them in time or to make the necessary changes. However I did feel, I guess you’d say, responsible for maintaining the truth of Tremors, given its other sequels.
It’s an unusual franchise in that respect in that there has been such a strong throughline with the evolution of the creatures and what they can do. What was the biggest surprise about the script for you?
The thing that attracted me to it – and without giving anything away about the film – was that they were introducing the character of Travis, and particularly the role he was going to play in Burt’s life.
Burt by and large is the same creature; he doesn’t go through many changes. He expects other people to change. He is a man who is a vigilant, paranoid, obsessive-compulsive. Pretty much at the end of every film he remains who he was at the beginning; in many cases he has been surprised and challenged, but his world view has not changed.
I found this one interesting from the standpoint of taking him to a new emotional challenge. He is a loner by definition. He’s a man who is extremely solitary. He doesn’t trust other people. The only person in his life who he did trust for a while was his wife who left him many years ago and so I think he does not trust people. He does not trust getting close, he does not trust emotions. You don’t see him give into emotions. The fact that he’s being challenged in this way, to have someone else in his life that he didn’t even know was part of his life, was the most interesting part for me as an actor.
I did wonder if they were going to pull a trick, and go a different route than is indicated…
I think some people will get it immediately because of the hints that the Travis character – Jamie Kennedy – is dropping in there. He seems to know more about Burt than he should know. I think it’s still fun because Burt is the last one to know. It’s fun to watch him go, “What the… I don’t want this. This is not happening.” Essentially, he’s saying, “I refuse to accept this.”
This is one of the things that we had to work on very carefully. Some people were encouraging me in terms of the script to embrace this character and I said no. No no no no no! First of all, that means he has to be vulnerable in some way and Burt hates that more than anything. He must constantly be on his guard. I thought his first reaction when he’s told this is he wants to jump out of the truck (which is called a buffle), and just walk away. He refuses to accept it, he refuses to even acknowledge it. If he could keep walking into the distance, he would. But of course there are monsters out there!
I’ve always wanted to bring Burt kicking and screaming into any emotional moment because he resists that. It’s like pulling someone’s teeth. He protects himself. As much as he has guns, he himself is armoured emotionally. He has a suit of chain mail on, a suit of armour, and he only takes off a piece of that with great reluctance. It almost has to be forced off. That was the tension I wanted to keep in the script.
There is a terrific sequence where Burt is caught in a cage – how long did that take to shoot?
It took a couple of hours. They had me in a cage, so I was protected from the beast, but the beast was right there. That was no CGI, that was a living, breathing, male African lion.
I was behind bars, and then they had built a circumference fence around the lion and the cage of approximately, I would say, 20 or 30 metres in diameter. The lion could roam free in that area. The crew, the cameras and everything were outside that cage with long lenses.
There were times we wanted to take a break but the lion didn’t want to leave, so I had to stay where I was and the lion stayed where he was and the crew stayed where they were, and then we would just have to resume from time to time. I was essentially trapped until the lion could be taken out of that area and everybody was protected again.
I made sure I had plenty of sun block, and I actually had a blanket there too just so I could stay out of the sun. I had a bit of water, sun block, and things like that so if the lion was not leaving easily I could stay put.
It was also fun because they wanted as much interaction between the lion and myself as possible so I was given fresh meat in the cage with me as well. So occasionally the lion would wander away and I would lure it back with a bit of fresh meat, which I would put close to the bars of the cage to keep the lion interested… just interested enough in the meat – but not interested enough to take my hand along with the meat. It was pretty bizarre!
That must be one of your weirdest experiences filming!
Absolutely, yes. I do hope it is fun for the audience because it’s so damned unusual.
It’s interesting to have an actual real threat in the middle of a fantasy movie like this. How many of the effects were done practically?
There’s a certain amount of practical stuff that is done, less than in some of the other films, among other things because CGI has advanced so well. It’s almost seamless. Obviously you know that some of it they could not have done with a practical creature yet it looks so good. It has come a long way, which is one of the reasons they didn’t use CGI 25 years ago in the first film.
I have a Facebook page (facebook.com/actormichaelgross), on which I talk a lot about Tremors and I posted a picture of myself today with some of the practical creatures, a couple of tentacles. It’s a selfie I took during the making of Tremors 5. I even kept a diary too, which would be fun to publish someday. The ups and downs of making this movie: the day to day account of the fighting to get it done.
The tentacles are very similar to the ones you see coming out of the Graboid’s mouth in earlier films but there is something vastly different about them which I don’t reveal.
The Tremors films always have a lovely level of black humour…
I’m thrilled because we were trying to maintain the feeling of Tremors. It is hard, particularly after 13 years, to say ‘have we got this?’ There are certain people who love the franchise, and there are other people who are going to be totally new to this – that is why we have that little preface which is quite necessary because some people don’t know what the hell we are talking about. What is an assblaster? What is a shrieker? How did we get to this point? We wanted to have something for an entirely new generation as well, so we had to give them a little bit of back story.