Jon Gries has had quite the career so far, playing many characters that fans adore all around the world. Ask any horror (on non-horror fan as well to be perfectly honest) to name one of their favorite monster movies from the ’80s and more times than not, one of their answers will include Fred Dekker’s THE MONSTER SQUAD, in which Gries played “Desperate Man”, a character that never failed to get vicious and hairy when the moon came out. Other film roles, like REAL GENIUS, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and the TAKEN films have kept Gries constantly working, and his status as one of the hardest working character actors around is legendary. We were able to chat with Jon for a bit, to talk about his role in the TWILIGHT ZONE-like anthology, LOCKER 13, and as expected, it was definitely a pleasure. Read on!
First off, LOCKER 13 has an old-school vibe to it, somewhat reminiscent of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or a less scary TALES FROM THE CRYPT, what attracted you into being a part of it?
That’s a very very good question. It’s funny you say that, because I was recently doing another interview, and he asked me “why did you end up doing it?” and the very first thing that I said was “Rod Serling”. I have older brothers, and as a kid, I used to try to stay up with my brothers and watch “NIGHT GALLERY” with them. Even thought I was really young, I REALLY loved it, and I loved the idea of a guy walking up and talking about stuff. Maybe this is a different spin on that, with him being a cowboy and I love the fact that he’s a janitor and caretaker, even though he acts like he’s a sheriff. There was room for kind of a “sweet” characterization, you know?
Yeah totally. Speaking of that role, it’s a different kind of character for you, a side that fans haven’t gotten to see much. That kind of got me thinking about the wide variety of roles that you’ve played in your career, what plays into you choosing a role?
This particular role, I chose for exactly that reason. I had never done anything like this, and they sent me the script and asked me to do it, and we talked on the phone. I instantly liked them, and they showed me the episodes that they had shot and edited together, that I’d be referring to and I thought they were well done and well acted. You don’t want to get into a situation with new people who don’t really know how to approach a narrative. We’ve all done it, and especially with actors who have been around a while, you get into a project and realize “wow, these people are lost”, you know?
These guys were really spot on, and that interested me, as well as playing that kind of character. I’m more interested in things I haven’t done before, instead of just playing the same roles I have.
Recently, Scream Factory released TERROR VISION to Bluray for the first time, and since then, the film’s kind of had a second life. A lot of newer fans are getting into it, and much like THE MONSTER SQUAD or NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, it’s kind of become a cult classic. What is it about those films that you feel really resonated with audiences?
Yeah, that’s cool. These are good questions! I’ve got to check out your site, I really like your questions. I will tell this: there’s a reason that ‘midnight cinema’ is such a cult thing. I’m a huge fan of that. As a kid, I used to watch all of the classic black and white films and I loved film, but when I got into high school, those ‘midnight movies’ like EL TOPO or THE GROOVE TUBE, THE HARDER THEY COME, or ERASERHEAD, were all playing, and I LOVED going to see those movies. It felt like such an event. UP IN SMOKE, with Cheech and Chong, movies like that always had something that wasn’t mainstream, and that was exciting for me, I was like “Wow, this is really edgy!”. Ever since then, I’ve always been a fan of that kind of “genre”, and I find myself gravitating towards that. I like it, I like being “Ed Wood” in my own right. I like sometimes, being in cheesy weirdness. It makes me excited that TERROR VISION has been rediscovered, because to me, it was always THAT kind of movie, it was so tongue in cheek and fun, off the wall you know?
Oh yeah, I agree. I love that movie. As a kid, I was completely in love with THE MONSTER SQUAD, and now that it’s been released on DVD and Bluray, it’s become one of those staple films for my kids as well. It’s a movie that doesn’t age.
It holds its own. It’s a really wonderful premise, and it’s sad that the film didn’t do better, when it was originally released. I was surprised, because I thought the film was going to be a knockout, a big hit..I think everybody who was involved in the film did, especially Peter Hyams, who produced it. Peter was the reason that I got in the movie, I had done RUNNING SCARED with Peter Hyams directing it. He basically just walked me in, and said “Fred Dekker”, here’s your guy. It was very kind of him, very sweet. I was never knocked out with my performance as “The Desperate Man”, but I’m kind of a perfectionist. As an actor, I try to leave it open to whatever craziness happens in the moment, but at the same time, I like to feel like I’m well prepared and with that one, I just didn’t feel like I was on the mark.
It’s interesting that you feel that way, because tons of fans of that film, including myself couldn’t disagree more (laughs). You’re great in that movie man.
That’s very sweet of you to say.
Throughout your career, you’ve worked with so many great directors, you mentioned Peter Hyams, Fred Dekker, and you’ve worked with many other really awesome people. Is there and filmmaker in particular that you’ve yet to work with, but really want to?
Yes, definitely. Unfortunately, in the time I’ve been around, there were these guys who’ve disappeared. Some of the older greats, like Sydney Pollack, I’ve always thought would have been great to work with. Nowadays, I’d say people like the Coen brothers, I love their stuff, they’re clearly wonderful filmmakers. I love Stephen Frears, and I did do a very small part with him in THE GRIFTERS, but I love his work. Lars Von Trier is another one, and all of those guys are just heavyweights, who are all incredible.
I showed my wife Von Trier’s NYMPHOMANIAC recently, and she was really taken back by it, it was a funny thing to look over at her and see her mouth open.
I saw that, but I don’t particular think it’s his better work. The one he did before that, about the planets, uh..
Yeah! I loved that one, it was just a masterpiece.
Yeah I loved MELANCHOLIA too. I just have one more question for ya, I’m completely anxious to see Riley Stearn’s FAULTS, you’re in that one, right? Could you tell us a bit about your role in the film?
My role wasn’t very big in the film, but Leland Orser..he is just so amazing in that film. What’s funny is that Leland and I keep crossing paths, we were both in THE PRETENDER series, and he lives a block away from me, so we always see each other every day (laughs). We’re always working together, and man, he is so unbelievable in that film. Riley Stearn’s direction, and writing is incredible and Mary Winstead who plays the lead girl, also gives a phenomenal performance. I don’t really have a huge role in it, but it’s really interesting subject matter. One of the reasons I was drawn to it, aside from Leland Orser and loving to work with him, is that I get to play a different character that I haven’t gotten to play. I would’ve loved to have had more of a direct involvement in the film, because it’s just a great psycho-thriller.