Interview: Marilyn Burns (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

TRAIL BLAZING WITH A TEXAS LEGEND An Interview with Marilyn Burns

DAVE GAMMON: I’d first like to extend a very warm welcome to scream queen and legend Ms. Marilyn Burns to Horrornews.net. For oblivious fans of the terror genre of course you’d played the dashing lead in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sally. No stranger to Tobe Hooper productions compare and contrast in playing the lead role of Sally and the 1977’s Eaten Alive character Faye.

MARILYN BURNS: Whoa….well…they were totally different characters. Although they did both end up with those stupid gags in their mouths (combined laughs). You know one just happened to be a rope and a nasty rag that someone just happened to pick up on the set and the other happened to be electrical tape. I don’t know which was worse. And then you think of the time you get to spend like that, roughly ensemble it isn’t exactly the screen time. It was for many more hours. I can’t tell you which was worse…well… maybe electrical tape it wasn’t very comfortable either.

The roles were two very different ladies as well. Jeez Faye was definitely out there. At least Sally got away and survived. I’m not sure what little Faye did. She just…she just started the movie out there.

But looking back I will say this, I love working with Tobe. I had the pleasure of working with William Findlay. I played his wife and actually we lost Bill just this past month actually.

DG: Oh no…I’m sorry to hear that.

MB: It just broke my heart. I mean you just remember all the cool, wonderful things he was and he did. What a great actor and a great friend and a great person. I was just very lucky to have met him and become his friend.

DG: I find in times like these you have to remember all the positive things and celebrate how they made a really phenomenal impact on your life too right?

MB: Oh yeah, he certainly did. He was terrific. Tobe wanted us totally crazy and we did a lot of improving. Bill and I could do it with the best of them I tell you. We’d go on for hours. They’d say more and he’d just stop it every time. All the people in Eaten Alive were definitely interesting characters to say the least. Stuart Whitman, Carolyn Jones, Bobby Englund-Robert Englund….you know I met a cast of characters that then I’d never known before. It was quite something.

It was different ways of film making. I mean one was shot in Texas in the 110 degree heat and the other was shot in a studio in Hollywood. One was shot all outside practically and the other was shot inside where we built a pond inside the studio and did the trees and the shrubbery, even the cars driving in and out of the lot that was in the studio in the sound set. That whole house was created for that show.

DG: What freaked you out more the big alligator or Leatherface?

MB: They both were…I wouldn’t want to be in a place with either one of them…I think perhaps the alligator wasn’t as scary as Neville Brad and the Chainsaw with Leatherface was definitely quite a two-some. And then you combine crazy families in both of them, oh my goodness.

DG: Makes for quite a mix, yeah.

MB: It was quite exciting, always a new experience. We did have a good time though as trying as it was.

I just had Gunnar on the phone, Gunnar Hansen. We were just saying we’re going to get together and put something together. He’s writing a book and we’re just going to interview each other and get ideas. He was saying remember on the 20th anniversary came Marilyn and we came to London? And I said to Gunnar, it’s in this book called The Texas Home Companion. I said, “Who would’ve thought that 20 years later we’d be on the streets in London having Bangors and Beer after all the times that we never got paid and were feeling out of sorts and who would think 20 years later?” And Gunnar says, “No Marilyn now look at us.”

We were just in Louisiana last year doing Texas Chainsaw 3D. Then it was Gunnar Hansen, John Duggan and myself in Leatherface 3D. That day we all finished early and we’re all looking at each other going now I know a million years ago we’d said who would’ve thought but now it’s been like 38 years. We’re still meeting together.

DG: It’s great that you keep in such close contact and it’s funny how things come in full circle that way too.

MB: It is remarkable because all of us are close in the cast. We keep meeting and say this will never happen again. And then we have another reunion and another reunion. We’re going to another show together. Let’s see I know I’m….I don’t know if Gunnar is going to Seattle but I know we’re all going to your show and we’re really, really, really looking forward to that because you’re having a great reunion and above.

DG: And what’s really great is the MacabreCon/NFCC VIP fan package too with the photo-opp, meet and greet and the screening of the film and also I just heard there is going to be a Headcheese and BBQ afterwards too. More info here

MB: Oh goodie. But I just may not be having any…(combined laughs).

DG: Teri McMinn has also mentioned that you’re going be staying a couple days afterwards and do some sight-seeing. So that would be really nice.

MB: Oh definitely we’re really looking forward to that. We both are. Actually I talked to her today too. We’ve just been the Chainsaw Chatty Kathy’s. We’re all looking forward to it.

DG: While portraying Sally desperately trying to flee Leatherface it is evident the role was physically demanding. What provisions did you take to stay fit both physically and emotionally?

MB: Provision wise to stay fit, you just run like hell because some guy in a leather faced mask that can’t see very good out of the eyes and all the grass and stuff you run like you can.

We were kind of low budget. I remember the chainsaw going up in the air and Gunnar tripped. It came down to the ground as we all stood in horror. It didn’t hit me until many years later. What were we kids thinking?

DG: No kidding…

MB: Running around at night with a chainsaw. I mean there wasn’t really a light track because we didn’t have a lot of track. We had to pick it up, ‘run Marilyn,’ pick it up, ‘run Sally,’ pick it up, lay it down again. It’s really done in spurts you know?

And then of course when I was running away from Leatherface the first time I really wanted to show them. They didn’t know me. They didn’t know how high I could go, meaning I wanted to give them a 10. If I just gave them a 5 they’re going to think is this all the girl can do and say ok, we’ll just keep that take.

What I tried to do is go to the top of my feat as I could. Because I wanted it real. I was so tired of actresses running into a room, taking a breath of fresh air and freshen their lipstick and then cry a little more you know?

DG: Right…

MB: I wanted it to look like I was running from someone but the trouble is I kept crashing into doors and hitting the camera. (combined laughs)

They’d say “hey Marilyn looks great but we’re not getting the shot because you’re way past the shot, running into the camera.”

Physically I just wanted to give it my all. Emotionally one of the things that made it fine was I know that girl did scream a lot, she sure did but she had every reason to. And the reason she screamed a lot was because you have the whole crew, all the props, all the other actors because that’s the way it was supposed to be in the movie. The directors and the producers got a little tickled about it too and I’m sure Tobe and Kim.

They had me going. When I had my hands and feet tied in the chair, right before the dinner sequence, Edwin Neal is leering at me, the hitch hiker. So I’m leaning so far away from him I just fall straight over. And the first thing they said was, ‘ah she ran out of the shot.’ Then they’d just go ahead and do something else. I’d be on the floor kicking and moving but not getting anywhere all tied up (combined laughs).

Then someone says, ‘Oh yeah that’s just the girl.’ The reasons why the emotions flowed so well on the set was the only reason I could get back at these people was to scream. If I did a good scream they’d all yell, ‘Cut, cut.’ I could just keep screaming. I wasn’t about to lose my voice. That was my one, my voice right there. The screaming made me feel good. It was my way of letting go of some tension. Basically my screams were my only weapon to get even with all the madness that shooting this film put me through.

DG: That’s a good way to look at it sure.

MB: I don’t think that they liked it too much (combined laughs). I remember them yelling cut very, very loud, many, many times. No I never really had any trouble with that.

DG: One scene stands out in my mind is when you burst into the gas station trying to seek some assistance and you’re trying to catch your breath, frenzied and frazzled. It’s a really convincing, effective scene.

MB: Well that’s because I think that was about take 42. I just about killed myself doing that take. All those takes, knocking over the camera man and knocking over the camera and knocking over the lights, but I didn’t want it to look like, I just came in here for a rest. I’m being chased by a mad person with a chainsaw. Do you believe me? Come one you can’t come in looking all cute, no.

However that face was also like the broom scene. Jim Siedow, the cook he had to hit me with the broom. Tobe kept saying, Jim, Jim you’re pulling punches. I need you to hit the girl. Jim says, “No Tobe. I can’t just hit the girl.” After we’d been doing this all night I finally say, “Jim, just go ahead, just hit me.” So he did and that’s how I got that’s how I’d gotten that black eye. So it was real. We didn’t need any of that continuity make up to make that black eye stand out.

There’s a lot of stuff like that in the movie. And of course we didn’t have much in the way of real safe props or…we had to use a lot of real things, you know? Like the real head cheese and the real chickens and the real you name it, it was in there.

DG: I guess the bones and the teeth and everything else too. Many people view Texas Chainsaw as an absolute classic. Film makers and fans alike still rank it among the pinnacle of sheer terror. What are your views on some of the sequels and remakes and tell us more about the 3D production you’d mentioned earlier.

MB: Well the sequels are their own kind of movie, stand on their own. I remember when the Jessica Biel movie came out. Every one said it was going to be an exact replica of Texas Chainsaw. I was thinking oh they’re going to copy everything that I’d done and real worried that another actress might be better than me. So I asked everyone to come and see it with me. I ended up alone in the theatre. I was watching it and then went, wait this didn’t happen in my movie. Oh it’s a whole other movie, hey.

DG: Exactly.

MB: I thought they were going to do verbatim shots. Each one was their own movie. So when Renee and Mathew played in Return of the Chainsaw (Texas Chainsaw the Next Generation) they all had their own charm and their own touches.

Now this 3D one, when I’d read the script I got very excited because I’d been reading these scripts for many years. I really enjoyed that script. I put it down and I called Gunnar and said, “Gunnar have you read the script?”

He said, “I read my part.”

I said,” Gunnar, read the whole thing!” You know? “There’s something here.” So I was excited about what was on the page. That made it, that made it fun. In Treeport shooting it, we had a ball. I’m anxious to see how it turns out.

DG: If I read correctly it’s in post-production now and slated for release in 2013?

MB: Uh-huh. Yeah. Yes it is.

DG: I find it really intriguing how 3D technology was first introduced in the early ‘80s and never really took off then and now the popularity has just picked up in the last couple of years.

MB: I know! They must’ve gotten it better, that’s all I can think of.

DG: Maybe the world just wasn’t ready for it in the early ‘80’s.

MB: No, I think everyone thought they’d just get a head ache and now everyone is getting 3D TV’s go figure.

DG: It’s pretty crazy. Attending the cast reunion on June 9th in Niagara Falls Comic Con/MacabreCon what do you enjoy the most about the conventions and what has been your most bizarre fan encounter?

MB: Oh gosh. First of all I enjoy the fans at the convention, that’s the best, best thing there. They’re wonderful, they’re always terrific. I’m always meeting new people. I’m always having a lot of fun. I get to see my friends. Gosh! You can’t ask for a better experience. I mean who could ever not just love that whole situation but how can we be so lucky? The fans are definitely what makes everything worthwhile.


DG: It’s good to hear, really good to hear.

MB: Well it’s the truth. I’m just grateful for everybody that likes it and still do. I mean it took forever, and it still feels that way sometimes. I think oh this can’t last. I’ll be darned if that movie doesn’t keep surprising me. So it’s hard to believe when you go past through a history and when we were a bunch of little old actors on a hot miserable day in the scorching sun, running around in a van about 8 or 9 of us, nobody could move in their seats because it’d make noise and we’re doing take 812, it does try your patience but it certainly was worth it, today.

The only weird experience I had with a fan was they wanted me to sign my name on their back. That was really kind of strange (combined laughs).

They were going to get a tattoo of it. I just didn’t feel very good about that; Because they do not need a tattoo of Marilyn Burns on their back. It sounds like a good idea after all of those beers at the show. But when you think about it, it is not a good idea. When I didn’t do it I had to be persuaded by everybody. Because they didn’t need that, just because they don’t need that, you know?

DG: Well it might have been a matter of getting caught up in the moment. I admire the fact that you tried to dissuade them from the fact, indicating they might regret it later on. It may have been a matter of getting caught up in the moment too right?

MB: I just didn’t want the moment to happen. I wanted them to think and realize, maybe this isn’t a good idea later on. But I remember going to my manager and saying, “Oh tell them they shouldn’t do this,” then I remember going to my good friend actress Caroline Williams was in Chainsaw 2 and she’d said, “Oh you have to do it.”

I thought between her and Kris, I’m not winning this argument. I felt really betrayed. I was thinking are you two kidding? Of course you don’t do that. But oh, dear; I mean I’ve seen some beautiful artwork of like Teri on the meat hook, of Leatherface, beautiful artwork, tattoos. I just don’t think a name belongs there, uh-uh, no. It wasn’t a good idea.

DG: That’s some pretty hard core fans, for sure. I will tell you this, I’ve been a big fan of the film. When I’d first seen it I was sixteen. I’ve seen it maybe a dozen times. I watched it just as a refresher on Monday night. It still freaks me out. I mean I took out the garbage later on and found myself running back to the house.

MB: Well even though it’s me, every time I watch that movie, well by now you’d think I wouldn’t, but there’s something about when I’m pushing Franklin through the woods, and then it’s really quiet and he says, “Look Sally, there’s your light.” Then the noise makes me jump.

DG: Every time.

MB: Yep.

DG: What’s on the horizon for Marilyn Burns for the balance of 2012? You’d mentioned earlier you were working on a book with Gunnar.

MB: Oh Gunnar is doing his own book, doing his own. I was thinking of dabbling in one myself. I’ve collected, have truck loads here of Chainsaw memorabilia.

He’s doing a lot of interviews right now. I remember the film from a whole different place since because of the parts we’d played. So there’s two people’s stories there. I’ve been definitely treating it that way and I know he definitely has been too. We’re just going to see what we can find and come up with, and we’ll share what we’ve come up with. Not that we haven’t done so at the conventions and shows along the way. But it is interesting because if you get John and me and Gunnar in a room then in Treeport then we actually talk about what had happened

What happened the first day? How did we get cast? All of the sudden you get these fascinating stories. We all remember something different and we can fill each other’s blanks in. I wish we were like

Marilu Henner who seems to remember every day of her life, but we don’t. But I did realize that we could go, “oh no that was that day.” And that was the day that, that happened. So I think it’s really interesting when you get people together as a group and start talking. It’s amazing the things you come up with. Then you’ll go, “yeah I do sort of remember that.” You know?

DG: Oh absolutely. I’m sure it’ll be a phenomenal read too, especially with the fans introduction to DVD’s these past few years. They get to see stuff that is behind the scenes so to speak, the making of documentaries. People can’t seem to get enough of it so, to see it translated into literary form I’m sure it’ll really go well.

MB: It’ll be a lot of fun. I’ve written stories about it before. I’ve certainly done interviews about it of course. Having it all in one place, it’ll be fun to have it down finally, in one book.

DG: Absolutely.

MB: There are so many things to remember later and go, “oh yeah, you know?”

DG: Well we’re on the edge of our seats in anticipation of the Niagara Falls Comic Con/MacabreCon. Is there any special message you’d like to send to your fans? How can fans best reach out to you?

MB: Well, you can reach me on facebook. And I will be there. I’ll be anxious to see everybody. I hope everybody comes down. I think we’ll have a really good time. You all have a lot of great events planned for it. Everybody is really excited. I have been getting a lot of mail about it. People keep saying they’re going to meet me there, so hopefully everybody will turn out and enjoy the show.

DG: I’ll definitely be there and feel like a kid on Christmas sometimes. It’s been a real thrill, a real pleasure and I appreciate you taking the time for this interview. Thank you once again.

MB: Well I sure enjoyed it! Teri was right, you were great.

DG: Thank you. That means a lot to me, you have no idea. I look forward to meeting you at the show.

MB: I look forward to meeting you too sweetie.

Dave Gammon and Horrornews.net wish to extend a very special thanks not only to Ms. Marilyn Burns but her manager Chris Roe and the team at Daniloff Productions and of course David Daniloff for making this possible.

Interview: Marilyn Burns (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

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