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Interview: Michael Gross (Tremors: Shrieker Island)

Michael Gross (Family Ties, Tremors) returns to play the legendary Burt Gummer again in Tremors: Shrieker Island. Don Michael Paul directed this one and Michael Gross took some time to talk about Tremors: Shrieker Island, he shared his inspiration, and who he channels to play Burt with Horrornews.net.

It’s an honor to talk to you Michael. I grew up watching Tremor’s and I watched Family Ties.

M.G.-Thanks Janel.

HNN-How does it feel that everyone still has this love for Burt. Burt Gummer is still going strong and kicking ass. How does it feel for you?

M.G.-It’s unusual to me that anything has staying power because actors by nature are fatalist. We just assume we’re going to do something and then get our ass kicked out the back door. So, I’m surprised that Burt is still doing what he’s doing. I’m even more surprised that I’m seventy-three years of age and still doing action-adventure. It becomes more and more difficult to get in shape. I really do have to exercise. I have to stretch and I still hurt myself. I hurt myself in every one of these films. In Tremors 5, I broke a couple ribs, in Tremors 6, I broke a tooth. In this one, I tore my rotator cuff.

HNN-Oh no…

M.G.- It still takes it toll but having said that, I seem to heal well.

HNN-Oh, thank god. I’m glad you are okay.

M.G.- I’m astounded, it’s exciting that people care about it as much as they do. Two iconic characters in its own way, Steven Keaton on Family Ties and now Burt Gummer. Good writing in both cases, I think that’s what the difference in every case. Good writing.

HNN-I did love Family Ties. I grew up watching Horror movies and it was cool to see a family like that on Family Ties.

M.G.- I knew way back then from the letters I got from kids that Family Ties was as popular as it was, because American families weren’t doing as well as the Keaton family was. People needed to see an intact American family where the ties that bound them were stronger than the things that conspired to pull them apart. I honestly feel that Tremors is very much the same.

In every one of these films, you take a desperate group of people, the most unlikely group of people and god knows, Burt doesn’t want to be with any other human being. They come together to fight a common foe. I think its very family friendly aside from some of the language that people might object. Among other things, Burt for all his guns, his love of guns has never… Burt never points his gun at another human being. I still think in that way, it’s old fashioned. The body count is the result of the monsters.

HNN-Did you ever look to anyone for inspiration or did they say, go for it and play Burt?

M.G.- The first writers, Tremors 1 was wonderfully written, it was difficult not to be Burt. I remember listening to a lot of Hank Williams when I was doing the first one. That sort of kick ass kind of big Texas swing and things like that. I listened to Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys. I listened to a lot of that music off-camera and in the car, to and from the set. Having said that, I have a bit of experience with obsessive compulsive disorder and a tiny bit of paranoia. That in a way was my father and I don’t mean in a dangerous way.

He was just one of the most cautious human beings I had ever known in my life. He had to completely get the lay of the land before he would take a certain step. It was as if the world was made of land mines and no one had given my poor father a map. In a lot of ways, I channeled my dad. Burt is nothing if not afraid. It’s comic fear, comic paranoia. Comedy is always about obsesses and exaggeration. So, you take a little bit of paranoia and O.C.D., and you just take it as far as you can go. It’s like mining comic gold. That’s one of the reasons I keep returning to the character. I had to think about re-inventing Burt and looking at those old scripts again. In 5, 6, and 7. I took more of hand in Burt’s dialogue, that is to say, his emotional through line, what he would and wouldn’t do. How emotionally he gets through a piece. Then polishing the dialogue because Burt speaks in a specific way, it’s highly technical, there’s rarely anything emotional about what he says. He’s safe in a technical world not an emotional world. He doesn’t speak emotional. We try to take him out of his safe zone. We tried to keep Burt dealing with his internal monsters as well as the external monsters and that’s the fun part for me.

HNN-I agree. Burt is one of a kind. What do you want to say to all the fans that will be watching the movie?

M.G.- I need to express my gratitude more than anything.

HNN-Thank you so much Michael. Thank you for taking the time to talk. You’ve been a positive voice to a lot of people.

M.G.- Thank you so much Janel. It’s been an absolute pleasure of mine.

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