Glenn Shadix
Interviewed By: Gringo

Glenn Shadix is a highly memorable character actor; but it's minimising the work he's done to just say that and move on swiftly. As Otho in Beetlejuice he had some of the best lines, and roles in great movies - Heathers, as the Mayor in Nightmare Before Christmas and Senator Nado in Planet of the Apes, amongst many others - have proved his skill. Even better, he's a really nice guy to talk to. Here's the transcript of my phone interview with him. Be sure to check out his official website at www.glennshadix.com, where you can find out more about him and his work.


Gringo: How did you get started? Did you have any formal acting training?

Glenn: I'd been an actor in plays since I was a kid in school. Starting off I did community theatre in Alabama - where I grew up - then regional theatre. I got my Equity card in '73 doing regional theatre, before going to a small liberal arts college in Birmingham Alabama called Birmingham Southern, which had a very good drama department.

Then I moved to New York. I was there for a little over a year, then I moved to California in '77, where I started doing lots of plays, producing video movies and learning how to work in front of the cameras by renting some. In fact, Tim Burton first saw me in a play where I was doing Gertrude Stein! I never met him that night, but he remembered me from the play and called me when he was making Beetlejuice.

Gringo: Do you do a lot of research for your roles?

Glenn: Well, different roles have different requirements. In Planet of the Apes for example, I had a lot of fun researching and working on that. We spent time with Cheroyn Tary, who's a specialist in ape behavior movements - a general behaviorist. We researched how they interact, watched several different films of their movements, we even went to the zoo.

Of course, because I'd already done Dunston Checks In I'd spent a lot of time with the orangutan in that movie, so I had a bit of an insight into their behavior.

As for researching Beetlejuice, I spent some time at a Pacific Design Center talking to interior designers. I also looked through research on psychics. Unless the role is something very foreign to you, research is best used to give you some confidence - that added little detail. It's always good to know you've done some, as it gives you confidence to inhabit a role.

Gringo: A lot of people probably know you best as Otho in Beetlejuice. Do you ever get tired of being recognised for that movie?

Glenn: I'm lucky to have been in a film that is so well known. I do a lot of different types of work in stage and film, major and small, independent and studio, and the recognition hasn't been a hindrance. I'm just glad the movie did well and is remembered so fondly. It seems to gather new fans along the way - so the answer is no.

Gringo: Has the movie's enduring success surprised you?

Glenn: It's delightful that it's weathered so well. The filming was an absolutely joyous time. We really all adored one another, and had great fun making it. But the general consensus was that it would probably end up as a kind of midnight movie hit, maybe a very small cult film.

No one had any idea how mainstream it would be treated, as it was an odd little piece at the time it was made. We were all very surprised at its commercial success. But I'm kind of glad there's never been a sequel. Instead the movie exists in its own little world, not diluted by parts II, III and IV.

Gringo: Is a sequel a closed subject then?

Glenn: It was certainly talked about, and a couple of scripts were written, but there was never one script written that really stirred Tim's imagination enough for him to proceed with it. They tried, but I suppose it's just as well they didn't succeed - it's nice for the movie to have its uniqueness.

Gringo: How much did the movie's success alter your career?

Glenn: Well, before Beetlejuice I'd had a very small part - which I got my SAG card from - in The Postman Always Rings Twice. I had a little scene with Jessica Lange and my line was "Hey miss, what about that chicken salad sandwich?". That was a good little debut. But as far as opening the door to more work, Beetlejuice certainly was my "break".

It allowed me to sign with good representation. Since then I've done about 30 films, some big, some small. I've worked with lots of different people. It's been a nice little medium range career. It hasn't made me rich, but I make a decent living.

Gringo: You played Father Ripper in Heathers - how did you get that part?

Glenn: I'd done a class with the director Michael Lehmann in 1985, in a comedy improvisation group called The Groundlings in Los Angeles. We worked in the class together and got to know each other. He asked me to come in to do the scenes one day, and we shot them in an afternoon - in fact, the week that Beetlejuice came out.

I did another movie with Michael called Meet The Applegates; it's a cultist sort of movie about giant bugs from South America which have mutated into the 'all American family', and that was with Stockard Channing and Ed Begley Jr.

Gringo: Christian Slater and Winona Ryder were incredibly popular at the time of Heathers. What was working with them like?

Glenn: Oh, it was great - a lot of fun. Winona of course I had got to know during filming of Beetlejuice. And Christian was a delight. We all partied quite a bit in those days....

Gringo: The next Tim Burton movie you worked on was Nightmare Before Christmas. Was it more of a challenge doing voice-over than standard acting?

Glenn: Let me say it was a tremendous experience working with Danny Elfman and the director Henry Selick. We worked on the movie intermittently over a three-year period, and most of that work was done in San Francisco. They flew me from LA to San Francisco for recording sessions up there, whilst Danny was in LA for the musical numbers.

It's a movie I am very fond of. It was a wonderful project that Tim had in mind to do for a very long time. Now, I'd already done some radio theatre with a group called Variety Arts Radio Theatre so I had a lot of experience with voice acting. It's different, you have to be aware you're creating the character mainly with the voice and you don't have all the visual subtleties you have in regular acting.

Gringo: I've not seen Planet of the Apes, but I do know you played Senator Nado - which required a heavy amount of make-up. Did that process ever get tedious?

Glenn: Well it usually took about three and a half hours after they got started and it wasn't so bad. It sounds worse than it is, and I was having such a good time working with such wonderful people - we were all in the same boat.

My major scene was with a group at a dinner party so we were all - except Mark Wahlberg - done up in simian make-up. They took good care of us, but at lunch we had to watch what ate, in case any grease from our food disturbed the mask and the latex - we were eating in front of mirrors, slowly guiding the food in!

I had fun working on the movie - the delight...making the movie is always the fun part. The work is getting the job; doing auditions, looking for work. When I finally get to do it, I love it - heavy makeup doesn't dim the fun.

Gringo: So what was working with a real monkey like in Dunston Checks In?

Glenn: Amazing. The monkey had been beautifully trained and was amazingly adept at what he had to do. There's a scene where he's sitting under the table whilst I'm placing hours d'oeuvres on a tray, talking to a waiter. As I place them on the table, the monkey keeps grabbing them - he had to watch a small handheld monitor with his trainer and whenever I put one down, he picked it up---from UNDER the table!

He had to do that four times in a row - and the surprising thing is that we did it in one take. I had a really good working relationship with that orangutan! He was a real one-take wonder.

Gringo: Perhaps a lot of people recognise you most from your roles in Tim Burton's movies. Have you noticed any change in his directing style over the years?

Glenn: I don't see any great change. When we made Beetlejuice he was wonderfully relaxed and at home with his craft. If anything, he's gotten more relaxed, but he has had to deal with more. I'd say he's not changed, but the profile of his projects has intensified. They have bigger budgets and there's more pressures surrounding the shoot.

But Tim still maintains a nice, calm atmosphere on set and keeps the pressure away from the actors - there's doubtless a lot more pressure on him these days than when he was first starting out.

Gringo: How do you keep getting involved with his movies? Are you in regular contact with him?

Glenn: We've known each other for a long time - sometimes we can go long periods of time without seeing each other - but it's great when we do meet up. Last year I did voices for him, for his Stain Boy series on his website. Whenever he's got something appropriate for me, he gives me a call.

Gringo: How about your website - was it your idea?

Glenn: A guy called Shaun Fleming, who had a Beetlejuice website, contacted me and offered to create it. He maintains it as well. I wasn't very computer literate at the time, and it was a fun way to try out new medium. We've had a good response - it's getting a lot of hits. It's fun, something I look at as a hobby.

Gringo: What inspired the biographical section of the site?

Glenn: I'm a bit of amateur writer - I'm playing around with writing memoir, little episodes from my life. The website is a way to have a little bit of an audience. Hopefully one day I'll come up with something I want to publish - or at least that someone wants to read!

Gringo: Do you still enjoy acting?

Glenn: Absolutely. It's what I love to do, and I've been doing all my life. I still enjoy it and will probably do it until they stop letting me do it.

Gringo: What's up next?

Glenn: I just did a film called Shut Your Dirty Little Mouth. It's a true story set in San Francisco and it's playing at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival February 1st. I star in it - one of two characters. It's about two alcoholic roommates who fought so loudly, bitterly and violently that their neighbours recorded it as evidence for their hopeful eviction.

However, the tapes were so fascinating to them, they recorded for months. A writer called Greg Gibb transformed the tapes into play and then we took the tapes and the play and fashioned a screenplay from them. Every word is taken exactly from the live tapes - it's a pretty wild experience and little darker than most things I've done. It's certainly not for kids.

Other than that, there's a few other little things blowing the wind, a few parts I'm up for which will hopefully solidify. You never know!

Gringo: Finally, what's the role you've always wanted to play?

Glenn: One thing I'd like to do is to play interesting Southern characters. Having grown up in Alabama, I'd love to have a go at that sometime. But a few years down the line, when I'm older, the role of Big Daddy in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is one I'd love to sink my teeth into.


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