Harry Shearer
Interviewed By: Gringo

Known widely as both the voice of many characters (such as Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders) on The Simpsons and one part of the legendary rock band made up for This Is Spinal Tap, Harry Shearer's got a long list of movies and television shows to his credit. He was nice enough to agree to an interview for this site. You should visit his official website after reading this page. If you want to.

Gringo: Your first movie role was playing the - uncredited - "Boy" in Abbot And Costello Go To Mars. What did you have to do, and what was your first experience of acting like?

Harry: That wasn't my first experience of acting, I started on radio with Jack Benny. I had a day's work on the movie, and my line, to be repeated several times to Lou, was "But how does a spaceship work?"

Gringo: How did you first meet Christopher Guest, the man you've worked with on This Is Spinal Tap and other movies?

Harry: I went to NYC, he was working on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, and either Tony Hendra and/or Michael McKean introduced us. We went to dinner.

Gringo: Where did the idea for Spinal Tap first come from? Were you surprised by how well received the movie was, and its ongoing success today?

Harry: Anybody who's not surprised when people are still watching a movie 20 years after release is faking it. This was a particular surprise/delight, since the film almost never got released in the first place, thanks to the guy who was then running the about-to-be-bankrupt Embassy Pictures. The idea started when we were doing the band for a television pilot, then we gathered a year and half later to write a script for a movie about the band.

Gringo: You're performing again as one of The Folksmen in the new movie A Mighty Wind - where did the idea to have a folk group reunion come about?

Harry: That's an idea generated by Chris and Gene Levy, who wrote the film.

Gringo: Of the songs written for the movie, which one do you like the most, and why?

Harry: I guess I like Never Did No Wanderin' best, because it sounds so good in two different versions, and, unless you're listening carefully, you miss the absurdity of the concept.

Gringo: Your character has a rambling introduction for the song Skeletons Of Quinto - was this ad-libbed or can you share the full speech with us?

Harry: This was built on our stage act as The Folksmen, when I always launched into this introduction as a prelude to a stage manager coming over to me and whispering in my ear, "Get off the fucking stage".

Gringo: Was the finale concert all done in one take, and did you all perform your own instruments?

Harry: Several takes over several days. We all performed on our instruments, and the music was all recorded live, i.e., as it was filmed. No pre-records, no lip-synching.

Gringo: Of the "mockumentary" movies (Spinal Tap, Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show and A Mighty Wind) by Christopher Guest and the rest of you, which is your favourite and why?

Harry: Well, I guess it's A Mighty Wind, because it's the only one I appear in.

Gringo: Do you hate the word "mockumentary"?

Harry: No. Chris isn't fond of it.

Gringo: A lot of people know you as the voice of, among others, Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders and Otto on The Simpsons - how did that job come about?

Harry: Matt was a fan of my radio show (still on the air, www.harryshearer.com), and he and his partner Sam Simon approached me about doing multiple characters when The Simpsons became a full half-hour show. I demurred for a while, but ultimately gave in.

Gringo: Is there much chance to have input on the scripts? What's voice-over work like compared to on-screen acting?

Harry: Not much input. The writers like their work. Voice over acting involves much less waiting around, and much less make-up.

Gringo: Can you tell me what the movie Teddy Bear's Picnic is about? Is it the first time you've directed?

Harry: I directed quite a bit in the mid and late 80s, several shows for HBO, including a series called The History Of White People In America. This was my first theatrical feature. It's about a group of the richest, most powerful white men in America, who each year for more than a century have gone to a secret weeklong retreat in redwood country to act like college sophomores. It's based on a real place, and the movie has a wonderful cast of comic actors and actresses.

Gringo: There seems to be a lot of people from the Christopher Guest movies featured in Teddy Bear's Picnic - does working on so many movies with them make filming easier?

Harry: It's always better to work with people you know - you have access to a certain amount of shorthand language, common references to previous work that can be used to guide current work. You also understand the subtleties of the language that needs to be used to talk to different actors.

Gringo: For stalking potential, please tell our readers a little bit about what you get up to when you're not working.

Harry: I play basketball. I snorkel. I play music.

Gringo: What's the best and worst things about the work you do?

Harry: The best - it involves what I love. The worst - doing what you love puts your intestines in the hands of assholes.

Gringo: Who should we interview next, and can you put us in touch with them?

Harry: The Pope. Tell him I sent you.

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