Friday, 15 August 2014

The Tall and the short of it... An interview with Carel Struycken... dan na na na... *click click*

My first week day on the job and with a few happy customers behind me I was feeling confident.
I knew when I got into the game of chimney sweeping that it might not be easy, but then my father was a sweep and his father before him... It was in my blood. 
These days people preferred gas heaters to warm their homes, but there were still one or two that liked to keep it natural and they were my bread and butter.

I found a street that looked promising, I checked the name... Cemetery Lane... Hmm... Curious, but then again that large house at the very end looked incredibly promising!

I knocked on a few doors down the lane and was greeted by a friendly "Hello" and a smile, but no takers for my services. Shame, I thought, but there was still that house, number 1313.

Eventually I got to the building, it was more a crumbling mansion than a house and looked like it should have been condemned... A number of times! But it had chimneys, lots of chimneys that looked like they hadn't been swept in centuries, let alone years and if these guys needed them cleaned then I could make enough money to retire! 

I took a deep breath and pushed on the enormous metal gate... creeeeeeeeek it went as I pushed with all my strength, these people obviously didn't have visitors much, I had some WD40 in my van, I made a mental note to offer some to whoever in gods name lived here.

I made my way up the path and as I did a curious thing happened, the once gloriously sunny day got darker and darker with every step up the path, eventually covering the entire sky, I looked back at the street, still sunny? But... How? Why? 

I started to turn back, just the outside of this place made my bones rattle and the blood freeze in their veins, what the hell would the inside look like? Or it's residence?! I stopped and told myself to pull it together, this could be worth a fortune! I took deep breath and turned back.

Getting to the door was just the first step, the house loomed above me like a something from a 1960s horror movie and the knocker on the door was heavy and monstrous... Everything seemed to be screaming at me "Run!!!" But I didn't, I had made it this far... Time to see who, or what was inside...


I stood outside, my brushes rattling as I shook with fear... Then suddenly with a loud creek the door opened and I was greeted with... a belt and trousers? For a second I was perplexed and then I looked up... and up... and up... And there standing in front of me was a man, now I'm not too tall, but this man was huge... and familiar looking... Very familiar looking... 

And then he smiled spoke and I knew exactly who he was....

Carel Struycken is a Dutch film, television, and stage actor. He is best known for playing the Giant in Twin PeaksMr. Homn in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Lurch in the films The Addams FamilyAddams Family Values and Addams Family Reunion. He is an exceptionally tall man at 2.13 metres (7 feet) and thus is often called upon to play character or comedic roles in which height plays a major part.

Oh my goodness what a chance... Never mind the chimneys I thought, lets ask some questions!!

I had to ask about the height thing... So, when did you or your family first realise how tall you were going to be?  
"From 1st grade on, I was always the tallest of my class. My grandfather on my mother's side was about 6.8 and many male relatives on that side of the family were well over 6 ft. By the time I was 14, I was already 6.5 ft. We were living in Curaçao (an island in the Caribbean) and there was no culture of basketball, so being that tall was just considered freakish. Not easy for a 14 year old!"

I knew that he had been born in The Netherlands, grew up in the Caribbean and have had most of your career in the US, So, I wondered, where do he consider home?
"The US is where my wife and children are, so that is home now."

He'd graduated from a directing program at a film school in Amsterdam, following which he did a year at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, so I wondered if he'd wished he had stuck to it or did he prefer acting?
"I got hooked on the medium as a teenager when I saw a Japanese movie, called "The Woman in the Dunes".  The style was very minimalist and stark, and I was fascinated by how evocative and powerful a simple montage of shots could be. I fell in love with the medium in a very elemental way. Most of my life so far has been one giant distraction with mishaps and tangents. I hope to soon restart a project I had to abandon 6 years ago."

I'd heard this great rumour... Apparently, as it goes, the screenwriter Rene Daalder abandoned his car in a Hollywood street calling “We need you for a movie!”? I asked how on earth did that make him feel??? I wondered if he'd looked around and thought “Is she talking to me?” 
"You got two stories mixed up. When I moved to the US in 1975, I worked on a few projects with Rene Daalder. He already had a few features under his belt as director. We were working on a musical feature, using some great characters we had assembled from the local (Los Angeles) punk scene, when Mabel Collins, the personal assistant to the director of the Sergeant Pepper's movie, spotted me from her car. It was perfect timing for me, because I was flat broke."

... and to immediately start working with such a prestigious cast… Were you star struck? What were they like???  Were there any stand out cast members? I asked.
"I was very much immersed in the punk scene during that time, so most of the Sergeant Pepper's talent was considered a bit over the hill. But I remember how incredibly likeable and down to earth the BeeGees were. 

Steve Martin's performance as Dr. Maxwell was one of the highlights of the film for me."

I looked at the house again and only one film sprung to mind... I had to ask, you must have been an obvious choice for Lurch in the Addams family? Did you just sit back and wait for the call?? 
"There was not really a "casting call" for the Lurch part. I just got invited to have a talk with Barry Sonnenfeld (the director) and Scott Rudin (the producer). 

So how did he sweet talk him, I wondered...?
I told them that people in the street often asked me if I was Lurch and it would be a relief to from now on be able to answer in the affirmative."

Now there is a very famous cast member called 'Thing', who unlike the rest is just a disembodied hand. I wondered what was it like filming with just a body part? I guessed that there had to be a real body to go with the hand... So was it hard having to act round the body when it’s not supposed to be there?
"Movie making is a very technical endeavour. With something as simple as an "over-shoulder" shot, the camera operator determines where you should look. You are never allowed to look the person you are talking to in the eyes. Always a number of inches to the left or the right instead. Nowadays, with so much done in a blue-screen environment, acting is even more demanding in that respect. Pretending to interact with a disembodied hand is child's play by comparison."

I asked what were the cast and crew like? – Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Acting alongside talents such Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd etc. Did you socialise much with them between filming
"The cast and crew were great. Barry was already a famous DP, but this was his directing début. I got the sense that the Addams Family project was very dear to Scott Rudin and especially the first few weeks he was always on the set. The shoot was technically extremely demanding and we often had to stand on the set, waiting for the lighting adjustments. Raoul Julia would often entertain us singing arias or songs from a musical. "

I wondered if he you ever imagined that dear sweet little Christina Ricci would grow up to be so beautiful and successful?
"Christina Ricci was already a great actress, always finding ways to add something to her performance."

Now, The Addams family was as funny as it was creepy and kooky, so, I enquired, was it hard to keep a straight face all the time? SUCH a straight face!
"With something like an Apatow production, where all the actors are seasoned comedians who may decide on the spot to change or add something to the scene, there may be moments where it is hard to keep from laughing. But the Addams Family productions were technically complex and slow and there never were unexpected funny moments on the set. But Barry Sonnenfeld can be very funny."

Most of the roles Carel plays are mute,  I wondered if he would like to do more vocals? 
"It is difficult to maintain a presence on the screen when there is no dialogue. I have found the speaking parts easier and more rewarding."

And do people ever assume that he is actually mute? 
"When I am out with my family, people sometimes approach my wife or one of my (by now grown-up) children and start asking questions about me as if I am not there. That is always a bit puzzling. Maybe they think I am an extraterrestrial, which is fine with me."

Now, I'm not tall but I do have a group of friends who call themselves “Altitude with attitude” and are all over 6ft 7 inches,  I went for a drink with them once and at 5ft 5inches I felt a bit ridiculous, especially when they kept resting their drinks on my head! I thought he might like the group and wondered if he knew of anything similar? 
"I have never had the slightest urge to make other people feel short. A few times I have met people who were as tall or taller and that is a very strange experience for the first few seconds."

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him if it was cold up there, but I resisted the urge and asked, instead, if other people say it?

"I don't get the silly remarks any more. Maybe because I am older, or people recognize me from a movie."

I knew the Dutch nation are the tallest in the world, I asked if he felt more ‘Normal’ when he visits? 
"Yes, the rest of the nation has caught up with me :-) I think it has to do with the milk surplus Holland had in the 60s and 70s. They would practically force-feed it to the children in elementary school. Most of the tall tribes in Africa are nomadic herders. Maybe they also drink a lot of milk. I am lactose intolerant by the way, so this theory does not apply to me."


I noticed him shuffling in the door way, I knew I'd pushed my luck and how ever lovely and polite this man was I couldn't keep him chatting all day, so I thought of my last question... I asked... what would your dream role be and who would you like to act alongside?
"I auditioned for Princes Bride, and Rob Reiner thought I would be good in comedy. But I was already committed to Witches of Eastwick and Andre the Giant got the part instead. He did a great job, so it was probably for the better. But I would still like to do a more comedic part some time. "

That was fantastic, I thought as we said our goodbyes and with a creek and a Boom the heavy door slowly closed behind me. 

I walked down the path on a high, what a story to tell to my wife, she'd never believe me! 

I tugged open the gate with some effort and walked out to the sunny summer afternoon, I was deliriously happy but  there was something nagging at me... What was it?

I wrestled all my brushes and poles into my van and drove off... But still had this nagging feeling that I'd forgotten to ask him something... But what was it? What could it have been? 

It was only as I was sitting in bed ready to sleep that it finally hit me and I realised what I'd forgotten to ask....

.... THE CHIMNEYS!!! I'd forgotten to ask about the bloody chimneys!

Find out more about Carel at:

1 comment: