Monday, 13 April 2015

The hills are alive with the sound of screaming - An interview with Michael Berryman

"This most definitely does not look like the picture in the brochure!" my wife cried at me as we made our way through what seemed like a wasteland, and I had to agree with her... The arid desert and the abandoned cars really didn't look like the photo's... We expected an oasis... 

'Set in the heart of the California countryside, this idyllic setting is perfect for that weekend getaway for the whole family. The hotel itself is surrounded by palm trees and the natural desert wildlife to create an unspoiled atmosphere to enhance your holiday experience. 
Transport included.'  

I couldn't even see the hotel advertised... and as for the transport?! Every time this rickety old bus turned a corner I thought it might break down and I swear a chunk of the engine had fallen out a few miles back.... No she was right... Nagging and annoying, yes, but right... This most definitely did not look like the brochure.  

This was meant to be a magical getaway, to try and kick start our failing marriage, but I swear even David Blaine couldn't do anything to make this holiday magical!

I looked at the others on the bus, there were only two other families; a couple in their early twenties and I'm guessing, newly-weds, who after a short period of, almost pornographic activity, had constantly bitched and bickered to each other through this long, hot journey... Yes, the air conditioning was a pile of crap... Yes, the heat was unbearable...  Yes, there were scorpions... and YES, it had been 8 hours... But this guy really had to learn to tune his wife out, an art I had discovered many years ago... All I hear these days is 'Hotel California' by the Eagles on a loop in my head, and as long as I nodded in the right places and made the occasional grunt, she was none the wiser. 

The only other people on the bus was this middle aged couple with two screaming teenage kids... Oh my god... They were killing me! Thank the lord we didn't have any kids! These two were feral... When they weren't playing on their computer game thingies, they were screaming and fighting with one another... And the parents??? Well they seemed blind to the whole freakin' pantomime! They just say there, eyes front... Looking bored... 

And then was this guy right at the front, big guy, to be honest I hadn't even remembered him getting on, but he was quiet though, thank the lord for small mercies and just sat and quietly read... I couldn't see much but a bald head from behind...  But he was quiet... So this guy I liked. 

I looked at the picture in the brochure once again and prayed for a cool bed, a pool and maybe one of the cocktails they featured, yes, that's exactly what I'll order when we get there, I thought... If we ever get there!

"Say something!" My wife nagged... "Say something to the driver!"

I got up from my seat and carefully made my way to the front of the bus while it shook and rocked... I really shouldn't of had that second Burrito, I thought. The driver had been really friendly at first, asking us where we were from and shaking our hands with a big smile, but then we had stopped at that gas station to refuel and everything changed... To be honest they guy actually looked slimmer that when he first got on, but we were tired and I didn't like to say anything...  So, passing the family and the bickering couple I neared the front, then, just as I passed the bald guy and got to the driver and with no warning the driver turned to me and growled "Get back into your seat... NOW!" 

I stared into his eyes, this was not the driver we had had before... This guy was not friendly... This guy as not smiley... and this guy had far less teeth...

With a start I took the nearest seat to me, beside the bald guy... I gave a weak smile, I was shaken and a bit scared but that did not stop me from realising who this guy was...  It was actor Michael Berryman!!! 

Michael Berryman - born 4th September 1948 -  has made a career out of portraying mutant bikers, evil undertakers, monsters and other frightening characters, most notibly the character Pluto in Wes Craven's cult classic 'The hills have eyes' in 1977.  

As soon as I realised all fears flew out of the window... I checked back at my wife, she sat there arms crossed, a sour look across her face, lips pursed... She was angry... Staying here was a much better option... And this way I could chat to Michael,  he put down the script he was reading and was happy to talk.

So Michael when did you realise you had such a unique look, that was perfect for movies?

"I was born with birth defects and looked different than most children. In school I received a lot of teasing and simply ignorant comments. I realized that when I was cast for 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest', it was my look and actual skull re-constructive surgery (which fit nicely for a lobotomy), that looked the role. It was my conversations and meeting with Saul Zantz, Michael Douglas and Milos Forman that cemented the relationship we shared, during the creation of the 'Nest'. So, it was my outward 'package' that created their interest in me, but it was my love for Art that helped me convince them I was their 'Ellis'. Milos was an incredible mentor for me. I started filming on my 2nd day working as a SAG actor. It felt great and was an adventure that I am eternally thankful for....I learned plenty during my 127 days filming Oregon State Mental Hospital!!"

But did you always want to be an actor? 

"Oh never crossed my mind, ever. I had all the attention for my looks that I could stand. When I left college in 1972, all I had plans for was to homestead in Alaska. I had been to veterinary school and just wanted to live in a refuge of earthly creation, (beauty and blessings)...our Home...Planet...Our to speak. I wanted to live with the animals and only associate with humans that appreciated Creation. I did love film...but I grew up in Los Angeles before the freeways...and it was nice. So, to stay in the 'ant farm of metropolis' was not very appealing to me. My family had many friends in 'Hollywood', TV and Film. They were very cool and creative and quick to laughter. For me, 1972 was my year to go north."

I looked out the window... Well 2015 was certainly not my year to go to the desert, I thought... 

So who discovered you?
"I came home to Santa Monica, CA in 1972. While living in city of Venice Beach, George Pal (Famous Producer of the original  'War Of The Worlds') met me and asked..'Are you an actor?'...I replied 'No...I just own the art shop across the street'. He then handed me a business card that said: Warner Brothers Studios....I realized George was a famous producer and told him I loved 'War. of the Worlds’..), He smiled and said:'Just call my office and come meet with my Director...please be in my have the perfect look for the Coroner in 'Doc Savage...The Man Of Bronze'...and I said 'Yes'...So the journey began!"
But, what was your childhood like? 
"My childhood? Well, some would say that I am still a child at heart. But to answer the query, I'll say this: I spent much of my youth just being a kid but had to see loads of doctors over the years. The exact diagnosis was my a mish-mash of health conditions. My brothers and sister are of normal health and we all got along, playing etc. like siblings do! " 

And you must get recognised everywhere you go?! 
"Being recognized today is just fine. The people I meet are from every walk of life. It is fun to engage in conversation...especially since I am also a fan of storytelling. Many people I meet also have interesting histories to share. To me this exchange of ideas is a delight."

Now can you please tell me about the epic 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'?
"'Cuckoo's Nest' was my “baptism” into film. We had all hand picked crew members. The sound dept. were from 'Mutiny on the Bounty'...Fred Phillips (who created Star Trek’s Spock's ears) was the head of the make-up department. Milos Forman was director and new to Hollywood. This film was a maverick! Every day on set (6-day work week) was special. Press and writers of film arrived daily from around the globe. The director of the real hospital was the same Dean Brooks who was the director at the time. Some of the people on the 3rd floor where Jack and the chief were electro-shocked, were actual patients at the time. They had signed releases. We would spend 1 hour each day of our 2-week rehearsal period, with the real patients. They told us what it was like to live such a life. It was bitter-sweet and painful, to hear. We came away from 'Nest' with a better appreciation of humanity and it's scarcity in the 'outside' world. I knew why some people remain in the hospital, forever. The outside world can be crushing."
But of course you are known best for playing the crazy cannibal, Pluto in 'The Hills Have Eyes' - part one and two!

"Of course, a 15-day shoot in the desert with all the stops pulled; pure rebel filming...we went for the jugular and never let go!!! Two families and ..'nothing to eat'!!! Pick one!! We did!!! Realism was our goal...the result was a drive-in-classic and my first poster shot! Thank you Peter Locke."

What was Wes Cravens reaction when you first auditioned for him?
"Wes was a quiet guy. He had a smile with a bit of a 'prankster-look'. He and Barry and Peter were happy kids in a candy store when we started to film 'Hills'. Now I had lived in the desert for many years and in the nearby mountains. So, for me, the location shoot was fun. 

And the others?
Most of the other actors were from Los Angeles.  They wanted their own trailers and did not like the desert at all. So, me and Papa Jupiter and Mars, would tease Suze Lanier and Dee Wallace everyday. They would all sit together and not hang with us 'Hill' folk much. It was a fun rivalry. Just watch how the dad with the moustache really get's into killing and stabbing Mars...then finishes with a kick. Too much fun!"

And what on earth did you have to do for an audition?!

"At the beginning...when I first met production...they told me I had the fissures/scars in my skull so I was the mutant/Pluto they wanted. But it was the action and physicality of Pluto that made the role work.

Wes as a director really wanted raw danger. His premis of course the question..'If a normal family was caught in a situation like we presented; would or could they kill and/or become survival enough to live? He felt the answer would be yes! Well, it was..."

The bus suddenly slowed and rolled silently into a layby. The driver turned to us, growled and called out, with almost a snarl "Break stop...", then exited the bus and with almost a sprint disappeared into the nearby rocks... But all I could think about was how a man could have such a massive harelip drink icetea? 

Nobody else seemed to want to get off... Must have been the scorpions... or the landscape...

Michael didn't get up either, he obviously didn't need a break, so I carried on with my questions.

How did Wes Craven direct you? Did he let you create the character yourself?
"There is a scene where Pluto is watching the 'white bread family'..and he reports to Mercury what he sees. Wes wanted Pluto to quickly flick his knife on a rock for tension and then run off a threatening manner. I told Wes that Pluto would always have his knife razor sharp and to scrape the rock would dull the knife. He said 'ok, but I really need that exit. I understood but held my ground...we see Pluto exit with the laughter towards Mercury as he keeps the whole killing/sport/sustenance mission in proper perspective. Pluto made a game of everything because he was most cunning and dangerous. My choice of character development. An artistic decision."

It's a pretty intense, scary bit of film making, but you must have a favourite funny? 

"My favorite laugh is when Grandpa Fred tells the father..'There's something you ought to know..' he then continues till he says: 'I took a tire iron and  split his face wide open' then the father asks 'well how bad was it? I always crack up at this....'HE SPLIT HIS FACE WIDE OPEN WITH A TIRE IRON!!!'  I think that must hurt!"

Ha! That was cool and in exchange I told him about me and the wife's wedding day and how she got her hair caught in the bouquet as she tried to throw it... That was a funny story! Nearly scalped her! I looked back, she was still sucking lemons so I carried on...
No sign of the driver yet either... 

You had a small, but memorable part in Weird Science, it must have been fun to film, did it take many takes to get it right? That part of the movie makes me scream with laughter, it must have been fun to film?

"Such a weird question!! Love it. Robert Downey, Jr. is a great talent. I could see art when he was in character. I love this film! Just saw it yesterday. John Hughes is still my favorite director for honest comedy...such a perfect distillation of awkward youth..meets the moment of wish fulfilment. My role was comedy/threat/humility...but when my biker character exited the room, I chose to speak while moving/pushing the motorcycle, and said '....God Bless'. This was to ensure I would not be edited out and while moving, it is tough to cut dialogue and have continuity. So, I said 'God Bless'
because my old friend Red Skelton would say at the end of the Red Skelton Show: 'Good night and God Bless'. It was an homage to a talented soul."

Then out of the window in the far distance we saw the driver slowly walking back, but he wasn't alone... Three others were with him... New holidayers? Ah well, it seemed odd but, hell... I could easily get a few more questions in before they got to the bus.
You have done a lot of Star Trek, do you have a favourite part?
"Star Trek......Well, the legacy will last forever. The humanity in Gene's storytelling will be of value forever. I am very grateful to have been part of ST4 and Next generation.

So Kirk or Pickard then?
I grew up on the original TV series. The stories are wonderful. So was The Twilight Zone. The humanity in the writing is very important. The original created the space for Next Generation. I love them both but would have to go with Kirk. 'Live Long And Prosper'...very cool, indeed!!"

And is it really all wobbly sets?

"No, the sets are beautiful...the Art Department is the best! Maybe in the beginning....the budget was very weak."

So is there a role you would just love to play? 

"I would love to play a hermit outside of society that has the wisdom to share with those who can carry on the quest."

Speaking of 'outside society', the driver and the others were getting nearer... These guys looked as odd as he did... Something didn't feel right... But Michael didn't seem too bothered... This comforted me and I carried on... 

And you've met and worked with so many fabulous actors and actresses...

"The artists I have met that possessed humanity and talent the most are: Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Brandon Lee, Cheryl Ladd, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Downey Jr., Joanie Mitchell, Kenny Rodgers, Andrew Getty."

And do you have a favourite Hollywood story?

"I don't have a favorite Hollywood story...but my own is doing my best to be the most personal towards other people as I can."

Well, I thought as the three men entered the bus, this might be the time to be the best you can be towards me... The driver climbed in after them... "They's with me" he shouted... "They's kin"... Michael and I looked at each other, now I was scared... I looked at my hands, I was shaking and my heart felt like it was pumping at a thousand beats to the second... 

The second guy, shorter than the others, long greasy hair tied back in a scarf and deep scaring to his face turned to me and laughed, an evil, terrifying, gurgling laugh, doing nothing for my nerves... I smiled back, unable to think of what to do. 
Then the three of them walked to the back of the bus, leaving the driver standing by the door and one by one they grabbed everyone and dragged them off the bus... The bickering couple, the annoying family and then my wife... I just sat there, looking ahead not knowing what to do, I didn't want to make eye contact with any of them... Even her... Especially her... 

Then quick as a flash, just as the last 'kin' had got off Michael stood up and pushing passed me, with one quick motion shoved the driver out, jumped into his seat, pulled the lever to shut the door and hit his foot on the gas... 

We rode in silence for quite a while, not quite comprehending what had just happened... But then just over the next hill we saw it... Like an oasis in the desert... Our hotel... With a swimming pool and palm trees... 

Michael pulled up just outside the door and we got out, a beautiful young woman appeared with a tray of colourful drinks and a big smile... I looked at the empty bus, no screaming kids... No bickering love birds and no wife...  I took my drink and asked one last question. 

And finally, if the Hills have eyes family were still there in the desert… What do you think they’d be doing now? 
"The Hill's family would be alive and dangerous...with a website: http/GOCAMPINGIF YOU DARE."

Maybe this was going to be the holiday of my dreams after all...

For more information on the lovely Michael, go to his Wikipedia page, his IMDB and his Facebook fan page or just Google him!!