The following interview with conducted (July 97) at the recent Monster Bash in Ligonier, Pa. The con focused mostly on classic horror (i.e. Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Dracula, etc), but one of the stars who had a table in the dealer’s room was Gunnar Hansen, the “original” LEATHERFACE. I got the opportunity to sit down with Gunnar to discuss his experiences on the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and his portrayal of LEATHERFACE. So enjoy!!!
Gunnar Hansen Interview
Q. Caretaker: Gunnar, how did you get involved with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
Gunnar Hansen: I just auditioned for the part. It was the summer of ’73 and I heard these guys in town were doing a movie. I did some theater work in college so I decided to give it a try. I got a hold of the casting director’s name and phone number and gave him a call. I went down and got an interview with Tobe and Kim(the writer) and got the part.
Q. Caretaker: What was the motivation for LEATHERFACE?
Gunnar Hansen: They defined the character for me as someone who was severely mentally retarded and severely mentally disturbed. The idea was that there was really nothing behind the mask and that’s how the character was created. You could never unmask him like “Darth Vader” because if you were to take the mask off there would be nothing there. That is why you seeing him wearing different masks at different times. That is how he presented himself, but killing was the only thing he knew.
Q. Caretaker: What was it like on the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre? I heard that there was a lot of tension and Tobe kept it that way on purpose. I heard that Marilyn Burns(Sally) was really that hysterical.
Gunnar Hansen: Thereee are a lot of myths about this movie, but it just isn’t true. It was hard work. We were shooting 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. The temperature was always right around 100 every day and inadvertently everyone was tired and exhausted and just wanted to get it the hell over. It is true that some of my victims didn’t want to talk to me. They wouldn’t even hang out with me.
They wanted to feel authentically scared, which I always thought was a little ridiculous. In fact, when Jerry(Allen Danziger), the driver, gets killed, that was the first time he saw me in costume. So I am supposed to hit him on the head with the hammer and a guy on the floor behind him who has his hand looped around Alan’s belt is supposed to jerk him to the floor. When Alan turns around and sees me, he is so scared that he screams and dives out of the shot running out of the room. His desire to be genuinely scared actually ruined the shot.
Q. Caretaker: Why didn’t you do Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2?
Gunnar Hansen: I was really interested in being in the film, but they were never serious about negotiating with me for a reasonable price. They offered me union scale and continued to negotiate with me until they could find someone else to play the part. So it wasn’t much of a negotiation. They said I agreed to do the part and suddenly became difficult, which is unfortunate because I never agreed to do the part and consistently told them that they had to offer me more than scale and they never did.
Q. Caretaker: Would you ever reprise your role as LEATHERFACE?
Gunnar Hansen: I would be very interested in playing LEATHERFACE again. Well, it would take two things — a good script (given the last couple of CHAINSAW movies) and a willingness by the producer to pay me reasonably.
Q. Caretaker: Do you have any plans for the 25th anniversary of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1999?
Gunnar Hansen: Right now we are talking with a promoter about putting together 4 shows around the country to mark the 25th-anniversary release of the film in 1999. We did a couple of shows for the 20th anniversary that we were very happy with , not with just their success, but we really enjoyed getting back to together.
I just want to see if Jim Siedow(the cook), Ed Neal(the hitchhiker), John Dugan(Grandpa) and Marilyn Burns(Sally), because she is sort of an honorary member of the family, would be interested in getting together to do this shows. If other cast members want to get involved great, it is really the core(the family) that we want to get. We would organize the shows with a few other guests, but the shows would focus around Chainsaw Massacre.
Q. Caretaker: Would you consider yourself a horror fan?
Gunnar Hansen: To some degree, yes. I was late developing my interest.
Q. Caretaker: What is your view on the state of horror today?
Gunnar Hansen: Well, I haven’t seen too much lately that I like. I just watched THE RELIC, and thought it was pretty poor. On the other hand, I thought ALIEN was a very good horror movie, as were the first NIGHTMARE and HALLOWEEN. Then they just went downhill. My favorite horror movie was THE HAUNTING, which goes way back.
Q. Caretaker: Can you tell me some of your other interests outside of acting?
Gunnar Hansen: Actually, the last 20 or so years I have been making my living as a writer. Right after Chainsaw Massacre I made a film, but I really wasn’t interested in pursuing a career in acting and made the decision not to work as an actor. I worked as a magazine editor for a while and then wrote for a magazine for several years.
I have written several screenplays and in fact, my partner Gary Jones(director of “Mosquito”) and I just finished a screenplay that we are now shopping around. I have written books and some film documentaries. It started out as just writing, but I directed a documentary that we finished a few years back and now I’m directing a documentary on Greenland (Gunnar is originally from Iceland).
Q. Caretaker: What does the future hold for Gunnar Hansen?
Gunnar Hansen: Wherever it takes me. I got back into the film business about 10 years ago when Fred Ray asked me to come out to Hollywood to film “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” and I decided that there really wasn’t a point not to be involved with films. My focus really is the same. Writing remains what I want to do and that has expanded into making documentaries, but at the same time, I am interested in doing films as an actor. I have done 6 pictures since “Hookers”.
Last January I shot a film called “Hellblock 13” down in South Carolina. It has been showing in local theaters down there and is scheduled for a video release in October. In May I shot a film down in Dallas called “Replicator” for cable. Two years ago, I did “Hatred of a Minute”, which I think is going to be a really terrific film. They are just finishing up the edit. So I have ongoing film projects.
Q. Caretaker: One final question Gunnar, why the web?
Gunnar Hansen: Well I am an old computer geek. My first job out of high school was as a computer operator. I have always been interested in computers and some of my writing work has been doing web pages for GTE. I have been on the web for a number of years and thought a webpage would be the perfect place where people who were curious about me could go to see the kind of stuff I have done. One of the nicest features of the site is that it lists where I will be appearing. But mostly its where people who are curious about me can go.
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