Actor Michael Baldwin has had a long and varied career. Beginning in his early youth, he appeared in many commercials for McDonald’s, Oreo’s, and Cheerios to name a few. Bitten by the acting bug at an early age, this decision brought him to the attention of film director Don Coscarelli, effectively solidifying his position as a major character in one of the most influential and successful horror films of all-time, PHANTASM.
House of Horrors caught up with Michael at the Monster Mania 11 convention to discuss where he has been and where he sees himself going. Michael is an extremely personable and approachable person and is not at all bothered to be discussing silver spheres after nearly 30 years.
Michael Baldwin: I was born and raised in Los Angeles and lived there into my twenties. I grew up in Tujunga, which is the northeast section of LA in the foothills. I do own a home in LA now, and I also live in Austin and Miami. I grew up in an entertainment family. My parents were both in the business. I began working professionally when I was seven years-old. My father, Gerard Baldwin, is a pretty well-known animator/producer/director. He has won Emmy Awards for his work. In the old days, he was a director on “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “The Smurfs”. He had a fifty-year career in animation.
Jonathan Stryker: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Jonathan Stryker: Were you a big movie fan during your early childhood years?
Michael Baldwin: Yes, definitely. I love Woody Allen movies, I’m a big fan of his stuff. I remember being in the sixth grade and seeing SLEEPER with my friend Adam Bernstein and falling out of my seat from laughing so hard. I just thought it was the funniest movie I had ever seen. It may not be the funniest movie of all-time, but when I was in the sixth grade, I never saw anything funnier than that film. I noticed that Keir Dullea is here with us this weekend, and my dad used to take me to see 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY every year, without fail, at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.
Jonathan Stryker: Wow. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is the best movie I have ever seen.
Michael Baldwin: So, it would be an event for us to see that movie. Those were the movies that I really dug from my childhood. And, to meet Keir earlier today was great. I know that I am in this business and I am supposed to be too cool for words and not be affected by all of this stuff, but there are certain movies and certain people that I am just a fan of, like anybody else. Keir is one of those guys where I thought, Oh, my God – I cannot wait to meet him!
Jonathan Stryker: Did you ever see BLACK CHRISTMAS?Michael Baldwin: No.
Jonathan Stryker: Keir is in it, and it’s one of the scariest movies ever made.
Michael Baldwin: Really?
Jonathan Stryker: Yes, you should see it. Do you remember the first movie you saw in a theater?Michael Baldwin: I do! It was DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, with Sean Connery.
Jonathan Stryker: And Janet Munro! (smiling internally)
Michael Baldwin: It was a Disney movie, of course. And the second movie I saw was THX 1138. It made a distinct impression on me. I guess that I was seven or eight when I saw it. I never, ever forgot that film. And when I saw it again as an adult, I was amazed at what a stunningly beautiful movie it is. It’s a lovely, lovely film.
Jonathan Stryker: I saw it on television in 1978 after STAR WARS was a huge hit, and I was confused by it, to be perfectly honest. 2001 was confusing, too, and I saw that on TV, which is really not seeing it at all! But after seeing it at the Ziegfeld, it’s, like I said, the best movie I have seen to date.
Michael Baldwin: Yeah, you really have to see those films in a theater.
Jonathan Stryker: Did you go to drive-ins?Michael Baldwin: Oh, sure! I saw a double-bill of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and HAROLD AND MAUDE. HAROLD AND MAUDE is still a fabulous movie that easily stands the test of time. THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE not so much, but it’s a pretty good movie still.
Jonathan Stryker: I loved all of that Irwin Allen stuff as a kid, seeing THE TOWERING INFERNO and EARTHQUAKE. Michael Baldwin: Yeah, and I saw that double-feature I just mentioned with my friend Danny Peterson and his whole family in a giant station wagon at a real drive-in.
Jonathan Stryker: What are some of your favorite movies?Michael Baldwin: I think that it’s unfair to have a list of favorites because movies are so different and so varied, but if you were to ask my top favorite movies, in no special order, would be 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE WIZARD OF OZ, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, THE GODFATHER, CITIZEN KANE, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, and I would probably throw PHANTASM in there just because.
(laughs)Jonathan Stryker: I was wondering if that was on there.
Michael Baldwin: Yeah, I’m a huge, huge movie fan. There are a lot of films that I love, so it’s hard to narrow it down to a few
.Jonathan Stryker: Was there anything else that you wanted to be when you were a child, or was acting always it?
Michael Baldwin: No, when I was a kid I always wanted to be an actor. That was it. I told my parents that this was what I wanted to do, and I got an agent and that was it.
Jonathan Stryker: KENNY AND COMPANY is one of just a handful of the best films that I have seen made about children and childhood, and it takes place during my favorite decade, the 1970’s. It’s quirky and it comes straight from the heart. Along with Francois Truffaut’s L’ARGENT DE POCHE (1976) from the same year, KENNY AND COMPANY, which has an obvious American sensibility about it, beautifully captures life in America for kids during that time. Although I have never lived in France, one gets the feeling that Truffaut achieved the same thing for French children with his film, because KENNY AND COMPANY does have dramatic moments and scenes of great poignancy that I have not seen in any other film. Michael Baldwin: Well, first of all, the fact that you would put KENNY AND COMPANY in the same sentence as Truffaut’s film says that you’re either an idiot-
Jonathan Stryker: (Laughs)Michael Baldwin: – or you have amazingly good taste. (laughs) I’m not sure which!
Jonathan Stryker: (Laughs) So many of us can relate to the shenanigans of the main characters, such as making prank phone calls with the tape recorder and dressing up for Halloween, I mean, what kid during the Seventies didn’t do those things?
Michael Baldwin: When I think about KENNY AND COMPANY, I think about the summer that we shot the film, which was 1975. I think I was going into the sixth grade, and I was eleven, and it was just a fun, fun summer. What better way to spend it than to make a movie?
Jonathan Stryker: What really makes KENNY AND COMPANY so interesting is that came out during the same year as THE BAD NEWS BEARS, and this was, from what I recall anyway, the first time that kids in American cinema talked the way they did in real life to each other. Essentially they cursed at each other and were crude, although KENNY AND COMPANY is fairly tame compared to THE BAD NEWS BEARS. Michael Baldwin: Yes, these were real kids in a non-Disney movie. THE BAD NEWS BEARS was a big hit here in the States, although KENNY AND COMPANY did little business here but was a huge hit in Japan.
Jonathan Stryker: In 1979 my friend, Chad O’Connor, was one of only two people I knew who had HBO, and he used to tell me about the movies that he saw on it, like THE BOYS IN COMPANY C, THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, THE CHICKEN CHRONICLES, C.H.O.M.P.S., and KENNY AND COMPANY. I think it might have also been on Wometco Home Theater, also known as WHT. It took me another 20 years before I caught up with it on Cinemax and saw it for the first time.
Michael Baldwin: Yeah, people have responded really well to it.
Jonathan Stryker: PHANTASM struck a nerve in me in a way that few films ever have. What is your reaction to the fans of this film nearly 30 years later? Michael Baldwin: Well, it’s amazing. It’s shocking and gratifying that it affected people so much. The film hits a certain particular kind of guy, you know? It’s usually a guy who saw that film between twelve and fourteen years of age and they really identified with Mike who was this alienated kid. His family is broken up and he is paranoid that his older brother is going to leave him. People tell me all the time that PHANTASM affected them more than any other film.
Jonathan Stryker: I remember when it came out. I saw ads for it in the newspaper with the black hand coming out of the ground. I didn’t see it until 1983 when it was on television. I remember pestering my father to get it for me on the RCA SelectaVision CED home video system we had, and I just watched it over and over again. Michael Baldwin: Yeah. The shooting schedule was about a year. It was such a low budget, and a lot of it was shot on the weekends.
Jonathan Stryker: You run an acting school in Austin TX. What inspired you to found the school?
Michael Baldwin: I think that I had something to offer. I have been in the business for a long, long time. I have worn many hats over the years, and I just felt that I wanted to offer aspiring actors an easier way to get noticed. And I think I’m right.
Jonathan Stryker: Are you familiar with Michael Imperioli’s acting company in New York, Studio Dante?
Michael Baldwin: Yes, I am.
Jonathan Stryker: If someone wanted to get information on your school where would they go? I Googled a website but couldn’t find one. Michael Baldwin: That’s because our website has been in development for, you know, five years. (laughs) It should be up soon.
Jonathan Stryker: What would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
Michael Baldwin: Well, I’m working on a TV show right now called “Time Channel” which I’m pretty excited about. We’re going to be doing a cross-platform web-isode to comic book to gaming promotion with the show. So, I’ll be busy the next few months!