We’ve all done it, we’ve recognized and actor in a movie and gone, “Hey, it’s That Guy”. That guy has a name, they all do but it’s not often that you get the chance to sit down with one that has a career as prolific as Dick Miller with 175 screen credits and counting to his name.
In advance of tonight’s premiere at the Carlton I got the chance to sit down with both Dick and his wife Lainie about how this entire process of making a movie about his life got started, working with Roger Corman & Joe Dante and some of his favorite and more memorable screen roles.
Dave Voigt: Tell me how you were ultimately approached about having a movie mad about your life?
Dick Miller: Well, there was a producer in Germany who just wanted to do a five minute promotional type film about me that he was going to show to Roger Corman for something. However he just looked at everything that he had and said that there is just too much work here because this guy just has had a sensational career, so what do I do? He ultimately got in touch with Elijah Drenner, a brilliant young director who looked at all and just said flat out that this is a feature. That’s how it all got started and that’s how it got finished.
DV: Were you ever hesitant to participate in this, because this type of thing where other people are going into your life isn’t always for everyone?
DM: I didn’t even know it was going to be done! (Laughs) They came to me and I figured it would be a special feature on a DVD or something but it blossomed into this 3 year project.
DV: (To Lainie) We’re you on board with all this from the beginning?
Lainie Miller: Well, I’m the one that MADE it happen (laughs) he’s not quite tell the entire truth on this (smiles). But ultimately, Elijah came to me when he realized how big this project could be because he never produced anything feature length before in his life and he knew I had production experience so I jumped at the chance because I wanted to do something for him. This just made it easier as I didn’t have to go off on my own tangent, I just ultimately worked with Elijah which was great because he is just so brilliant.
DV: With such a long career, how was it for you to have this chance to look back at things like Bucket of Blood where people know you so well from but also with films from my generation that people associate you with like Gremlins & The Terminator?
DM: Well, I don’t know if I would say that ‘looking back is the right expression, because to be honest I watch a lot of these pictures that I have been in, all the time. There were quite a few that I have only ever seen in their original release some fifty or sixty years ago. Something like Sorority Girl which I hadn’t seen since we made it was kind of a thrill to be able to sit down and watch again.
DV: Back then you were making them at such a clip, I can imagine that you wouldn’t necessarily have the time to sit down and watch them.
DM: I used to make 4 or 5 pictures a year, which sounds like a lot of work but in reality it was only about 4 or 5 weeks! (Laughs)
DV: Have you noticed a big change in how pictures are made from the earlier days with Roger Corman vs. some of the bigger name directors that you have worked with later on like a Martin Scorsese or a James Cameron?
DM: Oh yeah, those guys are great. Some of the guys working today are just brilliant, but none of them have what Roger Corman had because he could turn them out so fast, like in two weeks and a lot of them were pretty good pictures. It was obvious that the budget was missing (smiles) but they were pretty good pictures.
DV: Do you think there is a certain freedom there, not being handcuffed by these big eight and nine figure picture budgets that we have these days, where someone like a Corman could just output these things at a fantastic rate?
DM: You know, I don’t know because Roger really had a very unique ability. I mean I have worked with and met other directors who have told me that they were going to turn something out fast in four or five weeks, but I tell them, that isn’t fast. I mean I made a picture a two days once, Little Shop of Horrors.
DV: We’re you happy in these character driven roles that have defined your career, or did you ever aspire to get more leading man parts?
DM: Oh god no, I mean my first starring role was basically Roger TELLING me that I was going to be the lead in the picture and that went on for about 10-12 pictures. After that, I couldn’t tell you what happened, I may have put on a little weight (laughs) but then they got smaller, but I was fine with that.
DV: But there is a certain sense of cache to that as well, because I mean not everyone gets to have the “Dick Miller” role, where you were remembered no matter how big or small the part.
DM: To be fair, I was never quite sure if they were the “Dick Miller” role or if Dick Miller made the role (Smiles). I’d like to think it was the latter, but I truly don’t know what the secret really is.
DV: Really? I find that fascinating because throughout your career with people like a Joe Dante and others who have worked with Corman, you have engendered such loyalty. Do you think it is a question of trust or even something as simple as familiarity with you and what you bring to the table?
DM: I really don’t know. I mean when I went to work for Joe Dante, I had never met him and he had never met me, and I finished that picture, then he hired me back for another one…and then another one and I just went “Hey, this guy must really like me?” (Smiles)
DV: Is there one movie people reference back to with you if you are ever recognized on the street?
DM: Back in the younger days it used to happen a fair bit, but not really anymore. On the off chance I do get recognized, they know my face from a movie but that can never quite place it.
DV: You’re that guy…
DM: HAHA…exactly (Smiles)
DV: I can imagine that letting a filmmaker into your day to day lives can be a little invasive at times, especially over a three year process, are you both happy with the final product?
EM: Well I am very happy with the final product and to be fair that three years has now turned into four years. It was three when we had the world premiere at SXSW last year, but you know a lot of the people who were coming into our house so often, weren’t strangers. I mean Gil Adler, is an old friend because I worked with him on Freddie’s Nightmare for two and a half years and Dick came to work once on a separate show with the both of us. Everyone in the picture is either someone that I knew from before or that Dick knew from before, but the thing that really amazed me because I couldn’t always be there for every shoot was when I saw that nobody said anything that wasn’t straight from the heart. When you listen to Ira Behr, it was absolutely from the heart, and people like him and Joe Dante are just so close to Dick that they are around during the happy times and the not so happy times as well and they have truly become family.
DV: That sounds so nice…
EM: It really did give me pleasure, and I wanted to do it for Dick while he was still on this side of the daisies so that we could appreciate it together. So many times people do this kind of project for someone when they just aren’t around anymore, and you have to ask who did they do it for?
DV: I guess my final question to you Dick is, if you had to pick a favorite out of the 175 and counting screen credits that you have to your name, which would it be?
DM: Oh god…I don’t about the movies but there was some parts I just really liked and fun with. I liked Demon Knight, I liked The Howling and of course Bucket of Blood which started this all rolling.
DV: You are just a genre guy at heart, aren’t you?
DM: Oh, yeah (Smiles)
The Guy, Dick Miller is now open at the Carlton Cinema here in downtown Toronto and Dick Miller himself will be attendance at the evening screenings for Q&A’s tonight and tomorrow while Friday and Saturday have special archival screenings of both Bucket of Blood & Little Shop of Horrors for just $5 each!