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Michael Gross Interview: Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell

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When it released in 1990, Tremors wasn't expected to be anything more than a one-off, light-hearted horror comedy, and it quietly slipped under the radar at the box office. However, word-of-mouth spread like a virus and over time, the property amassed a cult following, which spurred its creators to turn it into a bonafide franchise that encompasses 6 films and a 13-episode television series. Throughout it all, one character has been consistently present: Burt Gummer. Michael Gross has been responsible for bringing this character to life and making him the hands-down favorite among fans.

SR: What do you enjoy the most about the Tremors franchise over the last, almost, 30 years?

MICHAEL GROSS: It is the character of Burt [Gummer] himself, you know, who is, from day one, a fascination to me. When I was introduced to Burt in 1989, first film was released in 1990 but we did it the summer of 89, I’d just come off seven years of Family Ties and there's always that lingering question: “Well, will there be work after this? Will I be typecast?” I was one of America's most favorite liberal fathers. Wore his heart on his sleeve. Great guy. Always understanding. Never a coarse word. And to be thrust right into Burt Gummer, to have that offer come through was just so exciting for me because it proved, not only was there life after Family Ties, but there might be vastly different characters. I love his comic paranoia. His obsessive compulsive disorder, if you will. You know dotting every “I”, crossing every “T”, “detail, detail, detail” sort of ritualistic behavior about what he does and how he does it and the precision with which he does it. It’s just kind of over-the-top fun for me. So that that character is what really makes it exciting for me.

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SR: Did you expect to still be playing him after 28 years?

MICHAEL GROSS: No. No, not at all. I just thought this was a great lucky break after Family Ties. I just don't think any actor ever imagines the gold mine that will, who will come along and follow something like this. You just think, “OK, this a great job. What fun! Will I work again after this, at the conclusion of this piece?” I was surprised, even more surprised, because frankly Tremors 1 did not do all that well at the box office. It really didn't find its feet until the aftermarket video market - in those days, of course, VHS. That's when it was truly discovered by people. It was only after about a week or 10 days on the big screens and frankly, I always felt as if one of the reasons for that was it was never it was advertised [properly]. It’s a special niche: Comic, Western adventure, sci-fi…a real mix of things. It was basically market is a straight out horror film and I had friends who said, “Oh no. I don't see that kind of film.” And I kept saying, “You don’t understand. There’s humor in this. It’s quirky. It’s different.” “No, I don't see horror films.” So, it kind of died a death of neglect, in some ways, in its theatrical release and really found its way, silently, surreptitiously, in the aftermarket video market. So, I thought I never thought we created a flop but I just thought, Wow. That’s too bad. Too bad it didn't catch on more.” By golly, all I had to do was wait a few years and there was a bigger than ever in response.

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SR: Yeah the fans of the franchise are very hard core about their fandom for that franchise and specifically this character. Between the films and the show they've always had the ability to tie in and reference the previous entries that came before it. Tremors 6 is no different. There are plenty of tie-ins there, except this time they seem to be a little bit stronger than they were before, specifically Heather’s HK-91.

MICHAEL GROSS: Yeah, there's some certainly some homage to Tremors 1.

SR: Val's daughter, I think, would probably be the strongest connection I think I've seen thus far to the first film and the specific characters in the way you actually reference them. Do you influenced that process, as far as, how those things are referenced or are you just kind of go with the flow?

MICHAEL GROSS: Yes, I do have some influence on that and the fans have some influence on that. There's a constant hue and cry to return to our origins. It's one of the reasons you see Chang's Market and we begin Burt’s adventure in Perfection, Nevada. People always want us to go back to Perfection. They would love to Val[entine]. They would love to see Earl. They would love to see Reba. So where we can, I felt that we hadn't paid enough attention to that before this, as we developed this I thought, “Couldn’t we please get back to Perfection, Nevada? Fans just love seeing. It's where we were began this franchise. And up some reference to some of our old pals. If Kevin Bacon is not going to be on-board, let's surprise everybody with his offspring. And then there were more obvious references. I forget, when we destroy a Graboid - this is something we invented on the set - after we destroyed the Graboid at that hanger. Burt yells “Broke into the wrong g*dd*mn hangar, didn’t you, you bastard!” So it was just a fun, in the moment, sort of thing we added in the midst of filming.

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SR: Now speaking of Val, I know you've stated previously that you don't have any involvement with the new TV series that Kevin Bacon's involved with, and just finished filming the pilot I guess last November. Has that changed?

MICHAEL GROSS: Yeah, I know nothing about that.

SR: So they haven't even talked to you about it? That’s crazy.

MICHAEL GROSS: No, I mean, I just get the impression that this is Kevin’s thing and I've not seen a script. I'm not involved myself in it…no, no, there was never any reaching out. So, it is what it is. I'm just curious as everybody else.

SR: Would you would cameo in it or take a co-starring role if they asked you to?

MICHAEL GROSS: As usual, with anything, I want to see a script, but theoretically, yes. Yes, if there's something interesting to do. If it's something that interests me. I guess I’m getting to the point in an age in my life where I've been very fortunate and I can say no to some things now. I'm of an age where I want to I want to spend time with family and friends and do other things. I love when I work but I'm okay when I don’t. And so, I'm always looking for something that is just plain fun, like a Burt Gummer. I love revisiting every now and then. Or something that challenges me. Something I just haven't done before, that I have an aching to do. So it would depend on the script, and this is what I say in terms of why I want to have an input into a Tremors 5 or a Tremors 6. I want to make it I want to make it fun and interesting and you can see the scripts have changed over time. In the first couple of pieces, Burt is basically a monster hunter and not much else. We’ve tried to challenge him personally beyond the monsters in the last two films with number one: Confronting his offspring. My God, he's got a kid out there all this time. And for a man is a loner and doesn't particularly want to share his life with anyone - that was an obstacle for him. That was a hurdle to jump. And in this next one, really, his life is on the line in the way that he's never had to deal with before and had to give over some control. Boy, nobody likes control the way Burt Gummer likes control of the situations. And to have to cede that to another person, to any other person, let alone somebody who he thinks is kind of a flake, his own son, is difficult for him. So, we're trying to make things interesting for Burt, just having him challenged in different ways. Let’s just put it that way.

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SR: Do you expect there to be more movies in the tremors franchise? If so, since NBC Universal is the parent company that owns both Sharknado and Tremors, would you like to see those two maybe crossover at some point?

MICHAEL GROSS: I know for a fact that I don't think they like to mix their genres. I don't think they like to mix those. I've even talked about some of those other sorts of things. Well maybe pairing [Burt] as a totally different character and they don't like to jump that and so I doubt that they'll be intermingled. As far as the seventh film, believe it or not I'm having a conversation about that with NBC Universal tomorrow. It's not a sure thing, but they're talking about it. They're there they're actively entertaining that idea. So we don't know yet. I said, “It’s this a little premature? We haven't seen the reaction of this one yet.” But they say they want to talk about it. So, there you go.

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Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is on Blu-Ray and DVD now.

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