Interview: TOM TOWLES, Horror Icon

Gavin Schmitt Interviews Tom Towles

This interview with Tom Towles took place in the lobby of the Wyndham O’Hare on March 7, 2009 during the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in Chicago. Tom was kind enough to meet me and answer my questions, and the answers are provided here for your dissemination.

Gavin and Tom Towles, 2009

2015 Update: It is with great sadness that I update this 2009 post with the following note: Tom Towles passed away in April 2015 due to complications following a stroke. As noted in the next paragraph (from 2009), Tom was a really friendly, outgoing, fun person. Rest in peace, Tom.

Tom was one of the most friendly, outgoing and fun actors I’ve had the pleasure to talk with, and I thank him greatly for taking the time out of his schedule to chat with me. I eagerly await running into him again.

Covered as always is David Hasselhoff, but also Rob Zombie’s more (than human?) human qualities, what it’s like to play an asshole, and other fun tidbits.


GS: This is Gavin Schmitt, senior staff writer for Killer Reviews. And with me is…

TT: Tom Towles [pronounced “tolls”, not “towels” for those who don’t know].

GS: And you’re known for…

TT: Playing scum. That’s right, yes, I’m a notorious scum-player. (laughs) That’s about it. Every person I play is an asshole.

GS: Alright, let’s run over some of the same questions we talked about yesterday [at Tom’s convention booth], but this time let’s put them on tape. You said that you consider it an honor when someone says, “Hey, you were an asshole” or “You were disturbing”. Would you like to clarify that?

TT: It’s true. There are goals you set when you accept doing any characters who are not very likable, and I’ve played only villains almost my entire career. And I really don’t mind it, I kind of enjoy it. They have a rich texture, they have a clear inner life. Without a villain, you have no hero. The more villainous and scummy and repulsive I can be, then the more I support the hero. The objective is to enter into conflict and resolution. If I’m the conflict, why not be the best conflict you can be?

GS: That’s fair. We had talked about the film “Henry”, and you had said it was part directing, part visual and the synergy — I don’t know if you used the word synergy — of the cast.

TT: In the case of “Henry”, without a doubt, “Henry” was John McNaughton’s vision. He co-wrote the script and he set the tone for it. The part that gave “Henry” its gritty reality was the fact that it was shot on 16mm, you know, very little budget, and under the most strenuous circumstances imaginable.

[George A. Romero walks by]

George A. Romero and Gavin 2008
Throwback: George A. Romero and Gavin 2008

TT: Hey, George, how are you? Good to see you.

GR: Hey, how are you?

TT: Excellent. Every time I see you, I get happy. You are a gift.

[Romero walks into the green room, which isn’t green, and Tom returns to the conversation]

TT: “Henry” was… it was that quality of it being almost shot on the run, because you were following this guy around, with enough distance to keep you away from it, but yet be intimately involved with everything that happens. And that’s John McNaughton’s vision. Once he set that tone, the entire cast fell into it. And delightedly so. We entered intoa relationship, the three of us: Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold and myself, that created what apparently became something unique. We had no idea that it would ever, ever be anything more than a thing that went straight to video. We ended up getting nominated for awards.

GS: It sure helped launch Michael Rooker’s career, that’s for sure.

TT: Well, you know, God bless us all. We’ve all gotten a piece of that pie, so… it made a difference. And again, things happen out of innocence, out of not knowing what shouldn’t be done, and I think “Henry” is an example. We had no limitations, we didn’t know this couldn’t be done, we didn’t know this was an impossible feat to turn a 16mm film into a 35mm film, to get it released or put it out in any way, shape or form. But it happened.

GS: I went to a screening of “Henry” back maybe six months ago… John McNaughton was there, introduced the film, and stayed for questions and answers, but he had the stipulation that he wouldn’t take any questions about “Henry”. Apparently he has tried to distance himself from the film and not take a lot of credit for it anymore. Do you know anything about that?

TT: What I know is that at this point John is a really, really good friend, a tremendously creative individual and he has a natural sense that is attached to the creative process. If you are in the entertainment industry, you are by nature insane. So the madness will float to the surface and present itself on a regular basis, and the reason is that you’re in the entertainment business and it’s functional. He’s perfectly capable of saying, “I’m distancing myself from that”.

GS: That’s his decision.

TT: Exactly. And it doesn’t surprise me, but I have no idea what motivated the statement, but, you know, John’s always going to be cool in my book.

GS: You were in the remake of “Night of the Living Dead”, (affiliate link) and a lot of people — including myself — frown heavily on most remakes. But in this case it was an all-star cast and an amazing achievement. Did you consider it an honor to be picked as one of the ensemble cast for this?

TT: Oh, absolutely. To have Tom Savini, number one, to say, “Come on, man, I want you to do this…” Holy shit, that’s great. That’s absolutely great. But we were also entering into that innocence of having no idea what we were really doing. We knew, in detail, the original and we had all seen it “x” number of times but nobody wanted to be that representation.

GS: You don’t want to re-do what was already done.

TT: And the script impressed me, too. The characters themselves are more interesting, more articulated. Patricia Tallman’s character [Barbara] was clearly stronger than the initial woman who was presented with the part [Judith O’Dea]. The range was strengthened in a big way. And I don’t know if it was an immediate conscious decision, but everyone just went with the script and Tom Savini and George’s direction. What they handed us was fairly complete. And again, when a vision is presented so clearly, it’s very easy to go and fill that in.

GS: We had talked briefly about Rob Zombie, and the difference between his public persona and his private persona. Would you care to address that?

Gavin and Rob Zombie 2007
Throwback: Gavin and Rob Zombie, 2007

TT: I only know that Rob is one of the nicest, most caring and fun-loving people that I’ve ever worked with. However he may be perceived publicly, I don’t know. When I did “House of 1000 Corpses”, I barely knew who he was. I knew he was this rock and roller, but suddenly you meet him and you’re having this good time. He tells you what he wants, you give it to him, and then he says, “Okay, let’s try it this way.” He’s happy. And then you discover that you can add more if you want to, and he’s even happier. So, knowing him privately… I mean, honestly, man… I compare him in reality to Ozzie Nelson, because he’s a gentle, loving, caring, creative individual.

[Staff tries to get Tom to go in the green room. He shoos them away. We are given three minutes.]

GS: Two simple questions, not related to anything. The first one I ask to every single person I interview.

TT: Yes?

GS: Do you have any dirt on David Hasselhoff, and can you share it?

TT: Yes. But will I? No.

GS: That’s a very good answer, I like that. And the very last question is, are there any upcoming thrills or projects we should alert the fans to?

TT: I have one right now which is called “Home Sick”, which is out on video [available from Synapse, and also featuring Bill Moseley and Tiffany Shepis]. Also, “Blood on the Highway” [featuring “genetically enhanced fang bots made by the government”] — both of which are really great, fun, crazy… and that’s all that’s happening right now. [Tom also appeared in Zombie’s “Halloween”, of course, as well as Zombie’s segment of “Grindhouse”.]

GS: And those are in the horror genre?

TT: Oh yeah, those are both horror…

GS: Then that’s right up our alley.

TT: Cool.

GS: Thank you, Tom.

TT: My pleasure.

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