Gavin Schmitt Interviews Actor Mark Torgl
Mark Torgl is a former Troma associate, and arguably one of the greatest. He is best remembered as Melvin, the 98-pound weakling who was transformed into the Toxic Avenger, (affiliate link) Troma’s most iconic character.
While doing the rounds in May 2015 to promote his latest film, “Toxic Tutu”, (affiliate link) Mark was kind enough to chat a bit about his career and time at Troma. Enjoy!
GS: You attended NYU film school. What sort of films inspired you enough that you wanted to pursue that dream?
MT: I became a fan of surreal films while attending film classes. Fellini’s “8 ½”, Bunuel’s “Un Chien Andalou”, Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”. I also was a fan of horror films like “Eraserhead” and “Basket Case”! Anything that stretched the boundaries of reality.
GS: Classmates of yours included Jim Jarmusch and Ang Lee. In your opinion, can such talent be noticed at that time or does it blossom later?
MT: Jim Jarmush graduated the year before I came in but he already had a reputation in New York as being an artistic genius of sorts. Ang Lee was in my class and we had no idea he was destined for greatness. He could barely speak English and his student films were not memorable. Spike Lee was in the class ahead of me, we worked in the equipment room together and I worked on a couple of his student films. He was a New York native with great energy, so it didn’t surprise me when he hit it big.
GS: You started out on the little-known Troma feature “The First Turn-On!!” (1983) as an actor, script supervisor and even writing a bit. What scenes or lines can we blame you for?
MT: I wrote everything that had to do with the Strange Politically Incorrect Fat Family. “Those birds are Kirtland Warblers, son! They’re almost extinct, let’s blast them out of the sky!” I believe there was a groundhog in the movie and I was responsible for that.
GS: How much courage did you have to build up for either of your Troma roles? You had to do some pretty strange things that are now preserved for eternity.
MT: The one scene I had to build up confidence for was putting on the tutu to be humiliated by the health club snobs. I had my best friend from film school, Joe Nardelli, accompany me to give me moral support. Joe is also the director of my new film, “Toxic Tutu”. (affiliate link)
GS: You were able to work with Marisa Tomei and Vincent D’Onofrio before they were stars. Have you had the chance to meet up with them since then?
MT: All I remember of Marisa Tomei at the time was she was crazy for my mop, couldn’t keep her hands off of my mop! Vincent was an awesome actor even back then, I got to work with him on his scenes. I especially remember the scene when he rises up out of the lake like Frankenstein and says “There’s no sign of the campers in this part of the lake.” I tried to reach out to Vincent to try and attach him to a script I was writing. He was very nice about it, but declined.
GS: Out of curiosity, what was the script you wanted D’Onofrio for and what ever became of it?
MT: It was a script called “The Graffiti Burglar”. We also had Jennifer Aniston attached to it for a short time, and she loved the script. But her manager talked her out of doing it because it wasn’t “Girl Next Door” enough. When she dropped out the deal fell through.
GS: How much of “Uncle Lloyd” is a character, and how much is that the real Lloyd Kaufman?
MT: Lloyd Kaufman is always in character for as long as I’ve known him. In other words, what you see is what you get. Lloyd’s three daughters recently interviewed me for a documentary they’re making on Troma and Lloyd and asked me if he was different when making a movie than he was at home where he was just dad. I said, “I never saw the dad persona of Lloyd.” I do think he’s a comic genius. He’s very touchy feely too, often asking me to tickle his ass with a feather.
GS: Lloyd is obviously the face of Troma, but the other half is Michael Herz. Was the company 50/50 or was it always Lloyd’s baby?
MT: It’s 50/50, but Lloyd is the creative half and Michael is the business half.
GS: You’ve described Troma productions as “barely professional”, which is an excellent, succinct way to say it. Why do they succeed when so many other independents have failed?
MT: Well, “succeed” is a matter of semantics. If you ask Lloyd, they barely have survived because they are the only film company that consistently makes no money. I think they have primarily survived because of the work I did in Toxic Avenger. Troma fans are very deranged and are the most loyal fans in the world.
GS: Most of your career has been in the editing room. Do you feel more comfortable working on that side of the camera, or did it just work out that way?
MT: I’m from a working class family in Detroit, so I just wanted a steady paycheck. When I moved to Los Angeles, I found I liked the editing process. Now that we are making “Toxic Tutu”, (affiliate link) though, I may give acting another whirl. I just don’t like the idea of being a struggling actor.
GS: As you mentioned, you’re back on screen again with “Toxic Tutu”, which I take is sort of a mockumentary of what happened to you since leaving Troma. I don’t want any of that spoiled, except… Jake the Snake? Really?
MT: Jake the Snake, really! As well as Jonny Fairplay of Survivor fame, Lloyd Kaufman himself, many actors from “The Toxic Avenger” like Mom (Sarabel Levinson) and some we have to keep a surprise. We have an Indiegogo campaign going on now to raise money to finish the film, and we are also trying to get Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith to do cameos. They are both Troma Fans.
GS: Until recently, you did not fully realize the following you have at conventions. Any chances of us in the Midwest (Chicago / Milwaukee / Indianapolis) seeing you in the next year or two?
MT: I actually did go to Troma Dance Detroit and two conventions in Ohio, including EpicCon Geekfest. Once “Toxic Tutu” (affiliate link) is finished I am sure we will be promoting it at as many conventions as we can.