TREMORS: SHRIEKER ISLAND Exclusive Interview With Star Michael Gross
The seventh film in the Tremors franchise, Shrieker Island, hit Netflix this week, and to support the movie we spoke with the lead actor in the franchise, Michael Gross, who plays Burt Gummer. Read on!
Three decades, seven films, and a television series later, the Tremors franchise is still delivering Graboids, Shriekers, and other subterranean creatures to horror fans. Tremors: Shrieker Island, the newest movie in the bunch, just hit Netflix this week and is now available to stream.
Shrieker Island includes new characters played by actors such as Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite, Blades of Glory) and Jackie Cruz (Orange Is the New Black), who round out a cast led by Michael Gross as Burt Gummer, the mustache-toting survivalist who has spearheaded the Tremors franchise since Kevin Bacon left after the first film.
Gummer has something of a cult following, with fans having created an honorary "Burt Gummer Day," which lands on April 14th. In anticipation of the new film, we chatted exclusively with Gross (Family Ties, How I Met Your Mother, Batman Beyond), who has been bringing Burt to life for thirty years.
Hear our talk with Gross by clicking the podcast player below. Horror fans can also listen to our exclusive interviews with Freddy Krueger actor Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, JJ Villard's Fairy Tales) and directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (Synchronic, The Endless), which have been embedded in the transcript below.
How excited are you about this?
I am very excited, because believe it or not, I've not seen this yet. We didn't have a regular screener because of COVID. They sent me this link with 15 passwords. I said, "send me the DVD when it's ready. I can wait". I wouldn't say I like watching myself anyway, so it's fine. So I haven't seen it. I'm excited for that reason because I will see it with many people for the first time, after its debut on October 20th. I was excited to do it when first approached because I'm always glad to revisit Burt Gummer. After all, he's such fun for me. The comic possibilities in this manner are endless.
You've been acting in the Tremors franchise for three decades now. At what point did you realize that you were going to be carrying this franchise?
It had a lot to do with circumstances. After the first film, for whatever reason, Kevin Bacon didn't want to do it again. After that, we had Fred Ward, and it was terrific. Then, Fred Ward didn't want to do it again. We came back to Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, and thank god we got Tony Genaro, who played Miguel, we got the character of Nancy, Charlotte Stewart, and Mindi coming back. So that was wonderful. I always welcome them back. After all, Burt became the center of this by default because everybody else kept dropping away. I always thought Burt worked best as a peripheral character. The normal people were at the heart of this, and his eccentricities were best a little left to the sidelines as it was in the first film. My references were always Happy Days and The Cunningham Family. The Fonz, Henry Winkler, always did best because this normal family surrounded him; he would walk in and shake up this traditional family. I felt Burt was operated best in the same way that everybody else was normal and incomes this eccentric, bizarre man. I never expected to be the center of attention, quite frankly, but that's how it evolved. I guess Michael Gross, the Actor, is the survivalist as well as Burt Gummer.
Did you grow your hair out for this movie?
Yes and no. Knowing we would be in Thailand, and it would be hot and humid, I suggested I grow in my beard. So that is entirely my beard; it's so damn white. The mustache still has a little bit of color in it, but that beard has gone stark white. It was my idea to have him, in the middle of having left civilization entirely, that even a town of about twelve or fourteen people was too big for him. He had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, out of his retirement, his golden years. I grew the beard, knowing it would be sweltering and sticky and did not want to deal with fake hair falling off all the time in the heat. I was less successful with the hair because that's going, and it wasn't growing as fast as the beard. It was my hair too, which they added extensions.
Do you have a favorite way that Burt Gummer or any other characters took out a Graboid?
Burt's basement scene in one is always so classic, killing the Graboid with multiple things. That Graboid didn't know what he was getting into. I enjoy the early ones too—the fishing we did. We'd light a bomb, send it out and throw it out there, and pull it along. Please put it on a little remote control all over the place. It was always such fun for Burt. I don't know whether it was Tremors 2 or 3, he was blowing up something, and he blew it up at a distance. And there was this huge crash, and he quickly put on a crash helmet because the Graboid particles started landing on his head. It's that wonderful excess of Burt that was always a great deal of fun.
Because your character uses so many different weapons, are there any specific ones you like to use more or act with more?
The one I can't forget to this day, I was sitting in a dual barreled mounted gun, and those things firing is fun, even for me. I loved garbage trucks when I was a kid because they were so big and made so much noise. I loved that because it was so damn big. One of my regrets in these seven years is we still haven't gotten Burt in a Sherman tank. That would have been great. I like shooting big guns - who doesn't enjoy that? So that being said, Tremors 7 is different because we take many weapons away from him, and he has to improvise.
What's it like seeing the Graboids evolve from the first movie?
From shriekers to ass blasters, that makes it part of the fun because, after the first one, Burt knew what he was getting into. And then, they're a completely different sort of animal. You come prepared for one thing, and they're different. The fun of the genre has been for this extremely prepared man. He thinks, "I got this," and then there's a mutation. The fun for Burt and the viewer is you come prepared for one thing, and they're different.
As the franchise veteran, when you bring new cast members into new movies, do you lead them?
If they asked questions, absolutely. We already know it's quirky, but Burt plays things dead straight. The beauty of it is explained to you not only by me, but by our director, Don Michael Paul, who's done this several times because this film will be funny and this is going to be eccentric, but these things can kill you. We can't forget that this is as dangerous as it is. People will die here. So amidst the quirkiness of it, you can forget that. That's part of the fun. I'm constantly unconscionably spurred on by my newest colleagues. It's that fresh blood that makes it interesting for me. People say, how do you keep regenerating Burt? Well, partly it's the scripts because I contribute to the story as we create the story. Then, I think the surest way to lose yourself in front of the camera or on a stage is to think about what you're doing. And the surest way to energize yourself is to look into the eyes of the character who's opposite you. They are the ones that keep bringing life back to me. Their commitment makes me more committed.
Your most significant other role is probably Family Ties, which lasted seven years. Did you pull anything from that character as you advanced with Burt Gummer?
He was, in some ways, the complete opposite of Burt. Let's say left-wing, wore his heart on his sleeve. Burt is on the right, a gun collector. Stephen, in his own way, was fearless because he embraced everybody. Burt embraces almost no one. They almost diametrically oppose. Stephen had a huge heart and still believe about Burt Gummer because he has a huge heart. For all that crustiness of this man. He comes out every time; as much as he doesn't want to engage with the world or other human beings, he comes out. Because number one, if he doesn't come, people are going to get it wrong, and he hates irresponsibility and people who don't listen. And secondly, and more importantly, he comes out because people will get hurt without him. That's the thing that always pushes Burt out of retirement. He comes out because the rest of them are idiots and because the idiots will get hurt if he doesn't. We spoke of Richard Break, who is his nemesis in this. In one of the final scenes between himself and Richard, he hates this guy because he hasn't listened. He's gotten it all wrong, but he's there because he wants to save this man's life. At the bridge, that's the last scene that he has with Richard, and he's there to save his life. As much as he hates this guy, he doesn't want him to die.
How much research did you put into the survival aspect of this?
I knew very little about that way of life. I bought some survival handbooks and books. It's crazy. Now you can find it anywhere on the internet, but there wasn't an internet. I bought books on making homemade weapons, guarding your perimeter. I went out and did far more weapons training because I didn't want to look like a complete neophyte. I have played some characters who could handle our weapons, so I had gotten weapons training in the past. I refreshed myself and did some shooting. I did plenty of research, and I still have some of those books.
*This interview has been edited for clarity. Darth Lexii and Comic Brooks co-host.*
Graboids are illegally taken to a new island resort by a rich playboy as a dangerous form of trophy hunting, and Burt Gummer steps up to save the day.
Tremors: Shrieker Island is now available on Netflix.