EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Jeffrey Combs on “MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH”Movies/TV,News Brice McVicar
Best known for his portrayal of the twisted Dr. Herbert West in Stuart Gordon’s classic RE-ANIMATOR, Combs may be one of the best known character actors in horror, but in Don Thacker’s MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH, the actor has not one second of screen time but still manages to steal the show and chew the scenery apart. That’s because Combs’ voice is his contribution to Thacker’s feature about a man who, as his life continues on a downward spiral, begins taking life advice from the mysterious, intelligent mold that has grown in his grimy bathroom.
It’s arguably Combs’ most bizarre role yet but one that also gives the actor some of his most memorable lines. Those lines of dialogue and the unique script, it turns out, was what appealed to Combs.
“One of the things that attracted me to it was I had just never read anything quite like that,” he tells FANGORIA from his home in Los Angeles. “I was really intrigued with the dream-state, metaphysical aspects of this man who manifests, gives life to something that’s growing in his filthy apartment as a source of inspiration and advice. It’s really beautiful because the mold is articulate, let’s say that. And all of this out of the mind of Don Thacker. I took it as a challenge, Keeping the ball up in the air with this kind of rolling verbage. Thank God I didn’t have to memorize it, that’s all I have to say.”
Delivering those lines without having to rely on body language or just where the camera was situated isn’t anything new for Combs. The actor’s voice can be found in numerous cartoon characters over the years, as he’s lent his recognizable tone to series including THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and SCOOBY DOO! MYSTERY INCORPORATED.
Yet, as Combs explained, Thacker took a different approach to the mold. Though the feature, which gained much praise as it traversed the film festival circuit on its initial release in 2013, was filmed in Chicago, he brought the movie to Combs on the West Coast.
“When he hired me, he came out to oversee the recording sessions out here in L.A. and he brought with him the lead actor, Adrian (DiGiovanni), so that I wasn’t in a vacuum and that my responses were completely off of what had just been said to me from the other actor,” Combs explains. “So, that made it really organic. We recorded it before he shot any of the movie so that he could then edit, pick the takes he liked, stream that together and then use that, with his puppeteers and Adrian, on set. The added benefit was that they had something to work with.”
Though Combs’ involvement in the film, he says, basically boiled down to “two days in a booth” while he recorded his lines, he says his time with the director gave him insight into the type of filmmaker and creative force that is Thacker.
“Don operates with high octane fuel. He’s a very energetic and fast-talking, enthusiastic creator. It’s sometimes even a little hard to keep up with him, probably kind of like Tarantino is,” he says. “He’s high energy and he’s got his point-of-view, which is what a filmmaker needs.”
“He was great,” Combs continued. “He was very supportive and enthusiastic when we did our recording session. The first day was really kind of breaking the back of the material and then, the second day was just him coming back and saying ‘Let’s try this angle’ or ‘Let’s slow this down, let’s speed this up’ and then we were done. It was fairly painless,” he recalls.
Thacker’s witty dialogue and tight writing it made it easier for the delivery of the lines as well, injecting the mold with some of its own character.
“What really helps is the words. The words just roll off your tongue. They’re a lot of fun. What I tried to do was instill the mold with that sort of brash, big-shouldered, old school dude that you knew in your past that was a bigger-than-life person spewing out generic life advice for you. It was almost like your inner ‘better-and-worse’ self,” Combs explains. “I really liked that because it was almost a touchstone to a different era. I think that’s the way Don sort of described it to me.”
MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH is now on DVD/Blu-ray today.