Q&A: Ray Wise on “BIG ASS SPIDER!”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
From ROBOCOP to REAPER and all the PEAKS and CREEPERS in between, the legacy left by Ray Wise in his storied career is unquestionable. Wise has explored his dark and light sides in spades, and given audiences some of the most fascinating and fun characters ever put to screen. Most recently, Wise made his mark as the stern Major Braxton Tanner in Mike Mendez’s hilarious horror/comedy BIG ASS SPIDER! (now on DVD, Blu-ray and on-demand from Epic Pictures).
FANGORIA spoke to the genre veteran (who discussed his part in the upcoming TWIN PEAKS Blu-ray here) about SPIDER, and what lies in his fright-film future…
FANGORIA: What attracted you to the military role in BIG ASS SPIDER!?
RAY WISE: Well, I was up in San Francisco visiting my daughter when Mike Mendez sent me an e-mail saying he wanted me to do this role in a movie [then] called MEGA SPIDER. He gave me the description of who he wanted me to play, which was an Army officer, and I thought, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind playing an Army officer in that type of old ’50s movie situation where I have to battle the monster in downtown Los Angeles.” Then he sent me the script, and I liked it! It had a lot of possibilities, and I felt that if he could pull it off, it could be entertaining, so that was it.
FANG: Did you approach BIG ASS SPIDER! as if it was an old-fashioned monster movie, or as a comedy with horror elements?
WISE: I approached it as more of a ’50s monster movie, which already has comic elements in it [laughs]. I mean, the acting back then was pretty stilted, and I don’t think we’re as stilted as they were. I think our tone is that of a B-horror film because it wasn’t a big-budget picture. It was a low-budget movie, and only so much could be done on a daily basis. It all depended on how well they could do some of the special effects. Of course, we had to do some special-effects acting and we never really saw the big ass spider, but we had the general idea of what it must look like, and we approached it that way.
FANG: How was your relationship with the rest of the cast? Judging from previous interviews, there was a sense of camaraderie among everyone, considering it was such a low-budget, on-the-go production.
WISE: It was great! I got along very well with Greg [Grunberg] and Lombardo [Boyar], who are just hilarious. Lombardo was funny all the time; he kept the mood very light. Greg is an extremely good actor, so it was a pleasure working with him. We just had a really fun time doing BIG ASS SPIDER! Every scene presented its problems, but we got through them and had a good time.
FANG: You play the straight man against a lot of the film’s comedy, even though in the past, you’ve delivered some iconic over-the-top performances. Did you ever lament the fact that you weren’t able to go a little wild in this role?
WISE: I liked having the restrictions on the character, and that he had to act in a military fashion. He’s more of the straight man, and he’s in command. He’s an authoritarian, but nothing over the top; it’s not a “crazy colonel” type of thing. So I actually enjoyed playing him that way. Those restrictions felt right for the character.
FANG: There has been a lot of talk about a potential sequel to BIG ASS SPIDER! Would you consider reprising your role if the opportunity presented itself?
WISE: Oh yeah, sure. I like Mike Mendez a lot, and Greg too. I like the way Mike makes movies; I like his direction, and I’m always hoping for him to have bigger budgets every time. I believe he’s very capable of handling just about anything that comes along, so I’d be very open to it.
FANG: It must be a weird transition, from doing genre films in the days of heavy practical FX to the age of CGI. When you’re acting against those digital effects, where do you go internally as an actor?
WISE: I just run the movie I see in my head. I see the scene, the big ass spider or whatever else is necessary to see. I can imagine it pretty intensely, and concentrate on the image I have in my mind. It becomes almost real for me, actually. It sounds like a cliché, but it does.
FANG: You’re continuing to work on a variety of projects at this stage in your career, including television, short films, studio productions and independent films.
WISE: Yes, and I did a film called DIGGING UP THE MARROW for Adam Green, and that’s going to be really good. I also did a film called THE LAND OF LEOPOLD down in Austin, Texas, and another one recently in Baton Rouge called DEAD STILL. That’s another horror movie that I think will be really good. You’ll probably be talking to me about those soon, I hope.
FANG: In which of those media do you most prefer working?
WISE: Well, it all depends on what I’m looking for. Studio pictures pay awfully well, and you don’t have to work very hard if you’re not playing one of the main roles. For instance, I did X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and all I had was one brief scene as the Secretary of State. We were supposed to do it in London, but then it was changed to North Carolina before we finally did it in LA. I was kept on their tab for three weeks and I had a wonderful paycheck at the end of it. On those big $100-million movies, they can afford to blow a lot of money.
On the other hand, I’ve done films for just a couple of hundred dollars a day that I enjoyed even more, because I was playing a substantial character in a script I really loved. So it all depends on what I’m looking for and what I need at the time. If I need a paycheck, I try to do those bigger jobs, and if I don’t, I can do lower-budget ones and hope they turn out well.