There are horror movie icons like Freddie Krueger and Jason Vorhees. Both of these villains are well known for the fear they have spread, yet, over the years there has been a campyness associated with who these characters are. Leatherface is a completely different story.
Perhaps it's because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes out of our own reality, or maybe it's because we never really got to know Leatherface as intimately as we did the others, but actor Gunnar Hansen infused this deadly being with such a low regard for his victims, that we are drawn to Leatherface for the same reason he repels and scares us.
Celebrating the film with the upcoming release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 2 Disc Ultimate Edition, Hansen sat down with us to discuss the character, horror films, the real reason why he wasn't in the 2003 remake, and what he has coming up next in his career.
How did you get cast in this iconic role?
Gunnar Hansen: I'd been in a couple of plays in college and one of them was "Of Mice and Men." Of course, I played Lenny, the dimwitted killer. After I got out of graduate school I ran into the guy I had been in "Of Mice and Men" with, he'd played George, so we were just having a cup of coffee and a friend of his joined the conversation. He said, "Gosh, it's too bad but there are these guys in town (this was in Austin) who are making a horror movie, and you would be perfect to play the killer, but they've already cast the part."
So I left it at that, I didn't think anything would come of it, then I ran into him a week or so later on the street and he said that the fellow they had hired to play the killer was holed up in a motel drunk. He wouldn't come out. So he gave me the phone number of the casting director. I called the casting director, we talked, I came down to see him then he called me back and I went down there a couple of days later and met the director and got the part.
What did you think of the script and the subject matter when it was first given to you?
Gunnar Hansen: Well, it didn't bother me. To me, I just thought it'd be fun to be doing a film. The fact that it happened to be a horror movie was just fine with me. I thought the script was interesting. I didn't know, because I hadn't worked in film before, except maybe walking through a scene in a student film, I didn't know how a script was going to translate. I didn't know reading the script what it was going to look like at all but I thought well I can do this. It looks like it's going to be exciting so I was not put off by it in the least.
Did you have any idea when you did The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that we'd be talking about it 32 years later?
Gunnar Hansen: No, I really didn't. Of course I had big hopes for the movie and I really hoped that it would do well. To me, and it seems so stupid now, at the time I was thinking, what do I mean by a huge success? Back then I thought, if five years from now there are some hardcore horror fans who remember this movie then I'll think of it as a real success. That was my biggest hope for the film. Just that a few years down the road somebody would remember it. Obviously, I had no notion at all what the film would turn out to do.
What is your favorite feature on the upcoming Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 2 Disc Ultimate Edition DVD?
Gunnar Hansen: Two things. One is, I was really glad to see there was a new commentary track. There is the commentary track that we did for an earlier edition with Tobe Hooper and Danny Pearl the cinematographer. Which is on this one but I'm really glad to see there's another commentary track with some of the other actors. Including Paul Partain who played Franklin and Bob Burns who was the art director; and both Paul and Bob have died since then. The best thing on it though is... there are two documentaries about Chainsaw on the supplemental disc. The one called "Flesh Wounds," it's 7 profiles and that was done by Michael Felsher. That's a really nice documentary.
It doesn't discuss the conditions, it doesn't talk about the filming itself. That's been covered. It profiles 7 different people involved in the film. I really enjoyed that. That was probably the nicest thing for me to see on the DVD.
Why do you think horror movies continue to be so popular?
Gunnar Hansen: We it's sort of cyclic, you know? I think we're back in an upswing, thank goodness. I think horror films are always going to be popular. I don't know that they're ever going to be... I think a lot of times with these big, studio horror movies they're doomed to fail. I think for the very reason that horror movies are popular. I think horror movies are countercultural. They kind of undermine mainstream thinking about things. It's hard for big studios to invest millions of dollars and put out a film that isn't... that threatens anybody.
I think horror movies are popular because they aren't mainstream. They are part of the edge of society. They're the ne'er-do-well brother of film. I think a lot of people are drawn to that. I think also people are drawn to horror movies because it's fun to get scared.
I was reading that you declined to do the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I was wondering why you might have done that?
Gunnar Hansen: Actually, I didn't decline it. What happened was they didn't offer me the part of Leatherface. Which was fine with me. Sure, it'd be fun to play him but I also realize that I had played Leatherface 30 years earlier. I'm sure they were looking for somebody else to play it. So that was fine. The reason I wasn't in it was they asked me to play the truck driver at the end of the film for a one day cameo. They were just so condescending and insulting in their conversations with me that I just said, "No, this is absurd." They acted like I'd never been in a movie before. They offered me Union minimum. I said, "Union minimum? You want my endorsement for $658?"
Then they turn around and lie. They said in Fangoria, the two producers were interviewed, and they said that I demanded $20,000 a day. (Laughs) Which is brilliant because all I said to them was, "You got to pay me more than $658." So it's interesting for me to know now that that means that that translates into $20,000. (Laughs)
Did it ever bother you that since Leatherface was concealed, you couldn't walk down the street and be mobbed and noticed for being this great, big screen killer?
Gunnar Hansen: Actually, I really like that. I'm pretty private and I like the fact that I can go to a fan convention and people know who I am. People want to talk to me because they really love the movie. I really appreciate that. I think it's wonderful that people want to talk to me, or meet me, because of my involvement with Chainsaw. At the same time, I really appreciate the fact that I nobody has a clue about the fact that I played Leatherface when I just walk down the street. I really like that part.
Are you a horror movie fan in your personal life?
Gunnar Hansen: Well, I am except I have to admit that I haven't seen much horror recently. I was really put off when Scream and that whole ilk started popping up, I was very put off. Those movies I don't think qualify as horror movies, as far as I'm concerned. I know I'm revealing myself to be an old fart when I say that...
Oh no, no, no...
Gunnar Hansen: To me, those movies, I was very put off by them. I really haven't seen much horror since then.
What do you have coming up next?
Gunnar Hansen: Well, I've got a couple of films coming out. One is called Chainsaw Sally which was supposed to come out last Spring but the distributor has been postponing it. That's going to be out in January. About the same time a movie called Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen will be out, which is a post-Apocalypse drama which I'm really looking forward to seeing in the theaters. I'll be down in Nashville for two weeks on a film called Shudder, a ghost story horror movie. Which I'm really looking forward to working on. If everything goes as planned, by Spring we'll be shooting Chainsaw Sally 2. Essentially, the director is waiting until the release of the first one and at that point he'll start going into preproduction.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 2 Disc Ultimate Edition comes to DVD September 26 from Dark Sky Films.