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Written by A Baker's Dozen With Gunnar Hanson by Jack Baker   
Aug 08, 2004 at 02:00 AM
Although there have now been four actors to play the role of Leatherface from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW series, the name Gunnar Hanson is the one synonymous with the role. Despite his having roles in many pictures, including DEMON LOVER, HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, CAMPFIRE TALES, MOSQUITO, FREAKSHOW, and HATRED OF A MINUTE, for millions of fans this six foot four Iceland native who professes to love the works of Herman Melville (MOBY DICK), will always be Leatherface. Those that have met and worked with this distinguished gentleman describe him in similar terms again and again: Debbie Rochon, who stars with Gunnar in the forthcoming Paul Talbot feature, HELLBLOCK 13, sums it up by saying "He's a very funny man who always has a good story to liven up a room (He) works very well with cast and crew because of the way (he) puts everybody at ease." Indeed, I found my own meeting with "Leatherface" to be both entertaining as well as informative.
Q: Why the works of Herman Melville?
Gunnar: Melville, is a very fascinating writer to me. Of course his biggest failure was his greatest book: MOBY DICK. I've always been fascinated by the book because it's so much more than just a whaling book. His writing is appealing to me because he really has tremendous depth. The books are much more than they appear to me.
Q: You mentioned that you sometimes get the urge to go see a movie. What films have you enjoyed the most lately?
Gunnar: FARGO, which I thought was terrific. A movie that surprised me for being so good was ABSOLUTE POWER. It's a William Goldman script, it's just so well written, and well acted and directed of course. The whole film was very surprising to me because I was expecting another action thriller.
Q: Favorite of all time?
Gunnar: CHINATOWN is one of my favorite films of all times. Even BLADE RUNNER, even though it's disappointing in a way because the story is so dumb. But the idea behind the story was fascinating, and the way the visuals were handled was so fascinating, that I really liked it . It was kind of like Science Fiction Grows Up.
Q: TCM was your first movie. How did you get the part of Leatherface?
Gunnar: I just tried out for it. I'd done some theater work in college on the side for fun. I'd heard that these guys were making a movie, and I thought this would be an interesting thing to do, I could put it on my life list. I never had any aspirations to be an actor. I just thought this would be an interesting thing to do. I was fresh out of graduate school, and I was working as a carpenter at the time. So I called up the casting director, and went down and met him. He called me back a couple days later and I met Tobe (Hooper)and Kim (Henkel), and I got the part.
Q: Were those real bones on the set?
Gunnar: I think actually they were real bones. I know Bob (Bob Burns, was the casting director and the art director), would always get real excited when he found a farmer who had a fresh set of bones for him...horse bones or cow bones...I believe those were real. He said that it was cheaper to buy real human bones from India than it was to buy the plastic ones that the medical schools used in America. I took that to mean that he was actually figuring out a way to get real human bones on the set too, though I don't know. Obviously the skull that was hanging from the ceiling in the feather room was obviously plastic because he glued feathers all around the seam so it looked like a crown of feathers.
Q: Was the 26 hour shoot for the film's closing scenes for financial reasons?
Gunnar: No. John Dugan, who played grampa, wore this appliance that took 6-8 hours to put the face on the first day. As I remember, on the second day of shooting, I think Dugan said, "I've had enough. You're going to shoot me out today. You're not putting this face on me again. I'm not coming back."
Q: What's your worst memory from TCM? Gunnar: The most miserable event was the dinner scene. It was hot, and we were so exhausted. We started shooting in the night, but it was part of that 26 hours, and we shot into the day, so they covered all the windows. It must have been a hundred degrees outside in late August or early September. Plus we had no air moving through, and the lights, and all these people in the room. I'd guess it must have been a hundred fifteen, a hundred twenty degrees in the room, and the food was rotting. Aside from the fact that this was the tail end of this twenty six hours, it was virtually the last day of shooting. I'm wearing clothes that stink to high heaven. They had one set of clothes for me, and they didn't dare wash them. Besides being the fear of losing them at the laundry, they were also concerned about them changing color. So I wore the same clothes 12-16 hours a day seven days a week for four weeks in Texas in a hundred degrees. I'm (also) wearing a mask that I can't take off. My mask is filling with the smell of this rotting food. I remember we took a dinner break in the middle of the night. I go outside and one of the crew members tells me to get out of the line because I smell so bad.
Q: Why were you cut from TCM2?
Gunnar: We just couldn't come to terms. I don't know how sincere any one was about having the original actors. The same with the third and the forth. The third film, I talked with the director, and I told him what I needed to be paid, and he said that New Line didn't have that kind of budget, and wasn't going to offer me that kind of money. Probably the worst of all was CHAINSAW 4 (NEXT GENERATION). They called and asked me if it was interested and I said yes. They made an offer that was $600 a week. I found out later that they had approached Wayne Bell who was the original sound recorder and composer for the first CHAINSAW, to record sound on this film, and offered him $1500 a week and an apology that it was so small. That tells you how important they thought it was to have the original Leatherface back.
Q: Any opinion on the sequels?
Gunnar: I saw the first sequel on video and I was glad I was not in it. I saw 3 on video. In both cases I was originally disappointed that we couldn't come to terms, but once they came out, I was glad.
Gunnar: I'm not going to see it.
Q: I know a lot of people who don't like the fact that Leatherface puts on a woman's face (in the forthcoming NEXT GENERATION), but he had the "Grandma" face and the "Pretty Woman" face in the original. Why do you suppose that was?
Gunnar: Most people don't even notice that. It wasn't anything strangely sexual. The whole idea behind Leatherface, based on what I remember talking with Tobe, (was that) Leatherface depended entirely on his masks for his personality. He changed faces depending on who he wanted to be. He has the "grandma" mask on and he's got the apron and the big spoon, because he's being very domestic when everyone comes home. He puts the "pretty woman" face because he wants to look nice for dinner. I don't think he distinguishes between male and female. He simply puts on a face depending on what he's going to be at the time. I think when you realize that, it changes the way you see Leatherface. The writer really missed the point in Chainsaw 2. Leatherface isn't sitting around going "Do I kill her or do I screw her?" It's "When do we eat?" Basically he likes to kill. He's passive around his family, but otherwise he likes to kill. I think the scary part of Leatherface, which again was missed in 2&3, is that there is nothing behind the mask. The whole reason that he's so terrifying is that there was nothing behind the mask. This big void. In CHAINSAW 3 they had gotten to the point where they saw Leatherface as a goofy character that they were going to have him sneak out of the house to smoke a cigarette.
Q: No matter what you do, for millions of fans you will always be Leatherface. A lot of actors scream about type casting. How does that make you feel? Has it hindered you getting other roles?
Gunnar: I understand that. That's why I do these other films. My feeling was always that I did this film on a lark. I never had the intention of having an acting career, and I don't think I have one now. To me it's been great, because my interest has always been writing, and that's what I do now (Gunnar is the author of several books, as well as a screenplay he describes as a "ghost story thriller"). I said if it's going to be a choice of going somewhere and struggling to become an actor, or going somewhere and becoming a writer, it's an easy choice. I decided back in 76 that I wasn't going to pursue acting. Within days of having made that decision I got a call from Bob Burns. He said "I'm working on a film with Wes Craven, and we need you in it as an actor. Can you be out here in 2 weeks?" I said, "No, I don't do films anymore." It was a mistake, I should have done it. Why did I think that, having decided that writing was what I wanted, that I had to exclude acting? The film was THE HILLS HAVE EYES! Fred Olen Ray called me (10 years ago) and said I'm out in Hollywood, I'm making movies, why don't you come out here and help me make this picture (HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS) I thought , "Gee, I might as well." That's what really got me back into working in films as an actor.
Q: I've read so many times that you are the proverbial "Gentle Giant" How do the fans react when they meet you face to face? Are they expecting a psycho?
Gunnar: They're not quite sure who they've met. I'm surprised at some of the people who are afraid to come and talk to me. They are very concerned about meeting Leatherface! The people that I meet that are CHAINSAW fans, are great. Most of the fans can adjust to the fact that I am not Leatherface, and I am not like Leatherface. That it was an acting job.

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