SXSW 2014 Interview: Dick Miller on That Guy Dick Miller
You know That Guy Dick Miller. You’ve seen him in tons of movies. Joe Dante always gave him a part, most memorably as Mr. Futterman in Gremlins. He sells The Terminator his 1984 guns and pays the price, and starred in many Roger Corman films, including a cameo in The Little Shop of Horrors. He’d turned down the lead because Corman wanted him to play a role identical to his previous one in A Bucket of Blood.
That Guy Dick Miller is a documentary all about his work, featuring interviews with the legendary filmmakers with whom he worked. Miller was in Austin for the SXSW premiere of the film so I got my own personal Dick Miller experience. He’s so deadpan, I don’t want to ruin it by adding parenthetical indications to every sarcastic joke. Just be sure you read his comments with that trademark sense of deadpan humor, because he is that guy, Dick Miller.
CraveOnline: Why did you go by Richard Miller as a screenwriter, but Dick Miller as an actor?
Dick Miller: I was Richard Miller as an actor too. The first two pictures, three pictures, I used the name but then I thought it didn’t feel natural enough. I want to say I’ve always been a Dick.
Gremlins 2 is a favorite of mine. Did you enjoy having a larger role as Mr. Futterman in the sequel?
It doesn’t really matter to me. The roles came and I’d be starring in a picture one day and doing, not necessarily a bit, but a smaller part the next day. Then you’d go back to starring again. I just took it in stride. I was looking to work.
In the film you said you weren’t aware there were problems with the puppets on Gremlins 1. When you worked more closely with them in Gremlins 2, did you understand your costars’ complaints?
No, I didn’t. When you work with the puppets in your hand, there’s a lot of manipulation going on. Sometimes you don’t feel natural doing it. I’ve done ventriloquism and things like that so I felt natural. I don’t see any difference in it. I didn’t even know there was a problem.
Is it true the Futtermans were killed by Gremlins in the original version?
Yeah, Murray Futterman is killed. They come through the house and they kill him. They said, “We’ve got enough dead people in this picture. Who can we let live?” They really liked the character.
Did you get to shoot any additional scenes then?
No, no, they just put in a news report and he mentions that I’m in the hospital and I’m recovering. That was it. You can save any scene you want any way you want.
Did you get to do an episode of “Police Woman” from having costarred in Big Bad Mama with Angie Dickinson?
No, it didn’t. In fact, I never got a part through another actor. I think Angie was surprised when I showed up, “Oh, what are you doing here?” “I’m working. Don’t bother me.”
Was Arnold Schwarzenegger talkative when you did The Terminator?
No, he wasn’t really. Arnold stands around, he’s a great guy, smokes cigars all day long. He asked me a few questions about weightlifting because, after all, I know, he doesn’t.
But not about acting?
No. He asked me how to run for governor and I told him, “Get away.”
At that point you had been in a lot more movies than him.
I had been in the business a lot more years than him. He’s a nice guy.
What did you think of the musical Little Shop of Horrors?
Musicals are nice. I think adding music to a good story, you got a hit.
Could you believe that little Roger Corman film became such a big musical?
No, I’m sorry I turned it down. I’ve regretted that. I’ve regretted that move a long time. I shouldn’t have turned it down. There was a thing about sequels. They weren’t doing sequels. They were doing serial pictures like Tarzan but doing the same character in another picture, I didn’t like that. So I walked away from it.
Well, it wasn’t a sequel to Bucket of Blood. It sounds like it’s more of a typecast you were worrying about.
I thought it was a sequel because of the character. In fact, it was explained that way. He said, “It’s the same part you did.” I go, “I’ll play morons for the rest of my life [if I do this.]”
So the idea was Walter Paisley went from being a sculptor to a florist?
Who knows? He’ll be a dressmaker next.
What was your experience with Leslie Nielsen on “Police Squad?”
I hardly even knew Leslie. Most actors, this is the giveaway, most actors don’t associate with other actors. You have one or two friends and that’s it, but Leslie’s a fine man.
Did he have his fart machine back then?
I told him not to use it. I think it was kind of a cheat to use mechanical things when he had the real McCoy here.
What was your experience with Steven Spielberg on 1941?
I knew him as a director. He was fine. As far as producer, I didn’t even know he was producing those pictures and I worked for him on quite a number of pictures.
When you did voice work like in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, are you able to do the same kind of character work with a voice?
Oh yeah. If you’re playing a gangster, you can do it live, you can do it animated. Animation is not that far from your natural thing except it lets you look differently. Fortunately I looked the parts I was playing.
Are there any movies you don’t remember making?
There’s a question. Yes, I don’t remember what they were. In television performance, not just parts but running parts, I used to do shows that were on every night. There must be 2000 appearances. There must be over 100 parts. You can’t see them all and you don’t remember them.
Is That Guy Dick Miller the best Dick Miller movie?
Let me say this about that. That Guy Dick Miller is the finest, best picture that Autumn Rose Productions has produced. It may also be added that it’s the only one.
Are you seriously retired now?
Excuse me, there’s the phone. I’m retired, but I’ve retired for the last 20 years. I keep saying, “Well, that’s it. I’ve had it. I’ve reached that age.” I was 65 years old. “I want to quit.” Another picture comes up and it’s nice, another picture comes up that’s nice. I guess I’m open to offers.
Are there any Dick Miller films I haven’t mentioned that you’d like to talk about?
Demon Knight, I loved the picture. I just felt it was a real acting job. That sounds funny from an actor but it was. This was one of those things that’s a couple of hours in the [makeup] chair and it felt good. It felt natural.
Do you think there’s still that business of actors who just work, work, work that you did? Are there still the Roger Cormans and Joe Dantes who create roles specifically for their favorite actors?
I don’t think so. It sounds conceited but it’s rare that they say, “Get so and so for this part, get so and so for this part.” They keep doing it. Why I wasn’t a tremendous star, I don’t know.
We think you are. We all know that guy Dick Miller. Was it Apache Woman that you played two roles in the same film?
Apache Woman was my first picture for Roger and I played a cowboy and an Indian. I played the Indian, a hidden part. Play an Indian, there’s a lot of makeup, a lot of wigs and everything. When I finished that, he says, “Do you want to play a homesteader?” I said, “When’s that? When’s the pictures?” He says, “This picture. We’ll stick you in there.” That was it. If I had known then what I know now, I’d have asked for two salaries.
That’s something they probably wouldn’t do today because people could freeze frame or figure out it’s the same actor.
Could never do it today, no.