Sundance 2016 | Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon Zombie on ’31’
Sundance may be making headlines for its thoughtful dramas about coping with grief, and light comedies about mismatched families living alone in the wilderness, but it’s also the place where carnies are kidnapped and forced fight evil clowns for twelve hours straight. Not that that happens every year, of course. It’s only when Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon Zombie show up.
Rob Zombie wrote and directed the new horror thriller 31, which stars his wife Sheri Moon Zombie as Charly, one of the potential victims who discover whether or not they have what it takes to survive a homicidal clown attack. It may be more of an action movie than we’ve usually come to expect from Zombie, but 31 features his many trademarks: weird and specific characters, grotesque violence and sensuality, Super 8 film stock and an uncompromisingly bleak storyline.
I sat down with Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon Zombie the day after 31 premiered to an applauding audience at Sundance 2016, to find out more about Rob’s predilections, Sheri Moon’s acting career and the upcoming biopic Groucho, Rob Zombie’s next movie project, which will be about the final years of legendary comedian Groucho Marx.
Crave: Are clowns ruined forever now? Will they ever be funny again?
Rob Zombie: Well first you have to ask yourself, were they ever funny to begin with?
Rob Zombie: Go back and look at Lon Chaney. He was already ruining clowns back in the Twenties.
Sheri Moon Zombie: Ronald McDonald is scary!
I do remember that one time he let that kid ice skate in that Christmas commercial. That was pretty endearing.
Sheri Moon Zombie: Oh, I do remember that…
Every other time though, terrifying.
Rob Zombie: I just remember there’s a Super 8 film my parents took of taking me to see Ronald McDonald when I was a little tiny kid, and I’m screaming in terror as I’m approaching Ronald, and this is like some weird guy with bright red hair and a white face. I’m like, “Nooooo!” Just feed me to an alligator.
So was this the obvious way to go, once you decided to do your own version of The Most Dangerous Game?
Rob Zombie: I actually toned down the clown element, truthfully, because at first I thought, “Clowns!” but then as I got into it, I was like, the hair and makeup sometimes starts taking away [from] the actors so much that I started getting away from it. I thought maybe in the middle, with Lew Temple and David Ury as the two brothers, they’re the most classic clowny I thought. Richard Brake, I thought, I’m just going to do the white face. His whole opening line is, “I ain’t no fucking clown,” because I didn’t want him to lose his look. And then I made the other guy the Hitler clown, so I sort of… clowns are tricky. I didn’t want to do the clichéd clown so it kind of went all over the place.
Were you on a mission to make Sheri the next action badass?
Sheri Moon Zombie: [Laughs.]
Rob Zombie: Well it wasn’t the mission but at one point, when we finally got to the scene where she slit [character name redacted]’s throat and she’s all pumped up and standing, I was like, “Well, there we go! You’re an action figure!”
What sort of conversations do you have about your character while he’s working on the script?
Sheri Moon Zombie: Really detailed conversations. We go over every aspect from makeup, hair, body, the sound of her, the toothpick she’s going to chew, how she’s going to say her lines. We go line by line. We go over everything. Everything.
Rob Zombie: I’m super anal about every little detail and Sheri is too when it comes to her character. The tiniest thing will bother me. That’s why you’ll never see anybody with a fake beard. I can’t… one little thing like that and I’m like, “Movie’s ruined!”
Sheri Moon Zombie: Although I do think the Charly wig should have had its own credit.
Rob Zombie: Yeah, that thing was out of control.
Your style is so particular. You could never mistake your films for anyone else’s.
Rob Zombie: That’s good.
What do you call it? How do you refer to your way of making films?
Rob Zombie: I don’t know. I don’t really call it anything. It’s just the way I see things. This is like, it’s just what I find interesting. This is the way, because whenever I use an actor, that’s never… once I get done with them they’ve never looked like that before. Like, Jeff Daniel Phillips is a good example: every picture with Jeff Daniel Phillips, pre-meeting me, [he’s] clean shaven, short hair, always playing like a nerd. I meet him, like, “You’re growing your hair long, growing a beard, and you’re going to be a badass.” And he’s like, “But I’m always the nerd!” “Well, that’s not the way I see it.” Same thing with Bill Mosely. He’s like, “I’ve never ever grown a beard before!” I just see people in a different way, you know?
Sheri Moon Zombie: I think if you watch all of Rob’s films you’ll that there’s certain trademarks. He likes to have the Super 8 footage at the end. He likes to have a lead character, kind of… I don’t even know if you do it intentionally… but in the vision of you. Bill Mosely kind of looked like you at the end, Jeff Daniel Phillips kind of looked like you.
Rob Zombie: I don’t do it intentionally but it’s like, I can only create what’s in my head so everything that goes on screen is essentially me. Because if it wasn’t it would be real phony.
Sheri Moon Zombie: And the music in his films, you have a real distinctive trademark I think with what you do.
Rob Zombie: I guess in a sense I’m trying to make the films that I wish someone else would make, that I would enjoy. Because I do what I know and what I see and what I like, because what else can you really do, you know?
Many of your films have recurring elements, recurring horror elements. Even this one which is almost more of an action movie really…
Rob Zombie: Yeah.
And yet, you’ve said you’re going to do Groucho next, and I’m picturing Groucho shot like this and it’s an odd image.
Rob Zombie: I would do it totally different. I mean, I don’t know how we would shoot it but in a way I almost picture the Groucho film the way Woody Allen’s Manhattan kooks, in a sense. Something like that. Real…
Black and white?
Rob Zombie: Black and white, just really beautiful, even though it’s that time period where Groucho’s life was real garish and colorful. It’s like 1974. But yeah, I like the idea of just doing something totally, totally different.
You’re going to have to have the fake mustache though. You said you don’t care for fake…
Rob Zombie: Groucho had a real mustache at that point.
Rob Zombie: It’s only about the last three years of his life. It’s not a biopic of Groucho, it’s about… in a nutshell, it’s about the last three years through the eyes of the college student who was his assistant and worked inside his house, when Groucho was sort of being drugged and controlled and abused by a woman who is taking care of him.
That sounds sad…
Rob Zombie: It is sad, and dark. And he had a series of strokes. The last years of his life were miserable. It’s like Sunset Blvd. It’s not good.
Who does Sheri play?
Sheri Moon Zombie: [Laughs.]
Rob Zombie: Groucho.
Sheri Moon Zombie: I don’t know. Yeah, Groucho.
Practically every credit you have as an actress is with Rob. Is he just who you like working with? Because I want to see you in everything.
Rob Zombie: She turns down everything. [Laughs.]
Sheri Moon Zombie: You know, I have a lot of interests in my life and I like to do a lot of things, and I don’t like to go on auditions. I just don’t want to do that. I love working with Rob. I’ve worked with a few other directors and I’ve had nice times. With like Tobe Hooper [in Toolbox Murders], we were friends, he had a part for me. He was like, “You’re perfect for this.” I had a great experience working with Tobe.
Rob Zombie: Duchovny…
Sheri Moon Zombie: Yeah, David Duchovny. Great. I really like when actors take the director’s chair and that’s he he did for the episode I did on Californication. I’m really picky because I don’t trust everybody, and for me I invest so much of myself. I get super emotionally tied to the characters I play for the time I’m working. I just know that I can trust Rob. I don’t know that I can trust everyone else, you know?
Can you trust you? Do you want to direct at some point?
Sheri Moon Zombie: No. I have no interest in that. NO interest in that.
Rob Zombie: You have to be a little bit unhinged to want to direct.
Sheri Moon Zombie: [Laughs.]
Is that true?
Rob Zombie: Yes.
Why is that?
Rob Zombie: You have to be the type person who, being in complete in charge of every tiny psycho detail doesn’t bother you, and answering a billion questions every second. It’s just like a crazy job. I mean, I guess some people… maybe I just make it crazy. Maybe other people don’t. It’s just a weird job.
Sheri Moon Zombie: I like my resumé. I don’t want to dampen it with anything I’m not proud of.
Is there anything that you’re interested in, story-wise, that isn’t bleak?
Rob Zombie: Not really. Not at the moment. Even the stories that… like when I was going to make this movie called Broad Street Bullies, which was a hockey film, it was because it was about the Philadelphia Flyers in the Seventies, when they were the most violent team that ever existed and they basically brutalized their way to winning the Stanley Cup. You know?
It’s like a not-funny Slap Shot.
Rob Zombie: Yeah, essentially yeah. It’s actually sort of what Slap Shot was stolen from.
Sheri Moon Zombie: Yeah.
Rob Zombie: It’s Slap Shot but it actually happened. I just like that type of stuff. I mean I love other types of movies. I’ll watch The Good Dinosaur and whatever and love it, but I’m not drawn to do that. I’ve always been drawn to… even when I was a kid, it was something like Paul Schrader’s Hardcore. Those were the type of movies I was drawn to for some crazy reason.
A long time ago I was able to get a hold of your draft of The Crow 2037: A New World of Gods and Monsters. It seemed so wildly different from the films you ended up making, which are intimate and scuzzy. That one had flaming swords and it was huge.
Rob Zombie: I don’t even remember what it is. Yeah, yeah…
No regrets then?
Rob Zombie: No, I mean… [Thinks.] I don’t even remember what that script was about at all.
Sheri Moon Zombie: That seems like a lifetime ago.
It was about a guy who came back as The Crow, and then something happened and he didn’t have any memories, and he didn’t remember why he came back. Basically he became like Vampire Hunter D in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Rob Zombie: Yeah, I had this vision of taking this character and making The Crow almost like… making him older, and making him this hard bitten sort of guy [instead] of like, “Let’s get this young, pretty guy!” I didn’t want to try to do Brandon Lee again. I thought, he did that, let’s do something totally different. But certain movies get caught in that sort of development process and you know it’s like a hamster wheel. It’s never going to get off it and you just have to jump off at some point and consider it as a learning experience.
Top Photo: Maarten de Boer / Getty Images Portrait
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.