Every child of the ’80s knows the three rules.
Don’t expose Gizmo to bright light. Don’t give Gizmo any water, not even to drink. And, most importantly, don’t feed Gizmo after midnight.
Of course, all three of those rules were violated over the course of Gremlins, one of the most iconic films of the ’80s.
In one of the surest signs yet that we’re all getting old, Gremlins turns 30 this year. The New Globe Theatre in Fortitude Valley will celebrate this milestone with a special screening of the film tonight, before star Zach Galligan appears at Supanova later this year.
We tracked down ’80s poster boy Galligan to find out where he and the rest of the Gremlins cast are now, and to get an answer to one of the burning questions of our youth.
Zach, I’ve got to ask you something that’s been bugging me since I was a kid – when does it stop being ‘after midnight’? Because it’s always ‘after midnight’, if you know what I mean. It’s ‘after midnight’ right now. So where’s the cut-off point? When is it okay to feed Gizmo again?
Ha! Well, you know, even we made fun of that rule in Gremlins 2. We had characters saying things like, ‘What if it’s got a caraway seed stuck in its teeth and you’re on a plane and you fly over the international dateline, is it OK to feed it then?’ The thing is, we wanted to make it simple for people to remember. What should we have said instead? Don’t get them wet, don’t expose them to bright light, and what, don’t feed them between 12:42 and 5:47am? Come on, man, it just doesn’t work.
That’s fair. That movie came out 30 years ago now, but people are still showing up at conventions wearing Gizmo backpacks, and you still see Gizmo toys everywhere. Can you believe how this movie has endured over time?
Well, I’ve said it many times, I really am stunned by its longevity. If you had told me 30 years ago that it would be just as big now… and in some ways, because of the fans on the internet, it’s slightly bigger than it was at the time. Now it’s gone worldwide. It’s very surprising. But in one respect, if you really look at the movie, it’s not all that surprising, because one of the things that [director] Joe Dante was at pains to do was to not make it dated. We wanted it to seem like it could be set anytime, as opposed to a specific era. There are very few dated references in the movie. There are a few technological references, with the types of phones we use, or a record player or something like that, but there’s not a lot of dated style. It doesn’t look that much like an ‘80s movie, with the exception of my hair. You know what I mean?
It still holds up. It’s still entertaining today. It could have been released yesterday and I think people would have enjoyed it.
Absolutely. Especially because it’s the sort of movie that plays on two levels; it works for kids and it works for adults, and you get something different out of it when you watch it as an adult.
Yeah! That’s no surprise, either, because Joe Dante is obsessed with Warner Bros cartoons, especially Bugs Bunny. And Bugs Bunny is a classic example of something that works on an adult level as well as a kid level.
You couldn’t have known this would be such a big part of your life, but do you remember auditioning for the role? Do you remember what they saw in you?
I think what they saw was the chemistry between me and [co-star] Phoebe Cates. It was very, very genuine and legitimate. It was kind of like it was in the movie, where I’m crazy for her and she’s like, ‘Yeah, he’s cute, he’ll do’. It was kind of like that in real life, except, of course, that she had a 30-year-old boyfriend, and I was 19 and, even though I was interested in her, I’m sure I seemed like a child to her.
Was this after Fast Times At Ridgemont High came out, or before?
This was after.
So she was already a phenomenon!
Oh, yeah. That was one of the fun things about doing the movie – she and I would go into a place and I was completely unknown, but she was completely known. She and I would walk in to a pizza parlour in Westwood or something like that together, which is a small, little suburb of LA where the UCLA campus is. It’s like the college suburb of LA. She and I would walk into a pizza parlour full of other 18-year-old and 19-year-old kids, and they would just lose it. They would freak out!
Once the movie came out and people knew who you were, was it crazy? You’re a young guy, you’re in this hugely successful movie; did you just have stuff being thrown at you all the time? Was it hard to keep your feet on the ground?
Well, it’s very hard to keep your feet on the ground when every single person – your friends, your family, your colleagues, people who work for you, your friends’ mums – is telling you how incredible you are. It’s almost impossible not to believe some of it. If it’s not true, why are 99 per cent of people telling you that? When you’re 20 years old, and it’s all coming at you so quickly, it really spooked me at first. It was a very weird experience, walking into a Chinese restaurant and having everybody stop what they’re doing, stop eating, and turn around and stare at me until I sat down at my table, and maybe even for a couple of additional minutes while I started eating, and then they would slowly turn back to their meals. And that was in New York! Sophisticated New York! So imagine what they did in places like Atlanta.
Corey Feldman, who’s in the movie as well, has talked a bit about how child stars tend to be treated pretty badly in Hollywood. Obviously, you weren’t a child at the time, but you were a young guy. Did you see much of that yourself?
The thing is, it was a very different situation for me than it was for Corey. When Corey got started, you could argue the height of his fame came when he was between 11 and 15 years old. I didn’t even really start until I was 17 or 18, and Gremlins didn’t come out until I was 20. Now, as I’m sure you remember, there’s a gigantic difference between being 15 and being 20. There’s also a gigantic difference between coming from a suburb of LA, and coming from New York City. So I was a savvy 20-year-old New Yorker. People had tried to sell me stuff and talk me into stuff, and I’d learned how to judge sketchy people at a very young age. I think Corey had none of that. I had really great parents that were supportive of me, but if you read Corey’s book, his parents seem like they were a nightmare.
So it was two very, very different situations. I think I was able to navigate the predatory aspect that was out there in Hollywood kind of effortlessly, and my guess is, because he was so young and had so little guidance, by the time he was 14 or 15, it was probably very, very easy to take advantage of him.
Yeah. After the movie blew up, you kept living in New York, instead of moving to LA, which is what a lot of people would have done in that situation. Do you feel like that was a mistake? Do you have any regrets about it?
Well, tactically, it really was a terrible mistake. They say you should strike while the iron is hot, but when my iron was boiling, I went back to college. It was probably the dumbest thing I could possibly have done, but it seemed sensible at the time. What I should have done is the day the movie opened, I should have been unpacking and dedicating myself to being an actor in Los Angeles. Particularly since I’d just switched to an agency that had no New York office! So here I was living in New York, going to college, signed to an agency in LA. How was that supposed to work?
But because nobody in my family had any showbusiness experience of any kind, that was allowed to go on for about two or three years before I realised it was a mistake and finally moved to LA. But as you can imagine, moving to LA three years after your big movie… that’s called missing the bus. Three years in Hollywood is like 30 years in real life.
They did get the gang back together to film Gremlins 2, which I actually preferred to the original Gremlins when I was a kid. Do you feel like that movie’s a little bit underrated?
Hmm… Maybe five or six years ago, I would have said it was underrated, but when they released the Blu-Ray in 2012, there was an unbelievably glowing review of it in The New York Times. In fact, Joe Dante saw it and sent it to me in an email that only had three other words in it, and those words were: ‘Vindicated at last’. I’ve found, over the last two or three years, that when I go to conventions or talk to people like you, the reputation of Gremlins 2 has really exploded. Many people actually prefer it to the first one, which is something I never thought I would hear, because I think the first movie is the superior film. But as some people have pointed out, there’s no point comparing the two, because they’re so wildly different.
It makes sense that Gremlins 2 would be reevaluted by film critics and cinephiles, because those are the people that movie is made for. It’s such a love letter to B-movies.
Of course, there’s talk now about a Gremlins reboot. Is that something you’re involved in? Do you want to be involved?
Well, it’s such early stages, I don’t know whether I’ll be involved with it or not. I don’t think they have a script written. But of course I want to be involved with it, because I kind of feel like it’s partly my franchise. Most of the cast are no longer with us anymore, unfortunately. Hoyt Axton passed away. Keye Luke passed away. A lot of the cast passed away, or are in their late 80s now. Phoebe Cates is wonderful but she’s completely and utterly retired from showbusiness! So who else is the face of the franchise, to be honest, other than me?
So I’d like to be involved with it, in some respect, because even though I have 50 other credits, it’s pretty much my signature achievement. It’s definitely the biggest film I ever did.
Yeah. Because the reboot is being made now, we’ll most likely see CGI Gremlins. Do you think that’ll have the same charm as animatronics?
I think it’s too early to say, but if they’re shrewd, they’ll reach some sort of compromise so the whole thing doesn’t look like a CGI cartoon – maybe Gizmo will be animatronic and the Gremlins will be CGI. Hopefully, that’s what they’ll do. But we’ll see!
Gremlins is obviously in the rearview mirror for you now, but you still act, you write screenplays, and you teach acting at Stonestreet Studios. What do you enjoy about teaching?
What do I enjoy about teaching? Two things. First of all, acting is an extremely difficult thing to do well. A lot of people can do it mediocrely, or poorly, but it’s a very difficult thing to do at a very high level, so it requires a lot of practice. One of the things you do when you act, or at least when you watch great acting, is you learn from it. Even when I’m watching my students, I’m learning. If they blunder, I learn from their blunders. If they do well, I learn from their talent. It’s kind of like a constant reminder of what you should and shouldn’t do. So that’s one thing that I like about it.
The second thing that I like is that it’s very satisfying to see some of the people that you’ve taught go on to have really nice careers. Some of my students are working in films now. There’s an actor named Miles Teller, who just came out with this movie Whiplash. He’s in The Spectacular Now and Project X… he was my student for two or three semesters. So it’s great when you see people that you’ve taught break out and get jobs. There’s another young actress named Brooke Bundy, she’s in the Hunger Games films. It’s a smaller role, but still, she’s in The Hunger Games about two years after she graduated. It’s just great to see people go on and do that, and realise that you played a small part in helping people live their dreams. It’s pretty satisfying.
Cool. We should let you go, but thanks for taking the time. We’ll see you out here for Supanova.
I’ve never been to Australia, but I’m dying to go. I’m so excited. I’ll see you guys next month!
The New Globe Theatre (220 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley) will screen Gremlins tonight (Wednesday 22 October) at 6:30pm. Zach Galligan will appear at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo from 28-30 November at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre.