Quantcast Bill Johnson interview - Leatherface ("Bubba") from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2

Bill Johnson!!!
When it comes to horror ICONS, "Leatherface" is definitely considered one of the best! We are honored to feature an extensive FRIGHT exclusive interview with actor BILL JOHNSON, who took over the role of Leatherface in Tobe Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2! Here in his first full length on-line interview, he talks about working with Tobe Hooper, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Dennis Hopper and goes into great detail about the making-of the cult classic sequel! Read on! - by Mike C. & Robg. 8/07
Bill, what are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you remember the first films to really scare you or have an impact on you?

I was probably 10 or 11 watching TV and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster is on the slab in the lab and opens his probing, rapacious, red eyes for the first time and it is instantly clear that Satan has suddenly been released from eons of penury in hell, is alive and well in Frankensteins’ creation and now free with carte blanche to make the world bend over, grab it’s ankles and bark.

I had nightmares after that.

Can you tell us a bit about starting your acting career and what it was that led you to follow that particular path? What was it like for you first starting out?

I was introduced to Acting in my final semester of High School by an awesome teacher, Leo York who introduced me to acting and Speech.

Up until this time I was clueless about what to do as a career. But , voila, Leo York shows me something I liked and could do, Yes!
With no previous experience, within a month I went to the Statewide Speech Contest Competition and won a statuette for doing a speech of Marc Antony’s from Julius Caesar; and thus the doors into a brave new world opened up for me.

After a couple of years out of High School and some community theater, Summer Stock, I sent out applications and got an acting scholarship to Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, Texas which has an excellent Drama Dept, finished up at UT Austin with a BFA in Acting.
I started out after leaving college by touring in the US with two National Children’s Theatre Troupes. Did that for 2 years came back to Austin in 1975 and got in local commercials on TV and Radio, Industrials, tons of live stage plays including many original new plays, improvisation groups, street theatre, student film projects, Indy films and eventually Hollywood films that were shooting in Texas, such as TCM2 in 1986.

Starting out is always a lot of dealing with the unknown, doing lots of free gigs for “the experience” and hit and miss on getting hired. I’ve been lucky and had some nice roles, met great people and done something worth doing.

And now enjoy live performing in Austin and am heading toward Poetry Slam competition. And still lots of Indy films happening here in Austin and one particular one I’m proud to be in is FALL TO GRACE http://falltogracemovie.com/ doing very well in online downloads from www.Jaman.com It’s rated #28 in the world for downloads and rated even higher for North America.
Do you recall the first time you saw/experienced the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and what effect did the film have on you?

I hadn’t seen it until the day before I auditioned for the role of Bubba, for TCM2. That’s when I first saw Gunnar, Jim, Edwin, Marilyn, Paul, John and Tobe tear it up.

Very deeply disturbing.

Unsettling, unnerving.

And inspiring.

Leatherface is an extremely physical role, but unlike a lot of the other "slashers" the viewer is almost always aware of his emotions, mood, and his level of intellect, especially in your portrayal.

A) What did you rely on and do you remember using any particular techniques to help convey that?

Maybe the simplest thing might be to say, I endeavored to do the best acting job I could.

I went for ensemble acting, as always I decided to rely on the Director and Cast: rely on 20+ years of acting experience and my training in most all venues of performing, which by now mostly is at the unconscious level. I wanted to be in deeply meaningful personal relationship with every person I had a scene with, I took my inspiration from Tobe, Kit, Bill Moseley, Jim Siedow, Caroline Williams, Dennis Hopper, Lou Perryman, Ken Evert.

B) Was there any particular direction from Hooper that you remember being of help to your performance?

Tobe conveyed a multiplicity of meanings by his mood and the other intangible forms of communication he used besides his words and rhythms all through the filming, and that was a tremendous help.

Any play is pretty much about the writer and that was originally Tobe and for this particular film Kit Carson so I got into Tobe and Kit as much as I could. Tobe, a man of few words but got a lot of mileage and meaning with the ones he used.
Kit loves words and to talk, so he was another great source of collaboration as we had in depth discussions that were interesting, enjoyable and tremendously valuable to have these kinds of indepth high quality conversations with the playwright who is also an accomplished screen actor which also rendered extra richness and value.

C) Were there any ways in which you referenced Gunner Hansen's previous performance in the role to help you build upon your portrayal of the character?

Nothing deliberate or planned on my part, especially since this sequel was quite different in style and form than his TCM.

If this film had instead been a long running stage play I would have had time to develop, solidify and tweak a more complex characterization of Bubba and would have worked in some of the strokes that Gunnar applied to his canvas in the first film. Which would have been a lot of fun too.
We had a new script from Kit, a new world, essentially a new Leatherface, the one at home where he was at the bottom of the pecking order, the younger brother who gets hazed by his older brothers on a daily basis.
I just wanted to keep up with daily events as they were unfolding during principal photography. Kit was rewriting Every Day. The new information stream was kinda like being in fog. You can see things clearly enough close in around you but beyond that one must wait for signs and portents or just fly blind and run the risk of hitting an iceberg. So things developed on the fly, lots of improvisation and last minute adjustments, and luck, the “happy accident”.

The chemistry between your Leatherface and Bill Moseley’s Chop-Top is one of the most memorable aspects of Texas Chainsaw 2. Fans just love the work you both did with those characters. Can you talk a bit about your working relationship with Bill Moseley?

Thank you, it was a lot of fun playing together with that fine cast and especially, Bill Moseley. I felt we had a simpatico right away. Bill was fun and easy to be around, we always found something engaging to talk about, we played a whole lot of gin rummy in the air-conditioning in our dressing room (see photo) away from the 100 + degree Texas broiling summer heat while waiting to be called to the set. As you know, generally speaking, the percentage of time an actor spends in film acting is about 90+% of it waiting to do it.

We made up a lot of stuff about the special world of the film, waiting in the air conditioning, playing cards, listening to music and making up lyrics. Creating a family tree and family history, the typical Sawyer Family daily life. We got into each other’s modus operandi, got into a groove and just went for having a lot of fun. So when we got on the live film set we were already into the daily chainsaw family life scintillating to the rhythms of our Chainsaw daily world and had a lot of non-verbal communication happening; bringing out a texture, depth and complexity we otherwise would not have had.

Originally derided upon its release, TCM2 has developed a strong following, especially in recent years. Any thoughts on why horror fans initially rejected it and why they have recently come around to it? Essentially, fan interest is why a special edition DVD was in demand.

Yes the critics did initially have an unfavorable response. They were pretty conservative but were probably just a reflection of the times back then.

At that time there was NO internet to track fan response, but TCM2 has withstood the test of time.

So I don’t know if I can really accept that the horror fans actually rejected it, but if they did it may have been influenced by the Critical brouhaha of the day.
I just pulled some “Top 10” film stats from the internet for 1986.

Look at the field, TCM2 was way out on the extreme end of the continuum of what people were watching, it was waaay out there in comparison.

TCM2 was released without a Rating (already making the film a kind of outcast), lots of blood and violence (for 1986) mixed with very edgy comedy.

They were attracted/repulsed and frightened…by Tobe’s work. Again. And in the end the Fans enjoyment of this film, the Fans demand for more background about the creative team called forth a re-release of the DVD and I’m so happy about that.

Movie Title

1 Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
2 Flight of the Navigator (1986)
3 Heartburn (1986)
4 Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
5 Nothing in Common (1986)
6 Short Circuit (1986)
7 Stand By Me (1986)
8 Star Trek IV (1986)
9 The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
10 Three Amigos! (1986)

01) Platoon
02) Stand By Me
03) Aliens
04) Manhunter
05) Highlander
06) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
07) Hoosiers (Dennis Hopper had a great role in this one too)
08) Top Gun
09) The Color of Money
10) Running Scared

Year 1986 Thriller & Horror Movies

Little Shop of Horrors
The Golden Child
Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II
Chopping Mall
Mr. Vampire 2
April Fool's Day
Dream Lovers
The Fly

It's interesting that for your biggest film role you were mostly silent and working with your body, yet you've gone on to amass a strong body of work in voice-overs. How did that happen?

Actors typically have to wear a lot of different hats so Voice Over was an important aspect of my working life. (BTW, if you are interested to do so you can download my mp3 voice demo file from http://actorsclearinghouse.com/vo/index.html The voice for the Guardian is at the very end of it.

AS far as I know, I did the first VO for a digital RPG ever recorded. The character is The Guardian of the Black Gate, from the ULTIMA Series, created by Richard Garriot’s Origin Systems, here in Austin, Texas.

That first voice recording RPG project was directed by author Raymond Benson,(wrote a number of James Bond novels) who I knew through University of Texas at Austin where we both attended. He needed a Shakespearian type of vocal delivery for the Guardian of the Black Gate and Raymond knew I was available so I voiced the Guardian until Origin was bought by Electornic Arts and they ended CD production and created ULTIMA Online.

Furthermore, Austin had a mushrooming computer RPG industry so I got to be pretty busy doing what the industry calls Voice Acting.

Book publisher, Holt, Rhinehart and Winston here in Austin, hire actors to record huge segments of their schoolbook series as a learning tool for the teachers, having professionals read so the students can get how it was intended by the writers, so every year I do a lot of different types of material in VO for them too. And Ed Neal is very busy with HRW as well, Ed and I have done one or two segments together and Ed is always a lot of zany fun at a recording session.

A lot has been said of Leatherface's burgeoning "sexual maturity" in TCM2, suggesting you were portraying him with the mindset of a "young teen". Where did this come from? Was this scripted, or did you bring it to the table? What does one do to get into that state of mind? It seem so complicated!

Much of it showed up spontaneously. I think it was implicit in L.M. Kit Carson’s marvelous script and Kit and I talked a lot about the script and characters so it got fleshed out, so to speak. And Tobe had definite strong visions and feelings about how the “ice-tub scene” should go so when we shot that scene. That night was a, “fasten your seatbelts, because it’s going to be a bumpy night” experience.
Well, the first, Crush, besides seeming like a hugely complicated situation, is totally a major event for a young man and no different for Bubba who had been kept inside a lot and kept a lot of himself inside himself so was a little slow to mature but he eventually got there, but when he did, he was a runaway bullet train and the only dating skills he had was stalking, so for Bubba the course of true love was definitely not going to run smooth.
You know, all the hanging out me and Moseley did in the dressing room, keeping from going stir crazy and cabin fever, going over Family history, grooving and headbanging to music, etc, all that stuff that Bill Moseley and I were doing while waiting to go onto the Film Set was so similar to what we imagined that ChopTop and Bubba did while waiting to go out on one Raid or another. ChopTop and Bubba listened to Stretch’s music show on K-OKLA and planned, schemed and fantasized, got cranked up and ripped out of there with blood lust and bad intentions.
I recall reading an interview of Gunnar’s and he stated to the effect that Leatherface of TCM killed anything that moved.

However, in Part 2, for this, my, Leatherface now known as, Bubba, now there were distinctions and differences in the movement of others. Some kinds of movement were far better than others, for example: the delicious moves of Stretch (our Fave), moved in fine ways that did not recommend to kill her but instead to thrill her.
If only Bubba could get a handle on these new overwhelming geysers of sensations roiling and revving up from the depths and steer that over in Stretch’s direction drive up to her lair and into her heart, bigtime, Yeah! Then little by little, little Bubba could experiment, learn and through trial and error become Stretch’s “friendly stranger” like the Ides of March sang about on K-OKLA

Hey, well I'm the friendly stranger
In the black sedan
Oh won't you hop inside my car?
I got pictures, got candy, I am a lovable man
I'd like to take you to the nearest star
I'm your vehicle baby
I'll take you anywhere you wanna go
I'm your vehicle woman
By now I'm sure you know
That I love ya (love you)
Need ya (need you)
I want to, got to have you child
Great God in heaven, you know I love you…

Stretch on her awesome radio show and she was talking directly to Bubba and playing special music just for him.

Bubba was in love with love and love was Stretch.

Bubba is a romantic, and definitely is not an acceptable Sawyer Family trait.

So Bubba decided to break ranks and go for the girl.

Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?

Speaking of Dennis Hopper, there's got to be at least one wacky Dennis Hopper story you can share.

If Dennis was not scheduled to shoot a scene he was away from Austin doing pre-production on the film he was directing, COLORS. I didn’t see him very much however my evaluation of Dennis was that he was not so much wacky, as he was, outré, orbiting outside of normal channels, which is the perfect purview of the artist. Dennis has played some wacky characters but that is only acting.
I recall on time, me, Moseley, Hopper were getting our makeup taken off at sunrise after another grueling night, we were sitting in our makeup chairs all in a row and Bill Moseley was on a superb comic roll, he had us howling in convulsions. And I, sitting next to Dennis, out of the blue, spontaneously spouted a line of Dennis Hopper’s character, Billy, from Easy Rider, I said “….yeah, he’s Captain America, and I’m Billy!” So, Dennis, without missing a beat Dennis immediately chimes in, “We're headliners, baby. We played every fair in this part of the country. For top dollar!”
I thought WOW, here Dennis is well nigh exhausted at the end of a long hard filming day in Texas 100+ degree temperatures and is now trying to unwind and then is blind-sided by a blast from the past while he is recovering, distracted by laughing his guts out and Dennis spontaneously completes a bit of obscure dialogue from decades back in his past, after he’s memorized zillions of words since Easy Rider, WOW, I thought, no flies on Dennis Hopper, he sharp as they come and make no mistake.

The years before TCM2 weren't all that kind to Tobe Hooper. I imagine he had to be under so much pressure with this sequel. Did you ever get that feeling from him?

Tobe was a rock. Even though we all knew the Film Studios were putting punishing pressure on Tobe to go faster and faster, by many unsavory Film Studio underlings and methods.

Despite all that, Tobe was an engine of industry, he seemed to be enraptured with his process and he was rock steady and inspiring. He took care of us and protected us. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and why. And Tobe remained so despite the tremendous, repeated and escalating real world pressures levied upon him by the Film Studios.

One night, Tobe rightfully chewed out the “B” camera team when they were making an incredible racket while at the same time, Tobe, the principal DIRECTOR was trying to film a scene in Principal Photography.

I thought Tobe was heroic.

Speaking of pressure, did you feel any stepping into the role?

Luckily I think I was probably too naïve, not knowing of the cult status of the original, to feel pressured.

I felt excitement, opportunity and thrilled out of my mind. I just wanted to have the greatest time ever pouring my entire self into this experience leaving nothing remaining, to use it all up. The pressure I felt was to commit full-out until the end of filming, despite the myriad obstacles that come with the territory.

What expectations did you have about the film before making it, regarding both what it would be like on-set (considering the stories we've heard about the first film) and also regarding how the film would turn out?

Yeah, great question and I started to go there but found out real soon, that to do anything but to stay focused in the present moment was a recipe for disaster and regret. So, I stayed out of the future, stayed in the present, stayed in Character and stayed in my trailer preparing for my next scene until called.

You’ve done plenty of convention appearances through out the last few years, sometimes reunited with some of the cast and crew involved in Chainsaw 2. What’s the convention experience like from your perspective? Both with meeting fans, fellow genre actors and reunited with your castmates?

Convention World is the living definition of the fantastic unfolding of Life’s colorful pageant.

I’m grateful and feel delighted to be a part of all that, meeting fans, talking with them, Q&A Panel discussions, reconnecting with fellow cast members who are very talented and specially gifted friends. How perfect.
And on top of all that great stuff, in addition is getting the electrifying pleasure of meeting stars of many genres, Great artists, Icons, is perhaps beyond description. What a privilege to meet them, speak with them, talk shop, have fun, network. It’s a dream come true.

All You Far Out Fans, You Make All The Difference!!!

I feel deeply indebted to each and every one of you, and I’m looking forward to meeting you at a convention in the near future.

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