Quantcast ICONS Interview with Dick Durock - "SWAMP THING"

Dick Durock
"SWAMP THING"!

From the 70's and 80's, if you turned on the TV you just might have caught actor Dick Durock on one of his many small roles on TV and not recognized him. That's because the role he's best remembered for had him wearing 80 pounds of green latex. Dick played everyone's favorite leafy green superhero Swamp Thing not just in 2 feature films, but for 3 seasons on USA Network's early 90's series.

Dick sat down with us so we could dredge up some old memories from the swamps.
- By Mike C. - 2/08


SWAMP THING: THE SERIES is out on DVD! It's endured after all these years.

I still do get fan mail, and surprisingly a lot from Europe.

Really?

The Netherlands in particular. Yes, it still has a following.

How did it get this following in Europe?

I haven't got a clue. I know there was a girl in England that I was in touch with, gosh, 10-12 years ago. It was huge in England. They had a whole national Swamp Thing fan club, I regret not taking the opportunity to go over there and say “hello” at least. You never know, telecommunications, everything is so universal now.


Sure, but that was much harder in the early 90's, not that it was the dark ages, or anything. So, let me tell you what I think was interesting about SWAMP THING: THE SERIES, starting with the fact that you'd played Swamp Thing in this and two feature films, which almost never happens. What kept them bringing you back, besides the fact that you're great in all of them? Did they actively seek you out?

Yeah, and there's a good reason for that. This is something that hadn't been done in the history of motion pictures before where you had a guy in extensive makeup, 80lbs of latex, working the entire day, everyday, 12 hours a day. This was unusual. Unheard of. I think I had them over the barrel because they knew I could do it, to start with. Believe it or not there are a lot of guys who have claustrophobia with any sort of enclosure like that. They had a known commodity and they didn't have to pay major league price to get the lead.


What are some of the differences between working on the features and working on the series? We've all heard that series television shoots a lot faster.

And that's the major difference!

How did that work out for you, especially with the costume and makeup?

Well, the makeup and costume, I got used to that. The first time it took about 4 hours to put it all together, the second 2 hours, and by the time we got to the series we had it down to 45 minutes.
That's great!

It was by far the best makeup and best costume, and I'm talking about the series. The hard part for me, not being the heavily trained or schooled actor, was just absorbing that you had to do 10 pages of dialogue a day. You know at the end of the day a production assistant might come by and say, “Ok here Dick, here's the show we're shooting tomorrow” and hand you another 10 pages you had to start learning. That was tough for me, that'd be tough for anyone I imagine. Again, with the series, it's time. With the feature you shoot one, two pages a day, but we were doing 10.

You'd already visited this character twice, was there anything you wanted to bring to this character for the series that you hadn't before? Anything you were looking to do differently?
You know, a lot of times you don't have that luxury because you do what the writers write and what the director’s want. What I tried to do from day one, I thought the most important thing was to stress this guy's humanity, his vulnerability, to make him something more than just a green killing machine. Here's a man trapped in this miserable situation, but to maintain his humanity as much as he could. And you know, to get a little sympathy for him.

This series had a different feel than, say, “RETURN OF SWAMP THING” which was very comic book, almost campy. It seemed like they tried to make this more serious in tone.

They tried in “RETURN OF SWAMP THING” to make it comedy, campy, and that's tough to make that work. I think they kind of gave up on that idea and got back to the darker side of the character as he was written in the comic book.


And some of the stories in this series were kind of dark. You had Peter Mark Richmand playing a character who used to be a bird, a very tortured character. These are really interesting stories and they used Swamp Thing almost as an observer.

That was intentional too. Because he guy is in the swamp, he's kind of omnipotent, acting as a kind of sentinel, and it certainly took a bit of the load off of me.

I know that this was one of the first things shot out in Universal Studios Orlando. Where there any kinks they had to work out? They weren't like building the studio around you guys were they?

Not really, I was really impressed with it. That's a wonderful complex. Now what we had down there, well, the first 13 episodes we shot out in the actual swamps around Orlando, which was miserable. First of all the swamps didn't look like the dark miserable swamps you associate with that character. So they got smart: On the lot, next to the stage we were working on what was an open field and somebody got the idea to build the swamp on this area. So they did and it was 10 times more effective than the real swamp because you could control the lighting, or shoot a scene inside, then move outside and it took 10 minutes as opposed to 3 hours to move the company from the lot to a location. It was learning process, but it was much more effective having the phony swamp.


Can I ask you about the weird turn the series seems to take in the middle. Didn't they get rid of the young boy, Jim Kipp, a main character?

I think you're talking about Jess Ziegler who played the young kid in the first season. When we got picked up for season 2 I think he was still in. The way they wrote him out was kind of a shock to me and everybody else except for I suppose the writers. They had him abducted by a child stealing ring from South America. Well... that's a hell of a way to meet your demise!

Yeah! I mean, I was just a kid watching this show and it may have been the last time I saw it. He was in a cage in the back of a truck and they just took him away. That always blew my mind. Do you know what led up to that very strange decision?

I think it was mentioned that he was all right, but I'm not quite sure. Well, they decided to make a major turn. With the first 12 episodes with Jess they wanted to appeal to the younger audience. Then somebody said well, you've got to understand we had USA, Paramount, and Universal's voice in this series, so somebody said we had to get back to the original character, lose the kid, make it darker. But that's the way it works.
What have you personally been up to the last couple of years?

Not much, bouncing around, enjoying retirement. 40 years of a very fulfilling career, very happy with it, very proud. Did some good work, did some bummers, like everybody else. I've been extremely lucky, made a good living and never had to do anything else. I consider myself very, very fortunate.

So you've retired, that's awesome. Ever get a chance to get out there and meet fans, maybe show up at a few fan conventions?
I look forward to it, I enjoy people. I had an attitude, but I had some wise mentors when I was young. It's easy when you start working to get a little cocky but I always had guys around who'd remind me that when you meet your fans to remember that they're the ones who sign your checks, ultimately. They're the ones who watch your product. I always keep that in mind.

It must be fun meeting all the people, like myself, who grew up with Swamp Thing.

It is, it's flattering. I've never been one to have accolades showered on my head and feel comfortable about it. It was a job that I happened to do and I hope I did it reasonably well. That's enough gratitude, knowing someone appreciated it. If I could give you a half hour escape, then I've done my job.
Well, Swamp Thing's always been a favorite of mine. I love “RETURN OF SWAMP THING”, when I was a kid they'd run it on cable all the time--

Now be honest, you loved Heather Locklear!
Hey, everyone loves Heather Locklear! Now, that movie didn't get the release that the original quite got, not sure why, but I only remember seeing it on cable. Did you have any idea what happened to the release of the second film?

Well, the first one really got good critical reviews! People sent me the reviews from all over, and they were very positive. Here your dealing with a population of people who want to see it be reasonably close to the comic book character and I think the second was such a departure that it didn't work as they expected it to work. Heather was so hot at the time that I think they thought her presence alone would have been enough to help. I think when they got to the series they though they had to go back to the original.
Kind of like what Wes Craven had brought to the first film?

Yeah, well Wes really got into the character.

And how was Wes to work with back then? Working on SWAMP THING at that time maybe he was a little out of his element since he never did revisit comic stuff, but he did do a great job on that film.

Wes was a great guy. He's very internalized, a deep thinker, like a scholar, which he is. He was trying to get into the characters heads rather than strictly play it by the book, which a lot of directors do. Wes really tried to get into the characters.
And it seems like that movie was a little ahead of it's time too because I don't think there really had been a comic adaptation that took it's character that seriously at that point.

It was unusual.

How'd you handle that heat?
Well, it's a state of mind. I accepted the job, I knew it'd be miserable but you try to balance it. Stay wet, get a production assistant to spray you down, and drink lots of liquids.

Did it help you stay in character at all?

Eh, not really. When I wasn't working I was going over the script that I was supposed to do.


So, do you have any crazy stories that you can remember about when you making the movie? Anything dangerous ever happen while you were in the swamp?

Ah, sure, but you know, it's not particular funny, I guess. It was so miserable, not just for me, but for the whole company, when you're working in the middle of the swamps in summer in the south. I wish there were one instance... well, stupid things do happen. Like in the first one with the make up, they had appliances all over my face and my lips, but every time you started to do dialog, sweat would build up, loosen the glue, and in the middle of the scene my lips would fall off. By the time we got to the series all around my mouth was my own skin, all around my eyes was my own skin.

Oh yeah, he's got that kind of ridge over his mouth in the second!

Well, again, nobody had done a show where a guy had to work 12 hours a day and it can't just work that way because make-up is make-up, people sweat, makeup falls off. But we learned!

Had it been intimidating at all on that first film, having to carry a movie for the first time?

That's intimidating for a while, but if you survive, the movie survives and everyone can do their job. The only thing with being the lead is if something happens to you, the whole movie can go down. That itself was kind of intimidating. But you do what you can. My fear was just being able to retain it all.

Thanks so much for your time, Dick!


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