Quantcast Mushond Lee interview - 2001 MANIACS

Mushond Lee!!!
This month, we got to speak with a number of cast member's from the Tim Sullivan flick, '2001 MANIACS', but the one actor who totally stole the show had to be Mushond Lee. Mushond has had a long career in both film & television and has acting across from Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and Bill Cosby. So, how was it to face off against Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund and 2000 other maniacs? Read on to find out!!! - by Robg. 5/06
What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What was the first movie you remember really scaring you as a kid?

I‘d have to say ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’. Or maybe it was ‘The Omen’. Or… wait, wait, wait… (laughs) The Exorcist.

Maybe all three? (laughs)
No. Wait, wait, wait… Carrie! (laughs) Carrie really did freak me out, especially when the blood hit her on the head. And in The Exorcist when Regan’s head spun around, that was a whole other thing!

Do you consider yourself a horror fan?

Oh yea. I dig horror. I dig it.

Can you tell a little bit how you got into acting?

I actually followed my brother into it. We were from Jersey, down in South Jersey right outside Atlantic City and he had this friend who had this talent manager. And he started going to these auditions in Philly. He got this little gig called ‘Popcorn Picks’, which was a teen show with kids reviewing movies. And then somehow this manager got him a few auditions in New York. So, I followed him. He was an actor in high school and junior high. And I remember I followed him up to a Cosby Show audition.

He was in casting, and I was just sitting outside and the reason I wasn’t with the management is because I had braces. But I remember this guy, Barry Hughs came out and asked, “Are you auditioning?” and I said, “No. My brother is.” And he said, “Do you want to?” So, I thought fantastic. So, it took me 4 years auditioning for Cosby, and I actually eventually booked this movie called ‘Lean On Me’ before I booked Cosby, but then I got to do Cosby and ever since then I’ve been working.

According to your credits ‘Lean On Me’ was the first thing you were ever in and then you have a slew of television credits. What was the difference between starting in a full length feature film and then doing TV?

It’s great with feature films, because it does feel more like a craft – more like an art. You’re shooting out of sequence, so you have to sew the moments together. And you have to really know how the other person is going to be in the scene. You have a certain vision in your mind. And then when you come there, you go along with your moments before, and try to foreshadow what comes after and see what happens. Next day, next scene, you kind of have to compliment what you did before and try to build on it. Where as with television, it’s really like a 9 to 5 job. Which is cool. But you get there the first day and do a table read, and then some rehearsals, have a read thru and at the end of the week you progress. It’s really like a play working in television. It’s fun though. Especially when you get that live studio audience. And you’re working every week. But a film, there really is an art to it.

I also know you had some bit-parts in some fairly big productions like the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ sequel and ‘Behind Enemy Lines’, were any of these projects intimidating because of how big a production they were?

Yes. Absolutely. I was so intimidated by Bruce Willis that they actually cut my scene. (laughs) I was in the second Charlie’s Angels film, and I had a little part in it. It was one day’s work, and I shot all day with Bruce Willis. I played this security guard with one of those ear pieces that escorts him to his plane, and I’m supposed to make sure everything is cool. Now, I’ve worked with Mel Gibson and then Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby… But between Bruce (Willis) and Mel Gibson, there’s a similarity of this real intensity.
Bruce was so intense, that we’d be driving around in this SUV and all of a sudden he started reciting these lines. It was some type of back story he made up or something. So, I didn’t want to mess with him. But eventually he asked “Hey, who’s going to be the driver? Who’s in this scene with me?” Because there were 3 of us in the car, and I told him it was me, and he said “Ok. Ok.” But that was the only time we spoke before we started shooting.
So, when we finally started shooting, I hadn’t really built up a repore with him. So, it was kind of this cold, stilted thing. I drove him into this hanger with a helicopter hovering behind our caravan. And I had to get out of the car, get over to him, be cool, and open the door for him to let him out. It was really simple, basic stuff. But I had some new shoes on and I slipped on the cement. I tried to get over to open the door, and then once he got in the plane he came back and asked “How’d it go?” and I said, “I think I slipped!” (laughs) And he said, “Oh yea? Well, we’ll see.”

It was still fun, and they ended up cutting all of my stuff. But it was really more so that he was so intimidating that I didn’t want to bust his groove, but what I learned about it is you have to treat all other actors like peers. When I acted with Mel Gibson, he brought me in, so it was easy to communicate with him. Even though Bruce did give me some lines while sitting right next to the camera on a little applebox. Which I was thought was bizarre. Looking at this guy from Moonlighting, sitting right next to a camera lense to help enhance your performance.

He’s John McClaine!

Exactly! When I’ve worked with those high end leading men, you realize they’ve created that mystique. In Moonlighting, there were so many lines that they had because they did very quick dialogue. So, he would eat up lines everyday.

How’d you get involved with 2001 Maniacs? Was it something you went in and auditioned for?

You know what? It was just a standard audition. And I think they had already cast some big bruting muscle-bound wanna-be Ving Rhames dude. And something happened with him. And so, they brought me in and everything I said, they kept saying “That’s great! That’s it! We love you!” So, I thought “Oh, I love these auditions”. They actually were looking for more-so of a bruting dude, but I played it as very Eddie Murphy fish out of water deal.
Because to me, he’s pretty much a contemporary guy, an African American in that scenerio. You play the ridiculousness of it. I’m with my sexy Asian woman going from the East Coast to the West Coast and I end up in this small town and you guys are caught out in a played out scenerio of racism, the south versus west. Tim said it best, I played the audiences perspective. And when I saw it thru those eyes, it was really fun for me. I basically played it how the audience would feel if they were in my shoes.

Exactly. And you really stole the show! Especially with your lines. Was a lot of your stuff scripted or did you improvise at all?

No, I would tell them before I wanted to change a line, because I’m a writer and I know there’s a specific reason why those lines are that way. Every word has weight. You have to take it seriously, and sometimes improv can be messy and can mess with the continuity of the film. Tim was really great about lines I’d come up with like “I don’t like crackers in my soup!” and Tim would pause and say “…use it.”

I have a high respect for writers & playwrights, so I always wanted to run it by him first. And also I wanted to make sure it would match. Because I know when I write, everything is to progress the plot. But Tim was really good with that, and I got him, I knew what he wanted to get, but it was good to collaborate on that kind of stuff.

What was your working relationship like with your foxy Asian girlfriend in ‘2001 Maniacs’, actress Bianca Smith?

Umm… how can I say? Ummm fantasy come true? (laughs) I’m so glad I’m in this scene where she has to reveal the tased nittys. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s a job first! (laughs) She’s great, man. She’s as sexy as she looks. And I knew that. I played the audiences perspective! (laughs)

It looked like such a fun movie to make. How’d you get along with the rest of the cast?

The cast was great! It was wild because we were in this little place called Lumpkin, Georgia, and for the record, I still think that should’ve been the name for the film. (laughs) I always thought it was so lumpkin-esque to me. The locals were so interesting because they were off the beaten path. The way that you would have an idea of the old South, they really were that way. We had the extras, and one time I was standing next to them and I heard one mention to the other that they were so excited for the pig fest. And I had to ask “What’d you just say?” (laughs) “You wanna go to the pig fest, Luscious? Helll yes!!!” We ate all parts of the pig.

They had me chewing tobacco. I actually was chewing tobacco in the film because I’m a method actor. (laughs) Let me tell you a few funny quirks from the locals there. They would say “Luscious! You smell like a cow!” And I’d be like “What are you talking about?!” “All that leather that you wear!” And his brother would say (in Southern accent) “Yea! I thought you was gay! You the coolest black guy I ever met!” (laughs) It was a really cool environment. It did a lot for your understanding of the displacement of these characters in the South.

You mentioned one of the first movies that scared you was ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ and here you are working with Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund in ‘2001 Maniacs’. How was that for you? Intimidating?

Yo… Robert is a PRO. He is like “on the job” training for film actors. He is the type of dude who will design a shot for the director and then collaborate on its effectiveness. And then he’ll show you 4 choices he has to enhance the shot. You just sit there watching, and you get it. He tells the story for you. I remember there was this one scene where I was chewing the tobacco. We’re right outside the hotel we’re in and I come down and he comes up. I decided to have a cynical-ism, he’s looking at me, and you know, black guy in the South and these guests are a bit racist, so I suddenly spit by his shoe. And at first they’re like “What the hell are you doing?! Don’t do that!” (laughs)

But then when it was time for Robert’s shot, he asked me “Which side was it that you spit on. Because I want to pay that off with my eyes. I’m going to look right where you spit.” It was one of those moments, where he understood what I was saying symbolically by spitting right next to him. He wanted to punctuate that, but also it was to motivate him as my opponent. So, it was really great. He’s a very giving, and informed dude. So professional. And he loves to tell stories!

Didn’t you have 3 different death scenes planned for the flick? And it kept changing?

Yea. The original death scene was from the original film. It was the kill where they’re supposed to roll me in a barrel with nails in it and I’d impale myself. Which I thought was fascinating. Once we got down there though, there was a cotton press. So they were thinking “Cotton press? Black guy? Come on! Let’s do this!” So, they had to squeeze the shit out of me to really let you know that this was the South and they really don’t like black folks! Symbolically it worked.

You have to take some pride in the fact that out of all the characters that got killed in this movie, you didn’t punk out and you actually spit in Robert’s face. You held your ground and died with a bit of honor.

Oh, it was redemption! Anytime you let the black guy live until the end of the film, it’s always a good thing. (laughs) If you don’t shoot the black guy right at the beginning because he heard some shit in the basement, then it’s a good role! (laughs) Acting for the most part, if you’re really in touch with the script, there are so many subplots and inner monologue that you can put in there thru your eyes. It was redeeming.

Did you see the original ‘Two Thousand Maniacs’ before working on this one?

I watched it a couple of times. I like to do my research.

How did you feel about that original film and how did it effect how you approached working on this new one?

I thought it was cool! I dig B-movies, being a filmmaker myself. It reminded me of a Corman-esque type of film. Very Roger Corman. I liked it because of its crudeness which seems to be the appeal to horror films. You know, Eli Roth with Cabin Fever and this. With this genre, you can get a following based on the things you can see in these films, weather it’s the lighting or acting or campiness of it. I enjoyed the original. It felt like a drive-in movie.

Tim Sullivan is a really great guy and so enthusiastic when it comes to horror films. As the writer and director of ‘2001 Maniacs’, did that enthusiasm influence you?

No question. It’s a passionate pursuit, acting. As filmmaking is a passionate pursuit. He’s the chief storyteller and his attitude permeates into the film. And since he was so passionate and this is his baby, you wanted to do your best to take care of his baby, and also help it grow. When you have someone in there who has a passion project, you can’t help but want to get in there and get involved. And he was so reciprocal. He gives out 100%, you give back 105, he comes back with 125. It was one of my favorite films to work on.

Have you had a chance to see it screened with an audience in theaters?

I did once at Universal. The audience reaction was fantastic. They liked me, which is great for the insecure actor. (laughs) They responded well. I think it’s going to have a life. In 10 years. It’s like good lasagna. Afterwards, there’s always a bit of a resurgence and it’ll get that cult following from horror conventions. It’s perfect for these horror fanatics. There’s plenty of subtleties that you can pick up if you watch it again.

Have you done any convention appearances or panels?

Just one time, we were out in the valley. And Robert was the real big draw. But I think those things are fascinating. I’d love to go to as many as possible. I’d rather be a part of it.

Come to some conventions and party with us, man!

I will. I’d love to come on down.

What are you working on now? And what’s next for you?

Well, I’m doing my own film right now as an independent producer. It’s this film I wrote called ‘Pit Bull Ghetto Superhero’. It’s like ‘Raging Bull’ meets ‘Spider-man’. It’s a gritty, superhero character driven piece.

And you wrote this? Are you staring in it too?

I wrote it and am producing it. I probably won’t be in it, but I get so much out of it. We’re going to have so much from the merchandising aspect with the video games and the comic books. I’m planning it to be a trilogy. I want it to have the life of a James Bond film or the Spider-man films. ‘Pit Bull Ghetto Superhero’. And then there will be ‘Pit Bull Perish To The Car’ which is going to be a diamond chase thru the west coast of Africa about Blood Diamonds. And then the third one will be ‘Pit Bull Atlantic City’. It’s going to be a casino coo!

Keep me posted! I’m a huge comic book fanatic and it sounds right up my alley! Anything you’d like to say to our Icons Of Fright audience before we sign off?

Don’t be scared! I’m just a black guy. (laughs)

Special thanks to Tim Sullivan!!!

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