Kurt Fuller has been in so many movies that when he was offered for an interview about a movie playing the Independent Filmmaker Showcase festival this week, I thought he would be fun regardless. I was not wrong as Fuller spoke with me by phone over the Memorial Day weekend, and shared stories about all of his hits and lesser known movies.
The Wolves of Slavin Hill, directed by John Beaton Hill, stars David Cooley as a parolee out to get the guy who framed him. Fuller shows up as his parole officer, so it’s quite an endorsement that he’s supporting the film with interviews. The Wolves of Slavin Hill plays tonight at 9:30 at IFF in Beverly Hills Music Hall, so there’s still time to buy tickets, or look for it in the buzz following IFS.
Nerd Report: Thank you for making yourself available for this. Is Wolves of Savin Hill a film you really care about and want to support?
Kurt Fuller: Absolutely. Absolutely and I’ve known John Hill, the director, for quite some time but never as a director. Just as a friend. And I was amazed by his talent. He’s really a sharp guy and his visual sense is as good as just about anyone I’ve ever worked with.
Nerd Report: Did you get your pick of any of the roles in the script?
Kurt Fuller: No, I did not. He wanted me involved and I read it. I sort of know what I’m believable at doing. I always feel like I can play anything but I can sort of cast myself. Even though I feel like I can play anything, I know what I should play. In this case, there were so many tough, edgy people living on the underbelly of live, which is something that I can’t really relate to, but a probation officer, a parole officer, that I can relate to.
Nerd Report: It’s funny you say that because I of course recognize you from a lot of movies where you play a smarmy bad guy in a suit. Did that have as much to do with you casting yourself as Hollywood deciding that’s what you play?
Kurt Fuller: Oh, well, there’s a good question. When you’re starting out acting, you’ll do anything. The first big thing I did that was seen by a lot of people was Ghostbusters II where I play the smarmy bad guy. The best thing that can happen to you is that you’re typecast, and then once you get successful it’s the worst thing that can happen to you. So you can’t have it both ways. So for years, I played the officious, either funny authoritarian figure or really overly evil authoritarian figure. Honestly, it wasn’t anything I did except that when I had children, the first being 17 years ago, it somehow, and they say the camera doesn’t lie and I think it’s proof, it just softened me. It softened me and I became more vulnerable without trying and I started getting dad roles and nicer roles. I sort of got out of that lucrative but restrictive typecasting that I was involved with just by changing as a person.
Nerd Report: For Wolves of Savin Hill, did you do your scenes in a day or less?
Kurt Fuller: I did them in half a day or less because we were stealing a location I think. John had the camera and the lighting guy. They were working so fast, which I love. I’ve done everything. I’ve done theater. My first movie was with Hulk Hogan called No Holds Barred and I actually, to publicize it, I went to a WWF event and they just put me in front of the camera and told me to start talking. Didn’t tell me what to say, and I’d never really acted before. That was sort of a trial by fire, so I can work fast and I like to work fast. I often think that the first thing you do without thinking is often the best thing you do. So I was very happy with the way John directed the scenes. I’ve seen a rough cut of the film. I’m not going to see the real film until the 27th and it looks great.
Nerd Report: With WWF, WWE now, I think wrestlers never get enough credit that half their job is public speaking.
Kurt Fuller: Absolutely, and they don’t have scripts. The good ones just go, go, go. Wrestling is high comedy and high drama, and they really know how to do it. I have to say, I’m with you on that. They’re very talented guys.
Nerd Report: David Cooley is a real find in Wolves of Savin Hill. What did you think of working with him?
Kurt Fuller: I didn’t know him and he was someone John found. I did a movie called Ray where Jamie Foxx played Ray Charles. That’s my high watermark because when I was working with Jamie Foxx playing Ray Charles, I really thought I was talking to Ray Charles. I forgot there were cameras there. I forgot I was in a movie. I was just talking to this guy. It was such an uncanny performance that he gave. Dave Cooley, I’m not going to put him in that company yet, but to me I really did feel, I didn’t know him at all which was probably best, and he just seemed like an ex-con to me. A troubled, tough guy who had just gotten out of prison. He was just walking the walk and that’s what I look for when I work. I try and inhabit characters and I felt like he really did. Yeah, he’s a real find.
Nerd Report: I did first see you in No Holds Barred before Ghostbusters II and as a kid my memory was you must’ve said “jock-ass” 27 times. I watched it again on DVD and you only said it four times.
Kurt Fuller: Really? I remember, even then, I would’ve stood there naked and juggled whatever they wanted me to juggle for a job. I said to the director, “Aren’t I being a little big? It seems like I’m yelling and I’m saying jock-ass.” He said, “Kurt, you’re acting with a 300 pound man wearing spandex and a bandana. You can’t be too big.” I thought, “Well, you’re right. Okay.” I’ll never forget that. That was a long time ago.
Nerd Report: I’ve always liked Ghostbusters II also. I think it has a lot of funny lines and it wasn’t until later that I learned people didn’t like it. When you were making it, did it ever seem like it was a lesser version or some people weren’t happy?
Kurt Fuller: No, it did not and I wouldn’t have known. It’s just like when I made Wayne’s World it was total anarchy. I thought we were making a terrible mess of a movie. When you’re in the middle of it, you can’t tell. When I was doing Bonfire of the Vanities, I thought I was in the greatest movie ever made. You just can’t tell. Ghostbusters II I think is appreciated more now than it was then. I think both of them will get watched more because there’s a Ghostbusters III coming out. I think they’ll all get a little more attention now that that’s happening.
Nerd Report: With Bonfire, did you later read The Devil’s Candy and learn about things you weren’t aware of at the time?
Kurt Fuller: Yes, yes. I knew about some of it and I would say that it was probably not an exaggeration. Not that everybody wasn’t acting with the best of intentions, but so is the pathway to hell as they say. Nobody starts out trying to do something that doesn’t work. It’s just there are so many moving parts. It just takes one to clog everything up and it ain’t moving anymore.
Nerd Report: With the funny lines in Ghostbusters II, would Bill Murray try lots of different ones and did you have trouble keeping a straight face?
Kurt Fuller: Yes, and here’s the thing with Bill Murray who I know and like and play golf with. He’s a great guy. Because he has the luxury, because he’s always the funniest guy in the shot, he can do things 20, 25 times. 24 of them are funny, and then the 25th one he has a twinkle in his eye and he hits it. When he hits it, he hits it out of the park and it’s always very clear which is the take they’re going to use. I couldn’t imitate one of his lines and do justice to it because it comes from such an amalgamation of different personality traits. He’s a very unique guy and he’s learned and he’s got the gift of bringing it to his work. But it was very interesting how when the one that worked happened, it was obvious together.
Nerd Report: I haven’t had a chance to watch Accidental Love yet, the release of Nailed that was finally finished. Did you finish your work on it?
Kurt Fuller: I did finish my work on it. I did get paid everything that was owed me but I think the thing about Accidental love, it’s not so much that the scene with her getting the nail in her head didn’t get made. It was that the movie got shut down I think seven times by different unions. Twice by SAG and teamsters and everyone. You can’t make a movie, you can’t get into any rhythm, you don’t remember what you’ve done, you don’t remember who you are, the director doesn’t remember the thoughts you had. It’s doomed to not be as good as it should be because you keep stopping and starting and getting the engine revved up again. It really is a miracle that any of it is coherent given how many times it was shut down. We would go away for days, weeks and then come back. It was crazy.
Nerd Report: Have you seen the finished cut?
Kurt Fuller: I have seen the cut that they put together and I’m sure they did the best they could. It’s nothing that I’m going to be putting on my reel but I can’t say it’s a horrible film. I think the germ of the idea is still there and it still works. I would like to have seen it if it had been made in the way it was intended to be made in the time it was intended to be made without the disruptions. I wonder. I’m sure it would be a different movie. I wonder how different. I don’t know.
Nerd Report: Another favorite of mine was the first Scary Movie. Did you have to play it straight in that too?
Kurt Fuller: You know, Scary Movie is one of the best experiences I have ever had. It’s one of the favorite things I’ve ever done and I think the scene with me showing her pictures of me in a speedo, as if I was showing her mug shots, is probably the favorite thing I’ve done on film that I just think is funny any way you look at it. Any time you see it, it’s funny. It never is unfunny. That was Keenan Ivory Wayans’ idea. He gave me a red bikini bathing suit and told me to go in front of somebody’s house in the neighborhood who had no idea what I was doing, and pose in provocative ways while somebody took pictures. I played it straight. The only way to play a character like that, if you’re going to say ridiculous things, you’ve got to say them with the ultimate sincerity and maturity. That’s all I did and I love that style. I love that style where you underplay everything but what you say is ridiculous.
Nerd Report: Is Judge Dunaway going to be back next season on Good Wife?
Kurt Fuller: Yes, oh yes he is. In fact, I know Judge Dunaway has a little story, a very interesting storyline next year that’s going to take a couple or three episodes. I can’t say what it is but it’s very interesting. Very interesting. I’m really looking forward to doing it.
Nerd Report: Is that going to be different than playing the judge in Alicia’s story?
Kurt Fuller: Yes, yes, it is. I’m sure she’ll be in it but I don’t know. It will probably have to do with Alicia but a separate thing about the judge that we find out.