Back in 1990, when Tremors premiered, if you told me that one day I’d be interviewing Michael Gross, I would have told you that you were nuts. But this weekend, it became a reality and I’ll be honest, I had a bit of a fangirl moment.
Mr. Gross and I discussed the latest film of the franchise, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell. He shined a new light on the hard as nails character, Graboid slaying Burt Gummer, what drives him, and he talked about Gummer’s relationship with his son Travis (Jamie Kennedy). He also teased the next sequel which will be number 7 for the franchise.
Horror Fuel: “What drives Burt Gummer?”
Michael Gross: “Well, I think the joy of the hunt. I think he’s a man who needs a purpose. Without a purpose, he’s a bit of a lost individual. You can only sit around your basement and sort your socks and ammunition and your Meals Ready to Eat for so long. He is obsessive-compulsive. He’s a man who definitely needs to get out of the house from time to time. He’s good at what he does and I think he has a need to be needed, quite frankly, because he does lead a solitary life and if it wasn’t for the monsters he wouldn’t get out of the house much. I think what drives him, in a funny way, is the need to make the world a better place. There’s also something about him that thrives on catastrophe. When things are going wrong he’s like, ‘I’m so there’. I think that’s part of it too, he looks forward to the next catastrophe.”
Horror Fuel: “That sounds like him, but you can’t help but love him.”
Horror Fuel: “There seems to be a lot of tension between Burt and his son Travis, played by Jamie Kennedy. Why is that?”
Michael Gross: “I will say this, Burt by nature is a solitary man. I think he would be hard to keep company with for a lot of people. He’s very opinionated, he’s a good guy at heart, but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I think beyond that, I think one of the things that grate on him, he’s misanthropic. He does not care for the company of others and to have someone who not only wants to keep company with him but is a blood relative that he did know existed is a difficult thing for him. It challenges him. They are very different people. Burt is by the numbers and Travis is very different in his way of thinking. Travis is always ‘Let’s try this’, and Burt is always ‘No, it’s my way or the highway.’ I think it’s always kind of oil and water mix with those two. He doesn’t trust Travis to get things right, he doesn’t even trust him to have the right frame of mind. I think it needs to be recognized that Burt needs the company of others if that makes sense.”
Horror Fuel: “It looked by the end of A Cold Day in Hell that may have changed a little, like Burt and Travis were closer and in a better place with their relationship.”
Michael Gross: “Yeah, Travis went the distance. He proved that he was capable and proved that he could be trusted with that responsibility. I think the major hurdle for Burt in Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell was ceding some amount of control to someone else. For a man who is obsessive compulsively and needs that sense of control, and micromanages things his greatest hurdle was giving over control to someone else, let alone someone he did not trust. That I think was very much a part of Burt’s journey.”
Horror Fuel: “What is your favorite scene from A Cold Day in Hell?”
Michael Gross: “Well you know, I’m going to tell you something, I know this is queer, have you seen the movie?”
Horror Fuel: “Yes, I have. I enjoyed it.”
Michael Gross: “So you know there’s a bare ass then [laughter]?”
Horror Fuel: “[laughter] Yes, I saw it. It was pretty hard to miss [laughter].”
Michael Gross: “[laughter] Hard to miss? [laughter] In a funny way, it wasn’t just about the kill. At first, we thought it would be funny, he’s at death’s door and he can still get off a shot. He’s still got to be out there with an IV stand and his ass flapping in the breeze. There’s something very real about that. I loved that little piece, my personal pride aside, I set that aside many years ago as an actor, there’s a vulnerability about seeing a man with some of his clothes off, a man who basically covered himself up in combat clothing and camouflage, basically wearing a suit of armor. And to see his bare legs and butt and to be that vulnerable. Like in Tremors 5 when he’s in that cage surrounded by that lion. We take him down to Burt when he’s mostly lost, the most vulnerable, which is always interesting. Stripping a man from everything he needs to get on.”
Horror Fuel: “It’s odd, but Burt Gummer reminds me of my dad in a lot of ways.”
Micheal Gross: “Oh, really. No kidding? ”
Horror Fuel: “Yeah, a lot actually.”
Michael Gross: “I think it’s interesting taking a tough guy and taking him down a few notches. Also, one one of the reason why people love Burt is because he’s a hardass and it’s hard for him to admit when he’s wrong but by golly, he keeps winding up with crap all over his face no matter how hard he tries to think everything through. I think that vulnerability and the humanness in Burt, that’s attractive, you know? He steps into shit like the rest of us.”
Horror Fuel: “Graboids have been in perfection, now they’ve been in the Arctic. Where would you like to see them go in the future?”
Michael Gross: “Well, the Arctic was kind of my idea. I thought it would fit right in with climate change. I thought it would be fun to have a change of pace, they’ve bee desert dwellers for so long. I don’t know. We have an idea for something. I can almost guarantee they won’t be in space because I don’t think we can afford it. But we have an idea for the next one. We hope to either make they vastly different or metamorphize into something else or be in a vastly different place. To me, what is always interesting is for Burt to prepare for a thing then finding something very different.”
Horror Fuel: “Like he did in A Cold Day in Hell when he showed up in white camo and ready for snow then finding the artic warm and green?”
Michael Gross: “Yeah, exactly. I think that makes him very human. It’s the human condition, preparing for one thing and finding another. Fate and chance play a part in our lives no matter how hard we try to micromanage.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s very true.”
Horror Fuel: “Out of the entire franchise, what is your favorite scene so far?”
Michael Gross: “I love the first film because it was the beginning for me with Burt Gummer and the entire franchise. One of my personal favorites is Tremors 4 where I play my own grandfather because what I always enjoy as an actor is the journey. Where does the character begin and where does he end? In number four I play Hiram Gummer, the grandfather of Burt, who comes from the East, Philadelphia, to the town of Rejection, Nevada, and he looks down on these people and the West, and their way of life, everything that they represent. Over the course of that film, he comes to care for them and where they live. To care enough for them that he sells his gold watch and buys ammunition and came back to help them. To go from one extreme to the other was fun for me as an actor. It was a wonderful journey just to see the changes in him. That to me, the journey of the hero, is the greatest part to me about any of it. What is the actor’s journey? That’s what I look for in a screenplay.”
It was a pleasure talking with Michael Gross, who happens to be an incredibly nice guy who is passionate about his role as our favorite Graboid hunter. He made me look at Burt Gummer and the franchise in a completely new way. He brought a humanity to Gummer that I had not considered before that may have hit a little too close too home, but that’s a long story for another day.
Don’t miss Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (review) arriving on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on May 1, 2018, from Universal Pictures.
Don Michael Paul (Tremors 5) directed from the script penned by John Whelpley. Tanya van Graan, Greg Kriek, Jay Anstey, Jenna Upton, Jamie-Lee Money, Christie Peruso, Stephanie Schildknecht, Alistar Moulton Black, Rob van Vuuren, and Kiroshan Naidoo co-star.