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More Horror Exclusive: Interview with Michael Berryman

Interviewed by Michael Juvinall, More Horror.com

Michael Berryman is a name that you might not be familiar with, but believe me; horror fans will definitely know his face. Berryman has such a distinctive appearance due to a genetic condition at birth that prevents him from growing hair, fingernails, sweat glands, or teeth. Whereas some people might call his condition a handicap, Berryman has turned his physical appearance into a career playing bad guys, mutants, monsters, and all sorts of evil characters.

Berryman appeared in the Oscar winning film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), but is best known for his role as “Pluto” in Wes Craven’s seminal film, The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and the sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984). Berryman has appeared in over 60 films and a career that has spanned almost 40 years as an actor. Coming up in 2013, Berryman has no less than eight films coming out; one of which is Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem.

Believe it or not, before he started acting, Berryman was a florist in Venice Beach, California. One day he was discovered by the great George Pal (The Time Machine) who gave Berryman his first film role in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975) and he hasn’t stopped working since. I had the awesome pleasure of sitting down with Michael Berryman at Days of the Dead horror convention to talk about his career, what it’s like working with Rob Zombie, and more. Read on for the full interview.

Michael Juvinall: You're best known for playing villainous roles or that scary guy in many horror films. Do you embrace playing that type of character?

Michael Berryman: Yes, of course, I embrace every role that I accept. When we start to tell our story and make it come to life, I believe it's the artist's responsibility to create something and actually live the role.

MJ: You seem to be totally different off screen than many of the characters you play in your films.

MB: Thank God (laughing)!

MJ: Do you like watching horror movies yourself?

MB: I didn't plan to be an actor. I was discovered by George Pal when I had a gift shop in Venice Beach many years ago. I worked a couple of days for George then I wound up through his people getting introduced to Michael Douglas and I did One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I have an art degree from the University of California and thought this is going to be a nice way to maybe make a living. As a kid I read comic books, I grew up watching all the Hammer films, Godzilla and all the Universal classics, I was sharp enough to understand the allegory and the theme and the real story of what it really meant. I believe through art, society can be improved upon. We can take issues and concepts and deal with them in a story, song, play, film, or a book and allow people to negotiate through their conscience, I'd say their moral register. I appreciated those efforts in those stories in particular I would say Rod Serling's work, which I met and had a nice chat for about 40 minutes when I was a kid. I don't like to do things that are simply visceral; you have to have more to it for me to accept a role.

MJ: Films can be very powerful, if used properly, they can convey a strong message. That's nice to hear. Do you think today's horror films go too far in regards to graphic violence?

MB: That's an interesting question. Personally, as far as the range of which I will perform my role, I do have my limitations. I actually was flown out to a set for a movie in Wisconsin, there was a scene that was described as a rape scene and I said, "Well, I'll do it within the following constraints." When I got there, the director figured that he had me here and decided he really wants this and that and I said, "You’re not getting that." He started to whine and complain and I said no. I wrote my notes, we have our agreements, and long story short is that you don't get that. To answer your question, I would say "Yes" there are a lot of projects where people maybe go for the cheap shot. It is an open market, it's a free country, but if you have to do gore/slasher with no character development or consequences to actions, I'm not interested. To me, when it turns into torture porn, it doesn't rock my boat.

MJ: What are you most proud of with your work so far to date?

MB: The role I played in season 3 of The X-Files, Owen Jarvis in Revelations.

MJ: What are your fondest memories of working with Wes Craven in The Hills Have Eyes 1&2 and Deadly Blessings?

MB: I appreciated Deadly Blessings because he was a different type of character and you think he's slow, problematic, he might be the aggressor, he might be doing bad things, but he's not. I appreciated the opportunity that Wes gave me to have a role that was different from Pluto. Working with Wes in the original was challenging, we didn't have a big budget, we had to buckle down and get it done. It was rough and tumble, physically challenging and it was pretty raw but very honest. If you look at the film today, 30 years later, there's no need to change a single frame, it still holds strong even through six generations of movie viewers, I consider it a masterpiece.

MJ: Have you seen the remakes, what are your thoughts on those?

MB: The original remake, to be quite honest, I was intrigued with the nuclear village. The art direction and the way it was set up, I was intrigued, I wanted to see more character development, I wanted more back story to delineate between the hills family. Honestly, after about 17 minutes when they were in the caves, it started to get hokey, it turned into chase/slash/kill no consequences, no emotional depth, and I really thought it was very weak. The sequel to that, I wouldn’t even watch it if you paid me.

MJ: Do you keep in touch with Wes at all?

MB: No, I don't even have his phone number, I never hear from him.

MJ: You recently wrapped filming on The Lords of Salem, what's your experience working with Rob Zombie?

MB: The Lords of Salem is similar to The Devil's Rejects in the sense that Rob is very organized, he's a professional, and he knows what he wants. He allows you some creative license, his productions moved quite smoothly. My point is he's a go to guy. I really respect his efforts.

MJ: What are your passions besides acting?

MB: My biggest passion is the quest for humanity to be honest and create a benevolent future for our children, which includes a planet that will hopefully not be completely devastated. I'm not an alarmist or some old hippy, to think this is not a finite earth is foolish. I'm very concerned about our future because war for profit has been a staple in human behavior for way too long and we need to wake up and realize that you shouldn’t have children if you're not going to preserve their future.

MJ: If you had a dream project, what would that be?

MB: My dream project would be something along the lines that was fully funded with full artistic freedom and distribution to the extent that people could actually experience the effort. I go to a lot of independent film festivals and I see films that are so wonderfully thought provoking and yet they almost never get seen. To your readers I'd say it would behoove you to get out and about and go to film festivals and enrich your creative experience because it will hopefully stick on you and then you can express your own thoughts and feelings. You must have self-worth, self-appreciation and the ability to reflect and make tomorrow a better experience.

MJ: What's coming up for you?

MB: The Lords of Salem is coming out sometime next year and I've got a couple projects that I can't mention their names yet because they're still working titles. Right now, we're in the year two of promoting a movie with Eddie Furlong called Below Zero, written and produced by Signe Olynyk. It's been winning high praise at film festivals for the last couple years, my best work to date. It's a thriller; it's the best written script that I've worked with in a long time.

MJ: Where can fans find more out about you? Do you have a Facebook page?

MB: I have a Facebook page and I actually respond twice a week to it. I also get fan mail from all over the world and I personally answer all my fan mail.

MJ: Thank you so much for talking with me. I've been a huge fan of yours for years, you've scared me, and I love your work. I hope to keep seeing you in films for a long, long time.

MB: Ha, Ha! Thank you so much, you certainly shall. Anyone who's reading this, you're going to hear it from me right now, this is Michael Berryman saying to you..."Turn off, tune in, get some popcorn, go see a movie and take care of one another!"

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