I'm not one to boast about things, but I have some pretty great friends. One such friend owns Virginia's top haunted attraction; DarkWood Manor Haunted House in the town of Luray, Virginia. This year, one of their special guests was none other than R.A. Mihailoff, best known for his frightening portrayal as the backwoods cannibal Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 3.
Back in October, I received a call from DarkWood's owner, Louis Brown, asking if I would be able to take R.A. to an interview scheduled at the local radio station in Harrisonburg, Va. Of course I enthusiastically obliged. I had the opportunity to spend the weekend hanging out with Leatherface, including grabbing lunch and doing an interview of my own for all of you. Surprisingly, we did NOT eat BBQ.
The interview was recorded, translated over to text format, and can be read below.
Backwoods Beard Co: "Welcome R.A. To start, what would you say led you down the path to becoming an actor?"
R.A.: "It just seems like something I always wanted to do, but maybe my childhood set me up for it. Because when I was a kid, I was fortunate enough that my father made a good living as a steelworker and my parents would indulge me and buy me costumes. I had costumes for just about every kind of show that was on TV, you know, like little kid dress up costumes. I had buck-skins for Davy Crockett. I had a Zorro cape and sword. I had a helmet and sword for Tales of Robin Hood and the list goes on. I actually had wardrobe and props for just about every movie. I even had one of those little hobby horses, so when the cowboy shows were on I'd ride along with them. So, maybe that's what set me up, you know."
Backwoods Beard Co: "As you got older and you started having more interest, in theater and things like that, were your parents still supportive of it?"
R.A.: "Yeah. Because, you know, as with other stuff in high school, it was just an extracurricular activity. So, yeah, they were supportive at that point, yes."
Backwoods Beard Co: "You've been doing this for quite some time now and you've got a lot of film credits to your name, but the one that seems to garner the most attention for you was your portrayal of Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 3. What was it like receiving the call to play that character? And was it something that you sought out or was it a role that kind of found you?"
R.A.: "Well, 50/50. In regards to the first part of the question, what was it like receiving the call? Excellent. I knew that a friend of mine had been hired as the director, because I actually read it in the Los Angeles Times. So, I was hoping and I had my fingers crossed that he would call me up for the part. He actually offered it to Gunnar Hansen first, which is right and proper, but Gunnar wasn't able to make a deal with New Line Cinema. So it left the part open. I hung out and still do hang out with a bunch of film geeks out there and our friend who got the job directing (Jeff C. Burr) was at a barbecue with some of those mutual friends when my name got brought up. I was the most logical choice among the group and it just seemed like a natural fit. I got the call and I was thrilled. I mean, come on, I'm a lifelong horror fan and it was everything I wanted."
Backwoods Beard Co: "That story really makes it seem like you were destined for it. Now, when you got this role, obviously being new to this character, you'd be bringing a new portrayal of it. Was there anything that you did to prepare for the role as far as getting into the psyche of the character? Trying to understand what made him tick or why he became this way? Was there anything new that you wanted to bring to it that you hadn't seen brought to that character before? Of course this with all respect to Gunnar Hansen and Bill Johnson's portrayals of Leatherface previously."
R.A.: "Well, to start, I had to prepare physically. I'm left handed and the other boys were right handed. They couldn't just switch over to a left hand chainsaw because that would just ruin everything as far as continuity goes. I had to practice running the chainsaw right handed. That summer before I started work on the film I was working construction and I started using my skilsaw and everything right handed just to get used to it. As far as delving into the psychology, I didn't really go into it too deeply. I'd seen both prior Texas Chainsaw movies. I knew about Ed Gein. I'm a big believer that if it isn't on the page it isn't on the stage. I trust the writer and I trust the director. The words in the script are going to set things up and then those guys will help guide my performance."
Backwoods Beard Co: "I know you're saying you didn't feel it necessary to dive into the psyche behind this character, but weren't you at least curious as to why he was this way?"
R.A.: "Ironically, after I finished the movie and thought I was still attached to the series, because I had a contract option for three, four and five; I did want to know. Here I was, waiting for New Line Cinema to come up with another script and put me back to work and it just didn't happen soon enough for me. So, I decided to write a prequel. That is when I really began to think about the "why". Why is Leatherface so big and powerful that he can just snatch a girl off the ground and hang her on a meat hook so easily in one fluid motion? I came up with the idea that he had been a professional wrestler and let me say, we could sit here for an hour and a half and talk about the whole plot, but suffice it to say he's a professional wrestler who is supposed to drop the belt to the Russian heel and he refuses to do it. He costs the promoter a lot of money, so the promoter has his goons take him out for a one way ride and they leave him for dead in a canal. But he survives and he finds the Chainsaw family or rather the Chainsaw family finds him and it goes on from there."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Ya know, that's interestingly cool, because we kind of talked when we hung out the other day about your stint and experience, albeit short lived, with professional wrestling. Do you want to touch on that a little bit on how you got involved in that and was this before or after Texas Chainsaw 3?"
R.A.: "I went backwards. My wrestling career began well after I did the Texas Chainsaw 3. It wasn't the first time I had flirted with it. I bumped up against it for many years. You know, when I was 23 years old I met the great Kabuki at a bar in Toledo and he offered to help me get in the business. But I was working on the railroad in Pennsylvania and I couldn't figure out how to square making the big money on the railroad and going to Ohio to train, so I let that opportunity pass. Fast forward 10 or 15 years and I was working at Universal Studios doing a live action stunt show and they brought in a bunch of WWE wrestlers (WWF at the time). They brought in Big John Stud, Hillbilly Jim, Chico Santana and Wendy Richter. So I made a bee-line for their trailer and I was hanging out with them and bumped into Lou Albano. I said, Hey, Captain Lou, if a fella wants to get in this Wrasslin' business what's he gotta do. The first thing he asked me was how old I was. I was 33 at the time. He goes well, that's not too old. Did you meet Red Bastien? And I said, no, I did not. He says well, he's the West Coast representative of Titan sports, which is the parent company for WWF (now WWE). He gave me Red's card and told me that he ran a training school in Los Angeles. So I gave Red a call about training at his wrestling school with the belief that if I did his eight week training course and spent the money, which was $2500 for eight weeks; a substantial amount of money at that time, that it would grease the shoot into the big time. It, however, did not. I didn't know any better at the time, but I was very disappointed when I found out that I would have to go to some kind of minor league to get seasoned. I was making too much money doing the live action stunt show at Universal. I'd already invested many years into an acting career. I just could not start over at the bottom of another profession. So I passed up that opportunity. You know, maybe in retrospect, I was wrong, because even Kurt Angle had to go to Ohio Valley for two years and he was an Olympic gold medal wrestler. He still had to train and work the Ohio Valley circuit for a couple of years just to get seasoned because it's a lot different."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Lets go back to Texas Chainsaw Massacre for a minute. How long after the film before you really started noticing, hey there's a cult following here; that there's a big fan base attached to that character and now you're on the receiving end of it? How long before you're getting requests for other movies, requests to appear at conventions, haunted attractions, that kind of thing? If you could put a timeline to it?"
R.A.: "Well,at the time of that movie there wasn't a whole lot of conventions and then, to my knowledge, I didn't even know about the haunted house industry. Fangoria magazine used to host two shows a year: one in New York and one in Los Angeles. I became a marquee guest at those Fangoria conventions, but it wasn't like it is today. It was just like going down and hanging out with your peers. Then, probably two or three years after I did the movie, I got a call from a place in Massachusetts called Spooky World and they invited me. They offered to fly me out and they would pay me. All I had to do was sign autographs. To me it was unbelievable."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Do you ever get burnt out? Does it ever get stale or too repetitive or does that passion still burn bright?"
R.A.: "I absolutely love it. Do I get tired? Yes. Late nights and long drives can wear me down. But no, I really do love it. Let me put it to you this way-- if Halloween lasted 10 months out of the year I'd be the happiest guy in the world."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Well another thing too is that you grew up as a fan of horror and now you're on the same playing stage; the same one as these guys that you've admired. How was it for you that you're getting compared and held to the same esteem as those guys?"
R.A.: "Its excellent and I love it. I've looked at those characters: Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface and Pinhead and I've actually compared them to the classic Universal Monsters: Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Dracula, etc. so to be a part of that, I guess its like being a part of the next generation or the next wave of iconic movie monsters. It's fantastic as an actor, but also as a fan."
Backwoods Beard Co: "From a fan standpoint on my end too, I've had exactly the same comparison to them being the Universal Monsters of my generation. I grew up with Leatherface, Freddy, Jason, and Myers so I definitely agree with you on that. Is there any standout of that group that is on your list that you'd like to portray that you haven't checked off yet?"
R.A.: "Well, one that got away from me and I was kind of bitter about it at the time, but I was under very serious consideration for Jason in Friday the 13th: Part Six. They had hired a guy and taken him to Atlanta where they worked with him for two weeks before deciding that they didn't like what he was doing for whatever reason and they wanted to replace him. So, I got a call from a stuntman friend of mine telling me that he had mentioned me to the producer. And I got called in and went through several interviews. It got narrowed down to me and another guy, and they chose the other guy. So that that was like a machete to the gut, you know? And ironically the original actor they fired is now one of the biggest stunt coordinators in the business. But so that one got away. I mean, I would have loved to play Leatherface again, especially in the 2013 3D. I was the perfect chronological age for the role."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Were there discussions for you to do future Texas Chainsaw Massacre films?"
R.A.: "Well, what happened was, New Line Cinema, the company I worked for, had licensed the title and characters for three movies. Texas Chainsaw 3 we of course filmed and then there was Roman Numeral IV and Roman Numeral V to be done in the future. They signed me to a contract to do III with the option to do IV and V. Well, somewhere along the line, New Line decided that they were no longer interested in the franchise, so they let the rights revert back to the owners. And my contract option? Let me put it this way: Charmin toilet paper holds more value than the paper my contract was written on. (laughs)."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Well, I'd have loved to see what you did with those films."
R.A.: "Me too, but you know, that's just the way it goes sometimes."
Backwoods Beard Co: "We were talking about Jason and of course, Mr. Kane Hodder has had an iconic career in that role. You guys are actually close friends. Do you want to kind of touch on how that started? Or how you initially met?"
R.A.: "Yes, we're very good friends. How it began was that he was the stunt coordinator for Texas Chainsaw 3. He and I hit it off right from the beginning, because we have a similar sense of humor. We like to joke around and have fun. Over the years, we've just done so many projects together. We've done, I don't know, maybe five or six movies together and then, you know, we hit the the convention circuit a lot. Over those years we've developed quite a good friendship."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Do you guys still operate your Paranormal Investigation group together?"
R.A.: "Yes, we still have our group, Hollywood Ghost Hunters. We're still angling for our own show. It's an amazing mystery to me why we don't have one."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Is there any particular movie that stands out from a fan perspective that had an impact on you; whether that led you into wanting to be an actor or just stood out in the horror genre itself?"
R.A.: "Well, sure. I'll start with "Night of the Living Dead". As that movie played and the plague started to widen, they got close to my backyard, so that had a big impact on me.I was fairly young when that movie came out and I, let alone anyone else had ever seen anything like it. So that had a huge impact on me. The next one of course would be the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". I saw that in the theater and again, it was groundbreaking and something no one had ever seen before. I just walked out of there going, wow, what did I just watch?!?"
Backwoods Beard Co: "You have a great frame for playing these badass, menacing killers or characters in these horror movies? I mean, for our readers who may have never met you, you're a big dude. Do you ever have an issue with being typecast? Are there certain roles that you would like to portray, that you really haven't landed yet, because of the roles you're typically cast in crippling that effort?"
R.A.: "No, I don't have an issue with that at all, because I'm doing what I love. Another thing too, if I was interested in playing doctors and lawyers and such, I'd shave my beard, get a haircut, and wear a suit. I joke about that sometimes; that I will change my image and I'll become "Eurotrash" wearing Armani suits and smoking my cigarettes backwards. Not gonna happen!"
Backwoods Beard Co: "A lot of people don't know that you've actually had a pretty long career doing commercial work. You've done a lot of television commercials and I believe, correct me if I'm wrong here, an episode of Full House."
R.A.: "I have and I was, yes. I did an episode of Full House and see, now here's where typecasting pays off. Because I used to, on occasion, would ride motorcycles with John Stamos. I had been to his house and stuff like that and when the baby shower episode came out, and the plot line was that he was going to crash the party with his biker buddies, I was like, one of the first hogs at the trough for that. That worked out great!"
Backwoods Beard Co: "So you're not just a horror guy after all!"
R.A.: "No, no, I've been in some comedies. I was in a movie called "License to Drive" with Corey Haim and Corey Feldman."
Backwoods Beard Co: "You've had a beard now for such a long time; sometimes longer and sometimes a bit shorter, but always some form of a beard. I know we talked the other day that you're really old school when it comes to not using any products like beard oil or beard balm. Are there any other staples that you use to maintain it or things that you incorporate into a beard care regimen? Or do you just let it grow?"
R.A.: "I just let it grow. I'll let it grow sometimes and see how long I can get it. Then I'll get frustrated because it won't grow as long as I want it to as fast as I want it to, so I'll trim it down. That's my one concession. Sometimes I want to be taken seriously as a businessman, so I'll trim it up tight and neat."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Do you think that your beard has attributed itself to landing some of these roles?"
R.A.: "Yes, of course. It has definitely worked in my favor. If I completely shave my beard I've got a pie face and this makes me look a little bit more rugged."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Lastly, let's talk about current or upcoming projects. What do you want your fans to keep their eyes open for?"
R.A.: "One thing and especially since it relates to how we met, the convention circuit and the haunted house circuit, I'm as active in that as I can be, especially during Halloween season. So I may show up in a town near you anytime. As far as upcoming projects, we just premiered my latest movie a month ago at the Hot Springs Horror Film Festival. It is called "Ride Hard, Live Free" and it is a for lack of better description, a post-apocalyptic biker movie. However, it is important to note that it is nothing like Mad Max/Road Warrior. It's more focused on a couple of bike clubs in the future. There's been some kind of society meltdown and our group of bikers are living out in the Nevada free zone fighting to see who will be the dominant club in that area."
Backwoods Beard Co: "I know that some people hear post-apocalyptic and of course, now, with The Walking Dead on TV, they think zombies. There's no zombies, correct?"
R.A.: "Correct, no zombies. It's not even strictly horror. I mean, there is a lot of people being killed and stuff like that, but I wouldn't classify it as a horror movie. I actually kill one of my own brothers in the film. I have to. We're in the free zone ans we're cut off from the rest of the country. We don't have guns. We don't have good medical supplies or anything. He's been stabbed in the gut, its really bad and there's not a damn thing we can do for him. There's not going to be an ambulance. It really is a mercy kill. I pull my knife and I place it on his chest. And he actually puts his hands on my hands and helps push, so yeah, its a mercy kill."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Preparing for that movie, you worked with a lot of outlaw motorcycle clubs?"
R.A.: "Well, we use real outlaw motorcycle clubs in the movie and we actually wore the cuts of a club. Here is a little side story on that. It was my manager that put the deal together. Now when the manager is putting a deal together, the actor does not talk to the the production people, the director, or the producer. That's all done by the manager. So she finally makes a deal, but while she was negotiating everything she calls me up with an update telling me that the director is a really nice guy who lives in Las Vegas. I knew we were going to shoot in Nevada, so ok, cool. Everything gets done and she sends me the script. I'm reading through it and get to page 17. "Interior Skoners Motorcycle Club-club house,night". Now, I knew somebody that was a Skoner, but I didn't know a lot about the club. I knew they had a big presence in Nevada. So I'm thinking to myself and I had a vision of this director ( who I hadn't spoken to yet) cruising the Las Vegas Strip, seeing a bunch of Skoners outside of a bar, having a conversation with his wife to the tune of, "Honey, honey, pull over and let me take a picture of those emblems. They'd look really neat in my movie!"
Then I'd sign on to this movie and we'd be out filming in some remote location in the desert and 25 or 30 Skoners would roll in and teach us the facts of life. So I called the manager and said hey, does this guy know that they're using a real Motorcycle Club's colors? Turns out the executive producer was a member of another Motorcycle Club and had worked it out. So it was all cool."
Backwoods Beard Co: "I really do appreciate you taking the time to do this interview for the Backwoods Beard Company "Beard and Brew" blog!"
R.A.: "You bet, Brother. Thank you!"