Bill Moseley & Terrance Zdunich discuss Repo: The Genetic Opera
On Friday, July 18, I got to sit with horror-film acting legend Bill Moseley (photo, on the left) – Moseley was Chop Top from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Otis Driftwood from House of a 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects) – and writer/actor Terrance Zdunich (photo, on the right) to talk with them about the their latest effort, Repo! The Genetic Opera. (website.)
Their spirits were high, for Repo! – co-written by Zdunich, who also has a role as “Graverobber” – had its world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival later that evening. We talked for almost an hour about Repo! and other projects while I tried to keep up with Moseley’s and Zdunich’s wit. Most of the time was spent laughing and going off on numerous tangents.
Moseley/Zdunich photo: © Keith Waterfield
Keith: One my of first questions – which is not the question I was going to ask first: You went to Yale University. What did you study?
Bill: I was an English major.
K: What did you think about that?
B: I was glad to be there, and you know its so funny, I was an English [major] and yet what I did was I also had a film series there, Tuesdays at midnight, when the library closed, called “Things That Go Bump in the Night.” Along with my partner Gary Lucas, who went on to play guitar for a rock god named Captain Beefheart. The two of us were the co-directors of “Things That Go Bump in the Night” film society and so we would show horror movies Tuesdays at midnight just to try to change the brain waves of some of those poor tired Yalies who were grinding it out down in the library.
K: Let’s fast forward now to Repo!. You play Luigi Largo. Have you done something quite like this before?
B: I haven’t. I think the closest I’ve come is I did Guys and Dolls in college. So, I did musical theatre back then, but it was college performances. Nothing even close to opera. It ended up being strange at first, but as we worked through the strangeness and rehearsed, I got more in touch with Darren Bousman’s vision of Repo!. I don’t think I’ve ever done a movie where there was choreography or singing. I needed to rehearse, practice – just get used to it. When I got up to speed – which was quick – it was really a fantastic experience.
K: Everything is pretty tight in that film. There’s that one scene where the family is talking about who is going to take over, and you’re slicing this nurse —
B: (Laughing.) I know, I know. “Mark It Up” —
K: And at the same time you’re switching your shirts, and it’s beautiful. As you prepared for that, what did you think about? The character is like a demented Bugs Bunny. He’s just off the wall. But there’s this thought process behind him that’s so functional. He’s just right on the edge.
B: Well, it’s very easy to just turn that character into a complete caricature; I mean almost a buffoon. It’s very interesting because its so outlandish. In order to anchor a character like that you really have to find out what makes him real. Certainly, there’s the sibling rivalry, which usually means there’s love for brother [and] sister but also a hatred. So, there’s whatever that balance is on whatever given day. There’s absolutely an idolizing of my father and yet, at the same time I’m no dummy, I can tell that he disapproves of me, so I’m fighting that losing battle of getting Dad’s approval. You start exploring some of those things, plus the fact that we’re all incredibly rich and above the law so we can really do anything we want. Plus whatever happened to Mom? You know, I still haven’t – you’re going to have to ask Terry Zdunich – I don’t think there’s a mom.
K: I think I will ask him.
B: Yeah – it’s like, “Where is mom?” I’m sure that would add to the psychological burden of all the characters.
K: It is a film without a mother figure. Is that what society comes to without Moms?
B: You know, you could see it would be kind of cool if it turned out that Sarah Brightman was our mother, but that’s probably another movie or another story. Yeah, we don’t have any moms. We’re fighting each other. We’ve got billions of dollars at our disposal. You know, clearly, my sister is a scalpel slut, so she’s constantly changing in order to get Daddy’s approval. I’m trying to be an executive by just killing everybody. You know, some executives have been very successful in doing that. (Laughs.) And Bobby’s into whatever he’s into. He’s trying to find that perfect buzz by finding love, romanticizing everyone, and then, you know, cutting off their faces. (Laughs.)
K: We also do that so often – build someone up and then cut them down.
B: Yeah, exactly. There you go. It’s called identity theft.
K: You’ve been in a number of horror films. Are people ever scared of you on the street? I’m sure that most people can tell fact from fiction, but when I was a little kid I started watching horror movies young and I’m not sure that if at that age, seeing an actor from a film, if I would be able to tell.
B: You know, for me, in most of my roles, my real looks have been obscured. In Chainsaw 2, of course, it was Choptop, a lot of make-up thanks to Tom Savini, king of splatter. [For] House of a 1000 Corpses they shaved my head – and I had the very long hair and a lot times it was white fazed and lenses and fake teeth. Actually, it was my teeth, but they stained them a bit. And then in Devil’s Rejects [there were] the beard and the long hair. So, you know, in most of those movies, nobody really recognizes me from them, anyway.
In fact, it’s so funny. I hang around a lot out with Sid Haig, Captain Spalding from House of a 1000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects. And everybody recognizes him. He looks like Captain Spalding in real life. And it’s so funny because people will come up to him when we’re eating in a restaurant and they’ll say “Oh, my God. Are you Captain Spalding?” And they freak out and I guess they think I’m just his buddy or something; nobody recognizes me. And Sid always loves to say, “And you know, that’s Otis,” pointing at me. And they go “What?” I never get recognized. It’s not a problem.
K: That must make it a lot easier to move around.
B: Yeah, a lot easier. I do relish my privacy in that regard. You know, it’s nice to be noticed or walk a red carpet every once and a while. All those trappings of fame or whatever that is, those are great. When I see the movie stars, the Brad Pitts and Paris […] getting mobbed or chased, and paparazzi doing all their crazy stuff, I am so grateful that I get to hide behind the rubber and the beard.
(Writer Terrance Zdunich joins us.)
Terrance (introducing himself): Hi, Terrance.
K: Hi Terrance, I’m Keith.
T: Nice to meet you.
K:Nice to meet you.
T: Sorry to interrupt.
B: No, it’s good, it’s good.
K: We were talking just a minute ago about mothers.
K: Mothers. There’s a lack of mothers.
B: This is a good guy to ask.
T: Good observation. It’s intentional.
K: How would mother’s have changed Repo!?
T: Wow. I may not be prepared to answer that on the spot.
B: Who is our mother?
T: Yeah. Who is your mother? How did they get their mothers? I think Rotti Largo probably had a few. I don’t know what different story it would have been if they were in functioning family units. The story of Shilo wouldn’t have been necessary, I suppose. But it was no coincidence. There was definitely an attempt to make parallels not only between the two families but particularly the two daughters. Shilo and Nathan, and of course Amber and Rotti. There’s even scenes where we have a fight between Nathan and Shilo and the very next scene is a fight between Rotti and Amber. The lack of the mother presence in the house allowed both of these men to run wild with their corruptible masculinity.
B: Corruptible masculinity?
T: So easily corruptible masculinity.
K: One thing I noticed in the film is your singing kind of reminded me of Oingo Boingo.
T: Sure. Danny Elfman.
K: Were you a fan?
T: I’m not a huge fan, but yeah, there’s that kind of Gothic element. I’ll take that as a compliment. I was trying to channel a little David Bowie. All of these sort of goth type guys I idolized when I was growing up and I sort of got to play them. Which was fun.
K: Bill, you said earlier that you had a film society, so your love of horror started early – when did that begin?
B: As a baby, I was due to be born on Halloween and my mother told me a story which brought tears to my eyes as a boy. She said, “You were due on Halloween. And I was there by myself in the hospital. I had gotten a plastic pumpkin filled with candies for you and was waiting and you never came.” In fact I wasn’t born until November 11. When I heard that, I wept as a boy – I think actually for the missed candy more than anything. (Terrance laughs.) Either that or because poor lonely mom, I just imagined her in this completely empty hospital ward waiting with this little Jack-O-Lantern. So I guess that’s where it started for me.
(Terrance continues to laugh, which gets everyone laughing.)
T: My corruptible masculinity, I think, is a little bit compromised.
B: It’s corrupted.
K: (to Terrance) You wrote the play – and you wrote the music as well?
T: It’s a collaboration. I am co-writer and co-creator along with Darren Smith. Another Darren; there’s two Darrens, which makes it confusing. Darren Smith and I have been working together as a writing team since I think 1997. And we began writing theatrical around ’99 and where the beginnings of Repo! started happening. And in 2002, it became a fully realized play and that’s where we met the other Darren, Darren Bousman. It’s sort of been just the three of us pushing Repo! along over the years and it just [began] growing and gaining momentum. Hopefully, tonight will be another start of something big.
K: How do guys feel about the world premiere happening in Montreal? How did that come about?
T: I’m not entirely sure other than to say that the festival [Fantasia] itself seemed completely appropriate. Just a second ago I was asked, “Who is this for?” and the movie is for exactly what I was when I was growing up. The goths, the geeks, the freaks, the misfits. And I think Repo! will especially speak to them. I hope it speaks to them because it’s what would have spoken to me at that time. And I think that Fantasia seems to be a natural progression of that. I [had] never been to Montreal, but we shot in Toronto.
K: I noticed that at the end of the credits.
B: Repo! is also for anybody who needs plastic surgery. Or is missing an organ or needs an upgrade.
T: There you go. And as Luigi Largo would say, “Donate.”
B: Yeah, donate! And I think that’s going to include all of the baby-boomers pretty soon as our livers and kidneys fail.
T: “The face forgives the mirror.”
B: Yeah, exactly. “The face forgives the mirror”? Wow! Where’d you come up with that?
T: It’s a Tom Waits quote, so I can’t take credit but I wish I could.
B: That’s awesome. The face forgives the mirror. God, I’m going to be chewing on that all day.
K: You guys think that Repo! is a natural progression, your vision of what is going to happen soon? We are already a society that’s very interested in looks and bettering ourselves or appearances.
T: I think a lot of it is happening. Definitely. Some of our research, some influences, particularly on the whole organ repossession idea comes from true events. China very recently admitted it, basically. For years, there had been rumors and allegations that their government [was] executing prisoners to take their organs and sell them to essentially rich Americans. And for years they had said “No, no, no” and finally they basically said “Yeah, we’re doing it. What are you going to do about it? And we’re GeneCo and nobody messes with GeneCo.” (Laughs.) I think a lot of it is happening now and it could very well go to that. For many years, life insurance was considered an abomination, immoral. It was considered immoral to basically place a bet on the likeliness of your death and that changed. So maybe organ repossessions will be the next paradigm shift.
K: It seems logical. What about the face changing? People have been growing faces, growing ears. I just wonder when we’re going to get to that point where we’re adding extra features – second noses. Would that be the sequel to Repo!, if there is one planned?
B: That would be cool. You mean having a second nose just for the aesthetic purposes? Yeah, I think that’s cool.
K: Or perhaps nose omission surgery.
B: Yeah, I’m all for it. I think it’s great. I’m not going to do it. I might get a few enhancements here and there.
T: Like if you have a problem snoring, for example, you could —
B: The apnea – free surgery.
K: It could really open someone’s face.
B: I could see getting a rhino horn. Cause you could, you could probably graft on animal looks. Different animal ears…
K: Leopard print skin?
T: Who’s that guy? I think he’s called the Lizard King. There’s a cat guy too.
B: Well there’s the Enigma too. Have you seen that guy? The blue guy, his face is all tattooed to look like puzzle pieces
K: I saw him on X-Files.
T: The lizard guy though he put, what do they call them on lizards? Where they have crowns over their eyes. He put ball bearings in his —
B: Like a second eye lid?
T: Yeah. And he stuck an implant in his back, which gave him wings, and a little tail. But he’s an extreme [example] right now – I don’t know, maybe.
B: But he’s getting laid.
B: He is getting laid. I can tell you.
K: That’s all it takes.
T: The question is, if it’s guaranteed to get you laid, would you do it? The answer is – Yes.
K: There must be an easier way.
B: Yes, there’s got to be an easier way.
T: Like write a rock opera. The tenure approach, or maybe the overnight surgery
B: Or just shower and use deodorant. That would help. Strumming a guitar beneath a balcony.
T: The troubadour days.
B: Yeah, exactly. That’s what you are. Graverobber is a troubadour, troubadour of death. Hey, I’m copyrighting that.
K: Graverobber is pretty romantic.
K: Yeah, I thought so. Helping Shilo along. Or is he perverted?
T: Definitely. I think it’s both. I think he’s sort of your classic rodent type character. I was probably trying to channel a little Han Solo. Someone who knows the ropes and is a little dangerous, but just charming enough. That you’re not just saying “Get away from me”; it’s more like “Get away from me, but show me more.” I think Graverobber has a bit of that, which is the only reason why a character like Shilo would follow this guy. It’s ironic in a world like Repo, where the Graverobber might be your best bet to get you home. Alexa Vega and I, we would joke about that I was kind of like her Scarecrow. A darker Scarecrow. I’ll roll with that. But I hope he has more of a brain.
B: We’ll take a straw pole. (Laughs.)
K: He has a business mind –
T: Yes, and I think he knows the world. And I think it’s probably no coincidence that since I’m the writer of this, he’s sort of this Shakespearean jester. He sees it; he knows the world. But he’s not really getting involved in the pettiness of the family quarrels that everyone is, and as such he’s free to comment on the world and he has a godlike position. He knows the deal —
K: Just like the writer.
T: Exactly. Just like the writer. The glove fit.
K: Is it difficult writing – and this has gone through a number of stages and so many different actors. Is it difficult to see people say your lines or change them? Do you worry about that, or are you excited – thrilled?
B: He did. He winced a lot, I’ve never seen a man wince.
T: The answer is we’ve seen different actors play the roles as they were developed over the years. But never in a million years did I think that I would be here with Paul Sorvino, Sarah Brightman, or Bill Moseley doing these lines. And really I don’t think we could have gotten a better cast. And even if we had gotten Tom Cruise as Graverobber – it would have been wrong. I think we got the perfect cast for this movie. And honestly I’m honored and flattered, and I just want it to be the best that it can be.
When someone comes in, like Bill or anyone, and they bring something to it that I didn’t even see, they’re playing the character. They’re committed and they’re going to know the role better than I do for that final thing, and I just gave a blue print. It has been an adaptation. We spent a good amount of time adapting that final libretto into the ultimate screenplay. And the cast who were luck enough to play the parts definitely performed how we put the role together.
K: What’s going on next? World premiere tonight, but it’s getting wide release in November?
T: Probably not the word “wide,” but it is getting theatrical release in November. The situation now is they’re going to put it on in a few theatres and depending on reception to that, which we believe will be good, they’ll expand it. It’s sort of a platform check release.
B: So we need your help.
K: I think there already has been a big following.
T: And this is what makes it so difficult, about why it’s not the wide release right now. I believe that Repo! does appeal to a little portion of a lot of crowds. And as such that’s a really difficult market because you want a large part of one crowd. We’ve done some test screenings and we’ve found the same percentage from horror kids to housewives like it. And it’s the same percentage of all of them and it’s not one group. It’s going to be something where our audience finds us. It’s going to be a slow burn, but a long burn.
B: Apparently it appeals to left-handed people, but it’s hard to market them. It’s hard to get them all in one place.
K: I’m left-handed.
B: Are you? Me too.
T: So give [it] a good review.
K: It’s so hard being left-handed. The world is not built for us. Signing checks at the bank. Are you right-handed?
K: Then you don’t know what it’s like. The chain is on the right and it doesn’t reach over.
T: It’s the devil’s hand. Left hand black.
B: But if you’re left handed, you’re in your right mind.
T: Ah, there you go.
K: Right after I saw the screening, I called my mom. Well, maybe not right after, but sometime after. And I said, “Mom, I just saw this film and it kind of reminds me of Rocky Horror,” and she was like “No. Nothing is like Rocky Horror.” She brought me up on Rocky Horror and other movies that she used to watch when she was younger and on acid. And I said “Mom, this is Rocky Horror for the now. It is relevant to today.” Do you think that’s true? Not that it’s like Rocky Horror, but that the music and film will speak to this generation. Maybe rock opera will become the new trend in music.
B: I hope it does. And I hope it doesn’t become a rivalry – one side of the room saying “Rocky Horror” and the other side saying “Repo!“. You don’t want a battle because Rocky Horror is such a perfect movie; there’s nothing like it. This isn’t like Rocky Horror just insofar that it’s an opera where every line is sung as opposed [to] a musical where the songs are connected by dialogue. Also I think our choreography is a little sharper, to tell you the truth.
T: You worked hard on choreography, definitely.
K: And I’m sorry to say this, but it’s a much more beautiful film than Rocky Horror, in terms of aesthetics. But I won’t tell my mom that.
B: Don’t tell your mom that, or she’ll have an acid flashback and start chasing you with a knife. “No man, you’re from another dimension! You’re not my son, give me back my son. I know he’s in there, I’ll carve the skin away!” Don’t get me started.
T: Unrelated to Repo!, but I read this story about these people who had some head accidents.
B: This is the real story of the Repo! creation —
T: There’re these particular cases. Part of the brain is damaged, so that they can’t emotionally recognize somebody. So they can see their mother, their wife, their kids – see them, recognize that they look exactly like their loved ones, sound like them, act like them. But because the emotional part is damaged, they all believe, to a point where it is scary, that they want to hurt the person. That they are an impostor impersonating their loved one. YouTube it, it’s fascinating stuff.
B: Head accidents. That’s “Repo Two: Head Accidents.”
T: “Luigi’s Demise.” Or “Pavi’s Demise.”
K: Are you working on this? Because at the end of the movie it seems there could be more?
B: He better be. We got to cut this short, so he can get back to writing. Write more scenes for me in “Repo Two.”
T: I would love there to be a second one. It would be really cool if this really was a new form of movie and this was the forerunner for that.
B: And you have a lot of songs right? Aren’t there lots of songs that aren’t in the movie?
T: Oh yeah, we’ve written and put aside probably three times the amount of musical material that actually appears in the movie. Some are recorded.
K: Will they appear on the soundtrack?
T: Umm… Some of the pieces may and others may just be pieces that later get explored. In just the nature of doing this, there may have been something that was great, but it just wasn’t right for this particular 95-minute format we needed. And there’s an abundance of music and an abundance of characters still living – like this one (pointing to Bill, who sighs with relief). I would love the opportunity to do another one if it comes up.
B: I was one of the many in the theatre that cried at the end of Devil’s Rejects. People were crying because they were sad, I was crying going like this, “Number three, number three!”
T: “The Ghost of Otis.”
B: Yeah – “The Ghost of Otis.” I think the charm of Otis, the charm of the Firefly, is that we’re not super natural. You get shot 30 times with a rifle – you’re going to die.
T: Game over.
B: Sad but true.
K: You go online a lot, don’t you, on the message boards? Do you ever feel like teasing people?
B: I do, I go online. I feel like doing a lot more than that to people, but I try not to act. I’m trying to curb my impulses.
T: Yeah, people can be very negative on the Internet.
B: I go on often, I have myspace and a website. So, I’m no stranger to the Net.
K: And do you go on the Internet read what’s been said?
T: I do go. But a lot of it is hard to read because there’s a lot of hate mixed in with general intrigue. But we have a message board, which is really flattering to go on, if nothing else. There are these little threads that go off and many times they’re based on nothing. But I’ve seen fans making their little Repo! artwork already, or doing videos to songs that aren’t even released, yet. Or the song is out, maybe, but the visualization isn’t, so it’s their own interpretation of what they think the visual will be. And it’s very exciting. I think it’s great. If we’re going to be the 21st-century Rocky Horror, to not embrace the now, the future – would just be silly. And I think in many ways whatever buzz is happening there [online / message forums] is more legitimate.
B: And I have an idea, too, which will help build traffic, and that is to have giveaways and contests and maybe some plastic surgery. The winner gets an organ of their choice.