Mark Jeffrey Miller and Michael Harding - SMB Archive Interview: 08/31/2010 by Steven Applebaum
After arranging the Mojo Nixon interview I felt that there had to be more cast and crew that would be interested in talking about their experience on the movie. Mark Jeffrey Miller was both the first person I contacted and the first person to respond. He was very interested and actually offered to set up a dual interview with himself and Michael Harding, a friend of his that was in the film as a Goomba.
Mark and Mike reminisce about their shared experience in such a way that we become a part of those old times. As fans of a widely disliked film we are offered a look into something that is immensely personal. In the end we feel just as much a part of the movie as anyone else was. This interview is an insightful look into both the trials and the tribulations of the movie’s production, revealing the friendly camaraderie between the cast and crew as well as the collective frustration.
Mark is a playful fellow with a learned understanding of how movies work. He comes off calm and assuring, enjoying the experience no matter how bad. Mike is fiercely professional and bitingly witty; together the two provide a hilarious and professional look into the production of the movie we’ve all been waiting so long to understand.
Steven Applebaum: Alright. Could you both begin by telling me what your roles in the movie were?
Mark Jeffrey Miller: Yes, I played Lizard Man and a street vendor. I had two separate roles: one was in the initial--oh, I don’t know what you would call it--the initial stacked prison cell scene.
MJM: The wall of prison cells. And I was in there next to John Leguizamo and--[MH in background: Mojo? Bob?]--Bob Hoskins and I flicked a cigarette at them, but they cut all that out because I think Disney bought the film. I’m not quite sure why they cut me out. They’re in it. But all you can see is, like, my nose. But I look like a Lizard Man.
SA: Oh really. So that was actually filmed and cut?
MJM: Yes. It was filmed. After a long, long night of sitting there I had to smoke cigarette after cigarette and I wasn’t a smoker.
One of the film's lobby cards, featuring Mark as the "Lizard Man." Too bad his scene was cut...
SA: We have photos of that character, but didn’t know he was in the actual film. Your scene being cut would explain why.
MJM: Right. If you actually go back and look at the film in that sequence you will--(laughs)--you will see parts of my face sneak into a shot. That’s me and I don’t know why they cut me out. They never told me.
[Interviewer’s note: For a rundown on how this scene might have been filmed check out the extended “Go After Her” sequence on our Deleted Scenes page]
Michael Harding: If it’s my turn, I am Mike Harding (professional name Michael Harding) and I played one of the Goombas. There were four Goombas, who were--well, actually, there were only four of us--and we were all actors. The director--(corrects self)--directors Rocky and Annabel, or whatever her name was, decided they wanted actors in these animatronic costumes that could understand movement and blocking and that sort of thing because obviously we were non-speaking. The costume itself weighed about between I’d say 50 and 75 lbs and involved an elaborate setup.
They were all created by Makeup & Effects Laboratory from L.A. Some very brilliant guys. The Goombas in-costume were about 7 ½ feet tall. The animatronic heads were designed to resemble, if you can imagine a cross between an ape and a dinosaur, and some were apelike, and some were more reptilian. There were four of us guys in the costumes: me, Thomas Merdis, Wallace Merck, and Michael Smith. Those were the only four real actors in the costumes and in the real Goombas.
SA: Sorry to interject here, but do you remember Scott Mactavish?
MH: Mactavish? Yeah, I know Scott. Scott was what we called a “Goomba wrangler."
SA: A “Goomba wrangler?"
MH: He was a Goomba wrangler. Our costumes required a great deal of assistance and they were kept by a full-length, heavy, heavy wool floor-length coat. And so, we were shooting in late summer and it got incredibly hot in there and it became necessary for people to look out for our well-being and, in fact, the guys at M-E-L designed a fan-system [for] the inside of the costume, but it was very ineffective. But Scott helped us out a lot and I think he may have suited up once or twice to be in the background, but action-scene where a Goomba actually had to do something it was one of us four guys.
Takin' care of the Goombas
SA: I ask because we’ve actually spoken with Scott and he said he was one of the Goombas. As you didn’t mention him I was a bit confused.
MH: Scott was not an official Goomba, I’m sorry. He was what we called a--
MJM & MH in-tandem: Goomba wannabe!
[Interviewer's note: We've since had the chance to interview Scott Mactavish and he addressed the "just a wrangler" comment, discussing in length his role as a true Goomba. His interview can be read HERE.]
SA: (laughs) Alright, so were you Goombas very close-knit or were all the extras in general very fraternal?
MJM: (interjects) Oh, they thought we were all that and a bag of chips, man, I tell ‘ya. They had coats and everything.
MH: (cuts in) No they--
MJM: (continues) --Had little beanie hats too.
MH: Okay, let’s just make this perfectly clear from the start: the Goombas were not extras. We were actors and we were paid on the [scrambled] and we were all professionals; we were not extras. Scott Mactavish in a Goomba costume was an extra because he was not an actor. But we were not.
We had a private masseuse. We were well cared-for. We stayed in ocean-front rooms at the Blockade Runner in Wilmington. It was a wonderful experience because they took care of us. It was a brutally, brutally physical low.
MJM: And plus this was all happening at the height of summer. I mean, we spent the Fourth of July there. It must have been 95, 96 degrees every day we worked and we were working in a converted cement factory. So, as you can imagine, a converted cement factory probably didn’t have air conditioning. In fact, I can tell you, it did not have air conditioning.
SA: It’s good to hear that you were so well-treated since we’ve heard that many people weren’t and I can only imagine how much it would take out of someone to operate those Goomba costumes for long periods of times while remaining articulate.
MJM: Oh, absolutely actors and highly-professional and the animatronics were just incredibly articulate in their movement. The actors inside those Goomba costumes, if you go back and look, were not extras: they were actors. They were puppeteers.
MH: Well, actually, that’s in fact true because in a Goomba costume you had--If you can imagine what a Goomba looks like, I’m sure you can--the right arm was my real right arm. Okay. My left arm was inside the costume and there was a remote-control.
My left arm was inside the costume and we had in our hand a remote-control switch--or actually, it was a--(thinks aloud)--How to describe it… A grip that we held in our hand that controlled the opening and closing and articulation of the jaw and the tilt of the head and the direction it looked in was controlled by the direction I looked in because it was connected by the metal pole. It was an incredibly precise construction. Really impressive piece of work. And the guys at MakeUp and Effects Laboratory did a spectacular job.
Imagine if you put some yahoo background player in there who had no idea about film, no idea about blocking, no idea about timing or movement [and] put ‘em in there and [just] let them stumble around in the costume. It would never get the shot you wanted because they wouldn’t have no idea what was going on.
So no: Goombas were definitely not extras. At all. And remember, there were only four official Goombas. (pause) They did a lot of CG-work and they had some other guys stumbling around in-in dummy costumes, but there were only four Goombas.
What a Goomba looks like on the inside. That's Scott Mactavish on the right.
SA: Oh yeah. You can really tell just the way the Goombas move that they were professionally acted.
MH: It was and we busted our asses on that in difficult condition[s], but let me go back to something you said earlier: when I told that you we were treated well, we were treated very well. But there were other people in the show who were not treated well and you’re exactly right about that. The reason that we were treated well was because of the efforts of the MakeUp and Effects Laboratory people because they realized that we were the vehicles that were gonna display their work, basically, and that was our job and they looked out for us. That’s why we had our own masseuse, that’s why we stayed in a nice hotel, that’s why we were well-taken-care-of. But I would not discount those people who said they weren’t well-taken-care-of. I’ve heard a lot of stories about that too.
MJM: I was taken care of well. I have no complaints.
SA: That’s good to hear for both of you. So, Mike, do you recall what kind of a Goomba you were, whether you were an ape-head, lizard-head, or perhaps even a snake-head?
MH: No, that rotated. We were not specific. It sort of rotated a little bit because in specific scenes they would call one or the other of us and there were a couple of us who got called a little more often. Because we were-I don’t know, we were in touch with our ‘inner lizard’ or something.
MJM: You were touching your inner-lizard?
MH: (muffled) --in the costume, because they can’t--
MJM: (continues, ignoring Mike) Because the right hand was actually his right hand but his left hand was inside his costume touching his inner-lizard.
MH: But yes. No, you can’t say “I am this Goomba” because we were rotated [since] they didn’t want to use the same guy every other scene, so they rotated that. I can tell you specific scenes if you watch the movie that were me. But, no, you can’t say that Thomas was this one and I was that one and Wallace was that one and Mike was that one, no.
SA: Do you remember which scenes you were in and what you did in them?
MH: Well, hell, I was in, I don’t know, 114 scenes. It was a lot of scenes. Some of the more memorable ones were the ride down the ice tunnel--Well, actually, before that there was a scene where we broke down the door where Bob and John Leguizamo had gotten the girls who had been kidnapped and I actually blow open the door with a real flame-thrower, look around the room and discover that they’ve climbed into a ventilation system that’s lined with ice and that sets up the scene in the ice tunnel which culminates with Bob and the girls [flying through the air onto Koopa Square.]
SA: Do you remember how fast it was going down that tunnel? At some points it seems incredibly slow.
MJM: I’m going to have to answer for Mike because he stepped out of the room--[MH (walking in): I’m back]--He’s back. But it was 37 takes for that thing, so they cut it together, so that’s probably why it seems slow in places. Restate your question: Mike is back.
MH: Umm, well not really fast, no. Because, number one, it wasn’t ice, and number two we were being pulled by the camera dolly that was in front of us. We were in fact in a tube, in a tunnel. The thing about the Goomba costume is it’s very top-heavy. The problem is when we try to go around curves very fast, because the costumes are top-heavy, I kept falling off my sled. And so we had to slow it down a little bit; remember this was before the days of very sophisticated computer graphics. They couldn’t [implement] CG very much and, you know, we had to take what we could get. But we weren’t actually flying down there: but uh, we were going, I don’t know, something like 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10-miles-an-hour, something like that.
But the actual thing that it took 37 takes on was just blowing open that door with the flamethrower; having the door explode inward, shooting flames going at the right time; coming in, they wanted me to do a double-take and, as I said, it was very difficult.
Goomba Mike blasting open the door to the Goomba Barracks
SA: Mark, you were actually present at the very end of the ice tunnel sequence when Hoskins and the Brooklyn Girls fly from the tunnel and hit your cart. Do you recall what that scene was like?
MJM: I was. Yes they do.
MH: And they were nearly killed doing it.
MJM: But I saved them. (pause) Yes, I do remember. Like Mike was saying there’s no CGI. There wasn’t much CGI back then. They actually flew a mattress in on cables and crashed it into the cart! And basically I just stood by and watched because you won’t see much of me, just my cart. But was I was there!
MH: Do you not really remember what happened?
MH: The whole thing, the whole setup with the mattress and the flying and--
MJM: Yeah I do.
MH: Bob wasn’t on there.
MJM: Bob wasn’t on what?
MH: Bob wasn’t on the mattress.
MJM: No, I said, they just flew the mattress.
MH: No! They didn’t! Maybe they did when they shot what you were doing, but when they actually shot it all of the original girls were on there with Bob’s stunt-double.
MH: We set the shot up all morning and then somebody said “Well, you know it’s going a little slow” and we go out to lunch and someday said “Well, you know, it’s going a little slow so let’s loosen that cable so it’ll speed it up.” So when we came back from lunch it nobody [had] tested it. They just put everybody--
MJM: (exclaims while laughing): Oh yeah! (laughing) I do remember that!
MH: You remember that now? (starts getting excited) And they got that thing going and it went ‘fshoo!’ flyin’ in the air--
MJM: (still laughing): I do remember that!
MH: (excitedly) Everybody’s scared they’re going to land on their head!
MJM: I do remember that. (pause) There was a lot of stuff like that. I remember when they were firing off those steel roll balls and firin’ ‘em at people--(laughs)--and people are getting hit with fire balls! (breaks into laughter)
MH: They nearly--
MJM: (cuts off Mike) It was crazy!
MH: (finishes)--they nearly killed Bob Hoskins’ stunt-double doing that.
MJM: Well Bob broke his hand--
MJM: (cuts off Mike) At some point.
MH: No, a stunt guy broke--
MJM: (cuts off Mike) No, Bob broke his hand.
MH: Did he really?
MJM: Yes he did. He was in a cast, when they were dangling a car off the side of a grain silo.
[Interviewer’s note: I refrained from bringing up Leguizamo’s auto-biography and his version of the story to allow Mark and Mike to continue this tangent. However, I brought it up later via E-mail and Mark responded thusly:
MJM: I know Bob broke his hand in the car door. I didn't know or hear that they were drunk or that Leguizamo slammed it in the door. I do recall the car was suspended in mid-air. I also recall that Bob was gracious about the accident whatever happened.]
MH: Sorry. (pause) Well it’s the truth. It was the most reckless thing I’ve ever seen. That flying mattress bit because they had Bob’s stunt-double on there but they had all the real--
MJM: (suggests) Brooklyn gals.
MH: --Brooklyn Girls there on the mattress. [They] spent all morning setting that shot up--I wasn’t working in the scene, obviously, because they had shot my stuff, but I was there watching--and they set it up all morning trying to get that mattress ’cuz it was, imagine if you will a mattress hanging by a half-inch steel cable, on rollers, and remember, we’re shooting in a concrete factory; everything is concrete. They’re 20, 25 feet in the air, at least, flying across that road that you saw [in] that set that they’d built and then it’s supposed to stop on the other side. Well they set it up all morning and then some genius got an idea that it wasn’t going quite fast enough so why don’t we loosen the cable and make it go faster, which they did, and we came back from lunch and they put those poor girls on there--
MJM: (laughs in anticipation)
MH: (continues) --And they said “Okay, let’s shoot it!” and BOOM! they let that cable go and I’ll never forget. On that mattress there were handholds so those folks could hold on to that, and there’s a little actress. I can’t remember [her name]; I think it was Heather… Heather… I want to say Heather Graham, but that’s not right. It was Heather something. Beautiful little girl and she was on the mattress and I remember looking up watching this take and when they let go of the retaining cable it started off so fast she nearly fell off the mattress. If she had not had a seatbelt and hand grips on the mattress she would have fallen off 25 feet onto the concrete. Which didn’t save her by the way, because when she it went flying down to the end there’s no way to stop it. The crash actually flipped [the mattress] over and slammed everybody on the mattress onto the concrete. They called in the medics. It was just stupid as hell.
"It was just stupid as hell."
SA: That was Heather Pendergast.
MH: You’re exactly right. Heather, Heather was only something like 17 or 18-years-old at the time.
MJM: And none of these people got stunt-bumps. At all.
MJM: Because, at this point, when major production companies come into North Carolina--this was a few years back I can’t remember when we did the picture, actually--they all thought we were stupid and what we were was naïve. Each and every one of those people on that mattress should have asked for a stunt-bump, which was extra pay because that was a stunt, that was not acting, that was stunt-performing. So they were acting and acting as stunt-professionals. They should have received extra money. And nobody got it!
MH: Tell him who else was on that mattress.
MJM: Andrea Powell. Andy Powell.
SA: Yeah, Andrea Powell.
MJM: She’s currently starring in--
SA: (answers first) The Gates.
MJM: (continues) --The Gates.
MH: The Gates. On ABC.
MJM: On ABC. (pause) You should look her up.
SA: I actually contacted Andrea Powell and we’re conducting an interview by E-mail right now.
MJM & MH in-tandem: Oh good.
[Editor's note: Read our interview with Andrea Powell HERE.]
SA: Yeah. I contacted her through her manager and she seemed very interested. Hopefully it’ll be a good interview since I believe Super Mario Bros. was her first film role.
MH: I don’t know that that’s accurate or not. I know that’s when I first worked with her. I’ve done a couple different films with her. I know that it was my first film.
SA: According to IMDb it is her first film role, but she had acted previously on TV and in commercials.
MH: Yeah, she’ll never make it in this business.
SA: Alright, so, I wanna know, how did you both first hear of the movie?
MJM: Our agents.
SA: (laughs) Alright, so how did you both first hear of the film and what was it like auditioning? Did you audition specifically for the roles or were they just assigned to you?
MJM: Our agents. (pause) I auditioned for a role as a guard before the first prison scene along with Jeff Pillars, who is also in the movie and you should try to look him up. He’s a real character.
SA: (laughs) I actually have looked him up. We’re set to interview him later.
[Interviewer's note: I have looked him up, but at this time he doesn't seem to be too interested in an interview.]
MJM: It was an improvisational audition with Jeff Pillars and we were terribly entertaining, so they cast us both. (pause) And no, they didn’t give me the role I auditioned for. They gave me two other roles: “Lizard Man” and “street vendor.”
SA: Alright. So what about you Mike?
MH: Well, I actually did a Shakespearian monologue in my audition. they wanted to know the depth of my character and did I have the range to pull off being a Goo-- No, I’m bullshitting. I auditioned for one of the cop roles, and they brought me… Actually, at the time, you know what. Mario came along at a really special time in my life. I had just lost everything. I had lost my house, my car, my marriage. I was living in a two-bedroom condominium with my three children, a German Shepherd and my mother.
I was driving a cab, when I got the call. I actually drove my cab to the audition. I wasn’t supposed to do but it was the only car I had. I drove my cab to the audition and to two call-backs. And next thing I know they called and said ‘You want to be a Goomba?’ I said “I’ll be whatever the hell you want me to be in a week plus overtime and, you know, it came along at the right time. It was one of those times when, you know, when God reaches down and touches something. But, no I didn’t [audition for a Goomba]. Nobody auditioned for Goombas. I was selected I guess because I’m 6’ 1”. All Goombas are very big-sized guys. In fact, I may be the shortest. But that’s how it happened.
SA: So “Mario” really helped your life get back together did it?
MH: Well, my life wasn’t all that far apart but it did help pay some bills. I hate like hell how I never got any residuals on the film because it didn’t do very well.
MJM: Hopefully this website that you have will make people interested in the film again and they’ll rent it. Wildly.
SA: We’re hoping so because we’re actually in contact with a few people heavily involved in the film’s production that are in a position where they could probably influence a proper release at some point.
MJM: Oh that would be great. And a sequel would be good too; “Mark Miller stars in”--
SA: I don’t know about a sequel, but something should definitely happen with the movie.
MH: Well, what do you call it, it was an interesting point in my life for sure.
MJM: Yeah, mine too.
MH: I thought every film was gonna to be like that. I thought, hell, I had just gotten into the business and had only been an actor professionally for three months or something. I get a film, I got an ocean-part room and a rental car for 10 ½ weeks and making pretty good money… But anyway, it’s all relative. And I thought it was going to be super. I thought, you know, I’m off and running. But it was a great, great experience.
MH: It was. It was a great group of people. Dennis Hopper was on that film.
SA: Exactly. Did either of you have an opportunity to interact to him or the other leads?
MJM: Oh yeah. Yeah. We hung around together. I mean, it was a really sort of friendly set. Bob Hoskins was one of the… I’ve worked with a lot of A-list actors and Bob Hoskins, without a doubt, is one of the friendliest guys I’ve been around. Bar-none. Actor or otherwise. He’s one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever been around.
John Leguizamo could not shut up!
MJM: Okay, he’s a funny guy, but he needs to shut up. But not once every ten minutes.
SA: He had a very hyperactive role. He put a lot into it.
MH: Yeah, he was coming off as a one-man show. Whatever it was, that--
MJM: Spic-O-Rama, maybe.
MH: Yes, maybe.
SA: Well he is a comedian. He’s used to having those like hour-long monologues where it’s just him talking, talking, talking. That was the big draw of Spic-O-Rama.
MJM: Yes. Yes. This is true and he is exactly like that.
MH: Mark is exactly right: the people on the film [and] the actors were really nice. I remember talking to Dennis Hopper. We were standing in the hallway waiting to shoot something. Here I am in this silly-ass costume and he’s talking with me and we’re talking about boxing and [--hushed--]… I think Dennis bought half of Wilmington while he was there.
MJM: (laughs) Easily!
MH: No, seriously. He bought up a lot of real estate in Wilmington and he bought a lot of it.
But, Fiona Shaw… I wish you could contact Fiona, and if you do, please, please give her my contact information. Fiona Shaw is a classically-trained British actress, Royal Academy Dramatic Arts, Royal Shakespeare Company… She started the Super Mario Bros. Shakespeare Company.
Mark as the Lizard Man
SA: Oh, really?
MH: Oh yeah. And actually was kind enough to invite me to participate (for what reason I don’t know). It was John Leguizamo, Fisher Stevens, Samantha Mathis, Bob Hoskins, [and] Francesca Roberts. Francesca was another great one. It was great. We did four shows together while we were shooting the film. But they were nice people. It was a good time.
MJM: We had a party and all had super-soakers. We ran around yelling and giggling and soaking one another with water.
MH: You were there, weren’t you?
MJM: (teasingly) Oh, Mikey missed the water-soaker fight.
MH: Was that at the wrap-party?
MJM: No, not at the wrap party--
MH: Because I missed the wrap-party because I was passed-out drunk. (laughs)
MJM: (laughs) Be that as it may… No, no, this was the party mid-way to the--
MH: I don’t remember that one. No, but on the final day of shooting Dean Semler, who has won an Oscar for Dances With Wolves, who was directing our unit […] had prepared some champagne and had special labels “Goomba Reserve” printed on the champagne bottles and they brought that out at the end of the day. Well we were totally dehydrated--
MJM: Oh yeah. So you drank it like water--
MH: Oh god I drank it like water and went back to my hotel room and partied later that night and I thought “Well, I’m just going to lay down for a minute…” I woke up, I don’t know, 12 hours later--
MH: Everybody said “We banged on the door! We didn’t know where you were!” and I missed the whole thing.
MJM: I missed the wrap-party, but I was there for the final day. The day they had the whole crew there and so-forth. They had the whole cast and crew there and we were doing a big-shot like the celebration--
MH: Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah--
MJM: That was the day--
MH: Yeah yeah…
MJM: Yeah. No--
MJM: Dean had taken over for director from Rocky and Bullwinkle-- Wait a minute, was it Rocky and Bullwinkle? No, it was Rocky and Annabel.
MJM: The director, she had been taken from them and been given to Dean and that perhaps should have been done a little sooner. Anyway, they were nice people, but-- Well they weren’t really nice people, but they were responsible for Max Headroom, at some point, but they-- When you’re ever directed--if you are ever directed--by two people at the same time you’ll understand it’s very difficult to decide which person to listen to, and Rocky and Bullwinkle were married at the time, were they not?
MH: That’s my understanding.
SA: They were. (confirming)
MJM: Alright. (pause) It’s very difficult to take directions from two people, especially when they’re arguing.
SA: There are a lot of stories of them arguing. Hoskins himself has said a lot and really did not like them. There’s also an account in Leguizamo’s memoir that Rocky didn’t like the costume of one of the extras so he poured hot coffee over him.
MH: That’s a true story.
MJM: That is a true story.
SA: Did either of you see that happening?
MJM: Yes, we both saw it.
MH: It was that he wanted-‘I think it should be a little more wet’ I think it was what he said and so he poured this hot coffee and-- Yeah, no; I have no respect for them. I don’t care. At the time, now, this is, I don’t know, what was it, thirty years later, but they were still learning what they were about and I am different now than I was then and I’m sure that they are too.
SA: That’s very true. It was some time ago. Did you either of you know who that extra was or what his role was?
MJM: Have you interviewed them?
SA: The directors? (laughs)
MJM: Yeah, the Rocky and Bullwinkle.
SA: No, we haven’t. I mean, that’d be the interview to have, but unfortunately they seem to have dropped out of Hollywood, pretty much. They don’t do a lot these days.
MH: God bless them. (pause) Hollywood’s loss.
SA: So did either of you know who that extra was or what he did?
MJM: I don’t.
MH: No, I don’t. I don’t. I don’t usually talk to extras… Kidding!
MJM: He’s kidding.
MH: It’s a joke!
MJM: (pause) Yeah, Rocky never remembered my name. He just kept calling me “Lizahd Man.” “Lizahd Man! Lizahd Man!” And I keep looking at him and going “Are you talking to me?” and he goes “Yes, Lizahd Man.” I said “My name is Mark” and he says “Yes, Mahk.”
MJM: "Lizahd Man!" Very irritating.
MH: Yeah, he never called me “Lizard Man.”
SA: Alright, so, based on some of the wide shots in the film it’s very apparent that there were a lot of extras on the set. Do either of you have any idea how many there were and if most of them were local or brought in?
MH: Oh, they were absolutely all local.
MJM: Yeah, local and wrangled by Pam Plummer, one of the best extra wranglers ever. She’s now a Teamster driving for movies all over the country. Anyway, she used to work for the Fincannons as an extra wrangler.
SA: What was the overall mood of these extras? Did they enjoy being in the film? The main cast seems to have not enjoyed the movie too much, but a lot of the members of the production and the lesser actors seem to have had better experiences.
MH: Well, you know, they were pretty happy until they tried tried to actually take over the movie at one point. They banded together--
MJM: (laughs hysterically)
MH: --and they had like pitchforks and torches and they tried to actually take over the movie and they were beaten down with rubber clubs by the Goombas. But then they learned their place and they were very happy just to be fed once a day. They had, you know, a meager ration, but the--
MJM: Oatmeal was their favorite.
MH: Yes. But that was a treat and only on Sundays.
Mark on the "Koopa Square" set as the street vendor
MJM: That is somebody that you should interview, Pam Plummer, P-L-U-M-M-E-R. She wrangled all of those extras and she was great. She was absolutely fabulous. And she kept them happy. It’s not easy to do. I mean there was at least a hundred extras, at least--
MH: At least, at least. But at least in the shot, yeah--
MJM: Yeah. So she kept them happy. That’s a very difficult thing to do. I’m telling you, I saw how the extras were treated in wardrobe. I showed-up for wardrobe for a fitting--I was a principle--[and] they thought I was an extra and they treated me like... (thinks)
MH: (offers) Guano.
MJM: Yeah, guano, which is pigeon shit.
MH: I was thinking bat shit, but, yeah.
MJM: Is guano pigeon shit or bat shit?
MH: I think it’s--guano is--
MJM: Bird shit!
MH: A bird shit--
MJM: Bird shit! Bird shit! I was treated like bird shit and then I said “I’m a principle.” This is what you must understand: when you are a principle actor you must always go into wardrobe and say “I’m a principle, I’m a principle,” and then you must pause for three seconds and say “I’m a principle.”
Mike and I did another movie together--(laughs)--and if you want to start a website on that it’s called Radioland Murders--
MH: Oh my god! (starts talking, cut off)
MJM: George Lucas produced that. It’s a horrible, horrible film, but we were in it together.
MH: It’s an underappreciated classic.
MJM: (repeats, almost laughing) It’s an underappreciated classic!
SA: Well give us the information and we’ll put something up on it!
MJM: Well listen, it’s called Radioland Murders and Mike--(starts laughing again)--and I were police officers in it and I swear to you there were a hundred-and-four principle actors--
MJM: Yes, one-hundred-and-four-- Oh, it’s a big story and George Lucas was behind it and he was one of the directors on the reshoots--
MH: Yeah, he actually came… He looks like an Ewok, actually.
MJM: He does look like an Ewok.
MH: He does.
SA: So you said earlier that Dean Semler took over directing.
MJM: He did, yes.
SA: Do you know when that happened, around the production time?
MJM: (answers slowly, thinking) August… 23rd.
SA: August 23rd?
MJM: I think so.
MH: There was a party.
SA: (laughs) There was a party?
SA: Wow. How did people react? Was the mood better after that? Were people more willing to put into it?
MJM: Once Rocky and Bullwinkle exited everyone was much happier. (pause) Not that they’re bad people, they weren’t. They were not bad people at all.
MH: They were over their heads, that’s all. Please understand: this is not a personal criticism, this is just the fact that I think these folks were in over their heads. Whether they’re good or bad people I’m not making an assessment on that. It’s just that, at that the time, in that location, in that job, they weren’t the right person for the time and Dean took over and Jimmy-- Remember Jimmy [Devis]? That took over second camera?
MH: Well, I remember when they got the new flame thrower, he’s like “What are you afraid of?” and I’m just like “I’m not afraid,” and he says “You can’t hurt anybody, shoot my leg,” and I’m like “What do you mean shoot your leg, with a flamethrower?” and he’s like “Yeah, shoot my leg, it won’t hurt.” He was nuts, but he was always like that.
MJM: And he shot his leg and it caught on fire and Jimmy--(starts laughing)--was walking around like “Ow! Ow!”
MJM: “What did you shoot my leg with a flame thrower for you idiot!” (laughing)
MH: No, he did really. That’s a true story.
MJM: I know, and this is what happened afterwards when [you] shot the flamethrower off into the floor in Jimmy’s leg.
MH: Well, in Dean Semler’s life--caught me on a tap dance.
MH: Yeah, she actually did. (pause) And I worked-- Yeah, Dean was [audio problems] secretaries… secretary… and I went down to the bar and I was like “That’s not Annie Semler” … “Ah, Dean, Dean just left.”
MJM & MH: [garbled due to speaking at the same time]
MH: I’m not kidding.
MJM: I wish I had a story. (laughs) [mumbled]… I was gonna say that he was on Runaway Jury, but I don’t think he was. (laughing)
MH: Weren’t you in Dances With Wolves?
MJM: I was, yes.
MH: You were.
MJM: I was a wolf but I was in wolf costume.
MH: (starts talking)
MJM: (laughs hysterically while talking, cutting off Mike) …I was inside the wolf costume.
MH: He’s self-deprecating. He played the Indian who led the Calvary guys to safety. He knows that.
MJM: Bless his heart, it’s true. (pause) We’re not lying to you about Radioland Murders by the way.
MH: No, absolutely not. Nor Super Mario Bros. Everything else you might want to take with a grain of salt.
MH: The problem with the movie is it’s got so many people in it. It’s got so many main-- You will be amazed when you look down the list--
MJM: We were cop number 7 and 8 or something--
MH: (Mike cuts in)
MJM: Cop number 1 and 2, 4 or 5--something like that. We were cops.
[Interviewer’s note: I checked IMDb and found that Mark was Cop #8 and Mike was Cop #5]
MH: There were like fifteen cops. Look that movie up, look at all the people in that film. It’s actually not a terrible movie; it’s merely dreadful.
MH: But it had a ton of shit load of television actors in it: Corbin Bernsen... Oh, hell, I can’t even get started on it. Guys that you see all the time and you don’t know their name.
MJM: (Mark quietly says something)
MH: (Only the tail-end of his response) … Oh my god, everybody--
MH: (Mike resumes the topic) George Lucas himself came back to direct Mark and I and some second-unit [minute] stuff. It was a desperate attempt to save his movie.
SA: If you watch carefully during the movie you can see some of the extras doing some pretty weird things. For example, towards the end of the police cages scene you can see one of the prisoners lowering a raw steak from his cage on a string.
MJM: A raw stick?
SA: A raw steak.
MJM: A raw steak, huh?
SA. Yeah. So, were the extras just told to go crazy or were they directed to do specific things?
MH: Oh no you never tell extras to go crazy. No.
MJM: Yeah, they were directed to do those things. Specifically and then, if they did not do it correctly they were chastised. And sometimes, when they get too out-of-order, they’re fired.
MH: And that’s the truth.
MJM: That is the truth.
MH: They’ll run your ass off in a minute. No, no, you never, ever in a film tell extras “Well just go crazy,” unless you want to get a new roll of the shot entirely.
SA: Well a lot of the extras in the background if you watch closely-- You have no idea what’s going on. It almost does feel like they are just doing whatever they want.
MJM: They were being directed to be that way.
MH: Generally, what the director will say is “I need some movement in the background. I need to see something going on,” and then the first AD will tell the second AD who’s in charge of extras “Give these people something to do,” and the second AD will say “Here, take this steak on a string and lower it down, and you: take this parakeet and bite its head off, and you: try to shit in a hat and then put it on your head.” You know, I mean, you know-- Nothing happens by chance.
SA: (laughs) That’s good to hear that there was some control going on in the movie, even if it was controlled chaos.
MH: Well there was a lot of control going on in the movie. There were some serious actors there [that] were trying to do a serious film: Dennis, John, Fiona, Samantha. These people weren’t there just to piss in the wind and collect a paycheck. When they took the job they had the idea that this was going to be a blockbuster film because it was based on a hit videogame.
And you see now, what, 20 years later, 18 years later how many videogame movie-type deals have gone on and been successful. Look, I can’t tell you specifically why this particular show wasn’t, but when these people took this job they were thinking residuals, they were thinking long-term, they were thinking action figures-- I remember, when I was cast, the casting director Craig Fincannon said “Congratulations, man, you just made a hundred-grand.” I said “What are you talking about.” He said “Oh, this movie is going to be big-- You’re going to have residuals. You’re going to have action figures, you’re going to have all kinds of income comin’ in,” and everybody associated with the film had the very same idea.
MJM: There actually were action figures.
SA: Mostly for the main cast and Goombas, but--
MJMJ: Mike just heard about the Goomba action figures.
MH: Goomba action figures?
SA: Yeah, they had Goomba action figures.
MJM: Yeah, he didn’t get any money for that. (Mike still moaning) He signed a contract for that and waived his rights.
MH: No I didn’t. I’m calling my agent.
The Goomba action figure. The full set of figures can be seen on the site HERE.
SA: You should. We’ve interviewed Mojo Nixon, the man who played Toad, and he actually wrote the songs that he sang in the movie and still gets royalty checks for them.
MJM: Well he’s still no Tom Waits.
SA: (laughs) Certainly not. But he did sign a contract himself, mostly for merchandising; he got a lot of the cards and merchandise that featured his image but that was about it.
MJM: Well they wanted Tom Waits, didn’t they?
SA: They did. But Fincannon, who was in casting--
MJM: Yes, Lisa Mae.
SA: Yeah, Lisa Mae. She was friends with him and told him that they wanted Tom Waits, but she could get Mojo Nixon for half-price, that he was like a “third-rate Tom Waits.”
MJM: (laughs) I’m sure he was glad to hear that, right?
SA: He was just glad to be in a movie.
MJM: Yeah. No, he was great, too.
SA: Did you have any interaction with him?
MJM: Sure, I talked to him. (pause) I don’t know him well, but I did talk to him. He was a great guy and a good musician.
SA: Yeah, he is pretty good. (pause) So, Mark. As the “Lizard Man” you must have had some extensive make-up work. Can you speak a little about that?
MJM: (groans, then laughs) I was fit with prosthetics and a foam appliqués. I spent I guess two days being fit for my makeup for the Lizard Man, which you do not see on film… You know, the one person who is probably overlooked and I think she actually got a nomination was the hairstylist. I can’t remember her name but you should really look her up. All those hairstyles were done by her, designed by her. (pause) She had an English accent.
MH: No, I didn’t have to worry much about hair or makeup.
MJM: Well the Goombas only had animatronic hair.
SA: What was application and maintenance process for the makeup?
MJM: They took a plaster cast of my face for a mold then made a positive cast. They built the foam applications (prosthetics). They were glued to my face then make up was applied. I also had yellow cat-eye contacts.
Mark as the Lizard Man, part two
SA: Did the makeup/prosthetics make you uncomfortable or hinder your performing abilities in any way?
MJM: Nothing hinders my acting. That is not allowed but the contacts created a vision problem. Everything was terribly blurry. I also had to smoke cigarette after cigarette for the scene. I am not a smoker.
SA: Was the hairstylist you mentioned above Michelle Johnson?
MJM: Michelle! Exactly.
MH: Absolutely, god. She--
MJM: She was brilliant.
MH: (muffled) --I remember Michelle now.
MJM: She’s good too.
SA: Yeah, she did Toad’s haircut--Mojo Nixon’s hairstyle.
MJM: Yes she did.
SA: And she actually did all his kids’ hairstyle too in that way.
MJM: She did. (pause) She was great. (pause) You know, there was all kinds of extensive makeup going on. Some local dentist who actually got a day player role did my teeth and he did that all pro bono in order to get into the movie. I can’t remember his name either.
Mark, his dentist, and the "get away from my baby!" girl
SA: We’ll look into him, but like I said a lot of people weren’t credited so it’s hard to find people who were involved. (pause) So you mentioned that the movie was based on a videogame. Were either of you familiar with the games before auditioning or did you look into them later?
MJM: No, I know the video game for sure. I had a young son at the time.
MH: I had young kids too, as I told you. I was living in a-- (muffled)
MJM: (muffled) --Van down by the river.
MH: Yes, but no. I didn’t do any research for my role. I didn’t know what a Goomba was.
MJM: It didn’t help me at all really. Jeff Pillars was the reason I got cast.
SA: Right. Well, both your roles actually do reference the games.
MH: Well yeah. I know that now.
SA: The food that you’re selling, like the Spiny burger, fried Tweeter, and little Wiggler--
MJM: (laughs) Yes!
SA: Those are creatures in the games, but they’re much different. In the games the Spinies are round-shelled turtles with spiked shells, Tweeters are tiny birds with masks, and Wigglers are ten-foot-long caterpillars with flowers on their heads.
MJM: You’ve obviously played this game.
SA: I have.
MJM: Do you still have the old Nintendo set?
SA: I do, actually.
MJM: Far out.
SA: These are actually pretty common characters in the game, so you see them a lot.
SA: And the Goombas are a common enemy, just like in the movie, but in the game they’re three-foot-tall mushroom monsters you jump on to defeat.
SA: So, the references are there, but in the end you get seven-foot tall lizard men, snakes and blackened lizards.
MH: That’s because Hollywood people have better drugs then we do.
SA: A lot of people don’t like the movie because they feel it’s not even based on the games, it’s just a movie with some game references thrown in.
MJM: That’s right, they tried to make a film instead of a film of a game.
SA: There was an original script that was a lot more like the games. Do you know anything about that? Were you involved in the casting at that point?
MJM: No, when you’re being cast you don’t see a script, you only see what is called sides, which is like a page or two or a paragraph or two.
SA: Right. So the fried lizards and the snakes you were offering up… I have to ask, were those real or just props?
MJM: No, they were absolutely real. We caught snakes. I was told to go out--(starts laughing)--Oh, I can’t even go on with that, Steven. No, they were props.
"Fried tweeter, only twenty Koopons..."
MJM: In fact, I spilled something off my cart and then an animatronic lizard picked it up or something. Do you remember that part?
MJM: Yeah, well that took like 12 hours and, you know, I wasn’t even needed for it. They brought me on the set and all I was supposed to do was drop a thing off my cart and this animatronic, like, tiny little Tyrannosaurus rex picked it up and ran away. I don’t even know if it made it into the film--
SA: This was filmed?
MJM: Yeah, it was filmed.
MJM: I don’t know if it made it into the film, but they shot it for 12 hours and it was like, one little scene--a B-unit--one little scene, and it was like “C’mon, people." Although, I went back to my trailer and realized I was making overtime and then I calmed down. (pause) Half-craft services, right.
Photo courtesy of MEL
More stuff was filmed with these guys that we didn't see. Rats!
SA: Right. It seems like a lot of footage was shot only to be cut, most likely just to get more people in and out of the theaters.
SA: But the little animatronic lizard you mentioned does show up a few other times in the movie. They’re not that important, but they’re there. They don’t move much, so do you remember if it was any more mobile in your scene?
MJM: Well, you know, at the time, since there wasn’t CGI it was pretty impressive to me, the way those little puppets worked. And the puppeteers were pretty impressive too.
MJM: And you stripped the skin away and see what sort of mechanisms were involved and it was very good. But did it look real? Nah, never did look real.
MH: Well, the guys at MakeUp and Effects Laboratory did an outstanding job and this was back in the day. Like, you know, they just didn’t have the technology back then.
SA: They did an amazing job with those puppets. The movie won a few awards for its effects and even today I think its aged pretty well.
MH: Yeah, yeah. I wish I had.
MJM: (laughs). Yeah, I wish I had too. I’m going to have to watch this film again. You think it’s pretty good, huh?
SA: It’s good if you take it in the right way.
MJM: So it’s bad enough to be good? Or it’s good enough to be bad, or…?
SA: Well, for what it was and what it was trying to do, the scope of it… I mean, there are flaws--we acknowledge the flaws--but there’s a lot to like regardless. It has great actors, brilliant effects and a solid concept.
MJM: How many people are there that like this film?
MH: (in background) Three.
SA: There’s thousands, of course.
[Interviewer’s note: On the spot, I just gave the same answer Ryan gave to Mojo and added the “Of course” like it was the most obvious thing in the world]
MJM: And they know about your website? Which, by the way, E-mail me what the website is.
SA: I’ll be sure to send you a link to the interview once we have it up.
SA: (starts elaborating, but is cut off by Mike)
[Interviewer’s note: I was going to say that the movie does have its fans, but most don’t even realize our site exists. Our biggest problem is simply letting people know that there’s an organized fan community for the film.
In July 2010 alone the website had over 9,500 unique visits and nearly 50,000 page views.]
[Ryan's note: Also, for those that are curious, our January 2011 stats are nearly 25,000 unique visits and nearly 200,000 page views.]
MH: Have you talked to Francesca Roberts?
SA: No, I really want to interview her though. She’s one of my favorite characters in the movie, but she’s difficult to get into contact with.
MH: Well, I’ll see what I can do. If I get word of her before I do give her my contact information. I’ll forward it to you.
MH: She’s a tremendously nice person. And I don’t know why these people were nice to me when I was wearing that stupid costume, but they were. She was in [the] Super Mario Bros. Shakespeare Company too. She played Tatiana to Bob Hoskins’ Oberon in [A] Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was fabulous; brought the house down.
SA: Yeah, she has very little screen time, but she’s still a popular character with the fans. It's the same thing with you Mark: you’re only briefly seen in the movie, but you’re still a fan-favorite.
MJM: Oh excellent! I didn’t know that.
Mark in costume with some other interesting Dinohattan folk
SA: Yeah, whenever people bring up the movie they always mention “the food vendor.” You’re “that one character.” (laughs)
MJM: Well, I wish that could get me a job today. (laughs)
SA: Well, maybe we can figure something out; we’ll hire you for a fan-made sequel.
MJM: I really appreciate that Steven.
MH: (laughing in the background)
MJM: I’m currently unemployed.
MH: (in the background) As are most of the people who were in that movie.
SA: Well, we’ll have to set up some continuation of the movie that you can both be a part of.
MJM: I think that would be fabulous. I will do anything.
Scan from one of the Super Mario Bros. coloring books. Lizard men in a cell next to the Marios--coincidence? I think not...
MJM: Mike was just cast in The Young and the Restless.
MJM: Yes. He has a recurring role as Dr.--
MH: Dan Ananda
MJM: (slowly pronounces) Dan…
MJM: Ananda. Dr. Dan Ananda. I know that sounds like a Saturday Night Lights--(laughing)--Saturday Night Lights sketch--Saturday Night Live sketch, but he really is (pause) in (pause) The Young and the Restless.
MH: And! I have a film screening at the Director’s Guild in LA on--
MJM: Sept. (10th. 5th) quarter.
MH: Yes, it’s on September 10th. If you’re around L.A., see if you can get a ticket, come see it. I star with Aidan Quinn, Andie McDowell and Ryan Merriman.
SA: Alright. I’ll look into that; I’d love to get an autograph.
MJM: And Mark Miller is appearing in Bolden!, that’s B-O-L-D-E-N exclamation point which is released in 2011.
MH: A big budget movie.
MJM: And also Bloodworth, with Val Kilmer and several other people… In 2011. Bloodworth. And Bolden!
[Interviewer’s note: According to IMDB, Bolden! is a “mythical account of the life of Buddy Bolden, the first Cornet King of New Orleans” and Bloodworth is a Southern drama. Mark stars as characters “Bailey” and “Harwood,” respectively]
MJM: I’m unemployed, did I mention that?
MH: Mark’s being self-deprecating again. He just finished up a starring role in The Cherry Orchard, by [Anton] Chekhov. I mean this guy is a serious actor. I mean, I am just a wannabe, but Mark is something.
MJM: (teasingly) Did I mention [Mike] has a recurring role on The Young and the Restless?
MH: Shut up! That’s not acting!
SA: (laughing) Yeah, he mentioned that.
MH: We have to go now--we’re going to cook dinner. Where are you?
SA: I’m in California.
MJM: (laughing) Well so are we! Where in California? California’s a big state, Steven.
SA: (laughs) Modesto, over in the San Joaquin Valley.
MJM: Oh really. Well you could have come over and interviewed us in person, for Chrissake!
SA: Well maybe I’ll do a follow-up sometime.
MJM: Alright. Or maybe you can get me a job!
SA: Alright. Well I only have a few more questions to ask, if that’s okay.
SA: What did you both think of the movie when you first saw it?
MJM: Honestly, I loved it. I didn't know why it didn't do better at the box office. I was also disappointed that my scene with John and Bob was cut from the prison block.
MH: Since it was my first film, it was all very "cool" to me. I couldn't (and still can't) objectively evaluate any film I'm in. That's because of being so intimately involved with the production. I remember the set ups, the heat, the problems, the fun, what it took to create what's on the screen.
SA: Do you either of you sometimes watch the movie, and, if so, have your opinions of it changed after all this time?
MJM: I haven't seen it in years.
MH: No, I haven't watched the film in 15 years at least. Although, since you started doing this website my interest is renewed. Maybe Mark and I will set a date to have a viewing together.
SA: What did your son think of it, Mark?
MJM: He liked it but liked seeing scenes shot and walking around the set more. He was there for about 10 days while we were shooting.
SA: Did your children see the movie, Mike? How did they respond to it, particularly the Goombas?
MH: My kids were just kids when it came out. They were young enough to enjoy the lights and sounds. They were somewhat confused about which Goomba daddy was. This was made even more confusing because we changed costumes and weren't always the same Goomba.
SA: Do you know if their opinion of the movie changed as they've grown older?
MJM: I don't know that he has seen it in years.
MH: I think now that they are older, they have even less interest in what I do. :)
SA: Have they ever poked fun at you for your part in the movie?
MJM: No, never. He loved the game and the movie. He played the game for many years and just recently sold his original Nintendo and all the games.
MH: Everybody pokes fun at me, and not just because of that movie.
SA: Any additional interesting stories to tell?
MJM: I got sick one day from food poisoning and spent 12 hours sleeping in my trailer in full costume. Fortunately I wasn't needed much that day.
MH: It was a total culture shock for me. One day I'm driving a cab and the next I have a role in a 70 million dollar picture with Dennis Hopper, Bob Hoskins, Fiona, Samantha, and all the rest.
I went from living in a two bedroom townhouse with my mother, three kids and a German Shepherd, to spending 10 weeks in an ocean front room making fairly good money. But really, in retrospect, the best thing about the film was meeting Mark Miller. We somehow clicked. I value his friendship more than I can say. Now that I'm in L.A. the support that he and Nicole have given me has literally saved me.
SA: Do either of you have a final message for the fans?
MJM: Just that it was one of the best times I've ever had on a movie shoot (only COLD MOUNTAIN was better). The cast and crew were like a little family. Everyone (principles) were being paid well and had great places to stay at the beach. The food was great and there was a sense that it would be very successful.
MH: Thanks Steven for your interest in the film. It has lead to some fun times and fond memories. I really do hope you contact Fiona, Francesca and Bob. If you do please give them my contact info as I would love to catch up.
SA: Alright. Thank you both for taking the time out to do this interview. It’s been really great talking about all this.
MJM: (laughing) We had a really great time. I don’t know if you’ve gotten anything you that can use, but, remember, I’m looking for work.
SA: Alright guys.
MH: (in background) Bye.
MJM: See you later.