It was one day in 1975. My dad was watching a show that had what looked to be a normal group of people surrounded by giant-sized objects and other gargantuan animals, insects and people. I’d already been a voracious reader even at age 8 and had started getting a concept of Jonathan Swift and Gulliver’s Travels, but I’d already had the feeling that, though this show was obviously influenced by Swift, it was also more. While it may’ve been as much about spending time with pops, it became a situation where I was hooked on the show. Even the title, Land of the Giants (along with its catch line of “Mini-people – playthings in a world of giant tormentors!”) was catchy enough to remember. What sealed the deal, however, was a cherub-faced child star of the series whom I could identify with. Roughly my age and going through so much wonderous adventure as to stimulate my imagination to a frenzy. His name was Stefan Arngrim and he became my fictional friend at the time, having a play date with me every week and bringing scares and adventure with him. As we both grew, I’d kind of lost touch a bit with his work, while even still occasionally getting a glimpse of him guesting on one show or another. My reunion, of sorts, with Mr. Arngrim’s career came as my passions for horror blossomed and discovered him starring in chilling gems such as Fear No Evil (remember that timeless tag on the poster? “Alexandria High… class of ’81 – All the students are going to Hell, except Andrew… he sent them there!”) and Class of 1984 (which nearly scared me off of high school. Thank goodness I stayed!). There was little question that I had a serious admiration for the artist and his craft. Jumping forward to January of 2019, I had the incredible opportunity to interview the man, himself. Suffice it to say that leaping at the prospect was a serious understatement. And we’re off……..
KN: As a child growing up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, did you have the stock occurrence happen that many child stars profess to and that is that the acting bug hit with the local school play or was this something innate within you, having been born into an acting family with your mom, Norma, a voice actress and dad, Thor, her producer and manager?
SA: Well, first off, i was born in Toronto but was raised in Manhattan from the age of two. I had a green card with a baby picture on it. For years I used it as my only I.D. but that’s another story. Back in 1955, my dad was doing a play on Broadway, my mom was under contract with CBC radio in Toronto My dad told my mom this play was a very long, dry, historical, religious play and didn’t believe it would run a week. It was called ‘Luther’, the story of Martin Luther. Initially starring Albert Finney, with John Heffernan, Peter Bull, a huge cast. Directed by Tony Richardson, So much for an actors opinion. So, my mom was preggers with me, and had to fulfill her CBC contract while my dad was (happily) stuck in a hit that ran for two years on Broadway! (pity). Anyway, this delayed my arrival in New York by two years after my arrival on earth. My folks were real beatniks. My mom was an actor/writer/singer. My dad an actor/publicist/producer. My father just understood the business of show as well as it can be understood. He had an uncanny knack for knowing who had the goods and who did not. A keen observer of talent and the complex arrangement of personality traits and idiosyncrasies that make a professional ‘artist’ of any discipline. He just knew, but that’s more for the book…!!! My mom and dad had the perfect marriage and partnership for two such unusual and remarkably talented people. My dad simply thought my mom was the funniest person on earth and my mom thought my dad was the best audience she had. My folks never really talked to me much about whether or not i wanted to work, although they never hired babysitters and split duties taking me with them to the theatre where my dad was on stage or the club where my mom might be singing. I did some print modeling as a baby and toddler, and i have a vague recollection of an Ivory Snow commercial. Always kind of through my folks friends. You know, ”Norma, Thor, we need a baby! Can we use yours? We’ll pay for him”. Like that. All I know is what I have been told. That, about the age of five, my folks had a party attended by many of their friends in theatre, music, dance, etc. One guest was a casting agent we’d known in New York, who watched from the kitchen as I entertained in the living room from on a coffee table. The casting agent asked my parents, (who were also in the kitchen and oblivious to my riveting performance in the other room), if they had ever considered my working in the business. My folks blithely answered that it didn’t matter to them, and that they had agreed to wait and see if I wanted to give it a try. His response was that it looked to him if i’d made up my mind. Within six months, I started “Search for Tomorrow”.
KN: How did your first tv gig come about, as Christopher Yager, a boy wracked by his parents divorce in The Defenders 1965 episode The Merry-Go-Round Mender? Any recollections of working on the show and for director Paul Bogart, who was known as something of a thinking man’s director. I remember his quote once: “I draw on everything I ever knew about—painting, music, any kind of art. I use it all the time. I think that’s what a director needs, a good liberal arts education.”
SA: Actually, ‘Defenders’ wasn’t my first gig. My first real ‘job’, was as a regular for a year and a half, on the soap opera, “Search for Tomorrow”, which was live at the time, No video tape, just kinescoped, an expensive time consuming process of interlocking a 16mm film cam to a live monitor and shooting the broadcast. This was reserved for ‘important’ TV events. Not daily soaps. I believe I was just six. It was a lot like being thrown in the pool. You learn to swim very quickly, and you get good at it, or you don’t stay in the water. I’ve had a lot of resumes. Every agent wants a new one, and although I haven’t gone through a lot of agents, I tend to stay put if I get along with my agent, if I feel like he/she ‘get’s me’, and, of course, if I’m working. I’m saying this because i really can’t tell you where Merry-Go-Round Maker falls in my early career. I know it was early, maybe third or fourth show I guested in. I say that because i don’t believe they would have considered me for the role with Ruth White and Paul Bogart directing if i hadn’t have had a ‘rep’ at the time. i remember Paul very well. i had an interesting reputation as a kid. It all stems from what a very early agent of mine pitched me as. “I represent an exciting young New York actor, (that ‘meant something’ then. Not sure what but it ‘meant something’!) “who happens to be eight years old”. So, I’m pretty sure Paul liked that idea. He certainly did not pull any punches with me. It wasn’t a ‘happy little moppet’ part, as usual, (I never got cast as anything but terminally ill, emotionally disturbed, war orphans, so on). Paul dealt with me as an actor. I responded, and it set a pattern for the rest of my childhood career and, in its own weird way, has made its way into my ‘adult’ career. Yeah, Paul Bogart was one of the first film/TV directors I worked with who opened up all the possibilities of this ‘acting thing’. Dan Petrie was another. His first picture was a TV Christmas movie called Silent Night, Lonely Night, with Shirley Jones and Lloyd Bridges. All great people to watch and learn from.
KN: You had become the equivalent of the well-traveled child vet actor for much of the sixties with stints on Dragnet, Here Come the Brides, and a role in one of my favorite westerns, Andrew McLaglen’s The Way West. Did the busy schedule help you prepare in any way for the rigors of life in front of the camera?
SA: I liked to work. Still do. I feel very at home in a dressing room trailer. I like that there’s always someone else around to deal with all the mechanics of working life so that I just sort of float through and do my job and nothing else. I have a very narrow, but laser-like, focus. So that works for me. I am very grateful, however, for the fact that my parents were adamant about my being as independent as possible and never take anyone or anything for granted. To never place my ability to navigate life in anyone else’s hands. It’s so easy to get spoiled, to become ‘entitled’. The next step is dependence, delusion and victimhood. No thanks. Anyway, yes, i had to pay attention, and I had some great pros to pay attention to and learn the technique of this job. Hit your mark, find your light, fer gobs sake don’t block anyone, and know your lines. The rest is up to a series of weird personality traits, ‘talent’, a very realistic self-assessment, a strong ego that keeps itself in check, tissue-y sensitivity, skin like a rhino, and a whole network of synapses that somehow make up ‘an artist’, of whatever ilk. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed making The Way West. It was probably one of the last big studio westerns. You could never assemble a cast like that today. I made many good and close friends on that shoot. Bob and John Mitchum and my family became friends. I’ve know the family for many years, but more on that later.
KN: Of course, I would be remiss if I did not ask the question you get asked probably thirteen thousand times a day, and that is about working on a certain iconic series near the end of the decade and that is Land of the Giants. I’d like to discuss, however, more the maverick that is Irwin Allen and how it seemed you two had a certain non-conformity connection. You once said in an interview for the Los Angeles Times in August of 1968 that the Nehru shirts and flared slacks you sported then you could “get away with them in the 20th Century-Fox classroom because we were less conformist.” Irwin, likewise, had his own style that he refused to change (his use of the color orange, for example) to have it look like every other show on tv then. Did you feel a shared spirit with Irwin?
SA: I respected Irwin Allen, and thoroughly enjoyed being part of his terrific ‘vision’ of film/television. I am certainly grateful to have been involved in LOTG, which at the time, was a great job, but now has taken on some genuinely historic status in the tv/sci-fi world in so many ways. However, Irwin and i were never really ‘friends’. Actually, my understanding has always been that Irwin originally wasn’t sold on me for Barry, but that someone at Fox or ABC wanted me. I’d done quite a few guest stars on episodic shows in the past few years, and I suppose someone thought I was some kind of a draw. Irwin apparently relented and, once I was Barry, we got along fine. I don’t know about the ’non-conformity’ connection. i got several ‘conformist’ lectures from Irwin, about my hair, clothes, all manner of things. This wasn’t unusual though. Everyone in the cast went through this with Irwin. He was obsessed with hair, which I always thought was interesting, considering the very orange, breaded veal cutlet he wore on his head in place of hair. As far as the clothes I wore on my own time, I wore what i wanted to wear. Not a lot of people know this but, on the first season, that’s my hair, cut very short for the show. During our hiatus (between seasons, not shooting), I went out with my band at the time and played all over. i had a couple of records out. At that time, if you were a teenage boy on TV, and featured in 16, and Tiger Beat magazines, and you could fog a mirror, you could make a record. Fortunately, I actually played music and wanted to make records. For the tours, i had a long-haired wig made. When my hair grew out before we started the second season, I had another wig made. This one a short haired wig. So, on the 2nd season, my hair is pinned up under a wig. I don’t think Irwin ever knew when, one would think, he would’ve. So, we shared the spirit of the non-conformity of wigs, I guess.
KN: In fact, in that same Times interview, you mention a passion for fashion, especially in your preference at the time for the Nehru shirts with beads. Did you ever have a thought toward getting into fashion design if acting gigs dried up? By the way, you mention a love for the Stones in the same piece. I’m a huge fan as well. In fact, a memorable lyric of theirs really speaks to the non-conformist rebel in a lot of us: “I can’t get no-oh-oh-oh…sa-tis-fac-tion!”
SA: No, never gave fashion design as a career a thought. I had a couple of tailors (still do) that I like. I do think ’style’ is underrated. We tend to think of style and fashion as being ‘shallow’, a surface thing. It’s not. Personal style is the projection of a person, their experiences, their world view, their sexuality and so much more. When acting gigs dry up (They do from time to time. Remember, I’m a lifer in this biz) and, when they do, I always have another area to move into. I write, I start a band, record, I produce someone or something, write a poem, a play, a script, a bank robbery note, anything. As far as The Stones go, what I have always felt from them is the same passion for the music they happen to playing at the time. They are examples of the acolytes, standing upon the shoulders of giants and then becoming giants themselves. Their music and approach to playing it is clearly indicative of a lineage, a relationship to what has gone before; and, for my money, “Midnight Rambler”, is likely the greatest ‘post-modern’ blues tune on record. And that’s enough about The Stones. I’m never comfortable ‘talking’ about music. Far better to just shut up, and just listen and play.
KN: After the steady work and success of Land of the Giants, the jobs came a bit fewer and farther between (I must admit to having a lot of fun with your performance as Keith on the Switch episode Pirates of Tin Pan Alley). Was this a situation of the child star growing out of the proverbial precocious cute kid stage that afforded bankability as seems to happen each and every decade with actors? I would think that, although a financial drain, it allowed you to breathe a bit, live life and find other passions.
SA: My folks had well prepared me for the standard “when your show is cancelled, no one will hire you for at least two years”. However, oddly, that didn’t happen to me. I took some time off, but then I guest starred on Ron Howard’s series The Smith Family with Henry Fonda, (only fair as Ron did a guest on LOTG). I did a lot of traveling after LOTG, many adventures, but I would always check in and would come back to L.A. or N.Y., wherever the work was. In California, there is the Coogan law (named for Jackie), which has many stipulations to protect child labor. How many hours of work, how many hours of school on set, and approximately a third of my money was held in savings bonds until I was 18. New York didn’t have this law when i first started, so only my work in Cali came under this provision. No worries. My lean times were sometimes no fun, but don’t compare to many (not just in my business, but people everywhere) who have REAL lean times. I am a very lucky human, and I am very grateful. I would say that I have learned more from travel and seeing this planet we live on and meeting the folks I share it with face to face. It doesn’t matter where you go (and I’ve been to some fairly ‘out-of-the-way’ places). Once you get past all the surface cultural differences (which I have always found fascinating as opposed to disturbing or frightening), under all our ‘stuff’, there’s just me and another person. Remarkably, when you get down to the ‘real’, the ‘hard-wired’ nature of human beings, we all want pretty much the same things. To live, to love, to be loved, to do meaningful work, to have a home, to share food and joy with friends, to be a human being. It’s not that complicated but, since we are problem-solving creatures, we have a tendency to make things very difficult for ourselves and others, ostensibly so that we can ‘fix’ it. It’s like lighting a fire to save everyone from the blaze. We believe this makes us feel powerful, and good about ourselves. However, this illusion is shattered when a fire is started that cannot be put out. It will forever intrigue me as to why the real and authentic speed of life and its myriad of stunning events is not enough for us. It’s plenty for me. I live in a constant state of awe and wonder, which I often have to ‘disguise’ as some have a real adverse reaction to celebration of the simply amazing fact of being alive.
KN: There was an outrageously funny film spin on the sixties’ drug culture that came your way in 1980 called Getting Wasted, directed by the very talented Paul Frizler. Can you recall any stories about working with incredible talents like Stephen Furst and Brian Kerwin? I have to admit that I came to the film via my interest in the group Count Five and their powerful song Psychotic Reaction.
SA: We probably had more fun making that film than anyone did who saw it! I thoroughly enjoyed being Charles DeLuce, or ‘Choo Choo’ Charlie, ‘the loose caboose’. Although i did almost get clipped by a train shooting one of those “Charlie butters the tracks” scenes. I remember everyone fondly from that film. Brian, a terrific guy, and Stephen….I still haven’t fully accepted the fact that he’s gone. A brilliant guy. Great actor. Funny as hell. I’m going to miss him. Paul was, certainly, a very talented man. I just never knew what he was talking about. He also had a tendency to stand, not by the camera but off to one side during takes. I asked him once if maybe he wasn’t missing the actual shot. He smiled and said he had it ‘all in his head’. He never did share what ‘it’ was with me but it was fine because, like a lot of things I do, I am really in my own little film within the larger film. Works fine for me, and no one else seems to have a problem with it. This is a good thing.
KN: Next up is the film that literally scared the crap out of me as a 14-year old, enough that I had some disturbing nightmares about my school classmates and glowing eyes for days. That is Fear No Evil. The director, Frank Laloggia, would only amass a few credits as helmer in his career. Yet, he had a knack for knowing what scares people and for setting scenes up for the shock. This feature and his later Lady in White in 1988 are considered cult classics today. He also tended to wear many hats in his projects (producer, writer and composer in addition to director usually). What was your experience working with him?
SA: I punched him in the nose about the fourth week of shooting. I had my reasons. We made up. We’ll let it go at that.
KN: Considering the film’s seven week shooting schedule, did you have a more than usual quota of 12-14 hour shooting days? That must’ve been quite a drain on everyone involved.
SA: This was one of the toughest shoots I’ve ever worked (see above). Pretty much everyday was a 14-hour day or night. Sometimes both. We used a lot of ‘live’ and in-the-camera effects, some great old vintage horror film tricks. These took a lot of time and effort, (on everyone’s part), to make them work. Everyone pulled together and got along well, (with certain exceptions-see above). I am still in contact with some cast and many crew members from that picture. Everyone got sick. All the time. Everyone was exhausted. All the time. We put a local doctor out of business because of all the prescriptions he was writing for the whole cast and crew. Someone was shooting video during the whole thing, kind of a ‘making of’ thing. I have no idea where this footage is, but I remember it as being a lot like ‘Heart of Darkness’. Probably far scarier than the film itself!
KN: LaLoggia had the idea to use his old junior high school in Webster, New York as the high school setting for the picture. He even used local students as extras. Any recollection of working in that kind of busy atmosphere? There had to have been at least a few locals who wanted an autograph from Barry Lockridge! LOL
SA: Well, I know we started in Rochester, NY at a high school. I believe Frank had gone there. On our first day of shooting, the schedule flipped, as it did often, and we had to shoot ‘the shower scene’ first shot of the film. Now, Danny Eden and I had just met on the plane flying in, and we only met the rest of the guys in that scene on set. So, it was a ‘nice to meet you’ and then we all got naked and jumped in the school shower. It was August. The school was not open yet, and the boilers had been shut down all summer. If we look a little blue and really uncomfortable in that scene, we were. Worked though! Apparently, this scene (and stills from it) has made the list of ‘Male Erotica in American Independent Cinema’, or some such. Flattering, I suppose but, like everything else in the movies, it is a subjective illusion. There is nothing vaguely ‘erotic’ about spending the day naked in freezing water, trying to get some weird shot that you hope will scare folks or at least you won’t get pneumonia. Hot stuff. I always like working with ‘local’ people on any location film i do. Tends to keep things more grounded. You get to know people who live there (you even get to shower with some of them!), It’s not just a ’set’. I made some great friends on that film. I think a few people may have asked for an autograph but, as I mentioned we were burning film around the clock. If not working, sleeping (sort of).
KN: With your next film role being Drugstore in Class of 1984, it seemed as if you were becoming the next cult horror star. Was this something you were aware of and embraced or was there a concern about being typed?
SA: My father always used to say “type-casting is working”. I didn’t (and don’t) think about my ‘career’ that way. I like to work. The best thing about that film was working with Roddy McDowall, whom I had known since i first went to Hollywood in the mid-sixties. He really watched out for me and (having been a child actor himself) he knew how to navigate the business safely. I will always be grateful for his friendship. This was the first and only time we worked together, but it was worth it. Once again, I made some great friendships on this picture, which also was not a particularly easy gig. “The Gang”; Tim Van Patten, Lisa Langlois, Neil Clifford and the late, great Keith Knight, were all tremendous to work with and know. Still talk with Lisa from time to time. I miss Keith Knight all the time. Perry King was somehow able to find something humorous in just about every snag that came up during this shoot. And I got to shoot in my home town! There’s much to tell about this film all by itself. I’ll write it all down soon, but it would take up way too much time here. I did another film for Mark L. Lester about 17 years after ‘Class’ (which, btw, Perry King came up with The Class of 1984 title). A way dark, funny little movie with Kevin Dillon and pal Nick Mancuso called Misbegotten.
KN: I’m guessing on one level that you embraced the horror status with the 1986 debut of your band The Knights of the Living Dead, mashing a raw rock style with a memorably goth name. Midnight Cove is really powerful, I must say. Can you give insight into the life of an actor-turned-rocker?
SA: I suppose, in a sense, that’s become my ‘genre’ (at least in part). The Knights of the Living Dead were originally inspired by Anne Rice’s Interview with The Vampire and her Vampire Chronicles, particularly The Vampire Lestat. I was fascinated by the literary depiction of a vampire Rock and Roll band. You couldn’t hear them, and I started to wonder what they would sound like. Around the same time, I was writing and stumbled upon the name The Knights of the Living Dead. I liked it, thought it was a good name for a vampire band, and then did nothing about it for the next 15 years. I met Roland Devoile in the late eighties, and he and I shared a lot of the same tastes and interests musically. We started writing together, recording the tracks at my house in L.A., where Roland moved in and we got completely involved in writing and cutting these songs (which we started referring to as The Knights of the Living Dead). I was writing some tunes with Warren Zevon at the time, for his album Transverse City. We were friends, and he was very supportive of the work Roland and I were doing. It was Warren who said we need to make the band. We were just doing this on our own and hadn’t even thought about a band. We were playing everything ourselves on the writing demos and it did sound like a band. So, we sent out these tapes of some 35 songs (all cut by Roland and I; drums, bass, two guitars, keyboards and vocals, all full arranged). We had to laugh at our unintended arrogance in sending out tapes that sounded like finished recordings to musicians. “Now just play this!” – yeah right! We booked a rehearsal room in Hollywood, made appointments. Three guys showed up. Ray Heron (drums), Kelley Carmody (Guitar), and Nino DelPesco (bass). They liked the tunes, they liked the style, they played ‘em great, They became the band. Warren wound up producing four tracks for us. Dave Jerden (producer of Jane’s Addiction, Alice In Chains and Red Hot Chili Peppers) produced the rest of our stuff. For the next three years, we played constantly. We figured it out once. We were playing, on average, three shows a week, for three years and recording in between gigs. Opened for Deborah Harry (who was a total sweetheart and she and Chris Stein were nothing but supportive, great folks), and lots of others. We were in the middle of a ‘bidding war’ with labels (a really dreadful experience, contrary to popular belief). it was quite a ride.The whole story of the Knights is intriguing music biz legend, too long to tell here. However, I am working on putting together a package of all the tunes (studio and demo, some video, lots of photos, a real cast of characters, as well as the whole gory story) as The Legendary Knights of the Living Dead. I’ll be sure to send you a copy. Until then, I think you can dig us up on youtube someplace. I keep a page @reverberation.com (reverberation.com/stefanarngrim) for stuff. Some old, some new, some borrowed, some blue.
KN: The acting projects came in spades in the 1990s for you, with horror, fantasy, and sci-fi at the forefront. You had a small role in Kathryn Bigelow’s bizarre yet immensely compelling Strange Days from 1995. I was the only one in the theater audience who shouted “Andrew from Fear No Evil!” when Skinner shows up. I understand that, of the 80 days of shooting, 77 were done all at night. That and Bigelow’s frequent use of the point of view shot must’ve combined for an interesting experience for you.
SA: The Northridge earthquake had just hit L.A. and pancaked my house. So, I was ready to move. My old pal, Nick Mancuso, suggested I go on up to Vancouver for a bit. Of course, this isn’t really earthquake safe zone (B.C. has the whole ring of fire fault line running through it) but there was work in Van, and it’s a lovely town, and L.A. was a mess. I was heading out of town, driving north with a friend (John Vetter of The Groovy Ghoulies), when I got an emergency call from my agent. I called and was informed that Jim Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow wanted to see me right now in downtown L.A. Of course, I went. Met everyone, all very nice. Kathryn came into the office. looked at me and said, “Oh yeh, that’s Skinner!”. That was that. I left town, went up to Van, did an episode of Highlander (much fun), then got a call from L.A. to get back down and be “Skinner” in this film, which I still knew nothing about. I got down to L.A., the script was delivered, and I saw immediately it was by James Cameron and Jay Cocks. Impressive. “Strange Days”, it was called. It was a great read. The part of Skinner was somewhat bigger, as there was a sort of ’sub-plot’ in the film which apparently didn’t quite work and wound up on the digital cutting room floor. The experience was tremendous though. When we shot the climax of the film, we were downtown at the Bonaventure Hotel for five or six night shoots. At one point, there were ten thousand dress extras. It got pretty out of control, but certainly not as bad a s it could have been. Kathryn is a pro. I’ve always been glad that i did not see Schindler’s List until after I shot Strange Days. I had seen Ralph Fiennes work, but nothing would have prepared me for his performance as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s. I think it would have been intimidating, or I would have made a fool of myself gushing and asking stupid questions. Quite a performance.
KN: The last twenty years have proved to be quite a prolific time for you, project-wise. Appearances in movies such as the Robin Williams 2004 The Final Cut, 2005’s The Fog remake, and shows like UC: Undercover, Flash Gordon, and The Fringe. Earning a paycheck is always the driving goal of an actor but sometimes an artist seeks to continuously work to hone his craft in the effort to get it right in their mind. Is this in any way close to what pushes you in addition to paying the bills?
SA: I struck a great deal in Vancouver with The Characters Agency, and Tyman Stewart in particular. Tyman had a lot of faith in me. I worked a lot. Sometimes I would wind up doing several shows at once that would overlap. I would work in the morning on one set, then get driven over after lunch to another set, and so on. It got to the point a few times, that the only way I knew what show I was doing was by the wardrobe. I enjoyed The Fog very much, as I had met and read for John Carpenter several times some years ago. Something always came up, schedule wise, for either me or whatever picture John was making, so we never got to work together. Now John was head of Revolution Films and was Exec producing re-boots of all his hits. When I arrived on the set of The Fog, in my dressing room I found a big cheese and wine basket with a card that read “I finally gotcha, have fun, John”. Then I got to work with Rade Sherbedgia, a joy and an honor.
Fringe was a lot of fun. I came in on the 2nd season as a semi regular. A really great cast, much fun to work with. I was also doing the reboot of V, with Yves Simoneau (a wonderful director, much fun!), as a crippled guy named ‘Roy’, who had struck some nefarious deal with the aliens. On Fringe, I was a crippled guy named ‘Ray’ who had struck some nefarious deal with the people from another dimension. They say there are really only five good stories. Ok, but can’t we come up with some new names for these poor wretches within them? As far as my ‘driving goal’, it hasn’t changed intent since I was about six years old and (although ‘content’ that I have become interested in has expanded my range as an artist) I’m still on the same path. The goal, however, remains the same: to continue to do what I am so very fortunate to do best, “make interesting stuff”. This could be film, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, or anything else that captures my attention. I have found that it’s all the same ‘muscle’, the only distinction between forms are technique and ‘feel’. Technique is mechanical, involving repetition and muscle/brain synapses. The “feel” is something you get or you don’t. If you have the feel, the technique becomes simple; not necessarily “easy”, but simple. The object of all this is to create the illusion of ease, natural magic. Even in the heights of high drama and apparent chaos, we want to feel people responding authentically, but with seemingly magical, unsuspected inner resources of the artist/protagonist. Paying the bills just keeps the machine going. Pretty much any revenues I receive from my work all winds up going right back into the work. I can’t, actually, recall ever turning down a job. Not just for the cash, but because I really love what I do and, having cut my teeth on episodic television (and the good fortune of how I seem to be cast), I really don’t pay much attention to the ‘big picture’ and really only concern myself with what I have been asked to do. Nobody knows the ‘big picture’ in their own lives. We tend to focus on those elements that pertain directly to us or those we care for. How life unfolds is always surprising. So, how whatever work I am doing unfolds with equal surprise. This takes care of authenticity of response. My father always told me he felt ‘acting’ was a misnomer that is, in fact, reaction we are looking to emulate. All art functions much like a dream. Film in particular. Surroundings and events must have a familiar reality for just like a dream; if they are not, the unfamiliar and astounding is simply not believable. And that’s my job. Kind of.
KN: What is on the horizon for Stefan Arngrim? Can fans expect some delectable goosebump and gore flicks?
SA: I’ve been working on a lot of music over the last few years, pushing the envelope, working with some really exciting talent. I’ve been ever so lucky in the people I’ve had the pleasure to work with, but I don’t like to talk about music. i like what Zappa said about music journalism. “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. So more on music as it comes out. I’ve been writing a lot. Had a couple of scripts in the pipe, and I’m slowly, but surely, compiling a ‘magical realist memoir’, which should be fun for all. As I mentioned, to make all this possible, in the last couple of years I have teamed up with Cindy Mitchum, daughter of John and niece of Robert. I mentioned the MGM film The Way West that brought me to Hollywood. I was eight years old but, somehow Robert Mitchum, brother John (both working on the picture) and I became friends. Been many years and both Bob and John are gone, but their work is not. Cindy, her husband Steve Azbill and I have formed Mitchum Media, which boasts an extremely varied slate of films and television events, as well as music publishing and literature.
We are currently developing a limited series for cable/streaming from John Mitchum’s book Them Ornery Mitchum Boys: The Adventures of Robert and John Mitchum. Spanning seventy years, this is more than a Hollywood story. It is an American Dream. My partners in Vancouver, British Columbia and I have a feature in development as well through Mitchum Media, but hush hush on this one. Delectable goosebumps and gore? You bet. I have a twisted little vampire tale called The Servant’s Heart (which I do hope will drain the blood from the most “avid fan”) as well as a dark anthology called Arngrim’s Tales for The Children of The Night, a series of vampire bedtime stories for children of the night, by children of the night, for children of the night. There will be a book, an e-book (with lots of horrific features), and a streaming series of dramatizations of the tales. It is truly an exciting time. Haven’t had this much on my plate in terms of production in my hands for quite some time.
KN: Is there any advice you could give to the aspiring young talents out there looking to make their way in Hollywood?
SA: This is always the hardest question for me. I just sort of got thrown in the pool and didn’t drown. I just don’t have that experience. I’ve seen and learned few things though. If you’re looking to get rich, believe me, there are far easier ways to make a buck. If fame’s your game, just remember: it’s good for about two weeks. Imagine a wonderful surprise party where people call, come to the door, praise your name, wish a happy birthday, and give you a present. Now, imagine this continuing for a lot longer than two weeks. My advice is graciously accept the gifts and praise, say thank you, close the door and don’t take it personally. Julius Caesar had a guy whose job it was to just follow him around to big public events and keep whispering in Caesar’s ear “All glory is fleeting, all glory is fleeting.” If you can afford to hire a guy like this, do it. Never envy or begrudge anyone their success. No matter where your taste lies, no matter how despicable you may find a certain artist, no one handed it to them. They worked for their piece of the pie like everyone else. We are all standing in the same line. Someone succeeds, the line moves up. Don’t worry about being ‘original’. There is no original art, only original artists with their very own, particular point of view. If you are ‘original’ and authentic as a human being, you will make original things for original people; (that’s everybody, really, by the way). Oh yeah, here’s one. When you’re starting out (at anything) someone will invariably tell you that you must do what you are told until you ‘make it’. Then you may do as you please. Bullshit! When you’re starting out, you can do anything!!! No one knows. When you’ve “made it”, you are making your agents car/condo payment (or managers, publicists, everybody). It’s never how much money I make, it’s how much I make for others! So, if you’ve been raking in the cash doing X, and decide it would be cool to do Y, prepare for the onslaught of all your defendants telling you, hysterically, that you’ll kill your career. Fear is the mind-killer. My experience is that, if someone wants this life and has the goods, you can’t keep them out. It’s like being in love. If you have to think about it, you’re not in love because it’s not an intellectual thing. If you’re afflicted with the belief that you have something to say (and are, somehow, obsessed with telling everybody you can) you will find your way.
In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, there is a preface. In it, Wilde explains succinctly what art is and is not (at least as well as anyone has). I always think of this closing quote: “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” Welcome to the world of making quite useless, intensely admirable things.
A thought-provoking quote if there ever was one, from an artist and gent who’s spent a lifetime in making those useless, intensely admirable things. Just don’t ask me, the fan, as doing something that entertains audience members like myself for some 44 years plus is far from a useless thing. Yet, I would say the latter regarding admirability is quite true as it pertains to Mr. Arngrim. In fact, I would expand on it to include his replies here. Blunt, refreshing honesty in answers has got to be considered as admirable of a thing as there can be. My thanks to Stefan Arngrim for taking the time to do this interview. Now back to viewing the show produced by that guy with hair obsession and penchant for wearing orange veal cutlets on his dome, Irwin Allen.