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“Texas Chainsaw 3D”: Bill Moseley’s Family Affair

From frame one of each his absurdist, off-kilter performances, Bill Moseley has never been known for restraint. That is not to say he isn’t capable of subtlety; his dead-pan delivery of the monologues in some of the toughest, most depraved stretches of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects as serial killer Otis B. Driftwood rival the chilled over mania of Michael Rooker’s Henry. But more than most, Moseley is exceptionally embracing of the opportunity to ramp the extreme nature of his material up to 11. In part, this is what makes Moseley’s mostly silent, understated cameo in Texas Chainsaw 3D (out Jan. 4 from Lionsgate), an example of the actor in unusually rare form.

And yet, Moseley’s emphatically physical, hardly verbal turn as Drayton Sawyer (brother of Chop Top of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw 2, whom Moseley made a name portraying) makes perfect sense. To repossess the voice of The Cook, originally played by Moseley’s friend, the late Jim Siedow, would be to repossess an entire cinematic family – the ultimate form of sacrilege. And so, Moseley has allowed himself to be possessed by Siedow – through his movement, speech and spirit – thus keeping the Sawyer family and its legacy intact, if not inbred.

While his turn in Texas Chainsaw 3D honors Siedow’s iconic role more than it recreates it, Moseley’s offered insight as a franchise veteran on the film’s set also allowed the production to flourish as a cohesive continuation. Diabolique spoke with Moseley, about his deeply personal attachment to the Chain Saw franchise; his interpretative readings of its major characters; his work shooting this new installment; and his take on the 3D format at large, as both actor and voyeur.

DIABOLIQUE: When I spoke with John [Luessenhop], he told me that he tuned out every installment in the franchise except for the original film, and focused on making a follow-up to that. Texas Chainsaw 3D is being marketed as the first “direct sequel” to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Would you say that marketing is accurate?

BILL MOSELEY: I certainly wouldn’t argue with the people that sign the checks.

DIABOLIQUE: [Laughs]

MOSELEY: I will say whatever they say sounds fine to me. I guess that what I would consider the direct sequel would be Chainsaw 2. There’s certainly an argument there. But I’m not really going to argue the point. It was funny, when Carl Mazzocone, the producer, called me up to play The Cook, I thought “Why would you want me to play The Cook when I really made a name as Chop Top?” Carl and company had the rights to the original, and Chainsaw 2 was owned by another company, I think Sony. So the roles that were available included The Cook, and that was actually a wonderful challenge for me because I was a good friend of Jim Siedow, who played The Cook, and was the only returning character from Chain Saw and Chainsaw 2. For my money, he’s the heart and soul of the Chain Saw family [laughs]!

For me to play him was daunting, but I was very excited about it. A lot of times when you’re in an older version, and someone’s doing a remake, or a “reimagining,” or whatever they’re called these days, not all the people that are hired have a reverence for the originals. Being cast to play The Cook gave me a chance to really work hard to not only play a part in the movie, but to try to honor Jim Siedow’s legacy. It was a burden, a challenge and a real delight all rolled into one.

DIABOLIQUE: Did you take any performative cues from your experience with Jim on Texas Chainsaw 2 in any conscious way when shooting this one?

MOSELEY: You know, I didn’t, really. Back then, I was concentrating on just being Chop Top. Certainly, watching the original Chain Saw for the 20th time, I was just wondering how physically to play Drayton. Jim had a lot of quirky moves, and he has a unique way of carrying himself. For me, the key was to thrust my hips forward, so it was really a center of gravity thing – it was the hips leading the body. As soon as I got that as a general restriction, that opened things up. It’s almost as if you’re sitting back as you walk forward. That helped a lot. Then, just by knowing Jim and being a pal of his and his wife Ruth, having interacted with him so many times in the past, I was able to get his cadence down to some extent. In the same way you try to be John Malkovich, I tried to be Jim Siedow [laughs]. It isn’t easy, but I hope I did him proud.

DIABOLIQUE: Your cameo as Drayton Sawyer in this film plays like a mirror image of the Firefly family’s stand-off with the cops in The Devil’s Rejects. Do you sense a thread of continuity in your work in horror, in terms of theme and content?

MOSELEY: I didn’t have any kind of feeling of connection between the Sawyers and the Driftwoods/Fireflys. The fact that there was a similar scene at the beginning of Devil’s Rejects – I wasn’t really consciously aware of it at the time. I’m sure if somebody on set said “Hey, there’s also that scene in Devil’s Rejects,” I would have said “Yeah, absolutely.” But it wasn’t anything I was channeling at the time.

DIABOLIQUE: The staging is very similar. And the Fireflys are very much like the Sawyers, insomuch as they’re representative of the degenerative south.

MOSELEY: I don’t really see it as a regional perversity [laughs], or anything like that. You can have families like that that are inbred and crazy and bizarre in Maine as much as you can in Texas, or wherever. I’m not even sure where Devil’s Rejects and House of 1,000 Corpses were set. I don’t know if it’s any particular state.

DIABOLIQUE: That is true. It’s kind of an indeterminate location.

MOSELEY: Yes. It’s kind of somewhere in rural America – you know, inbred, back road. If you do some traveling around, you can find that pretty much anywhere. With the Sawyers, it’s very Texas – Tobe’s a Texan through and through, and Kim Henkel, and all the people involved. Jim Siedow’s a Texan, Gunnar Hansen. Ed Neil is a Texan. There’s a certain specificity to the title. Tobe was probably channeling some Texas experience. For me, getting to play Chop Top, to play Drayton, to play Otis – they certainly have in common some kind of fucked up family background [laughs]. But I think what makes those families popular is that so many people can identify. Obviously they don’t identify with the eating people and killing people with chainsaws, and saw hammers, and guns, and turning people into Fishboy – but there’s a lot of dysfunctional relationships between moms, dads and siblings that resonate with people.

DIABOLIQUE: You used to write for Psychology Today.

MOSELEY: I did. I was a freelance writer in Manhattan. I wrote for Psychology Today, a science magazine called Omni, National Lampoon, Rolling Stone. I was an English major in college. My interest really was science; that’s why I gravitated toward Omni Magazine. Psychology Today, I think I had two articles in that. In one, I interviewed Timothy Leary, which was a lot of fun, and that was because I was in a play in Los Angeles called Timothy and Charlie. It was a two-act play based on the fact that one night Timothy Leary was in solitary confinement in a cell next to Charles Manson. Timothy and Charlie was basically a crazy dialogue between Manson and Leary. It was a wildly wonderful play. I played Timothy Leary, and Dr. Tim, who was alive and well at the time in the early ‘90s, came to seven or eight of our performances, and loved it. We became friends, and I ended up interviewing him for Psychology Today.

DIABOLIQUE: What’s your psychiatric assessment of the two characters you’ve played in the Chain Saw franchise?

MOSELEY: You mean like the psychological differences between Chop Top and The Cook?

DIABOLIQUE: Sure, like a diagnosis.

MOSELEY: That would be interesting. The Cook is certainly the more presentable of the two. Although, Chop Top has seen the world more, being a member of the armed services – shipping out to Vietnam and fighting for his country. Chop Top got out more. With his head wound, he got a fairly large settlement from the US government. Really, he has a vision, and that is to get out of the family chili business and create NamLand, which is a Vietnam War themed amusement park.

The Cook just seems to be the member of the family that wants to carry on the tradition and expand the family business. The Cook has less imagination than Chop Top. He’s probably the steadier of the two brothers. Some people think that The Cook is actually the father. Really, The Cook is the eldest brother. The way I see the family is that The Cook is the eldest, then there are the twins – Chop Top and the hitchhiker – and Leatherface is the baby. He’s the Bubba. Then there’s Grandma and Grandpa upstairs… In Chainsaw 2, we see Grandma as a mummy up in chainsaw heaven. And of course Grandpa’s still alive, he’s like 120 [laughs]. He stays alive sucking on that slurpie booty.

DIABOLIQUE: [Laughs] I think he’s 137.

MOSELEY: Could be [laughs]. It’s something to think about. They’re the graying generation. They want to stay alive and be young at all costs. There could be something in that slurpie booty. You never know.

DIABOLIQUE: You never do know. In terms of Leatherface, part of his persona is that element of indiscernibility. He’s this unknown, he hides behind a mask, and there’s no explanation for why he’s committing his murders. In Texas Chainsaw 3D there seems to be a more concerted effort to recreate Leatherface with more grounded, human characterization. Would you agree?

MOSELEY: I guess. What I loved about the original Chain Saw, is that Leatherface is a very real character. Obviously, he’s the big one. He seems simple-minded, because whatever insecurities he has stay behind the mask and the chainsaw. That’s why I think Gunnar Hansen is so brilliant as Leatherface. When Leatherface has already knocked off a couple of kids that have come to the house in the original, there’s a moment where he sits down, and he’s fretting. He’s shucking his teeth, he’s kind of whimpering. He isn’t used to this reality getting the better of him. He doesn’t even know how to cope. He’s by himself and doesn’t know what’s going on. So I guess that’s how he compensates for that – his power is what he gets from the mask and the saw.

I used to play music with Buckethead. Buckethead of course wears a mask, a white plastic mask, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head. He’s a big fan of Chain Saw, Leatherface, and Chop Top for that matter – that’s how we met. We actually met at that Timothy and Charlie play. Buckethead was friends with the guy who played Charles Manson, and he wanted to meet me because he was such a Chop Top fan. He’s a very shy person. I can’t really say too much about him, but suffice it to say that all these years, he’s performed wearing that white mask. He doesn’t have a chainsaw, but he has a guitar, which is pretty close [laughs]. I think they call it the axe, right? So there are certain people that need a little help to get out there. They might have a great talent, but they’re so insecure, there’s so much fear. It holds them back. Sometimes a mask and a chainsaw is what you need, in order to get out into the world and do your thing.

DIABOLIQUE: John [Luessenhop] was very quick to point out what a warm, communal vibe there was with Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen on set for the shoot. What was that like for you?

MOSELEY: It was fantastic. One of the things about being part of the Chain Saw family, if you will, is that there is a real communal sense. They kind of reluctantly included me. If you’re not a part of the original, you’re not a part of the inner-sanctum. We see each other a lot of times at horror conventions, so that’s a good time to see each other, get reacquainted, chat about things. There was a Chain Saw reunion at a convention in Indianapolis, and they were having a dinner, of just the original Chain Saw people. And I noted that that did not include me. It was fine and dandy, I totally understood it. That’s the inner-sanctum. Then there are the Chain Saw people at large, and that would include me. I was in a couple of scenes with Gunnar and John Dugan, and that was special to me. I love the movies, I love the legacy, and I do like to be a part of that group.

We shot the majority of the movie down in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the summer. I shot for five or six days, and the average temperature was about 104 degrees. The humidity’s like 90 plus percent. I don’t know if you’ve read anything on the original making of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was incredibly hot.

DIABOLIQUE: Edwin Neal compared his service in Vietnam favorably to the work he did on that film.

MOSELEY: [Laughs] Really? Yeah, it was a tough shoot. We were nowhere near that privation and hardship, but it was a wonderful experience. They had lots of dead animals and things that were just lying around [laughs], stinking and rotting. It’s incredibly hot in Louisiana. I did have a moment, I’ve gotta say. I had some shot where I was inside the door, and I was lying on the floor. I didn’t move. I was a ball of sweat, covered in stage blood and chicken feathers, and I was on my back. My back was to the front door, and I saw Leatherface’s chainsaw. I was looking up the stairs to Grandma and Grandpa, and downstairs, the sliding silver door was open, and inside, there were those animal skulls.

DIABOLIQUE: It has come full circle. That house isn’t a random house anymore. It’s iconography.

MOSELEY: Carl Mazzocone, the producer, really took a lot of pains to recreate the house, as true to the original as possible. I was lying there in that moment, and I just thought “Wow, I know where I am.” It was a moment where I really had gratitude. I’m in the Chain Saw house, at the bottom of the stairs. I know where I am. This experience has really meant a lot to me. It was worth any privation I might have had.

DIABOLIQUE: Thankfully, Texas Chainsaw 3D was shot in 3D, rather than retroactively converted. What was your response as a spectator watching the film, it being the first 3D installment in the franchise?

MOSELEY: It was very interesting. When I wrote for Omni, I covered at least one 3D movie. I think it was Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. So I was viewing the 3D process with some experience. 3D is something that the theaters have that home screens, for the most part, don’t. I don’t know if it’s a gimmick. It’s certainly an enhancement, a reality enhancement. But it gets people to come to the theaters. When I was shooting the movie, I noticed that the 3D wizards had their own spot in video village, where the director, the producer and continuity person watch the monitor for whatever’s going on on the set. Now, the 3D wizards have their own spot. They’ve become a new power bunch. They can sit there and watch the monitor, and they’ll say “Well, if you move the camera three feet to the left, we have a nice window, and maybe something could come through the window.” They’re advisors. They can come up with something the director might not have otherwise thought of.

DIABOLIQUE: You touched on the difference between “enhancement” vs. “gimmick.” That’s the crucial fork in the road we’re at right now. Filmmakers like Cameron and Scorsese have come out and advocated for 3D as enhancement of a fantastical world. Still, hasn’t the resurgence of 3D historically been more about movies like Jaws 3D or Friday the 13th Part III 3D?

MOSELEY: If you can do 3D well, it does enhance the experience. My first 3D experience was when I was kid in Illinois, going to the theater and watching things like Thirteen Ghosts. Those ‘60s 3D movies where you had the viewers that were one piece of orange plastic and one piece of blue plastic. They were very cool. I love 3D. The first experience I had with 3D glasses was in New Haven, Connecticut. I was in college. It was a softcore movie called The Swingin’ Stewardesses [laughs]. At that point, I said, “I’m a big fan of 3D!” [laughs]. I mean, you want to make sure that the 3D is good, and that it serves the “story.” It’s good if it attracts more people to the movie – that’s a good thing. What you don’t want it to do is have it impede the story so it’s seen as a gimmick, versus something that’s going to support the story told by the filmmaker.

DIABOLIQUE: Well, I’m not so sure Swingin’ Stewardesses offers a lot in the way of narrative.

MOSELEY: You know, it did, actually. I can’t imagine seeing Swingin’ Stewardesses in 2D [laughs]! It wouldn’t work! But I hope that with the 3D in Texas Chainsaw, everybody gets the right glasses and no one gets a headache. At least not from watching the movie, but rather that they’ll be so frightened, that they’ll end up having a headache from that. That’s a good headache.

DIABOLIQUE: Is a continuation of this revamp something you foresee your being involved in?

MOSELEY: I told Carl not to kill us off, for Christ’s sake! It’s gonna be pretty hard. Since Leatherface is all grown up, we’d all be 137. But it’s not impossible.

DIABOLIQUE: You can always come back as some new family member.

MOSELEY: I like the way you think. An actor always wants to know where his next job is coming from.

– By Max Weinstein 

About Max Weinstein

Max Weinstein is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of DIABOLIQUE, and his words have appeared online and in print in CINEASTE, FANGORIA, MOVIEMAKER, VICE, THE WEEK, and more. In 2015, he received the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Writer of the Year and was nominated for a Rondo for Best Article. Follow Max on Facebook (/maxlweinstein) and Twitter (@maxlweinstein).

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