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Interview: Actor Ray Wise talks ‘Big Ass Spider!,’ ‘Twin Peaks,’ and more

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On Jan. 10, the Chico Movie Examiner conducted an over-the-phone interview with veteran actor Ray Wise, who plays Major Braxton Tanner in the film, “Big Ass Spider!,” which was just released to DVD and Blu-ray on Jan. 7. Many know Wise from the cult classic television series, “Twin Peaks,” and other television shows, including the short-lived “Reaper,” as well as films like the original “RoboCop.”

When a movie is called “Big Ass Spider!,” it doesn’t need much explanation. It’s a fun tribute to the genre of campy horror films, and it also delivers plenty of laughs.

A monstrous spider begins to wreak havoc on Los Angeles, and it’s up to the military, an exterminator (Greg Grunberg), and his hospital security guard partner (Lombardo Boyer) to stop it before it destroys the city.

Wise discusses his role; how certain characters he previously played might react to a big a-s spider; and a lot more. Check it out below.

David Wangberg: When it comes to spiders, I’m not afraid of them. But I had one incident, when I was younger, where one terrified me. It crawled around my ear and almost in my ear.

Ray Wise: Oh, wow!

DW: Yeah, I know! So, I was wondering if you’ve ever had an experience with spiders where they don’t normally scare you, but you had one incident that just terrified you.

RW: You know what? Spiders don’t scare me. I live in this big redwood and glass house. It’s very Northern California-ish, but it’s closer to [the] La Cañada border. And I call it “Spiderwick,” because it attracts every different species of spider, and I think I’ve probably identified about 35 or 36 of them already. And only a couple of them have been the biting kind that could possibly inject you with a little bit of venom, but most of them are pretty harmless, and they’re great at taking care of the other insects. I have a very good relationship with spiders, and every once in a while, one will come down from the ceiling on a fine filament of web, and I just pick him up and put him outside. [laughs]

DW: [laughs] Yeah, I’m OK with them, because I grew up in the country, and I see them all the time. So, they don’t bug me, but I just had that one incident.

RW: Yep. But a big ass spider, I think, would be a different story.

DW: [laughs] So, if you did see a big ass spider, would you just run away from it and not even deal with it?

RW: Absolutely – especially the one in the movie, with the big mandibles and hands. And they’re very fast. They don’t look fast, when they’re so tiny. But when they’re big, like the big ass spider, they’re extremely fast. I would say anywhere between 35 to 40 miles an hour is how fast it could go. [laughs]

DW: Last year, the big B-movie that everyone was talking about was “Sharknado,” and it drew away all the attention from whatever other B-movies were released. Do you think “Big Ass Spider!” will soon join in the ranks of films like “Sharknado” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as being a midnight film?

RW: Yeah, I think it has that potential. I was very pleased when I saw the first cut of the film. I’m not saying it was unexpected, but I am saying that it was surprisingly pleasant for me to see it in the form that it was in, and I think it’s very effective – I really do. I think people will respond to it and enjoy it, and it could quite possibly join that pantheon of other horror films. I think we had the right tone, and I think the actors did a pretty damn good job. So, I think we have a chance at that, yeah.

DW: You saw it on a big screen, right?

RW: Yeah, I saw it on a big screen and on a little screen.

DW: OK. I’ve only seen it on the little screen, when I got the DVD for it. I haven’t seen it on the big screen yet, but I’m really looking forward to it one of these days.

RW: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty remarkable. It’s reminiscent of that… what was that movie that was made a couple of years ago, where alien colonies are living here on Earth? Do you remember that film?

DW: I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t think of the title.

RW: Yeah, it’s kind of reminiscent of that – especially the beginning of that movie with the way it’s set up. And then you’re going through the flashback story of how we arrived at that moment. I think it’s very effective. I think Mike Mendez, the director, did an incredible job with the time restrictions that he had and the money restrictions – it being a low budget film. I think he did an incredible job with what he had.

DW: Now, as Braxton works more with Alex in the movie, he understands that Alex knows more about spiders and their locations better than the military does.

RW: Yeah, [Alex] is an exterminator, so I guess he does. [laughs]

DW: When you took on the role of Braxton, did you have a full understanding of him from the first day, or did you have a full understanding of him when “That’s a wrap!” was called?

RW: No, I had an understanding of him from the first day. I liked the script when Mike sent it to me, and I knew that [Braxton] was military special unit and very authoritarian and very conservative in his approach. I also felt that he operated under certain restrictions [and] that the character itself couldn’t be over-the-top, because “Big Ass Spider!” is over-the-top already. I wanted to make him as real as possible and still kind of have that heightened reality to it. I got him from the first day. Once you put on that uniform and put on those brass buttons, you start feeling that part.

DW: Now, we do get a little tease at the end. I don’t want to give it away for the people who read this. We have the big ass spider, and then that other bug at the end of the movie. What other creatures would you like to see get the “Big Ass” treatment?

RW: Oh, wow! That is a good question. I don’t know. Maybe a scorpion, or a praying mantis – that would be great. I think there was a mantis movie a long time ago, or maybe it was a man who became a praying mantis. A praying mantis would be good. Also, something that flies and can operate on the ground would be great.

DW: So, almost like an old “Godzilla” or “Mothra” kind of movie, where they sometimes have this big bug flying around?

RW: I don’t like that. I don’t like the “Godzilla” and “Mothra” movies, because what is Godzilla anyway? Is he like a Tyrannosaurus Rex or something close to it? I don’t know what he is.

I like something that is more based in reality, which “Big Ass Spider!” is. It’s just a spider that has undergone a biological change, and it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger. So, you have to deal with that, and the same would be if it was a praying mantis or a wasp. Wasps would be great, too.

DW: I’m going to take a couple of your previous characters that you played in TV shows and see how they might react to a big ass spider.

RW: OK.

DW: The first one is Leland Palmer from “Twin Peaks.” How would he react?

RW: [laughs] I don’t know. I think he would run into the house and peak through the blinds. Leland would; Bob wouldn’t, of course. Bob would just chuckle and say, “Hello, big boy.” That’s probably what he would do.

DW: And the second one is The Devil from “Reaper.”

RW: Oh, The Devil from “Reaper” would just get a big chuckle out of it. He’d walk up to it and talk to it a little bit. And the spider wouldn’t even move, because, after all, that’s The Devil.

DW: Growing up, my dad and I had this tradition of watching “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” every Halloween, and that’s one of my all time favorite B-movies.

RW: Oh, yeah.

DW: Is there a B-movie that you have that you watch as tradition on a certain holiday or certain day of the year?

RW: I like to watch one of my films once a year, “Swamp Thing.” Did you ever watch that? I did it with Adrienne Barbeau and Louis Jourdan.

DW: I might have a long, long time ago.

RW: Yeah, it’s back from 1981. And then I did a small, little piece in a movie called “Cat People” with Malcolm McDowell and Nastassja Kinski. I enjoy watching that. Just the other day, I watched “The Thing from Another World,” the original “The Thing” with Kenneth Tobey and James Arness as “The Thing.” That is one of my absolute all time favorites. And I like “Them!” with James Whitmore about the giant ants, and I like, of course, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” So, those several pictures I could watch over and over again, and I probably have over the years watched a dozen times – each one of those films. They’re my favorites.

DW: I know there’s been a lot of talk, and I know that David Lynch doesn’t want to bring back “Twin Peaks.” But if they do decide to give it the remake treatment, what characteristic of Leland do you think needs to stay with him if they do remake it?

RW: They wouldn’t remake it. If anything was done, it would be 25 years later. It would never be a remake of anything we already did. Maybe you just didn’t mean to use that word, I don’t know. A remake, no, but it would be something new and fresh. David always said the town of “Twin Peaks” is still there; it’s still going on whether we watch it or not. So, who knows what’ll happen in the future? It would be 25 years later, not anything remade. Does that answer your question?

DW: Yeah, it does. I mean, they have brought back other shows like “Dallas” and “Knight Rider” and a couple of others.

RW: Well, they can bring back “Knight Rider” and “Dallas,” but it would be difficult to bring back “Twin Peaks.” I wouldn’t compare “Twin Peaks” to either one of those. See what I mean? [laughs]

DW: Neither would I, but I just wanted to get your opinion on it.

RW: The combination of Mark Frost and David Lynch and all the movie directors that we had directing the episodes and that incredible cast, which will never be together again… it was just a moment in time that was very significant and very memorable, and it’ll go on in the minds of people who continue to watch it – even newer generations. The younger generations are even watching some of the episodes. I think it will go on forever.

This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Ray Wise for taking the time to talk about “Big Ass Spider!”

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