Over the years, actor Jon Gries has taken on roles in everything from action to comedy appearing in the Taken series, The Rundown and so many more, but it’s his roles as the Wolfman in The Monster Squad and Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite that he is probably most recognized for. I had the chance to sit down with him to talk about his latest film Locker 13 as well as a little about those iconic roles.
Bobby: This film is a bit different than other films you have done, how did you get involved with this film?
Jon: The truth is they got in touch with me and I think they had already accomplished one or two of the segments at that point. They showed them to me and I thought it looked like they knew what they were doing and it was a small enough operation that if they really wanted my help, then I was happy to jump in and lend a hand.
Bobby: You mentioned you got to see some of the segments, but on the ones you didn’t see do they just give you the dialogue to feed off of?
Jon: Yes, they gave me the synopsis and would explain to me that certain aspects needed to be addressed. Once I got out to Arizona, I think they showed me just about all of them though.
Bobby: You have an important part to the films as the almost western crypt keeper storyteller, but it is a smaller part. How long does something like that take to shoot?
Jon: It is a smaller part in that it pops in and out. I think we shot all of it in about 4 days, it was really fast. It was an independent film and was still trying to figure out if it was going to be online or a full film, saying they weren’t sure if it was going to be an online series or what. They were nice guys and creative and I felt happy to come out and be a part of it. As you mentioned, it’s not the sort of thing I am used to doing, it’s definitely a change and that is probably one of the other reasons I did it. It was kind of interesting to me because I had never done anything like that.
Bobby: You have done so many things, but have a couple of more iconic roles with Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite and the werewolf from Monster Squad. Do you ever walk into films like this they are wanting you to play it like those roles?
Jon: After Uncle Rico there were an enormous amount of roles that came to me that they wanted me to play just like that, which I would flat out say thanks, but no thanks. I have done that already and don’t need to do that again. I also thought that if they are lacking that much imagination that you are just going to mimic something that’s so original you need to go back to the drawing board. I am not trying to school anyone or be rude, but that was how I felt. Jared and Jerusha had a real insight into the idea of a character and it wasn’t completely of their imagination. When Jared was growing up there was a guy that they used to see from the school bus standing on his front lawn with a video camera throwing a football. That alone gave him the imagery to expand on and use his imagination to wonder what this guy’s dreams were. He was clearly too old to play professional football or college so why is he videotaping himself, what’s the purpose? Then he ran with it and that is how an original idea comes, but then when a role like this reaches some sort of iconic status for any actor, other filmmakers start reaching out to try and recreate it. Even if they offered me good money, I didn’t care. I mean it’s great to be paid, but it’s better to do something original that’s going to be memorable.
Bobby: So when you take on a role like this that is a smaller role, but substantial to the whole picture, how do you go about creating the character? Is it already laid on in the script or are you given free rein to do whatever.
Jon: I think relatively it is pretty well laid out in the script. The guy had to get from point A to point B and a specific challenge in the story that is not open to a great deal of variation. There were a couple of times that I may have done it a little different or added something, but for the most part it was just following the course to what was laid out.
Bobby: This kind of film and story leaves some aspects open to be able to do more stories, has there been talk about making any more and is that something you would be interested in returning for?
Jon: They mentioned that possibility and said they wanted to keep going with this, would I be interested in doing more? I told them of course I would, mainly because I like where they are going and I’ve always liked these kinds of things. When I was a young boy I used to watch a show called Night Gallery, the Rod Serling show and it reminded me a bit of that show and the idea of getting to be the western version of Rod Serling was kind of cool to me.
Bobby: I know it was earlier on in your career, but being a fan of Monster Squad I have to ask you did you get to be in the full make-up as the werewolf?
Jon: No I didn’t get to play the actual werewolf. In all truth and I hope the actor who I think might have been a stunt man doesn’t take exception, but when Fred Dekker told me I wasn’t going to be playing the werewolf I remember getting angry. I mean the last thing I wanted to do was be put in rubber for 8 hours to play this guy, but I remember being angry about it because if I am playing the role, let me play the whole role. There were times that I would be watching the guy that played the werewolf and I would actually go the director and it was totally out of my character to criticize somebody, especially while they were working, but this was directly relatable to the character I was playing. I felt he was playing the werewolf too much with his hands in the air and looking at you going “GRAAAA” kind of like a carnival scary pose instead of the nuances that I was bringing to the character. They put this other guy in the role of the werewolf because he was physically much, much bigger. I remember that I didn’t have much of a conversation with the guy playing it, but I do remember going to the director and saying that he is missing the character and it was little upsetting to me.
Bobby: As huge fan of that film, it makes more sense now as it always felt something was off there between the two characters.
Jon: In all honesty, and I know there is a big fan base to that film and understandably so. I was never really happy with any of my work in that film and was personally never as big a fan of that film as I thought I would be. I loved the script, the concept and all of the other characters, but just not a fan of my work and that happens sometimes. You do something and just don’t feel like you hit it or get it to where I want it to be. I don’t usually tell anyone this so when fans come up to tell me they loved the film or me in it, I just say thank you so much, but in my heart of hearts I was never proud of what I did.
Bobby: Do you get a lot of people walking up to you saying “Wolfman’s got nards?”
Jon: Yes. Just about every time I am on set, especially when we are shooting in small towns there is inevitably someone that screams it while we are shooting.
Bobby: I enjoyed the film and as much as I love seeing you’re more wacked out and unusual characters, it was cool seeing a more toned down approach to this role.
Jon: That’s nice of you to say and that is probably one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I don’t always want to play the wacky, crazy parts. I love having the opportunity to play a regular person in an irregular situation in a very realistic way.
Bobby: I know they just announced Taken 3, are you going to be returning for that one too?
Jon: Yeah we are getting ready to start shooting. We are getting more to do and going to be all the way through the film. The entire team will be helping Liam with a different issue and Forest Whittaker is going to be in this one who I really love and admire. It is a really good script so should be a lot of fun; I am really excited about it. Usually when you here a part 3 to any movie, you figure it’s probably not going to be any good, but I really like this one.
Bobby: I am a big fan from obviously back to the Monster Squad days up through The Rundown, Taken and Napoleon Dynamite so really appreciate you taking the time to do this.
Jon: Thanks so much.
Locker 13 is now in theaters and On Demand so check it out.
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