Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wendigos, Stooges and chili monsters: An interview with Alan Madlane

Alan Madeleine --who works under the stage name Alan Madlane has acted in such films as Frostbiter and P.I. Blues. Written for CREEM magazine. He's worked as a Zookeeper. Hung out with Ron Asheton, lead guitarist for Iggy and the Stooges. And is a member of MENSA. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Alan about the making of Frostbiter and his interesting life.

Your IMDB page states that you've been a magazine writer, critic, a college instructor and a zookeeper! That's quite diverse, could you tell us a little about some of those jobs and what lead to you becoming an actor?

Alan-Well, I’ve certainly always been one of those people who’s been seemingly compelled to try my hand at a lot of different things. Interestingly, that background often turns up in actors, including ones who actually get paid a decent wage to do what I do for almost nothing, ha ha, why am I laughing? The short(ish) version is: I originally went to college for pharmacy; read B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two and veered off into Behaviorist Psych, then into Sensory Psychology; had sent some unsolicited record reviews to CREEM in 1977, and ended up getting assigned an album to review every month, then was asked to come in and help put together an issue in August of ’78 because they were on deadline and had an editor walk on them, which led to a stretch of working there as an Associate Editor (although it took awhile for them to get my name up on the masthead as such); went back to school in 1980 and took a lot of creative writing courses, esp. in poetry; ended up w/ a Bachelor’s in English; was going to go for a Masters in “Lexicography” at Indy State, w/ a TA set up, but bailed; did a short 8mm film with a friend of mine in 1980 while still finishing my Bachelors; DJ’ed for my college station too; got cast in a lead role in the first play I read for in 1982-3 (Kreton in “Visit to a Small Planet”); tried moving to L.A. several times in the 80s without a plan, money, or even the commonest of senses; waited tables a lot, of course; back in Michigan, among other things, I bartended two nights a week in a strip joint; went back to school and put myself through a Masters Degree by working a clerical job for Wayne State University; worked as a librarian until I fucked that up due a gambling issue I developed; took a few years to get to be a zookeeper at the now-defunct Belle Isle Zoo; still worked at libraries, but mostly part-time or as a sub; taught English at Macomb Community College for a couple semesters; and now I write for a small city newspaper in the Detroit area. Thirty one years in film, twenty nine on stage, and still about as low income as it gets, but that’s my fault too. “It’s all my fault!”

Of those jobs, which did you enjoy the most?

Alan-Oddly, I look back fondly on my late teen years as a landscape laborer, for the simple fact that you could see the real fruits of your work by the end of the day. Conversely, waiting tables felt, to me, like being a gerbil on a treadmill – same shit, different day. CREEM of course was a wild ride, and I loved the zoo (well, the animals, if not all of the people), and teaching, if not for that amount of pay vs. class size. 

Your IMDB page also mentions that your a member of MENSA. Can you tell us about how you became a member and what that entails?

Alan-I was lucky in that my mother, who was not good in math, was a reader, and my dad was somewhat the opposite, so I gained in aptitude on both brain-sides from spending time with each. Now, I don’t mean to say my mother was Tolstoy, nor my dad Einstein, but they got me going in both directions, and they also both enjoyed science, and that’s what those standardized tests measure. If those tests hadd been based on mechanical aptitude or spatial relations, it might’ve been a different story, because neither was oriented along those lines, although both my grandparents were a bit better with that stuff. Anyway, I did fine on my ACTs in 11th grade, in spite of having been stoned throughout much of high school, but it wasn’t until I took the GRE for grad school and got those scores back that I thought to apply to MENSA. MENSA will accept a certain level of score from a number of standardized tests, or you can take their own test. Frankly, I think they’d just be happy anyone cared enough to even apply to be in anymore. I’m kidding there, actually, but not by much.

How did you come to be cast in Frostbiter?

I bought my first Stooges album – Fun House – when I was 12 or 13, so I of course knew who Ron Asheton was. I had also seen him perform live a number of times, starting in the late 70s, with Destroy All Monsters and then, later, Dark Carnival. Imagine my surprise when, doing a play in about 1985 for the Ann Arbor Civic (a community theater), I came back into the dressing room after a show, and he’s sitting there – he was acquaintances with another actor, whose name I believe was Paul Urbanski (I hope I have that right, still) – and we struck up a short conversation. A year or two later, I bumped into Ronnie in a bar, and he mentioned this film he’d been cast in, which was Wendigo, and that he thought he might be able to get me in if I was interested. Frankly I was just flattered as hell that he even remembered me from that long before, and was thrilled to jump into the project.

Frostbiter was originally titled Wendigo until Troma  retitled it. How did Troma come to own the rights to the film?

Alan-My understanding of that story – and it could be a total load of, ah, fiction – is that Tom Chaney (the director) and maybe Dave Thirry (the AD) actually took the film to Cannes one year in the early 90s. Bear in mind that the principle photography was completed by, I’m gonna say late ’88, maybe early ’89, and then there was the requisite post, including some ADR for us to do as actors, and so it wasn’t screened for a while after that. We held the premiere at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, and then nothing happened with it for a while. Then they took it to Cannes supposedly, Troma scraped it up, it actually screened on Cinemax a couple of times real late at night, and then finally got a VHS release in ’95 or ’96. And here I am, answering questions for you related to it in 2011. It’s like the beast that won’t die, in a good way. I last ran into Tom and Dave at Ronnie’s “life celebration” after he died unexpectedly in ’09.

Your character of Nick sort of disappears. We never see him killed and he doesn't comeback like the other victims. Did he survive?  Was there any scenes cut?

Alan-The script originally called for Nick to come back zombified as well, but they just ran out of time, or film stock, whichever came first, so we’re left to presume he bit it because he fell down in the snow and screamed like a little girl instead of running, or tripping the black guy. I was kind of bummed that I didn’t get to do that scene, although after watching everybody else go through the trauma of getting gooped up with red Caro, I was a little less sad than before.

One of your fellow cast members was Ron Asheton, lead guitarist for Iggy and the Stooges. What was it like working with him on set?

Alan-Ron was always great – always. Never threw any star fits, nor anything of the kind. Perhaps he felt that, since he was newly embarked into acting, he would keep it all humble and grasshopper-like, but the truth is that was just Ronnie’s way. From having done this movie together, we developed a really nice relationship. I would occasionally visit him at his mother’s home, sometimes even dropping in unannounced, and he was often home, and always welcoming. He got into cigars, and then making his own beer, and so we’d sit in his tiny den off the kitchen, watch TV and smoke and drink a little, and swap stories, although I have to say that, as good as mine sometimes were, his were absolutely better. That man had a great rock and roll book in him, and I’ll leave it at that. Only after the Stooges had their late career resurgence did it get harder to see him, as he was often out of town. The last time I saw him may have been after Little Stevens’ big garage band concert on Randall’s Island in like 2003 or so. We managed to talk on the phone some after that, but he was really on the move from then on.

There's many effects in the film. The chili monsters. The hag. A bat thing, Zombies and the title monster. They're very impressive for a low budget film. What sort of effects budget did the film have?

Alan-I don’t think the budget was separated out that way, and I heard different figures over time, but it seems that the overall budget was somewhere between 125 grand and maybe twice that. We were shooting straight to 16mm, and in those days film stock and developing were expensive as hell, and I think I heard they blew through about 50 g’s just for that. How they afforded it, I don’t know, but I believe in the end they were whoring out the crew to wealthy auto execs. I kid. They weren’t auto execs. Seriously, how they found the money, whose relative they offed, I just don’t know. I do know that I wish I had one of those chili monsters to call my own.

There's many references and homages to The Evil Dead films in Frostbiter. Was the cast and crew big fans of the films?

Alan-Certainly there was fondness on Tom’s part, at least, and then of course there was the big Three Stooges influence (listen to Ron’s reading of his line, “I’m a doctor!,” for example). The Stooges, who began life as The Psychedelic Stooges, actually got the Three Stooges blessing to use even that much of the name. As Ron told it, they said okay, as long as it wasn’t the Three Stooges. So the film was kind of a melding of an Evil Dead story line with a Three Stooges sensibility, and music that mowed down dialogue whenever possible.

What have you been up to since making Frostbiter?

Alan-Well, aside from the chronic self-pleasuring, there’s been lots of acting. I presume that’s what you’re more interested in. Yes, lots of acting, much of it on the stage. Film-wise, I did something called “P. I. Blues,” which was a rip-off of a Bob Hope film from like ’47 called “My Favorite Brunette.” That film got into the Ft. Myers Beach, FL film festival in maybe 2003, and so my friend John DeMerell, who was the lead, and I drove down and spent the weekend checking it out. They treated us real well, and we got to chat with Tim Curry, who was one of the two guests of honor for that year. What’s wrong with this picture: Tim Curry showed up, and hadn’t worked for seven months. The other “Guest of Honor,” Hilary Duff, who was maybe 14 or 15 at that time, was “too busy” to attend, and had to send a video regret?! Way to go, Hollywood. Cater to those 11 year olds. Just wait until your lives flash before your eyes right before you die, and you realize what you have done, filth. But the one film I’ve done that I’m still hoping someday sees the light of day is called “Dirty Trousers,” a horrible title for a really original piece of work by these two young lads, Dan Land and Tom Horvath, who I’m going to someday slay, if they continue to refuse to finish the post production, currently in year… six? Seven? I wish I knew. I must remember to kill them soon. Seriously, it’s a really fine piece of filmmaking. I think.

Any parting words?

Alan-Avoid this industry like the plague. If the plague somehow finds you anyway, do not scrape or grovel. If you want standard fame, then find that core part of your personality and play it to the hilt. It’s all in your headshot, as casting directors have the attention spans of fleas. More than that, it’s all luck, and talent rarely has much to do with it, except when it does. Have you noticed all the tremendous child acting talent over the last 10 to 15 years? These kids are better than I may ever be, and my only revenge will be their inevitable crack habits and sad descents into irrelevance, where I already dwell. Not that I’m bitter. Otherwise, if like me you don’t give a tinker’s damn for your “career,” and just want to have a ball now and again making weird movies that may or may not ever even come to be, well then just do what I did: Whatever that was. 

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