Interview with Marilyn Burns
I am still gobsmacked that I had the honour of speaking with Ms. Marilyn Burns. Yes, Marilyn Burns of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. I can only speak for myself when I say that Sally Hardesty in TCM was my first Final Girl. Shawn Ewert, director of the upcoming film Sacrament was generous enough to set this interview up and it was just a joy. I hope you find Marilyn to be as lovely and down to earth as I did. You can see Marilyn Burns in Sacrament, premiering June 7,2014 at The Texas Theatre in Dallas, Tx .
I don’t remember the last time I was as nervous as I was dialling up Ms. Marilyn Burns. She immediately put me at ease by saying, “Oh Lisa! Yes, yes, yes!”
L.F. How did you meet Shawn Ewert?
M.B. “Ya know, I probably met him at different conventions in the past. Different shows, maybe Texas Frightmare and stuff and he just called me up and asked me to do his film. I knew of his work because he’s a wonderful director and so I was real excited to be able to work with him.”
L.F. Didn’t he write this part for you?
M.B. “Oh Lisa, I don’t know.”
L.F. That’s what I heard.
M.B. “Well, then he did. I’m very flattered and delighted to be in his picture. Yeah, he had me in mind when he wrote it; he thought it would be a cool touch to it, ya know?”
L.F. Are you able to speak about your role in Sacrament?
M.B. “Well, I don’t know. How much do you know about it? I don’t know how much I can say, ya know? I know that in most movies of this nature, they do want things on the hush hush because that’s part of the fun and surprise when it comes out.”
L.F. Well, we should probably keep it that way; I don't want to ruin anything.
M.B. “No, that's the thing; I wouldn’t want to either. I will say this. He’s a wonderful director and I had a great time shooting with him and he had the most fabulous cast and most fabulous crew. You couldn’t get better. They were so professional. They did everything in tip top fashion. Everything was planned out to the T.”
L.F. So, this was a really nice experience for you.
M.B. “Oh definitely. One of my best experiences yet, to date.”
M.B. “I really enjoyed it; we had a lot of fun on the set.”
L.F. You were there with Mr. Guinn, correct?
L.F. Have you stayed friends since the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film?
M.B. “Yes, because now they’re having all of these reunions at conventions. We’ve been on several and, I
think, this year were going to Corpus Christi and Austin; we’ve got several coming up where we’re all going to be together.”
L.F. It seems the main cast, from the original movie, you keep popping up in films with one another.
M.B. “Yeah, if we can. It’s really fun to work with each other. Now, it’s like, can you believe this.?! Especially when John and Gunnar and I were in Louisiana, shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D; we were having lunch and we looked at each other and said, can you believe this? here we are, back again, all in the movie. So, it made it really fun on the set. There’s a lot of reminiscing and the conventions are fun too because they’re like reunions.”
L.F. When you did TCM3D, was it surreal to see yourself at the beginning of the movie from the original film?
M.B. “No, I knew that was going to be there. I was surprised how much they used of it. I didn’t think they were going to use that much of the clip. I thought, my goodness. (laughs) I had forgotten about that.”
L.F. As a fan, it was really exciting for me to have the movie start that way.
M.B. “Well, I mean, of course I thought it was exciting. I was glad they wrapped them up together like that. I didn't expect it.”
M.B. “What did you think of that one?” (movie)
L.F. I thought it was fun!
M.B. “You did?”
L.F. Yeah, it was tons of fun with the 3D.
M.B. “Yeah, that made it neat, too. We all had a very good time there. That was great because I got to be with Gunnar and John. Like I said, I had done some things with Ed at different reunions. Recently, we were in Germany together last year. Who would think I would be going to Germany this many years later?”
L.F. Yeah, is it unbelievable to you that this movie is still as popular as it is?
M.B. “I’m amazed people still talk about it. It’s a blessing. Who would have ever thought?”
L.F. So, you had no idea when you were filming that this would be a hit?
M.B. “I just wanted it to get released in theatres. That’s what I prayed for. So many movies are made and, then, they never make it. Finally, it got picked up and it just kept going. I guess its still going today, or I wouldn't be doing so many conventions.”"
L.F. You have fun doing the conventions? Does it ever feel like work?
M.B. “Are you kidding?” (laughing) How could you go to one of those conventions, get money for autographs and smile all day and not have a good time?”
L.F. Well, I’ve come across a few people who look less than excited about it, so, i just had to ask.
M.B. “Why wouldn’t they have fun?!” (laughing)
L.F. I don't know, I asked myself the same question. (There is much laughter at this point.)
M.B. :If we hear someone griping about something, we all get together and go, is he out of his mind? What’s his problem? Why is he here anyway, then? If this is a job to you, don’t come. That’s not what the deal is. It’s an honour.”
L.F. Aw, that's nice.
M.B. “Well, it is. People like something you did? You should be proud and grateful that they care. That’s
just a give. Don’t you agree with me on that?”
L.F. Absolutely. It’s an honour for us (the fans) when we get to meet somebody.
M.B. “It works both ways. I’ve met terrific people. Every time is very exciting. A lot of times, I have my brother pick me up from the airport. He says, I like picking Marilyn up from the airport because she’s so happy when she gets back. I can’t ever remember one that I felt disappointed or upset or it felt like work. Gosh, I’m just grateful as hell that I get to go.”
L.F. So, going way, way back, your first role was in a Robert Altman film?
M.B. “That was just a teeny, tiny little part. I ran down and managed to get a role as an extra and then ended up working on the movie in a different capacity. I then auditioned for Sidney Lumet for Lovin’ Molly; it had Blythe Danner, Beau Bridges and Anthony Perkins. He gave me the part and I was going to be one of the four leads; I was so excited. Then, a couple of weeks later, he called me and said, Marilyn, I’m so sorry, but in order for me to get Beau and Blythe, I have to cast this girl named Susan Sarandon. So, he gave me a role as an extra and I was a stand in for both Blythe and Susan; they're both 5’7″ and I’m 5’3″so, I had to stand on an apple cart.”
L.F. So, did you always love horror or did you just happen to end up in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
M.B. “Well, I was on the Texas Film Commission; I helped start that in 1971 and, so, I was familiar with all
of the things that were coming in and out of Texas. I met Tobe (Hooper, writer and director of TCM) and Kim (Henkel; writer on TCM) on the set of Lovin’ Molly. I had seen them in Austin and recognized them as filmmakers. They come on the set and they want to watch Lumet shoot. Then, they help themselves when the food comes out. The producer, Stephen Friedman, who had just finished The Last Picture Show, he came over and says, who are you guys? Do you work on this? When they told him no, they weren’t working, Stephen says, Give me back the chicken!” “So, because I was on the Film Commission and worked with the head of the commission, that’s when I saw that Tobe and Kim were working on this movie (TCM) together. Warren Skerrit, the head of the Film Commission, is actually the one that came up with the title. They had titles like Scum of the Earth and Headcheese. I think the first title was Headcheese, then it was Scum of the Earth. I thought, I don’t really want to be in something called Scum of the Earth, but what the hell, its’ a movie. To get a lead in a movie, it was awesome ya know? I said something to Warren; I said, these guys need another title. Warren was a pretty artistic guy and he came up with the most perfect title, ya know? Such an attention getting title. There weren't that many chainsaw massacres back then and then you add Texas to it; people are curious about Texas. Back in 74, that title was just catchy. It helped make the movie.”
L.F. Do you ever wonder what might have happened with Sally?
M.B. “Yeah, well, I’ve written about 5 or 6 endings for poor Sally and we kept thinking of doing it and I know Tobe, Kim and I worked on it for a while. We had a plausible reason for what happened to her.
L.F. Did you go directly from TCM to Eaten Alive?
M.B. “No, I did Helter Skelter before that.”
L.F. Were you, at all, concerned about taking a role in Helter Skelter?
M.B. “Um, yeah. Because number one, it was too early. It was too soon after the murders and everybody in
L.A. resented us doing that. Second, because they told every actress that auditioned, you’re going to have to shave your head. I thought, well, I don't want to shave my head, but I’m new in Los Angeles , I have a new agent and I can’t say, Gosh, I’m Miss Picky and I don’t want to do that. That would have been terrible and it would have been insulting to the director and casting director. Then, I thought, oh, Marilyn, how stupid of you. You’re not going to get cast; they probably already got it hand picked or have package deals. So, I did say to the director, I really don't want to shave my head; is there anything we can do different? He said, well why don’t you read for Linda Kasabian? After I read it, I thought, oh, this is the best part ever. I remember going home and crying my eyes out, thinking I had done terrible. That same afternoon, the phone rings and its my agent saying I got the part.” “I’m grateful I was in it and grateful it came out and it was received as well as it did. And Steve Railsback was a hit! You couldn’t get a better Manson. I had a ball and met the best people; it was a real good experience. Of course, then you had to worry about when it came out. There were some gripes and I remember when we shot for the La Bianca house, we were on their block and we were in a house two doors down (from the original La Bianca house) and the people thought we were so disrespectful. They turned their music up really loud, thinking they would screw us up, but we were shooting without sound that night. It just put us in more of the mood of Manson. It was too perfect.”
M.B. “Oh gosh, no. I know some people met the people they were portraying, but not me. She’s in the witness protection program somewhere. She’s the only one that was at both murders and because she was a rat, she gets off. She is the only one of the whole gang who managed to be in the car twice. I had to really work on Kasabian to figure her out and make it believable.”
L.F. When you played Sally (TCM) and Faye (Eaten Alive), was that hard for you? Were you tied to that bed in Eaten Alive forever? That’s what it felt like.
M.B. “Yeah, Texas Chainsaw, I did a lot of physical stuff and it wasn’t hard. I just wanted to give them a 10; the best I could do. The only thing I could do was give Tobe a 10 and he could bring me down if he needed to, but he never did. A couple of times on Chainsaw, when I ran into the bbq place, I ran into the camera, the camera man…..you know, I didn’t want to look like one of those stupid girls who is running in one clip and then the next time you see her, she’s casually going into somewhere…oh, help me….. He would tell me, Marilyn, slow down; hit your mark and don’t hit the camera man.” In Eaten Alive, that had it’s issues. Yeah, I think they did have me tied up there forever and gagged. Some of the actors were way too into their parts and I had to remind them that we’re acting.(starts laughing) That’s probably why it looks so damn real!
L.F. Yeah, it looks awful.
M.B. “Yeah, it was pretty uncomfortable.”
L.F. Was Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4 the first time you did a cameo?
M.B. “Yes, Kim had wrote me a real good part, but they weren't S.A.G. ,so, I couldn’t be in it unless someone dubbed my lines. So, I just played someone on a gurney as Anonymous. I thought it was just going to be in the background; it was going to be our private joke.”
L.F. Did he write that part for you in Butcher Boys?
M.B. “Oh! I don’t know. I think so. He definitely had me in mind.”
L.F. I felt really bad for you when they took your dog.
M.B. “Oh, that was terrible! Dang it I haven’t even seen that. Is it good?”
L.F. Yeah, it’s fun and crazy in a really great way.
M.B. “I’ve got to see that! You did your research, girlfriend!”
L.F. Well, I’ve had a great time working with Shawn Ewert.
M.B. “Oh yeah, he’s remarkable, isn’t he? You know what? It was my birthday on Wednesday and when I came home from dinner, there was this box of flowers. I thought, who is this from? It was from Shawn and I was never more amazed.
L.F. Avery Pfeiffer and Troy Ford ( the two leads in Sacrament) both spoke very highly of working with you. They said that you were so wonderful and so easy to talk to and really helpful.
M.B. “That’s lovely. I’m glad to hear it. I certainly enjoyed the whole experience.”
L.F. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. It really was an honour.
M.B. “Oh Lisa, it was great talking with you.”
Interview first appeared on Horror-Writers.net
Images: Texaschainsawmasscare.net & youtube