Gunnar Hansen – Exclusive Interview

Gunnar Hansen – Exclusive Interview talks to the original Leatherface.
Updated: 09-22-2006

A brand new special edition of 1973's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is being released on DVD, just in time to whet the appetite for the newest TCM movie (The Beginning, opening in theaters on October 6). We had a chance to sit down and talk with the man who originated the iconic role of Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, and he was not only gracious, but candid and also forthcoming on what's new in his world.


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Staci Layne Wilson/ Why do you think that the movie endures?


Gunnar Hansen: I think because it's really fundamentally a horror movie in the sense that it, unlike many horror movies which rely on gore and just outright spooky scares, you know that scream factor, I think Chainsaw Massacre is primarily a movie that disturbs people. It doesn't get into that sort of "Oh, I've got to be gorier than the last movie part". But it's a disturbing movie and it's an unnerving movie and I think that's why it survives because every time somebody new watches it it has that effect on them.


Q: What did you think when you first read the script? Did you think that it was bound to be a classic?


Gunnar Hansen: No, you know I thought this is going to be an interesting experience to work on a movie like this and my dream was that this movie would be good enough that a few years down the road there would be a few hard-core horror fans who would remember it. I thought if it does that well that there are some hard-core fans who remembered this movie and liked it, then this movie is a great success. I never dreamt that it would become the kind of cult phenomenon that it is.


Q: Pretty amazing and this DVD is just packed with all kinds of additional release material. New things.


Gunnar Hansen: It's interesting because until I got the DVD I hadn't heard the new commentary track. Of course I had been involved with the first commentary track, the original one with Danny Pearl and Tobe. But to hear Marilyn and Paul Partain and the others talking about it has been great because their perspective is so different. For instance, I've often wondered what happened to the chainsaw and in the new commentary Bob Burns said "Well we borrowed the chainsaw so we had to give it back to the guy who lent it to us."


Q: Wow. So it's one of those great lost pieces of movie history.


Gunnar Hansen: I don't even know what brand it was.


Q: It was the real deal. Since it wasn't a prop, you must have been so tired at the end of every shooting day.


Gunnar Hansen: Oh yeah. I've always remembered really well. I think the part that's difficult to remember is that because it was for me 4 straight weeks, 7 days a week, and we shot 12-16 hours a day, that even at the time there are things that are jumbled. Because after a while you just stop having any sense of reality. So I know there are events that I get out of sequence. And I know there are things that happened that I remember differently from the way other people remember because I was experiencing it differently.


Q: Have you seen Tobe Hooper lately? Do you guys keep in touch?


Gunnar Hansen: Oh no, not at all. I don't think Tobe has ever been interested in me, in keeping in touch with me or with any of the other guys.


Q: Oh, really?


Gunnar Hansen: No, no. I mean I keep up with the others, Bob Burns, Paul Partain, Jim Siedow...all of them were good friends. And I still keep up with Allen Danziger more than anybody really, Allen and then Ed Neal, we're in pretty regular touch. And then Marilyn, not quite as often, but I see her probably once a year. Sometimes if I'm in Austin long enough, Ed and I will go down to Houston to see Marilyn. I mean we used to go down to see Marilyn and then see Jim until he died a couple of years ago.


Q: Do you do a lot of conventions to get a lot of fan feedback still regularly?


Gunnar Hansen: Yeah. I've kinda cut back on the conventions generally I try to do about three conventions, just straight fan conventions a year...three or four a year in the U.S. But once Halloween season starts I'm very active because I go to haunted houses. This year I'm more active because with the re-release of Chainsaw and this new package, people are really asking me to come to their conventions. Doing events like film festivals and stuff that are featuring the new release so I'm doing more this year than usual.


Q: For the people that already have the Texas Chainsaw Massacre DVD, would you suggest to them to upgrade?


Gunnar Hansen: Yes, because now I'm not sure what the image looks like on a high-def television but certainly just looking at it on my big Sony it looks beautiful. I haven't sat down to compare the image to the last disc. It's every bit as nice obviously and it may be a better image. The great part about this is in addition to having the out-takes which the other one does, the earlier edition does, and the original commentary it has got the second commentary which is a great mix. It's great to have the two different commentaries because they're such different takes and the whole level of type of conversation we're having is different. Plus you've got the shocking truth documentary and the brand new flesh wounds documentary so there's a lot more to the disc, to the box than in the previous release, even though the previous release was a re-mastered copy with the documentary.


Q: It's amazing how much they can still find after all these years to make it new and fresh.


Gunnar Hansen: I was surprised. It was delightful to see the footage taken right before the house was moved, when it was in that rundown shape, some guys went down there and filmed it before it was moved. that was great to see because I hadn't seen anything except of course going to the original, you know going through the restored building when it was moved to Kingsland and was turned into a restaurant.


Q: You've got a couple of movies coming out, right? The Forest, though, seems like it's been in pre-production forever. Is that still a go?


Gunnar Hansen: I don't know what's going on. IMDb has two pictures that I'm apparently in. I mean they've got The Forest and they've got Brew, and in both cases we started talking about the movie probably five years ago. I don't know when they're going into production. I think Brew is going to go into production sooner because they asked me to come out to LA so I was in town in May to have lunch with the director and a couple of the producers. I've been in contact with the director, he's been dropping me an email now and then, so I got a feeling they're getting ready to get cranking on Brew but when I ask him about it he goes, he'll say "Well you know how the business is. What's the point of telling you a date?"


Q: Yeah, yeah, there's a lot of things on the internet of course that are supposedly in production, then you never see them.


Gunnar Hansen: Internet Movie Database has got a me listed in a couple of movies I've never heard of before.


Q: [laughter] That's interesting. So where's the paycheck?


Gunnar Hansen: Yeah, right!


Q: So what are you in, recently, that we can go check out at the video store?


Gunnar Hansen: Well, let's see I worked on a film last year in March, end of February/beginning of March, called Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen. It's a drama, a post-apocalypse drama. I play a character who is a burned-out ex-con who makes his living as a stone cutter. They've got a young woman living with him who is the female lead character in the film so my character, who is something of a coward, is still trying to protect her and keep her from getting killed. I think it's a good movie. I saw an early cut of the film probably four or five months ago and just yesterday got the final cut. Everything I see, it's going to be a good movie. They probably have got a U.S. distribution now. But I think that's going to be coming out pretty soon. They've already been selling some (unintelligible) on it. Then I worked on a film in May called Skelter and the premise is a young guy who is convinced he's the unacknowledged son of Charlie Manson. He and a group of people he pulled together decide... they're in New Mexico and they pick a town out in the middle of nowhere with about 70 people in it and they decide what they're going to do is they're going to kill as many people as they can in one night as a way of forcing Manson to acknowledge him.


Q: I think Charlie Manson had about 60 kids. He probably can't keep track of them all.


Gunnar Hansen: And of course everything fell apart. I mean, in the film, everything falls apart.


Q: So this is a horror movie, then?


Gunnar Hansen: Yeah, absolutely. Then I've got a picture coming up in September. I'll be in Nashville for a couple of weeks shooting a picture called Shutter which is a horror movie. Then the guys that did Apocalypse are looking to shoot another film starting in January in New Orleans. That's a very interesting... I've been reading the script as the director who's writing it gets each version out. He's been sending me copy and I've been watching it evolve and it looks like it's going to be a really interesting picture.


Q: Well, I love movies that are set in New Orleans and I think it's important to get the local economy booming again so that's a great place to shoot. Have you shot there before?


Gunnar Hansen: No, you know I've never been to New Orleans. I was down on the Gulf of Mexico coast several years ago doing some work and I drove through New Orleans on US 90 but I never even stopped. I just drove right through. So I've never been in New Orleans at all.


Q: Better late than never.


Gunnar Hansen: I suppose, yeah. I'm very curious to see what it's like


Q: Leatherface is a genre hero that is pretty much indelible in the minds of fans everywhere. As a movie fan yourself, who do you think is a good recent movie villain in the horror genre? We've got Jigsaw from the Saw movies, The Devil's Rejects…


Gunnar Hansen: Captain Spaulding. When I saw House of 1000 Corpses and I saw Captain Spaulding, I thought: This is a great movie. But I think the movie didn't hold up in the end because once Spaulding left, it fizzled a bit. I thought Spaulding was just great.


Q: What is it about him? Is it the humor, or the actor who plays him?


Gunnar Hansen: I think its Sid Haig. I mean, you know, I don't know how much is script and how much is Sid except Sid has this tremendous energy he puts into the character. So the guy is like intensely, like almost funny but evil. He's just got that intensity about him that I think is absolutely compelling for a character. I think one of the mistakes you get in horror films often is you forget that the real heart of the horror film is the villain, not the poor schleps who are going to get murdered. That's the problem with a movie like Scream, the villain is nothing in that film, it could have been anybody and they just make up an explanation at the end. A movie like that has no heart but when you create a film in which the real heart of the film is the villain and its really about that darkness of human nature. I mean that's why a movie like Frankenstein is a great film, because it's about the monster. I think when you create a character like Captain Spaulding you're well on your way. I think Sid Haig makes that character work, I can't imagine Captain Spaulding being played by anyone else.


Q: He is terrific. Did you see the second one, The Devil's Rejects?


Gunnar Hansen: No, I haven't seen it.


Q: That's a great one, too.


Gunnar Hansen: I think it ought to be really terrific because Rob Zombie takes the two best characters and carries them forth. He takes Bill Moseley and Sid Haig.


Q: Have you worked with either one of them before?


Gunnar Hansen: No. I mean, I know them. I've known Bill for a long time. I got introduced to him after he was in Chainsaw II.


Q: I saw that he was attached to The Forest with you. I thought that would be a great pairing.


Gunnar Hansen: I met him at a show one time and I said, "You were the best thing in Chainsaw II" and I think that meant he decided that I must be a great guy. [laughter]


Q: Absolutely. Great minds think alike. Well thank you so much Gunnar. It was really a pleasure talking to you and I wish you the best of luck with your DVD and your movies coming up.


Gunnar Hansen: Thanks very much. I enjoyed the interview.


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Click here for our review of the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre DVD.


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