Not familiar with George Hardy’s work as an actor? Click here to watch a packed audience reacting to him on screen . It’s totally worth it.
About a week ago, while drinking slushies on a beach, I attempted to brainstorm a hyperbolic-geek intro for this interview that was impossibly cheesy and awful, yet aptly expressed my sentiments about the subject. As follows: It would be very difficult indeed to find a dentist who has contributed to more smiles around the globe than would-be actor, Alabama dentist, and newly-championed cult icon George Hardy.
For those who don’t know, Hardy was one of the lead human stars of 1990′s Troll 2; over the last few years, the shittastic fantasy-horror movie has rocketed in cult status and is a viable contender for a next-gen Rocky Horror Picture Show. Made for MGM by a crew of non-English speaking Italians, Troll 2 ironically exists today as an innocent, warped time-capsule of 1980s’ American summers, American culture, and genre films. In the role of the movie’s aloof dad, Michael Waits, Hardy is renown for the silly parental anecdote, “You can’t piss on hospitality!!” His performance is regarded by a growing number of cult cineastes to be one of the worst and most cherished of all time. Patton Oswalt, the Alamo Drafthouse, and Edgar Wright are counted as huge fans. The basic storyline is that of a generic Vacation knockoff meets slime and plot holes worthy of a drug trip: Hardy hauls his family (and a grandfather’s ghost) in a van to spend a summer in a dusty, desolate town called Nilbog. Goblin spelled backwards, Nilbog is populated by devilish country-folk and vegan Druid non-Trolls. In the end, the Waits fam defeats them and their leader, an STD-plagued witch, using a mystical bologna sandwich. Or do they?
Best Worst Movie, the new documentary about the reunited cast of Troll 2 and its international fandom, is a 2009 favorite of the /Film and /Filmcast staff. Directed by Troll 2‘s former “child star,” Michael Stephenson, much of Best Worst follows Hardy as he temporarily leaves his life as a small-town dentist to encounter the ups and downs of modern fame and his performance’s excavated notoriety. Thanks to a compelling story and the sharp twists and turns of real life, Best Worst can be enjoyed with or without having viewed the flick that spawned it. George called me from his lake house to discuss all of this while eating a sandwich. For our interview with Michael Stephenson, click here.
Hunter Stephenson: Do you remember the first time you signed an autograph for Troll 2? [laughs]
George Hardy: Hmmm. That’s a great question. I’ve never been asked that. I do remember that! It was in 1992, my daughter was born in ’93, so yeah. In September of ’92, I was in the Virgin Islands, and someone came up to me and asked me for an autograph. The first one. It was a waiter in the Virgin Islands, and I looked at Mary, my wife, and I just chuckled. He said, “I recognize you from HBO.” But not until 17 years later did people really start to recognize me, you know, besides looks in airports. In 2006, Showtime was really showing Troll 2, like five or six times a day. And that’s when my patients started coming in and telling me they saw it.
What is weird to me is that Michael [Stephenson] was a kid on the set, so he had no idea how bad the movie be. But what about you? You had to worry once you were on the set that Troll 2 would be lame from the start, no?
George Hardy: Well, you know, I’ll tell you what, I knew it was a disaster when we did the scene where I’m holding the green Kool-Aid or whatever, and there was [the Goblins'] bright green icing on a corn-on-the-cob. I was thinking, “What is this all about? Are we going to film [the icing] in a different color [than slime green]? You have to realize, we were shooting the film in pieces and none us could figure out the script. So years later, when Michael and I brought [director] Claudio [Fragrasso] and the screenwriter, Rossella [Drudi], back to the States from Europe, I was able to ask Rossella through an interpreter how she came up with all this stuff, like the Druids stuff. [laughs] And even with an interpreter it sounded far-fetched. But, you know, she’s just naive and has a real beauty about her.
Can you talk about your audition for Troll 2?
George Hardy: [laughs] Well, it was in a hotel room in Salt Lake in the summer of ’89. I had an agent in Salt Lake, and some patients of mine at the time said I should try it. And I had taken some acting classes from a lady named Lillian Chuvan, she just passed recently. And I was a ski bum at the time, and loving the mountains. I was an exercise instructor, I was in good shape, and I loved it. So, I walk into the room to audition, Hunter, and there were nine Italians in there—I felt like I was in the [M.C.] Escher picture with the stairs—and the room was filled with smoke. And you have to remember, no one smokes in Utah. No one. [laughs] It was a cold reading, I did the “Piss on Hospitality” scene. And Claudio just said, “Good energy! Good energy!” And that was it. Next day, I get a phone call that I got the part, the second lead part as the dad. Claudio told me later, he said, “You have that real American look.” [laughs] My heart literally came out of my chest, like, “Oh shit, what have I done now?”
So, I called family and friends and I called them the next day and agreed to do it. It was 21 days of shooting, and it was a non-SAG film, so I only got paid about $1500. I think I was in the film for 11 days of shooting, so I would go into the [dentistry] practice and work, and then I’d shoot, and then I’d go in and see some patients. When it was over, all of the cast members came over to my cabin, I had a gorgeous cabin right next to a waterfall. I loved it. And I knew I’d never see these people again, and I was about to get engaged. And then, 17 years later, here comes Troll 2 at 5:30 in the morning on Showtime. I got a premonition, Hunter, that someone else had seen it and that I was going to get a phone call. And the next day, I get a phone call to do a radio documentary on the movie. And that’s when I learned that it was a worldwide cult phenomenon. So, the guy told me to go on IMDB and look and it blew my mind, postings everywhere from all over the world. And it said at the bottom, Troll 2 reunion in Provo City, Utah, and please call this number. So, I called the guy who was organizing it, Blair, and I spent $700 and jumped on a plane the next day. I get there, it’s dark, guys are tackling me wanting autographs. Michael wasn’t there, but a lot of his relatives were. I just had to meet Michael. So I went out to Los Angeles two or three weeks later, and we discussed a documentary. And the witch in the film [Deborah Reed] was considering a documentary too, but it didn’t happen. I was all in it. Embrace the fans, you know?
Let me ask you: What was going through your mind when, during the final showdown, that goblin jumps onto your back on the stairs? And do you remember the first time you saw the goblins?
George Hardy: That was about three takes. [laughs] I was in pretty good shape back then, and people jumping on my back, a few stuntmen, they knew what they were doing. That’s hilarious. Now, as far as the goblins, Laura [Gemser] did the costumes, and she was great, she was a dream to be around, as sweet as she could be. When I saw that the goblins were wearing burlaps, I did wonder about it. I mean, people are going to realize that it’s burlap. But you know, that’s Claudio, and he doesn’t give a hell what people think, he goes against the norm, and I like that about him. I think he deserves more recognition for his work. I applaud him for that. Italians, you know, they’re intense but they freakin’ love you to death.
Michael was genuinely embarrassed about Troll 2, as we see in Best Worst Movie, partly because he was a working actor. But did you take it to heart as much early on? Were you ever ashamed?
George Hardy: Oh, I was as embarrassed as all get out. Honestly, when I first saw the scene where Margot Prey [the mother] and I [the father] are on the couch and she asks, “Michael, who are the goblins?” and I go, “The goblins?!?” I honestly turned it off and didn’t watch it again for 17 years. I’ve never told anybody this, but I’d literally walk into the living room and people would be watching Troll 2 on HBO or Showtime and I’d go get some food, come back and go right into the bedroom or get on the computer.
How do you feel about becoming a celebrity on the cult movie circuit? You are more in the public eye than you’ve ever been…
George Hardy: [eating a sandwich] Yeah. After we went to the screening at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Michael spoke to me about how fans just really liked my character in the film, Farmer Waits. And again, fans were almost tackling me and saying things like, “You rock man!” and “You’re just like my dad!” I felt like I was Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island or something. [laughs] And Michael and I were like, we really need to document all of these fans, and my life, and just go with it. So, Michael put his camera on me for two-and-a-half years. A lot of people don’t realize the time we put into this. And Michael developed a very deep story about my life and the lives of the other cast members. It’s hilarious, some people call the documentary sad, but I don’t think so. But he got into the psyche.
Yeah. I find Best Worst Movie very interesting on a psychological level. We’re seeing how the lives involved in this little movie-turned-cult sensation play out over time. And the documentary works as a great sociological study for pop culture, because we observe how we absorb and experience “bad movies” and how that is changing in our culture. It’s fascinating to see how Troll 2’s reputation has morphed. Obviously, everyone is laughing at Troll 2 at these screenings and parties, but it often seems like they are laughing with the movie more and more…
George Hardy: Beautifully said. We see how culture has changed in the last 20 years, how we laugh at something for so long that it almost becomes genius. And you know, back then, we all tried to make a good movie, besides the communication breakdowns between the Americans [the cast] and the Italians [the filmmakers] [laughs]. And you know, it’s magical now seeing how it came together to become one of the greatest trainwrecks ever made. It was a magical moment, and it was innocent. But for years, we all ran from it. Troll 2 has a ton of international fans. Like, we were just talking to some filmmakers from Korea in Toronto at Hot Docs, they were Koreans, and they loved the story. They were freaking out about it, even with the language barrier.
I mean, of course you have the geeks and nerds who love it, [laughs] but I’ve found that people who love Best Worst Movie and Troll 2, they just seem to really dig a sense of humor. They have doctorates, it’s just all facets of people, from age 80 to 10. It’s got its own little niche of its own. I mean, sometimes I have to step away from it, because I can swim in it. [laughs] It’s just gone to a different level. And this doc, it’s an amazing film Hunter, because it’s a sleeper. People don’t realize it. But after people are watching it, it blows them away. What I’m finding is that people are even more blown away if they haven’t seen Troll 2. It’s a double-wow for audiences. You don’t really have to see Troll 2 to watch Best Worst Movie. Can you imagine? Those people are going, “Oh my gosh!” [laughs]
There are some great T-shirts that were made for Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie. Have you guys considered other tie-ins? I was thinking Nilbog toothpaste, I think that would sell…
George Hardy: That’s a great idea! Tell Michael that. We actually thought about doing toothbrushes or floss for the movie. And hopefully through this article on Slashfilm, let me say that I would really like Best Worst Movie to be shown at dental meetings and dental conventions. There are so many dentists out there who have similar stories to me: “I was forced to be a dentist.” Same goes for a lot of physicians. Maybe “forced” is not the right word, but I told my dad later, I apologized for [saying "I was forced to be a dentist"] in Best Worst Movie. I had a few glasses of wine before we filmed it. But it really is true. I did want to be an actor. I’ve always wanted to be an actor. And our documentary shows that, and I think it’s beautiful. It’s a deep film. There are so many people out there who can resonate with that message.
Hypothetical: Would you ever consider playing a dentist in a film? And do you have a problem with how dentists and doctors are usually portrayed in movies? Like Dr. Giggles and Little Shop of Horrors? [laughs]
George Hardy: I would love to! Of course. [laughs] And I do have a problem with how they are portrayed. I do. I think dentists will identify with Best Worst Movie, because it’s real. This is what we think and what we feel and this is how we really are with our patients.
Where does Troll 2: Part 2 stand right now? Patton Oswalt is said to be involved as a villain, and there’s a plot synopsis going around online. And Best Worst Movie ends on the possibility….
George Hardy: Show me the money! It all boils down to that.
[laughs] Ahh, you’re now fluent in show business.
George Hardy: Oh, I don’t know much about the money side at all. But the script has been written, and Claudio definitely wants to do it. But how would we do it? How do we catch lightning in a bottle twice? If there is a sequel, my character would [live in the woods] and have “Hospitality” carved into his shotgun. Life is too short not to take on different things that come my way. And I love dentistry, don’t get me wrong. I don’t know that I would ever be a great actor, but I love people, to be a talk show host or something, that would be fun.
Well, George, it was great speaking with you.
George Hardy: Thanks. Hunter, I really wish you could see what I’m looking at right now. This is so fantastic. I’m looking right out on the lake, and it’s just rained, and the sun is coming out from the West. It’s coming through with that amber-golden color, you know, across the water. It’s just beautiful. You should come out here and visit us. It’s just beautiful. You should really come out and visit…
George, thanks for the invite. But I’ve seen Troll 2 and, uh, it sounds like a trick!
Best Worst Movie launched a new website this month, and can be followed on Twitter. The doc is currently on the festival circuit. Click here for screenings. Troll 2 is now available in high-def on iTunes. For Hunter Stephenson’s interview with Michael Stephenson click here.
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila[at]gmail.com and on Twitter.