#43. A Conversation with Sid Haig
Sid Haig: I really don't know what defining oneself as an actor means, but if it means stretching oneself to a place where you have never gone before ... that role would have to be Ralph in Spider Baby. There was no reference to go by, he just was what ever I wanted to make him. There was never a conscious decision on my part to become a professional actor, it was something that just evolved. As an only child and the only kid my age in a four block radius, I had to entertain myself by making up situations and people to interact with. So you see, I was acting from the time I was just able to imagine. I started dancing at the age of six, playing drums by the time I was nine and acting in plays as a teenager. So it just happened.
JA: In a documentary for Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino discusses the significance of casting you in the role of the judge- as you would be appearing alongside Pam Grier with whom you had worked with on such films as Coffy and Foxy Brown; tell me about your decision to temporarily retire from acting in 1992, and also about the role that was offered to you for Tarantino's second film, Pulp Fiction.
SH: My decision to retire at the time, I didn't feel, was temporary. I had had it with playing the same dumb heavies time after time, so I just said to myself ... "If these guys can't get that I have more to offer than to just point a gun at somebody then I'm out of here."
Pulp Fiction was in development. I made so many TV appearances doing the same character, with no thought other than getting whatever number of setups a day that I just didn't want to do that anymore. When I went in to read for Quentin, I fell in love with the part. I wanted to play that character. Quentin wanted me to play that character. When I was offered the role I was told it would be one day's work. There were four different locations that the character would be seen in through the course of the the film. That just reminded me so much of how TV shows were shot that I turned it down. My agents never mentioned the fact that Quentin didn't work that way. He would take as much time as was needed to get what he wanted. If I had known that, my life would have changed for the better. The real shame is that I've never had the chance to sit down with Quentin and tell him why I turned it down.
JA: In 1997, Quentin Tarantino wrote a role specifically for you to play alongside Pam Grier in his third film, Jackie Brown; tell me about your memories of being on the set of this picture, what it was like to work with Quentin, and also your thoughts on movie itself. Also, tell me about your appearance in Kill Bill: Volume 2.
SH: I think Quentin cast me in that role just to see if people were paying attention, because Pam and I did five films together previous to Jackie Brown. He never told Pam that I was doing the part, so when she showed up on the set her reaction was great. Quentin proved himself to be a real film buff, because for the whole day he was quoting lines from films that I had done. Also, his energy is over the top. He gives you so much of himself that you can't help but want to give him everything you've got in every scene. As far as Kill Bill is concerned I showed up, I did my thing and I left. It was fun, if brief.
JA: What was it like to work with Jack Hill, and what are your fondest memories of being involved on the set of the cult classic Pam Grier films- also, what was it like to work alongside of her?
SH: I've always said that there are three directors that I would work with any time, and Jack Hill heads that list. The other two are Quentin and Rob Zombie. The reason is that they are very clear in what their vision is and can relate that to you, and then they just get out of the way and let you do your work. Pam and I became friends right away. When you're working in conditions like we were you have to form a bond, and we did.
SH: The first film I did for Roger was Blood Bath (aka Track of the Vampire), directed by who else but Jack Hill. I never really counted, but I think I've done about ten films for Roger, and I would do that many more for him. He's just so smart about everything that he does. As far as favorite projects ... I don't have any. I have fond remembrances about almost all of them.
JA: What are your thoughts on popular cinema today, and what are some of your all-time favorite films?
SH: Popular cinema today is a mixed bag of tricks. There are some really great films and then there are the films that are made just because somebody had enough money to by a camera. Some of my all-time faves were shown at the New Beverly in Hollywood a couple of weeks ago, such as Lawrence of Arabia and House of Wax (1953).
Jackie Brown, you went on to star in Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses- however, long before your motion picture comeback, you were appearing in hundreds of television programs. Two shows I want to ask you about being involved in are Star Trek and Batman; in both series, tell me about the characters you played and also what it was like to be on the set of these shows. Also, do you have a fondest memory of working in television?
SH: I was in the "Return of the Archons" episode of Star Trek as the First Lawgiver. That was crazy, because everybody on the show was trying to quit smoking. As a result there was a lot of gum chewing going on. Joe Pevney, the director, was pulling his hair out because he had to stop almost every scene because somebody was chewing gum. One day of shooting, we were on location with about 80 extras. When we broke for lunch, Bill Shatner handed out bubble gum to the cast and crew with the instructions to blow a bubble in the first scene after lunch when the director said action. The director said action and about a hundred and fifty people turned to the camera and blew a bubble.
Batman was much more tame. The thing that was interesting about that show was that everybody in Hollywood was trying to get on that show. I was cast because the producer, Howie Horwitz, saw an add in Variety that pointed to the fact that I was guest staring in a different show every night of the coming week. He called me in and said ... "Read the script and any part you want besides King Tut is yours."
JA: What advice do you offer those who approach you about trying to break into the business- what lessons have you learned while being involved in the industry that could help better guide younger performers just getting started?
SH: Study your craft, don't just say the words. Learn how to build a character using the only tool you have ... yourself. Every personality trait there is rests inside of you. You have to find it and make it come to life for each character. If you really want to become an actor, you can't have a backup plan. If you do you will back up. No one chooses a backup that's more difficult than what their primary goal is.
JA: What is next for you as an actor?
SH: You tell me, because I have no idea. I'm waiting for another good project as far as new work, but at the moment a film I did during the summer of '08, Dark Moon Rising, is almost in the can and doing very well. So I'm very excited about where that's going.
JA: In closing, if you had to sum up your career thus far with one word, what would it be?