45 Years of the Time Warp: A Conversation with Barry Bostwick

(Illustration by Kaelin Richardson)
"It was great when it all began..." THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is turning 45, and it is still guaranteed to thrill you, chill you, and fulfill you! As a brand new limited edition Blu-ray™ SteelBook® is being released and Fright-Rags celebrates the anniversary with newly designed merchandise, I thought it would be a good time to ask Barry Bostwick if he would be interested in expanding upon our original interview to discuss his starring role in the only film to ever continuously screen in select theaters for forty-five consecutive years. This cult classic musical/science fiction/comedy/horror phenomenon is far from the only unforgettable picture Mr. Bostwick has brought his incredible talents to - in today's conversation we deep-dive a rich career that spans decades and includes collaborations with Stanley Donen, Hal Needham, Michael J. Fox, and Rob Zombie on both the big and small screen. The living legend himself was kind enough to talk everything from Pixar to his most obscure indie films, and what set life is like for an actor in the days of COVID-19. 

You mentioned you've been filming and I'm wondering how big of an impact COVID-19 has had on the production experience.  

It's a totally different atmosphere. Before we showed up on the set, the cast and crew all had to get COVID tests and if any of them tested positive we couldn't start the production. Every three days into shooting we all had to have the tests done again. We shot for five weeks in Riverside for a show called The Potwins, a series about three generations of guys in a family. I play the old hippie father who is always throwing in 60's analogies and points of view and the youngest one is a fifteen-year-old conservative shit heel who drives everyone crazy. Kevin Sorbo plays the father who tries to keep everyone communicating. It could be a very fun show, we'll see. 

Getting back to your question - I was talking to the producer and at the end of five weeks he had put in an additional $120,000 just in testing, hiring the nurses, and COVID monitors on the set - more than he had ever budgeted for. You would show up in makeup and hair, they'd take your temperature and ask you questions, and you would have to keep your mask on, even through rehearsals. At the last minute, just before the cameras rolled, a COVID person would come by and take your mask off and put it in a special bag with your name on it and you'd do the scene, immediately putting your mask back on right after. It was a miracle that no one tested positive for five weeks because it was a young crew who were mostly away from home. But we did it and it's going to be good, it's just not as much fun making movies this way. I still don't know what the first and second director, or the camera guys, looked like because they never took their masks off.
Jason Anders and Barry Bostwick
(Jason Anders and Barry Bostwick)
Did you film the entire first season or just the pilot?

We filmed a pilot about two years ago and we just made the first season, eight half-hour episodes, and they're already talking about doing a second season. There hasn't been much press on it yet because they are waiting to see where it lands. 

Something else that has changed in the world is that Disney now owns The Rocky Horror Picture Show...

Yeah and I don't know what they are going to do with it, whether they'll stay interested in it or just let it go. It's our 45th Anniversary this year and I know that the producer, Lou Adler, is trying to do something for it like a simultaneous screening at a hundred theaters around the country, but it's just a piss poor time to celebrate anything like that. For instance, I had one-nighters during Halloween where I would go around to theaters with a shadow cast and give a Q&A. I did four or five of them and they're a lot of fun, but you have to go to a theater where people sit side by side - but the theater owners just can't do it if they don't sell out. I do it just because I want to keep the film out there and going. I'm not sure that the suits have the drive or ingenuity for it. 

It's a phenomenon and I don't know how it's lasted this long, other than the fact that it has affected the lives of the kids who love it. We are now on our third generation of people seeing it.  The last few screenings I've been at... when they asked for virgins I swear at least a third of the audience all under the age of twenty-five came up on stage, all there to have the same kind of fun evening that we did forty-five years ago. This whole new generation is falling into it. While working on The Potwins there were several twenty-somethings who were gaga over it, showing me pictures of themselves when they first went to see a screening dressed up as the characters - these are kids who are either just out of college or still in college.

Nell Campbell, Patricia Quinn, Meatloaf, and myself are still out there hustling, as is Tim Curry. I'm doing a drive-in gig in Middletown, New York later this month - that's about the only way we've been able to organize it is through a drive-in. People can still dress up and dance, and we'll have a shadow cast doing a show in front of the screen, it'll be fun and something new. 

I have a feeling that Rocky Horror is going to be around for quite a bit longer. 
(Best Buy's Blu-ray™ SteelBook®)
Has your perspective on The Rocky Horror Picture Show changed over the course of 45 years?

I've always loved the movie. I've always thought that it was strange and trendsetting, and that it spoke to subjects that need to be talked about. I just think that it's a damn good film. If you look at it frame-by-frame you'll see the extremely innovative approach they took to making a stylistic musical. The entire cast and crew were at the top of their game in trying to push the envelope. I appreciate it not only for the themes, but as a piece of film history. 

That movie is still, to this day, unlike anything else. 

I believed in it, and I also think that when we were doing it that we had no idea the repercussions. We were just trying to make a one-off goofball send up of all these film genres. I don't think that Richard O'Brien or Jim Sharman thought that deeply about the psychosexual meaning, because back in 1975 everything that's in the movie was done on the street, it's not like it was anything totally new - look at David Bowie and Queen who were both pushing the sexuality of rock & roll. The film was simply a reflection of that time as a garage band musical. Get six guys who can almost play their instruments and they can all do Rocky Horror

Our first conversation took place at Spooky Empire in Orlando, where you were flooded with fans of all ages. Do you do a lot of conventions like that one?

I've done maybe three or four over the years. It's always fun to see that the fans are so adamant about The Rocky Horror Picture Show, though I find I'm signing a lot more pictures now where they're saying, "Would you sign this for my mom?" There are ten-year-olds coming up to me saying, "My parents took me when I was seven," to which I respond, "Your parents should be arrested." The wide range of ages for that movie is one of the reasons why I really love it. 
(The Rocky Horror Picture Show - 1975)
Would you say that you're more recognized for The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Spin City?

It depends on the age group, really. If you're between your 50s and 70s, unless you have many tattoos and body piercings, then it's usually Spin City. The Rocky Horror Picture Show being forty-five years ago... it's incredible that people still know me from that. 

Even Universal Orlando has midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show during Halloween Horror Nights on AMC CityWalk. 

The problem with doing it live is that people feel the need to talk back at the stage. As an actor that's pretty disconcerting, it's hard to say your lines when the audience is screaming at you. I saw it in New York a few years ago when they did it like that. I'd much rather perform it on film and know that I'm not going to be bothered. 

This movie is referenced in so many other films and TV shows, from Fame (1980) to The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) and from The Simpsons to Glee

Me and Meatloaf were in that episode, The Rocky Horror Glee Show... Meatloaf and I... Mr. Loaf & Mr. Bostwick. I think it's an honor. It's a wonderful, iconic film. I'll never get tired of watching it because it's a great movie with a lot of color, style, and great music. It's such an original one-off movie. I'm proud of it. 
(Barry Bostwick photographed by Mary Bluhm)
What originally sparked your interest in becoming an actor?

It was probably a girl, I'm sure. I think it was. In high school my girlfriend was a cheerleader, singer, and dancer and I did this dance studio thing with her. I was always a singer, I sang folk music and stuff. We sang together in high school plays and then community theatre. After four years of college I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from a school in San Diego (Allianz International University) then went to New York University's Graduate Acting Program to work on my Master's and started working in the city doing a lot of theatre. So, women

Do you have a favorite actor or performance? 

Probably anything that Jimmy Stewart has done. I just think he's so genuine. 

You're very Jimmy Stewart-esque. 

I probably am. But then Tom Hanks came into the picture and now he gets all the Jimmy Stewart parts. I get them on television and he gets them in the movies. 

But you also land pictures like Rob Zombie's 3  from Hell (2019). 

That man has very particular tastes. He's a nice guy, I really like him. He's one of those guys who has a certain public persona but in reality he's not that at all. He's very down to earth. He has that fandom quality about him for everything he does. He does it for the love of the genre, not just to make money.   
(Fantastic Planet - 1973)
One of your films recently had a beautiful 2K Blu-ray™ restoration on The Criterion Collection, Fantastic Planet (1973). 

It was so long ago and all I did was the voice over for the lead character. I came in and dubbed it for the U.S. release because it was a French film. I was blown away by the artwork, it is beautiful and disturbing at the same time. It was a huge step forward in animated feature films in exploring those themes and concepts. 

I am a huge fan of your film Road Movie (1973) and I have so many questions about the production of it...

I have to be honest with you, I can't really answer any of those questions. I was shooting the film during the day and then rushing back to New York to do Grease on Broadway every night. It all was a blur. 
(1973's Road Movie is an underdiscussed masterpiece)
I just remember that Joseph Strick got his money from the trucking company in his name, and therein lay his interest in the film. It could have been a romantic view or bleak look back at something he experienced. I honestly don't remember how I got the part, or how I even got to the set every day in Jersey. I don't even think I saw the movie until years later. I am glad you appreciate the film. It makes me want to go back and see it again.

You've done a lot of iconic voice work, from the series Phineas and Ferb to The Incredibles 2 (2018). What do you enjoy most about voicing animation? 

You don't work very hard for the money. (laughs) But that work is so hard to get, you have to know people and you need to have had a history with it. I have a fully lined, soundproof booth here at my house in Florida, and within a week's time I will audition three or four times for animated series and games, and I don't land them... just like most actors. The people that land them are the handful who do it all the time and are trusted. It is the hardest part of show business to ever break into. I have been trying to find steady voice work for almost twenty years. Most actors who work in voice overs, that's their profession separate from us, unless you're talking about one of the big guys. If I can land a couple per year I'm happy.

Are you ever approached by fans about your movie Megaforce (1982)?

Yeah, there's a lot of fans for it out there. The general attitude about it is that it's over the top and silly, laughable in all the wrong ways. I like it because it's tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken seriously. I think the people who take it seriously are the ones who make those other comments. 
(Megaforce - 1982)
From the standpoint of an action movie, I think that Hal Needham did a brilliant job with all the cars and military equipment. The only thing he didn't think about was the story. We ended up writing the script in the car going to the set every day where he was blowing something up, which I think was the only problem with it. A lot of the funny iconic lines came from the actors asking, "Well, what do I say now?" Meanwhile, Hal is off riding a motorcycle across the desert. 

It's a movie that if you were twelve-years-old and you saw it on the big screen with your dad, you'd go home and outfit your bike to make it look like a flying motorcycle. It was a moment that you could go see something that was G-rated yet a lot of fun, one that I constantly hear, "It's a movie my father and I watch all the time because it reminds us of our relationship when it came out." It's just one of those movies that if you got to it at the right time, before you got too jaded, I think you'd really enjoy it. 

It's so cool that you got your very own video game from it. 

I have a copy of that, I just don't have the console to play it on. There's a beautiful LaserDisc of it out there, too. 

We're actually making a documentary about that film. We've worked for two years interviewing everyone involved and we're calling it "The Documentary That Nobody Asked For". It's a fun film because it's not just about the movie, it's about this guy who was so affected by it when he was twelve-years-old that as he grew up he started collecting everything that had to do with Megaforce. Now he owns three of the cars, three of the motorcycles, and every prop he could find. And he's not crazy! He's in the special effects business. He came to me with the idea of making a film, and it became more about him being this super fan and getting into all these other people's heads who made this thing who were so interesting and life-changing for him. By the end of the film he thinks he is my character - he grows the beard, and he and I ride off on matching motorcycles into the sky.  

Is there a plan for releasing this documentary yet?

Not yet. It's being produced by Spare Change Films, the people who made Life After Flash (2017). 
(Movie Movie - 1978)
Tell me about being directed by Stanley Donen for Movie Movie (1978). 

He was a tough director. It was two movies in one, one in color and one in black and white, and we shot the color one first and in-between the two he fired everyone because he didn't think they were doing a good enough job. Ultimately a sweet man, but he wanted it totally his way.

I got the part out of the blue because somebody had suggested my name to him when I was just off of Broadway. He offered me the part without my having to audition. He peopled the thing with very interesting actors, it was the first time that I had worked with so many old stars in something - Red Buttons, George C. Scott, Art Carney... the list goes on and on. Was I intimidated? Yeah, I sure was. I was young but he treated me well. My one disappointment is that we had a long dance number on a roof called "Just Shows to Go Ya" which was a seven-minute number. We spent weeks on it, and when the final movie came out it was cut down significantly with no dancing, it was just around the piano. I was disappointed in that because had worked so hard on it. I heard a rumor it was left on the cutting room floor, I hope it's not true but if it is... goodbye

That's happened with every musical I've been in, including Rocky Horror. My song "Once In A While" was cut from the bedroom scene. I know that things are normally cut because they are slowing the movie down, so I don't begrudge. I just would like to have seen the final product to see what it was like and maybe have some of that film on my reel way back when. We were young bucks trying hard.

Movie Movie was strange but I think it's an excellent film that was just released in the wrong season and they didn't put enough money into it. I think it was just a little too ahead of its time in terms of its tongue-in-cheek attitude. It was sending up, in very subtle ways, those two genres of film - the Broadway musical and the gritty boxing movies of John Garfield. People who are movie aficionados and interested in the history of film will always mention it to me. I don't think it's been released on Blu-ray, but if they ask me about it I'll mention your name and say, "Come on, he wants it! Give it to him."
(Some Guy Who Kills People - 2011)
Since we last spoke I watched a picture for which you were nominated for Fangoria's Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actor, Some Guy Who Kills People (2012). Was that film as much fun to make as it is to watch?

Oh yeah, it was. You can make those movies in ten days. The writer Ryan Levin and I became good friends, and the director Jack Perez and I have done three films together since then. It was such an interesting balance of realistic family stuff and mystery - it's sort of a genre-busting movie. I thought my character was interesting because he didn't belong in the police department. There was something more philosophical about him, he was distracted and detached, which I liked. I liked his sermonizing about things.

Did you interact with John Landis on that film at all?

Never met him. He was the Executive Producer but he wasn't around. I did another movie with the same director called Blast Vegas (2013) with Frankie Muniz where Landis and Joe Dante played the opening scene. 

Perez and Levin should be making major films - they haven't quite reached that point yet, but I recognize their talent. They started with The Asylum films, which we've all done, but Jack Perez now teaches directing classes at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and I think Ryan Levin has been working in animation. 

I love The Asylum...

I did a real interesting one called 2010: Moby Dick (2010) - the cheesiest Moby Dick you could ever see, it is as bad as those stupid sharks falling out of the sky. Some of the performances in it are quite good, and then unfortunately they'll cut to this giant whale jumping over an island and you'll think, "Well, there goes my Academy Award." It's worth seeing just for shits and giggles. 
(Spin City - ABC Series)
Let's talk about being a part of the cast of Spin City...

Spin City was such a good, deep bench of actors. They could throw a storyline to any one of the cast members in an A-story and they would carry the whole show. That's what was wonderful about the show, you never felt like you had to make up for somebody else. You were always on par with everybody. 

They were all such brilliant comedians. Each character was unique unto themselves. You never felt that you were overlapping somebody in comedy or character, like so many of those sitcoms do - you know, the three guys in an office who's lines could be interchangeable. Each character on this show had a unique point of view. 

I grew up watching Spin City with my family on Tuesday nights, so it is surreal to be standing here talking to Mr. Mayor. Does it ever really register that you were in so many homes every week?

Not really. It's hard to get on the other side of the tube and see it from that standpoint. I'm able to pretty much divorce myself from the characters that I play - even with Spin City I probably couldn't even tell you more than five episodes of what happened. Television just moves so fast that by the time you finish one and are onto the next, you forget what happened the previous week. 

But what was it like being in people's homes each week? With that particular show, the problem was that people always thought I was as stupid as the character. I tried to explain to them that the character wasn't really stupid, he was just entitled. He was rich. Everybody had been doing everything for him. Occasionally he would solve the problem, but if you didn't see that episode you'd say that the guy is just a ditzy, incapable character. I always tried to make sure every five-to-ten episodes that they made you believe the guy could actually be the mayor of a major city and that it wasn't just totally being run by the Deputy Mayor. I don't know if I was successful at it, but we were successful at getting laughs. 
(Barry Bostwick photographed by Mary Bluhm)
I personally think Mayor Randall Winston is one of the funniest television characters of all time. 

Oh really? Neat! Thank you.

I noticed that there is an actual Randall Winston in the credits of the show...

He was one of the producers on it, the Associate Producer, and they named me after him. He became the producer on Scrubs and then on Cougar Town. He's a tall Black guy and I love him. He's one of my good friends, just a neat guy and very sweet. In terms of character types we were so different but, still, I am so happy to have been his namesake. 

What was it like filming the iconic episode, Radio Daze, where you and Michael J. Fox jumped into the Hudson?

That was a tough episode because Michael was sick and nobody really knew it, and I had just had an operation for prostate cancer about a month earlier and nobody really knew that. When he said, "Let's do it again!" I said, "No, Mike. I don't wanna jump of this pier again!" He was gung ho for it. 

The problem with that scene, if there was a problem, was that we looked at the survey the day before we went out to film it and when we showed up the day of filming, the tide was down about ten feet from where it had been before. So all of a sudden the jump was huge, like we're jumping off the top of a building! They had scuba divers down there ready to get us. I was a little scared taking that jump - when we jumped we needed to hold each other's hand.
(Barry Bostwick photographed by Mary Bluhm)
What advice do you have for all of the actors who are currently out of work due to COVID-19. 

I think the most important thing is that you need to have a good hobby. Let this be a warning that show business goes in and out, and you don't want to be hanging by the phone during these times waiting on someone to call. You want to use your creativity for something else - whether it's ceramics, painting, or building cars. Use this time creatively to establish something in your life that you have more control over. You don't have any control over show business unless you're the producer/director. You may give the best performance in the world but it won't always cut that way. You can't put your whole life into what you do. You have to find something in your life that's going to feed you in other ways. 

I've found that in ceramics and pottery, and before that it was sculpting. I have a really nice outlet with ceramics and I've been doing it for twenty-something years. I have a studio at the house and whenever I'm not acting I'm creating stuff there. I can create and destroy my pots, there's nobody telling me how I should be making things, or what shape and color. It's been a lifesaver over the last thirty years of my life because I have something to fall back on that gives me energy and fulfills that creative side of my soul.

So that's what I do - I say get a hobby! A good hobby. Don't take it too seriously. Another thing you can do is read as many books as you can and watch as many YouTube videos about acting that you can. Or spend the time learning dialect. Take six weeks and work on a different dialect. Look in the mirror and see how somebody would cast you. Have the ability to portray different characters in your back pocket. This is the time to learn it, not the night before the audition. 
(Jason Anders and Barry Bostwick)
What happens with your pottery once a piece is completed?  

Some of the bigger ones I will give to charity. I have sold them in the past, but I've never been able to sit down and get a whole production. We were supposed to have an art tour a few months ago here in Florida but that was canceled. I think eventually I will come up with some designs that are a little different, but I'm not much of a salesman. Maybe I'll get an online store. I live in an artsy town called Mount Dora and there's all kinds of studios and art fairs here, but I don't see myself standing underneath a tent on Saturdays and Sundays selling things. Right now I'm just working on new shapes, I just got my kiln up and running, and I'm experimenting and relaxing through the process. 

What future projects do you currently have in the works? 

I just shot another pilot called Snow Birds, but I haven't seen any of the edits yet. I'm also working on a one-man show about Oscar Hammerstein that I might do a production of in a local theatre called Oscar. So there's a lot of little things, but what I really want to do right now is make pots. 

How would you sum up your life so far with only three words?

Not over yet.

*Interview conducted October 9, 2011 & September 3, 2020.