Quint chats with Harold Ramis about ICE HARVEST, GHOSTBUSTERS and much more!!!
Published at: Nov. 17, 2005, 1:54 a.m. CST by staff
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little chat I had with Harold Ramis. This interview was a bit weird for me as I had grown up on STRIPES and (even more so) with GHOSTBUSTERS. This was one of those "Holy Shit!" moments in my life. It's fuckin' Egon, man...
I was pleased to find that Ramis was incredibly kind, good-hearted and funny. We talk mostly about his newest directorial outing, ICE HARVEST with John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton and Oliver Platt, however we do dip back into his olden days a bit with talk of VACATION, GHOSTBUSTERS (and talk of GHOSTBUSTERS 3, which has a little bit in there about Venkman's involvement in the proposed 3rd installment that I never heard before this interview) and much more.
We do go into some detail on ICE HARVEST, so if you want to stay 100% pure on the black comedy you might want to bookmark this sucker and come back after you've seen it. For the rest of ya', come on in and give it a read. I think you'll like it.
Ramis and I were introduced at the Driskill hotel here in Austin. Ramis was in town to show ICE HARVEST at the Austin Film Festival as well as do a Q&A for GHOSTBUSTERS at Austin's grand ol' movie house, THE PARAMOUNT THEATER. We decided to look for a quiet place to do the interview, which lead us down the stairs and into the lobby of the Driskill. On the way down the stairs, Ramis looked back at a couple of people standing at the top of the stairs. He looked back to me and confessed an urge to push them down the stairs when we walked past them 10 seconds previous and said it was just a pet peeve of his to see people just standing at the top of a stair case. He said all this with a smile, though, so it didn't come off as creepy.
We ended up sitting down outside the Diskill's cafe and Ramis started talking about his first introduction to Ain't It Cool back in the day. This is the part where I let the transcription speak. The stage has been set! Enjoy!
QUINT: Ah, good. So we're not starting this out uncomfortable! (laughs)
HAROLD RAMIS: That's a good thing.
QUINT: Well, you never know. I was introduced to Spielberg and he was laying praise after praise on the site, then just kind of dropped, "I don't like the early script reviews." He apparently had to rewrite some of JURASSIC PARK 4 to keep some of the twists and turns fresh because of a review on the site.
HAROLD RAMIS: Well, I mean... a lot of bad scripts get made into movies... I have to say.
QUINT: I think this was more about plot points being revealed... However, let's talk about ICE HARVEST a bit. How's the reception been on the movie so far?
HAROLD RAMIS: Pretty good! I mean, people are saying really nice things.
QUINT: When's it coming out again?
HAROLD RAMIS: The day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday the 23rd. We took it to the festival in Deauville, France, the (in heavy fake French accent) Festival du Cinema Americain. (laughs) It's all American movies, paid for the studios, of course, but boy... They really liked it. The French were really into it. You know, they thrive on existential despair. It's a way of life over there, isn't it?
QUINT: Well, the movie is a kind of departure from what you're known for. It's much bleaker than your previous work.
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah, I would say.
QUINT: Is that what attracted you to the story? That it's a different kind of film?
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah. I mean, I have a serious dark side... Well, I'm not that dark, but I'm certainly serious, but I am attracted to the dark side. You know, I've always been a big fan of the Coen Bros movies and some classic film noir and everything. I'm an existentialist by religion, you know... I'm in training. So, the movie fell just right into my ball park, I thought, as far as if I was ever going to make a film that was genuinely violent and genuinely scary, in a certain way, and really show what happens when you live without values... this is the one. It was so beautifully written.
QUINT: It's very much a showcase for Billy Bob and John Cusack...
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah, and Oliver Platt. Oliver's great, too.
QUINT: Oh, definitely. I have a specific Oliver Platt section coming up... big fan of his.
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah, me too.
QUINT: But can you tell me a little bit about John and Billy Bob came to the movie?
HAROLD RAMIS; John and I had talked, like, a few times about working together. I had actually acted in HIGH FIDELITY. I shot the first day of the movie as John's father. There were a couple of fantasy flashes in the movie and he imagines his father talking to him. I knew the director Stephen Frears socially and Frears asked me to be in the film and I said, "Sure," so...
John and I had talked before that about me directing something for him, but we never really found the material we agreed on. So, when this one came up I thought, "John would be perfect for this." We talked about it... He's a very thoughtful person. He really wanted to know my ideas, what did I think the movie was about, so I tried to give him a capsule version of it on the phone. He thought about it for probably less than 48 hours and said, "Yes."
QUINT: What about Billy Bob?
HAROLD RAMIS: Billy Bob came in in a second. Two other directors had tried to develop the film... Robert Benton himself, who co-wrote the screenplay. He was going to direct, but didn't want to do it low budget and couldn't come to terms with the studio. And then Dean Parisot (GALAXY QUEST, FUN WITH DICK AND JANE) was going to do it, but then they couldn't cast the film.
Billy Bob had been shown the material in one of those earlier incarnations, so he was already... And I think he had probably been shown both parts, Charlie and Vic, so when I called him and said, "Would you consider playing Vic?" He said, "Yeah." He said yes on the phone immediately. He was ready for it. He just wanted to be in the film. He said some really nice things about my work and I loved him, so...
QUINT: Well, Vic's definitely the showier character. He's not nearly in the movie as much as Charlie is...
HAROLD RAMIS: No.
QUINT: ... but those scenes at his house with his dead wife... (laughs)
HAROLD RAMIS: Wow! Actually, Billy Bob said, "Truthfully, if I had been given my choice of which part to play, I still would have chosen Vic." So, that's where he saw himself in the movie.
QUINT: Alright, now we're up to Oliver Platt.
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah! (The way it came out it almost sounded like a "yeeawww" but I'm pretty sure it was just an excited "Yeah!" Aren't behind the scenes fun?)
QUINT: I'm curious as to how much of himself is in his character because he seems so perfectly tailor made for the role of Pete. I mean, it almost feels like the role didn't even exist and you just said, "Oliver, why don't you come down and just do whatever you want to do. We'll make you a featured character."
HAROLD RAMIS: Well, in the novel it's not... Well, in the film he plays one of John's best friends who married John's ex-wife. In the novel he was his brother in law, he was the brother of John's ex-wife. But (Richard) Russo and (Robert) Benton I thought made a very wise choice...
But John's character is numb, just numb. Oliver's character, his way of dealing with anguish is to just go careening out of control, crashing from one awful embarrassing situation to another. He's a buffoon. I mean, he's a classic buffoon. It makes such a wonderful contrast to John.
You know, John's the lynchpin of the film. He has all these separate relationships with people. No two of them have a relationship with each other, not that we see anyway. So, it's a series of duets with John and each one has a different kind of tone and texture. The one with Billy Bob is, you know, tense and he's constantly on edge. And the one with Oliver is this bemused sense of watching a guy just fuck up as badly as Oliver continues to fuck up.
QUINT: Did the book end in a similar way to how the movie ends?
HAROLD RAMIS: No, the book ends with Charlie being arbitrarily killed. Charlie's accidentally run over, having nothing to do with the adventure they had just been on.
QUINT: Well, there's something very nice about watching them drive off together...
HAROLD RAMIS: When we tested the film, the audience cheered when Oliver pops up in the car. They really did! It's just unexpected.
But in the ending where he dies, it kinda validates what John's character says in the middle film, when he makes that wonderful speech about his father and his uncle, twin brothers, who lead completely different lives. One moral and exemplary, the other totally dissipated, but they die within 2 days of each other 2,000 miles apart of completely different reasons. So, John's philosophy is it doesn't matter how you live. What's the difference? Same result. And when he dies, it validates that, especially when he dies by a cosmic accident. It sort of does say "It doesn't matter what you do. Why bother? Why bother trying to lead a good life?"
By letting him live... To me, without changing the tone of the film, it flipped the meaning of the film. Now the film says, "No matter what you've done, no matter how badly you've acted or how much you've fucked up, there's a glimmer of possibility of redemption."
I'm the happy existentialist and I come down on the side of possibility. We create meaning for ourselves and through that we redeem ourselves.
QUINT: I also really loved Randy Quaid in the movie.
HAROLD RAMIS: He did a good turn.
QUINT: This is the first time you've worked with him since VACATION, right?
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah, we couldn't think of who to put in the movie. We read a lot of people, some pretty heavy duty bad guys and British actors... you know, all kinds of people. We were sitting around and I remembered that after I had worked with Randy, he and Dennis did Sam Shepard's play TRUE WEST and Randy played the heavy. Most people knew Randy as kind of the big cuddly doofus from VACATION, but he was so scary in TRUE WEST!
And I know how physically huge he is... This is the tallest cast I've ever seen in a film, by the way.
QUINT: Yeah, I've heard Cusack's a big dude in real life. I've had him described as almost thuggish, which was odd to me... I always think of him from BETTER OFF DEAD days, kind of the skinny guy...
HAROLD RAMIS: Oh no... He's 6'2" at least and he's in good shape. Connie Nielsen's almost six feet, Oliver is 6'3" or four, Randy's 6'4" or five. So, I new Randy could be really scary. When he and Dennis... there's this big fight scene in TRUE WEST when the two brothers fight. I went backstage to visit them and Dennis was really beaten up. Randy would really hurt him when they'd do the scene.
So, I thought... no one's seen scary Randy for quite a long time and he just loved the part. It was pretty cool. And Randy... because the movie's set in Kansas. Randy, you know, is a Texas guy, so he has this kind of sensibility. He understands where these people come from.
QUINT: So, is the acting thing kind of done for you now?
HAROLD RAMIS: Well, no. When people ask me. I never audition. I do when I'm asked.
QUINT: Good, because I thought you were damned funny in ORANGE COUNTY.
HAROLD RAMIS: ORANGE COUNTY! That was fun. I just did one... I did a day in a movie with Zach Braff that's called THE LAST KISS. It's directed by Tony Goldwyn, produced by Tom Rosenberg and written by Paul Haggis. Rosenberg produced MILLION DOLLAR BABY and Haggis wrote it and Haggis, of course, did CRASH.
So, I had one day with Blythe Danner. That was my scene, but it was good. It's a good scene and a good script.
QUINT: You know, I've spent some time with Colin Hanks and I did find him to be a very kissable person...
HAROLD RAMIS: (laughs) He's a doll!! I tell ya'... the line my kids love from that movie, and other kids have actually have said to me on the street... that's, "Sean. You are my same height. That is neat." Kid's actually say that me. (laughs)
QUINT: It was really cool to see STRIPES get a big Special Edition DVD treatment. Do you know when we're going to see VACATION or GROUNDHOG DAY get the same kind of release?
HAROLD RAMIS: They usually wait for Anniversaries to do that. VACATION... I guess the danger is they'll do a box set of all the VACATION films! (laughs) They just did a boxed GHOSTBUSTERS set, which is nice. We did a little promotion of that this summer. I did some TV stuff for that.
Let's see... GROUNDHOG DAY came out in... 92, maybe?
HAROLD RAMIS: '93, yeah, so we missed the 10 year...
QUINT: So we'll have to wait until 2008?
HAROLD RAMIS: I hope not... maybe the 15 year. I still talk more about that film than anything else, although it depends on the audience.
[Seaman sidenote: I just got a press release saying a GROUNDHOG DAY SE with a Ramis commentary and a "documentary" will be released in February '06. Might not be super packed, but it's something.]
QUINT: I have to say, as a kid VACATION and GHOSTBUSTERS were some of my most watched videos... and as a kid I never put it together that Egon directed VACATION!
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah, Egon was directing before he was acting, however! I was drafted! Ivan Reitman made my acting career!
QUINT: Well, GHOSTBUSTERS is screening at the fest. Are you actually going to sit down and watch the movie again?
HAROLD RAMIS: I thought I would. I was going to go to BEE SEASON, but I saw it at a special screening in Chicago and liked it very, very much. My partners on ICE HARVEST Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger produced BEE SEASON as well and Naomi Foner, the writer of BEE SEASON is a friend also and she's coming in, so I was going to watch that, but now I've just seen that, so I thought I'll watch GHOSTBUSTERS with the audience and see how it plays.
QUINT: I'm telling you... My favorite movie is JAWS and I saw it at the Paramount Theater a few years ago on a double bill called MOTHER NATURE STRIKES BACK with Hitchcock's THE BIRDS and the audience was great. The print was kind of beat up and everything, but there was screaming in the theater. The Paramount has got a little magic in it.
HAROLD RAMIS: Oh, good! I go to Martha's Vineyard in the summer where they shot some of JAWS. I think one of the first big screams in JAWS is when he's diving and the head comes out through the hole in the boat. That boat is beached right near the town of Menemsha. I drive by it all the time.
QUINT: The guy that owns the land and the boat actually took a chainsaw to it this past summer. When he heard JAWSFEST was happening, he knew fans would want to get a close look or cherry pick the boat, which would require them to trespass on his land, so he just destroyed it to keep people from wandering around his property.
HAROLD RAMIS: The year JAWS came out I was working with kind of an alternative video commune called TV-TV and we were covering the '76 Academy Awards for public television and doing a documentary on the awards. My job was to wrangle Bill Murray and shoot comedy stuff outside the Awards. No one knew who he was at the time, this was before Saturday Night Live...
So, we had Bill as the crazed JAWS fan. You know the guy, Carl Spackler, who he does in CADDYSHACK? You know, that guy that (goes into Murray from CADDYSHACK) talks like dis? So, he was a big JAWS fan and he was among the crowd awaiting outside the auditorium. (Back in Murray voice) "Awright, who wants JAWS to win?" You know. And he had every shark toy and JAWS promotional item, you know. (laughs)
QUINT: That sounds awesome! Where is that footage now?
HAROLD RAMIS: Oh, I don't know. TV-TV has it, I'm sure.
QUINT: Can we talk a little bit about your upcoming projects? I read you have something cooking with Owen Wilson.
HAROLD RAMIS: I do, I do, but I can't give away what that's about. We're working with two young writers who work on the show THE OFFICE...
QUINT: The American OFFICE?
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah. And I've known one of them... he came to me as an intern right after he graduated from the University of Iowa, in the writer's program. His name is Gene Stupnitsky and his partner's name is Lee Eisenberg and they're really funny young guys. I've had this idea for a long time and we're doing it for Columbia Pictures for Owen... Epic. Epic comedy.
QUINT: Do you have anything else coming up?
HAROLD RAMIS: Um... no. Just stuff I'm playin' with. I'm kind of interested in... Do you know who Del Close was?
HAROLD RAMIS: Del Close was, like, the most celebrated teacher of improvisation in the country, basically. Murray, Belushi, me, Aykroyd... all these guys worked with him at Second City and then he started his own theater, the ImprovOlympic. He's like the guru of improvisation. In fact he died several years ago and someone has written a book called GURE: THE LIFE OF DEL CLOSE.
He was kind of a guy who taught by life example. His whole mission in life was to shock people and to shake them up. He was like a crazed guru, a nasty guru. He was always creating scenes in public. He was a junkie, he was a hippie, he was with the Hog Farm... this was late '60s stuff in San Francisco. He was in and out of mental institutions. He claimed that he was friends with L. Ron Hubbard and he told him to turn Scientology into a religion. It's like Forrest Gump or Zelig, you know? (laughs) He was everywhere, knew everybody.
He was in the original Second City group with Mike Nichols and Elaine May and all those people.
Anyway, there's a screenplay being written about his last days. He died of emphysema when he was 64 years old. It would make a really interesting movie. It's basically the true story of a young man who was hired to just drive Del around on his errands and make sure he didn't kill himself and stuff, you know. The kid who drove him around wrote a book called GURU. It'd make a really nice movie and a great turn for an actor to play Del Close.
QUINT: I know you're probably sick of it, but the AICN readers would kill me if I didn't bring up GHOSTBUSTERS 3. I know a few years ago it was getting hot and then just seemed to disappear. What's going on with it?
HAROLD RAMIS: Yeah, Danny and I actually played around for a while... Aykroyd had a great concept. He called me and said, "I got it. I got GHOSTBUSTERS 3." I said, "What is it?" He said, "Ghostbusters go to Hell! This is it!" (laughs)
QUINT: So is there a chance that it'll still happen?
HAROLD RAMIS: Well, the script was viable. Dan is the most imaginative person. He went off on a tangent 90% of the movie is a special effect set entirely in Hell, you know. I had a whole different take on it.
Really, it was the business that stopped it. I never thought that the public wanted to see the three of us kind of stuffed into our jumpsuits again. I thought we would introduce three new Ghostbusters, but maybe we'd be around as Senior Ghostbusters, running the company or something, but the real adventure would be... And this was so long ago, we were thinking Chris Rock, Chris Farley and Ben Stiller taking over. That would have worked
And we had the script all worked out. Danny and I had the story and Murray got really... Murray's so cantankerous, you know. Dan called him and said, "Would you be in the movie?" And he said, "I'll be in the movie... but only as a ghost."
QUINT: That would have been awesome!
HAROLD RAMIS: (laughs) It would have been interesting. So, we even created a story around that. In the end, it sounds greedy, but the deal couldn't be made. We as an entity... Me... well, I'm low man on that totem pole deal-wise, but Ivan, Bill, Danny and me couldn't make a deal with the studio. There wasn't enough left for the studio.
And I can't say my heart was really in it, you know... making the third one.
There you have it. How about that Del Close movie? Sounds like it could be a crazy flick. I hope it comes about. And even more important... how about that Bill Murray at the 76 Academy Awards footage! I want to see that so damn badly! I will kiss whoever digs that up and shows it to the world (or just me... I'm not picky). Male or female. Old or young. I'll turn into Richard Dawson for ya'.
And Bill Murray as a ghost hanging around the other Ghostbusters? That would have been genius...
Anyway, hope you enjoyed the chat. I had a lot of fun with it and was even geeking out while transcribing it. Ramis' voice is just so ingrained in my head from obsessive childhood viewings of GHOSTBUSTERS and its sequel... to listen to our 30-odd minute talk playback is surreal to say the least.
Now back to slaving away on that Holiday Shopping Guide. Got a whopper this year. Thanks for the suggestions and keep 'em coming!