Film critic since 1984, and online since 1998. Here, you will find a film essay or review, interviews, and a focus on certain trends in current Hollywood, and what is eclipsed in favor of something more mainstream.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
(An Interview with Scott Schwartz): He sticks out his tongue for no one!
An Interview with Scott Schwartz
By Jerry Saravia
Scott Schwartz is a child actor of the 1980's whom many will find familiar as Flick from A Christmas Story. Yep, he was the kid who stuck his tongue on a pole on a double-dog-dare - a heartbreakingly real, terrifically funny and memorable moment from one of the best Christmas films ever made. As a child actor, he also appeared in The Toy, a less engaging film with Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason which nevertheless features a winsome performance by Scott. 1984's Kidco was barely released theatrically and it seemed as if the same old cliches about child stardom applied to Scott Schwartz [he has returned to the movies in some low-budget films, such as Community College].This interview will shed light on what he has been up to since the heyday of the 1980's, some behind-the-scenes insights, his brief foray into the adult-film world, his successful sports and movie memorabilia store, and his forthcoming memoir.
1.) How did you get into acting? Were you discovered by someone or you auditioned for some film or TV show?
Scott Schwartz: "I got into acting when I was almost 9. A gentleman who knew me from going to the movies with my dad asked if I wanted to do a commercial... I did and the rest is history."
1.5) I've got to ask the most obvious question: how did "A Christmas Story" happen? And is this perennial holiday favorite watched at Christmas time in the Schwartz household?
SS: "I had just finished up shooting 'Kidco' and the director of the film Bob Clark had just seen 'The Toy' ... and he wanted to meet me for one of the kids, he wasn't even sure which character until we met and talked. My 'audition' was just a 1 hr conversation, then lunch and later that day I got the film. I used to watch it [A Christmas Story] about 15 years ago, now I just switch channels unless a part is on I enjoy, which is never my scenes."
2.) "Kidco" is a favorite of mine, and my wife's. It was shot in 1982 and was barely released in 1984 [The plot deals with kids living on a horse ranch who decide to sell the excess manure as fertilizer, but their new company soon comes under fire from the state tax board]. What happened with the film that it didn't get the distribution that it deserved? And what was it like working with director Ronald F. Maxwell of "Gettysburg" fame in the 90's? I am wondering if that two-year gap is not a result of Maxwell's perfectionism since he has been described as having work habits similar to the late Stanley Kubrick.
SS: "The film was finished up in late '82, the film sat for a year but Ron Maxwell had some pull and we got a 'courtesy' release in Alabama the spring of '84, the same weekend as this 'little' movie called 'Splash' was released.. needless to say, we didn't get many viewers and the movie was buried. It was a small $4 million dollar budget and 20th century fox had no faith in the film, so that was that. Ron Maxwell was a terrific director, really enjoyed working with him. He was direct to the point and never treated us kids as kids, he treated us as actors, the same as he treated Charlie Hallahan (the dad) and the other adults. Would enjoy working with him again sometime too." 2.5.) I also understand "Kidco" was based on a true story. Can you tell us more about it and its influence on "Kidco"?
SS: "Kidco was based on the Cessena family of southern California. They really built an empire cleaning up horse manure and killing gophers. Really sounds like a fairy tale, but it really did happen. Got to meet them when we did the film, they were in their 20's, NICE people !" 3.) "The Toy" is not one of my favorite Richard Pryor comedies but I do think you were the most appealing thing in it. How did this project come about, and was it fun working with Pryor and Jackie Gleason or was there tension since they were both comics?
SS: "I got the film after 7 auditions and 3 screen tests. Richard was amazing, one of the most incredible people I've ever met, he was my muse from the day I met him till the day he passed away. It was a remake of a French film with the same name, at the time both Pryor and Gleason were HUGE names and someone at Columbia thought they had a good concept for them to work together. Mr. Gleason was just a professional. NO real tension on the set to speak of, it was a very professional set with the 2 of them however, Richard Donner the director (The Goonies, Superman, Lethal Weapon franchise) kept us laughing and having fun everyday. IF people think Richard Pryor is funny on-screen, off-screen he was quiet and very studious however when he got 'the juices flowing', he was hilarious."
4.) I read that you worked in the adult film industry and left claiming you got "tired of the industry." Did you want to branch out a bit, beyond Hollywood conventions, or was finding work as a former child actor difficult since it happens to many? Also, in what capacity did you work and why for such a short time?
SS: "In the adult film industry, I worked for a talent agency, a production office, a video salesman... about any job you can think of I did but truly I don't speak of it too much but I will when I write my book. It came down to dollars and cents, it was paying my bills and it was whatever it took to take care of putting a roof over my head and food on the table, that's what I did. Being a child actor, while rewarding, is truly a bad job, we all grow up and IF the right people don't take to us and keep us working, most are out of work by 15-18 and have no idea what the real world is about. Not everyone at every job you have/get brings you coffee and a bagel in the morning, asks what you would like for lunch and takes you out to steak/lobster dinners." 5.) Any projects you had turned down that you wish you hadn't, and is there one project past, present or future you would like to see made with your name on it in any capacity?
SS: "I never had the opportunity to 'turn down jobs' and I don't believe in that concept UNLESS it's just bad. I have turned down quite a few 'reality' tv shows as for the most part they aren't positive. IF someone wanted to do a reality show based on myself and our family collectibles business, that I would do. But 'child star gone bad' or something along those lines, no interest what-so-ever. And a book that I'm working on currently, I look forward to people reading it and really knowing and understanding what it means to be a 'child' star, advice about getting your kid into the business and my own life experiences along the way. It will really make people think and be more understanding and compassionate towards those they loved as 'child stars'... and a few other surprises as well." 6.) I understand you are quite the sports and movie memorabilia collector, including having your own store called "Baseball Cards, Movie Collectibles, etc." This has been a love of yours since the 1980's. What is it about sports and movie memorabilia that excites you?
SS: "I have always been a collector and a movie buff, so it just fell into place. My dad has had the business since 1987 and I've just come and gone from there over the years but the past 6 months or so I've really concentrated on the store as we just moved locations to Woodland Hills, CA. Our name didn't change but it's so long, the sign outside just says "Sports and Movie Stuff". It's nice to have a 4,000 sq. foot store to go to. I just really enjoy collecting things on people I know or have worked with as well as Star Wars (Darth Vader was my fav), Pride of the Yankees, Barry Bonds and Julius Erving (both have been good friends for several decades), Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks I can't wait to meet) and William Shatner, who I have met several times and just really enjoy most all of his work. 7.) Finally, name one film that is your favorite, or maybe one that everyone asks you about.
SS: "IMPOSSIBLE to name 1 but... Blazing Saddles, The Pride of the Yankees, The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band (w/the bee gees), Rocky & Galaxy Quest ! The characters in that film are like myself and the kids from 'A Christmas Story'. A lot of people ask me why I don't say one of my films ... I let others be fans of my films and I want to be a fan of others."