Interview conducted by Aaron Nicewonger.
So, remember in last year’s interview, when I said that Sam Huntington was the nicest guy you’d ever meet? Yeah, well Anthony Michael Hall is certainly giving him a run for his money. He’s really sweet, and really humble, and generally just an all around great guy.
So, in order to keep close to the fans, we arranged a more “guerrilla-style” interview in the main hall. So, there we are, in a crowd of people and a group of his fans, and I’m sitting there about to talk to the most well known celebrity I’ve met in my short-lived career thus far. I’ve been trying to get this set up for the last few hours, so I’m a little tired and a little wired. But Anthony just exudes so much positive energy and this cool, calm, collected aura of chill… so it feels as though it’s just the two of us chatting and everything is totally cool. He’s a pretty friggin’ cool dude. So, without any more accidental gushing, here’s my sit-down with Anthony Michael Hall.
Aaron Nicewonger: You were born in ’68, and your mom was a blues singer….
Anthony Michael Hall: Yeah she’s a jazz/blues singer named Mercedes Hall. My sister is an amazing singer as well, and she goes by Mary C. She has albums out on iTunes. And my father was a business manager, and worked with Sandra Bullock, Mike Epps, John Leguizamo.
AN: Your screen debut was in The Gold Bug, where you played a young Edgar Allen Poe.
AMH: Yeah it was 1979; it was an after school special.
AN: I actually watched it in school.
AMH: Did you really?! That’s awesome!
AN: Then, after that you went on to do National Lampoon’s Vacation.
AMH: John Hughes; that was his script. That was where I was introduced to Matty Simmons, who created Nation Lampoon Magazine, and produced Animal House and all these great movies. And I got to work with all these legends like Chevy, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, all these great actors. It was a great experience. And from there I met John Hughes and did the three films in the 80s.
AN: Right! Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science.
AMH: And if you include Vacation, I owe everything to him. My first four big movies were because of John Hughes. So, I always tip my hat to him and acknowledge how good he was and what a great person he was.
AN: So, after those movies, you were sort of famous for being the loveable, scrawny nerd. But then in films like Edward Scissorhands, you were pretty muscular. Was that a personal choice or did you do it for a role?
AMH: Ya know what it was? It was when I filmed Johnny Be Good in ’87. I hired a trainer named Tom Patty who was a fighter that I met through Mike Tyson. And he trained me, and I put on some bulk. Then my body changed, and my roles changed and I got to play the villain in Edward Scissorhands, and got to work with the great Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. And I love that collaboration and to be able to work with those guys.
AN: A few years after that, you made you directorial debut with Hail Caesar. What was that experience like for you?
AMH: That was amazing. I mean, I was 25 years old. I moved to LA to do that job. It was a silly script, and I got to work on the soundtrack, and direct it, and act in it. It was a great opportunity. I got from a producer named Steven Paul. I was able to ask Downey to be in it, and he did me a great favor, and Sam Jackson who had just finished Pulp Fiction showed up for me. I’m very blessed in my career to have these opportunities. It’s nice to reflect on it with you, because it reminds me of how fortunate I am, and I appreciate it.
AN: Now, you mentioned doing the soundtrack. Is working on that what led to “Hall of Mirrors”?
AMH: Yeah, and because of my mother, exactly! I come from a very musical family…that was a lot of it, and it did lead to “Hall of Mirrors,” the band project that I did. I made that album in ’98. It was an idea given to me by my good friend, Shaun. …. I’ve done the best I could through the 90s. I’ve had kind of a journeyman’s career, or at least that’s how I look at it. It’s certainly humbled me. It’s kept me humble, and it’s made me more appreciative of the work. I think the thing to remember is that we all deal with ups and downs. I think we all thrive under adversity, and if we’re not fully aware of it, that’s fine. So, I’m grateful for every step.
AN: So, as far as adversity, was it a challenge, and hopefully a welcome challenge switching gears to The Dead Zone? A new format, TV series as opposed to movies?
AMH: Well you know that role came to me through the late, great Michael Piller, and he was a great gentleman; he created Deep Space Nine and Voyager; he and his son Shawn Piller who was a good friend of mine, they came to me and offered me the role because they had seen me play Bill Gates.
AN: Pirates of Silicon Valley.
AMH: And I was incredibly honored, and nervous too, to pick up where Walken had left off. It was never my intention to imitate him obviously. He’s one of my heroes. But it was a great experience. We wound up having six seasons and the USA Network was wonderful to me and all of us, and supported the show, and I was really surprised and happy.
AN: On top of your work in entertainment, you’ve also done some philanthropic stuff too. There was the The Anthony Michael Hall Literacy Club, for at risk youth.
AMH: It’s no longer in existence, but I was honored by Chapman University, which is Southern California. It was a program for high school students who were at risk of dropping out. It ran for a while, and it was an incredible honor, because when I saw the fruit of the effort there, it was incredible. I mean, I had met kids in high school that could barely speak English. And I’d basically used some of my old films, some audio books I’d done, some different things from my career, as a springboard…for the kids…to inspire them to write, create, read, and it was a great program. I came to check on them, and some of those kids were attending Chapman, and UCLA, and they showed this great maturity, and I saw them blossom and it was just incredibly gratifying, and humbling too ‘cause I felt “wow, what an honor.” What mattered to me was to see the growth of the students, to see that it really worked and really inspired a lot of kids to come out of their shell, and contribute to their higher education.
AN: That’s amazing.
AMH: Aw, thanks.
AN: Do you have any upcoming projects? Working on anything right now? Anything on the slate?
AMH: Well, I’m launching a company next year called Manhattan Films. So, I can do for others what John Hughes did for me. And this is the launch of the company, so we’re looking for everything from Web series, to television, to film projects, so I’m really, really excited. You know, it’s my way of furthering the sort of good opportunities that have been bestowed upon me, so that I can make my own films, and at the same time help others to fulfill their dreams. And it means a lot to me, because I know how blessed I’ve been to start out as a kid and just have a creative job for all my life. And I’m grateful to the good Lord, just for that.
AN: Fantastic! I appreciate it, man.
AMH: Me too. It was great to meet you. Nice job man! Great questions! You’re a natural.
AN: Thank you. I was so nervous.
AMH: Aw, buddy, don’t be nervous. We’re just people. We’re all regular people.
[We share a chuckle, and shake hands.]