Michael Gross returns as Burt Gummer today in the sixth feature film installment in the long-running Tremors franchise, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell.
After nearly a ten-year break from feature films (although Gross did star in a TV series) after 2004's Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, the franchise returned in 2015 and introduced a new co-star for Gross: Jamie Kennedy, who plays Burt Gummer's long-lost son Travis. The pair have now enjoyed two team-ups against graboids and ass-blasters, and Gross tells ComicBook.com that he has been in talks for more movies.
Gross joined ComicBook.com to discuss the film, which hit DVD, Blu-ray, and digital platforms today.
There are a lot of people asking about Burt's hat in this movie. What happened to make a change?
Well, this was my idea. As a loyal Chicagoan, I thought Burt was a little iconoclastic. He's a bit, in terms of the world at large, you could call him a bit of a loser, you know what I mean? He lives this solitary life in the middle of nowhere, a very insular life.
I thought to myself, "the Cubs, for such a long time, were an underdog team," and it was just paying homage to my own hometown after all those years. I don't know, it just felt right. We didn't have to explain it. As you see in the film, we don't explain it. Jamie Kennedy keeps asking, "Have you changed teams?" "No, just hats," he says, giving him nothing.
The fact that we chose the Atlanta Hawks all those years ago was an accident. I was not in love with the team or anything. Atlanta Hawks was a choice I also made all those years ago. They just came and said, "What do you think Burt should be wearing on his head?" I said, "I see a ballcap of some sort, something with a visor, and I see a southern team -- nobody in particular, but I see a southern sports team."
And presto! We got more Atlanta Hawks hats than you'd ever seen in your life. They were only happy to advertise their brand. They sent us a bunch, so we settled on that. That's all it was.
I was like, "Why have we never questioned that? Why does it have to be?" It's not like I've ever gotten a season ticket. It's not like I've ever been invited to a game. So I said, "I have a great allegiance to my hometown baseball team." So that's where it went. They said, "Sure, why not." So there you go. Maybe Cubs forever.
Jamie told us that you have to "put up with him," because he is as spontaneous and difficult to work around sometimes as Travis is, and you are just as organized and professional as Burt.
I wouldn't say I have to put up with him. We worked out, I think -- a very nice compromise, where we just said, "Hey, let's do it the way it's written, and then we'll do some change ups. Then we'll play with it a little bit."
Part of the reason is, I love, love, love good writing. I have a great respect for writers. I've done a little bit of it myself.
The script goes through a lot of changes, permutations, and particularly where Burt's character is concerned, I have a certain amount of input in the way he says things and how he says things. Burt is every T is crossed, every I is dotted, that sort of thing. He's very precise, he never never gives misinformation. He knows the oddest, most arcane bits of history and things like that, and when he says something, you know it's true. He looked it up. He studied it. He's this queer guy who does sorts of things like that.
When I get a specific piece of dialogue on the page, and it's written, and nicely constructed, and this little perfect piece of, the way I would treat a perfect haiku, it's difficult for me to mess with it sometimes in terms of improvisation.
Burt's so important to me I want to get that tone right. Sometimes there's irony in the way he speaks, sometimes there's understatement, and I don't always trust myself in a completely spontaneous dialogue, or "Let's make this up as we go along," to have really found that voice, because it's so unlike my own that I don't want to get it wrong. I can say something very funny, let's say, in an improvisation, and my fear is it may sound like it's not quite Burt, it's just funny.
All I need is a director to fall in love with that and say, "Oh yeah, that's the one, we're gonna print," and it's like, "Well wait a minute, but it doesn't sound like Burt. It's funny, it's a joke, but it's not coming out of character." You know what I mean? I like a certain amount of precision for that reason.
That being said, I did improvise in some of this film, and they kept it. I can tell you exactly where it was, too. All that stuff where I'm trying to convince this doctor who's been trapped to escape. I did this whole thing where he's fearful, he's trembling, and I'm trying to get him to pull his s--t together. So I started this thing about, I don't know, I don't even remember the lines, because I made them up at the time. You're strong, you have this, you have balls, my balls are in the Guinness Book of Balls, all this stuff.
I made all that up as we were going along. So I can, from time to time, and they decide to keep it. It's like, "Oh that's great. That's great s--t. Stay on him like that." But I'm afraid of not getting that right sometimes. In that case, I think it sort of worked. But I don't commonly like to improvise because I like the precision of Burt. Burt speaks in a certain way, and I like to capture that tone.
If Jamie riffs with me, which I can do, my fear is I won't get my side right. Travis is a different character, and he can just say a bunch of dopey stuff, but Burt is very precise. I'm afraid of going off the rails, my personal rails with the character. Because I never want to sacrifice the character for the sake of a joke. A lot of people are like, "Oh, anything that makes them laugh." I want to make them laugh out of character or truth, not just something funny. Not that that's what Jamie's going for or anything like that, but when I wander off-script I worry, because Burt is such a very specific sort of voice.
All that to say, I enjoyed very much working with Jamie. We just had to get to know how each other worked and what he wanted to accomplish in each scene, and he likes to riff. That's cool, as long as we have the time, and as long as we say it right the first time. Get what we want the way it's written, then I'm happy to go play if time allows. But I wouldn't call it a burden by any means. We enjoyed ourselves together.
At this point, almost 30 years on, do you feel pretty comfortable in Burt's skin most of the time?
For over four decades, what I do for a living is pretend. Is there a part of me that exists from which I borrow Burt? Yes, there's a part of me, a certain obsessive compulsiveness about little things. I'm a compulsive recycler, and stuff like this; I have a little OCD in me.
Burt is comically obsessive compulsive. Burt goes to the extremes. I've taken a little bit of who I am for Burt Gummer; I have my bizarre parts. What you do is you take these little things that you know about yourself and take them to extremes. But I feel entirely comfortable playing Burt, just because he's comic gold. What a great place to go.
It's a writer's gift to have a character like this who goes to such extremes. Comedy is about imbalance, people who are out of balance. Literally, when they lose their balance and fall on a banana peel, but also out of balance just personally and psychologically. Burt is nothing if not out of balance, and that's what I love about him.
At this point are you guys looking at this like you could set up Travis to follow in Burt's footsteps if you ever reach the point where you can't do the stunts and stuff anymore?
No, not at all. I was attracted to this because it took Burt to a totally different place. I like challenging Burt psychologically. That is to say, if I just was a monster hunter all through these films, I would get bored silly, because it's like how many different ways can you kill a monster? I get it. Burt's good at what he does.
So in the last one, we tried to challenge Burt by having his son appear out of nowhere. A blood relative he didn't even know existed, and who presumably wants to get to know him. So the great challenge for Burt was, how does a loner let somebody else into their life? How does a loner allow any room for anyone else to coexist with them? That's the challenge I wanted to throw in front of Burt.
It wasn't because I couldn't do these things. Thank God I'm still in the shape I'm in and I can. The whole idea was how does a man who so wants control deal with ceding that control to someone else? How does a man come to grips with his own mortality? I wanted to take him, his next challenge to beyond graboids to what if he's threatened in a big way that he's never threatened before? It's not so much the threat of death, but the threat of control. Can he do that gracefully? Does he do it ungracefully? Let's explore that.
That was all part of the plan, actually. There was a part of me as Michael Gross that was like, "Shit, I could do this stuff. I hate giving it up." It's fun and crazy. But I thought the challenge would be far more interesting just to take that character on that journey.
I feel like at this point this franchise is something that we assume is indefinite. Do you in the back of your head already have a sense for like this is what I'd like to do next or this is a challenge I'd like to see Burt face next?
Absolutely. Absolutely. As a matter of fact I had a conversation about it today at Universal. Believe it or not, they are kicking around ideas for Tremors 7.3comments
Whether that actually gets made or not, I have no idea. I'm not gonna bet on it because I'm not a betting man. I've lost my shirt too many times on bets, particularly in this business. But they're talking about what would we do next. I was having ideas about that while we were still doing Tremors 6.
Yes, absolutely I have ideas. I'm not at liberty to divulge them to you or I'd have to kill you, Russ. But yeah. My little brain is cooking about just what's the next evolution of him, what does he have to face next, and what does he need, what does he want, and how do the monsters change, too, if they do. Where do we take this next?