Gunnar Hansen - "Leatherface" in the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
Motor City Comic Con - Detroit, MI - 2001
 
After "The Creature of the Black Lagoon," there were not that many - if any - monsters that attracted my attention. In fact, there were none. Sure, there were giant ants, bees, wasps, spiders, aliens and nuclear things, but nothing that really scared me later at night after seeing them on the silver screen. In 1974 it finally happened... "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!" The big hulking character known as Leatherface left an impression that is still with me (not to mention the crazy hitch hiker played by Ed Neal). The Leatherface character alone created so much terror that I couldn't sleep well for several days after seeing him on screen. After talking with some friends who saw the movie I found out I wasn't the only one with this dilemma. I ended up going to that particular movie many more times after the initial viewing... something about it fascinated me (and still does).
At the time I thought that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre story was true about some maniacal family butchering up people to make and sell barbecue at a family diner. As I got older I realized that this movie was based loosely on a real life serial killer named Ed Gein from Plainfield, Wisconsin back in the mid 50's (which is a story all in itself and not for the squeamish).
Since Leatherface there has only been one other character that I think deserves merit and that's Freddy Kruger. After a while the sequels to Freddy's movies got a bit stupid to say the least, but Leatherface has remained one of the few characters to still send a shiver or three up your spine. Needless to say the original Leatherface was and still is the best.
Gunnar Hansen is a very big guy and very friendly to his fans. He has starred in over eight feature films but his biggest draw has been the Leatherface character he portrayed in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre back in 1974. There have been three other people to portray Leatherface, but we all know who the original and best is.
The following interview I conducted with Gunnar Hansen was done off the top of my head as I had no idea I would be running into him at a convention in Detroit. Had I known, or if it would have been published anywhere, I would have done my homework and had a lot better questions. I make no excuses for this interview with Gunnar as I feel it has some interesting things in it.
Gunnar was kind enough to give me about twenty minutes of his time during a break from his table at the Detroit Motor City Comic Convention. I was happy to sit down and pick at his mind for a little while. So sit back and enjoy our conversation.

K2K: What have you been up to in the last year?
GH: I mostly write and I have a partner on a film doing a script which is a parody of the "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" called "The Last Horror Picture Show," which we've been pitching. Also I'm going to work on a new picture called "Witch Hunter." A picture I was in a couple of years ago called "Rachel's Attic" is being premiered in Royal Oak, Michigan and I'm working on a book and doing some documentary work as well.
K2K: What are some of your favorite memories of playing Leatherface?
GH: (laughs) Probably driving home knowing I was going to have a good bath and get some sleep. Chainsaw was really hard to shoot, it was exhausting work. There was a lot of running in it. It was shot in Texas in August so it was 95-100 degrees every day. We shot seven days a week at 12-16 hours a day, so I don't really have any fond memories. I mean I liked it a lot because I'd never been in a movie and so it was a chance to really learn a lot about how movies were made, but it was never fun in that sense. There was never a day where I said "I love this work."
K2K: Chainsaw Massacre appeared to me to be a movie made on the fly like a Roger Corman or Ed Wood film to save as much time and money as possible and thus helped to make it a very realistic movie, would you agree with that?
GH: Well, yes and no. I didn't think it was a movie made on the fly. I see some of these pictures that are really... everybody's in a hurry, you know where they have three days to shoot a movie where Texas Chainsaw Massacre was very deliberately filmed. There was a lot of discussion, there was a lot of really designing the shots. There's one shot where Leatherface runs up the stairs and Sally (Marilyn Burns) goes out the window of the second floor, that shot is three to four seconds long, they discussed the lighting for an hour to get that shot exactly the way they wanted it. So I think it was a low budget movie because that's all they could have. They had very little money but they tried to do the film the best they could under the restrictions of the budget.
K2K: On the chainsaw you used were there actually teeth on the chain?
GH: Yes. We had two different chains, one that the teeth had been filed off on and if there was a shot that was far enough away where you really couldn't tell whether the chain was moving then they'd take the clutch out of the saw. But most of the time they were concerned if the audience could tell there was no chain so they would have it be a fully functioning saw without teeth, then occasionally it was a fully functional saw with the full chain with the teeth on it when I had to do some cutting.
 
K2K: Was it awkward on the set running and chasing people while carrying the saw and wearing that mask?
GH: I couldn't see out of it very well, the eye holes were very small and it sat away from my face a little. I had no peripheral vision at all, I could only see dead straight ahead and because of that during the chase in the woods when I fell - I fell at one point during the chase - I slipped, my foot went up and the chainsaw went straight up in the air and I couldn't tell at all where the saw was. My vision was so bad in that mask that I finally rolled over and covered up my head.
 
K2K: In the last scene where you're chasing Sally (Marilyn Burns) by the truck and the chainsaw goes through your leg, how was that done?
GH: I kept asking Tobe [director Tobe Hooper] how he was going to shoot that and he'd say, "Well, I don't know yet but don't worry. It's the last thing we shoot." I'd think, "Oh... ok," and then I'd realize what what he meant was, "If I get hurt then it doesn't matter, we've got the film in the can."
 
What they finally decided to do was they wrapped a sheet of sheet metal around my leg and taped it down with gaffers tape and then got a steak and taped it on to the sheet metal and then they taped a blood bag over that. So when the saw goes in it hits that blood bag and some blood sprays out and then it cuts into the steak and that's where you can see some flesh there. In that scene we used a fully functional saw with all the teeth. You can see when that saw hit my leg it went through the meat so fast that it actually burned my leg when it hit that metal. It was almost instantaneous and I realized it's no wonder when someone gets hit with a saw why they can't control it, that saw cuts into flesh so fast. So when it went through the steak and into the sheet metal and burned me, I thought I'd actually been cut because it was so fast how it heated up and burned me.
 
K2K: How heavy was the saw?
GH: It wasn't very heavy. It wasn't a huge saw. I don't know what a saw weighs. Maybe 20-25 pounds. The hard thing was running with it. Before we started shooting I had a week or ten days before my stuff started, so I went out every morning and ran a mile. I started out by walking a mile, then walking and running. By the time we were shooting I was running a mile because I realized that if I didn't do that I was going to fall over dead during the filming.
 
When you watch the film, the real problem with the chase scenes wasn't that the saw was heavy and I was tired, it was because Marilyn [as Sally] was such a slow runner. That's why in the movie almost never are Marilyn and I in the same frame, because I kept over-running her. There's a shot where I'm chasing her toward the barbecue stand and she's running directly for the camera and I'm right behind her. It looks like I'm on top of her and she's running as fast as she can and I'm loafing along because if I run any faster I'd run into her. So that was the problem more than anything else, timing - the way the two of us ran.
 
In that scene at the end when Sally gets into the pickup truck and Leatherface climbs in the back of the truck while they drive off, the problem we had was that Marilyn [Sally] was supposed to struggle a little bit because she's so worn out and hurt. Well, she took so much time getting into the truck that we had to do it over and over. Finally we got it timed so she would climb into the truck in time to escape me and then the driver wasn't paying attention and forgot to drive away. So I climbed into the truck and as I'm climbing in he (the driver) takes off and throws me out of the truck. My foot got caught in the bumper and, it's just for a second, I had this image in my mind for just a moment of being dragged to my death. My foot twisted as I fell back so I actually came loose at the bumper, it just pulled me a foot or two before my foot came out of the bumper. They didn't use that footage obviously.
 
K2K: To me the interesting thing about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre are the illusions where you think you see things that aren't really there. Example, it seems as if you see Leatherface impaling the girl on the meat hook, yet that doesn't happen in one swift motion, the scene cuts away as he lifts her, later it shows her hanging on the meat hook, but your eyes swear that you saw her impaled on the meat hook by him in one take.
GH: Somebody came up to me once and said, "You know Texas Chainsaw Massacre has the best special effects I've ever seen in a movie. Why can't they do them that good anymore?" I said, "Because they're not in the movie. You don't see anything." He said, "Oh, no. I saw you cut that guy in the wheelchair right in half." I finally had to say, "Look, I'm in the movie. Believe me, it's not there. Watch the movie again and I think you'll see it's not in the movie."
 
K2K: How many takes did it require to put the girl on the hook?
GH: One. We'd shoot it in pieces but it was one take. That was a great shot too, I was so pumped up. Tobe, on the commentary tracks, said I was so immensely strong - he couldn't believe I lifted her like she was nothing. It was like, "Tobe you don't understand. I'm so pumped up on adrenaline because the camera's rolling. I could have been a 90 pound weakling and I would've lifted her up and tossed her on that hook."
 
K2K: How heavy was she?
GH: I don't know... 110-115 pounds. She just wasn't that much.
 
K2K: What is your actual height? 6'3"?
GH: 6' 4" I think I weighed about 300 pounds then.
 
K2K: What is your relationship like with Tobe Hooper?
GH: I don't have one. I mean no hard feelings about Tobe, but for some reason he seems to avoid me. We've been at shows together and he always seems a little uncomfortable around me.
 
K2K: How much bigger are you than Tobe Hooper?
GH: Morally or physically? (laughs) I'm sure I outweigh him by 100 pounds, and [am taller by] a foot.
 
K2K: What is your relationship like with the rest of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre cast?
GH: I talk to Ed Neal - the hitch hiker - every couple of months, and maybe once a year or every six months I'll give Jim Siedow a call. When I'm in Texas I try to see everybody. Allen Danziger (the Jerry character), we've been friends for years.
 
K2K: How many of the cast live in Texas?
GH: Ed Neal (the hitch hiker), Jim Siedow (the cook) - he's in Houston - Marilyn Burns (Sally), Paul Partain (Franklin), Teri McMinn (Pam). I've heard Tobe Hooper's moved back to Austin but I'm not sure.
 
K2K: Did you keep any props from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
GH: The only thing I kept were the teeth and the boots because they were mine. I got my dentist to make those teeth for me, but because I'm such a non-collector when the boots got old and worn out and dirty I just threw them away. It never occurred to me that a collector would like to have them and the teeth were stolen, they were in a suitcase that was taken when my car got broken into.
 
K2K: How do you feel about young people discovering Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time?
GH: I think it's great. I think it's amazing. We knew Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a hit right away, but it seems to me as the years go by it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. It first became a cult film, I mean it just had this enormous cult following. Now, what has it been? 27 years... 10 years ago it was already more than a cult film, everybody knows Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even people who have never seen it, they know what you're talking about. If you say Leatherface, they know. It seems to me now, all these years later, it's still getting bigger. It's still getting a bigger, wider audience. It used to be I'd never do an appearance except at a horror fan convention because those were the only people who knew who I was, but now it seems like if I go anywhere they'll know.
 
K2K: Have you gotten any hate mail from the results of Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
GH: No. I get occasional email that's just sort of weird from guys saying, "Oh you think you're so hot..." I don't know where that comes from. One time I was going to a concert and this dowager says, "You know that 16 people were killed in New York today and it's your fault." I mean, this is sort of idiotic thinking. I do get comments like, "How can you justify doing movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre when people are getting killed and clearly movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its ilk are the cause?" My response is usually, "You don't really think about your questions very closely do you?" I get that some but not very much.
 
K2K: Wasn't there a scenario one time where Texas Chainsaw Massacre was playing in a theater and some lunatic went running up the aisles with a chainsaw?
GH: I don't know. I hear that a lot. A lot of people say "I watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a drive-in and somebody ran through the drive-in with a chainsaw." I don't know if that's ever happened, but there's sure a lot of stories about it.
 
K2K: What do you feel about the Leatherface action figures?
GH: I think they're great actually. I really like them, particularly the McFarland figure. I think that's a really good looking figure and I hear they're going to be doing an 18" version of it. I've seen pictures of it so I think that's going to be really interesting.
 
K2K: Do you get any residuals from the action figures?
GH: No. Now that's a different subject, but no I don't get any residuals from it. Which is a shame because it's an illegal use of my image. I own my image. There are a number of figures out right now that they may think they have licensed my image, but they licensed Leatherface and no one has ever came to me to license my image and those are illegal licensings as far as I'm concerned. But that's a separate thing, I think the figures themselves are great. I'm impressed when fans bring them. I think it's funny to think I'm an action figure, that's the last thing I ever expected.
 
K2K: Have you ever met anyone famous who was influenced by your work?
GH: No. I've never met any famous people. Sam Raimi [Evil Dead] may have been influenced. You have to suspect that, but who knows.
 
K2K: What about rock bands influenced by you?
GH: Well there are always rock bands. There's a band that called me up and asked me if I minded they call themselves Leatherface... or Gunnar Hansen. There's a band called Gunnar Hansen, I think that's fine.
 
K2K: What kind of music do you listen to?
GH: I listen to a lot of different stuff. I listen mostly to classical music actually. I listen to a lot of blues, and I like things like Hungarian music and gypsy music. I also listen to rock some. I don't listen to a lot of new rock. I listen to a lot of the old stuff, you know Hendrix and Slowhand (Eric Clapton). The Firm... lately I've been listening to the Firm which isn't that old, it's 80's. Not a lot of rock and roll anymore. I'm starting to listen to a little jazz, but jazz is something I don't understand. I've just never been exposed to it. I just don't get it. But everybody likes Take Five or Kind Of Blue or any of those sort of obvious ones.
 
K2K: Didn't you know the Ramones?
GH: Oh yeah.
 
K2K: What about White Zombie or Rob Zombie?
GH: You know, I'd like to meet him and I was at a show he was scheduled to appear at. I was really looking forward to that, I really did want to meet him.
 
K2K: Have you read any script from his movie "House of 1,000 Corpses"?
GH: No. But that's why I was curious to meet him. I've only heard indirect things. I've heard people talking about Rob Zombie's picture's going to return horror to where it ought to be and I've heard people say it's just a rip off of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I have no idea, I've never seen it... who has? But I'm very curious to see it and very curious to meet him, because it's clear he's a devoted horror fan.
 
K2K: It's like a labor of love with him. He doesn't appear to be a phony.
GH: Yeah. I'd love to meet him because I really wanted to talk with him about the idea of developing a project together. I think that would be great. I'm really sick of this pseudo horror that's out here now. It's not even scary and it's not horror, it's like bad thrillers.
 
K2K: Have you ever met Elvira?
GH: No. I never have. I've seen her at a show. I saw her in Los Angeles years ago at a show.
 
K2K: If you could meet anyone in history regardless of the era, who would it be?
GH: That's an interesting question. (pauses for a moment thinking) I'm not sure, maybe it would be someone like Henry Thoreau. Even though having read some Thoreau, I probably wouldn't have liked him if I had known him back then. I don't think we would've liked each other, but I'd be very curious to meet him.
 
K2K: Who's the most interesting person you've met that really fascinated you?
GH: (Pauses and ponders) You mean other than women? (laughs).
 
K2K: Yeah, something other than prurient interest.
GH: That's a problem isn't it? That's the only kind of interest there is, isn't it? It probably wouldn't have been a celebrity that I've met that would be fascinating. I don't know who it'd be. That's strange, I don't know, it's like I've never had heroes. I met the Lone Ranger [Clayton Moore] once.
 
K2K: Did you get his autograph?
GH: No. It was kind of a dud because they promised each kid a silver bullet. When we got to the show they said they ran out of silver bullets then told us, "If you mail your ticket stub to this address, we will send you a silver bullet." I thought that was kind of a cheap shot so I didn't do it, but it was the Lone Ranger.
 
K2K: Are there any autographs you've acquired for a keepsake?
GH: One. I have autographs that I've gotten from people because we've traded, but I'm essentially not a collector. The only autograph I've ever wanted was Vincent Price. It's funny because a friend of mine is a poster dealer and he had his house covered with posters. One day I was in his house and I see this Vincent Price autographed picture and I said, "If there was ever an autograph I would want, it would be a Vincent Price." This was not long before Price died. About a month later in the mail I get an envelope and it was a signed picture of Vincent Price. What my friend did was write a letter to Price and told him what I'd said and who I was, he included a picture and a return envelope addressed to me and Price signed it and sent it to me. So that's a great picture, I really like that. But that's the only autograph I really cherish.
 
K2K: Do you have any pets?
GH: (Laughs) I used to have a dog but I ate it! No. I used to have a dog. No I don't have any pets.
 
K2K: Do you have a favorite book?
GH: Sure, Moby Dick... another food book (laughs).
 
And that was it, as Gunnar had to graciously return to his fans at the autograph table.
 
Written by and Photo © 2001 Donrad

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