Bill Oberst Jr. Interview: Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies

Bill Oberst Jr. Interview: Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies

bill oberst jr as lincoln

This week, we have a special guest on to chat about everything from the state of horror to Abraham Lincoln’s accent. Bill Oberst Jr. is an Emmy Award-winning, mega-prolific actor in the horror genre who has amassed nearly 200 roles in just 10 short years. His down-to-earth and honest persona contrasts sharply with the killers he usually plays (when he’s not playing, say, a talking dog), and we enjoyed some deeper conversation than usual about what it means to make and watch horror films.

Oh yeah, and we talked about the Asylum mockbuster Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.

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Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies + Bill Oberst Jr. Interview

Episode 166, 2 Guys and a Chainsaw

Todd: . Hello everybody, and welcome to Two Guys and a Chainsaw. I’m Todd.

Craig: And I’m Craig, 

Todd: and today we have a very special guest with us. Uh, say hello to the people bill. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Oh, well hello people. But I want to know how the heck you came up with two guys and a chainsaw?

Todd: This is Bill Oberst Jr., a very prolific star of the horror screen, and we’re really, really happy you’re here.

Let’s see. Two guys in the chainsaw. I think, what did we, we batted around questions, uh, ideas, right, Greg? 

Craig: Uh, well. Todd sent me a list. 

Todd: I guess for me, that counts as bad. 

Craig: Yeah. And uh, we narrowed it down. And you know, bill, it’s funny when Todd asked me to do this, I was a little bit skeptical. Uh, I didn’t, uh, have any experience doing anything like this, and I thought that we would just sound like a couple dorks talking about movies, which we do.

Yeah. Um, but, so I just kind of went along with whatever he said, thinking that this would never go anywhere. And so, uh, we just kind of landed on that name. And here we are a hundred and almost 70 episodes later. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: I, well, I 

Todd: really wanted to use the chainsaw sound effect for our intro. I think that’s kind of what tipped the scale on that one.

Bill Oberst Jr.: I have not heard that intro. I’ll have to, I like that there’s something about a chainsaw, isn’t it? 

Todd: There is, right? It’s super scary. Their whole massacres, their whole movie’s built around chainsaws, right? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: There is many bad chain chainsaw movies is there are bad zombie. You know, I got. I get scripts because I’m in the John Ray and.

Two years ago, there was a zombie Western craze. Apparently someone had won an award with the zombie Western screenplay, so they were coming in from all over the world and in one week I got three zombie Western scripts, two of which included a zombie sheriff riding into town on his RV horse. 

Todd: I would love to see them 

Bill Oberst Jr.: on it.

Come on guys. Thank, I hope they never got it made. 

Todd: Nope. None since then. Geez. The craziest past. Huh? How about now, bill? Are you getting more? Well, by the way, for our listeners out there, the movie of Bill’s almost 200, uh, film credits that he has up on. IMDP you should go to his page. It’s, uh, it’s, it’s really, really late.

Yeah. I’m the one we chose to review today was Abraham Lincoln versus zombie. So that’s why we’re talking about zombies today. Um, what is it about the zombie genre, bill? What is it that, uh, is there, are you seeing a slow down or is it just as popular as ever? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: No, there’s no slow down. Something happened in hell if I know, because.

You know, I’m an older guy. And so in my generation there were monsters. And the idea was that the monster was something other, but really it was us. And then you get the additional layer that we. Create the monsters by the way. We react to their monster dumb. And this gets back to the idea of traveling carnivals, of exhibitions of human oddities, the Frankenstein monsters, the universal, you know, I didn’t ask to be born Larry Talbot, the original Wolf man.

Um, the idea of some inner trait that you can’t control, all these sort of things. It was more tied to humanity, but then at some point long after, I was going to say the atomic age, as long after the atomic age, our taste in monsters changed. And I think when the walking dead hit, zombies became codafide as the monster.

And so if you talk to a kid today. The 14 year old version of 14 year old, nerdy me, and you say monster, immediately they will think zombie. Yeah. Um, so I, so I think that it’s, there’s some underlying cultural, I think it relates to a hopelessness, not, not just a fear of the apocalypse, but a certainty that we are headed towards.

In apocalyptic and a lack of hope. That’s what I think accounts for it. 

Todd: That’s interesting. You know, there are a lot of people who talk about this and frame frame it, you know, the same, similar thing about superhero movies, right? Why are we seeing so many big blockbuster superhero movies all across the world?

And I’ve heard people argue a similar kind of thing that, uh, people are a little hopeless right now and they’re so down trout and what they want to see in their entertainment is somebody who can come in and fix it. Because at this point we’ve decided we’re unable to fix anything ourselves or come to any consensus about anything.

And everybody’s fantasy is just for somebody who’s better than us and bigger than us, who is pure and good to come in and sweep all the bad away and set things. Right. So you’re talking about kind of like the, the parallel one is a little more hopeful. One is a little more cynical and 

Bill Oberst Jr.: sure. I mean, one version says that we were already the walking dead.

All of us. Because we can’t really do anything but shuffle around and consume each other in in spasms of hate. That’s all we can do is eat each other up and then regurgitate the bile, which creates more hate and more walking zombies. That’s us. That’s our society in the view of. Many people who are younger than me, who I interact with in the business, they are quite certain that humanity has no future, that we are definitely headed for either a robot apocalypse or a zombie apocalypse.

And at three in the morning, they have arguments about whether it will be robots or zombies, but definitely nothing good is going to happen. Wow. 

Todd: So these are conversations you’re actually having on set with the people in this industry right now. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Oh yeah, man. Absolutely. These are, this is, this is the general mindset of the people who are now creating our entertainment.

And I think that this is, um. This is a built in problem with our fascination with popular culture. You know, for instance, the Oscars are essentially an entire industry award. They’re no different than the plumbers association or the national engineer’s association giving me their awards, right? But we lend them almost a spiritual, religious credence because movies which are made just to make money, we take them in and make them.

They form. I think they fill a spiritual void in us. And so because of that, we’re tied into spiritual culture in a way that we can’t easily dismiss these images that are coming to us by groups of people who are creating our entertainment, who are hopeless. And so it’s, it breeds more hopelessness in us because we’re not able to.

Take off the cultural glasses and say, this is something made by a human being just like me, and this is their point of view, and I don’t have to accept it because there’s the, uh, music. And the glamour, and it’s, it’s big and it’s, you know, it gets into us in a way that a book doesn’t, we can look at a book and go, ah, that’s bullshit, but it’s harder to do that with a movie and we’re willing participants in it.

So yes, these are real conversations that I have all the time on set with people. And the wider. Culture has zero discernment when it comes to what we consume. If it’s big and flashy, we eat it. 

Craig: Is that a, is that one of the reasons that you ate? You know, I’ve read, you know about this movie and, and some of your reasons for taking this movie, and you’ve done not only so many.

Movies, but you know, uh, such a wide variety. You know, I was looking at your page and you’ve done voiceover stuff for kids, movies and, uh, all kinds of stuff. So what brings you to a particular project and I guess specifically this project, what was it that made you say, yeah, sure, I’ll take this on. They fired 

Bill Oberst Jr.: their original Lincoln.

Craig: No, that’s not what I’ve read. What I’ve read is that you’ve actually played Lincoln multiple times on stage that they sought you out because of that and that you agreed to do it so long as you would get to deliver the Gettysburg address. Is that just bullshit? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: No, it’s the, so I just added the additional truthful element, which usually doesn’t get out there.

So what happened was they had a Lincoln who was fantastic, and I thought it was really great. It was very, very tall. I’m not very, very tall, and that’s a essential part of a Lincoln. And so then I got contacted by the producers who knew that I had played Lincoln, and they said, well, you know what? If we had you dub.

Some of Lincoln do some of the voice. So I did some of the voice, Oh, this is fantastic. So you know, maybe we’ll have our Lincoln do our Lincoln, and then you’ll dub the voice, which I thought immediately, well, you know, this is going to be very cumbersome unless you have him off screen a lot. And so then sure enough, I got a emergency call from one of the producers at the asylum about 11 o’clock at night and said, can you get on a plane in the morning?

And come fly to Savannah and play Abraham Lincoln for three weeks. I was like, I’m five nine okay, in lifts, I’m five nine and he said, you’ll stand on a box. And I said, I haven’t even seen the script. He said, you can read it on a plane. We really want you to do this. So I said, okay, we’ll call my manager and wake him up and you guys talk.

And so they did. And the next morning I was on a plane, so he got to set and the director, Richard Shenkman, who was not happy about losing his very tall, wonderful Lincoln, for whatever reason, he looked at me. I said, Oh, hello, pleasure to meet you. And he said, you’re the new Lincoln? I said, yes. He said, God, help us.

God help us. Uh, eventually, eventually we formed a good working relationship and I hope I gave him performance he was happy with, but I did have to stand in a box. So yes, I, I was very eager to do it because I knew that I would never again be allowed to play Lincoln on film because I’m not six, four. But I thought I could bring the spirit of Lincoln to life.

And if it had to be zombie movie, so be it. 

Craig: They 

Bill Oberst Jr.: hate you, Abraham, why must you go to that awful place. Because the battle of Gettysburg was significant and it must be recognized. I don’t see why they were 15 Oh, dedication of that mass graves and of it. I must attend. I’ve been asked to speak. What does the refuse to say over the bodies of dead young men?

It’s my belief that all victory, there was a turning point in the war. I wished to deliver a message you.

Craig: I want to say, you know that first of all, you didn’t look short. He’s standing on that box. You looked very tall and commanding. So, uh, congrats there. And I really thought that your performance. Uh, of Lincoln was great, you know, of course, we have seen him portrayed by many people and many people have done a great job.

But, uh, I thought that you really embodied the character. And when I read that, you know, a little bit of trivia that you really wanted to read the Gettysburg address, I read it after I had watched the movie, but that part of the movie room and stood out to me and I thought, wow. Yeah, I get it. I get why they wanted this guy.

You know? You know, it’s, 

Bill Oberst Jr.: it’s really funny that you say that because, um, the Gettysburg address was only a couple of lines in the original script, and Richard Shakman is also a great lover of history. I said, well, I said, what do you want? Do you want a parody? He said, no, I want the Lincoln on the penny and we’re going to do the Gettysburg address, and they won’t let us use it in the movie.

But we’re going to do it. We’re going to shoot it anyway. Let’s shoot the whole thing. And uh, and so we shot it, both of us thinking, okay, we just did something just for us and it won’t be in the movie. And then they used it. 

Craig: Uh, and that’s great. You know, I’m starstruck just talking to you about it because I’m so fascinated with the industry.

And to be able to talk to somebody who has so much experience is a really a delight for me. So thank you again. Okay. For, for joining us. And, uh, 

Bill Oberst Jr.: you and, and you know, nobody ever really wants to talk about the need of this stuff. And so that’s where I’m, I knew you guys would, and I’m really happy to talk to you.

You know, the ideas behind it. Not everybody’s only interested in what’s it like on set. Hmm. 

Todd: Yeah. Well, I have to say like this kind of, um, really dovetails into why you’re here in the first place, bill, because, you know, we actually have met and formed a bit of a friendship over the last couple of years online mostly, but then in person for a couple of days before we did this podcast, I would every October for a little while, started challenging myself to watch a horror movie a day.

And then I would challenge myself to write it up that evening and then posted on my personal blog online. And it was just something I was doing because I enjoy horror movies and I don’t get to watch them very often. It gave me a month for my wife to say, okay, Todd, you can watch your, another horror movie today.

And, uh, and then I could exercise my writing shops as well. And so I was visiting my dad, who actually isn’t a very big fan of horror movies. Uh, but I was with my parents and I had to watch, you know, a horror movie that night. And I said, Hey dad, you want to watch it with me? And he said, sure. And so we were flipping around, I think it was Netflix looking for a movie to see.

Yeah. And, uh, Abraham Lincoln versus zombies for whatever reason, came up. Uh, and he said, Oh, I think I’ve heard of that. And I said, no, I think you probably heard of Abraham Lincoln versus vampires. Uh, but we sat down and we watched it anyway, and, you know, we watched it and we thought, Hmm, it’s not a fantastic film, to be completely honest.

But the thing that really kept me glued to the screen was. Watching you. Uh, and I’m really not blowing smoke there. I didn’t know you at the time, but, uh, you know, by the time it was over and we’d seen the Gettysburg address and this whole thing unfold for it for in front of us, we just kind of looked at each other and said, wow.

The guy who played Lincoln really elevated that material, and that was the most fun that we had in this movie was just watching Lincoln on screen and your portrayal of him. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: And that’s because of Abraham Lincoln, really, not because of me. I try to bring the spirit of Lincoln and any time you. You correctly interpret Abraham Lincoln, you’re going to have something soulful and interesting.

You can learn in the wrong what you even 

Todd: had. You even got to like the voice in there as well. Like, you know, I think for a long time as at least I remember as a young kid, there’d be portrayals of Lincoln and he’d have the certain kind of kind of commanding voice, and then later on I learned. That’s right.

It was pretty well known that he didn’t have that kind of voice. And so again, I was impressed that you didn’t go with that caricature voice of Lincoln to do this, but went more authentic. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: We shot ours before the Spielberg came out, and when I saw the Spielberg again heard the voice of Daniel Day, Lewis said, I thought, okay, I did okay.

I can die now because I’ve done it. I made at least one choice that Daniel Day Lewis made. We have at least one, one acting choice in common. 

Todd: The voice of Lincoln. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Yeah, the voice. Well, I always think if, if a character is already important, don’t make his voice sound important. It’s always better to counter point, you know, come from underneath and make him sound as if he’s almost fumbling for his words.

Todd: Well, it, it kind of de mythologize a SIM a little bit, right? It kind of brings him down to earth and maybe a little more relatable for the audience. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Any any was, he was like that in life because people would come in with something very important and he would tell a story about a farmer and a plow and a dead dog stare out the window for five minutes and then he would say the thing that ends up in the history book, but he didn’t just open it and say the things that ended up in the history book, I think he was.

As authentically American as anyone in our history books. He really was the spirit of America with all of our warts. He was so ugly. He was so unattractive in every way. He wasn’t a skilled public speaker, but he had this spirit of this country. So it’s a search and rescue mission that we’re on. Then mr president,

truthfully, gentlemen, I hold out a little hope of recovery at our large troops. But I aim to learn exactly what fate befell them and to complete their mission God-willing because their aim was a kosher one. Fort Palasky must be captured, draw, fallen comrades. 

Todd: When you’re acting, you know, are you tapping until, are you looking at a character and saying, what bits of this, uh, can I especially relate to or what of myself can I bring to the character?

Or do you try to remove yourself entirely from that? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Remove. Um, and better actors than me. I’m not a great actor, you know, but really good actors say, well, you know, we use the as if it’s as if so. And so it was happening in my life and I relate to that. I’ve never been able to do any of that. I just know that all humans feel the same thing.

We’re all capable of the same thing. Mother Teresa and her som had been locked in are essentially the same. They just made different choices. But we all have the same faculties. So I figure, okay. If, if I fully understand the world, the intellectual, spiritual, physical world of this character, then there’s no reason that I can’t interpret that because we have exactly the same faculties.

Um, so that’s, for me, it’s knowledge. The more I know about, I don’t mean you know where he was born, as sure that’s important. But I want to know when we look at the world, we all see it in a very particular lens. What is his lens. And if you can understand the characters, Lynn so well, that you can look at a new thing they never saw like zombies and think, here’s how they would have seen this threat.

Then you’re getting close. And that’s what I wanted to do. 

Craig: Well, I thought that you did a really good job of making the character, you know, very human and very relatable. But, you know, the, the Lincoln that I think of when I was a kid, my parents took me to Disney land or world or one of those things. And you go to the hall of presidents and you’ve got, you know, the animatronic Lincoln up there.

Um, and despite. The fact that you really gave him these human characters. I still got that. I conic Lincoln from you. I think that that was, for me, it was relatable because that was kind of the. The image of him that I’d had, and maybe that had to do, you know, you talking about his appearance and whatnot.

Maybe that had to do with, you know, the, the makeup and the design regardless, despite the fact that you did bring a personal character to him, you still captured, uh, that iconic nature 

Bill Oberst Jr.: and chronic nature of Lincoln. His granddaughter comes from weakness. It’s not. Well, Ray Bradbury said this, it’s not fullness that gives us strength.

It is. It’s want, it’s emptiness, it’s yearning. That’s what gives a person in a character strength. And I think that’s what gives him that grandeur is his inherent weaknesses. 

Craig: And something else that I was interested in, you know, Todd and I had been texting back and forth over the past couple of days talking about this movie.

And, and we’ve. I’ve been so excited to do this. But you know what, what Todd said a little bit earlier, and I wouldn’t say this, that I didn’t think it was a great movie. I wouldn’t say that, cause I feel like that’s like, you know, somebody invites you over for dinner and then you criticize the food. Like I’m not going to do that.

Um, but the, the critics kind of expressed the same thing that, that Todd did. You know, I was reading the critical reviews of the film. Um, and, and they weren’t particularly kind to the film, but. Pretty much everybody said that. What elevated the film above some of the asylums, other productions was your performance.

Now, as an actor, you know, I’m a community theater actor, so my experience. Yeah. Is far different from yours, I’m sure. But as an actor, how does, how does that make you feel when somebody says something? Well, it wasn’t a great movie, but he was great in it. I mean, is that a compliment to you or, 

Bill Oberst Jr.: it’s embarrassing and it makes you squirm.

So do you never mention it? You never, um, share those sort of comments. And if you make a comment on the. Review page, which I always try to do. If comments were allowed. You mentioned other people. Yeah. You mentioned say thank you for reviewing, you know, Todd Coon’s movie, blah, blah, blah, and make it, you make it implicitly clear in your comments that the movie is not about you.

Todd: And that’s exactly what bill did actually. Um, you, you must have a Google notice that pops up every time you’re mentioned online someplace new. And, and so that’s the only way you have read my review. And, uh, and I was shocked. I was really surprised when, um, just a day or two later, bill came on and wrote a comment there.

And one thing I’ve learned about bill over the last few years is he’s a very humble person. He’s not very likely to toot his own horn, but he did. He came on and he said, thank you so much. And he. I pointed out some of the funny things that I thought were funny about the movie, and he said, I’m glad you enjoyed those bits.

I thought they were funny too. He talked about the rest of the cast and how he had a good time. I actually wished that was still up. I was looking for it the other day, and I realized when I moved my side over, uh, I moved my information over to a new version and somehow that got lost. But, uh, through that comment we had a bit of a back and forth and we kind of left that at where it was.

Uh, but then later on. Uh, because I was working at the university at the time, and good friends with a man named Randy, who is a professor at the school who taught a class called T still teaches a class called acting for the camera. I said to Randy, I said, you know, I have this, um, this nice little exchange with this, a really hardworking actor out in Hollywood, you know, he seems like a pretty down to earth guy.

He seems pretty nice and we had a nice conversation. What if I reach out to him and see if he’s willing to come back and talk with the kids about his experiences in Hollywood. He has real experiences like, like from one working actor to these kids, no holds barred kind of thing. And I reached out back to you and you, and you said, you know, Todd, I’ll do you one better.

I’ll fly out at my own expense and I’ll do this with him. Maybe we can put together a kind of, um. Presentation that I’ve been wanting to try out for a while about building your own personal brand. And sure enough, a bill came out to our small little Midwestern town and spoke to these students, gave him some amazing advice, did a wonderful presentation for our community there.

Uh, shared a lot about his experiences in Hollywood, but I also felt, uh, did a fantastic job of inspiring others, uh, who are going out into the acting world, not just telling them it’s going to be hard right. Which is, you know what? They hear a lot, but don’t necessarily believe, but also saying it’s going to be hard, but here’s how you deal with that.

Here’s how you cope with it, and here’s how you can use some things to your advantage like I did. And, uh. Yeah, I mean, I just want to thank you publicly for that. That was a wonderful thing you did for our students, and I thought a lot of the advice that you had was really good. You know, you have a very interesting story about how you really took off as an actor who’d been doing stage work for so long and suddenly broke into the movie industry very quickly over a short time.

A mass, a lot of credits. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Yeah. I enjoyed sharing that with them. I like. Challenges. I like nearly impossible things and I love taking machines apart and figuring out how they work. And, uh, uh, the business of entertainment when I was really rocking and rolling in it, which was 2008 to 2018, um, was a particular kind of machine.

And I enjoy taking it apart and figuring out, okay, how do I do this? What are the components? It was fun. Well, 

Todd: has it changed now? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Oh yeah. The more digital there is, the more or less money there is to be made. Um, and so that’s why, you know, the movies that I make and that, uh, everybody I know in Hollywood makes that people, you know, family members and people who grew up in the era of theaters will say, Hey, what am I going to see you in a movie on a theater?


Craig: No, that’s not true though. You just worked with Rob zombie, didn’t you? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Okay. There’s usually an occasional line. Yeah, for the most part, the answer is no, because the industry has, in one sense, gone underground. 99% of movies now, and that’s actual statistic, are watched on devices. They’re not Washington theaters anymore, and so movies are out there and they’re making money, but there’s such a proliferation of them.

Everybody can make a movie now. And so everybody does make a movie, you know? Um, and so that’s why there’s plenty of work. But that’s why I decided, or I, you know, I did my 10 years of rock and roll and with movies, and now I want to diversify back to stage. Do my movies to make my money and do my stage for my part.

And so that’s what I’m, that’s what I’m doing now. 

Craig: How you feel about that, you know, do you think that it’s just, you know, kind of a natural progression of things? Is that a good or a bad thing? You know, Todd and I review all kinds of movies. We. Do some movies that have been really successful, you know, uh, theatrically, but really we tend to lean more towards more obscure things.

Um, and we’ve done, uh, movies that have been more independent and made by lesser known. People in, in the field. And so from your perspective, do you think that it’s good for the industry, that more people are getting this platform, uh, maybe people, even people with less experience, or do you think that it is in some way bringing the industry to L a a lower level of.

Excellent. I don’t know if I’m phrasing that correctly. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: It’s, um, it’s, it’s great for humanity and bad for business, so it’s, which means that it’s probably a really good thing. And what it’s done is the same thing as happening in all areas. You know, there is no middle class anymore and it’s the same in Hollywood.

You either work here, low budget pictures, or you work in the super blockbusters, which are the only ones that are ever going to movies anymore. And there’s nothing in between. So yeah, it’s, it’s done the same thing that that has happened to all industries, but for humanity, it’s a great thing that a guy in Mumbai and write about his lived experience and show it to the world.

It’s a wonderful thing. It is, although, you 

Todd: know, I’m thinking about what you said earlier about how you said that, um, we’re consuming pop culture. We’re taking it more seriously than we used to. These films that are really made, first and foremost to make money. Uh, and we’re trying to read a lot of artistic merit or a lot of deep thematic material into it when maybe that’s not a good thing.

And I, I, I also wonder, you know, if another consequence of this is we used to have a sort of shared experiences, humans, or at least, I mean, not across the world necessarily, but in our pockets of culture, like maybe say nations, uh, you know, we all kind of watch the same one or two TV. Programs, uh, one or two network television programs.

We’re kind of watching the same news, reading more or less the same newspapers. Uh, and now that it’s possible for anybody and everybody, you know, in journalism, for example, to start their own little online news source, for us to be able to put out a little podcast like this for people to listen to. And.

All these movies to be made, and then a platform like Netflix comes along and a, you know, who knows how many movies there are and Netflix, but I know that it’s curating a bunch for me and it’s throwing at me the ones it thinks I’m going to like. I mean, in some ways is it, is it bad? Because it’s dividing us a little bit more by removing that shared experience.

Bill Oberst Jr.: Yes. Homogeny is gone and homogeny was, were created Hollywood. There is no Hollywood. It was always just an idea. I mean, I lived there for 10 years, full time and everyday I’d go out and see the Hollywood sign and we go, this, this doesn’t exist. This is a monument to an idea. But the idea is possible because we had a shared experience.

Things like going to the moon, which are from my culture, you know, everybody was watching that and it was possible then to have great. The MADEC experiences as humans, and it’s not now. I think also that this celebrity station of, uh, our culture, the emphasis on celebrities to the point that now it’s not even just who is a bigger celebrity within the celebrity world, but we Al, we all want to be celebrities.

Everybody wants to be a celebrity. So there’s even some jealousy of celebrities, you know, well, what the hell do they know? So what they want an Oscar, I did a YouTube video. Um, and, and yeah, so because of that, there’s less of a, uh, there’s less of a trust and a willingness to join in a joined experience. I do more in the loss of that.

The whole idea of cinematic exhibition was that you would, with a group of strangers in the dark, experienced something larger than life. And now everything about that is the opposite now in isolation. And not in the dark. You experienced on the go wherever you are, and you experienced something that’s small enough to fit in the Palm of your hand.

Todd: Yeah. 

Craig: Yeah. How do you feel about that notion of celebrity? I mean, I’ve met, I suppose, a couple of celebrities in my life, but yeah, this is certainly, uh, the most. Expansive conversation that I’ve had with somebody who, with 200 credits on your IMDV page that I would consider a celebrity. And you’ve worked with, you know, Rob zombie, you’ve worked with Jamie Lee Curtis, some of the biggest names in horror and in celebrity culture in general, like what are your, do you feel like a celebrity and how does that whole culture, how do you feel about that?

Bill Oberst Jr.: Or what are you celebrating for? That’s. What makes you, you can feel celebrated and if you’re celebrated for something that’s. You have legitimately work your ass off and you’ve done what you think is good, laudable work, then it’s fine to be celebrated, but it’s celebrity. That’s just a silly concept.

It’s like the, it’s like the question, are you famous? You know, I used to tour schools all the time when I did stage work and I was working stage actor for 14 years. I may make a full time living doing it. And the first thing kids would ask always the very first thing, I’d be there to play Mark Twain or something.

Are you fans? And if the, and if the answer is no, that it shuts down everything. Um, so yeah, you meet people like Jamie Lee, Curtis, um, uh, Rob zombie, and I didn’t think anybody feels like a celebrity. They are aware that their work is celebrated. I’ll give you an example of what it’s like at the upper echelons.

I worked with Hugh Jackman. And we had a scene where I was his boss and we had a phone conversation or we had a conversation in the office, uh, face to face. Like he’s standing over me at the desk telling me I’m not going to do, you know, I want him to cheat or something and he’s not, I’m not going to do this.

So anyway, they, they shoot the master, which is both of us, didn’t. They shoot, he does coverage over my shoulder, and then they say, well, now we’re going to do the over on bills. So mr Jackman, you can go back to your trailer. Because you’re not in this shot. We’re shooting a clean on bill, and Hugh Jackman says, no, I’m going to stay here and I’m going to feed lines to bill.

I’ll sit in the corner. And I said, you don’t really have to do that. And he said, if it was me, would you do it for me? And I said, yes. He said, we’re in the same business. Let’s do the scene. And I find the same thing with all of the quote to celebrities that I’ve worked for. Jamie Lee, Curtis, Rob zombie, they’re working people and they understand why they’re celebrated.

So that kind of celebrity gray, but it’s a difference between being celebrated, deservedly, and just being a celebrity. Sure. 

Craig: That makes a lot of sense. And, and w you know, I, I read that, uh, Jamie Lee Curtis was a big fan of you. She directed you in an episode of Ryan Murphy scream Queens. Is that right? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Yes.

And, um, and I made her laugh so hard that we ruined to take, I don’t really, really happy about it. I made her laugh because I did exactly what she said to do. Well, 

Craig: great. Hearing stories like that, it makes me happy because it makes me happy to know it. Confirms what I want to believe, which is that these people are just people, you know, we do celebrate them and we elevate them to such a high status and look up to them in, in so many ways.

Um, it’s nice to hear that they’re, you know, they’re just folks just like, you 

Bill Oberst Jr.: should never look up to them. I think that’s our mistake. You can celebrate that babe Ruth. A great baseball player. Celebrate him for being a great baseball player and thank God he didn’t live in this era. We would think, well, he’s a God and everything he does must be right and I must look up to him.

Why would you look up to Jamie Lee, Curtis or me or anyone in the business? Why would you do that? Celebrate them for the activity they do that you admire. 

Craig: I think it’s just because I have so much respect for your craft and your talent. Again, like I’ve said, I studied theater a little bit in college and I’ve continued to do it.

I’m all, I’m, I’m turning 40 this year. I live in a very small town. Uh, we have a very small community theater. I continue to act and, and I like to do it. And so to see these other people who. Are so talented at what they do. I so respect that talent and what they do. That’s why I look up to people like you.

It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with you personally, but it’s just your craft and your skill that I really admire and respect and that I do look up to. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Boom. And that’s it. Yes. And I do the same thing for, uh, writers and creators and in fields that I’m interested in, and I do exactly the same thing.

I would just never assume that all of their personal traits are laudable. It’s never a good. 

Todd: This is a very timely conversation. And because this is a question I’ve struggled with a lot too, is it possible to celebrate a person for what they do and still know that there are other things they do that aren’t so great?

I think as a culture, we’re struggling with that right now with the me too movement. You know, we, we, we’ve always known there’s this. Insidious side of Hollywood that most people would like to pretend isn’t there. And that’s super convenient for those who aren’t effected by it. Uh, but for those who are affected by it, you know, it can leave lasting scars.

And that’s what is being forcibly finally, you know, pushed up to the forefront. And we’re learning that these people, I mean, I hate to name names, but just, I’ll just give one example. You know, Kevin Spacey, uh, is a guy that I would just go and see a movie. Just because he was in it, because I loved watching him work.

Uh, and now, uh, you know, there are these allegations against him. We still don’t know if they’re true or not, but he’s being, um, you know, tested in this regard as to his character. And there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of push, like, well, don’t watch his movies now. You can’t enjoy them anymore. And knowing who he is as a person, and I, I struggle with that because I get that.

I understand that feeling and you know, it’s, it’s kind of rooted in the business world. Like, why would you spend your money to support something that you don’t agree with? Because, you know, behind that actor is still a person who’s, who’s indirectly, but you know, very real, getting money from you by supporting their, their work.

But on the other hand, uh, you know, like you said, it’s like nobody’s perfect. And people who are bad people all throughout history. We know we’re terrible people made really beautiful and really wonderful works of art, and that’s something that we all have to struggle with, you know? Where do you fall on that, you know?

How do you feel? I’m having a hard time 

Craig: reconciling to put you on the spot. Not to 

Todd: force you to pin this down yourself, but do you have any thoughts on this? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: But he was without sin cast. The first stone is the first thought that always comes to my mind. And then too, everybody has their own age. You have to decide, um, you know, if it’s, um, if it’s a German filmmaker who supported Nazi-ism, then no, I can’t really enjoy the movie, but, you know, then everybody has their own lines, you where you have to decide.

And so that’s consumer culture. People can decide, but I don’t think anybody has the right to say to somebody else, you can no longer enjoy this person’s creation because we know an unsavory thing about them. You know, I spent my much of my theatrical career recreating historical characters, and one of them was JFK, who I did four or five years up in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts for the Kennedy museum.

And Kennedy’s, um, personal, intimate history is full of very bad choices, shameful choices. And at the same time, his oratory and his actions inspired millions. And so yeah, I’ve thought about this for years and years. How do you, how do you divorce the two? And I’ve decided you either have to be able to look in the mirror and say, this is what a human being is and I’m looking at all of me and then apply that same standard to others.

Or you just become sanctimonious and say they did a bad thing and I could never do that bad thing. I think there’s some empathy involved. 

Craig: Yeah. Oh, I, I think that’s maybe a, one of the best explanations that I’ve, I’ve heard, uh, in having this discussion, it brings me to something else that I want to ask you about because I learned this first from Todd.

Then also in reading about you, I’ve learned that you are somebody who is very much guided by your faith and your religious beliefs. And I was wondering if that has any. Impact on your choices that you make, uh, about roles that you will take or things that you will do on screen or, or. In things that directors ask of you, how do you marry your faith with your profession 

Bill Oberst Jr.: there?

Well, Jesus is at the center of my life and I mean, Jesus of Nazareth, the, um, historical teacher, the teachings, uh, move who he is, the whole metaphor of his life, everything that’s at the center of my soul. And so that’s, and it’s always there early on. I’m on stage. I didn’t play a lot of evil people, but on film, my face has has a rough texture.

And so I was equated with malevolence and early on I had these inner spiritual conversations with what I view is creator God and said, you know, I’ve been asked to play evil a lot. What am, you know, what do I do? And what I arrived at was, if I’m going to play evil, I’m going to damn well play evil. I want to make your skin squirm and I’m going to make you.

Think, Oh, this isn’t a joke. There’s something really bad in the world. There’s some rot at the core of the Apple of humanity. So that, yeah. So I’ve embraced it because of that. Uh, I’ve never asked to play, uh, rarely asked to play anyone who’s essentially good. And that’s okay because none of us are essentially good.

But there were two things, only two things that I want do on screen. Lord knows. I’ll do just about anything and have done. I mean, there are only two things that I want to, and one is, I don’t say GG, I only said it once because so many people find it so offensive. It’s like a slap in the face. Um, I’ll say five, but I get bored with it.

It’s so tiresome. It’s just such an overused word, but yeah. Okay. I’ll bargain with you to take as many fucks out as possible. Leave me just one or two for emphasis. Sure, 

Todd: sure. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: But, okay, so, so I won’t say GD. And then the other thing, I won’t play a corrupt minister, and I’ve turned down three scripts because of that.

People who say, I have faith and I am in touch with the creative force of the universe and then do really, really evil things. I know those people exist. But I don’t want to add fuel to that particular fire. So those are my only other two limitations. Other than that. No. If it’s evil, sure, I’ll play evil on whatever form.

Usually my body, my mind, my soul, whatever. That’s my job. 

Craig: Right. Uh, well I, I, that was a great answer and I just want to say that I have a, a huge amount of respect for that. I consider myself a person of faith too. As an actor. You. Are pretending to be someone else. You know, it’s, it’s separate from who you are.

And I don’t, I don’t know if everybody understands that, but I do. And, uh, I respect that you do have your boundaries. I think that’s, that’s amazing. That’s great. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: They’re pretty limited boundaries, no 

Craig: boundaries, none the less. And I would, you know, I don’t know. I’ve never been put in a position where I’ve had to make those choices.

I’ve never been asked to do that. But I see things in film sometimes that, you know, I love. Horror films. This is what Todd and I do week to week for the last three years. We talk about horror films and they’re, you know, I can watch people getting hacked up with chainsaws. Doesn’t bother me at all, but you put a dog.

In violent situation, it really bothers me. Um, I’m, I’m, I’m really bothered by sexual violence. It really bothers me and I don’t, I don’t know what choices I would make if I were asked to be put in those positions. I don’t think that I could, and not just as a person of faith, but just as a person. I don’t know that I could.

Put myself in those shoes and maybe I wouldn’t want to, uh, because you are, you know, you are pretending, but in a way, you know, you are also really trying to embody that truth. And I don’t know if I would be comfortable doing that in some scenarios. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Don’t. Yeah, you absolutely right. And it stays with you.

Every single role that you do. Now that sounds pretentious. I try not to sound after pretentious, but that is the truth. It stays with you and it’s like a very thin layer that you can’t ever really scrub off that you’ve been to this world. And, um, yeah, the world’s built up and they, they accrue over time.

That’s very true. 

Craig: You’re a professional, you know, this is what you do for a living. You have honed your craft and, uh, I’m sure that you, uh, have a very strong sense of who you are as a professional and you make those decisions accordingly. Uh, so I just have a lot of respect for that. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Thank you. 

Todd: Can I ask along those lines, bill?

You know, I’ve seen stuff that I kind of wish I hadn’t seen, and I’m like, Craig, you know, I will. I will. Um, I can watch pretty much anything on screen that’s fiction, but, you know, especially like here in the era of YouTube, we get to see a lot of stuff, uh, that wasn’t previously available to us, that that’s actual real life.

Uh, have you ever played a role that has stuck with you so long that you kind of regretted playing it? Or maybe you wish you hadn’t. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Yeah, there were two. One was a movie called children or SAR way. I played a cop leader and the other was circus of the dead where I played a, uh, a necrophiliac whose day job was as a circus clown, which sounds humorous, but it was not humorous.

And in both cases, they were, uh, liars within layers, within layers, within layers, so that there was no truth in them. So that even when they said, now I’m going to tell you the truth, even that wasn’t the truth. It was an unending, intimate nest of lies. And that is very sticky. That sticks in your mind, particularly when your job is essentially to lie.

You know? I mean you, yeah, you’re, you’re coming from a truthful place, but you are pretending that you’re something that you’re not right. And to play a person who really doesn’t have a core, who just lies, and if that lie doesn’t work, they’ll tell another lie. Um, that, that sticks with you. And both of those, both of those movies gave me nightmares.

And I know people would say, Oh, you got a nightmare from, you know, movie, but you have to live in this. And if you’re going to do it real, no matter the budget level, you have to give them the real inner experience of that person. Or the camera can tell you’re lying. 

Todd: You could or you could just phone it in, but you’re not that kinda guy.

Bill Oberst Jr.: Well, I can’t phone it in because I’m not an a list accurate. I don’t get hired. When people call me and say, we want you to do a role. Almost always it’s followed up by saying, I saw you in blah, blah, and you were so intense, and I know that’s what they want. I’m not allowed to phone it in. I’m not. Famous enough to foam it in.

Craig: Along those same lines, my, uh, freshman year in college, I was cast in a play where I was cast in a role that I could relate to on a personal level, but he was the bad guy and I felt like. I learned something about myself by playing that role. Have there ever been any roles that have been regulatory to you that you learned something about yourself from?

Bill Oberst Jr.: Yes. I’m over all I did for criminal minds in which I played a, uh. Deformed serial killer, and he was physically deformed because he was a product of incest. My mother was Adrian Barbeau and my father was Tobin bell from the solvers. Wow. Years ago when they were teenagers and I kidnapped Adrian Barbeau, and we have this girl, she’s, she’s amazing.

By the way, when you put, when you put barbed wire around Adrian, verbose neck and yeah, it’s fake Barbara, but it’s, it can really hurt you. It’s the points are sticky. When you put that Barb wind around her neck and you say, is that okay? She says, make it a tighter, let me feel it. I’m like, damn, this woman is amazing.

But the reason that, uh, for that movie, I was, I felt very vulnerable because, um, I had my shirt off with my weird torsos show and, and they gave me deformed hands and I had a big ugly ear, and I was as physically unattractive as I’ve ever been. In a film and playing this guy who’s monstrosity. It was the classic wounded monster.

And the reason that it touched me personally because as a kid, I was fat. I had bad acne, I was a sissy. I was weird in every way that a boy in South Carolina could be weird. And, um, and I was in many ways, a monster and was treated like a monster. I don’t mean that in a self pitying way. I just mean that, you know, in the world of kids, kids are cruel.

Yeah. And playing this monster reconnected me with that and stripped away a little bit of the ego that working in LA had given me to say, you know, you’re still, you’re still this thing. You’re still this monster. You’re still this oddity, and that was the soft and touchy to reconnect with. 

Todd: You know, I was really disappointed to see that.

One of the first things I thought of when I saw that criminal minds is wrapping up is I was really hoping to see a revival of your character on a later episode. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: They didn’t know what to do with it. Matthew, Greg googly wrote it. You know, one of the cast members who played Dr. Reed for years, and Breanne Frazier, the main producer, he wrote the script, and so that, that character was very close to their heart.

But when the show aired, they got some feedback. Some people loved it, and other people said, this is really, really dark. This is, this character is too dark for criminal minds because Matthew is a horror fan, which is why he wanted me. He hired me to do it. So I think they just never knew what to do with it.

Todd: Well, there’s a lot of dark stuff on TV right now. You know, coming back to the zombie thing you were talking about, um. Oh, the walking dead. That show and zombies in general, like you said, there are some people who would say, and probably rightly so, that the zombie genre didn’t really die or go. There was always some people who are interested in it, you know, more or less starting with George Romero’s films and going up there, but there’s no denying.

It’s much more popular over a wider swath of audience right now. You know, it’s not like happy stuff. Uh, you know, you alluded to maybe why. But why do you think that zombie movies in particular in all this darkness right now is so popular with such a widespread audience on television? 

Bill Oberst Jr.: My, I think we don’t believe anymore.

You know, I’m getting ready to play Ray Bradbury on stage. I got the right from his family to play him. And so Bradbury said this at the end Fahrenheit four or five one one of the characters says, everyone must. Touch something so that when they die, their soul has a place to live. And it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you love something and touch it and you leave it more like you, when you die, then your soul has a place to go.

And a lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right. And when people look at it, you’re there. And that’s what Ray thought about his books. But I think that. Somehow as a larger culture, we’ve lost the belief that whatever it is, it doesn’t matter really what it is that you believe in, but believe that you can personally touch something and make it better than it was.

That’s a pretty core belief for humanity, and I think the popular culture reflects it. Yeah. 

Craig: Gosh, yeah. I’m so glad that you’re getting the opportunity to play Ray Bradbury because I know that you are a huge fan as are as are we. Both of us have have read, you know, Bradbury, and we have a. Talked about the film adaptation of something wicked this way comes on our podcast.

Um, so I’m really glad that you’re, you have that opportunity. Are there any other dream roles that you would love to play before you retire? Or 

Bill Oberst Jr.: only one. And that’s, um, Eric, uh, Phantom of the opera because then you’re in the book. He was born that way. Nobody threw acid in his face. He wasn’t burned in a fire.

He was born that way, and he was actually exhibited at a human oddity in a circus for a while. And then he was purchased as a freak and traveled around what was then known as the orient. And that’s where you learn these grammatical skills. And only the Cheney silent version kept that backstory for Eric.

And even they. The original version, which is completely lost, had seen showing him, you know, his origin and the audiences couldn’t stand it. So they took it out. So there are hints of that and the Cheney version and every other version says, we have to find an excuse why this guy. Is so ugly, or an Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Well, he’s ugly, but he’s also really kind of hot and romantic.

We, we seem to have trouble dealing with that. We turn our eyes away from things we consider not like us. And the more freakish and not like us, the more we want to turn away. You see a person who has only, um. You know, one limb, they’re missing their arms and one leg instinctively, instinctively, we turn away because it’s so unlike us.

Yeah. So for that reason, that’s. I like to explore that type of of role, you know? Yeah. If I had one on my bucket list, it would be that or something like it. 

Todd: Oh, well it is such a coincidence that you bring that up, cause I’m in the middle of that book right now and my wife read it and she passed it to me.

She said, Todd, you’ve got to read this. It’s so different from, and it’s true. You’re right that the book really deserves a real adaptation, I think. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: I think so too. And, but we, we don’t deal well with that. Well, you know, we don’t do well with it. There was the one moment in the 31 Frankenstein, when the monster reaches up to the light and this look on his face, this rapturous look on his face, and then they shut off the light and, and that captured sort of the same feeling.

Craig: Well, I hope you get the opportunity. It may be one of our many listeners 

Todd: both. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Yeah. 

Craig: Both of them can pass you on to some great director. That’d be fantastic. But I just want to say, you know, we’re, we’re nearing the one hour Mark, which is where we are. Usually pass off. And, uh, this has been, you know, in 170 episodes or whatever, one of my favorite episodes should record.

It’s, it’s been very different in format from our other episodes, but it’s just been really, really cool to kind of get some insight into not just the industry, been to some personal insight into somebody who has really been immersed in it. And I can’t thank you enough. For agreeing to do this. It means so much to me.

Talking to somebody who has worked with some of the people that I admire most in the world. Somebody who I admire just based on the huge nature of your career. Uh, so I, I again, I, I just want to express my extreme gratitude. Thank you so much. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: I thank you. It’s been one of the best conversations I’ve had in a while.

These kind of conversations are like. Fertilizer to me, I need, and so thank you for this opportunity. 

Craig: Oh my gosh, you’re so welcome. 

Todd: Thank you so much for joining us. And you know, Abraham Lincoln vs zombies go out and see it. 

Craig: It’s about Abraham Lincoln and he fights zombies. 

Todd: They sleep and he speaks by them while they sleep.

He has this really bad ass side that switches out and he, he chops off 

Bill Oberst Jr.: and divide it again.

Craig: Dude, I love that shot of you. You know the shot of you set against the sky with your size. Like if I were you, I would totally have this framed in my house. I hope, 

Bill Oberst Jr.: and if you, if you’ll notice, I’ll say, this is my partying thing. When you look at that shot, the size is broken because they only had three and I broke every one slingy because they weren’t meant to be flung open so violently.

But every time I just got into it and go and they go like. Bill broke another one, but it work. 

Craig: It looks fantastic. You did a great job. 

Bill Oberst Jr.: Thanks guys. 

Todd: Thank you bill, and thank you for listening to another episode. If you enjoyed this one, please share it with a friend. You can find us online all on iTunes.

You can find us on Google play anywhere your favorite podcasts are. You can also find us on Facebook. Just search for “two guys in a chainsaw”, or you can go directly to our website where you can stream our episodes and leave us a comment there as well. Was he continuing with another episode next week?

Until then, I’m Todd and I’m Craig with Two Guys and a Chainsaw.

2 Responses

  1. DystopiaGrrl says:

    Great interview guys! Enjoyed it very much =)

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