Interview : Michael Bailey Smith


Plays Pluto in “The Hills Have Eyes”

You mightn’t know the name, and heck, you mightn’t even know the face (it’s usually covered with some kind of crazy make-up), but one thing’s for sure, you’ll definitely be familiar with some of the characters Michael Bailey Smith has played. From Ben Grimm in “The Fantastic Four” (1994), Creepy in “Men in Black II” (2002), and the titular madman of “Monster Man” (2003), the man’s as much a Master of Disguises, as he is one of Hollywood’s most in-demand hulks. In this exclusive interview, CLINT MORRIS talks to Smith about his latest role, that of the cannibalistic Pluto, in the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes”.

Michael Berryman was the original Pluto (in Wes Craven’s “Hills Have Eyes”). Where do you start…. an imitation of his performance, or something new?

When I heard that I got this, the first thing I thought was to go and rent the original. I hadn’t seen the original so I felt I needed to do some research. But then I stopped myself and said, “Do I want to do an imitation? Or do I want to bring something new, something that I created?” So, I decided to not rent the movie. I just read the script and talk to the director, Alex. It’s Alex’s vision on how he sees Pluto. Yes, I wanted to add my own creative input, but in the end, I serve the director. Other actors my not feel that why, but that’s how I feel.

Because Michael Barryman made Pluto such an iconic character, I had a lot to live up to. Alex said that he knew I could do it, but in the back of his head, he was a little worried. I guess you just don’t know sometimes if an actor can deliver a performance when the cameras start rolling. On the last day of filming, Alex came up to me, all smiles, and said I exceeded his expectations. That made me feel pretty good. However, I guess it’s the audience that will be the final judge.

Pluto has such an incredible range of emotion; from being a little child to a vicious monster. He was so much fun to play. I got to do all of my own stunts, crashing through walls and windows.

How did people react to you on-set, in that get-up?

The first few days, people on the set were really scared of me. They didn’t know me and I purposely kept quiet. It was pretty cool how people responded to me. Their first words were, “Oh, my God…” I thought that was funny.
I came up with the creepy, childlike laugh (you can hear it in the trailer) that some of the crew members started to imitate between shots. I thought that was pretty cool.

So why did they decide on you?

Like with any role you get, well at least for me, I had to audition. Because Pluto does not have a lot of dialogue, I actually had to read for the role of Lizard. Lizard is a totally different character. Still a mutant, but different. He’s smart and cunning. Pluto is like a big child, who doesn’t know any better. He would rip your head off and enjoy it like a baby would enjoy playing with a toy.

So, after working on the scene, I went in and read for Marianne Maddalena and Gregory Levasseur, plus the casting director. Alex couldn’t make it that day. Well, it was a pretty intense scene and when I was finished, Marianne and Gregory didn’t say a word. They just stared at me, like they had just seen a monster. So, when I walked out, I thought to myself, “Well, I either sucked so bad that they’re in shock. Or I was so good that I scared them speechless.” Thank God it was the latter.

When I was filming, I asked Alex how did he know I could pull off playing Pluto because Lizard is totally different. There’s no “child” in Lizard. He told me that he could tell by just looking at me. Hummm… I guess that’s good, right?

Where did the movie film?

We filmed in Quarzazate, Morocco. Where? Yep, that’s what I said too. I never heard of the place. It took me a week in Quarzazate to learn how to pronounce it correctly. It’s in the far reaches of the desert. I guess it used to be a Moroccan Army post a long time ago. But, now it’s a busy movie town. A lot of big films have been shot there. “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Gladiator”, “Alexander”, “The Mummy” The list goes on and on. I have to say it was one of the hottest places I’ve even been. And with Pluto being in full prosthetics and wearing a wool suit, we’ll you can image how I felt. I think I lost about 15 pounds being there.

With that all being said, it was a beautiful country. The desert colors. The mountains. The nomadic people. It was great. As a teen, I spent about 3 years living in the Middle East, so filming there brought back a lot of memories.

Did you get to meet Wes Craven at all?

Nope. I haven’t met him yet. Hopefully, I will when the film comes out. That would be cool. He probably doesn’t know that I’ve played two of his most famous characters. Pluto and Freddy Kruger (actually Super Freddy in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5”)

Freddy Krueger you say?

I don’t think anyone knows that yet. Maybe they’ll put two-and-two together, I don’t know. But it is pretty cool. That was my first part ever. That’s how I got into the business and got my SAG card, was playing Super Freddy. How I have grown since there. I was very nervous when I did that role. My first time. Didn’t know what I was doing. And then now, getting to play Pluto and loving every second of it. I miss playing Pluto.

Tell me about working with your co-stars, especially Emilie de Ravin, who hails here from Australia.

It was kind of weird and yet kind of natural that the “Family” cast members hung out together and the “Mutants” cast members hung out together. It wasn’t planned that way, it just happened. I guess Robert Joy, Billy Drago and I had a lot in common. We like to eat people!

Everyone was so nice and so cool. I think because we were out in the middle of no-mans land, we kind of had to stick together. Emilie is very cool. She’s a real trooper and a very talented actress. There’s a trailer scene were Robert and I really rough her up. Sorry, but we had to. But she hung right in there and took it. She even dished it back; kicked me in the “you know whats” a couple of times. Hey, it keeps you in the moment, right?

Actually, it’s the second time Emilie and I have worked together. I did a part on “Roswell” a few years ago and my stuff was with her. Pretty funny.

I felt very honored to be working with such a great cast. Come on man… Ted Levine? “The Silence of the Lambs”? You can’t get any cooler than that.

Here’s something kind of fun. At the hotel we were staying at, there was another production company. They were doing “The Ten Commandments.” Well, one of the cast members was Naveen Andrews from the TV show “Lost.” Yep, go figure. Emilie and Naveen are way out in the desert, on the other side of the world, in the same hotel, working on two different shows. Maybe it’s not such a big world after all.

Do you think people like Pluto are actually out there?

Oh, yeah. There’s lot of people like Pluto out there. Do you want to know where to find them? How about San Quentin Federal Penitentiary? Hopefully, they’re locked up. If not, well, don’t take any long lost trips out to the desert.

Alexandre Aja’s quite a director. How did you find him?

Alex was very cool. When he watches a scene unfold on the monitor, and likes it, he gets this big smile on his face. Even if it’s a gory and horrific scene, he’ll still have this big smile. He was very open to suggestions too, which I thought was very cool.

When I have to be an intense maniac, I have to put myself in that space. I’m normally a quiet, laid back kind of a guy, but when I need to kick some butt, then I get pretty crazy. I go off on my own, stomp my feet and say a lot of bad words. I get my whole body and mind going. It’s pretty insane. Well, Alex loved my routine. He knew that when I started to do that, something cool was gong to happen.

I hope I get to work with him again. Just a very cool and talented director.

I interviewed Harrison Ford this week and he’s still, all these years later, adamant that acting’s just a “job”. Do you see it the same way, or is there just a hint of glamour in there too?

For me, it’s not a “just a job.” It’s living my dream. Living your dream is not a job. It’s a joy. Every second I savor it. For me, a job is something where you look forward to when the clock strikes 6 o’clock and you’re out the door. When I’m on the set, around the crew, the other actors, making a movie, it’s something I don’t want to end. I’m always sad when it does.

I’ve done about 40 films and about 60 episodes of different TV shows. Every time I step the set, I think I’m dreaming. I get this smile and my eyes get wide. I become this little kid. Very happy. Hell, I get to play make-believe and get paid for it. You can’t beat that!

For me, there’s not too much glamour. Remember, I play a lot of bad guy. I’m not the pretty boy type. Go figure. I don’t do the parties or the whole Hollywood thing. Maybe I could hang out with Paris Hilton? Nah… My wife would kill me. I love staying home with my kids and acting like a kid myself. I workout in the morning, around 6am. So, on those rare occasions when I am out, I’m checking my watch at 10pm, saying, “Man, I have to train in the morning. This is killing me.”

It’s funny, my oldest son’s friends come over to the house sometimes and they’ll recognize me from some movie I did, like, “Master of Disguise.” But my son always says, “Yeah, big deal. You want to go play or what?” So, there’s the glamour for you.

It is fun though, when someone asks you for your autograph or just recognizes you from a show you’ve done. Or even asks you for an interview!

Any plans for a “Hills” sequel?

Hummm… Don’t know. I do remember when I finished this one shot where I had just finished kicking some serious butt and Alex turned to me with a big intense smile and said, “You’re gonna be in sequel.” I thought, “How is that going to happen?” That was nice of him to say, but then I started to think about it a few days later. I draw the analogy to when you’re having a really good time with a new girlfriend and you get caught up in the moment and say, “I love you.”

I’ve been told “I love you.” many times throughout my career. I always take it as a compliment, but in this business I’ve learned to never count on anything. If it happens, it happens. But secretly, between you and me, I hope it does.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES Commences March 10th