Brad Dourif is truly an actor who needs no introduction (but he will get a brief one anyway). From his wrenching role as stuttering patient Billy Bibbit in Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest(1975) through his most recent turn as the voice of deadly doll Chucky, Brad has earned a well-deserved rep as one of the industry's most dependable and quirkily charismatic character thesps. His edgy presence has driven major films like John Huston's Wise Blood, further enhanced gems like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, and supplied the sole saving grace in countless B flicks. 'Scope scribe Scott Voisin recently caught up with Brad for a crash course in the actor's prolific career.
Scott Voisin: Did you ever think that seventeen years after the original Child's Play, the franchise would still be going?
Brad Dourif: Certainly not in the beginning, no. Especially after the third one -- I thought that one would be the death of it. But the fourth one (Bride of Chucky) got the world back into it. SV: What was it about Bride that reinvigorated the series?
BD: I think because it remade itself. It began to be a parody, and it had a sense of humor and innocence. It became a whole new way of looking at Chucky, and it changed perspectives completely in a way that worked and that people liked.
SV: Do you know if any more sequels are in the works?
BD: Well, nothing's certain until it's greenlighted, but there's definitely an idea that (writer) Don Mancini has which I think is brilliant. I think it would be the best one yet.
SV: If the series continued for another ten years, do you think you'll still be giving Chucky his voice?
BD: Sure, but the second they stop paying me, that's the second I lose interest in it. It's a job, you know? I'm an actor, and a job's a job. But it's very easy for me to do because I just go into a recording studio. I could be in the middle of doing anything else I wanted and still do the movie. All I've got to do is just have a little time to go in the studio. It takes about three days to do the first pass of dialogue, and then after that, it just depends. On this last one (Seed of Chucky), I spent more time doing PR than I did on the movie!
SV: Of all the Chucky films, do you have a favorite?
BD: The fourth one was my favorite. I like this last one because it was a really whacked-out, odd film to me. It was really interesting because it talked about something that's very real, which is dysfunctional families. I mean, it was parodying them, but it had a dark underbelly. But I really liked the fourth one better.
SV: You were 24 years-old when you had your first major film role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. What was that like?
BD: I was going into it as somebody who had just found his feet as an actor. I was just at the point where I really knew I could do it, so it was completely exciting. I mean, I was very excited by this new discovery I had made in myself, and I was very excited by the situation I was in. It just couldn't have come at a more powerful time in my life. During that time, I had this moment where I saw Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, and I went, "I am gonna work with that guy," and lo and behold, the next year I did. That was how weird and synchronistic and odd for me that time was.
SV: How did it feel to be nominated for an Academy Award your first time out?
BD: That's indescribable. It was frightening, I guess, in the end. It was too much, too soon. I mean, life is not like that, and especially my life is not like that because I'm an edgy guy who doesn't have the makings of a movie star. I'm more a character guy. Suddenly, I was thrust out into mainstream Hollywood, and I was ill-prepared for the letdown that was gonna happen after that. There was this expectation that I was gonna be a movie star, and of course, that could never be.
SV: That leads me to your starring role in Wise Blood.The movie received a lot of critical accolades but never really caught on with audiences.
BD: No, of course not. I mean, you don't walk out whistling the tune. There's nothing about the film that is really accessible in a way. It's not a movie that does what blockbuster movies do, which is take you on this great ride. What the movie does is take you to someplace that's fraught with ambiguity, where you're not sure what to make of things. I was offered the role of Enoch Emory, and I told them I wasn't going to do Enoch Emory, I wanted to do Hazel Motes. This was John Huston directing, you know, and their reaction was, "Who the f--k does this guy think he is?" And then Huston looked at me, and he saw some work I had done, and he said, "Wait a minute... Maybe he's the guy."
SV: What was Huston like as a director?
BD: Of all the people I've worked with, he had a clearer, more improvisational vision. He would do an entire scene with one shot, and that would be all that he shot. Nobody does that. Nobody has that kind of confidence in themselves. He knew and trusted his instincts, and he saw what he was shooting and how it was going to cut. He was more comfortable in his role as a director than anybody else I've ever worked with. He let me play with the role, and he'd kind of look at me and go, "Even more... Even more."
SV: One of the more notorious directors you've worked with is David Lynch. The first time was on his adaptation of Dune.
BD: David was a nut. When I met him, he said, "Brad, I have this question for you. I want to know what you think about actors having surgery." And I was like, "I think it's great as long as it's not me!" He's a guy who's incredibly enthusiastic and a genius, I mean really and truly a genius. But with Dune, I think the script was the wrong script, and that was the problem. It didn't work, and there's nothing you can do. When you have a skeleton where the body is a wreck, that's what you're gonna have, a wreck. There's two worlds in the movie. The first world is the Atreides and their fall from power, and the second world is the rise of Paul Atreides and the Fremen. Those are two different movies, and by the time he got to the second movie, all he has are illustrations, he doesn't have a story anymore. Nothing's building, nothing's moving anywhere. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. There's no sense of story structure. The second half of the film is illustration and no longer a story. A lot of it is beautiful, and some of it where they cut corners looked awful. It looked awful when it came out and it looks awful now.
SV: And yet, two years later, you reteamed with Lynch on Blue Velvet.
BD: That was him in his world, that's where he was at his best. He directs like a painter and he picks people who can handle it. I had no misgivings working with him again because he's a genius. Even if he fails, it's worth it.
SV: Another director you've worked with who's been called a genius is Dario Argento, in his film Trauma. How would you compare him and Lynch?
BD: I don't think there is a comparison. I like Dario enormously, and he's done some very unique things. He's like Tobe Hooper in a way. There's something not great there, but there's always something remarkable, too. Dario is good. He's wide open and he listens to the actors.
SV: Speaking of Tobe, what was it like working with him on Spontaneous Combustion?
BD: I love Tobe. I think he's probably one of the most lovable people I've ever had the pleasure of being around. The film didn't work at all, and the subject was so ridiculous. When we were doing it, some of the scenes we couldn't even get through the dialogue without bursting into hysterics. We were trying to do this serious movie, and we should've known that we couldn't do it because it was just so absurd. Spontaneous combustion is not a subject that's a really frightening idea. Making somebody burst into flames or having the power to burn people might be scary, but people just spontaneously bursting into flames is ridiculous. It's a funny idea for a comedy.
SV: What was the attraction of doing a movie that you thought was ridiculous?
BD: Well, you get to thinking you can make it work, and there was a lot of stuff in it I really liked. I did the audition, and I kind of liked the way the speech went that I auditioned with. It felt good and in the end... you just get stupid.
SV: I wanted to ask you about Sonny Boy, a film with a very devoted cult following.
BD: The role was great, and it was really somebody I wanted to do. He's a completely amoral creature who lives in a world that is completely amoral. These people raise this kid to be a dangerous animal who will later be used as a tool, but it's all under the pretense of them being a family. In the end, they all become human beings. I would say that it's kind of a heavy-metal fable about parenting.
SV: People seem to either love the movie or hate it. Did you know that it would divide the audience like that?
BD: Yes. There's a place for that, and I think it's an important thing to do. People should have very strong love-it or hate-it kinds of reactions to movies. There are movies that need to be like that.
SV: Another cult film of yours that's held in high regard is Horseplayer.
BD: That's actually a good movie. This young guy (Kurt Voss) wrote a pure film with a clear and simple story, but he was very disorganized. I went in realizing that this was gonna be a disaster, so I said, "You need to hire this one guy to be your A.D." So they hired this friend of mine, Matt Clark, and Matt went in and organized it in three days. We went and shot it, and we nailed it. I spent the extra few days really, really working on it, and we were able to go in and shoot four or five scenes a day at an optimum level of acting. Everybody pulled it off. He (Voss) did something very interesting photographically by never moving the camera at all. It had a really good look and everything had to be done with staging, which gave the film a unique kind of feel to it. The actors were forced to move, and if you wanted to change the perspective in a scene, it had to be done purely by blocking, which is a very strange thing to do in films.
SV: I think The Exorcist III is one of the most underrated horror films of the '90s. What was it like during filming?
BD: It was difficult. The first time I did it, the director had sat down with me and went over every single line -- over and over -- to the point where I had to stress every f--king word and make everything that I did important. Well, of course I had to make it important, the scene was f--kin' boring! He showed me both of my scenes after filming and said we had to re-shoot part of it. George C. Scott came up to me and said, "He's got you totally f--ked up. Just choose what's important and throw the rest away." It was a case of where I didn't defend myself properly and I let the director take over, and you don't do that. So I re-shot it, everything went great, and after they editied the movie, the producers did a demographics study and thought they needed to have Jason Miller from the first movie come in. Well, Jason Miller couldn't handle it. They got him in there and realized he couldn't handle it, so they had to bring me back in and I had to do it again because the scenery was different. I went and spent a day in a hotel room to re-familiarize myself with the script and then went back and re-shot it. In the end, it was a pain in the ass to do, but it turned out pretty good. I think that what I came up with the first time around was better, mainly because I didn't really have the time with the material for the re-shoot that I had had before. It wasn't nearly as good as what it had been.
SV: George C. Scott always struck me as being someone who could be very intimidating to work with.
BD: No, not at all. First of all, George C. Scott had an engine that sometimes was turned on, and sometimes it wasn't. He would walk through scenes, and then all of a sudden, something would hit him and he would be great. When he got turned on, it never stopped. He was wonderful and he loved to act. People who love to act like to work with other people, so he was basically gettin' off on it, like musicians jamming together.
SV: Were you a fan of the other Alien movies before you signed on for Alien: Resurrection?
BD: They're very scary, so they're not my cup of tea, but I think that Sigourney Weaver is the greatest action hero of all time. Anybody that wants to be an action hero should look at her because she did it better than any male ever did.
SV: Did you take the role so you could work with her?
BD: I took the role because they paid me. It was a job.
SV: What was it like working with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet?
BD: He was wonderful. Basically, you work into his vision, and that ain't easy at times. There could be a shot with a lot of paraphernalia to deal with, and getting from point A to point B fluidly can involve a lot of stepping over tracks that can be very hard to navigate. But once you step up to the challenge, it's very exciting. He was also improvisational. I did this thing where I kissed the alien through a glass, and he f--kin' loved that! He went nuts over it. After that, I could no wrong.
SV: How did you become involved in the last two Lord of the Rings films?
BD: Well, I auditioned and was in contention, but I didn't get it. Whoever it was that got it backed out, and they called me up and asked if I wanted it.
SV: What's your opinion of the series?
BD: I think that visually, he (director Peter Jackson) accomplished it to a tee. Every single thing you saw was that world. I think the extended version of Fellowship of the Ring was a really good movie. When I saw Fellowship the first time in a theater, I thought it was okay, but when I saw the extended version, I said, "Now that's it. That's a movie." I really was glued to it. The rest of them, I have problems with. I thought the third one was interminable, I just couldn't get through it. I thought it was f--king boring beyond belief. The second one had its moments. The scene in the swamp was chilling. That was a vision that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
SV: As an actor, is it difficult for you to watch movies? Can you disassociate yourself from the industry and look at films as a regular member of the audience?
BD: A movie will either take me or it doesn't, and if it doesn't take me, there's usually a problem. I'm going to hate what I do anyway, that's a given. I hate watching myself so I watch other people, and sometimes I really get carried away by it.
SV: How did you land the role of Doc Cochran on HBO's Deadwood?
BD: I didn't know who (creator/executive producer) David Milch was, and I certainly had no idea that he was a genius. He is literally one of the smartest people I've ever met. I went in and David kind of looked at me and said, "I've got a feeling about you. I'm not going to say anything, I just want to see what you do." So I did this character -- which wasn't much in terms of lines -- and he called and said, "Look, I want you to do this but you've got to do an audition for HBO." I went in and there was no one there, and he sat down with me and said, "You notice nobody else is here? That's how worried you have to be about what's going to happen next." So I auditioned, and I got it immediately.
SV: Do you see yourself staying with Deadwood for the duration?
BD: Absolutely. Listen, man, I'm a whore, but I know when I have a good trick!
SV: Do you feel that you've been stereotyped during your career?
BD: Not anymore. I'm heading into the latter part of my career, so I have to reinvent myself. I mean, how many serial killers live to be 55 years old? I can't do those roles anymore. If anything, I'm trying to get them to stereotype me as the curmudgeon! Maybe I was stereotyped at one point, but basically you read something, and either you connect with the material or you don't. Either you really have something to offer or you don't. I just look at what I'm presented with and try to do the best I can with it.
SV: When you have to decide or whether or not to do a role, does who's directing or co-starring have any influence on your decision?
BD: What attracts me to parts is the mystery. I love the whole sense of discovery. Human nature is a mystery, and I'm a student of human nature. I have to be because that's my job, I'm an actor. The human condition is universal, yet very unique. I'm always looking for a peculiar and unique bend, where I walk out in some area where no one has ever been before, and I try to find real life there. I will do that with any actor, writer, director or studio on the planet. I would like to be paid for it, that's all.
SV: Which would you prefer: A leading role in a low-budget indie film, or a supporting role in a major Hollywood production?
BD: I'm to the point now where I haven't seen a Hollywood movie that I've even f--king liked in so long, it's ridiculous. The best movie to come from Hollywood in a long time was Million Dollar Baby, and it's not a great film. I'm sorry, but it isn't. Clint Eastwood has directed better movies than that. I think it's well-acted, but it's not greatly acted. I think Eastwood did the best piece of work in the film. I have nothing against Hilary Swank because I think her performance in Boys Don't Cry is one of the great performances of the 20th century. So that's the best Hollywood has done, meanwhile there are these indies that are incredibly beautiful movies. So, yeah, I would do an independent movie. After working with David Milch -- who writes so well -- you see these scripts for huge, big-budget movies with major stars in them, and you think, "This stuff is sh-t." The dialogue is awful, everything is predictable, and there's nothing special about it. As an actor, you want to have a good time, you want to sink yourself into something that turns you on and challenges you. Actually, I'm in the best world to be in. I'm doing HBO, and HBO is doing the best stuff in America now.
SV: So you enjoy working in television?
BD: I love working in television. I think that TV is an alive art form, which it hasn't been for years and years and years. Right now it's in a renaissance and it's where the real breakthrough stuff is happening. It's an exciting place to be. There's all kinds of things about it that are great. There are long-term arcs in characters you can explore that you can't do during a two-hour film. Things evolve differently, and the growth of your character really has a life of its own, so anything can happen. It's a very different way of looking at acting.
SV: Looking back on your career, what movies are you proud to have been involved with?
BD: Mississippi Burning was a wonderful film. I liked Wise Blood and Horseplayer, and I did a movie with James Earl Jones called Grim Prairie Tales that I liked. Of all the popular movies I've done, I think Cuckoo's Nest was the best movie I was ever in.
SV: After all of your years in the industry, what would you ultimately like people to remember most about you as an actor?
BD: I believe you have to be unique. The purpose of every artist is to find their voice, you know? If someone were to say that I had a unique voice, and that I moved people, that would be it.