Michael Ironside interview: Turbo Kid, remakes, V, The Flash

The mighty Michael Ironside on his dislike of remakes, Turbo Kid, The Flash, and his upcoming directorial debut...

For everyone who wanted to see a new Michael Ironside movie on the big screen, the wait is over. His latest movie, Turbo Kid, has been doing the festival circuit since its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January, and it’s now played at FrightFest, ahead of a VOD rollout in a month or so.

Calling Mr. Ironside a seasoned actor would fall far short off the mark. His entire body of work is imposing with approximately 130 feature films and an innumerable number of television appearances to his name. His genre work alone is impressive, having propelled him to the rank of cult actor. Every genre fan will remember him as Darryl Revok in David Cronenberg’s classic horror movie Scanners, which is still relevant over 30 years later.

His tough guy image was forever sealed through a number of memorable genre roles, including two seminal Paul Verhoeven sci-fi movies, Starship Troopers and Total Recall (the good one). On genre television, he is known more fondly for one of his staple tough guy roles as Ham Tyler in the V: The Final Battle mini-series and V the series, and as Captain Oliver Hudson in Seaquest 2032. He has also lent his distinctive voice to a number of animated genre projects, including Batman, Superman, and Justice League and for the animated feature film Heavy Metal 2000; as well as for video games, including Splinter Cell and Command And Conquer.

Here’s how our chat with the mighty Mr Ironside went…

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Can you tell us a bit more about your role in Turbo Kid?

I actually met the producer and the directors at the Toronto film festival two and a half years ago. I was with Claudio Luca [founder of Ciné Télé Action International], who works here in Montreal. We were on our way somewhere else. We dropped in there, and they came up to us and started to talk to me. I liked them. Anne-Marie Gélinas [the producer], I had heard of, but I had never met her. I think she is an incredible woman.

I gotta let you know, I don’t do these interviews unless I care about something. I’ve been doing it too long. I don’t blow smoke up people’s ass. It just doesn’t make any sense. Anne-Marie is a first class producer. She is very passionate about what she does. I met the directors. They are very funny. I said, “All right. Let me read the script.” That’s where we started.

So I read the script. I liked it a lot. I get about three or four jobs offered to me a week. Most of them are not very well written, and maybe half of them are not even financed, but if they have my name on it, then maybe they can get in the door somewhere and get financed. This one was different. I choose now based on the writing, first. Then, on the personalities of the storytellers, and then whether or not they are flexible enough to take input, because that was their first feature film, and I had done about 240 films, you know, at that time. I’m not bragging. I like to work.

So we met on Skype. I think I was in Belgrade, or something, and we got along very well. What I was comfortable most with them was their ability to say ‘no’ to me. And I don’t mean like I’m a bully. I was very comfortable with them saying ‘yes’ to some of my ideas, but then saying ‘no’ because they could defend the ‘why’ meant they knew [what they were doing], because sometimes I ask questions and suggest things to see how strongly they support the story. And they would say, “no, no, no, no, no! THIS is what we want to do. We can’t do that,” and I would know they were in charge. They’re not afraid to say ‘no.’ I hope to work with them again. They’re great.

Is your character Zeus a bit of a salute to your previous characters?

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This is tongue-in-cheek, on purpose. I don’t want to give stuff away, but we wanted to take a caricature to the edge without going over. Everyone in the film, especially with Munro Chambers [in scenes] showing up and throwing a pose, or the Kiwi [Aaron Jeffery] playing a cowboy as a salute to John Wayne. All the little things we were doing in the film without going over the edge.

Having seen the film, there are a couple of places where I think I could have pulled it back a little, and places where I definitely could have gone farther, but again, we are not dealing with a lot of money or a lot of time. A lot of the situations are just basically walking to a scene, sit down, and start talking. Because we didn’t have enough money or time to do it more complicated. I think you’ll enjoy the film.

I wish we had time to talk about everything else you’ve done in genre cinema. Do you have a special interest for sci-fi and other genre films?

My grandfather spoke seven languages. He was a chemical and electrical engineer. He was born in Scotland. He came from a very wealthy family. He was a remittance man. They paid him to leave, because he fell in love with an Irish milkmaid that worked on the property and who was my grandmother. She died when my father was seven, and my grandfather just sat down and did nothing for the rest of his life. It broke his heart. But he was very well read, and he was part of the original science fiction club with Heinlein.

All those publications that would become magazines, they were [at first] private letters. I read Frank Herbert’s Dune out of a shoebox with a letter on the front that read, “Would you have a look at this and see if you can find any [problems].” My grandfather was part of that club, and they would send [stories] to him because of his engineering knowledge. He built one of the first tube radios in Canada. He was a little wee Scotsman, a real pain in the ass, but I loved him dearly. So, he introduced me to science fiction very early. I was just a kid. My brother still has [the Dune draft].

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So you were one of the first people to read Dune?

I think so. My grandfather was part of that society. There were about a hundred of them, Frank Herbert, Heinlein, Asimov. And they had that science fiction magazine, which was their private newsletter, before it was respected literature. I remember when my dad passed away; I found boxes of old sci-fi magazines. So I grew up reading things like van Vogt’s Slan. These are the things I read when I was eleven, twelve and thirteen years old. It had a very big impact on me.

A lot of movies are being rebooted right now…

I think that’s because of a lack of imagination. You know, every major studio in the United States right now is run by somebody who has no production experience.

So, where do they come from?

They come from financing and advertising. They would refute that, but that’s why we get remakes of remakes of remakes…

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They remade Total Recall, and V, and now they’re talking about remaking Starship Troopers

Remakes? [whistles and makes the gesture of a plane crashing down]. BOOM! How do you make something without Paul Verhoeven? “Yeah, we can do this,” and [they] blow it all out of shape.

V, the original series — here is something you probably don’t know — was supposed to be ‘what if Hitler had won?’ What if Europe was run by the Nazis, and North America was this isolated place? The network said they couldn’t do that. So they made them all aliens, and the idea of the dust and the virus, that’s propaganda. The original script that I saw was a political drama.

If they were to finish the old series – and I’m not talking about the failed 2009 reboot – would you reprise your role of Ham Tyler?

They asked me to be a part of the new show and I said ‘no.’

What if they were to finish the story with the old cast? They’re bringing back some old favorite shows now – The X-FilesTwin Peaks, and instead of rebooting them, they are bringing back the original cast. It would be great if they were to do that with V.

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My decisions are based on the writing. If the writing is good, then I ask who is involved. With television, especially with network television, it’s all kind of inflexible. More is being done in non-network television. I mean, look at some of the stuff being done now, like Kevin Spacey’s show about Washington [House Of Cards].

It was recently announced that you are going to be on The Flash next season. Can you tell me a little bit about your role?

I just got it. I’m going to be shooting a film in Eugene, Oregon, and two of the producers on The Flash are friends. We talked about going in, and I said I never have any time. So one of them called me and said, “we have Captain Cold’s father.” I asked, “has anyone ever seen him?” And he said, “not really.” So I asked if they could fit it into this window I have from the film I did in Oregon until I go to Europe. So I’m going to Vancouver to do that.

I like the producers, and the show as well. I read the script and I thought I could have fun with this, and it’s about parenting [laughter]. And two of my favourite golf courses are in Vancouver.

You’re a golfer?

I am. You know, for four hours, nobody can touch you. It’s like meditation. I use it to judge people’s character because you take somebody on a golf course and their character defects and shortcomings come out. That’s how I picked my manager, my accountant, and my lawyer. You get someone who hits a bad shot and who goes crazy, and throws the club, you want him working for you? You want him to represent you?

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You get someone who hits a bad shot and who goes “how can I correct that? Do you have any ideas?” That’s the guy I hire. But also, I work all the time. I don’t take big vacations. Sometimes, a golf game is the only thing I get.

What are your next projects, or what haven’t you done yet that you would love to do?

See my daughters get married someday, both of them. Become a granddad. I just finished a film called The Space Between. A wonderfully written, directed and acted film by Amy Jo Johnson [Flashpoint/Mighty Morphin Power Rangers]. An incredible script about a family in turmoil. I play the father. I’m going off right after this to do a film called Lucky’s Chance about a grandfather, his granddaughter and a horse. I’m taking the job because my daughter read it and said “what are you afraid of?” And I said, “what?” And she said, “you’re gonna pass on this. Why?” And I said, “I’m afraid of it being too cliché,” and she said, “well do something about it.” And she’s only sixteen…

After that I go up to do The Flash. And then I go to Europe to do the Tokyo War Trials — not Nuremberg, the Japanese side. They’re using the courthouses in Lithuania’s Estonia. They were built by the same architect who built the ones in Japan. This is a Japanese, French, Canadian and English co-production. They asked me to play Douglas MacArthur. I have to lose 40 pounds — I got two months [laughter].

I may be directing. I have been avoiding it for years. I wrote a script about the Punjab rebellion in India. I had never been in India before I wrote it, but I love it. I read all the Kipling books as a kid. It’s the one place I’ve avoided most of my life because people say when you go to India, it’s a life-changing event, and I’m afraid to have my life changed [laughter].

It’s an interesting script I wrote almost 30 years ago called Passport India. It’s kind of like Walkabout, the Australian film from way back with the two kids, the desert and an Aborigine. This one is about two kids and a Punjab sergeant major that walks them from the South of India all the way up to Calcutta so that they can get on a train and go home.

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So it’s based on a true story that was told me by a woman named either Lady or Dame Braithwaite, on a flight from Madrid to London when I was hungover after the Madrid film festival where I was representing Scanners. I get on the plane, and I was so hungover. I was bleeding from the eyes. I sat beside this old woman who wore a big hat, lace up to here, and a cameo on her throat, and as the plane took off, she said, “would you like some tea?” And I went, “no, ma’am.” She pulled out a little flask and said, “Are you sure you wouldn’t like some tea?” And I went, “Oh, yes! I want some tea [laughter]”.

So we had tea, and she poured some really good bloody scotch in my tea, and she told me this story, about her grandmother and her great-uncle, how their parents were killed, and how this Indian fellow, who was a postman put an extra stamp on them, put them in a cart and walked them from Southern India all the way to Calcutta and gave them over to the British authorities.

When I got off the plane in London, I asked her, “do you mind if I take this?” She said, “put something together and show me.” I asked why she was telling me this. She said, “that was my mother’s,” and she showed me the stamp around her neck. She had just been to India. She had been to that man’s grave to thank him for her life, and she was in her eighties. So it was given to me, and I wrote it.

I got it financed once in the nineties, with this Indian-British company. As soon as I signed the paper, the Indian producer went, “who should we get for a leading lady?” And I went, “there is no leading lady in this story.” He went, “you can’t do a film without a leading lady,” and I thought, “oh, my fucking god. I’m fucked.” And this was the only other time I prayed for anything else than my daughters’ safety; I went home that night, and I thought, “Oh my god, if you can do anything to get me out of this.” They had ninety days to raise the money. Then Pakistan fired some shells, I think, across the border, that weekend. Everything was put on hold and their option lapsed. The film didn’t get made and I got the rights back. I am terrified of making this film unless I have control.

I asked the woman when I got off the plane, “did you ever ask your grandmother why she thinks that man did that?” And she said, “No. Why do you think?” I said I didn’t know, and she replied, “maybe that’s something you have to ask yourself, then.” And I wrote [the script] down, sent it to her, and she said, “by all means. Just change my name please. And she signed over the rights. So I’ve been sitting on it for 25 years. A friend of mine in Ottawa is setting up an Indian-Canadian co-production company and he said, “remember that Indian film of yours, do you want to do it?” So we’re thinking of shooting it in Southern India sometime next year.

So it’s definitely on?

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It’s definitely on, but I don’t trust anything till it’s in the can [laughter]. The working title is Passport India.

Michael Ironside, thank you very much!