Greg Grunberg has been in the business for almost twenty-five years, with a steady stream of genre fare to his credit. That includes appearances in Hollow Man, Alias and Mission Impossible III, as well as a starring role in NBC’s revamped superhero series Heroes. His latest project is the satirical monster movie Big Ass Spider, which gave him a chance to flash his cheeky side and have some fun. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked about his work on the film.
Question: So what do you think when someone says they have a movie called Big Ass Spider that they want you to be in?
Greg Grunberg: [Laughs.] Find something else to do! When they first told me about the script, I was running for the excuses. “Oh, I got this other thing! I need some time with my family! The dog ate my homework!” It’s not a title that inspires great confidence. But then I sat down and read the script and saw what Mike Mendez was trying to do, and suddenly it got a lot more interesting. I have three boys and we love movies like this. My youngest son doesn’t like getting scared, so we need to have an element of fun in movies like this, something that lets you laugh and remember that it’s all supposed to be a good time. The story has a lot of fun wrinkles and the tone of it was just right. I started out thinking “I’ll never do this!” and by the time I got done reading the script, it was “how can I say no?”
Q: How tough is it to keep that tone in your performance? You have to play it straight.
GG: You always have to play it straight. The humor doesn’t work if the actors keep nudging you in the ribs. It’s not a joke for the characters – there really is this giant killer spider running around in their world – and you have to find that seriousness in order to make it fly. Part of it means just trusting the material. You do your job and let the director do his, and the material will make the satire and absurdity of it happen.
Q: How do you prepare for something like that? And how do you factor in the special effects?
GG: I’d done my share of effects shots on Heroes, and also on the Paul Verhoeven movie Hollow Man. We really had to use our imaginations on Hollow Man, because the directing was “there’s this invisible guy attacking you!” So that side of things didn’t worry me too much. Sooner or later, most actors get to deal with the green screens and the ping pongs on a stick.
As for preparation, you still have to find the character just like you do for any other gig. There’s this exterminator company, Western Exterminator, that I’ve been using for years. I gave them a call and asked them if I could go on a ride-along, like you would with the cops. So I went with them to people’s houses and watched how they interacted with their customers. There’s a weird kind of trust involved there. You have access to people’s security codes. You learn about their pets and their kids. You’re helping with their living space, with their lives. I learned a lot about that, about how they need to be friendly and positive to help do their jobs. And then about how they handle the chemicals and poisons they use. I wanted to see the way they handled those chemicals.
Q: Once hesitates to ask actors about their career paths, but are there certain things you look for in a project these days?
GG: You have to be collaborative. I’ve learned that through experience. Any gig that gives you that is going to be a positive experience. As an actor, you want to have as much control as you can, but at the same time you’re working with an ensemble and you’re working with the director. A guy like Mike is great for that because he’s very clear about what he wants, but he gives you some room to run. I trusted his sense of things, and I knew that he’d tell us when things weren’t working. Working with someone like Lombardo Boyar is the same way. We’d known each other for years, so the onscreen chemistry was just there. I trust him and I hoped he trusted me. That makes things 100% better, both during the shoot and when you look at the final product afterwards. Lombardo’s just incredible. He makes everyone around him better.