Pluto Reborn: Talking With Michael Bailey Smith by Owen Keehnen

Michael Bailey Smith is poised to step into some very visible horror footsteps when he appears as Pluto in the 2006 remake of 'The Hills Have Eyes' the role originally made famous by Michael Berryman in the 1977 Wes Craven original. However, Michael is no stranger to horror in fact he made his film debut as Super Freddy in 'A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child' (1989) making him the only actor to play Freddy Kruger other than the amazing Robert Englund. That's a hell of a way to start off a resume!

In addition Michael has also starred in numerous films such as 'Cyborg 3' , 'Monster Man' , 'Submerged' , 'Love Her Madly' , 'My Favorite Martian' , 'The Unknown' , 'In Hell' and many others. His TV credits are even more impressive with an array of appearances in shows like 'Babylon 5' , 'Charmed' , 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' , 'V.I.P.' , 'The X Files' , 'Murphy Brown' , 'Desperate Housewives' , 'Star Trek Voyager' , 'Roswell' , 'Malcolm in the Middle' , 'Nash Bridges' , 'The O.C.' , 'Wings' etc.

It's hard to believe that someone who looks so damn menacing can be such a nice guy... but it's true as is evidenced in this exclusive interview.



Michael, can you start us off with a visual and describe the room where you're answering these interview questions?

Do you remember Harry Potter ; he lived in a closet, right? Well, that's where I'm at. My closet is pretty big. So, I made half of it my office. I have DSL, phone, desk, computer and nice window. I'm on the second floor of a new house we just bought. I'm a screenwriter, besides an actor, so I spend a lot of time up here. It's quiet and my kids know that when I have the door closed, they're not to come in. But they still do, telling me about something they found in the backyard or a new level of a video game they got too.

First off I want to hear about how your work as Pluto in the remake of 'The Hills Have Eyes'? What sort of headspace did you go into to get into character?

First off, playing Pluto was so much fun. A lot of hard work, but when you get to break things and not get in trouble for it, plus get paid for it, then the hard work was worth every second. Pluto is not even close to the original that was played by Michael Berryman. This Pluto is raw, brutal and in your face. He has a mind of a child and the viciousness of your worst nightmare. He keeps coming and coming and won't stop until he kills you. I'm a bit "method" but only a few minutes before they call "action". So, to get in that space, I had to get pretty crazy. Alex, the director, loved it when I got "jacked" up to do a scene where I had to kick some serious butt. It took a lot of bad words and stomping around to get not only my body but also my mind ready to become Pluto. The cast and crew knew when it was "Pluto Time". Just seconds before "action" I'm ready. Axe in hand and literally frothing at the mouth. Aaron, who plays Doug in the movie, knew I meant business. So, there was no acting when it came to him and me battling. You're going to love the "house" scene. It's an intense onslaught that does not let up.

Was it intimidating to step into Michael Berryman's shoes who played Pluto in the original Wes Craven flick back in 1977?

At first, yes. Michael made Pluto iconic. It's tough to portray such a famous character. Alex and I decided that I should not see the original film. I did not want to do an imitation of what Michael did, but instead bring a new, fresh approach. The first film has some camp to it. This film, there is no camp. My character had to match the overall feel of the film.

What is your predominant memory of shooting the film?

I think working with the German Sheppard dogs. They were from France and they were not exactly trained to do stage fighting with an actor. I had rehearsed with them for a couple of weeks and everything seemed to be okay. But when we got to the actual shooting of the scene, the dogs got stage fright. We just couldn't get the energy out of the dogs that we wanted to. We used 4 different dogs. The female dog was the last dog and the most vicious. I had a pad under my jacket to protect my arm, but the dog decided to try to bite my balls instead. Go figure. She did nail me in the leg a few times and left a few good marks that still remain to this day. At the end of the day, the scene didn't work and the director and producers were not happy. So, we came back another day and tried it again. The same thing. The dogs got stage fright and I got bit. So, everyone told me that we'd have to do this scene in the US, but this time with "trained" American dogs. I felt bad. It wasn't my fault, but still I felt bad. When I was wrapped on the film, I had about 4 days off before I was to go back to the US. I thought, "What the hell. I'm sitting here on my butt, doing nothing. Let's bring 2nd Unit in and spend a day, by ourselves and work with the dogs. Let's make the scene work. So, after some pleading and begging, I got them to do it. That's what we did. We got 2nd Unit at the location, brought in the dogs and spent all day working getting the shot. In the end, not only did we make the scene work, but also we saved the production hundreds of thousands of dollars on reshoots. The producers are still thanking me to this day.

It's sort of fitting at this point that your career would come full circle in a way since you started your film career as Super Freddy in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child' (1989). How did that bit of horror immortality happen for you?

Playing Super Freddy kind of happened on accident. I went with a friend of mine to an audition. He's a big guy like me. I went with him because after, we were going to workout at Gold's Gym in Venice Beach, which was close by. Well, he finished auditioning and as we were leaving, the casting director asked me if I wanted to come in and meet the director. I said, "Okay, I guess." I went in and meet him. He asked me to laugh like Freddy Kruger and I did. The next thing you know, I'm playing Super Freddy. Did you know that I'm the only other person to have played Freddy Kruger, besides Robert England? Someone told me that last week. And now I'm playing another iconic character, Pluto. Pinch me! Okay, that sounds weird. How about punch me?!

Can you describe the feeling of seeing yourself on the big screen for the first time?

I was nervous as hell. I think I closed my eyes and slouched down in my seat, trying to disappear. To this day, with all of stuff I've done both big screen and small screen, I still get nervous. I think that's because deep down inside I think I suck and I'm afraid everyone will find out.

Since then you've also done several other horror sci fi movies - a vampire in 'Blood Shot' (2002), Valya in 'In Hell' (2003), Creepy in 'Men in Black II' (2002), 'Cyborg 3 (1994), etc. Tell me about your work as the title character in the promising sounding 'Monster Man' (2003)?

That was a fun role to do. Have you seen it? I had done a few years on 'Charmed' playing four different characters, so I' m pretty good at coming up with different character traits. Seeing how Monster Man's real name is F*ck Face, I figured he'd have a f*cked up walk as well as he's breathing. So, I worked something up, showed the director, he loved it and we went with it. I'm so blessed to be in this business and to have played so many different characters. Even though it would be fun to be a leading man, being a character actor is so much more challenging and kick ass. Leading men, play leading men. Not much difference from one movie to the next. There are exceptions, but for the most part that's how it is. Guys like me get to play all sorts of characters. I don't get to many love scenes, but that's okay. I get to kill them instead. Plus, my wife wouldn't be to happy seeing me on the big screen making out with some chick.

Is acting menacing easy for you? Is it a form of therapy? Do you think you're primarily cast because of your looks, size, demeanor, or film history? I guess I am asking what do you think casting directors see in you that makes you win these roles?

No, menacing does not come easy to me. I'm a pretty nice guy, well, I think I am. When I get into a casting office for a bad guy role, I have to walk in with the bad guy demeanor. If I don't, I don't get the role. Now, when I'm on the set, it's a different story; I'm nice, kicked back and easy to get along with. I've lost too many jobs when I first started by walking into the casting office with a smile and all friendly. I now walk in professional and like I own the room. My size and my baldhead is what gives me the look but my acting is what wins me the role. A lot of big guys think they can just want in with no training and win the role. But that's not the case for the most part. After I did Nightmare and realized I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. So, I studied my butt off. For 4 years I took every acting class you can thing of. To this day, I still train. I treated acting like I did when I used to play football. I wanted to be good and that takes a lot of work. It's Hollywood, where people from all over the world come to be an actor. So, I knew I would be up against a lot of competition. Even though I've put in a lot of work and have paid my dues, I\rquote ve still been blessed. I've done almost 40 films and about 60 TV shows. Most people could only dream about that. But I don't take it for granted. Every time I step on the set, I'm in awe. I wish I could do it 24/7.

In addition to your movie work you have done so much television as well...4 episodes of 'Charmed, 'The X Files', 'Star Trek Voyager', 'Family Matters', 'Desperate Housewives', 'Roswell', Nash Bridges', 'The O.C.', 'Malcolm in the Middle', a couple episodes of 'Murphy Brown', 'Wings', 'Babylon 5', 'V.I.P.' and everything in between. What have been your most memorable roles on the small screen...or those you see and think 'Awesome, I really nailed that challenging role that time!'

4 episodes of 'Charmed' , you're short changing me here. I've done 13, but who's counting! Ha!

Oops, pardon my faulty research!

Yep, again, I'm very blessed with all of the work. I think the one show where I said; "Man, this is awesome!" was 'Nash Bridges.' I did one episode. Had a good time and thought that was it. Then a couple of weeks later, they call me back for another episode. Same role, Iron Mike Willis, but the part was a lot bigger. I remember, riding a police motorcycle, having the camera right next to me, filming and I'm rattling off all of this cool dialogue. After the shot, I stood up on the bike and screamed, "I can't believe I'm doing this! This is awesome!" That's what I said. Honest! The director thought I was a little crazy though

Do you have any other projects pending you would care to plug or mention to the readers?

I'm doing another film in April, where I'm playing this racist cop. It's a great role and I'm looking forward to doing it. It's an independent film that will be in the festivals next year. I just turned down a role on 'Las Vegas.' I wanted to do it, but it interfered with the premier of 'The Hills have Eyes.' It was tough to turn down, but I can't miss the premiere! Other than that, I'm auditioning for the "next" role. I hear my name being tossed about for the next 'Friday the 13th' film, playing Jason. But that's just talk. It's nice to hear, but I don't put much weight into it. I'm also finishing up my 3 rd draft on my 4th screenplay. It's a great story, very powerful. Hopefully, with some luck, I can get it made. We'll see!

Do you recall the first time you were ever scared at the movies?

Yep. Don't laugh, but it was 'Count Yorga, Vampire.' That was back in 1971, I think. Were you even born yet? Don't answer that! I don't know how I got into the theatre but I did. I must have snuck in. I was scared for the next month when I went to bed. My mom had to leave the light on for me. The next time was when I was in the military. A bunch of us big tough paratroopers from the 82n Airborne went to the movies to see 'Alien.' Man, I jumped every two seconds. To this day, I'll watch horror films, but man, do I jump. My wife loves them. Hell, I went to the NC-17 screening of 'The Hills have Eyes' for the cast about a month ago. I jumped then! And I'm in the damn thing! Man, I'm a big baby.

Somewhat going along with that -- we're pulling the car into the Michael Bailey Smith Drive In. What three horror flicks are going to be in the triple bill and what goodies are you going to be serving up at the concession stand?

I like this question. 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' - Has to be something burnt, like Freddy's face. Hey, burned pizza! 'The Hills Have Eyes' (2006) - Raw meat with lots of tomato sauce. 'Aliens' - Something with a lot of dripping goop. Maybe popcorn with hot melted caramel. When you grab some popcorn, the caramel just strings out, like alien slime. Sounds kind of good. The next weekend at the Drive In, we'd play all of Michael Bailey Smith's worst movies. Man, I've done some bad ones.

What makes you go psycho in real life?

You mess with my kids or my wife, I'll go psycho. We were at a department store a few weeks back. I was trailing back from my wife and kids, looking at something on a shelf. Well, this butthead walks past one of my sons (who's 4) and bumps into him, knocking him down. The guy looks back then just keeps walking. My wife says something to him like, "Excuse me. You just knocked over my son." and the guy, out of nowhere, calls her a bitch. Well, you can imagine what happened next. Let's just say the guy not only had to change his underwear but he's also has a whole new outlook on life.

What scares you in real life?

I hate being in a darkened building by myself and having to make my way to the exit. I always feel like someone is going to come up from behind me and grab me. I'm always looking back. I know, I'm a big baby...