Interview: Director Jack Sholder for THE HIDDEN

On June 6th, I had the opportunity to talk on the phone to renowned director Jack Sholder, who will be in attendance for a screening of his 1987 Sci-fi/Action masterpiece THE HIDDEN as part of Alamo Draft House NYC’s Terror Tuesdays. I asked him the things I had always been curious about regarding the film. If you haven’t seen THE HIDDEN and you want to, I would suggest waiting until after you’ve seen the film to read the interview.

THE HIDDEN is a great exploration of Los Angeles in the 1980’s. The whole film was shot on location and really puts you in the world of police and (otherworldly) criminals in the seedy underbelly of The City of Angels. Michael Nouri (character actor extraordinaire, who’s starred in every Law & Order series as a villain, and most recently starred in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The Death of Gianni Versace, amongst literally hundreds of other recognizable roles over the years) stars as a police sergeant who finds himself on one hell of a wild goose chase after a mild-mannered “law-abiding citizen” turned bank-robbing murderer Jack DeVries (played by Chris Mulkey, another character actor who’s been in seemingly everything under the sun, but most recently starred in Whiplash). After finally going out in a firefight, DeVries lies seemingly unconscious in a hospital bed; while Sergeant Beck (Nouri) is requested to join forces with Special Agent Dale Coo-I mean Lloyd Gallagher of the FBI played by none other than one of my favorite actors to have ever lived, Kyle MacLachlan.

While Sergeant Beck and the rest of the PD seem to believe the worst is over, we soon discover that DeVries was not a bank-robber/murderer after all, but rather, something inside him was. An evil, car-and-violence-loving snail/octopus alien life form that uses human bodies to go on a Thrill Kill Spree all over Los Angeles. We soon find out that Agent Gallagher is not what he seems, just like those damn owls.

Okay, Twin Peaks puns aside; I really enjoyed speaking to Jack Sholder about his experience making this film. I wish I had more time to talk to him, considering the volume of work he has done, but as they say, time flies when you’re having fun and learning so much more about THE HIDDEN than I already knew and also finding out about his idea for a new film was well worth it.

Nightmarish Conjurings: I read while researching that you were teaching at West Carolina University, are you still doing that? 

Jack Sholder: No, I retired almost a year ago, at the end of last year.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Are you going to start doing movie stuff again or are you just generally retired? 

JS: That’s the hope, yeah.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Oh, awesome!

JS: It’s a little hard, all the films that I did were sort of part of the Hollywood thing when I used to work for a studio or a network. Having been out of Hollywood for 15 years, I was dead as far as they were concerned but I have a lot of fans still in the indie world. I have this fantastic script, it’s a vampire movie called Carmilla. I don’t know how much you know about vampire stuff but this is a novel written 20 years before Dracula.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Oh, wow!

JS: It’s about a young female vampire who, in the novel, travels around with her mother in a carriage and they stop at mansions and castles were a young girl lived. Her and the girl become really good friends, I mean really good friends. So, anything that involves young female vampires is sort of part of their DNA, so we’ve kind of taken that as a jumping off point and come up with something that’s very contemporary.

Nightmarish Conjurings: That sounds amazing!

JS: Yeah, it’s a really good script. It deals with female empowerment and religious intolerance. All of the good vampire movies are about something other than vampires.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Yeah, it’s always kind of been a metaphor for a lot of different things, like drug addiction and so on and so forth. 

JS: Right, and AIDS.

Nightmarish Conjurings; Are you going to be going around showing THE HIDDEN anywhere else or was this just something that happened with Alamo?

JS: Oddly enough, there’s a movie that I did a trailer for called Street Fighter with Sonny Chiba. The guy doing the video for Street Fighter wanted to interview me and asked if I was coming to New York. I said I had no immediate plans but I had a lot of friends who lived in Brooklyn and my relatives and in-laws live out in Long Island. This guy worked it out with Alamo to bring me up to do a screening. I’ve actually done screenings, probably about a half a dozen screenings this year alone for various films, but usually THE HIDDEN or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 are the ones they like to show.

Nightmarish Conjurings: I’m really excited to see it in the theater as I’ve only seen it on VHS, or late night TV, but never in the theater. 

JS: Definitely much better in the theater.

Nightmarish Conjurings: I know that probably everyone in the universe has asked you this but I just have to know – how was it working with Kyle MacLachlan? Did you have him in mind when you were casting? 

JS: He is great to work with. I’ve worked with a lot of really good actors, people who have gotten Academy Awards and Emmys and he’s really one of the best actors I’ve worked with. He was fantastic, really nice guy, very quiet. I don’t know how much of that is him or how much was just his character. He was sort of seemingly passive, seemingly very low key. I actually felt bad because I felt that Michael Nouri was stealing the movie from him, but of course, when you see the movie it’s totally MacLachlan’s movie.

To answer the second part of your question, we cast him. We started shooting on a Monday and casted the Thursday before. We didn’t have a cast and it was like one week before we were going to start shooting. I had seen 50 – 100 people for the role and there was nobody that really turned us on. We said to the casting director “Just shake the bushes and get everybody you can possibly get to come in” and he came in on Thursday and I loved him. New Line wasn’t quite sure he was strong enough – he kind of looks wimpy and I assured them that that was what was so great about him. Besides him being a good actor it is better if he doesn’t look heroic or too powerful, that way you root for him that much more.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Exactly, he looks very unassuming but he’s definitely not. 

JS: There was something interesting that happened. We cast on Thursday and then I think on Saturday he, [Michael] Nouri and I got together to just sort of talk about the script and run through a few scenes. We started shooting on Monday and we were setting up the first shot when I looked through the camera and [McLalachlan] looked bigger. I though to myself, wait a second, and looked at him and he looked normal, than I looked through the camera again and he looked bigger. I don’t mean physically bigger – he looks stronger. It was something about the camera that did something to him. It was really interesting. I guess that’s why they’re movie stars.

Nightmarish Conjurings: They just have the quality in their face and everything. Some people look good in person but they look terrible on camera and vice versa. When you were growing up, were you a big fan of car chase movies like Bullitt? Because I feel like THE HIDDEN is a very car-centirc film. 

JS: Well, not really. I mean, I loved a good car chase, who doesn’t, but I had never thought about doing it, it’s not something I’d dreamed about. There’s a car chase at the beginning of the movie and Bob Shay, who was the head of New Line at the time and the executive producer of the film was like “Ah, it’s just a car chase”. He was making it seem like it was just another car chase in a film and I said “You know what, I’m going to make the best fucking car chase you’ve ever seen”. I had no idea how to do it, so I went and had my assistant pull the 10 best car chases that I could think of and I was them all. By the way, French Connection is the best one.

Bullitt doesn’t quite hold up as well but at the time it was mind-blowing. The thing about French Connection was it puts you in the car. I realized you have to put the audience in the car, so for instance we used these long shots in car of the driver, Walter Hill, so that you are seeing what’s going on but you’re not really feeling it. I felt that was the way to do it. We went out and shot a bunch of tests with cameras mounted in different parts of the car and we found that a pretty wide-angle lens worked the best, so most of them were shot on wide-angled lenses. This meant that it made things that are far away look much farther away and when they get close they get bigger and faster which allowed for more impact. If you [a camera] on the front bumper of the car, it makes the car feel like it’s going like 500 miles an hour.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Were most of the scenes shot on location? For example Neptune’s Mannequins, was that a real place? 

JS: Everything was shot on location but it wasn’t a mannequin factory. There was this building called The Neptune Building in Downtown LA, sort of on the fringe of Little Tokyo, and it was just this warehouse building, so we shot in there a lot. In the original script, it was a shoe factory and I was thinking that wasn’t very interesting. I thought to myself, this movie is about what it means to be human and these two aliens come to Earth where one is trying to figure out what it means to be a bad human while the other is trying to figure out what it means to be a good human being, so I thought Mannequins! They sort of represent people but they’re not. So the art department made these molds and they made hundreds of mannequins.

Nightmarish Conjurings: That scene is one of my favorite scenes in the film. Last but not least, there are so many character actors that you’ve just see all over the place in this movie, but I think that one of the funniest lines in the movie is when Danny Trejo says, “Yo, hippie, what kinda dude are you?” Was that in the script? 

JS: No, not at all. There was just supposed to be a prisoner in a cell who sees this weird thing going on and so I had to cast “Convict 1” or whatever. The casting director showed me this picture of Danny with his shirt off and he had a tattoo of the girl with the Mexican sombrero on his chest and I said “I have to cast this guy!” He came in and he was great but I felt like he needed to say something so I said to ad-lib a line and he just made it up.

As a matter of fact, out of all the things I’ve done in my career, one of the things I’m the happiest about is the fact that I cast Danny in one of his earliest films and to see how well he’s ended up doing. He’s a great guy. I mean, he was a very bad boy when he was younger but he was a bad guy that turned into a really good guy.

Nightmarish Conjurings: I almost forgot to mention Lin Shaye who I almost didn’t even recognize in the film! She was great!

JS: Oh yeah, Lin’s been in three or four of my movies. She happens to be the sister of Bob Shaye, so I’ve known Lin forever. It’s also been great to see how well she has been doing.

Nightmarish Conjurings: Well thank you so much Jack for taking the time to talk with me today, I really appreciate it!

If you don’t have tickets already you should come to the screening of THE HIDDEN on Tuesday, June 12th at the Alamo Drafthouse NYC’s as part of their Terror Tuesdays. Mr. Sholder will be in attendance and will be signing autographs after the screening. Hope to see ya there!

Lorry Kikta
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