Actor Dan Shor talks with TV STORE ONLINE about TRON, BILL and TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, STRANGE BEHAVIOR as well as his experiences working with the great John Huston on WISE BLOOD.
Dan Shor Today
TV STORE ONLINE: Where does this whole acting thing start for you? Were you interested in acting as a teenager?
DAN SHOR: Well, my mom was an actress. She died when I was fourteen years old. She died before I had gotten interested in theater and acting. To me acting was and still is an extension of team sports. When I was a teenager I went off to a theater arts camp and all of these adorable girls were in the theater. So I started to do plays. To me, it was literally like doing team sports with girls. That literally was the spark for me. It was so much fun, and I still feel that way. I can't think of anything better than creating something with a group of people.
TV STORE ONLINE: I know that you went off to London to study acting after high school. Were you around London during the birth of punk rock?
DAN SHOR: Absolutely. I was there at the center of it. I did a punk rock musical there calledThe Sport Of My Mad Mad Motherby Ann Jellicoe. It was about punks and rockers. We did it at the Roundabout Theater in the middle of it all. It was myself and Nigel Planer in it. Nigel and I were roommates then. Nigel Planer would go on to play 'Neil' on the British television seriesThe Young Ones (1982-1984).
When I was in London I saw Billy Idol in concert. This was when he was still with the band Generation X. This was the greatest rock performance I'd ever seen in my life. I eventually left England and went back to Los Angeles. When I got to Los Angeles I produced and starred in a version of the same play that I had just been in while I was in London. But, I set the whole thing on a rooftop in New York City and because I had been so knocked out by Billy Idol, I decided that I'd play the character in the play similar to how Billy Idol was when I had seen him live.
Now here is where it gets cool...Three months later the video to Billy Idol's song "Dancing With Myself" came out. They borrowed our set. Billy Idol's art director had seen our set for the play and they made the same set for the video for the song. It was really cool. You learn early on in film or acting school that if you're going to steal from someone you need to steal from good people. So when I stole from Billy Idol and his art director then stole from me I knew that I was stealing from the right people.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about WISE BLOOD (1979)? How did that come to you?
DAN SHOR: I had a great agent. When I left England and went to Los Angeles.... The whole reason why that happened in the first place was because I was cast in the mini-series STUDS LONIGAN (1979) in the role of 'Young Studs'. I was in two hours of a six hour mini-series. STUDS was very well received and it was a star making role, but what happened is that no one watched it on television. So while it didn't make me a star, it got me a bunch of auditions for things that were just plain good for like the next five years. One of those auditions was for WISE BLOOD.
I wanted WISE BLOOD very badly. So I did something that they tell you never to do. I went in as 'Enoch Emory'. It was the Dustin Hoffman school of acting. I went in to audition for John Huston without having washed myself for a few days and I went in with this full southern accent. I wanted to convince him that I was the southern inbred that Enoch was in WISE BLOOD. Huston hired me on the spot, and for me that was like being drafted by the New York Yankees. He hired me right in the audition room right there.
TV STORE ONLINE: WISE BLOOD also features actor Brad Dourif. You had worked with Brad Dourif before WISE BLOOD right?
DAN SHOR: Yes. We worked on STUDS LONIGAN together. We became really good friends on STUDS. I'm a huge fan of his. He's got incredible skill and integrity.
TV STORE ONLINE: Your performance is so incredible in WISE BLOOD. One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Enoch walks up to Brad Dourif's character 'Hazel', who is preaching on the hood of his car, and Hazel yells at Enoch and Enoch tears up and walks away. It's so powerful. How did you find Enoch's emotions in WISE BLOOD?
Dan Shor as 'Enoch Emory' in John Huston's 1979 film, WISE BLOOD
DAN SHOR: Well, if you read the book it will become clear that Enoch Emory is the loneliest person on the earth. So what I needed to do was just to climb into that space. I worked on WISE BLOOD for nine weeks, and I could not show up on that set without having that feeling of on-the-edge anxiety, desperation, isolation and loneliness. I don't know how to describe that feeling of what it's like to have that type of isolation and desperation.
TV STORE ONLINE: So how did you find that inside of yourself though?
DAN SHOR: I think it was because of the fact that my mother had died. As an actor, it's your job to study yourself. You have to know yourself first, and for me that feeling of being abandoned is the strongest emotion that I can touch in my own life.
TV STORE ONLINE: I'm sure you've been asked often about that scene in WISE BLOOD where Enoch and Brad Dourif's character Hazel are walking down the street and we have this insanely long tracking shot, and your character Enoch stops him and talks to him about people having wise blood inside of them....
DAN SHOR: Those tracking shots are amazing.
TV STORE ONLINE: How many takes on something like that scene? How did you find that cadence and that rhythm for that scene?
DAN SHOR: Two takes, no stopping. The physical stopping of Brad....There was a mark placed down, and the rest was a dance. The first take, I cried too much. John Huston told me not to cry. Then we did the second take and that was it. As a director myself now, I try to work like Huston did. He'd print the first take sometimes. He sets up an environment for his actors so that on the first take they can just go for it. He wasn't like other directors that I've worked with since who want to do thirty takes. Huston was more interested in conveying the emotions of these two religious zealots.
TV STORE ONLINE: That scene visually is just so damned effective because Huston decides NOT to cut to a close-up but leaves it to play out in that long and wide two-shot of you two standing on the sidewalk.
Brad Dourif and Dan Shor in WISE BLOOD (1979)
DAN SHOR: Right, he did that a lot. Those scenes are incredible. I try to direct like that but its never as good. I never have the actors that Huston had or the Director of Photography or the script. And I don't have John Huston...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: What was Huston's approach toward you as the actor? Was his approach like all great directors in that they don't tell their actors what to do but only intervene once the actor has done something wrong?
DAN SHOR: Exactly. The only directions I can remember him giving me were like, "Faster" or "Run it all together." Enoch Emory was always on edge, he was a completely open wound. Huston didn't have to drag emotion out of me, all he had to do for me was make sure the scene didn't stop because of my showing off.
TV STORE ONLINE:Where did you guys shoot the film?
Dan Shor Today
DAN SHOR: We shot like ninety percent of it in Macon, Georgia. Then I think we did one week in Atlanta, Georgia.
TV STORE ONLINE: Another fascinating aspect to Enoch is how he pronounces certain words. Was that something you brought to the character that wasn't on the written page?
DAN SHOR: That was me hanging out with this kid I met while I was playing basketball at the YMCA in Macon. This kid there spoke this way. He'd blurt out certain syllables on certain words for no reason whatsoever. Also, the actress that played the landlady, Mary Nell Santacroce, I worked with her a lot on my southern accent.
TV STORE ONLINE: I'm a huge fan of actress Amy Wright's performance in WISE BLOOD as well...
DAN SHOR: I loved Amy Wright. I haven't seen her literally since we shot WISE BLOOD. At the time we were shooting WISE BLOOD, I had seen Amy on Broadway in NYC. I thought she was incredible. I can remember just teasing the shit out of her on WISE BLOOD cause she was dating actor Rip Torn and he was like twenty years older than she was. I loved working with her though.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about working with Harry Dean Stanton on the film?
DAN SHOR: We all worked together in Macon, Georgia for nine weeks. We spent a ton of time together. We'd eat lunch together, we'd eat dinner together, and usually we'd all end up at the bar together too. It was one week after we finished shooting WISE BLOOD that I saw Harry Dean out in Los Angeles and I walked up to him and said hello and he didn't even know who I was...laughing
Dan Shor in WISE BLOOD with 'Gonga The Gorilla'
He might not have remembered me because the reality of the situation was that while we were all shooting WISE BLOOD we were all really engrossed in those characters. We weren't fucking around. When we weren't shooting I would stay with my southern accent, and I think Amy Wright did the same thing. Brad was originally from the south, and I think Harry Dean was really into that character as well. I don't think he dropped that accent either for that time we were all in Macon. Now I don't know if that was the reason, or if maybe it was because I myself am so different from Enoch Emory or Harry Dean was just high or something, but it was really a strange experience. I mean I worked with him every day for nine weeks...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: What about shooting the 'Gonga the Gorilla' scene in WISE BLOOD?
DAN SHOR: They cast a lot of locals for WISE BLOOD. I'm talking real local people. I remember they hired an actual local town drunk off the street for that Gonga scene. The drunk is the guy who punches me in the face while I'm dressed in the Gonga gorilla suit. It gave John Huston a real laugh. We did the scene like five times and I was getting pissed because this guy kept punching me in the face. I had a mask on, but it still hurt. I mean, we had done nothing but two takes for every scene prior to that and here we were doing five takes. Finally I got pissed and said, "What the fuck?" I took off the mask and I saw that Huston was sitting there laughing his ass off...laughing
Huston used to play poker every week too. I'm talking big time poker. They didn't play nickel and dime shit like you and I are probably used to playing. The editor on WISE BLOOD [Roberto Silvi] was on the set with us. Every week I'd see him in the bar and he'd start complaining to me that he was broke because Huston had taken his entire weeks salary playing cards.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you see WISE BLOOD thematically as you were working on it, and how do you see it now in retrospect? I see the film as an allegory about purity striving to exist in a corrupt world.
DAN SHOR: Right, Yeah. I see those characters as people who are seeking belonging. They are clinging onto an obvious illusion. WISE BLOOD was really Flannery O'Conner taking a piss out on evangelicalism of all kinds. Not the people themselves but on the preachers. People need something to believe in, and they'll believe in whatever the hell they're told to believe in. It's a very emotional story. It's also very funny and moving.
TV STORE ONLINE: Yeah, the original theatrical trailer for WISE BLOOD is really funny.
DAN SHOR: Yeah, WISE BLOOD is a black comedy, but not a hilarious comedy. It is a film that treads such a fine line, because there is no mockery of the characters.
TV STORE ONLINE: Then how about Martin Ritt's BACK ROADS (1981). How did that come to you?
DAN SHOR: That was after WISE BLOOD. I was a southerner for a long time after that. I originally auditioned for David Keith's part in BACK ROADS but they offered me the smaller part. I wanted to work badly with Marty Ritt, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field on that.
TV STORE ONLINE: So tell me about that scene with you and Sally Field and then 'Meat' from the PORKY'S movies....
DAN SHOR: Tony Ganios! He was great. What a great guy. He was in PORKY'S (1982) but he was also in THE WANDERERS (1979). You know what's funny....I turned down the role of 'Pee-Wee' in PORKY'S. Can you believe it? What a fool I was. I was trying to have a serious acting career. Little did I know how big PORKY'S would be...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: So you know how huge of a fan I am of STRANGE BEHAVIOR (1981)...
DAN SHOR: I was offered that. They brought me in because they had liked WISE BLOOD. They had originally brought me in to play the role that Marc McClure would play. I had to convince them that I wasn't this inbred kid from WISE BLOOD. I had to convince them that I was this actual good looking kid. I wanted to play that lead, and I guess they agreed with me.
TV STORE ONLINE: I heard once that actor Klaus Kinski was originally cast to play the role of the mad doctor 'Dr. Le Sange' in STRANGE BEHAVIOR. Is there any truth to that rumor?
DAN SHOR: Yeah, he was. I never met him though. I don't think he was involved for too long. We shot STRANGE BEHAVIOR in New Zealand and it was so much fun. I got to be great friends with Dey Young and Michael Murphy. There were two other films that I did with the director of STRANGE BEHAVIOR [Michael Laughlin]. The first was STRANGE INVADERS (1983) and then another called MESMERIZED (1986) with Jodie Foster and my character in that was originally supposed to be played by musician David Bryne from the New York band Talking Heads.
TV STORE ONLINE: You've got some sweet ass pork chop side burns in MESMERIZED.
DAN SHOR: Yeah, I do. My wife thinks that I was really cute back then...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: I am extremely obsessed with that opening dance sequence in STRANGE BEHAVIOR set to "Lightnin' Strikes" by Lou Christie...
DAN SHOR: Yeah, it's pretty great. I really love that too. That whole sequence I think was directed by Billy Condon. I think he did that whole thing. Of course Billy Condon became Bill Condon writer and director of DREAMGIRLS (2006), GODS & MONSTERS (1998), TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN (2012) and CHICAGO (2002). Billy was such and still is a sweet guy. On STRANGE BEHAVIOR he was just this innocent Sci-fi cinephile film nerd, we had no idea he'd become a multiple Academy Award winner then.
TV STORE ONLINE: So how many takes on that dance scene? Was there music playback on the set?
DAN SHOR: Yeah, there was playback on the set. There was a choreographer there, and it was staged just like a musical. I felt like I was in scene on the showRowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1967-73). We'd do a little dancing to the music, then we'd cut, then we'd do more dancing.
TV STORE ONLINE: It's so awesome. The way that sequence breaks the fourth wall....
DAN SHOR: Completely...It's great. Billy Condon liked it because I danced with boys...laughing It was me who initiated it. It was just the thing we did back then. It was the thing to do. It was very new wave.
TV STORE ONLINE: Yeah, there is quite a bit of the "Pogo" going on in the scene...
DAN SHOR: Oh yeah... Quite a bit of the Pogo in there....laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: You worked with Dey Young on STRANGE BEHAVIOR and then you two reprised your roles from STRANGE BEHAVIOR in the opening minutes of STRANGE INVADERS (1983) with Nancy Allen and Paul Le Mat...
DAN SHOR: Right, yeah that was fun. We were brought to Canada for that. I remember the director Michael Laughlin called me up and asked if I wanted to do that. Of course I said I'd do it. I just remember him saying to me that they were going to pay me scale for two days of work and that they'd give me two thousand dollars a day Per Diem. We ended up being there working on that for two weeks! So when I left to go to the airport to head home I remember being nervous at customs because I had twenty-four thousand dollars in cash on me...laughing I was just hoping they weren't going to open my suitcase. It was very exciting.
TV STORE ONLINE: You worked on BLACK MOON RISING (1986) too. Did you ever get to drive that car in the film?
DAN SHOR:Well, I didn't get to drive the car the way it was supposed to be driven. I did get to drive it, but I only got to take it up to 35mph.
TV STORE ONLINE: Going back to STRANGE BEHAVIOR....There's that nasty needle scene in the film that's also featured on the poster art for film. Even thought you mention on the DVD commentary for STRANGE BEHAVIOR about the fact that the needle was simply retractable, how does it effect you as the actor psychologically even though you know that its not a real needle? I mean, it is a concept that plays with the most primal facets of fear...
DAN SHOR: It makes you scream. It doesn't matter that you know that its fake, it still makes you scream. The actress that I did that scene with, Fiona Lewis, was drunk. She wanted to have a steady hand while she was sticking a needle in my eye, so she been drinking vodka before that scene...laughing I loved Fiona...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: Then what about the scene with your character and actor Michael Murphy's character in that sequence where you have to slice open your wrists? How did you find that intensity?
DAN SHOR: To be honest, all I can remember now about that was that I wanted to give off the vibe that I was under the influence of drugs. I also remember having the feeling that I was being very theatrical too. I don't know if it was the space of whatever, but I can remember feeling like I was on this very big stage for that.
TV STORE ONLINE: STRANGE BEHAVIOR wasn't the film's original title. It was originally to be called DEAD KIDS. I was wondering what title you liked the best?
DAN SHOR: DEAD KIDS of course.
Fiona Lewis & Dan Shor in STRANGE BEHAVIOR (1981)
TV STORE ONLINE: Tell me about STRANGERS KISS (1983). I'm a huge huge fan of that film.
DAN SHOR: I love it too. It was done during the actors strike of 1982. I was offered it because again, the producers had seen WISE BLOOD. We all did the film for scale and points and we all really felt like we owned it.
TV STORE ONLINE: I love your character in STRANGERS KISS. He's like a Woody Allen without the neurosis...
DAN SHOR: I was trying to play him as if he was Billy Condon. I was literally trying to give him that sweet innocence of Hollywood. He was just like Billy Condon. He was this sweet kid that just loved movies, but there was also a bit of Gene Wilder from THE PRODUCERS (1968) in him too.
TV STORE ONLINE: Working on STRANGERS KISS were there discussions or was there any mention in the script that the film would be tipping it's hat in a major way to Stanley Kubrick and his film, KILLER'S KISS (1955)?
DAN SHOR: For sure. That was because of the producer/screenwriter/actor Blaine Novak. He was a Kubrick obsessive, but he also studied under Peter Bogdanovich. Plus the director, Matthew Chapman had worked with Kubrick previously as well I believe.
Dan Shor as 'Ram' in TRON (1982)
TV STORE ONLINE: Then what about TRON (1982)? How did that come to you?
DAN SHOR: That goes back to that play I produced in Los Angeles,The Sport Of My Mad Mad Motherby Ann Jellicoe. An actor in that play with me, Peter Jurasik, had a friend who was a casting director on TRON and he brought the both of us in for that.
TV STORE ONLINE: With such a complicated concept for the era in which it was made, how did they explain TRON to you concept wise?
DAN SHOR: They showed us the story boards that Moebius that designed. They told us that we'd be like comic book characters.
TV STORE ONLINE: Then because of the fact that it was all shot on stages and you had nothing in front of you, was it challenging as an actor to have to work so extremely in the "pretend" realm?
TRON T-shirt Available at TV STORE ONLINE
DAN SHOR: Well you could say yes, but the answer is really no. The reason why we're actors is because we're better than the others in the class at the make believe stuff. It's really that simple. When someone says make believe, you just do it. With that being said the director on TRON [Steven Lisberger] was very comfortable with yelling out, "Look out! It's coming!" I mean it was just ridiculous stuff.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about the TRON light disc / Frisbee thing?
DAN SHOR: That was just a Wham O Frisbee that they velcroed onto your back...laughing It was literally just a Frisbee.
Dan Shor in TRON (1982)
TV STORE ONLINE: So how did that whole process work in regards to getting the visual look for the characters?
DAN SHOR:Well, all we knew actually at the time was that we were supposed to wear these black and white skin-tight pajamas with dance belts on a giant sound stage with black velvet draped sets that we'd have to climb around on. It wasn't until later on that I started to find out how everything was done. I had this guy walk up to me on the street once and say to me, "Shor, I hate your fuckin' nose. I painted just your nose frame by frame for a year straight. I painted only your nose." You have to remember that all of us really only worked on TRON for about a month, whereas the director Steven Lisberger and that special effects crew worked on TRON literally for years.
TV STORE ONLINE: You mentioned the Moebius storyboards a moment ago. I've always loved how the overall look of the film has this sort of German Expressionist / Fritz Lang thing going on with it. In particular the light cycle sequence in TRON, what was your experience like working on that aspect of the film?
DAN SHOR: That was really funny. We literally sat on wooden saw horses with bicycle handlebars attached to them. It was the most ridiculous thing. Steven Lisberger was talking us through it..."Lean left! Lean right! Big eyes! Big eyes! Look out...." It was hilarious. You knew that they were going to take whatever they shot and just use it as a cut-in.
TV STORE ONLINE: Another great project you were involved in was the television mini-series THE BLUE & THE GRAY (1982). How did that come to you?
DAN SHOR: That was again, just another thing that came out of my time in the south. I got offered that because of WISE BLOOD. I got to work with Stacy Keach on that, and he has always been a huge hero of mine. When I was in high school I got to see Keach doHamletin the park in New York City. Seeing him do that was one of the most influential moments of my life.
TV STORE ONLINE: You won a People's Choice Award for your performance in THE BLUE & THE GRAY. Did you do any research into The Civil War for your character?
DAN SHOR: Of course. I don't know any actor that doesn't do research. We were all reading Bruce Catton on The Civil War during the shooting on that. It's a lot of fun to do the research, plus we were shooting that right in the middle of it all. We shot that right in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Dan Shor, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in BILL & TED
TV STORE ONLINE: Then what about BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989)? I've always really loved what your doing in that movie comically as 'Billy The Kid'.
DAN SHOR: I just thought that it was literally like playing a cartoon version of a cowboy. I remember going in to audition for the director [Stephen Herek]. In the audition, I just played a cowboy as if I was John Huston with tight pants on...laughing Then once I got cast I went and did a bunch of research on Billy The Kid. On the first day of shooting I decided I'd play Billy the Kid as a sort of syphilitic inbred. The director stopped me and said basically, "What the fuck!? Play him like you did in the audition."
TV STORE ONLINE: It's a movie for kids or young teens but yet it is layered with all of this bizarre adult sexual humor. There's that one scene where the actor Rod Loomis who is playing Sigmund Freud walks up behind you with that giant phallic corn dog...
DAN SHOR: Yeah, the movie is just so stupid. I think we all knew that we were making a extremely stupid movie, and that includes the writers. They were the kingpins for that. They wanted us to act stupid. I mean, Keanu [Reeves] is just so ridiculous in BILL & TED.
Actor Dan Shor
TV STORE ONLINE: I'm a huge Alex Winter fan....Did you ever see his film FREAKED (1993)?
DAN SHOR:I did! I loved FREAKED. I really thought that Alex was going to be the one who became the big star from BILL & TED. I didn't know it at the time of BILL & TED, but there is a kinda chemical thing that Kneau has about him. There's something about him. It's unexplained chemistry. Actor Tim Matheson has it too. I did a play with actor Billy Campbell [The Rocketeer;1991] and he has the same thing. He'd walk into a bar with me and all of the women in the bar would no longer be able to talk. It's incredible when this happens. Everyone adored Keanu on that set. It's a cinematic thing, that I didn't understand at the time.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about shooting the stuff in the photo booth in BILL & TED?
DAN SHOR: God, I just remember trying to weasel out of that. The actor that played Abe Lincoln was really tall and he was blocking me from seeing the camera. I was getting mad so I wanted out of it. Little Jane Wiedlin and I were the two shortest people in the phone booth.
Dan Shor in BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
TV STORE ONLINE: I can't imagine what kind of direction you guys were getting for that phone booth stuff...
DAN SHOR: I don't remember there being any direction to be honest. The whole movie was a party...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: I've kept you for an hour now....Pick one of these movies and let's talk about it: MIKE'S MURDER (1984), DADDY'S BOYS (1988), DOPPELGANGER (1993), or RED ROCK WEST (1993)....
DAN SHOR: I love DADDY'S BOYS...
TV STORE ONLINE: I LOVE your hair in that movie!
Dan Shor Publicity Photo
DAN SHOR: I love my hair in that movie too! I love everything about that stupid little movie! It was a Roger Corman movie. The director Joe Minion walked off the set one night, and I got to direct for one night. I had so much fun on that. To me it was all about having a Roger Corman experience. We all laughed so much on that movie. Ray Berry was so great in that. In fact, I was offered a casting director job after it. I cast like ten people for that movie. In fact, I cast Abe Lincoln [Robert Barron] from BILL & TED in it. He plays a character that the boys rob in the movie...laughing Corman offered me a casting director job after it was all over, but I turned it down, because I thought my career was still going strong. My wife is still pissed about that today...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: As an actor what were some of the films that influenced you?
DAN SHOR: As an actor I wanted to be Dustin Hoffman. When I would watch Dustin Hoffman, that would be my entire education. He set it all up in my brain, and I don't think he's truly received his due. He's a character guy, but he can be himself too. Look at KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979). There's a level of realism there in that performance that is unprecedented. We haven't seen that type of performance since.
TV STORE ONLINE: Last question for you. What's one thing that no one knows about you?
DAN SHOR: I don't know....Maybe that I took a break from acting and ran off to the South Pacific and almost stayed there. I went there for six weeks and stayed there for four years. That's when I became a director. I went there and started to direct tourism videos and travel videos. People can check out my production companyHERE:
TV STORE ONLINE: You've become the APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) era Francis Ford Coppola of travel videos... This travel video isn't about tourism....It Is Tourism...laughing
DAN SHOR: I think I want to be the Billy Condon of travel videos...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: Thanks for your time Dan, it's been a sincere joy and pleasure talking to you.
DAN SHOR: Thank you.
Follow Dan Shor on FacebookHERE: Check out Dan's Production Company Shoda VisionHERE: Looking for a TRON t-shirt? Check out our amazing selectionHERE: