Those of you who are familiar with Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess” TV series know actor Robert Trebor as the character Salmoneus on both shows. Most recently he played the film critic in Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, a character that people seemed to absolutely love or absolutely hate. I have to say I loved his character.
Robert and I sat down for an interview about his involvement in The Devil’s Rejects and ended up talking more about film in general than actually doing an interview.
He is very much like the character in Rejects as far as film knowledge goes. It’s safe to say that I was not shocked to find out that he used to write film reviews. Robert’s first paying gig in show business was writing film reviews in high school, where he won several scholastic writing awards. The first film he wrote a review for was The Fixer directed by John Frankenheimer. Eighteen years later he co-stared for Frankenheimer in his film 52 Pick-Up.
Sean Clark: So how did you get involved in The Devil’s Rejects?
Robert Trebor: I auditioned for Monika Mikkelsen who loves my work and she called me up and I came in and auditioned for her on video; Rob wasn’t there. Then I got a call about a month later that I got the part.
SC: How much did you bring to the character of Marty Walker?
RT: The whole Otto Preminger bit was my addition to the script. I auditioned with that. My character in the scene talks about Groucho Marx. Well, I knew that Groucho’s last role was that of God in Skidoo and I thought that since these villains have sort of a God like power that they might have used that as well. Skidoo which was directed by Otto Preminger and then I just went off and said, “Well of course Otto Preminger is Jewish although he played a nazi in Stalag 17 which was directed by Billy Wilder.” And Zombie loved that because it turned out that he is a big Billy Wilder fan. Then I just went on and on and he left all of that stuff in. The only thing I was a little disappointed with was that he did some takes of me singing the Captain Spaulding theme song from Animal Crackers and he didn’t use it because he was worried about the musical rights. But I did the research and I know the song was written more than 75 years before and after 75 years it is out of copyright. So they shot me singing the song about three times and then he asked me to do one take without it in case they wouldn’t be able to use it. I don’t know if someone else looked into and advised him that it was still in copyright or not but it was my understanding that after 75 years it is public domain. That was the one area I thought he pussed out in but other than that he was terrific to work with.
SC: Where was your scene filmed? Was that at an actual location or on a set somewhere?
RT: It was an actual location. I think it was an actual ranger station near a state park.
SC: So was the exterior they showed in the film the actual exterior of the location?
RT: Yes that was the actual location.
SC: Are you a horror fan?
RT: I’m not really a horror fan, but then again I wasn’t really a sci-fi fantasy fan either and I ended up working for five years on a fantasy series. The most horrifying films I have ever seen were Funny Games directed by Michael Haneke and the original Vanishing, the Dutch film. If you haven’t seen these films you have to. Those are the kinds of terrifying horror films that I really like. Although I have to confess that I lived in Manhattan Plaza in New York city for sixteen years right off 42nd Street so on a day when I wasn’t auditioning or something I would go see a triple feature of something like Cannibal Holocaust and Zombie Island and stuff like that. I just loved those theaters and for a buck and a half I could spend the afternoon in there in the cool.
But like Rob said, this is not a horror film. It is more a revenge movie or like Natural Born Killers. It’s more of a terror movie. I worked with Oliver Stone in Talk Radio and I would put Rob right up there with the best in terms of his ability to work with actors. I don’t know if he ever took an acting class or not, but he knows instinctively how to bring out the best in actors. I did an interview that is supposed to be on the DVD in character as Marty Walker reviewing my experience working with Rob Zombie alias Rob Cummings. And of course Robert Cummings was in “I Love That Bob”. the TV series with Ann B. Davis from “The Brady Bunch”, and I go on and on as the character talking about my experience. I also offered to Rob my services in doing an audio commentary in character for people who don’t like horror films talking about the academic reference points; the Bonnie and Clyde reference points; the Herschell Gordon Lewis reference points it would have been great.
SC: Was there anything other than you singing the Captain Spaulding song that was cut from the film?
RT: I don’t think so, just the Captain Spaulding theme song. When I was at the wrap party the script supervisor told me that the film had come in at two hours and forty-five minutes and that there was a really good chance my entire scene would be cut because obviously there was no way the film could be that long so I was very appreciative when I heard that my scene had made it into the final cut of the film.
SC: You were in a film called the Nut House.
RT: Oh yes, aka the Nutty Nut which is actually how I got into “Hercules.”
SC: Directed by Alan Smithee who was actually Scott Spiegel.
RT: Well Scott Spiegel and Adam Rifkin who actually ended up taking it over. There was some real bad blood about that. Scott is part of the Detroit Renaissance, Scott, Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi they all knew each other from Detroit. Sam and Bruce Campbell actually wrote the script for the Nutty Nut and Bruce actually wrote the part for himself to play the lead. It later went to an Australian performance artist who wasn’t very good. The part that I played Sam was actually thinking about playing at one point. Scott started directing it and was fired by the producers two weeks into it and Adam Rifkin took over. Scott showed Sam and Rob my footage and said, “If this guy could work under these circumstances and still come off funny then he might be very good for our TV show.” They knew I could work in a flexible improvisational way and even though Nutty Nut ended up being a total disaster, I was able to register a little bit of humor through it. Rob saw something in me that he thought would be useful for the character, which at the time was a slave called Waylan and when they made the series they created the part of the salesman for me, Salmoneus. It started out just two episodes and then two went to four and then to fourteen and just kind of expanded the first four seasons and then put me into “Xena”, as well.
SC: Are you surprised that The Devil’s Rejects didn’t do very well at the box office?
RT: Well, it was made for very little money, much less than House of 1000 Corpses. We all worked for scale plus ten which is why Karen Black wasn’t brought back because everyone was trying to negotiate. It was made for very bare bones so it will go into profit. Seven million for the first weekend wasn’t bad but you know this movie is going to be in midnight showings forever. Lions Gate will make its money back on this. It is a self limiting audience. Even Ebert and Roper who gave it two thumbs up and loved it are saying that the film is disgusting, repulsive, over the top and it is very good at what it does. It is a throwback to the 1970’s grind house pictures which were also very self limiting. What I respect Rob for is that he got top notch actors.
SC: So what do you have coming up?
RT: I have a screenplay that I wrote that I am trying to get financing for. I am a member of the Director’s Guild as well because I directed for “Hercules”. It is a very intense thriller called My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean; it’s not a horror film. It is essentially about infanticide. It’s about a man who is serving time for killing his daughter. It is inspired by a true story. It’s a really disturbing film. I will be directing and I wrote the lead for myself as well so I will be starring in it ala Billy Bob Thornton. It will be roughly about a two million dollar film shooting for about three and a half weeks. It’s structured a lot like Dead Man Walking. A lot of it takes place in the prison cell between a reporter and the murderer who claims he was framed and is innocent that it was an accidental death and not a homicide. It’s about what really happened on the day his daughter died. She does interviewing with his ex-wife and people who knew him. The reporter finds her own relationship with her boyfriend deteriorating because she is so caught up in this murder situation. So it’s about the way crime and personal family horror infiltrates everything that one does.
My ultimate goal when it gets made is that people pay a little more attention to they treat their kids and how they treat each other because terrible things can happen by accident and people take responsibility. You read stories about kids being beaten up and killed. These are not people with criminal records. This isn’t the Firefly family. These are average middle class people who are in the midst of doing this and they get caught up in something because they either have rage problems or just don’t know how to deal with kids so the film really examines that issue.
There are also a couple of TV series that may come to fruition as well as an improvisational film project that I have moved up the ladder on so I have quite a few things in the works right now. I also wrote a book that is based on the “Hercules” and “Xena” series called Dear Salmoneus. My character was never killed off in the series so my conceit is that he lives forever and is reincarnated. So he is the world’s first advice giver. The book is divided into affairs of the heart and affairs of the wallet. My theory is that he taught Dear Abby and Doctor Laura everything they know about giving advice. So all the characters in the show ask me advice as well as Donald Trump, Elvis Presley, Paris Hilton, Monty Python, even Stanley Kubrick asked Salmoneus for advice early in his career. Stanley was a very young and ambitious film maker. He said that he wanted to make a film a year and I told him, “Hold on young man. Don’t make a film a year that is too much. Take your time.” The book is in stores now or could be bought on Amazon.com
SC: Do you have an official web page where fans can find out what you are up to?
RT: I do. It is a fan run page, you can see it here. The girl who runs it also runs Tony Todd’s page. It is pretty cool. She updates it at least once a month.
I would like to thank Robert for taking out the time to sit down for this interview!
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