Exclusive Interview: Michael Paré on How the Opioid Crisis Led to His Villainous Role in PAINKILLER

Portraying a morally bankrupt doctor in the revenge thriller Painkiller, Michael Paré decided it was worth playing the villain this time around because Mark Savage’s movie actually has something to say. After losing his daughter to the opioid epidemic, a broken man (Bill Oberst Jr.) becomes an underground radio personality and a masked twilight killer who starts to take revenge on those responsible for her death. In the past, Paré has played iconic characters in cult classics like Eddie and the Cruisers and Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, sci-fi thrillers like The Philadelphia Experiment opposite Nancy Allen and the nineties werewolf gem Bad Moon from writer/director Eric Red (The Hitcher, Near Dark).

Since Eric Red just recently teased a return to the world of werewolves and, yes, even Bigfoot on his Twitter page, I spoke with Paré about a possible sequel to Bad Moon, but we started out our career spanning conversation hearing about what it was like working with Dennis Hopper, Adam Ant and Little Richard on Sunset Heat back in 1992. His new film Painkiller certainly came up as well, of course, and Paré got candid about the seriousness of the subject matter and how the American flag mask seen in the film may be a hot item this October once Halloween roles around. For those out there that are massive fans of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, Paré shares his memories on set, working with Diane Lane and whether or not a new Streets of Fire TV series could ever work or not.

Synopsis: Bill Johnson (Oberst Jr.) has suffered the kind of loss that no parent should ever have to; watching his daughter fall victim to the opioid epidemic, which too long went unnoticed. Conversely, Dr. Alan Rhodes (Pare), has been leading a lavish lifestyle, thanks to the profits he’s been making from his prescription business. Seeing that no one is being held accountable, Bill sets out on a campaign targeting those made rich by the suffering of so many.  Teaming up with a rogue cop, they set out to dismantle this network of doctors and pharmaceutical executives that continue to devastate families across the country.

Dread Central: I just made a recent film discovery that I hadn’t seen before. Sunset Heat from the early nineties.

Michael Paré: Oh! With Dennis Hopper. Adam Ant!

DC: It’s amazing that you were opposite Dennis Hopper, I think right before Speed, Adam Ant and you even had a scene with Little Richard.

MP: Yeah, right! (laughs) Little Richard, man! I gotta’ tell ya. This guy would rehearse his dialogue like it was lyrics to a song. He would do it over and over again and that’s how he would deliver it.

DC: That’s how musical the guy was. You were great with Dennis Hopper, too. He was so manic during that. He almost had a similar character to Speed, I think he was shooting it right around the same time.

MP: Dennis is a fucking deep, complex, American icon. He is the face…when you think of the sixties, you think of Dennis Hopper. Easy Rider. He approached sainthood for hippies in the sixties.

DC: You don’t get more iconic than that. And The Trip, all those movies.

MP: Right, yeah. Now, The Trip, Bruce Dern was in The Trip, too, wasn’t he?

DC: Right, and you guys worked together.

MP: Yeah, right! Bruce was also a fantastic person. I was in another movie with him but we didn’t have any scenes. I’m listing the movies that Bruce did before he became a real recognized star and I said, ‘You did like five movies with Jack [Nicholson].’ And he said, ‘Let me tell you something, Jack’s been doing Bruce Dern his whole fucking career!’ When you think about it, they have the same complaining voice sometimes, you know? I said, ‘So what was it like to kill John Wayne?’ He says, ‘Duke wouldn’t die with me in the frame. That’s the guy he was, he went off and crawled behind the tree and died. And when we had the fight scene he beat the shit out of me.’ You could just hear Jack Nicholson saying the same stuff.

DC: Now that you say that, it makes a lot of sense. And Bruce Dern being the guru in that, too…

MP: The Searcher. And Jack Nicholson says ‘Yeah, that’s all fine except you’re living in a box on a roof in San Francisco.’ (laughs)

DC: Your impression is not that bad.

MP: Not that bad for my first cup of coffee.

DC: One more thing about Little Richard. In what I think is a rock and roll classic with Eddie and the Cruisers, you then get to act with the man that invented rock and roll.

MP: Yeah, yeah. He showed up in like a super stretch limousine with nine people in his entourage. Half of them were makeup artists. It was like a clown car and Richard gets out and he’s handing out his Bibles that he signed. I’m sure I have it somewhere in my garage.

DC: I can’t imagine the glam team he must’ve had…so what made you decide to sign onto Painkiller? I like that it’s an anti-hero revenge tale against the pharmaceutical industry. It really addresses the opioid crisis.

MP: That’s what attracted me. That and Mark Savage. Mark had worked with…he did a movie Stressed to Kill with a friend of mine and I called him up and I said, ‘So what’s he like?’ He say, ‘The guy is really serious, he takes the subject matter really serious.’ Because it was about the opioid epidemic I was very excited. I lost a nephew to fentanyl. These kids thought they were just doing heroin and then fentanyl hits the street There was a couple weeks in Vancouver where they found seven people overdosed with fentanyl because it was coming in from Asia and through Vancouver, Canada. It was easier to get a prescription for oxycontin then it is to get a prescription for toe fungus. Doesn’t that sound insane?

Michael Paré
Out for revenge in Painkiller. Courtesy of Cinedigm

DC: Your character doesn’t exactly take his Hippocratic Oath very seriously.

MP: No, he’s a rat fucking scumbag. Mark wanted to know, ‘How do you feel about, ya know, you’re pretty abusive to your girlfriend.’ I said I’m a drug dealing scumbag. Of course I’m going to be abusive to my girlfriend. It’s not like I’m taking the profits from all these poor people and giving it to Mother Theresa.

DC: I follow Eric Red on Twitter and he just tweeted out a picture of a werewolf and a Bigfoot statue saying that they were ‘two monsters who will hopefully factor heavily in my near future.’ Werewolves are back in a big way lately. Is there any interest for you in returning to the world of Bad Moon for a sequel?

MP: With Eric Red? I would do it in a flash, I would do it yesterday. I even commented on it, I don’t know if it’s on Facebook or Instagram, I said oh, this is gonna be great. Bigfoot versus a werewolf? But I don’t think that’s his intention, I think he’s gonna make another werewolf…

DC: Either do I.

Michael Paré
The werewolf in Bad Moon.

MP: You know, Bigfoot has not been done scientifically. They just haven’t done it right. There’s archaeological evidence of it. Between dinosaurs and contemporary time, there were those super-predators and that’s when there was Gigantopithecus, right? And now they’re finding that there was the hobbit in Indonesia. It wasn’t just one family tree, it’s more like a bush.

DC: It would be interesting if they would combine some of the different myths together…

MP: A friend of mine who’s actually worked with Jane Goodall and had his script endorsed by her because he was a paleoanthropologist. She actually got thrown off of National Geographic and went to Discovery because of her endorsement of her belief in Bigfoot.

DC: You know, I interviewed Jane Goodall a few years ago and now speaking to Michael Paré today I regret not asking her about Bigfoot. Thank you for that. If you do a sequel to Bad Moon, it’d be great to get you with another German Shepherd. You and Thor are great in that. Really good chemistry.

MP: I’ll tell you this story. We’re shooting the scene where I’m looking at the dog and it’s kind of over my shoulder onto the dog. and Eric said I wish I could just get the dog to fucking act. What do you do? I had a Labrador. He’s shooting over my shoulder onto the dog, and I just blow a little bit. Thor looked at me and he took a sniff. So, the dog reacted. Not to my words but to my breath. Dogs and wolves and bears, their olfactory sense is a hundred times more sensitive than ours. A dog’s nose isn’t quite as sensitive as a bear’s but that’s how we got the dog to act. You don’t see me move, you don’t see my face. So that’s what Eric and I discovered.

Michael Paré
Thor the German Shepherd in Bad Moon.

DC: I wanted to get back to Painkiller. The mask is also really striking in that. Most horror fans, including me, are always drawn to a masked killer so this design with a United States flag painted across the face should grab some attention.

MP: Well, I hope it ends up being a big Halloween mask and these guys make some money. I like working with Mark a lot. He’s another one of these guys who takes the movie business really serious and sees it as an opportunity to express himself and reflect something about humanity. It’s not just a thriller. To me, it’s really important.

DC: I was thinking about some old screenings I had been to and I was at a Streets of Fire at Alamo Drafthouse once with you in attendance. They showed the film in 35mm.

MP: Right! I remember that.

DC: I remember it was a packed audience. Was it rewarding for you to go to sold out screenings like that for the film since it didn’t get an audience at first. It really got buried by two huge franchises when it was first released.

MP: You know, Jim Steinman just died. In Japan, it’s one of the ten greatest movies ever made. The American audience, like you say, we were in competition with Steven Spielberg for god’s sake. Spielberg makes Disney. Walter Hill is a little more like John Ford. Walter, on his director’s chair it says ‘Lone Wolf.’ He makes movies that are really important to him and Spielberg makes movies that make money.

They’re both great filmmakers. Is it rewarding? You know man, it was a long time ago. I was still just a fucking kid for God’s sake. I think I had just turned 24. Three years before that I was working at a restaurant in New York without any realistic dreams of being a serious actor. Three years later, I’m in a twenty five million dollar movie on the Universal backlot. It feels good to have people say that was a great film.

When I see videos of Diane Lane doing those Jim Steinman songs it’s like holy fuck. She was so powerful, she didn’t realize how powerful she was. Her father was a Shakespearean actor. She was on Broadway when she was 12. She was only 17. When she walked across the set when the bikers were there, they were just slain. They just couldn’t believe how beautiful…and she walked with this power. She wasn’t like a cheerleader. She walked like she owned the world. She’s a very amazing person.

DC: That film really has become iconic. Maybe in today’s streaming model where a sequel series could really have the potential to catch on, something could happen. I think it stands alone, I don’t think it really needs that.

MP: If Walter called up and said Michael, we want to do it, I’d say where do you want to meet? I’d be there in a second and Diane is still a super hottie. And I don’t mean hottie like a Playmate. She’s a powerful woman.

DC: With all of the many projects you’re doing now, is it Supersonic that’s going to be the one that has you the most excited because you’re directing?

MP: Right now, I’m very excited about it. It’s a thriller, it’s a dramatic thriller. It takes place on the Concorde, the last flight of the Concorde. We’ve got Rampage Jackson, Eric Roberts, Tara Reid and myself.

Painkiller is available May 4 On Demand, Digital, and DVD.

Michael Paré


Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter