If Titus Paar’s Swedish killer bear movie Fear of the Woods tells us anything, it’s that legendary actor Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2, Power Rangers) should be in more movies. Discovered by George Miller and cast as the homicidal biker Wez in Road Warrior, Wells suddenly found himself in high demand in America appearing in Weird Science and Commando opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger. (His turn as the vengeful mercenary Bennett is one of the best all-time movie villains.)
His latest pits him against a larger than life killer bear on location in Sweden battling the beast and the elements, doing his own stunts along the way. What Fear in the Woods really reveals is just how much charisma Wells has; the man has remained an actor with real presence. Once the team behind Paar’s killer bear movie is allowed to resume filming, it could wind up being one of the best wilderness survival movies in years.
In our absolutely sublime conversation below, we talk about his lasting relationship with the late great Stuart Gordon in films like Fortress, Space Truckers and King of the Ants, his run in with Gene Simmons of KISS and why he never appeared in Mad Max: Fury Road.
A quick look at Vernon’s upcoming schedule shows he’s still in high demand but other filmmakers and casting agents need to take Titus Paar’s lead and cast Wells in meatier roles. He’s earned it.
Check out the first reel of Fear of the Woods at the link below!
Synopsis: Deep in the snowy hills of Alaska during the early 1990s, a large number of cattle have mysteriously vanished without a trace. Not as much as a single drop of blood left in their wake. The local hunting team lead by Damien’s father is given the task of finding out if a bear is behind these attacks. Damien’s father reluctantly lets his son and his camera join the hunt together with himself and Damien’s Uncle. During the hunt a deep fog creeps in around them and they are forced to turn back. With visibility close to zero and the snow falling they are attacked!
Dread Central: You’ve really wanted to stay behind the camera and direct more, right? It just seems you’ve been pushed into acting almost against your will.
Vernon Wells: When I first started I didn’t want to be an actor. It was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, I was terrified of being in front of cameras. My mother was a very successful songwriter so I followed in her footsteps being in a band.
DC: What were some of the bands you were in?
VW: The bands I was in were middle of the road. Pop Rock they call it today, I guess. I got hurt in an accident the band vehicle was involved in. I had my three vertebrae in my back were damaged, couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything. I became a living nightmare for our manager because I drove him insane…and he took all my photographs around to local casting agencies. One agency was looking for a guy who could ride horses and drive trucks for a new cigarette brand called Braddock cigarettes. I got the role. I didn’t like being in front of the camera. I was always behind the camera talking to the grips, to the lighting, to the cameraman. It gave me this whole thing for directing, it’s where I thought I should be.
They wanted me to do a stage play Hosanna by Michel Tremblay. It was basically about a transvestite and her boyfriend.
DC: Was it that play that got you in front of George Miller?
VW: Yep! George Miller’s girlfriend Sandy Gore, at that stage, she saw a performance and she rang George and said you gotta come see this guy. From there I went into Road Warrior.
DC: I was just thinking about Hugh Keays-Byrne that unfortunately just passed away. Was there ever any conversations with you and George for you to appear in Fury Road just as he came back as Immortan Joe?
VW: Nope. In fact, George told me at one stage, because we’re friends, he said I had made a character that was way, way, way too well known and too well accepted to put me back in front of the camera because it would then be doing a remake of Road Warrior. Which I agreed with him and so that wasn’t gonna happen. He gave me my career, I wasn’t upset about it. As he said to me when we were having dinner, there’s still three films to be made in that series so…you never know what George is gonna do. He won’t tell you. He will lie to you so you have no idea what’s actually happening.
DC: I would love to see that happen. I assumed that you would’ve gotten your start doing stunts. You have the build of a stuntman and there are so many legendary Australian stuntmen like Grant Page who worked on Mad Max.
VW: Uh huh, yep, he was on Road Warrior. Well, the thing was I did a lot of my stunts and still do. Growing up on a farm, you do all that stuff. It’s just part of who I am. I always feel that if I design a character and the character works I want to follow that character through.
DC: You did your own stunts for Fear of the Woods. It has plans to be turned into a feature, right?
VW: Yeah, that’s virtually the first 25 minutes of the film.
DC: You’re incredibly convincing as a bear hunter.
VW: Yeah, it was fun. I’ve done a couple of films with Titus [Paar] and he has this thing for Mad Max. The first time I stepped onto the snow and it was up to my knackers as they say and I was freezing to death, I thought this is going to be Un-F-ing-believable.
DC: You have a great presence in it. It’s interesting that Titus, the director, was inspired by the anime Silver Fang and he had always wanted to make a killer bear movie. Had you heard of or seen Silver Fang before?
VW: Silver Fang, yeah, my wife is Japanese American so I watch a lot of anime. I’ve seen all of those. Everything in it worked, the bear worked. It’s just one of those films that makes you jump occasionally and go, ‘Oh shit!’
DC: The gargantuan size of it. It’s very unrealistically realistic. Hopefully you guys can get back to shooting it sooner rather than later.
VW: It’s getting there. The nice thing is it won quite a few awards and I was fortunate to win an award. It’s been one of those years for me. I’m now up to my sixth award I’ve won this year for films that I’ve done. It just blows my mind. There’s another film coming out that I did called Kill Giggles which is about clowns that’s already won some awards.
DC: Well, I think maybe one of the reasons is people finally realized that you’ve turned into a pretty damned good actor. Me saying you look very convincing as a bear hunter, you’ve really been like a chameleon in so many films from Road Warrior to Commando. I don’t know if it was just Bennett’s mustache but do you try and change your appearance from film to film?
VW: I still to this day have people say to me I never realized that you were in Road Warrior and Commando. I love that, I think that’s what acting is all about is developing a character and being the character.
DC: With Bennet, the conversations of the best villains of all time, you’re not in that conversation enough and I think we need to change that. I remember watching you as Ransik in Power Rangers and that’s a great TV villain especially for kids.
VW: Yeah that was fun when I got to do that. Me in a kids series. I had the best time for twelve months doing that series. It was just the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
DC: This will be my last question about Commando. Is it true that Gene Simmons was originally up for that role?
VW: No, originally Gene Simmons owned it. I ran into Gene Simmons at a party. I had worked with his now wife in a film and accidentally hit her. I bought all these roses. I walked into Gene, and he’s a big boy I mean he’s taller than me. He walked up to me and said, ‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you. Two things: You’re the only one to ever hit my wife and survive.’ Ok, that’s one, what’s the other one? ‘I had the rights to Commando and I was gonna play Bennett and it went into turnaround and for some reason I never thought to pick it up. And Warner Brothers got it and they selected you…and they made the right choice.’ He was really nice about it.
DC: That’s a great Hollywood story. You got to work with Stuart Gordon on Fortress, Space Truckers and King of the Ants as well. How did you and Stuart meet?
VW: I went in for an audition for Fortress. I’m pretty physical and it was just Stuart and I in an office. I actually threw him through the wall of the office. He finally got up and said, ‘I love what you do but unfortunately I really don’t have a part in the film.’ But he said, ‘I will remember you.’ And then he went and wrote the part in the film for me. It was a great little role. I relished every second of it. Stuart, as my wife used to call him Uncle Stu, was just a wonderful, wonderful man. I’ve been so blessed to work with so many kind and talented people in my life. I love it. I still do. I’m still starstruck.
Keep an eye out for the continued story of Fear of the Woods once filming resumes!