BEST WORST MOVIE Director Michael Paul Stephenson and Dr. George Hardy Interview

     May 16, 2010

Early in the 1990 horror film Troll 2, Michael Waits (played by Dr. George Hardy) now famously yells at his 10-year-old son Joshua (Michael Paul Stephenson), “You can’t piss on hospitality!”  20 years later, its stars have taken that lesson to heart.  Adoring fans around the world have turned the once obscure, overwhelmingly flawed flick (witness a 0% score on rottentomatoes) into that rare gem of an actual cult classic.

Stephenson & Hardy have embraced the affection to reclaim their initially dark experience with a love letter of a documentary: Best Worst Movie.  The film chronicles the making of Troll 2, its odd resurrection, the fans that made it happen and the cast members’ search for a little artistic redemption.

Collider chatted up Stephenson (BWM’s director) & Dr. Hardy (its main subject) for a funny back-and-forth this week. Hit the jump for the interview’s full audio and transcript, along with stories of whether Troll 2 actually works in other languages, what links Quentin Tarantino to the story and a budding rivalry with The Room‘s director Tommy Wiseau.

Troll 2 is an ironic name, given the absence of the title character (only goblins appear) or any connection to the 1986 film Troll that it supposedly follows (more on that in our interview below).  The post-release lives of its stars also took some interesting turns.  Stephenson made skateboarding videos through his teens and a professional production career followed.  Dr. Hardy, meanwhile, opened up a dental office in Alexander, Alabama.  So, yes, to quote Get Shorty, the former Troll 2 star has “seen better film on teeth.”

Troll 2 on the marquee in AustinThe former child actor joined us as he awaited two big deliveries: Best Worst Movie to New York audiences this week (as part of a gradual national rollout) and his second child, expected June 17th.  It’s a tribute to the film’s long production process which began principal photography in 2006, that he’s since become a father and the social networking website that helped jumpstart the project, MySpace, is now virtually as invisible as the ghostly character of Grandpa Seth in Troll 2.

Stephenson is already looking ahead.  He’s attached to direct Kaiju, written by Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson (who is featured in Best Worst Movie). However, the director points out that it may not be his next project.  After all, buzz on his documentary has been very high.

Read through for several fun stories, including a Troll 2 fan base that includes Edgar Wright, Patton Oswalt and Quentin Tarantino.  However, we begin by trying to make sense of the film.  Click here to listen to the audio of the interview.

Collider: People around the world have described Troll 2 all different kinds of ways.  So, how would you guys describe the plot?

Michael Paul Stephenson: Well, Troll 2 basically is about a family that decides to take a trip to the countryside for some fresh country air.  They’ve had enough of the city life, so they load up the family minivan and they head to this lovely little community called Nilbog (Goblin spelled backward).  Little do they know, this town is inhabited by goblins in disguise.  And not just regular goblins, but vegetarian goblins, whose entire, uh (smirking), plot for us is to turn us into plants so that they can eat us.

But let me just stop you here.  How hard is it to describe the plot without laughing?  Because I see you (Dr. George Hardy) laughing.

MPS: (Laughing) It’s very hard. Very hard.

Dr. George Hardy: It is hard.

MPS: (Mocking sincerity) What do you mean? It’s a serious movie.

GH: (Takes the same tone) I mean, it’s a serious movie.  Yeah, that’s right.

It’s an allegory.  (Troll 2’s director Claudio Fragasso actually makes the claim that it is a parable in Best Worst Movie).

MPS: (Laughing) Yes, right.  Right.

GH: But there are a lot of challenges that come along.

Troll 2 fans show some loveMPS: You know, but it involves a lot of bologna sandwiches.  But the other thing is, if I was to describe Troll 2 now, I’d say that I haven’t found a movie that has half the amount of heart that Troll 2 has.  Sure, it’s a genuine failure in every respect – actors who couldn’t act, you know, writing, directing – horribly in every possible way, but it doesn’t fail to entertain and you think of how many films are made (with) far greater resources, far greater talent and are forgotten about–

GH: What do you mean, we had great talent, I’ll say. (Both laugh)

MPS: I was horrible.

GH: I was, too.

MPS: — but are forgotten about the second after they’re made and there’s something to be said about somebody trying their best in every way.  All of us thinking we were making a great horror film and Claudio (Fragasso) really putting his heart out on the line to make his movie the way he wanted to make it.  I mean, think of how many people probably told him, “It’s not a good idea, Claudio.”  These act- you know, why would you go to Utah, vegetarian goblins.”  And he somehow charged through all that and still had it, got it made.

Do you think anybody said that to him before he made it?

MPS: Oh, without a doubt.


MPS: Oh, without a doubt!

Before he made it, I mean.

MPS: Oh, yeah!  Yeah, I mean, I know for a fact.  I mean, he couldn’t even speak the language with us.

GH: No.

MPS: And then to 20 years later –

It goes all over the, the world.  I mean you guys literally go-

MPS: Right.

– to several different countries looking at this.  Do you think (Troll 2) makes more sense in another language?

MPS: (Laughs) No.  I’ve seen German versions of it—It’s universally accepted as a bad movie and one of the worst movies ever made, but the experience that people are having in a theater around this film and the enjoyment that is being had from Troll 2 is not ironic or cynical.  It’s not mean-spirited.  It’s people genuinely having a good communal experience in a theater watching a film together.

Michael Paul Stephenson & George Hardy at a Q&A

Do you think it’s, it’s that society has gotten so cynical about, not just politics, but entertainment and other things that THAT is what makes the difference?

MPS: Without a doubt.  We live in a society that is so cynical & so, you know, when you have something that feels genuine and sincere, whether it’s bad or good, people are attracted to that.

When was the last time that you saw each other, prior to making the documentary?

GH: (After Troll 2 wrapped shooting) We had a little after-party, I think I had you over my cabin or something, you know where I was living. Remember that?

MPS: Oh, right, yeah, as a kid.  And then we didn’t see each other for about 17 years.

GH: Then, it was like I never, you know, saw Michael again for 17 years.  And then, I got a phone call back in April of 2006 when it was appearing back again on Showtime.  They were doing a radio documentary.  I said, “Why in the world are you doing this?” And he said, well don’t you know about the world phenomenon around Troll 2?” And I went, “Phenomenon?  You know, “You’ve got to be kidding me” And he says, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, you’ve got to be kidding.”  He says if you don’t believe me, go to IMDB, which I didn’t even know what that was.  You remember, I’m practicing dentistry.  I went to IMDB and then, down at the bottom was a message board and I just happened to click it on there.  At the very bottom of the screen, a fellow named Blair Sterrett (the founder of Lost Media Archive) who was a big fan and collector of a lot of entert- memorabilia in the Mid-, in the Western Rocky area.  Blair had invited us, the cast members to come back for a Troll 2 screening.  Just a spontaneous gathering in Provo, Utah.  So, I dropped everything. And spent a couple- $700 and flew out and hoped to see (Michael).  He wasn’t there (Michael was working as a cinematographer on a commercial shoot) but there were about 8 cast members that were.  And we, I was just tackled.  I got there late and it was, walked into a dark room and there were the other cast members around me, but I didn’t know until the lights came on and when they did, I just was immediately started signing autographs.  And then, I had heard that the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater really loved Troll 2 and I called up here (to UCB in NY).

MPS: Curtis Gwinn and John Gemberling, and they’d been watching Troll 2 for years. And they were actually doing a Troll 2 screening.  And so it was –

GH: So, they said, “Come up here.”  So we went up, and Michael documented that very 1st night and—

Troll 2 fans in Boston cheer on Dr. George HardyMPS: 2006, early, I just started getting messages from people (on his MySpace page) and at first these messages, you know, these messages said, you know, “Are you Joshua Waits from Troll 2? Please, say it is so.”  And at first, it was just, I, I, you know, I was like, “Ohhh.” You know, kind of laughed about it.  I was like, “This thing’s never gonna go away.”  And then, I started interacting with some of these fans and then they started sending me pictures of these parties that they were having in basements around Troll 2 and they were all over the world.  And none of them knew about each other.  And they all thought they were the only ones that liked Troll 2. And I remember looking at these pictures and just thinking, “Why?”  These parties, the people that were dressing up and making costumes and making green food.  All of this was happening on its own, organically, because of their love for this film.  I woke up one morning and I just remember smiling ear-to-ear, and just thinking, “Wait a minute.  You know, I’m the child star of the worst movie ever made.  (Hardy & Stephenson laugh)  There’s a great story here.“  And it was, immediate, like, well of course, this is like, to have a first film that’s so personal, so accessible, it’s a documentary.  I had the resources.  You know, I thought, “This is it.”

(To Hardy) Any concerns of it being mocked?  Because it, it strikes that line, almost like an (Chris Smith’s 1999 documentary about an amateur Milwaukee director trying to make a horror film) American Movie

MPS: Right.

–where it celebrates them as much as, as anything else.  If somebody who was not in the film and who hadn’t had the experience of working on it came to you, would you have said, “Yes?”

Dr. George Hardy during the actual Troll 2 shootGH: Oh, there’s no way I would have done it.  I wouldn’t have done it.  That’s a good question.  That’s a really good question.  (Ponders it for a moment)  I don’t think so.

MPS: I had fear, even just going to the New York City screening.  ‘Cause up until that point, I was interacting online with people, but here, I’m actually going to one of these events with fans.  I thought the worst.  Like, I literally thought, “People are gonna boo and hiss and say, ‘You guys sucked.’”  And, and the only reason why I went is because I had a camera in hand.  And I’ve never felt such, people having such enjoyment watching a film.

(To Hardy) When you’re looking at becoming an actor, you think, “Oh, oh I have a shot at being a star and this, and this movie can be huge, and everything like that.”  After the film came out and after your mom saw it, she said she only made it (halfway) through, what was the point that it started to turn for you, from, you know, “God, my mom can only watch half of this,” to being this celebratory experience that you had?

GH: Yeah, well, actually, I never watched Troll 2 all the way through, until 17 years later, myself. (Laughs)  I had to leave, you know, I even left before half of the movie.  I think after that first 5 minutes of Troll 2, I was out of it.  But yeah, yeah, you know what?  I really, it’s like Michael (Paul Stephenson), we didn’t know whether we were gonna be laughed at, but as they embraced it, I embraced it.  You know, it just, I just found it fun.  You know, just the sense of humor about it all.  Why not laugh with everybody else, you know?

Michael shooting Claudio

A lot of people talk in the film how you look like (actor) Craig T. Nelson.  Have you actually met Craig T. Nelson?

GH: I have not.  (Both laughing)  You know, I don’t, is he the one in—Craig T. Nelson is—

(ABC sitcom from 1989-97) Coach.

MPS: Coach.

GH: Yeah, yeah.

MPS: and also (NBC’s series adaptation) Parenthood.

– The Incredibles, he does a lot of voiceovers.

GH: Yeah, I don’t think I look like him too much.  But I mean, I don’t know.

MPS: Yeah, I can see it. And he gets a mix between Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Thank You For Smoking) and Craig T. Nelson (laughs).

GH: Yeah, I’ve had Aaron.  A lot of people say Aaron Eckhart.  And Steve Martin and (Arnold) Schwarzenegger.  I mean, all kind of stuff (laughs).  It’s all thrown in there.

Well, it’s funny that you mention Schwarzenegger, because the same year that Troll 2 came out, in 1990, Claudio wrote a film called Terminator II (unrelated to T2: Judgment Day which came out 3 years later).

GH: That’s right.Michael Paul Stephenson as Joshua Waits in Troll 2

Which hasn’t been allowed to be seen in the US (under that title) because of copyright issues over the name, or having been named that.  Do you think at any point, he made (T2 director) James Cameron nervous? (Both laugh)

GH: Gee.

MPS: I don’t know.  Yeah, I mean, ‘cause, you know, the original Troll 2 was titled Goblin and during this period in Italy, there were no real copyright laws. Italian films could rip off whatever sequel they wanted to.

GH: Yeah.

MPS: And so, I’ve, I’ve often wondered, you know, what Charles Band (Troll’s Executive Producer) and some of the original people behind Troll think of Troll 2.  Because really Troll 2 has, has been more memorable.  (Laughs) And is on the same DVD as Troll 1 and I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say “Oh, I’ve never watched Troll 1.”  You know, and Troll 1 had a much bigger budget, it had, uh, Sonny Bono, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (making her film debut after a 3 year run on Saturday Night Live), you know, and there was, you know, it had no connection (to the sequel)—

Have you heard from Julia Louis-Dreyfus or–

MPS: No, I haven’t, but, but Clark Collis just did an interesting article on the, kind of, Troll saga in Entertainment Weekly and he talked to the producers of Troll and Charles Band and he actually said- he asked him if he ever thought of suing, you know, Claudio and the production crew (of Troll 2 for infringement). And he said, “Oh, it’s not worth my energy or my time” or something like that and just kind of laughed about it.

Has (Charles Band) seen Best Worst Movie?

MPS: No, he hasn’t.

Have you reached out to them?  Have they-

MPS: Not yet.

Well, this can be an official invite.

MPS: Yeah (laughing), that’s right!  A lot to–

GH: You know, I wanted to invite June Lockhart (who played “Eunice St. Clair” in the original Troll). I’ve always loved June Lockhart (Michael laughs) from Lost In Space and I, I—

Lassie (she played Timmy Martin’s mom Ruth from 1958-64 on the CBS series) too, right?

Michael Paul StephensonGH: And Lassie! And June’s (84 years old) now, but I found—

Sweet woman, she’s a really sweet woman, yeah.

GH: Oh, yeah!  I talked with her agent and, but she, June’s health, I don’t know.  June only does special things and Jamie Lee Curtis (who made her film debut in 1978 with Halloween). I met her in Los Angeles once.  I almost thought, she’s a friend of a friend of mine.  So, I thought, “oh man, I should’ve asked Jamie Lee to come see Troll 2 when we screened it there at the Nuart (Theater). (Laughs)
Jamie Lee Curtis is married to Christopher Guest—

GH: Oh, that’s right.

And there’s a lot of Waiting For Guffman in the sense of the celebration, is that something you were thinking about as you were making it?

MPS: I, early on, when I thought of, you know, dentist (like Eugene Levy’s “Dr. Allan Pearl” character in Waiting For Guffman) an Italian director who couldn’t speak English and actors who couldn’t act, I mean, one of the first things I thought of, was, this is like a real-life Christopher Guest story.  And then, as it unfolded, it was just like, you could not write this stuff and some of these characters.  Yeah, so it was definitely thought a lot about Christopher Guest as I was going along-

GH: It’s just so hard to hit the, the people that are really high up in the industry, or whatever.  As you know.  Or (to) get them involved. You know, it’s so difficult.

MPS: Well, we’ve had.  I mean, it’s cool to see, like, you know, Edgar Wright? He’s a big fan (of Best Worst Movie).

(Director/co-writer of) Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz.

MPS: Yeah, (he) saw Best Worst Movie with Michael Cera in Toronto (where Cera & Wright filmed Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World together) at one of our festivals (2009 Hot Docs Film Festival where BWM was in the top 10 Audience Award favorites) and he’s been a huge supporter since.  And has actually, (Wright has) since gone out and watched Troll 2.  (I attended) his birthday party a couple, or three weeks ago, Quentin Tarantino was there, Patton Oswalt, all these people that had watched Troll 2 or loved it.  It was really cool to see.

Patton Oswalt (The King Of Queens and Ratatouille) is in your special thanks.  What, what was that for?

MPS: He’s always kind of been out there on the internet, like, talking about Troll 2. It (just) gave me a great sense of, like, humor, as I was going about it.  Nothing more than that.  And actually, in, at Sundance, there’s a video clip on Youtube with Patton Oswalt and Darren Ewing from Troll 2. Darren Ewing plays the “Oh My God” guy and Darren was interviewing Patton from the Salt Lake Tribune about Patton’s film Big Fan-

GH: Darren works for the Salt Lake Tribune—

Michael Paul Stephenson & Dr. George Hardy shooting in RomeMPS: Yeah, he’s a writer for the, for the Tribune.  And Patton recognizes Darren, all of a sudden, from being the guy from Troll 2 and just like, “Oh my Gosh!” And starts interviewing Darren about Troll 2. So, he’s got a great sense of humor.

GH: (Laughing) He grabs the mic from Darren and he starts interviewing Darren.

Just to finish off the celebrity thing, did Quentin Tarantino, has he seen it—

MPS: Ah, well he, he actually has, has not seen Best Worst Movie, yet.  But had heard about it.  Really nice guy.  (My) pregnant wife was, (laughing) was with me and first thing he did was grab her stomach and say, “Ah, it’s Troll 3 in there!” (Laughs harder)  It was just—

(Speaking of sequels) Is Claudio actually thinking about making Troll 2: Part 2 (as is stated in a title card at the end of Best Worst Movie)?

MPS: Without a doubt. Oh yeah.  No, I actually talked to him just a couple of days ago.  Seems like he calls me once a month or so.  And he and (wife/Troll 2 screenwriter) Rosella (Drudi) have finished writing the script and he’s very, very sincere in wanting to make it.  In fact, the first time that he saw the line outside of the Nuart (Theater) in LA at the screening that he went to, first thing that he said, was he pulled me aside, he said (imitating Claudio’s voice) “Michael, we have to make a sequel!  Look at this!” (He & Hardy both laugh) And so, he wants to do it.

Will you be in it?  Will both of you be in it?

GH: Of course we will, if he asks us.

MPS: Ah, that’s a, that’s a, that’s a loaded quest-  I mean, that’s a tough, tough question for me, because here’s the thing—

GH: Oh, Michael, you’d be in it, in a second, you know you would.

MPS: Here’s the thing.  You can’t set out to make a movie like Troll 2.

GH: You can’t.

Goblin from Troll 2 shootMPS: And as soon as you do, it’s for the wrong reason. But if somebody said, “You have to make Troll 2: Part 2.”  Then the only way to do it would be say, “Here you go, Claudio, do whatever you want.”  And, if George (smiling wide), if George was the star and I had any chance whatsoever to assist in that or be a part of that, I don’t know how I could turn down working with, with him again.  I don’t care if it was the 2nd worst movie ever made!

What did he think of Best Worst Movie, Claudio?

MPS: Loved it.
Did he finally get it (that Troll 2 was a bad film)?

MPS: No!  Who’s to say we get it?  Who’s to say that my experience should be the same that Claudio’s is?  You know, maybe we don’t… I know this sounds pretentious and dumb, but maybe we don’t get Troll 2. (Laughs) Ok?  But I really hoped that he would like the film because I have a lot of respect for him.  He’s not one of these; he’s not a Tommy Wiseau (director of the equally maligned/loved film “The Room”).  He’s not a guy who’s all of a sudden gonna say “this is a dark comedy” and start pushing it as “the worst movie ever made” so people come and see it.  To him, Troll 2 is very, it’s his, kind of his baby and, and he made it the way he wanted to make it.

GH: Very innocent.

MPS: And regardless of every way it fails, principally and logically, you know, acting, directing, all of that sort of stuff.  It did not fail to entertain.

Would you ever start a softball league with the guys from The Room and (Birdemic: Shock and Terror) and (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)?  (Hardy & Stephenson laugh)

MPS: I would, that would be amazing!  I would—

GH: It would be fun to get us all together.

MPS: I would love to have, like, a wrestling match with Tommy Wiseau and Claudio.  No, it would be, it would be fun.  I actually just got invited to speak on a panel at Comic-Con with Tommy Wiseau and the guy from Birdemic (writer/director James Nguyen) about bad movies.  So, softball would be much funner. (Laughing) That would be, that would be really cool.

GH: Thank you so much.

Thank you so much.

Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso toasting Dr. George Hardy

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