If you ask Michael Gross, he’ll tell you he’s the luckiest man alive. Not only did he get to play one of the last great TV dads on the hit sitcom “Family Ties”, but when the show ended, he landed the role of a lifetime as Burt Gummer, the gun-toting survivalist in the wildly popular horror-comedy franchise Tremors.
Gross, who is currently starring in the franchise’s sixth entry Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, recently sat down with iHorror to talk about his incredible journey and how it all started by making television history.
“You kind of take these things for granted when you do them, and you don’t realize what they mean to people while you’re doing them,” the actor said. “But when we began doing Family Ties on the Paramount lot in 1982, a soundstage near us had ‘Taxi’ filming there. ‘Laverne & Shirley’ and ‘Happy Days’ were still playing, ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’ was in an adjoining studio.”
The show averaged 28 million viewers per week, and as it came to an end in 1989, Gross was somewhat surprised when an unexpected door of opportunity opened.
“The first Tremors was a real treat for me because it happened right out of the gate after ‘Family Ties’ and it answered two questions,” he said. “Would there be life after ‘Family Ties’? Would people accept me as a very different sort of character?”
Still, after an impressive career in live theater playing multiple roles per year, Gross had no real trouble making the transition. In fact, he was more than eager to do it, and he was happy to prove the critics wrong.
“To be honest with you that transition was not difficult. It was so well written and I felt I knew this man from the beginning,” Gross explained. “I probably felt more uncomfortable playing Steven Keaton who was so normal. I like playing the crazy people, the more offbeat people.”
For Gross, however, playing Burt came down to walking a very thin line, and he spent a lot of time thinking about when or how “crazy guy with a lot of guns” is funny, and when does he become something dangerous? This especially became a pointed question in the light of a growing number of mass shootings.
“It was why we ultimately insisted on the cardinal rule of Tremors,” the actor said. “Nobody turns their gun on another human being in our movies. The humans are the good guys and the monsters are the bad guys. We’re all a human family fighting against the real enemy.”
It was just one of the elements that came together that make the franchise a success, and yet, after the first film, it seemed as though it had died before it started.
Producers didn’t quite know how to market the first Tremors when it was released in theaters. They promised audiences a hardcore horror movie and failed to deliver. After only two weeks in theaters, the film was pulled and sent to video.
And then something magical happened.
The early 90s were the glory days of video rental stores, and Tremors rental numbers began to grow exponentially. It was the sort of cult following that no one ever expects and no one was more surprised than Gross when he got a call to see if he’d be interested in making a sequel.
“People called me all those years later and said, ‘Do you believe we’re going to make another one?’ and I said told them absolutely not,” Gross laughed. “But apparently, it had been passed around like someone’s dirty little secret. It had caught on, and people wanted more.”
“More” translated into Gross’ role taking more a central spot in the overall arc of the franchise. It offered Gross a chance to really dig into who Burt Gummer was and what drove him to make the choices he made.
“When we came into Tremors 5, I told them we needed more challenges for Burt. We know he can hunt monsters. But how could we challenge him?” Gross said. “So we brought in his son and asked, ‘How does a loner face that fact that there’s another person who wants to be a part of his life?'”
It was, as it turned out, an interesting and hilarious challenge that Burt was more than up for and ultimately he and his son came to…well, let’s call it a truce.
By the latest film, Burt and his son, Travis (played by Jamie Kennedy), are hunting Graboids together, this time in the northernmost parts of Canada where Burt ends up facing his biggest challenge, yet: his own mortality.
“How does a man to whom control is the most important thing in his life cede that control?” the actor asked. “It’s the hardest thing in his life to not be able to lead the fight.”
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, which will hit DVD and Blu Ray on May 1st, proves that this franchise has not lost any of its bite. In fact, Tremors may be the most consistent franchise of its kind. They have yet to let their fans down, and as Gross pointed out at the end of our interview, those fans will ultimately decide the fate of this tried and true series of creature features.
“You never can tell what will happen,” he explained. “I always bet against Hollywood. Show business is 5% show and 95% business but if six does well, I think we have a chance for coming back.”
Check out the trailer for Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell below and look for it on DVD, Blu Ray and VOD on May 1, 2018!