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Splat Chat: Michael Stephenson of 'Troll 2' and 'Best Worst Movie'

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For this edition of FEARnet's Splat Chat series, we point our browsers towards something of an anomaly. Generally, actors don't like to talk about their "unquestionably rotten" films. Strangely enough, actors and filmmakers opt to focus on their GOOD films, and that can get pretty boring after a while. We all know how fun bad movies can be. But most actors don't have a film as hilariously terrible as TROLL 2 on their resume...

...so it's not like Michael Stephenson can fake it when the film's quality (or wonderful lack thereof) comes up in conversation. Yep, for some wacky reason, Troll 2 seems to come up in conversation a whole lot. If you haven't noticed it, then I'd politely assert that you don't have enough hardcore movie geeks in your life. (You can pick up six for a dollar at IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.) Not only did Michael survive being a ten-year-old lead actor in Claudio Fragasso's Troll 2, but he even went on to embrace the stupid movie ... and make a movie of his own! The film (which just had its world premiere at SXSW this week, read FEARnet's review of Best Worst Movie here) is called BEST WORST MOVIE, and it's a great look at the world of cult cinema, and how the most unlikely of films sometimes end up earning a rabid fanbase.

I actually met Mike a few years back when Troll 2 was playing before a (sold-out and awesomely raucous) crowd at the Alamo Drafthouse, so now that his labor of lunatic love is about to be shown before a packed house at South By Southwest Film Festival, I thought a little chat was in order....

Scott: OK, so how old were you were Troll 2 came along? Were you a horror fan as a kid?

Michael: I was about 10 years old when I was cast as "Joshua Waits" in Troll 2. I liked horror movies, but didn't see a lot. In fact, the only other "horror" films I can remember seeing prior to Troll 2 was Gremlins and... C.H.U.D!  You remember that film?

Scott: Uh, yeah ... remember.... (peeks over and sees the C.H.U.D. dvd on his horror shelf)

Michael: I'll never forget it because it was the first R-rated movie I ever saw.

Scott: I think mine was Humanoids from the Deep, which probably explains why I'm so scared of fish and women. So when you're working on Troll 2, what was it CALLED at that point?

Michael: I'll give you a hint: NILBOG

Scott: Right, becase LLORT isn't even a word! So you're making a movie called GOBLIN in Utah. Did you ever look around and think "Hmmm, this is not what I thought a movie set would look like?"

Michael: No, not really. As a ten year old, it was movie magic in the making and I was excited to be a star. However, I do remember the Italians feeding us week-old stale pizza and I was pretty bummed about that. Almost everyday it was stale pizza for lunch.

Scott: A month of stale pizza? Sounds like a new trap for Saw 7.

Michael: Yeah, just about 4 weeks to shoot.

Scott: And did you think you were destined for more films? Visions of Tiger Beat covers dancing through your head?

Michael: Absolutely. I couldn't have been more excited. This was just the beginning.

Scott: That's kinda sad! Poor kid. So what happened after production?

Michael: So we finished the movie, walked off the set and I imagined that within a few months I would go with my family to the local cineplex and watch my movie. That's what happens in movie-making right?

Scott: This is in the pre-Uwe Boll era, so yes.

Michael: Cut to a little over a year later. Christmas morning.

Scott: I'm with you. Now you're 11.

Michael: I unwrap my last present to reveal a strange VHS tape. On the cover it reads "Troll 2" and had strange-looking cover art including a monster wielding a battle-ax behind a little boy who was not me. I was completely confused. Then my mother said, "Michael it's your movie! Lets put it in!" Let's just say it was a Christmas I'll never forget. Not in a good way. I clearly remember my father exclaiming "Oh Michael. This is an awful movie!"

Scott: Where'd she buy it? VHS wasn't cheap in 1990!

Michael: Who knows?

Scott: OK, so you're a normal 11 year old. You know what a MOVIE looks like. You've seen Back to the Future by this point. So you sit down and hit play. And ... what?

Michael: Well, it certainly wasn't the "Gremlins" or the "Labyrinth" that I had imagined it to be. I knew it sucked and I was embarrassed. Dreadfully embarrassed.

Scott: Aw man, I once puked in gym, but that was forgotten like a week later. So did your friends see it?

Michael: Sheesh. Did they ever! Along with every relative, neighbor, and city official. It played NON-STOP. It was all over HBO and I remember thumbing through the Sunday paper and looking for the TV Guide hoping that I would NOT see Troll 2 on the schedule again.

Scott: So you grew to hate it, like, as much as I hate Patch Adams.

Michael: I was embarrassed by it. And as an actor, it's easy to take it personally. I continued acting and was cast in other parts but Troll 2 never would go away. It seemed as though EVERYBODY saw Troll 2.

Scott: Which kind of turned out to be a blessing in disguise, two decades later.

Michael: Yes, in a very strange roundabout way.

Scott: Was there ever a point throughout high school or after, that you were able to escape it? Forget? Did you feel like a Nazi war criminal who could be OUTED at any moment?

Michael: High school is full of distant memories of classmates shouting "a double-decker bologna sandwich" in the school hallways.

Scott: So once you figured that one rotten movie had limited your acting options, what was the plan?

Michael: I continued to act off and on, mainly commercials, throughout my early twenties. I've always wanted to be an actor/filmmaker. As a young adult, I enrolled in college and, with a close friend, created a pitch for a documentary titled European Sun. It was more or less a creative excuse for us to travel the world. We never really thought anybody would support or fund the project. Three weeks later, after pitching a local travel agency we had our funding and our excuse to drop out of college. We backpacked throughout Europe over the course of three months while shooting in 12 different countries. Then I returned to Utah, started a creative communications firm with the goal of one-day returning to Los Angeles to pursue acting and filmmaking. Four years ago, I moved to L.A. with my wife with the intention of jumping back into acting and pursuing filmmaking.

Scott: And Troll 3, of course.

Michael: Ha!

Scott: So are you a big horror fan?

Michael: I may have been slightly traumatized by Troll 2 to fully enjoy horror films. Kidding aside, I love a good horror movie and I certainly have my favorites. But I'm by no means a horror-movie devotee. I thought The Descent was very smart and I loved it. Also 28 Days Later. Incredible movie. The original Exorcist scared the crap out of me. I still won't watch it alone. I LOVE Silence of the Lambs. That's considered horror, right?

Scott: An oft-debated issue among horror freaks, but those who say it isn't are plain old wrong. And stupid. And perhaps ugly.

Michael: I'll watch and potentially love anything. I loved Pan's Labryinth. Life is Beautiful. Shawshank Redemption. Amelie. King of Kong. Slumdog Millionaire. The Grizzly Man. Trainspotting. Scent of a Woman. Moulin Rouge.

Scott: OK, so what was it that made you think you could make a doco about your Troll 2 experience?

Michael: Really, I felt like I HAD to. I must do it! I must do it! Seriously, though... it felt like a strange calling. And it was very personal to me. Also, If I didn't do it... who would?

Scott: My guess would be: Absolutely freaking nobody. So were you confident there was enough stuff to fill a doco?

Michael: I felt as though the beginning elements to an interesting story were there. I knew I had access and I asked myself "How could there NOT be interesting characters behind this cinematic car crash?" But the problem with shooting a documentary, is that you NEVER feel like you have reached the end or should stop shooting. Especially with Troll 2, it's so organic and spread out and there's never really an ending, it continues to blow peoples minds every single day.

Scott: Not unlike heroin. So this wont be your first time to Austin, obviously, but it's your WORLD PREMIERE AT SXSW! (woooohooo) How's it feel?

Michael:  I want to shout with excitement and puke my guts out at the same time. I couldn't be more excited to be premiering Best Worst Movie at SXSW and I love Austin but... I'm nervous. I have to say that it has always felt like the perfect place for this film. We've worked our tails off over the past three years, and I couldn't be more proud of the team that has gotten behind this film. Everybody who has got behind this project has really put their heart into it. And it's such an honor to be able to premiere it in Austin at SXSW. Really, it's quite surreal that a "bad" movie has brought me so many good experiences of late. I can't tell you how many GREAT people I've met through this crazy adventure.

Scott: So ... what about the MGM possibility we talked about?

Michael: I wish I could say that at this time we had some great distribution plans solidified. We have been contacted by MGM and they are seriously interested in the film but nothing is firm yet. And, truthfully, we are in no rush. We want to have a great festival run, and then I'd like to screen the doc in every city that had Troll 2 screenings previously. The fans are such an important part of this movie, and I want them to be able to see it with other fans. And with the power of goodness ... all we can hope for one day is a Special Edition Troll 2 / Best Worst Movie Combo Deal packaged with a slice of bologna and a cob-of-corn.

Scott: So how do you feel about Troll 2 right now?

Michael: In all honesty: I LOVE TROLL 2. It shoulda been nominated. I love it for what it is... and what it has become.

Scott: Well, we both know what Austin movie crowds are like, so I think you should prepare for one excellent weekend. Congrats, man!

Michael: Thanks to you, Scott (AND FEARnet!) for supporting the film. I really appreciate every bit of help we get!

Scott: Well it's a very fun flick. And remember: You don't piss on documentary!

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