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Zach Galligan Talks Nothing Lasts Forever and Gremlins 2

7 min read

burst onto our screens in the hit 1984 movie Gremlins. He quickly found himself at the top of Hollywood's A-list, appearing in movies with River Phoenix, Molly Ringwald and , Overnight he was on the cover of the 1980's magazine, People. He soon found a niche with horror films, starring in films such as and 2. Here Zach discusses his early years growing up in NYC, his run-ins with David Duchovny and what it was really like working with Bill Murray.

When you were growing up in 1970's New York, did you hang out with any other young actors who were also around at that time?

I did go to school (Collegiate) with David Duchovny. He was a good three or four years older than me. Duchovny at that time was a jock. He actually won the most coveted prize in his class, which was head boy. He was kind of a shaggy haired kid. I started acting in 1981 and he had absolutely nothing to do with acting. What's so funny is, I can remember this like it happened 10 minutes ago. It was 1987 in Los Angeles. This was for a Vietnam TV series called Tour of Duty. We were doing the final network auditions.

I was sitting out in the hall with my sides going over my lines. I look down the hall and there's this guy studying the lines. And I go, good lord, that guy looks so much like David Duchovny. It's incredible. He's like the spitting image. But I thought to myself, it can't be David. He's not an actor. He was a jock. Never did a single play in school. Then he moved in a certain familiar way. And I was like, that's uncanny. Maybe it's him. His nickname and what everyone ever called him was “Duke.” So I walked over to him and I went, “Duke,” and he looked up at him and he just went, “Hey Zach.”

He's very laid back and a man of few words until you get him going and then he wouldn't stop. I was like, wow, you know, being an actor. And I thought at the time, I don't know about this guy because he has no training and no experience. He's so smart. He went to Yale. Why is he even trying this? So I thought he would either make it or he would get discouraged after a couple of years. Then he booked X-Files, which was great.


How did you get started with acting?

Casting director Juliet Taylor had come to my school to search for talent. She was casting this movie called Tempest (1982). So my second audition ever was with (director) Paul Mazursky, Phoebe Cates and Susan Sarandon, who was in the room reading with some of the younger people.

I'm 17 years old.They just kept bringing me back and back. I came very close to getting the movie. Finally got a call from Juliet who said, ‘I'm so sorry to say that you didn't get it.' I was crushed. She then said, “I could help you get an agent.” And I replied, “That would be amazing. How do I get one of those?” “Put your mom on the phone.” I put my mom on the phone and my mom sort of grumbled and went, “Mm-hmm.” Then she hands me the phone and goes, ‘You have one year'.

Juliet then gave me the name of the three best agents in New York. Saying, ‘Go and have meetings with these people and then pick the one that you're the most comfortable with'. I did exactly what she said. And I was off and running. Within 10 months I booked my first movie, which was . By the time I was 18, I was acting non-stop. It matures you in ways that's very difficult to describe people who haven't done it. Suddenly you're going from being 18, hanging around with kids to this all adult world where you have to learn very quickly the rules and the regulations or else you're going to get kicked out pretty swiftly.


What did your classmates think of your acting career?

This was a very fascinating thing because you started to see the real time dynamic of what happens with success. It happens even now, whether you're 18 or 58. Some people are happy for you. Some people grit their teeth. Some people just hate the fact that you're successful because somehow it makes them feel less so. Somehow your success is an indication of their failure and they can't see past that. There's a very wide mix.

Warner Bros.


What was it like filming Nothing Lasts Forever as a newcomer? 

We started shooting in mid-April 1982. I was 18. I was a very early discoverer of imposter syndrome. I was just convinced that I was gonna get fired off of most of these shows. Bill Murray made the situation really unbearable. He was doing sort of a methody thing where my character and his character were antagonistic towards each other. Meanwhile, I was like, “Oh my God, it's Bill Murray from Meatballs and SNL.”

He began like a three week thing where he would alternately be super nice to me and terrorize me. Whenever he felt that I was getting too chummy with him, he would do something to make me dislike him. At times even detest him. There'd be times I'd come home from the set, I'd be like, “I fucking hate Bill Murray.”

It was revealed eventually to be essentially a manipulation. The director wasn't sure I could get to the appropriate emotional levels without it. And to his credit, he was right. I didn't understand the emotional preparation for doing acting scenes.


What was the audition like for Gremlins?

I always say that Gremlins is one of the easiest movies I ever got. It's just one of those weird things where everything kind of just falls into place and you, it's not really something that you could replicate.  I read for Mike Finnell and Joe Dante. I was very proud of myself because I had come up with a line reading choice after reading about how you have to come up with choices that either people won't expect or that other actors won't be making to separate yourself from the crowd.

My audition scene was the scene where I asked Phoebe Cates out on a date. I thought, you know what, even though I've known this girl for a long time, probably since we were seven or eight or something like that, because we live in a small town. I'm just gonna be convinced that even though I'm asking her, she's gonna shoot me down so that when she says yes, I'm just gonna be stunned, but then I'm gonna cover, like, “Oh, well yeah, of course.”  I thought it was a fun thing to play and it's actually in the movie. We read the scene together and when it was done, she was like, ‘That's really good. That's really cute.” I go, “Oh, thanks.” That made me feel good too, because I had an insane crush on her.

They took the tapes and overnighted them to Spielberg. Two days later I got the part.

Once we were shooting the movie, I said, “Hey Joe, could you tell me what I did at the audition because I'd really like to do it again in the future.” Joe goes, “It's really interesting because obviously you and Phoebe did a great job together. When you were done, you did this thing where you put your head on her shoulder and you looked at the camera. Spielberg goes, look at that. He's already in love with her. I don't need to see anything else.” And he got up and he walked out of the room. His whole idea, because I was so obviously enamored of her, was that we were good together and we had nice chemistry.


How did you know when was going to happen?

It was very strange because usually you have a hit movie and a sequel comes a year or two later. There was a huge gap between Gremlins and Gremlins 2, six years. This is one of the reasons why I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Gremlins franchise because if it hadn't had that six year gap, I might've been a lot more successful.

I got a call from Mike (Finnell). And he's like, “What are you doing in May?” And I'm like, “Uh, nothing. Why do you ask?” “Well, because we're gonna do Gremlins 2 and obviously we'd like to have you and Phoebe back.” This was February of '89. I got three months' notice.

Having had the success of Gremlins, did you look at the script of Gremlins 2 differently?

I was like, what up with the tone? This is an outright comedy. I was concerned about two things. One, that there were too many sections that were just all gremlins and no humans. I really felt that if you did that it was in danger of becoming like a Muppets movie. The other thing that I thought was problematic was that I didn't find that it was scary at all. I didn't see where any of the horror or the tense moments were.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai will be released later this year in the UK.