R. Lee Emery talks about acting, chewing tobacco, and other aspects of the prequel to the 2003 remake

By Scott Brown
October 28, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Movie sets can get so boring, you just want to die. More accurately, you want someone else to die. Luckily, this is Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Origin, and I am about to see some Texas justice dispensed right in front of my bewildered blue-state eyes. Last week, the crew rammed a truck full of good-looking teenagers into a full-size foam cow brimming with fake blood. I feel oddly regretful, having missed this.

But today, the same lonely farm road is strewn with cow innards, and we’ll be bidding farewell to a Harley enthusiast played by an actress named, improbably, See-ya (real spelling: Cyia). Mere feet from where I stand, this somewhat uneasy rider (she’s never had explosive squibs strapped to her chest before) receives a shotgun blast in her ample bosom. She’s lifted off the ground (by an unseen dragline) and flung backward against the wrecked Bronco she was planning to loot. There’s a fine red spritz in the air, clearly visible as the Texas sun tilts low over endless corn-shorn fields.

It is a good death, and well lit — but not quite good enough to head off another take. So the man with the 12-gauge ambles back to his seat while the shot is reset. This is R. Lee ”the Gunny” Ermey, known to millions of Full Metal Jacket fans as He Who Unscrews Your Head and S—s Down Your Neck. To be within spitting distance of Ermey, 61, is a privilege, but it’s also a hazard, because he does indeed spit. Voluminously and with regularity. His mouth routinely contains a fist-size wad of tar-black tobaccy. (”That ain’t Big League Chew,” comments an awed observer.) Hand the man a spittoon: He’s done tours of duty in FMJ, Apocalypse Now, and Actual Vietnam. He’s earned the right to spit, swear, and kill a biker chick in a prequel to a 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Ermey chews only in the line of duty. On his own time, he dips — that’s snuff, for the uninitiated. It’s his character, Sheriff Hoyt, who favors the Red Man. Anything for art, right? Even an inflated dry-cleaning tab: Ermey frowns at the flecks of blood Cyia sprayed on his uniform. ”Really pisses the sheriff off to mess up his shirt after he kills his first damn person.”

Sheriff Hoyt isn’t really a sheriff — he just drives the car and wears the uniform. In the TCM mythology, he’s a relatively new addition — surrogate uncle to Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), the chainsaw-wielding, flesh-swatching favorite son of the cannibal clan introduced in Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original. Ermey brought Hoyt to life in the 2003 remake and now inhabits him on and off camera. Not because of some candy-ass dedication to the Method, but because he just likes the guy. ”Getting ready to kill me some people here” is his preshot mantra. Also: ”A day without blood is like a day without sunshine.” And: ”You young people are in a heap of s— now. Sheriff’s coming.” Portrait of a man enjoying himself.

”On the first movie, we just let him go,” says producer Bradley Fuller, who also worked on the remake. ”You remember the scene where he’s wrapping up the dead girl? He ad-libbed most of those lines. All that stuff about how he used to feel up crash victims when he was a patrolman…All Ermey. Some of it was so crazy we couldn’t use it.”

”The ‘less is better’ that all actors have heard is f—ing wrong,” says Ermey. ”That’s the stupidest f—ing saying I’ve ever heard, ‘less is better.’ It’s the insecure directors who say s— like that. I’m the kind of actor who needs to be let go. I never heard that from Stanley Kubrick, ‘less is better.”’ A brown wad of contempt hits the hot asphalt with a splat.

”Hey, Lee,” asks a crew member, ”your dolls selling?”

”Motivational figure,” corrects Ermey. ”Ken and Barbie are dolls. Mine is a motivational figure. R.LeeErmey.com has cornered the market.” He explains that the last 2,000 of these toy effigies were purchased by his Web administrator and are now sold through the site. The one-minute audio ”motivations” the ”Xtra Salty” dolls contain are beyond unprintable. (Supplies are limited — act fast, if you want to be patriotically degraded.)

It’s time for another shot. Ermey rises, spits, hoists his shotgun. ”I’m not afraid to go the extra mile,” he says, striding toward the reassembled Cyia. ”If it doesn’t work, I’ll back it down. Just.”

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