Michael Paul Stephenson
Michael Paul Stephenson starred in one of the worst films ever made. The film was the 1990 sequel "Troll 2," a movie that since it's release has had the dubious distinction of hitting the top of IMDB.com's list of "Worst Movies Ever Made." After noticing the film had developed a cult following recently, Michael has uncovered a whole world of Troll 2 fanatics. Now he's making a documentary to explore this strange phenomenon.
We all were doing our best to make a good movie and we failed miserably.
So, how did you get the role in "Troll 2"?
I was 10 years old. I had done some other theater when I was younger. And I had just signed on with the agency, and the agency called me and said "ya, there's this really good horror movie coming into town that Michael should read for." And so, I was living out in Park City, Utah and it was much like any other audition. There were lines and lines of people waiting to audition and I walked into this room and it was just FULL of smoke. There were about 15 Italians in there smoking one cigarette after another and it was almost impossible to see in there. I remember my eyes burning.
So Claudio the director, he didn't speak a lot of English. He came up next to me and he said (in Italian accent) "okay, okay, you're going to pretend like there's a scary thing on your face, scream!" And I screamed, and I think I said a couple of lines, and I left the audition and a couple of days later my agency contacted my parents and said "Michael got the lead role of Joshua in this film." So my parents went through the script and read it, and both of my parents are not really "creative types" so to speak. And I remember them finishing the script and scratching their heads and saying, "I don't know Michael, this is a really weird movie." And I guess the rest is bad movie history.
Did you guys have any idea while you were on set that it was going to turn out to be so bad?
I mean I think kind of the thing behind "Troll 2" and this documentary, is that every single one of us showed up to make a good movie. We all were doing our best to make a good movie and we failed miserably. The result was something totally unexpected. Claudio didn't speak very much English, and the entire crew didn't speak very much English for that matter. Everything was fast and moving really quick and I remember Claudio always in my face just screaming things like "bigger! louder!" And he would just kind of direct me this way. And all of us thought we were making a good horror movie and that's why I think the unintentional humor comes across so well.
So after it was over were your peers aware of it? You talk about in the trailer being ashamed of it. Did you get made fun of?
Absolutely. Basically what happened was, this whole movie was titled "Goblins." A few months before "Troll 2" came out I did another movie with the same Italian crew in New Orleans. So i did a couple movies with those guys. And then one Christmas my parents had found a copy of "Troll 2" that had been released. And of course there were no theatrical screenings, it went straight to video and was banished to late night television. My grandmother sent me a copy of it, and I remember we were all sitting around the Christmas tree and I'm unwrapping this present and I hold up this VHS that says "Troll 2" and I was like what in the world is this thing? It was some other weird name. I don't know if you've seen the original box cover art for "Troll 2," but it has nothing to do with the film. There's a different boy on the cover, and there's a crazy monster in the background that's never in the film. And I turned the VHS cover around to the back and saw myself, and my parents were like "Ya Michael, it's your movie, let's put it in!"
(laughs) Ya. I had never seen this film before. and I remember putting it in, and I was still young, but I was old enough to realize "oh my god, this movie is terrible." And of course my whole family had gathered around the Christmas tree and was watching this, and they were just appalled by what they saw. And then as I got older, you go through those teenage years when you're trying to be cool. And I went on to do a lot of of other roles and worked with a lot of great people and I always had kind of hoped that it would kind of be buried and nothing would ever happen with it.
No matter what I did I kept being remembered as the kid from "Troll 2." Throughout Junior High it seemed like it never stopped playing on HBO, and Showtime, and I literally had kids walking up to me in the hallway and screaming my lines at me. "A double decker bologna sandwich!" And they'd scream things in my face. Luckily I had a great support group and I had my friends. But I remember thinking "this movie is never going to leave me." And I had so many people, and no matter what else I did I had so many people that were always interested in talking to me about "Troll 2." It was just like "oh man, what a crazy movie." Even then, doing "Troll 2" as a 10 year old and getting paid, albeit it wasn't very much, but to show up and run from midgets in potato sacks and scream, and ride a skateboard and all that sort of stuff, it was fun. It was very very cool. But it became embarrassing once I saw what the end result was. I remember everyone was excited that I was doing this movie, and then once it was released and everybody saw it it was like "oh boy, this is quite a movie." (sarcasm)
When was the moment when you realized what a cult thing this had turned into?
It was probably just about a year and a half ago. I had started getting more and more requests for interviews. Just out of the blue there was somebody who had contacted my agent because they were making an actual board game that had a "Troll 2" reference. There were little things that just kept popping up. There was a magazine called "Gorezone" which did an interview with me, and I started getting a lot of email messages. Just tons of messages that either found my fan-site or they had found my Myspace. At first my response was, "what is this? What is going on with this?" And then all of a sudden I really started looking into it, and I was able to kind of step outside of it and I became really fascinated by what was being created around this awful movie.
Fans were sending me pictures of their private "Troll 2" parties, and people were dressed up and eating green food, and I would see Myspace people listing their favorite films. And it would say like "Shawshank Redemption," and "Crash," and then "Troll 2." (I thought) what in the world... how is this happening? And I became fascinated by it. Then I started thinking that this is really really cool. And one morning I woke up, totally out of nowhere, and I thought "Best Worst Movie." And I thought about this documentary and telling this story. The story behind what's happening, and all of these good things that are happening around what's quite possibly one of the worst films ever made. It was completely unexpected. this film was destined to end up on a shelf somewhere collecting dust, and on it's own it's kind of organically and spontaneously it's amassed this large, large fan-base. And supporters who know not to take life seriously, and just have fun and laugh at stuff.
You've got to laugh at these curve balls that life throws at you.
So has this been out of pocket, do you have funding?
This entire year, and the last few years. There was actually a small screening in Utah that had some cast members, a year from last April. And then we had our first big screening in New York City at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. And then we've been to like 13 or 14 other cities. Every single screening there were hundreds of people and sold out crowds. I kind of started it in the beginning by creating the website. I've written and directed other documentaries and I have a background in production. And so then I started moving forward with shooting, and getting everything ready to find funding for his production. In the last month we've had all sorts of interest with distribution and all sorts of things, and we've been trying to find that right interest that would help fund this thing and understand what this whole thing is about. And it looks like we've finally got it locked down, and everything is funded and we'll continue throughout the next several months, working towards a release in 2008.
It's a total labor of love. George Hardy, the guy who plays my father in the movie, he's an incredible individual. And, he's from this small town in Alabama, he's a dentist, and all of a sudden now he's sort of becoming this cult movie icon. And he is such an incredible guy. and we've from the very beginning just kind of said "let's have fun with this thing." There's a really interesting story here, and interesting things are going on, and let's just have fun. Out of everything I've done the last year and a half working on this project, has been the greatest, most unexpected experience of my life.
What kinds of reactions did you get from the rest of the cast when you tracked them down?
A lot of good things. Everybody kind of said "oh boy, why are you calling me." And some were slower to come into the fold than others. The guy who played the preacher, Mike Hamil, I told him he needed to come be a part of this and that we were having a lot of fun, and he wrote back to George and said, "Do not EVER contact me about this movie again." Just really downright rude stuff. So I thought okay, whatever. So then we went out to Houston to a sold out screening, and we called him and we left him a message and said, "Hey, you really should be a part of this, this is really fun." It was funny because he called back and he was sort of rigid and very formal. He left a message and he said, "I've talked it over with my people, and I've reconsidered my position on Troll 2."
The preacher has people?
Ya, just something really stupid like that. So that was interesting. You can't take yourself too seriously and you've got to have fun. You've got to laugh at these curve balls that life throws at you. Just have a good time with it. We've had nothing but positive things happen around this since we started it. We've had Grandpa Seth (Robert Hornsby), we've since reunited with him. He's a cool guy and he just loves it. We brought him to the Seattle screening with us, sold out two nights in a row, and they were chanting "Grandpa Seth!" as he's walking down. He's probably 78/80 years old, how incredible must that be for him?
We've also got Don Cochoran, the Nilbog store owner. He's an interesting guy who has come to a couple of our screenings. My sister, "Connie", she is very very very nice and sweet, and it took her a little bit to understand. She was kind of coming from my position. She didn't understand what was going on, but then once she saw the teaser trailer she just realized this was very interesting. We actually were in Italy about a month ago and met up with Claudio the director and all the old Italian crew.
Then we came back to LA from Las Angeles for a screening and we brought Claudio and Rosella, and then the next day we went to Utah. We had probably 20 cast members there, we even had some of the little people who played goblins. So then we spent a few days going through all the old places where everything was filmed. There was one night we got dinner, and Claudio was there and it was just a lot of fun to kind of see everybody again. You can imagine. Especially myself, I was 10 at the time and now I'm 29. It's quite an experience.
So you've gotten everyone involved then?
Ya. One gal, who played Cindy in the movie, she had never actually seen it before. And her sister had contacted me through Myspace and had said, "hey my sister si the one who's in this really bad movie. I'm sure it's her and I know hse did one, but she never found out about it." So I contacted her, and she had never seen the film or heard anything about it since. So she came to Salt Lake City and saw it. So that was incredible, just talking to her and getting her reaction, not seeing this movie for so long. Debra, the witch queen, she also has fun with this. She's very very nice, and very much kind of like her on screen performance (laughs). That's kind of how she is.
Dan Ewing played Arnold, who gets turned into the tree, and he screams "ohhhh myyyy goooddd!" He's an incredible individual. He's been gong to almost all the screenings with us. He used to act and play music. He had a small role in "Unaccompanied Minors" which was a Christmas movie, and "Return to Halloweentown" I think. And, Jason Stedman, who played Drew. He's alive and well, and he's also come to several screenings. Jason Wright, "that playboy son of the Coopers." He is got a couple of books out. He's done a lot of political commentary and he's a funny guy. He has a couple of political radio shows. He lives in Virginia. He will talk to politicians, and he will slip "Troll 2" references inadvertently into the conversation. It's funny because we've got a lot of these recorded. He'll be talking to a politician, and he'll say something like, "ya, he's evidence that Goblins still exist." And they'll be like "what?"
(laughs) How about the original director, Claudio Fragasso??
Claudio and Rosella, they don't really understand totally what's happening with this, and that's why I brought them to one of these screenings because I really wanted them to see. Because "Troll 2" is just one big happy accident. It's kind of the crappy little film "that could" so to speak. And Claudio doesn't really get it. He pulled me aside and said (in Italian accent) "Why, why Michael they laugh at every part of the movie? Why? I don't understand, it's not funny? He doesn't quite, quite get it, which is great.
It's great to see him be admired by his fans, and there's people going crazy. He's busy working right now, he's in LA saying "we must do Troll 3, we have everybody back." I remember one of the first times talking to him on the phone. I called him, and this was one of the first times I'd talked to him in years, and I told him about people throwing parties and the celebrations. And then there was this long pause on the phone, and then all of a sudden he's like, "Why, Why Michael after 18 years they decide they like this movie?" (laughs) So ya, it's interesting.
He's actually talking to producers right now.
The fact that he doesn't understand almost makes it even better.
Oh totally. Ya, it's great that he doesn't understand.
Because when you try to make something so bad as to be funny, it doesn't work.
Totally. And that's the thing that makes "Troll 2"... Everything is unintentional. You could not create lightning twice with "Troll 2," it just happened to be everybody came together in strange and odd circumstances and found themselves working on this movie. And the result was something that's completely unexpected you know?
Is he seriously trying to make "Troll 3" right now?
Ya he is. He's actually talking with producers right now. He wants to make a real "Troll 3." When we were in LA, we were going back to Utah with him and he said "Okay Michael, when we're in Utah we shoot a little promo for Troll 3. You run into McDonalds and grab a hamburger and scream, and we use it for promo." So he's thinking about it and he wants to do it.
It's funny too because we were in Italy, nobody really understood what was going on with this thing at all. And we intentionally didn't tell them. We wanted to get their fresh reaction. And Claudio was like, "Ya, I don't know why they like it. " He told me that he thought that it was shit in Italy, it didn't do well. He said it did so good in the US,... he said that he thinks "Troll 2" is a typical American movie. It's really interesting that these Italians thought that this is what American movies are.
I read that he took it strangely serious. that he was sort of making fun of horror films.
His whole movie had 1 goblin mask, and the producer went to them and said I want to make a movie about this 1 goblin mask, and it has to be a family film. So Claudio deiced to do everything green. Then once he came to Utah, he decided he wanted more masks so he told the Special FX guy to make him 6 more in a week. I think there were things that he was making fun of. He told me that he did not like fanatics or vegetarians. And a lot of people have asked me that, and we asked Claudio and he said yes, he does hate vegetarians because "they're fanatics." I'm sure there's a few things in there he was poking fun at.
Has there been talk about a special edition DVD?
Absolutely. For the longest time we didn't even know that a print existed. The first few screenings in fact were off the DVD, because everybody told us that there wasn't a print that existed, and MGM confirmed. And then all of a sudden on a dusty shelf, a "Troll 2" print surfaced. And MGM right now, we have talked with them but our plan is to get the doc done, and release a special Edition "Troll 2" DVD with a documentary and commentary. Kind of this whole "Best Worst Movie" packaging, so that's the plan. Then we have a lot of other distributors who want to do things. Right now we're trying to have fun and make the film and tell this story. This story is so alive, and there's not a lot of down time. We're so busy going to all these things.
So now we're going through and logging all of our footage from Italy. Right now we've probably got about 100 hours of footage. When it's all over we'll probably wind up with about 2 to 300 hours. So you can kind of imagine the task of just going through and trying to put all the pieces together to tell this story. And then after January we've got several other screenings to do. We have people talking to us from Chicago and Portland and Florida. All these different cities that are seeing what's happening and wanting to get involved.
The coolest thing is these fans. One girl in Houston had gone to a few of these screenings and sort of followed us. And she said that every time she goes to one of the screenings that it's like "a big hug." It's just so positive and just fun, laughing at this horrible movie. And every single screening is so positive. It's interesting that movie that is so bad can create such an opposite result.
Is there a thread that you find ties all these fans together?
Believe it or not. There's a lot of little similarities, but a lot of them are film majors, film students, art students, music producers, or in some sort of creative capacity. People that are creative and doing what they want to do with their lives.
Do you guys have plans to wrap shooting?
It's kind of hard because you have all these little variables that pop up that leave you wanting more. The Iraq footage for example, we were almost done with the teaser and all of a sudden I got an email from Iraq from someone who said, "I wanted to let you know that I brought "Troll 2" over to Iraq with me because it helped me through some tough times when I was a kid, and I wanted to laugh over here." He's a special operations soldier who had been throwing "Troll 2" parties in Iraq.
So we decided that the teaser wasn't done and we had to get a piece of that in there. So little things keep coming up. Right now planning to have shooting done in January, and have everything done later spring/early summer. We do have a couple of things that are happening, like Monsters HD a few years ago broadcast "Troll 2" in HD, and the creative director of the channel contacted me said that they loved the film and were getting ready to do a "Troll 2 -24 hours a day" type of thing and they wanted us to host it.
So that may be something that we'll work into the documentary in some form or another. So it's madness. it's completely different than shooting a feature or something that's scripted. With that you know it page for page and you know exactly when you're going to be done shooting. With a story as spontaneous as this, I'm going to leave myself flexible enough to make sure that I allow for the special things to come out of the blue.
Is there one moment you can pin-point as your favorite? Something that's really stuck with you?
Wow. There's a couple of things. Every time we go to these screenings and we see these fans, that's really the heart of this whole thing. These fans have taken personal interest in this film, and said let's champion this movie as the worst movie ever made. That's really cool to see. All of these fans that we've met, all these people and these relationships, they've really built from this awful movie, have really been the highlight of this whole thing. Even if this thing went no further tomorrow, the relationships that we've created just from this experience have been priceless.
Every screening that I'm at, and when I'm on stage, I try to really soak it up. I'll look out and there's 2,3 400 fans that are just loving this. I just soak it up and say, "Man, this is such a cool experience to be in." It's so positive. Getting to know George Hardy after all these years, I'd have to say that's probably one of the biggest highlights as well. Getting to know him again as "movie father" and "movie" son after 18 years as an adult, and actually being able to communicate with him as an adult has been incredible.
He is the nicest... it's so funny because his role is... you know that whole "You can't piss on hospitality!" line that everyone loves, but he is the most hospitable, down home, friendly guy you'll ever meet. That's been really really cool. It's hard because there are so many things around this that each corner reveals something new. Seeing Claudio again after all these years was incredible. Seeing him come to the LA screening and seeing his fans just go crazy.
That was a big big payoff for me. I had always hoped to be able to get Claudio to a screening so he could see this, and every screening before then I had kept thinking "if only Claudio were here." That he was able to come to screenings was a huge payoff. Great things come about from this whole thing and each week it's something new. I had four cities contact me last week saying they wanted to do something with "Troll 2." It's just fun, and it's totally unexpected, and like I said from the very beginning let's just have fun with this whole thing.
Thanks again for answering our questions.
No problem, thank you!