Zack Ward is best known for his role as Scut Farkus, the bully from A Christmas Story. Zack joins the podcast this week to talk about his career and what fuels his passions. Zack has acted in television and movies, and now has taken a turn writing and directing as well, starting with his horror movie Restoration. Zack also remembers working on Freddy vs Jason and the TV series Titus. The legacy of A Christmas Story is lightning in a bottle and Zack remembers working on that film and how it changed his life forever.
Jeff: Throughout your career, you're obviously most known as an on-screen actor, but in the last few years, you've been wearing a ton of hats. You've been directing, writing and all that stuff. I actually wanted to bring up one of your more recent projects, where I think you did all three, was Restoration.
Zack Ward: Yeah, yeah.
Jeff: Can you talk a little bit about how that came to be? How you went from predominantly being an actor to now directing and writing and doing all of it?
Zack Ward: I think the whole thing has been a natural progression. When I started as an actor as a kid, my mom's an actress, and she would explain plays to me, Shakespearean plays, and because I was a little kid, I was eight years old, and I didn't really understand the thespian language obviously, so she would explain them to me. And what a lot of people don't know about Shakespeare is that he had a lot of rude body tales. Kind of like the Married With Children of ancient England as it were. She would explain it to me so that I would laugh, I would get the joke.
Zack Ward: And it was during a play... My mom was selected to perform in the Stratford Festival Theater, which is in Stratford, Ontario. It's a sister city to Stratford-on-Avon in England, so it's a big deal, and it's considered the most prestigious Shakespearean festival to play at in the world, big deal. So my mom is performing there and she's teaching me, explaining to me the stories, and I go to see The Taming of the Shrew, and there's a line in there that's very naughty. "My tail in your tongue," and it means my tail being my penis and your tongue being your mouth, so you're going to touch my wiener with your mouth.
Zack Ward: Anyway, it was explained to me in such a way that it was giggle-worthy as a child, without being tacky and gross. And I remember sitting there watching the play and the guy did his line and it was not good, and I remember sitting there thinking, "That guy sucks. I could do better than that," and I was eight years old. That's when I turned to my mom and I said, "I'd like to become an actor," and she said, "Absolutely not." So I fought her over that, and actually because my older brother convinced her that there was no standard for a normal life, so why not give it a shot?
Zack Ward: The reason I tell that story is I feel like so much of my career has been that exact same decision, which is watching somebody else do something and deciding that I could do it as well if not better. I think that's ragingly egotistical, but the difference is I actually did the work. There's a great story about JFK, and when he was a young guy he lived in a fancy neighborhood and he went to a private school, and he would walk by these giant houses with huge walls and gates and they always wondered what was on the other side. So he would take his hat from his private school uniform and he would throw it over the fence into the property, and the reason he would do that is because now he had to go get it.
Zack Ward: So he would force himself through the process, and I think that's why I've done what I've done, is because I've been blessed with the opportunity to do a lot of movies. Right now when we're speaking, although this may come out later, it's August 8th or 9th or something, and at the end of this month, August 31st, I turn 50 years old, and I will have been in the film industry as an actor for 40 years. So I've constantly been trying to recreate myself, not just solely for the desire to be relevant, but also for the ability to interact and make something.
Zack Ward: When you're on sets and you're watching the set and you're watching people write and you're embedded in that process, and sometimes as an actor you stand there and you do your line and then you booger off, but then you see this other magic going on, the building of the sets, the working the cameras, the editing room, the writers hashing out how to make that line work and, "Oh, why isn't it working?" And trying... There's so much juice in that, man. It's so exciting to get that perfect sentence or that perfect edit or that perfect camera angle or that writing, and I threw myself in it because I wanted more.
Zack Ward: I watched other people do stuff, and again, it was that experience where I saw someone... I'm in a movie that they're directing and I think they're a putz, and I watch the way that they run their set and the way they treat their crew and the way they get shots done, and to me it seems mediocre, and the difference between me and them is that they're doing it and I'm not. So how do I cross that bridge? How do I create the bridge to get across it and be that guy? That's the fantastic ignorance of youth, is you leap into the unknown thinking, "Bah, I got it," and then you stumble, fall and completely skin both your knees and break a jaw, and then you get back up and swing more punches. You're constantly learning how little you know about what you thought you already knew. So that's why I've been doing what I've been doing, if that answers that question.
Jeff: Totally does. And on a project like Restoration, where you're doing multiple things at once, are you finding... How can I word this? Are you finding it hard to juggle all of those balls together? Is one kind of coming out ahead of the other one? Is that how that's [crosstalk 00:06:12]?
Zack Ward: Question for you, what is the audience for your podcast when it comes to the level of language that's [crosstalk 00:06:20]-
Jeff: We are fucking death wish coffee, so please-
Zack Ward: There we go, okay.
Jeff: Yeah, please, please feel comfortable.
Zack Ward: It's fucking hard, dude.
Jeff: I bet. That's what I wanted to hear.
Zack Ward: It's a fucking nightmare. It is a fucking nightmare. It's really, really hard. It's really hard. One of my favorite experiences... Did you see Restoration?
Jeff: I haven't yet. You can flip me off.
Zack Ward: Oh, I got two for you.
Jeff: You can flip me off. I was so excited to learn that you were doing all these other things I hadn't known about in your career, so honest to god, I'm going to be watching it, and very, very shortly.
Zack Ward: I hope you do, and then pull some clips and throw it in here.
Zack Ward: Yeah, because no one's going to sue you over it, and it's fair usage anyways. I'll reference it. In Restoration, there's literally a scene where it's me talking to another guy, and we're standing outside, and I take out a cigarette, and we're looking at this electrical tower off in the distance, and these crows have gone by. So the shot comes down like this on the back of us, and then we're in the middle of conversation, it jumps in so we have coverage. I take out a cigarette. We're talking about something, and then I take out a cigarette, and I offer him one. He goes, "No thanks. Those things will kill you."
Zack Ward: And I'm like, "Well, if you're on the train already, you might as well enjoy the ride." He's like, "What do you mean?" I'm like, "Lung cancer." He's like, "Oh." "Yeah, lung cancer. I've got like a good nine months left." He's like, "I'm sorry. I had no idea." I'm like, "Nobody lives forever, right?" And it's very dark, and it's... without giving anything else away, it's a horror film, a suspense horror film. So you've got this scene that's... you're not chewing the scenery in it. You're like, "Ah, would you like a cigarette?" [inaudible 00:08:11]. And it's meant to be much more subtle and foreboding.
Zack Ward: So we're shooting that, and I'm directing the scene at the same time, so I'm looking at the monitor. It's flipped around towards me. I'm like, "Okay, a little here. Let me check the shot standing here. Rock this. Okay, we're good." And we're doing the scene, and it's got that foreshadowing aspect, so it's got to be a little bit, "What?" A little creepy, a little what, a moment, a little, "Oh my goodness." And the woman who's running in sound, she's like... In the middle of the take, middle of the take, my sound girl... I mean no offense to call her a girl. She was very young. She's like, "Zack, I think somebody wants you."
Zack Ward: Right behind me in the shot, I turn around and literally 30 feet away, standing dead center, is my dad. And my dad's a contractor and he was helping out to build some stuff on this, because it was a micro low budget film. So I turn around, I'm like, "Okay, hey dad," and he's standing there looking all flustered. He's like 67 at the time, 68, and he's standing all flustered. He's got some wood with him or whatever. And he's doing this towards me. He's like... in front of my entire crew. I'm like some little monkey, right?
Zack Ward: I'm like, "Of course," and I walk over. I'm like, "Hey, what's going on?" He's like, "So, I was coming here, and then I got lost." I'm like, "Uh-huh." He's like, "But then I found it, and now here I am." Like cool. We're filming. He's like, "Oh, right. Okay. Well good." Like great, thank you. We're going to go again.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Zack Ward: It was really hard. It was a very hard thing to do, it was a very hard film to make. I hope you enjoy it. I look forward for you taking scenes and putting it in there.
Zack Ward: I wrote it. James Cullen Bressack and I wrote that together, and the movie Bethany as well. We did those side by... Shot each one in 14 days, with three days down in between. Same crew, a lot of the same locations, and I was in both of them. And Bethany... I wasn't going to be in it, but the guy who was going to play the male lead backed out at the last second. It was like, "Okay. All right, here we go." But yeah, it was very hard.
Zack Ward: My mom is also in Restoration, and she's in this insane asylum and dealing with a bunch of stuff and I have to walk her through those scenes, and it's that dynamic where you're like, "Do I tell my mom everything's great because it'll make her happy, but she's doing a wah, wah kind of job, she's walking through it, she's phoning it in? Or do I push her buttons to get her where I want her to be, so that she's proud of her performance later." I'm like, "Well, I have to make that choice." I had to whisper in her ear and bring up a family issue of her brother who's dead and she's going to miss and bring my 80-year-old mother to tears, knowing that that would be the take that she'd be proud of. And she has the single tear running down her face, and it's a fucking heartbreaker.
Zack Ward: It was really hard, man. It was really fucking hard. I learned a lot. When I hear about people, like, "He did his first film, and it was only a $5 million budget," I'm like, "You can eat a pound of cock, you prick," because ours was... I would say the shooting budget was $75,000.
Jeff: Wow, wow.
Zack Ward: For a feature film with full distribution, and that got very good reviews, and people liked the movie. And look, I don't think it's a perfect film. I watch it and be like, "Oh, that could be better. Oh, I wish I'd gotten that. Oh, that was great. Ah, but this could've..." But for $75,000, to shoot a movie in 14 days, it's a lot of work.
Zack Ward: But it's worth it. It's definitely worth it.
Jeff: Well honestly, it's inspiring to hear you talk about something like that too, because going even back to that JFK story, you're throwing your hat over the fence in that. You're literally being like... Because any lesser man could've just been like, "I'm just going to try maybe to direct this and see where it goes," or, "I've got an idea to write a movie and I'm going to work with my buddy and write it and put it into the hands of people that'll make it their own." You did all of that for win or for fail, and I think there's a huge, inspiring story in there, and it's really cool to hear you talk about that, that you came out of it saying, "Yeah, it was hard," but you learned from it, and it was an experience that you don't regret. That's really awesome.
Zack Ward: Thanks, man. I really appreciate that.
Jeff: It's really awesome.
Zack Ward: I appreciate that. There's definitely things in that film that I'm incredibly fucking proud of. Incredibly proud of. I would say to anybody, you get the opportunity to make something as opposed to just talking about it, go after it. As I'm sure you know this, your team is everything. How you communicate. What's the most important thing? The facts or whether or not you win the argument? I really don't give a shit about winning the argument. I want to get the right information that'll solve the problem in the quickest way possible and just move forward. And it is that thing. It's a constantly ongoing learning curve, because there's so many new, exciting things to work on and try. But yeah, thanks man. I hope you see the film and tell me your thoughts.
Zack Ward: [crosstalk 00:14:15] podcast. Let me know.
Jeff: I definitely will. Honestly, again, a testament to someone who's been in the industry for 40 years like you said, to still be excited to learn new things, to still want to go out there and do that stuff, that's awesome. That really is.
Zack Ward: Thanks, dude.
Jeff: I've got to ask on the side of horror and that kind of thing, because you yourself are connected to a lot of horror. Name drop, Resident Evil, Freddy vs. Jason, you've got your credits in that kind of stuff. Have you always been a horror fan? Was it always, like when you wanted to write and direct a movie, was it like, "Okay, I'm going to do a horror movie?"
Zack Ward: No. I've always loved... let's see. My first favorite film when I was a kid was Highlander. There was also Phantom of the Rock Opera. What was it? Yeah. It was, yeah, Phantom of the Rock Opera. I grew up in the '70s, so there was some weird films out there. I don't know. To me, horror movies, depending upon the type of horror film, they encapsulated all the aspects of human character dynamic, where the characters are dealing with their own inner fears and how they overcome those processes.
Zack Ward: It wasn't that I just wanted to make a horror film, it was that, honestly, they have the widest audience base, because if you and I tell a joke to each other here, that may not travel well to Germany or China or Italy or other countries. They may not get that, so you're going to have a very limited audience on a comedy, than you would on an action film or a horror film. So I've always enjoyed practical effects. I've been working with a company called Illusion Industries for, gosh, like the last almost 20 years, 15 years at least. So I know a lot about practical effects, and I understand how to see that holistically, and when it comes to designing the shot and how to put together the prosthetics for it or how to shoot that stuff.
Zack Ward: I've been inundated with that my whole life, and then had the luxury of working with Academy Award winners who build this stuff and sculpt the most amazing things you've seen. So that was the answer. Like horror films sell the best. They travel the best. There's horror films, action movies and talking dog, animal. [crosstalk 00:16:50] films for kids. So those travel well. You're also making that balance of... unless you're financing the movie yourself, you have a responsibility to your investor to get them their money back as a good business investment, so you're trying to balance out art and finance. So that's also an incumbent responsibility.
Zack Ward: As the writer, producer, director, actor and editor, you're trying to wear all those hats and take care of all those people, and at the same time your own artistic vision, without sacrificing too much of everybody else's position. I guess tricky. But yeah, I like horror films because I think that they can lend themselves to a character arc that really drives actors through their paces and can actually resonate. Restoration was really based on something that happened to my wife. Her brother's a general contractor, and he was in Seattle and he had opened up a wall in an old building and found a Ouija board in there.
Jeff: Oh gosh.
Zack Ward: Right? I'm not a superstitious person, but the story behind Ouija boards is that when they get funky and you get bad messages from the other side, you're supposed to take it to a cemetery, a holy ground, burn it in, and then bury it. So the fact that someone put it in a wall of an 1800 building, so it's 100-and-something years old, where it's got [inaudible 00:18:32] plaster, and it takes a lot of work, it's not like dropping it behind drywall, so somebody was really pissed. And I love the idea of finding something behind the wall, so that was what I based the story on for Restoration.
Zack Ward: Then the other thing is I don't believe in ghosts. I don't believe in angels and demons and all the mythology. I think it's wonderful stories, but I don't believe in any of it. So if something like that came into my life, if I actually saw a ghost, it would fuck me up, because that means a whole bunch of other things exist that are outside of my understanding. And not only would it fuck me up for my perception of the universe, but also, how do I interact with people anymore? Because before two plus two equals four, and this is what phones are and this is technology and science, and now that's out the fucking window, and I have to turn around and say, "There's ghosts."
Zack Ward: Who's going to continue talking to me? Who's going to relate to me like I'm not a crazy person? More than likely, I'll lose all my friends, and no one will talk to me anymore, because I'm like, "Oh, I got abducted by aliens." "Okay, dude. Nice working with you. Bye bye." Right?
Zack Ward: I wanted to add that layer to it to raise the stakes in the sense of using our reality as the reality and then stepping beyond it to see how it would impact people's relationships and how they see themselves and the world around them.
Jeff: That's so cool, and I love how you describe horror too, because that's kind of the way I feel about horror as well as a genre. I've always said that horror is like the finish line of any genre. If you take any other genre, drama, comedy, whatever, and you interject something gory or something horrific into that, then it's kind of a brick wall and it's like that movie that you're making or that creative thing takes a 90 degree turn. With horror, if you start there, if you start at the finish line, you can add comedy and drama and action and all this stuff in there and it's still a horror movie. You don't have to jump that ship. I love that genre as well. And it makes some of most iconic stuff out there. That's why it travels so well throughout different cultures and different people's perceptions and that kind of thing. So that's really cool that that was your take on that.
Jeff: Kind of speaking on that, and I just wanted to bring this up as a fan, I mentioned this earlier, speaking of iconic stuff, and even though you don't believe in ghosts, you literally got to basically embody one of the most iconic ghosts ever as Freddy. I wanted to talk a little bit about your time on Freddy vs. Jason, because it wasn't like you were a character on the movie who meets their untimely death from Freddy or Jason like everyone else in that movie did. You literally, technically speaking, were Freddy. What was that like in that moment?
Zack Ward: Intimidating.
Jeff: That's a great answer. You're filling Robert Englund's shoes at that moment.
Zack Ward: Yeah, and I was very fortunate because Robert was on set.
Zack Ward: Feel free to pull clips from this. I started off in the bathtub, which was hilarious because I'm already white as hell to start off, and then it's soaking in red-stained.... I was hot pink for eight days. I just looked like a purple smurf. It was ridiculous. I would spend about two, three hours going through the works, prosthetics to get the arms put together, because that's where I had slit my wrist, and there were all these tubes running down the back for one arm gag, and then another one when the camera's behind me and I'm doing all this funky stuff and it's pussing and it's smoke and all this stuff.
Zack Ward: Robert was there, and he would walk me through it because it was like he taught me how to do the movement, and what was the dance style? What's the guy? Famous choreographer who did All That Jazz. That guy.
Jeff: Yeah, I'm blanking on it too.
Zack Ward: Yeah, he-
Jeff: I'll put it in here and be like, "That guy."
Zack Ward: Yeah. But it was all about being off set and making it like... this glove weighed 100 pounds and dropping your arm down and one foot in front of the other like a dancer, as if you had the hat on. I did the voice, and then they dubbed the voice over. But I can't be mad at him for it. They needed to do it. It worked. My version was good, but he's fucking Freddy Krueger. Like what are you going to do? Got to bow to the master. It was interesting, because in that role you get to play sad, depressed, missing your younger brother, messing with him psychologically, and then, "Oh, that's right. They all forgot," that type of thing. [crosstalk 00:23:54] wacky.
Jeff: Absolutely incredible. That's why I had to bring it up because it's just like to be an actor portraying another character as a different character, it's like what a mindfuck for you. That's just so cool, and I'm glad that Robert was there with you.
Speaker 3: That's why I needed Chase to kill for me to get them to remember. But now he just won't stop.
Jeff: I also wanted to talk about, speaking on your career, you're not only known for a lot of your roles on the big screen but also on the small screen as well. You've worked so much on television in countless different TV shows and so many cool different roles you've gotten to play. Probably I would be safe to say most known for your work on Titus, and that show, correct me if I'm wrong, you did in front of a live studio audience, correct?
Zack Ward: Oh yeah.
Jeff: That's got to be like Broadway, right? Is that a whole other monster than working on a film set, or even working on like say a sitcom that's like closed caption or closed set or whatever?
Zack Ward: Yeah, totally different. Totally different methodology. I've always made the comparison to being at the beach. So if you went to the beach, and you were wearing shorts and you walked into the ocean and you closed your eyes, you could feel the water go out and come in and go out and come in, you can feel that wave, that energy, and you feel the exact same thing with a live audience. We had about 380 people in the live audience.
Zack Ward: Yeah, it changes your timing. I mean I learned so much from doing that show. Chris Titus and Jack Kenny and Brian Hargrove taught me so much, and there were so many amazing, talented writers. That's really what got me inspired to start writing. You'd memorize your lines, you'd run it to death, and then when you're doing it live in front of an audience, they laugh at things that you don't expect, and you have to hear that without turning and looking at them. You have to be communicating this way, cheating for camera, opening up, because you're [inaudible 00:26:04] for camera, and then they're out there and you hear them start to laugh about something, and so instead of just moving onto the next thing, you might lean into that joke a little bit more with a facial expression, ham it up a little bit, or look flummoxed.
Zack Ward: And because they're not only watching you from the seats, but they've got big monitors on top of where they sit, so they can see the close-up of you, so they're reading the subtle nuances of your face. So you're playing into a couple of different levels at the same time, and it's fun, dude. It is so much fun.
Jeff: It sounds like your editing in real time as you're going.
Zack Ward: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jeff: That's incredible, because again, as a fan of the show, you had, with your character, as Chris Titus' brother, you had some of the most batshit lines on that show, 100%, and now that you explained it like that, I'm starting to remember. It's like, yeah, you would have to kind of hold for laughter longer than some of the other characters, because you just said something so ridiculous that everybody's losing their mind, but you can't just look at the camera and be like, "Ha ha, I got you." That's crazy.
Zack Ward: There was one line that Stacy Keats said... There's an episode where Chris takes Stacy... Stacy Keats plays our father, and Chris Titus takes his pickup truck and customs it out, and it's got flames on it and everything, and Stacy looks at it. Of course Chris is all excited, like, "Look dad, look what I did for you," and Stacy's line is something along the lines of like, "Oh, this is a cop magnet. I might as well be driving a powdered doughnut." The way he delivered it... dude, the audience fell out. Just fell out.
Zack Ward: And we were trying to hold. Usually its one 1000, two 1000, three, next line. And we just gave up. We were like, "All right, that's it," because the audience just died. They just lost their shit. Because Stacy's face, like... The line is good, but the way Stacy would deliver it was just so brutally funny. You would have moments like, "Yeah, we can't get through this. We've just got to start again," because the audience just died on it. It was fun.
Jeff: Oh my gosh. Yeah, it looked like that show was just so much fun to create. I mean, it's so much obviously from the mind of Chris Titus and his experience, but I mean, you guys as an ensemble made, I'm personally saying this, I think a gem of television for sure.
Zack Ward: Thank you. I feel the same way. I'm hoping that now that Disney has bought out Fox, that Disney will want to repurpose the show and throw it on to their streaming channel, because Fox squashed it-
Jeff: I know.
Zack Ward: ... because it got in a shit fight with Chris. But yeah, it was really ahead of its time, and it did some things that were pretty fucking ballsy, and pretty exciting. Yeah, it was neat. It was something that was rare to be part of.
Jeff: Yeah, it really seemed that way. And like you said, you got to learn a lot from there too, sparking writing in there and comedy for you and all that. That brings me... I want to go all the way back. You said earlier on this podcast that you were eight years old watching a play and being like, "I can do better. I want to be an actor," and you said that your mom said no initially, right?
Zack Ward: Right.
Jeff: Your first on-screen role obviously is what... one of the things you're most known for is A Christmas Story. Was that the first audition you went on to try to go for that?
Zack Ward: No. I started acting when I was 10. I auditioned for a whole bunch of commercials. I got my first commercial right before I turned 11, and I did three or four commercials before I auditioned for A Christmas Story.
Jeff: Do you remember what they were commercials for?
Zack Ward: There was Dolly Madison ice cream. There was Jello.
Zack Ward: Yeah, yeah. This is what I did in the Jello commercial. But you've got to remember, back then I was adorable.
Jeff: Of course.
Zack Ward: I didn't have glasses. I had a little bow tie. I was like, "Jello..." Didn't say anything, just like... Yeah. There were like three or four commercials I did before I got Christmas Story, and that was my first feature film. How lucky is that, dude? That is crazy.
Jeff: It's incredible, and I've heard... I mean, I love that movie as much as the rest of the world, at least America, because we run it forever, and I mean, what is that like, to be part of an institution? It's not even like your first major motion picture was a movie that did well. Your first major motion picture is a movie that's played for 24 hours a day every single year.
Zack Ward: Yeah, it's not weird for me because it's been my life for so long, if that makes sense. But we both know that the math on that could not be duplicated. You couldn't be like, "Oh, I'm going to make a movie. It's going to be good. It's not going to do all the theaters, but then it's going to play forever." Like you can't plan that. That's just nuts. It takes so many people to make something good, and there's still just blind fucking luck that happens as well. Having that being part of my life... Of course I can't imagine my life without it now. And that's just because it's been my life experience.
Zack Ward: In the beginning it was strange. When I was 17, working in a deli in Toronto where I'm from, and people were like, "Oh, we saw this thing of yours. Weren't you that kid?" I'm like, "Yeah, but I'm doing other stuff, man." Chip on the shoulder. "Yeah, that's when I was 13. I'm all grown up. I'm 17 now. [inaudible 00:32:42] I totes can do more stuff." As you get older, you appreciate more so the rarity of that experience, because I mean, you look at all these giant movies that come out from studios that suck and die, and nobody wants to watch them again. And to be a part of A Christmas Story... I mean, they really caught lightning in a bottle, and it's pretty awesome.
Speaker 4: Scut Farkus is staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes. So help me god, yellow eyes.
Jeff: For sure, for sure. Another thing I heard about the movie, maybe you can talk a little bit about this, is that... I mean, during that time there were a lot of movies coming out where the cast was predominantly kids, and I've heard that A Christmas Story, that the conditions for you guys... it was a great experience. Is that true?
Zack Ward: Well, I don't remember a lot of kids' movies prior to A Christmas Story. The Goonies came out afterwards, Home Alone came out afterwards-
Jeff: Okay. To clarify, I did mean that you were in what started that boon of that, and I just meant that there's many different Hollywood stories of directors either working very well with a kid cast or not, and I've heard that A Christmas Story... like you guys had a really good experience. Is that true?
Zack Ward: Yeah, we had a great experience. Bob Clark was a wonderful man. Lovely guy. He's in the movie if you've ever seen the film. The old man standing outside looking at the lamp and the Swede walks up and he's like, "What's that?" He goes, "It's a major award." Well the guy who says what's that and is wearing... that's Bob Clark. It's funny, because if you watch the movie it's supposed to take place in the 1940s, and he's wearing a rip nylon down fill jacket. Not a thing in 1943. It wasn't a thing. But he was the director, so fuck it. He was awesome. He was an amazingly talented, very sweet, very patient man, and he got what he wanted out of it, and he made a great film.
Zack Ward: I think when it came to casting the kids, he really let us who be who we were. Not that I'm a natural asshole, but... Okay, maybe a little bit, but he actually made sure that Yano, who plays Grover Dill, and myself, stayed separate from the other kids, so that there was always an interesting tension there, that we weren't too friendly during the filming. But it was great. I mean, everybody got along super well, and to this day, we're all very good friends. We shared that bond of being part of something that, like you said, people watch 24 hours a day twice a year and their kids and their grandparents watch it. So yeah, it was a fantastic experience.
Jeff: I absolutely love your character, for the sheer fact that personally speaking, I grew up with bullies, a lot of us did, and I'm not... again, obviously you're not playing yourself, but a story like that needed that, needed the bully, and needed to be able to see that you could overcome that, and that I think is something that is lost a lot in storytelling now. It's a testament to being able... for you to being able to portray a character like that, and that character living through the test of time. I think that's amazing.
Zack Ward: Well I appreciate that. For me, I went to eight different schools before junior high, and I was always the new kid named Zack, with no dad, didn't play hockey, which is a big deal. I grew up in Canada. And a miniature poodle named Tinkerbell.
Zack Ward: So there's an ass-beating waiting to happen. For me, I was making fun of the bullies who beat me up, that I would get in fights with all the time. What's sad is like I was in Nebraska, Omaha, Nebraska, and I was doing a fundraiser for a kidney foundation, and they were screening the movie, and I was signing autographs outside, and... Beautiful museum, by the way. If you ever get a chance to go to Omaha, Nebraska, and it's not the middle of winter, dude, it's stunning. Like it's shockingly beautiful buildings and lovely people. I'm out in the hall signing, and these people come out and they're like, "Oh, they cut your scene." I'm like, "What?" Like, "Oh yeah, they cut the scene where Ralphie beats you up." I was like, "What?"
Zack Ward: Apparently Warner Brothers had just taken that out of the film on their own volition, without asking permission from anybody, because that would offend somebody, and it's like, "Dude, revisionist history is a lie. We all have bumps and warts and mistakes in our past, and our job is to be better than that. But how do you know that if you can't access that information?" The whole thing with A Christmas Story is that... it's kind of like Homer's The Iliad, in the sense that the boy has to go on this adventure to become a man, a coming of age, and earn his father's respect. The BB gun is not a toy, it's not just a present. It's his father respecting him enough to think he's not going to shoot himself in the foot with it, and him saying, "Yes, I see you as this now."
Zack Ward: And I think that's why it's always been a galvanizing story regardless of your background, ethnicity or culture, because you want to earn the respect of the people that you care about. Mother, father, older brother, sister, whatever it is. And taking away the hurdles that Ralphie has to overcome to stand on his own two feet, I think is a mistake, and... It reminds me... in the Catholic church, there was one Pope in like the 1500s or the 1600s, who went around and chopped off all the penises on all the statues, because he was offended by penises. As far as I'm aware, we still have penises. They're still part of the universe we live in, and denying the existence of penises doesn't make penises go away.
Zack Ward: I mean, this is somebody who fucked with Da Vinci's work by chopping off a penis. So I'm not comparing Bob Clark to Da Vinci. I think that would be a little egotistical and arrogant on my part, but I will say it is an art piece that is incumbent... not incumbent. That is full into itself. And it stands as the story is, and the character arc is what the kid goes through to become that person, and if you take that away, then what is the hero's journey? Are we going to pretend that nobody's mean ever, and that everybody's just going to have to need a timeout when they get triggered and needs to sit in a corner and find a safe place?
Zack Ward: I don't think that's a reality. I don't think solving all your problems with your fists is for smart people. I think that's a rabbit hole you fall down and it can destroy your life. That's a fact. And there's a lot of ways to stand up to a bully that don't require you punching them in the nose. On the flip side, there are times when you need to punch somebody in the nose. That's just a fact. It always will be. So it is a sticky wicket, but it's funny, the people who love the movie A Christmas Story don't want to see that stuff cut out, and they do show it to their kids, and then have a conversation with their kids about it, and that's how the parents and the children interact. And grandpa and grandma could say, "When I was your age, I did this instead, and boy, it was great that we have options now." And yes, but just denying that it exists is dangerous.
Jeff: Yeah, it is very dangerous, and like you said, it ruins the character's arc in the story by taking that out, because Ralphie past that point has more confidence, is a little bit of a different person, and it's because he stood up to his bully. Again, not to say that beating up someone is the right way, but the way that the story was written, of course that had to happen. I was actually going to bring it up, but you said it, my parents had that conversation with me. I was dealing with bullies. I saw that movie as a kid, and I remember my dad sitting me down and having a conversation about how to deal with bullies because of that movie.
Zack Ward: Really?
Zack Ward: No kidding.
Jeff: And that created that conversation. I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was literally probably along the lines of, "You should not go and beat them up, but it is not wrong for you to want to try and stand up for yourself."
Zack Ward: Defend yourself.
Jeff: To defend yourself, and I think that's really smart. And that sucks that that screening-
Zack Ward: It's crazy.
Jeff: ... took it out.
Zack Ward: It's crazy.
Jeff: Yeah. That's really-
Zack Ward: And they didn't even ask for that, so it was just done willy nilly.
Jeff: Wow. That kind of brings me to the theme of this show. I say this a lot. We are all fueled by death. We all want to leave this world a little different before we inevitably leave it for good. And throughout your entire career you have been learning, growing, doing so many different things and leaving your mark on the world in incredible ways, and I have to ask, what fuels you to keep going, to keep wanting to learn, to keep wanting to work and to keep doing the amazing stuff you get to do?
Zack Ward: First, thank you very much for the compliments. That was very nice of you. From my side of it, I'm doing my best to do my best, and honestly feel like I live in a vacuum most of the time. I live in Los Angeles, so basically I'm just a has been piece of shit here in LA. That's the way it's treated and-
Jeff: In LA.
Zack Ward: LA. So I deeply appreciate the kind words. I never did any of this in order to be famous. I never did any of this in order to walk the red carpet. None of that really mattered to me, because when I was a kid, I grew up around it. I grew up around... backstage, playing with swords and armor and watching people build stuff and hanging out with my mom's friends, even when I was like six years old, and they were all designers and wardrobe builders, all these different things, and watching these people come together to make something so majestic, that was always the attraction to me. To be part of that group, not be above it or separate, but to be molding the clay with everyone else.
Zack Ward: What drives me now... it's interesting. Like I said, I'm turning 50 years old, and that's a weird fucking moment. How old are you?
Jeff: I am 38.
Zack Ward: Okay. The weirdest one, I'm sure you've heard this from someone who's like, "Oh, I'm turning X age," and like, "Oh, you look great. Oh, I never would've thought that." Being on the other side of that sucks. It fucking sucks. "Yeah, I'm turning 50." "Oh, you don't look a day over so and so." And you just want to go, "Shut the fuck up. I don't want to hear that. The fact that you're pandering to me with that conversation..." Oh, I'm now that guy. Son of a bitch. The difference when you're turning 50 years old is your clock is ticking, and it's not just ticking for how long you live because you never know, but if you're lucky enough to live til your 85 years old, how compos mentis are you going to be the whole time? How smart are you going to be? How aware? How physically capable are you going to be to execute what's in your head, and is your head even there? So you definitely are looking at it... like over the stopwatch.
Zack Ward: I think it's compartmentalized sometimes into doing the... That sounds so cheesy. Doing the best you can when you can do something. I'm directing a movie now, and everything that could go wrong did, let's put it that way. Everything that could fucking go wrong did. And yet, you can spend time begrudging and bitching about it, and trust me, I fucking will, privately, but really when it comes down to getting back to work, that's the exciting part for me. Finding that new opportunity to create something that excites me, and I think will excite other people. That's in a whole bunch of different ways of fucking doing stuff.
Zack Ward: For example, in the movie I'm directing, Patsy Lee, it's kind of like Big Trouble in Little China meets The Goonies, right? I've got the old man in the [inaudible 00:46:52] shop and he pulls out the ancient book and inside the ancient book is a secret information. Well, I got fucked by my prop guy, who stole our props, and I'm having to do pickups and build this stuff. So I asked around to get a bid on making his old ancient leather book. $3000. I'm like, "I don't have $3000," so I went to YouTube to go learn how to make this thing, and I've been buying leather and handing this stuff out and making my own leather book til 2:00 in the morning every night. I'll show you a picture of my leather book. Here we go.
Jeff: Look at that thing. That looks fucking old as shit.
Zack Ward: Isn't that cool [crosstalk 00:47:33]?
Jeff: Yeah, and you made that.
Zack Ward: I made that.
Jeff: What the hell?
Zack Ward: And my buddy, Jerry Constantine, 3D printed out the amulet in the center, and then that key thing comes out, and you see the chains around it as well?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
Zack Ward: Then aging the leather and building and bossing all that stuff.
Zack Ward: I don't want to be a professional book maker, but what I'm excited about is when James Hong, a very old Chinese man, 90 years old, who's starring in the film, when he pulls out this book and he puts it down, and we have that money shot over his shoulder of the... "Oh, the book," and then he pulls out the key to release the chain and starts to open it. That's a fucking cool shot, man. There will be a little dust on it. He has to blow it off and then start to open it. Right? So sometimes it's hard to be driven by the overreaching goal, because sometimes it's too big to digest.
Zack Ward: Sometimes I need to go make a fucking book. I can wrap myself up in that process for that moment, and know that that's going to look so sexy, and it encapsulates so many story points that it'll be a great moment in the trailer, and I can see that in my head. Sometimes it's the little things I've got to break down, in order to be able to chew it. Otherwise it's overwhelming and I just... I get vapor locked if it's too much. Does that make sense?
Jeff: Totally, dude. Totally. Wow. Honestly, hearing you talk about your passion for what you do is so inspiring. I'm inspired, and I know that our listeners and viewers are going to get inspired from hearing you talk to, because I want to go out and create stuff now. And I think that's the whole thing about it, is like you instill that in people because of what you do, and what you do is to create stuff, so it's just this cyclical cycle of awesome, and-
Zack Ward: Thanks. I really appreciate that. I really appreciate that.
Jeff: I can't thank you enough for being on this show, and finally here I've got to just ask, for everybody who's watching and listening, what is the best way to follow your journey? Do you use social media at all? Do you-
Zack Ward: I do.
Jeff: [crosstalk 00:49:57] website or whatever? What's the best way to follow you?
Zack Ward: Yeah. The best way is on Twitter. Total Zack Ward. T-O-T-A-L Z-A-C-K W-A-R-D, and it's the same on Instagram.
Zack Ward: My website, somebody hacked it, it turned into a piece of shit and it's exhausting and fuck that. By the way, if anybody's going to hit me up, I... You hit me up on Twitter, didn't you?
Jeff: I might've. I definitely follow you on Twitter and Instagram, yes.
Zack Ward: Okay. I'm the one handling that myself.
Zack Ward: So if you send me a direct message, and you're actually asking me something... There's two things I hate on Twitter. When someone DMs me and it's like one of those random things you have to fill out in order for their... I don't even know how that fucking works. I don't have time for that. And my other pet peeve is when someone direct messages like, "Hey, are you an actor?" I'm like, "Motherfucker. It literally says Zack Ward, child actor turned actor, grown-up child, and yes, I am Scut Farkus. But beyond that, you're on the internet, man. Like you can Google shit right now. Why are you texting me for me to Google shit for you? How dumb are you now?" That's pretty stupid. That's my one pet peeve, is like, "If you have a question, Google it first before you bother me with it, because I would give you the same respect."
Jeff: Exactly. Well please, everybody who's listening and watching this, please tweet at Zack exactly who he is so he remembers who he is.
Zack Ward: Yeah, and I will say thank you again for the coffee.
Zack Ward: It is, like I was telling you before, incredibly smooth. The lack of acid is fantastic, because otherwise it makes my belly do flip flops. And I was saying before, even three, four hours after I brewed the pot, I go back, it still tastes delicious, as opposed to like Starbucks. No offense to Starbucks, but their coffee after about an hour tastes like ass.
Jeff: Yeah. Hey, it's high praise, and honestly I cannot thank you enough for talking with me on the show.
Zack Ward: Oh my pleasure. This has been a ball, dude.