Jackie Gleason on Acid: How Vinny Guastaferro Landed a Role in ‘Shocker’

Long have we been fascinated with behind the scenes stories that detail how certain scenes came to be, or  parts were scored, but few are as genuinely entertaining as how Vinny Guastaferro came to his role in Wes Craven’s SHOCKER (1989).

Forget that Horace Pinker was supposed to supplant Freddy Krueger as Craven’s next franchise villain, because three years after Guastaferro made “Ya-Bang” a household word for horror fans, he was tasked with making a strong first impression on the legendary director.

Apparently that red dot had reach.

On the 29th anniversary of SHOCKER’s release, we share Guastaferro’s story.

“I’ll start out with a disclaimer saying I blame it on myself because I don’t know if I was in a good mood or a bad mood or if I felt like ‘Oh boy, another horror movie and why is my agent doing this and why should I be going out for a horror movie?’ But then I realized it was Wes Craven, and I knew who he was from his earlier movies, which some of them weren’t really that scary.

He was an excellent writer, and I went in the room, and I looked at this role on paper and I said ‘God, wouldn’t you know it, he’s not havin’ me like read some of the more mundane crap that I have to say at the beginning of the movie, he wants me to do the actual meltdown scene,’ the scene where I am possessed.

Guastaffero ShockerVery early in my career I had worked with Jackie Gleason, who was dominant on television during my childhood and was known as one of the best comedians in the business. He had a very broad comedic style, and when he used to yell and go ‘Pow! Zoom! To the moon!’ and all of that, I used that image of Jackie Gleason getting mad at Alice and having him be on acid.

I went into the audition room for Wes Craven and I just went fuckin’ nuts. I kicked over the coffee table, I laid on the floor and (growling, snarling noises), and did everything that probably you saw in the movie. I squirmed, I laid, I yelled, I fake shot, I did everything (chuckles) that I do in the movie in the audition room. And when I was done–I was having such a good time I got immersed in it–I looked up, Wes was smiling and the two casting people were sitting there with a look of fucking horror on their faces (chuckles). They looked like ‘What did this guy just do?’

The only thing that casting ever worries about is did I bring in somebody who’s gonna make me look bad by doing a bad job, or did I bring in somebody that the director’s going to like and hire? And the casting people were sitting there with that ambiguous look on their faces, Wes was already smiling, and then he went over to Gary Zuckabroad the casting director and he said ‘I want Vinny, so what can we do to get out of this session?’

And I swear, I’m just, I’m not bragging, I’m just telling you this is such a Hollywood story—the casting director had to go to the outer room where there are like six, eight other guys waiting to audition and say ‘I’m sorry everybody, something has come up and the director has to leave. We’ll have to call you again and re-schedule you for this,’ and he sent everybody home. I was called back into the room and he said ‘You’ve got the part. You got it on the spot. I want you to start workin’ on this now.’ And that’s how it went.

I mean, it was a fantastic experience for me because, once again to give you another analogy, what an actor likes to do is go into the room, throw their fastball–meaning whatever choices they’ve made, you don’t go in a room with a guy like Wes Craven and say ‘Well, how do I do this? How do I act crazy and possessed and deadly, and at the same time funny?’–ya know? You gotta go show them your variant of it, so I went in and threw my fastball and ended up getting the part. And that for me, was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. And then to work with Wes was just unbelievable.” 

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