Michael Gross, in a somewhat quiet way, has become something of a genre icon. Tremors was released 28 years ago and the franchise has endured for as many years, with a forthcoming sixth entry on the way. Gross has appeared as the gun-toting, badass giant worm hunter Burt Gummer in every single one of the movies, including the upcoming Tremors 6: A Cold Day in Hell.
Good or bad, not many franchises in the history of cinema can say they lasted nearly three decades and have six movies under their belt. Michael Gross has provided a common thread that weaves all of these movies together and all of these years later, they’re still finding new ways to throw ol’ Burt Gummer some curveballs. This latest installment in the franchise is no different.
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell sees Burt Gummer and his son Travis Welker once again neck deep in Graboids and Ass Blasters in a new location. This time, the franchise makes its way to Canada to look at a series of deadly giant worm attacks. Burt suspects that Graboids are secretly being weaponized once at a remote research facility located in the arctic tundra. Unfortunately, before he can prove this theory to his colleagues, he is sidelined by Graboid venom. He has just 48 hours to live and the only hope is to create an antidote from fresh venom, which means someone is going to have to milk a Graboid.
When it comes to genre movies, people tend to love the villains, such as Chucky, Jason or Michael Myers. But these franchises need their heroes too and that’s what Burt Gummer has been to Tremors, through the good the bad and everything in between. Michael Gross is so dedicated to the character and series that he even appeared in the prequel Tremors 4: The Legend Begins.
So what is it that makes Burt Gummer tick? What’s kept Michael Gross interested in playing the part for so long? In honor of the upcoming release of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, we got to chat with the actor about this and more. So, without further adieu, here’s our chat with Michael Gross.
What is it as an actor that’s kept you in the Tremors franchise for so long?
Michael Gross: It’s something I only do every few years. Between Tremors and Tremors 2 there was probably three or four years there. Between four and five, there were 13 years I didn’t do him. So it’s not as if it’s been a daily grind, for one thing. What keeps me coming back, the long and short of it is the character. The comic genius that these people first wrote, Steve Wilson and Brent Maddock, it was like discovering gold. Comic gold. It was a blessing because it took place immediately after seven years of playing one of America’s nicest fathers on Family Ties. The first one immediately answered the question of, would there be life after Family Ties and what kind of character would it be? The answer was yes, and it could be a vastly different sort of character, which excited me to no end.
What is it that’s allowed you to keep the character of Burt Gummer fresh over the years?
Michael Gross: What’s kept me coming back is his comic imbalance. The fact that he’s so extreme. The comic paranoia. The obsessive-compulsive disorder. He’s over the top. He’s clearly out of balance and that’s just fun to play. It’s an interesting line to walk because one could argue in this day and age that there are men, usually white males, in the United States, who are causing a great deal of difficulty with their gun collection. They are a threat to people. It’s a fine line we have to walk, keeping this man with an arsenal funny and maintaining a sense of humor about that in a time when there are very real dangers from people having too many weapons. One of the ways we do that in this franchise and one thing that we’ve always insisted upon is, there’s a rule; Burt never points his gun at another human being. Whatever his weapon, it’s never pointed at another human being. In that sense, the Tremors franchise always has been and always will be a kind of throwback to the 30s and 40s and 50s horror films where the good guys are the people and the bad guys are the monsters. It’s that simple.
I’ve watched every single one of them and I never noticed that.
Michael Gross: That’s how we keep it clean and old-fashioned and family friendly. We’re not shooting other human beings. They’re not the enemy. The monsters are the enemies. And Burt himself is a very noble man too. He puts his life on the line for others. You could certainly argue he’s nuts, out of balance, a little paranoid.
Michael Gross: He has a sense of honor that is about respecting his weapons and about respecting other human beings. He’ll dress somebody down if they’re not doing their job properly or if he believes they’re being a complete idiot, but you don’t kill them for it. There’s one enemy for Burt and that’s the creatures.
There’s the new TV series coming out and I know you’ve said you’re not going to be in it. Do you know why they didn’t feel the need to reach out and include you?
Michael Gross: My understand is, and again, I know as much or as little as anybody else does, and these are from Kevin Bacon’s own words. He said that he wanted to explore that character of Val all these years later. Now, what brought him to that at this moment in time? I have no idea. I just heard today that Fred Ward will be joining him in this. So, I think it’s he wants to focus on the exploration of a friendship between these two guys. To be honest with you, I don’t know if there’s a monster in it. I have no idea. I don’t know whether this is a character study. I would have liked Kevin to be a part of the franchise for all these years and I’m sorry that didn’t happen because I enjoyed working with him and loved working with Fred Ward in Tremors one and two. I’m disappointed that we’re not all together, let’s just put it that way. I’m disappointed when any great ensemble breaks up. I’ve had a blast keeping the franchise alive and going with the help of Universal Studios. I don’t do it by myself. We’re 28 years since that first one came out, so I’m thrilled to play the part I am because I just adore Burt. Why they made the creative choices? I have no idea. I know probably as much as you do and that’s about it.
There are not a lot of franchises around, or ever, that can say they’ve made it to six movies, especially over the span of 28 years. What can fans expect from this one? What do you want people to take away?
Michael Gross: It is called A Cold Day in Hell and for the first time we’re going to be in a climate that is not arid. We’re going to be in a climate that is not the desert. This is the first time we’re going to find ourselves in the arctic. It’s a very different change of scene and that itself is kind of fun. Beyond that, personally, we’re hoping to take Burt to a place he’s never been before. Without giving away too much, one of the greatest things about this man is that he loves to be in control. I can say that he has to learn, where does he have to share that control? Where does he have to seed some of it to somebody else? That’s a deep personal struggle for him because he is a control freak! Capital C, capital F. As a professional, he’s the Graboid hunter. We know he can do that. Professionally, he’s at the top of his game. Personally, what are his problems? What are his demons? What works for him and what doesn’t? That’s the things I think are far more exciting about these last two films.
Do you see any room to continue with it after this? If this one does well and they say, “Hey, let’s do Tremors 7!” Do you see a way forward with that?
Michael Gross: I absolutely do. As you can see with all of these films, we’re always leaving room for another one. It’s a possibility and as a matter of fact I had a conversation at Universal Studios today, a lunch meeting with somebody tossing around ideas for a potential Tremors 7, if you can believe that. I thought it was a little premature because 6 hasn’t even come out yet, but maybe they’re thrilled by the pre-sales? I don’t know. Even on 6, I was discussing ideas with people for a seventh. So, as long as I’ve got my energy, my health, my flexibility and strength. I think it’s fun to play an action hero along with the other myriad of characters I play. I definitely have certain ideas for a seventh. Particularly, the challenges that Burt has to face. What is his next step as a character? Where do we have to take him that he hasn’t been before? I have ideas about that.
Right now a ton of old shows are getting revived. Would you have any interest in bringing Family Ties back? Or is that something you feel you’ve sort of left in the past?
Michael Gross: I think the chances of that happening are pretty remote. I’ll tell you why. First of all, our spirit guide, our heart and soul and spirit of the show, our executive producer passed away a number of years ago. It just doesn’t feel right to do it without him [Gary David Goldberg]. Now, if something were tremendously well written, it might be a possibility. But I’m not sure. Michael [J. Fox] does extremely well with his Parkinson’s. We’ve seen him do great work on The Good Wife and things like that, so I’m sure he could do it. I’m not sure if the interest is there from most of us though. I do from time to time, I have to tell you, I have nightmares about doing Family Ties again. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because the dream I have is that it’s never as it was when we did it originally. It just isn’t right. It feels like it’s forced or something. We’re back and we’re trying to recreate the past and it doesn’t work and it just feels all wrong. So I have dreams about it, but they’re scary dreams. It’s never as good as the time we had. We left at a high point and I think we’d rather just let that sleeping dog lie.
So don’t expect to see a Family Ties reboot coming down the pipeline anytime soon, but it also sounds like we haven’t seen the last of Burt Gummer. Based on what Michael Gross says here, don’t be surprised to hear a Tremors 7 announcement in the not-too-distant future. Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell arrives on Blu-ray/DVD and digital platforms on May 1 from UNiversal Pictures Home Entertainment.