Interview – William Katt

There are certain characters in film and television which always seem to stand out – the jock, the badboy, the nerd, and the everyman. How about the guy caught in the middle? In his own words, American Actor William Katt states, “I kind of made my career being that guy caught in the middle in an absurd situation that is out of his control.” Truly the case, Katt celebrated a great deal of success beginning with his role as Tommy Ross in the legendary 1976 Horror flick Carrie. Going on to a lead role in the 1980s hit series The Greatest American Hero, Katt continues to work regularly in various genres, making him a welcomed and recognized face in cinema. Recently we caught up with Katt to talk his start in film, working on Carrie, his work in the 2015 film Subterranea, and whole lot more. – You have been involved in acting professionally in film and tv for almost 5 decades now, in which time you starred in a list of successful films and television series. Coming from a family of actors, first tell us, what lead you to pursue this career?

William Katt – I think that’s self-evident: I grew up in a family where my mom and dad were both actors; I was immersed in it from the time I was a little kid. Some of my earliest memories was being on the set with my mom and my dad. I think I just fell in love with the people and I gravitated in that direction. Although I dabbled in other things: I thought maybe I was going to be a professional pilot for awhile; I thought I was going to maybe do something outside of the business. Eventually, I started to make money in the theater so I just stayed. As a young person you kind of follow the money and that’s what I did. – That is understandable and it worked out pretty well. You also have a passion for music, right?

William Katt – I do. I was a music major in school for the years that I went. I don’t think that there’s a day that goes by that I’m not either playing the piano or the guitar. That’s always just been strictly a hobby. Although I dabbled professionally with it early on and I still play every week with a bunch of guys, but it’s strictly a hobby.

United Artists
Warner Bros. – That is great to hear! Speaking of music, in 2015 you starred in a movie Subterranea based on a Progressive Rock album by the band IQ. How did you become involved with this project?

William Katt – The Director, Matt Miller, called me and wanted to know if I would be interested in reading the script. I thought it was a fascinating script and the whole that it was working with this Rock band, a very popular Rock band, IQ. I liked the music and I was very fascinated. I was interested in seeing how he was going to integrate that into his film. – It also has very good cast of respected actors and actresses. What was it like working with everyone involved in the film?

William Katt – It was fun! I was only there for a little over a week in my role, so I didn’t get to work with everybody. Although I did get to spend time with each of the cast a little bit while I was there. It was a good cast. I believe it was Matt’s first feature film. I saw some of his earlier short films and I was very excited by it. I thought he had a real interesting eye for cinema; he had a voice I would like to say. I wanted to see what he did in the long-form and in a longer format. I thought he did a good job. – Yes, the film did very well on the festival circuit. Then in 2015, it was picked up for distribution which was positive.

William Katt – He did it on a minuscule budget. I think he pulled in favors from all his friends at school up in Montana. The locations couldn’t have been more beautiful.

William Katt in Subterranea – Absolutely, the cinematography makes the film that much more effective. As you said,  it was done on a very small budget. It has to be exciting to see his work get the attention it has.

William Katt – I think we are going to hear a lot from Matt in the coming years. He is a young man and I think that he has a great career ahead of him. – Now beyond Subterranea, you have worked on other projects in recent years. Taking on a lot of diverse roles, you have worked a lot in the Horror and Sci-fi related films. Do you enjoy working in these genres?

William Katt – I do. I can’t say that Horror is my favorite and I don’t necessarily like to watch Horror films. I like Science Fiction an awful lot and I like watching it. I’m not keen on watching Slasher films and having someone’s head chopped off. Although, I must admit I loved Alien, it was one of my favorite films of all time. You can’t have a better Horror film than that. The Exorcist (1973) is one of my favorite films, and of course, The Thing (1982) was one of my favorite films, very favorite films. It’s extraordinary, the monsters in that were extraordinary.

I like to do Comedy because it makes me feel good on the set. I know how to be funny. I kind of always played a real guy on the set in an absurd situation. It’s kind of my favorite guy to play – a little bit left-of-center, but a real guy in an absurd situation. I think that’s really what made The Greatest American Hero what it was because I always played the truth in it. His world was kind of absurd. – And you played Ralph Hinkley/Ralph Hanley on The Great American Hero for 3 seasons. That in mind, you have done a balance of television and feature films in your career. How would you compare working on a full-length feature opposed to a television series?

William Katt – I actually like working in a television series because I like the pace, it’s very fast-paced; you’re generally shooting 7-10 pages a day. You come in and you’re doing a lot of set-ups and moving quickly. Sometimes on a film, you’re shooting a half a page, doing a lot of sitting around. I much prefer a faster pace. I guess it comes from the theater because I come from the theater. I really like that pace of the discovery during rehearsal, and once the curtain goes up, it’s all about the actors. For 2 hours you get to really concentrate on what you’re doing. In film, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait. You might sit around half of the day, work an hour, then sit around for another 3 or 4 hours, and then work another hour. It’s a different pace.

Anchor Bay
MVD Visual / Birdman – Right, and theater is different, as well. In theater, you essentially get an instant response from your audience. In television, unless it is a closed-captioned shoot, you basically do not get that reaction. Coming from a theater background, is it challenging to have a film or television series where you are not getting back that instant feedback?

William Katt – In film and television, it’s very internalized, it’s all about your face. Everything is in your eyes and face. Where in the theater it’s bigger: it’s about your body. Your body language plays such a big part of it and you do get a reaction from the audience. Whether in Comedy or Drama, it’s very interesting to be in Comedy, in the middle of a serious Drama.

When I was doing Days of Wine and Roses, with Mia Dillon at the Cleveland Playhouse, there would be some very serious drama going on. It would be interesting to not be in a situation where you could hear a pin drop and you’re sitting with an audience of 2,000 people. That’s a magnificent feeling too. That’s just as good as getting a big laugh from the audience. – It is just two different dynamics.

William Katt – Exactly. In film and television you don’t get that. The crew might be laughing and as soon as they holler cut, your gonna hear a lot of laughter from the crew. But while you’re shooting, you don’t get to hear that. – Yes, and in television, at least years ago, there used to be a lot of shots in front of live audiences. You do not see that very often anymore.

William Katt – No, you don’t. I recently did an episode, a show called The Thundermans on Nickelodeon because I’m very friendly with some of the producers on that show. They asked me, as a favor, to come on so I did. I just had an absolute ball because it was such a fun show. We shot in front a live audience and that was really fun. – It sounds like it would be a really fun situation. Among your many credits, one of your earliest was a leading role in the 1976 film Carrie, a Horror classic. Do you have any fond memories of the film? Additionally, what do you attribute to it still being able to hold up like it does today?

William Katt – I think like with all great films, it was kind of kismet that we were all cast and it was a seminal film for Brian De Palma. As I said it was kismet, it was meant to be, and the chemistry of the cast just worked out fantastic! We all loved each other and worked very, very well together. For Brian, it was his seminal coming out film; it made him the star that he is today. He has done other work before that with Greetings (1968), Hi Mom! (1970) and Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972). He worked with Tommy Smothers, he worked with Bobby DeNiro – who started his career doing some kind of funny roles – then after the Godfather films, he played all those bad guys for several years. Then later on in his life, DeNiro started to do Comedy again. I think that that is fascinating.

For Carrie, back then I was doing the same thing, I played a real guy in an absurd situation. When you look at that film, I was always the guy caught in the middle. I kind of made my career being that guy caught in the middle in an absurd situation that is out of his control.

Sissy Spacek and William Katt in Carrie. © United Artists – Yes, and in 1985’s House, it was a similar absurd situation as Roger Cobb. On that film you worked with the accomplished Steve Miner. What was the experience like working on House?

William Katt – I like to think it was the first MTV Horror film. It really had a wonderfully twisted sense of humor, but yet we played it all for real. It just hit the mark. I think that the whole was better the the sum of its parts. Is that fair to say? I want to give credit where credit is due, mainly, and that would be to Steve Miner because that is his sense of humor. He is very dark and left of field. He is very twisted in a funny kind of non mean-spirited way, but he is twisted in a funny way. I think that that really came across in the film. I’m still friendly with George Wendt after all these years. Kay Lenz, who played my wife in that, we went to high school together. It was fun to work with all those people. – It is a unique film for sure. You also returned for 1989’s House III: The Horror Show.

William Katt – Yeah, briefly. I came back, Sean Cunningham was producing it and asked me as a favor if I would come for a day. So I came for a day. – It went on to have a successful series. That is also a real house location in the film.

William Katt – Yes it is a real location. I remember we shot there about 2 weeks, the exteriors. Then we went and shot on a soundstage for about 6 weeks.

New World Pictures
Falling Sky Entertainment – Very cool. Interesting enough you in fact auditioned for the role of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars. Now the story goes that you actually were seriously considered for that role. What were your memories of time and space?

William Katt – As I said before, we were all, Brian De Palma and George Lucas were conducting casting sessions at the same time. I think they saw every up and coming young actor and actress in Hollywood for those roles. I was just one of many that came through the door. But I did get to screen test for both of those films. I think we did a pretty good job. I read with Kurt Russell who was reading for Hans Solo at the time. I don’t know, I may have blown it because my hair was too long at the time and I should have cut my hair (laughs).

It would have been great and my life would have been very very different obviously. I think that Mark Hamill did a marvelous job. He is Luke Skywalker and will always be. I got to play Tommy Ross in Carrie and that launched a career for me. It all worked out in the end! – That is a fascinating tidbit of information for fans. Beyond Subterranea, what other projects do you have upcoming?

William Katt – This last year we did The Man From Earth: Holocene which is a follow up to the Jerome Bixby film The Man From Earth that we did in 2007. That was starring David Lee Smith and a host of people. We just did a sequel which picks up where the old story left off. We got some wonderful actors on board with us. Michael Dorn, Vanessa Williams, Sterling Knight, David Lee Smith is back as The Man From Earth and of course I am back with a decent role which I enjoyed doing. It kind of picked up where the other left off.

As people know it is a story of a 14,000 year old man that did not know himself, why he was still alive. He wasn’t a vampire or a zombie, he was just a normal guy. He devilvages to a group of people, PHD’s in fact, he doesn’t know his plight of why he doesn’t age or cannot die. We try and tear into his story and we can’t poke a hole in it. The film ends and that is where this one picks up. He is exposed by a group of students and there we go. We try, track him down, and take him to task. He threatens to really poke a hole in Christianity. That’s the foundation of the film. It’s interesting, once again, it is a very smart film.

William Katt in The Greatest American Hero. © ABC – That is exciting that there is a follow-up after all this time

William Katt – Richard Schenkman, who directed the first one, wrote and directed on this one. It took him a long time to do the research to write it. I was extremely pleased. The script was very well-written and very smart. I think that anyone who liked the first one will like this one for sure! – It is well worth checking out. You mentioned that you do like Sci-Fi a lot and enjoy watching sci fi. I have one last question for you. Since you said you are a fan of Sci-Fi, what are some of your favorites?

William Katt – Beyond the few I mentioned, one of the first one that comes to mind is Forbidden Planet (1956). That was pretty much one of the first films that I got pretty excited about as a kid. – That is a classic. You mentioned Alien and The Thing. These are Horror movies, but Sci-Fi elements.

William Katt – Yes, then you look at 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Blade Runner (1982), which I am really excited about the new one. More recently, The Martian (2015) was just an extraordinary film. I watched it ten times. I loved District 9 (2009) when. Of course a lot of the Spielberg films are fantastic too. I like Sci-Fi and it doesn’t necessarily have to be scary. I like The Martian and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), they were just wonderful.

Universal Pictures – All very good selections. What did you think of the new Planet of the Apes films?

William Katt – I haven’t seen the newest one. I’ve seen the others and I thought they were incredible. I’m just staggered by what they are able to do with CGI these days and how real it has become. There are many good things. Oh my god, I mean look at the reboot of the Star Trek. I loved those films! I thought that Arrival (2016) was great. I’m a big fan of The Fifth Element (1997). Let’s not forget A Clockwork Orange (1971), that was a wonderful film too.

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