Leatherface actor Gunnar Hansen on slasher past, ‘Chain Saw’ memoir

Sept. 20, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.
Gunnar Hansen is best known for his role as the masked murderer Leatherface in the 1974 classic horror film "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." (Chronicle Books)

Gunnar Hansen is best known for his role as the masked murderer Leatherface in the 1974 classic horror film “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” (Chronicle Books)

Leatherface. Just the name can send waves of fear and revulsion through an entire generation of filmgoers. Not so for Gunnar Hansen, the actor who played the demented killer in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and who has, over the years, grown to love him.

In the 1974 horror movie from director Tobe Hooper, the mentally disturbed Leatherface, who wears a mask of human skin, and his equally depraved and cannibalistic clan terrorize five friends who have ventured into the backwoods with their blades and butchery skills. Only Sally (Marilyn Burns) manages to escape becoming dinner.

Perhaps more chilling than the film’s plot is the reactions from fans Hansen sometimes encounters.

“I used to find that there were women who were excited to meet me,” Hansen said. “When they discovered that I wasn’t like Leatherface, some were relieved — but most were disappointed.”

Hansen quit acting for about a decade after a bad experience in 1975 in a movie called “Demon Lover.” In those years, he turned to writing, authoring several books and taught college English.

Since the late 1980s, he’s ventured back to the biz from his home in Maine to appear in such films as “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” and 2013’s “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” in which he had a cameo.

Leatherface, played by Gunnar Hansen, in a scene from the 1974 slasher movie, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." (Dark Sky Films)

Leatherface, played by Gunnar Hansen, in a scene from the 1974 slasher movie, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” (Dark Sky Films)

Now the imposing 6-foot-4 native of Iceland has combined his two lives.

Hansen will be visiting the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre on Friday and the Dark Delicacies bookstore in Burbank on Saturday to talk about the classic movie and to sign copies of his new book, “Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie.”

HC: Why did you decide to write the book? Was it because the 40th anniversary is coming up next year?

GH: I played with the idea of doing this for years. The problem was my concept for the book was a little too small. I really thought I wasn’t going to have a big audience for the book. But a couple of years ago, I was approached by a fellow who was publishing a book about actors. He wanted to do a book about me. I said if anybody is going write about me, it’s going to be me. That got me started.

The five main cast members of "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" -- Edwin Neal, left, Marilyn Burns, John Dugan, Gunnar Hansen and Jim Siedow -- reunite for the show's 20th anniversary in 1994. (Dan Groshong / For the Times)

The five main cast members of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” — Edwin Neal, left, Marilyn Burns, John Dugan, Gunnar Hansen and Jim Siedow — reunite for the show’s 20th anniversary in 1994. (Dan Groshong / For The Times)

HC: You interviewed several cast and crew members, including Marilyn Burns who played Sally, as well as cinematographer Daniel Pearl and production manager Ron Bozman.

GH: I thought the way to make the book more than [an autobiography] was to involve as many people from the movie as possible. It meant the book was a lot deeper and broader — it had the perspective of all of these other different actors and crew members. It goes from the narrative of the making of the film to what horror is, where horror comes from and where “Chain Saw” fits into the horror genre.

HC: I was exhausted just reading the book. The production was so grueling — the unbearably hot conditions in Texas, long shooting days, no safety precautions. And there you were wearing masks that had almost no visibility, built-up boots that were difficult to run in, and you were wielding a real saw.

GH: The most common question I get asked when I am at a fan convention is: Was it fun? I always say no. It was a great experience, but it was never fun. People are shocked when they hear that. I don’t think people understand just how brutally difficult it was. We really teetered on the edge of disasters so many times; somebody could have been severely injured or killed. We just lucked out.

HC: What was the most grueling scene for you?

GH: I think the most difficult part physically was the actual chase scene [with Sally] because it was at night. It was extremely hot. I couldn’t see and I was wearing those high-heeled boots, so just physically that was the most difficult part for me. I have never been a runner. I had to practice running on my own to get my wind built up.

HC: Talk about doing the dinner sequence with Sally, Leatherface and the other members of the insane Sawyer family. You shot for more than 24 hours straight in over 100-degree temperatures.

GH: I remember it as 26 hours. Some remember it more like 36 hours. I have always been skeptical of Method acting, but by the time we were finishing those 26 hours I really became lost in the character. It wasn’t because I was Method acting, it was because we were so immersed in what was going on we really lost track of the outside world. We became those characters.

– Susan King

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Comments


One Response to Leatherface actor Gunnar Hansen on slasher past, ‘Chain Saw’ memoir

  1. Ruth Stewart says:

    It's about time gentle Gunnar and the other actors get their due from the movie. They went through such grueling filming to get very little profit initially from the Chainsaw Massacre phenomenon. It should be a good book from a talented writer.

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