Seeing Meatloaf on Morning Joe this morning brought to mind a story included in How To Live Bullshit Free: A Practical Guide To Not Killing Yourself, the book I’m now agent shopping. I once cast Meatloaf in a TV show.
How To Live Bullshit Free is also a memoir — the story of how I came within inches of offing myself (but got better). I’ve had a very unusual showbiz career. I wrote and produced HBO’s Tales From The Crypt and Showtime’s The Outer Limits. I’ve written and produced feature films. I have crossed paths with an amazing amount of people (as one does in show business) — many of them very, very famous. I’m not afraid to name names.
One of the stories I tell in How To Live Bullshit Free is about Meatloaf — and how we cast him in an episode of Tales From The Crypt called “What’s Cookin” about a down on their luck couple about to lose their incredibly unsuccessful diner. The homeless guy who works for them shows up one day with steak — that attracts so many customers they can stay open. In fact, they’re suddenly making money hand over fist. The problem? The steak is all human flesh.
Hey — it was Tales From The Crypt. Anyway — without further ado — this is from my book (which I’m agent shopping — or did I say that already?)
As the Crypt Keeper would say: “Bone appetite!”
We got Chris Reeve to play the lead with Bess Armstrong and Judd Nelson in the supporting roles (Chris, remember, had done ‘Superman’ with Dick Donner, one of our Executive Producers). Chris was experiencing a strange phenomenon – where an actor becomes hyper-associated with a character in the audience’s mind. Superman had done that to a degree to Chris and he was having trouble getting cast as ‘other’ characters (something that apparently plagued Chris’s Superman predecessor, the 1950’s TV Superman, Steve Reeves).
Chris’s hyper-awareness showed while we discussed his wardrobe. Our initial choices were a little too ‘Clark Kent’; he didn’t want to go there. To us it was just a blue Oxford shirt and a pair of khakis but, to be fair, Chris had walked around a lot more in Clark Kent’s (wardrobe-provided) shoes than we had. When ‘Superman’ tells you ‘It’s too Clark Kent’, you listen.
For the part of the Landlord, we cast the singer MEATLOAF. I think I laughed for about a half hour when our casting director first mentioned his name. I mean, c’mon – how funny is that – casting MEATLOAF in an episode about CANNIBALISM – where his character gets eaten?
There’s a scene – toward the middle – when Chris – freaking out about their financial hardships while still dubious about the crowds pouring in to gobble up the steaks his wife keeps tossing onto the grill – follows Judd’s homeless guy to the walk-in refrigerator for more steak. As the walk-in door opens, Chris sees their LANDLORD (Meatloaf) literally hanging from a meat hook, naked and dead.
While Chris freaks out, Judd picks up a meat cleaver and hacks a couple of ‘butt steaks’ from the carcass. Tossing them onto the metal tray he’s brought, he heads back to the front of the restaurant to give them to Bess who’s busily barbecuing away.
“Don’t leave the fridge door open,” says Judd’s drifter as he goes – to the still too-horrified-to-move-or-speak Chris – “He’ll spoil.”
This was going to be a tricky special effect to pull off. The body had to look super real. The way the steaks came off the carcass had to look real. The way they looked when they hit the tray HAD TO LOOK REAL.
Sounds like a Job for Todd Masters…
One of the reasons I loved doing ‘Tales’ was that I got to indulge in some really horrible behavior – betraying people, killing people, ‘eating’ people – and all without actually hurting anyone. Some of my favorite moments were when I got to sit down with our Special Effects Maven Todd Masters – with a couple of pathology textbooks and a shitload of bad intentions between us. After the first time my assistant found me in Todd’s work space, cackling away like lunatics, she never looked at me the same way again.
The problem with great special effects though is that (in addition to money), they take time. Having cast Meatloaf so late into the schedule, there simply wasn’t time for him to come in so we could do a body cast of him. Necessity – and a rigid shooting schedule – forced us to hire a body double who we thought would approximate what Meatloaf would look like hanging naked in a meat locker.
Now, I knew what Meatloaf (the singer and actor) looked like. When I was in college, Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Outta Hell’ was one of THE albums we all revered (there in the Drama Department). C’mon – “Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ is classic. And it’s funny. Meatloaf was a big guy. A heavy guy. A guy who could probably afford to lose a few pounds. But that wasn’t our problem. We cast the Meatloaf we knew and got on with our lives.
And then, the day before he was due to work, Meatloaf – the actor – arrived at the studio for his wardrobe fitting. And we realized we had a problem. ‘Mr. Loaf’ (as Christopher Lee called him when they appeared together on SNL) had just finished a crash diet and had lost 60+ pounds.
He looked nothing like the body double – which he wanted to see.
Having worked very, VERY hard to lose all that weight – and wanting to show it off – he was NOT happy that the old, ‘heavier’ Meatloaf was who we had cast. He insisted that our body double was a good twenty pounds heavier than he had ever been. I got to know my hands very well – staring at them for as long as I did while Meatloaf circled his ‘not-exactly’ body double.
In the end, Meatloaf sucked it up – being a pro first and foremost. His history of being heavy helped too. He even agreed – graciously – to wear a fat suit under his wardrobe so that it wouldn’t look quite so jarring when we saw him ‘naked’.
Like I said — I’m agent shopping. There’s lots, lots, LOTS more where that comes from.