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The Gross-est interview I’ve ever done

When I answered the phone, the man asked if I was ready. I said I was and he said, “OK, Brett, you’re connected to Michael.”

And just like that I was hearing the voice of a 1980s sitcom dad greeting me and asking about the weather in Mississippi.

When I received the email a few weeks ago asking if I would be interested in interviewing one of the stars of the soon-to-be released “Tremors” movie, I answered “Of course” as quickly as possible.

Michael Gross, star and supporting actor in many films and television series, is best known for two roles. The first is that of Steven Keaton, befuddled left-leaning father to Michael J. Fox’s ultra conservative Michael Keaton in “Family Ties,” one of the most popular sitcoms of the ’80s. The second is that of Burt Gummer, the “bigger is better” gung-ho hero of the “Tremors” movie series that has so far spanned five films featuring creatures dubbed Graboids, Shriekers and … well, there’s another one I won’t mention here. A throw-back to the movies of yesteryear, the films blend horror and comedy in a way few others have.

The original “Tremors” was a success in the theater when it was released in 1990, but its real success came from the thousands of fans who have watched it over and over again and demanded more. In subsequent years, the story was continued in Tremors 2-5. Now there comes the sixth installment — “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” — which will be released to video May 1.

Though Burt is not the main character in the first film, he was certainly a viewer favorite. General consensus is in line with my son Devon’s comments: “Was he the guy with the guns in the first one? He’s the best part of the movie.” Because so many audiences concur, the other entries in the series have featured Gummer.

I asked Gross what the main attraction was for him in continuing to be a part of the Tremors series.

MG: “The character of Burt is a comedy gold mine. His comic paranoia, his obsessive compulsive disorder — I just adore it. You know, comedy is about excess and he is excessive to the extreme. The amount of overkill, worry … it’s so much fun.”

Gross said he’d been asked recently why he continued to play a gun-obsessed character with all the school shootings and such going on.

MG: “To me, it’s like an old-fashioned monster movie. I think back to the ’50s and it was just different. You’ll notice, not once [in all the films] does Burt turn his guns on other humans — it’s always against the monsters. It’s not human against human, it’s humans against the monsters.”

BC: If Burt could have access to any weapon at all for use against the Graboids and other creatures, what would he pick?

MG: “Oh, I would love to have a Sherman tank! The bigger, the better. Or surface-to-air missiles, if he’s fighting the [flying creatures]. Whatever we could get. Whatever the budget would allow.”

BC: How long do you think Steven Keaton would last in Perfection (the setting of two of the films)?

MG: “Ha ha ha ha ha! That’s a good one. Not very long. I think he would feel very out of place. He would probably be trying to save the creature — save the animal. What’s that group? PETA. He’d … you know, he’s so far left-learning. He’d be arguing for their rights so they wouldn’t go extinct.”

BC: They’d be an endangered species (In Tremors 3, this is part of the storyline).

MG: Exactly!

BC: I know you’re a passionate railfan. Do you spend much time pursuing that hobby while on location? Are you able to do that?

MG: “I am, and I do. You know, I look for whatever’s unique in the area. If there are any interesting trains I’d try to take rides on those and do some photography. In Mississippi, I’d go where Casey Jones rode to his demise. I’m into model railroading, too. I take some of my tools — not much, nothing large — and turn my desk in the hotel room into a hobby workbench and work on some things. It keeps me out of trouble.”

With time to squeeze in just one more question, I asked permission to talk about another film project. I asked about “Power of the Air,” a 2018 release filmed two years ago.

The Internet Movie Database gives this synopsis: “An African missionary shares with a Christian man in the United States how he feels the church in America is in great danger. The Christian is very convicted by what he hears and then sets forth a plan to reach his city with the gospel.”

BC: What drew you and made you want to be a part of this project?

MG: “It wasn’t too terribly heavy-handed. It was a faith-based thing, (and) it wasn’t too heavy-handed in proselytizing. It was a combination of things — it was the right time. There were some things there I needed to hear. I was asked to be a part of it. I love variety. I love doing things no one expects me to do.”

Like answer some questions from a big kid who remembers watching you on TV every week as a teen.

BC: Thank you, sir. It was a pleasure talking with you.

MG: Thank you, Brett. The pleasure was all mine.

On that note, sir, I must disagree.

Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com or 601-265-5307.