Age of innocence: Gremlins’ Zach Galligan


If you ever wondered what happened to Gizmo, the cute furry star of Gremlins, co-star Zach Galligan can tell you that he is safely tucked away in his cupboard.

“He likes it where it’s darker and dryer,” says the actor who played Billy in the iconic film, which turns 30 this year.

Anyone who has seen the movie, which includes most grown-ups in their 30s and 40s, will remember the rules for looking after the cute little mogwai. If you have one in your company, never expose it to bright light, never get it wet, and whatever you do, never, ever feed it after midnight.

These days Galligan mostly devotes his time to teaching acting at New York University, but in the past year he’s been busy celebrating Gremlins’ 30th birthday.

“This year we had a cast and crew get together engineered by Empire magazine. We took the models out of mothballs and took pictures with them. In Los Angles where we did an outdoor screening of Gremlins in a park on a big screen and 1800 people showed up.”

The film, apart from being a 1980s classic, the kind of scary comedy that would lull you into submission before having you throw your popcorn in the air, also has the honour of precipitating the PG13 rating in America.

“There were two movies out back to back, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins and they both had very disturbing sequences in them,” explains Galligan. “In Temple of Doom there’s the scene where the guy pulls the beating heart out of his chest. Then in Gremlins there was the sequence where we blew the gremlin up in the microwave. And the microwave goes ‘ding’. That was supposed to be funny, but a lot of people thought it was appalling, and were like, ‘you’re going to have people putting their cats in the microwave now’.

“I think the other legacy about Gremlins is it’s still one of the better horror comedies that’s come out of the Hollywood studio system. It’s a very difficult genre to get right.”

Working with the creatures was a blast, and Galligan got to know them rather well.

“I felt it was a very believable creature. Obviously it was complicated the way I had to hold it – I had to have wires taped to my body. That’s a little bit suspension of disbelief when you’ve got 14 cables running down your pants. But there were times when I was interacting with the Gizmo that you did get the sense that it was kind of like a real creature. So I just started treating it like it was a real pet.”

Galligan’s other cute co-star was Phoebe Cates.

“Phoebe was so cool and approachable and nice and kind,” he remembers. “We were just good friends and we’d hang out. We loved movies and could talk about acting. So I could relate on other levels instead of just staring at her.”

Cates now runs a boutique, The Blue Tree, in New York.

Despite its gory jokes, Gremlins, which came from the Spielberg school, recalls an innocent time for anyone who grew up in the 1980s. It helped set the tone for a genre of teen movies.

Zach Galligan

“Hollywood is basically a bunch of imitators,” says Galligan. “Now you see people are making comic book movies and they’re very successful so everyone is making comic book movies. So back then in the beginning what you had was teen movies, so everybody made teen movies. Because nobody has an ounce of originality in that town. I think people assign a lot more artistry than is really there.

“What the Spielberg movies did is they tried to create a sense of wonder that you had when you were young and innocent, before you got cynical and jaded. And now most movies start everything very cynical and jaded. And when you have a movie with sweetness and innocence in it people really like it because that’s what they go to the movies for.”

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