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Interview with Trace Beaulieu of MST3K and Cinematic Titanic

The conclusion to our two-part exclusive interview with Trace Beaulieu, formerly of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and now with Cinematic Titanic

Read yesterday's part one here.

Crow T. Robot enjoying the latest issue of mental_floss magazine

Trace Beaulieu's older brother, Bryan, built a special house back in 2005. In fact, it's the only one of its kind in the United States.

Kara Kovalchik: Your brother designed and built a very Earth-friendly hydrogen-powered house in Arizona. What can you tell us about it?

Trace Beaulieu: I don't know a lot about the ins and outs of it. Solar panels... I think it was meant to have a hydrogen generator, but, it's very unique. He was trying a lot of different systems on this house. Kind of an experiment. Just a really interesting project. If you go online, you can see pictures of it. I've been there, but I'm not a desert person. I'm more of a water person. Bryan loves that area. He was going out there quite a bit, and just fell in love with it.

KK: So you prefer Minnesota?

TB: Yes. I missed the lakes. I'm heading back there in a couple of hours. We're pretty rural, about an hour east of Minneapolis, right on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border.

KK: And your wife helps you there with fulfilling Cinematic Titanic orders?

TB: Yes! She's also been home taking care of our chickens. We have about eight of them. They're egg-layers. We're not gonna eat them.

KK: Although your characters sometimes lapse into the typical Minnesota accent, you don't seem to have one yourself, even though you grew up in Minneapolis. Why is that?

TB: I don't know what happened to it. I may have consciously tried to not do the Minnesota thing. It leaks through occasionally. We pull it out quite a bit [for the show].

KK: Have you ever seen the huge twine ball?

TB: (laughs) I have, yes. I know where it is.

Beaulieu as mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester on MST3K.

Cinematic Titanic includes the talents of several MST3K alumni: Joel Hodgson (Joel Robinson); Frank Conniff (TV's Frank); J. Elvis Weinstein (Clayton's assistant Dr. Erhardt and the first Tom Servo); and Mary Jo Pehl (as Pearl Forrester). All served as performers and writers on the show.

KK: Does each writer perform his or her own jokes during the show?

TB: No, the lines get divided up and then get assigned based on who would pull the line off the best. Sometimes we get our own lines, and sometimes we get others', and it's a big blend of voices that way.

KK: The Cinematic Titanic show used to employ silhouettes that were different than the classic MST3K ones. Do you still use those?

TB: It's just us on stage with iPads with our scripts on them, and some music stands.

KK: Wow, not even paper scripts?

TB: We can carry every movie we've written with us now. In some theaters, it's "audience choice," so we might not know which film we're going to do until a few days before. And we don't have to carry three-ring binders with us, or a filing cabinet of scripts. Now, we hit the ground very lean and mean. We've got our movies on hard drives, and our scripts on iPads, and we're very modern!

In contrast to so many 1990s comedy shows that went well into "dirty humor," like South Park and Beavis & Butthead, Mystery Science Theater 3000 always kept its foot planted just this side of rudeness. This decision, which continues with Cinematic Titanic, allows the group to attract audience members of a surprisingly young age.

KK: In some cities, you're riffing on two different films in an early and late show. Should we expect more bawdy humor further into the evening?

TB: We try to stay in a PG-13 range. Sometimes, we'll get excited and stray over. We'll "cross the blue line," as they say in hockey. But the second movie we're doing, Doomsday Machine, has got more adult themes within it, so... Still, we still have little kids come to the show.

KK: So it's safe for youngsters?

TB: I would say that it's a parenting decision. If you know your kids well enough, and they can handle it... A friend of mine brought his young daughter to our show in Davis, California, and he asked her very thoughtful questions beforehand. She's a very bright kid. Most of these kids that are into MST are pretty bright, and pretty worldly, too.

KK: Speaking of kids, on MST3K, it always surprised me that so many of the fan letters Joel read were from little kids who'd draw the robots with crayon. It seemed like the humor would be beyond them. What was that like?

TB: It was terrific. I mean, for a show that we thought would just go away, to still be around after 20 years and to still be garnering some young fans...

KK: That has to feel good.

TB: It does. Not all of us are getting paid for those MST episodes anymore, but (pause) our karma bank account is quite healthy. We're also lucky in that it doesn't affect our lives all that much. We can walk around in normal life, and if I'm not dressed as Lincoln or Dr. Forrester... We're famous in the building that we're performing in, but as soon as we hit the door, we're just folks.

For sale at the show, and available at tracebeaulieu.com, is one of Beaulieu's newest ventures, a book of children's poetry titled Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children.

KK: Tell us about the book.

TB: That was a great deal of fun. About half of those poems were just lying around in the drawer. And I contacted [zombie artist] Len Peralta to do the illustrations. I really wanted to work with him. There was another book I had approached him to do, but then I thought, "Let's see how we work together." I fleshed out the other half of the book and Len did these fantastic illustrations. And it's been so much fun.

KK: Will we get a preview at the Cinematic Titanic show?

TB: Sure, I'll read them on stage. Mary Jo and I have done book readings together, since she's got a book too. And it's just been a lot of fun. There'll be copies for sale at the show.

KK: It's something you published yourself?

TB: Yes. It's a real mom-and-pop kind of publishing venture. Like anything else I've done, I'm more of a "Let's just do it!" attitude. And everyone would say, "Oh, publishers aren't buying that kind of book." And I'm like, "Well, I just want people to buy it."

KK: A lot of people are selling millions of copies of self-publishing books.

TB: Yeah, and I'm selling hundreds! (laughs) One day, it'll grow, but I'm very happy with the response it's gotten. It's earned great reviews, and people are finding it on its own just like how MST grew. That was something we just did instead of selling it to somebody. We could never have sold that to somebody. Some concepts are just too hard to sell.

As if performing live, building sets, raising chickens, and writing books weren't enough, Beaulieu also creates his own pieces of art. He hopes to display and offer a selection of found art works and sculptures, when he can find the time.

KK: So you're still into creating art from found objects?

TB: Yes, I am. I just got my studio back in shape to be able to work in it, so, what I need to do is get them up on my Web site. I'm terrible at that kind of thing. We spend all our time doing fulfillment. Katy, my wife, is embroiled with Cinematic Titanic. That's all we do!

KK: Do you just want to make art, or is it a business for you?

TB: I have sold some pieces. I had an art show when I was living in Los Angeles eight years ago. Now, it's just I make it for my own pleasure, and I don't ever have it any of it on display. It's all in boxes. I need to get it up on the Web site. It's stuff that people really need to see in person, though. Maybe this'll be all be found after I'm gone.

KK: Aw, don't say that.

TB: The stuff I do is really kinda tech-looking, if I can use that word in the four-letter form.

KK: I read that your dad once brought you a champagne basket that he'd found on the roadside.

TB: Yeah. I had people for a long time finding things that had been smashed on the road. My niece still does that. She lives in California, now, and she'll come back and say "Hey, I found this on the ground, and I thought of you." Maybe this is the motivation I need to get that stuff on the Web, although it's much better to view it in person.

Cinematic Titanic is scheduled to perform in Royal Oak, Michigan (outside of Detroit), on Saturday, February 25. They'll be showing Astral Factor at 7pm, and Doomsday Machine at 10. Visit cinematictitanic.com for more details.

KK: Tell us more about the show.

TB: Dave (Gruber) Allen does the opening act, and we invade his space to do a little bit of our own shtick. Depending on who's available and who's at the show, sometimes we have guests drop in. I don't think we'll have any in Michigan, but Dave is great himself. He anchors the show. You might remember him from Freaks & Geeks [as guidance counselor Jeff Rosso].

KK: Does anything fun happen before or after the shows?

TB: Merchandise will be available, and we'll meet fans. We do a short meet-and-greet between shows, but the staff needs to turn over the theater. So we ask that if you're going to both shows or just the second show, that you come to the second meet-and-greet afterwards. That would be best, so we can meet more people. But as long as people are there, we'll be there.

KK: I would imagine people would be there all night. Don't fans throw themselves in front of your tour bus like they do for rock singers?

TB: We have a bad tour bus driver. They're not throwing themselves; he's just a bad driver.

KK: Trace, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me, and good luck with Cinematic Titanic.

TB: This was fun! Thanks.

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Scarface is Returning to Theaters for Its 35th Anniversary
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures

Pop culture history was forever altered on December 9, 1983, when Scarface arrived in movie theaters across America. A loose remake of Howard Hawks's classic 1932 gangster film, Brian De Palma's F-bomb-laden story of a Cuban immigrant who becomes the king of Miami's drug scene by murdering anyone in his path is still being endlessly dissected, and quoted, today. To celebrate the film's place in cinema history, the Tribeca Film Festival is teaming up with Screenvision Media and Universal Pictures to bring the film back into theaters next month.

Just last month, Scarface screened at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival as part of a 35th anniversary celebration. The film's main cast and crew—including De Palma and stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer—were on hand to discuss the making of the film and why it has endured as a contemporary classic. (Yes, that's the same conversation that left the panel momentarily speechless when moderator Jesse Kornbluth asked Pfeiffer how much she weighed during filming.) That post-screening Q&A will be part of the upcoming screenings.

"Scarface is a timeless film that has influenced pop culture in so many ways over the last 35 years. We're thrilled to partner with Universal Pictures and Tribeca Film Festival to bring it back to the big screen in celebration of its anniversary," Darryl Schaffer, executive vice president of operations and exhibitor relations at Screenvision Media, said in a press statement. "The Tribeca Film Festival talk was an important commemoration of the film. We're excited to extend it to the big screen and provide fans a behind-the-scenes insight into what production was like in the 1980s."

Scarface will screen at select theaters nationwide on June 10, June 11, and June 13, 2018. Visit Scarface35.com to find out if Tony Montana and his little friend will be coming back to a cinema near you.

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20 Character Actors Who Make Everything They’re in Better
Netflix
Netflix

If the main character in your movie is a straitlaced do-gooder, or really, blandly relatable in any way, you’re going to need some eccentric figures to bring some spice to the party. More than mere sidekicks, these characters either make the world they inhabit feel dangerous and chaotic or bring order to insanity by sheer force of personality. They’re characters that make your ears perk just as the movie starts to lose you.

Character actors are tasked with making movies more interesting, but only the best of them succeed. So here are 20 ultra-talented stars who never fail to make good films great, great films classic, and terrible films almost watchable.

1. PETER STORMARE

Peter Stormare in 'American Gods'
Jan Thijs, Starz Entertainment/FremantleMedia North America

Thank Fargo for this one. Peter Stormare’s magic stems from his range, which runs from Genuinely Kind to Terrifyingly Aggressive. You might expect him to play a growling bad guy every role, but his comic timing and humane sensitivity allow him to play everything from an unlicensed eye doctor in Minority Report to multiple voices on children’s shows to an incompetent nihilist kidnapper in The Big Lebowski.

2. OCTAVIA SPENCER

Octavia Spencer in 'Hidden Figures' (2016)
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Octavia Spencer is a world-class actor and producer with the hardware to prove it (including an Oscar, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe). She’s a dynamite talent who offers a Herculean amount of support to everyone she shares scenes with. It’s possible that her trademark is a wry, knowing sense of humor, but she’s not that easily pinned down or pigeonholed, mightily subverting expectations in genre work like Snowpiercer and gut-wrenching dramas like Fruitvale Station.

3. SCOOT MCNAIRY

Scoot McNairy in 'Halt and Catch Fire'
Eric Ogden, AMC

Possessing leading man looks and chops with a character actor’s transformative ability, Scoot McNairy is a deft craftsman who brings meek powder keg Gordon Clark to life on Halt and Catch Fire as well as embodying slimy slave trader Brown in 12 Years a Slave and amateurish holdup man Frankie in the crime drama Killing Them Softly.

4. TILDA SWINTON

Tilda Swinton in 'Only Lovers Left Alive' (2013)
Sandro Kopp, Sony Pictures Classics

Some character actors are in the hall of fame, some have won awards, but Tilda Swinton is on (and possibly from) another planet. She can more than hold her own as a leading performer, delivering searing portrayals in We Need to Talk About Kevin and deathly mystery in The Only Lovers Left Alive. But it’s her bizarre character work that most endures, like having your brain smacked with a rainbow baseball bat. From her toothy despot in Snowpiercer to her thousand-year-old dowager in The Grand Budapest Hotel to her wintry witch in The Chronicles of Narnia to a dozen other deeply strange performances, Swinton is playing a totally different game than everyone else. If Hollywood ever makes a David Bowie biopic, they know who to hire.

5. OLIVER PLATT

Oliver Platt in FX's 'Fargo'
Chris Large, FX Networks

An actor’s actor, Oliver Platt never seems content to play the same role twice, yet he has the peerless ability to make it feel as if we’ve known a character our whole lives. That bone-deep familiarity is a quality that comes from another level of acting talent. Even if he’s only in one scene, Platt never phones it in. He’s never less than fantastic. Whether droll and off-the-cuff or stridently severe, you get the feeling that Platt is in it for the pure, unbridled love of acting.

6. ANN DOWD

Ann Dowd plays Aunt Lydia in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

This Emmy-winning, 30-year veteran is in five movies coming out this year alone. That’s on top of a busy slate of guest starring roles on TV shows where she almost always becomes the best thing about the episode. She just finished up a remarkable run as the dead-eyed, chain-smoking Patti in The Leftovers, but her reign of matronly terror as Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale has only just begun.

7. GIANCARLO ESPOSITO

Giancarlo Esposito in 'Breaking Bad'
Michele K. Short, AMC/Sony Pictures Television

To offer some perspective on Giancarlo Esposito’s genius: he recently did a single episode of Westworld where he delivered a fiery monologue that shook a character to the core, and the creators of Westworld almost definitely hired him because they knew he’d deliver a fiery monologue that would shake an entire audience to its core. Best known as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad (and Better Call Saul), Esposito has appeared in more than 75 movies and a list of TV episodes no one has time to count (though it's worth a reminder that he played Big Bird's camp counselor on Sesame Street). Unfailingly charismatic, Esposito is a modern marvel who, over four decades of acting, has never failed to astound.

8. CARRIE COON

Carrie Coon stars in HBO's 'The Leftovers'
HBO

Carrie Coon’s acting talent is so outstanding that she often commanded entire sequences in The Leftovers without interacting with anyone else. Her character was marked by isolation, and you could wind up not remembering to blink while watching her complete even the most mundane of tasks with a seemingly infinite pool of sorrow. She brought that concentration of anxiety to Gone Girl, where she played the sister of Ben Affleck’s character, and, most recently, to the third season of the Fargo TV series.

9. MICHAEL STULHBARG

Michael Stuhlbarg in 'A Serious Man' (2009)
Focus Features

Last year, in addition to his starring role in the third season of Fargo, Michael Stulhbarg was in three Best Picture nominees—The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post—where he played pivotal roles as a modest Soviet spy, a father with a barn-burning monologue of compassionate acceptance, and a cosmopolitan newspaper editor, respectively. Three in one year. That’s incredible, but easy to believe when it comes to a talent like Stuhlbarg, who combines a workmanlike consistency and a stage actor’s perfectionism to create everymen who, far from being boring, are each singularly memorable.

10. MARGO MARTINDALE

Margo Martindale in 'The Americans'
FX Networks

The one. The only. Margo Martindale is so transcendent that BoJack Horseman features a character called “Beloved Character Actress Margo Martindale” (which is voiced by Martindale). Perhaps the most famous character actor currently working, she brings a maternal energy to even her craziest characters, which probably makes them seem even crazier. She also excels in roles that exude a sense of cool confidence, which helps if you’re handling soviet spies on The Americans or leading a weed-dealing family on Justified.

11. WALTON GOGGINS

Walton Goggins in FX's 'Justified'
FX Networks

Speaking of Justified: Walton Goggins earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of gritty-yet-charming criminal Boyd Crowder on the show, but he deserves so many more awards (though it's worth noting that he did win an Oscar in 2002, when The Accountant—a short film he produced and starred in—was named Best Live-Action Short Film). He’s got a flare for playing wild-eyed thugs and weirdos blissfully lacking self-awareness, but the scummy majesty he offers isn’t solely used for black hats. Goggins popping up randomly in movies and TV shows is always a delight because he’s a hell of an actor who seems to have time traveled here from the Wild West.

12. CCH POUNDER

CCH Pounder in 'NCIS: New Orleans'
CBS

CCH Pounder’s niche is serious professionals in police stations and emergency rooms, but she’s also brought steely playfulness to the neighborhood witch Madame Dorothea in the Mortal Instruments franchise. She’s consistently fantastic, drawing on years of expertise, natural magnetism, and an amazing number of starring and guest-starring roles on TV.

13. STEPHEN ROOT

Stephen Root in 'Idiotsitter' (2014)
Comedy Central

Stephen Root has portrayed so many outlandish characters that it’s shocking when he turns up in a movie in khakis and a Polo shirt. There are no limits on his range, and you can take your pick from a metric ton of favorites: Office Space, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Dodgeball, Idiocracy, King of the Hill, NewsRadio, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Get Out are just a few. In his TV career, he’s been in over 700 episodes and continues to elevate his game. This is legendary character actor status here.

14. ALLISON JANNEY

Allison Janney in 'I, Tonya' (2017)
Neon

West Wing fans have known about Allison Janney’s ability to command a room either with charm, severity, or by doing "The Jackal" since the late 1990s. But she solidified her place in the Character Actor Hall of Fame with her Oscar-winning turn as Tonya Harding’s abusive, bird enthusiast mother in I, Tonya. With a comic edge that echoes vaudeville (see: Hairspray) and a scary intensity when things get serious, Janney excels in any role you lay at her feet.

15. PAT HEALY

Pat Healy in 'The Innkeepers' (2011)
Magnolia Pictures

Often portraying the disturbing or the disturbed, Pat Healy is willing to push extremes of manic glee while staying grounded. He most notably shines through the grit in Cheap Thrills as the downtrodden mechanic Craig who performs increasingly violent and degrading stunts for a bigger pot of money. He also menaced Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker by phone in Compliance and was menaced by ghosts in The Innkeepers.

16. MICHELLE HURST

Michelle Hurst in 'Orange Is the New Black'
Netflix

If you’re a fan of Law & Order and its 1000 spinoffs, you’ve seen (and likely marveled at) Michelle Hurst a dozen times. She possesses a sharp ferocity, as proven by her portrayal of the acerbic Miss Claudette on the first season of Orange is the New Black. She was sidelined after a 2013 car accident, but she’s back this year in a supporting role in the romantic comedy Permission, so hopefully casting directors will take of this criminally underused powerhouse.

17. MICHAEL PEÑA

Michael Peña in 'CHIPS' (2017)
Peter Iovino, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

If you only know Michael Peña as the fast-talking goof in Ant-Man, you’d be forgiven for not realizing the dangerous dramatic work he has done since Crash. He’s the rare talent who’s at the top of his game whether trying to make us laugh, cry, or wrestle with difficult truths. How else can you explain him stealing scenes in Marvel’s miniature superhero film a year after transforming wholesale into Cesar Chavez for a biopic of the civil rights activist?

18. KATHRYN HAHN

Kathryn Hahn in 'Happyish'
Showtime

Kathryn Hahn has been outshining her leading counterparts for years, but Bad Moms really gave her room to run. She absolutely has the skills to heighten the drama in movies like Revolutionary Road and This Is Where I Leave You, but the sweet spot of her talent is in finding humor by playing an exaggerated version of our funny best friend. Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight proved Hahn could shoulder a starring role, but it’s great that she has found her stride as the bar-hopping, sexually adventurous single mother ripping through stereotypes in a budding Bad Moms franchise and continues to command the screen in ensembles.

19. KEITH DAVID

Keith David and Parker Young in 'Enlisted'
Adam Taylor, Fox

This Juilliard graduate got his cinematic start with The Thing and Platoon, then went on to lend his unmistakable, Emmy-worthy voice and stature to a slew of harrowing dramas. But Keith David’s secret weapon is his comic perfection as an exasperated authority figure on display in There’s Something About Mary, Rick and Morty, the short-lived-but-brilliant Enlisted, and later seasons of Community. You can count on the Tony winner for acting perfection on screen or on stage.

20. BETH GRANT

Drew Barrymore and Beth Grant in 'Donnie Darko' (2001)
Newmarket Films

If you need an actor to play a religious zealot or snappy rule-enforcer, Beth Grant is your first and last phone call. She’s the consummate stick in the mud, crafting figures who scold and harangue the main character for having even the tiniest bit of fun. We often love to hate the characters she portrays in movies like Donnie Darko and No Country for Old Men (not to mention her regular role on The Mindy Project), but she always transforms flat antagonists into fully realized humans by carving out space for sympathy.

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