We’re fans of Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything), especially the ones that delightfully implode or wherein an experienced actor tells us anecdotes from the set of movies we grew up with. Michael Ironside‘s AMA falls squarely in the latter category, with the veteran “that guy” actor sharing stories from the set of Total Recall, Starship Troopers, Top Gun, The Machinist, Free Willy, Scanners, and Highlander 2, as well as talking about his voice work in Splinter Cell.
This is a long one, but keep reading to hear about coked-up shenanigans, Arnold Schwarzenegger being awesome, and a story about Christian Bale’s ass that will change EVERYTHING YOU KNOW about Christian Bale and asses.
We’ll start with this story from the set of Highlander 2, one of the first questions he answered and already an indication that we’d better strap in for this AMA:
There’s a scene in [Highlander 2] where my character comes to Earth, and literally lands by going through the city streets and through the roof of a subway car, and lands on the subway. My stunt double had never been anywhere in the world where cocaine was so cheap.
And he got absolutely hammered out of his mind for a week, and ended up running through the streets naked in Buenos Aires, and was arrested the morning of that sequence.
So I had to do the stunt, because we had nobody in that part of the world who looked anything like me.
So I had to hang on the roof of the subway car, and land on the floor, without any pads, and it was about a 12 foot drop, straight down, and in costume as the character. In the actual movie, you’ll see me slowly get up, and the character checks both his knees as he’s standing, he checks his back, his arms, and then throws his head back with a joyous scream knowing that he hadn’t broken anything.
That was not acting. That was me. Because i realized I had done it, and I didn’t have to do it again!
From that moment, we just walked forward with the scene. It’s one of my favorite sequences of that film, because it’s where real life and acting come together in such a joyous moment, and it’s captured.
Here’s the scene he’s talking about, most notable for showing a baby flying to his death at 3:20, because you could do stuff like that in wide-release movies back then. Oh, the ’80s.
Ironside also shared a cute story about completely embarrassing himself the first time he met Sean Connery on the Highlander 2 set. But even better than that was finding out how f*cking cool Arnold Schwarzenegger was to work with on Total Recall.
One of my favorite memories of Arnold [Schwarzenegger] at the studios in Mexico City is while shooting, my sister back in Canada had had a cancerous growth in her abdomen that had choked off her intestines, and she was in intensive care after it was removed, and was very very fragile, her health was very fragile. And I had been calling her on a daily basis to see how she was doing, because I’m the oldest of 5, she’s the second oldest, and she’s my oldest and dearest friend. And Arnold noticed me calling every day at lunch and he said “Who is it you’re calling?’
And I told him about my sister, and he said “C’mon, let’s go to my trailer.”
And he had one of these conference phones set up, and he called my sister, and we talked to my sister, in Peterborough, Ontario, for an hour.
My sister recovered. And that’s just the kind of guy Arnold is.
He went through a whole diet thing with her. He told her the healthiest diet she should be on, for her surgery recovery, and he had a wealth of knowledge what was possibly affecting the tumor, and different chemicals and stuff.
And I gotta honestly say – I’m not trying to pump him up – but he changed the course of my sister’s recovery. She seemed lighter, and had more of a sense of humor after that. Felt less isolated. Less insulated. Isolated and insulated, you know?
He called her a couple more times on the phone. He called 2 or 3 more times to check on her.
Schwarzenegger, you magnificent son of a bitch.
We also loved Paul Verhoeven’s reason for adapting the often misunderstood Starship Troopers.
During the shooting of Starship Troopers, did you realize that it was in fact very clever parody?
I don’t think “parody” is an appropriate moniker to put on that film. I read STARSHIP TROOPERS when I was a teenager, which was a book, which was a very frightened, right wing, almost fascist view of our political world. And I was actually surprised that Paul Verhoeven was going to make a film about it. Or from it, I guess we should say, considering that Paul was a child of the second World War in Belgium and in Holland, he used to run around and plain the abandoned battlefields that the Germans and Allies had been in. So I didn’t expect him to adapt a fascist, inflexible, very right wing, fear-based story. So I asked him, I said when I met him for the film, I said “Can I ask you one question?”
And Paul doesn’t like questions. And he said “Okay, ONE question.”
And I said “Why are you making a movie out of such a right wing manifesto?”
And he said “If I told a story that preached to everybody that war is bad,” – in his own way of looking at the universe – if I made a film and preached to everybody that war is bad, and that violence based on politics and religion is bad, nobody would listen to me. So I’m going to create a perfect world where everyone is beautiful, and everyone has the right gun, but it’s only good for killing bugs.
And that’s what he said.
Ironside told a story about making the character of Sam Fisher more humanized in Splinter Cell, but it’s long, so we’ll just link to it. The short version is, he had no idea what he was getting himself into, but his wife got a new SUV and he loves Ubisoft now.
It also turns out David Cronenberg’s weirdness eventually becomes quotidian to the cast and crew on his movies:
Do you have any interesting stories, anecdotes or memories you’d like to share from your time working on Scanners with David Cronenberg?
I have a lot of ’em.
One in particular: David uses the same crew people and the same creative people, he has a small or extended family, creative family. SO a lot of people had been in the trenches with David before when we did Scanners. I was the newbie.
And David is a very straight, very middle class, average looking person with glasses and an inappropriate haircut and inappropriate shirt. And he came on set one day and said: “I had a dream last night.”
And I said “What was it about?”
And I noticed people started to walk away until i was the only one standing there. And he said “I had a dream last night, and my POV was of the ground, and it was a sandy kind of ground, and then vomit started to land on the sandy ground, and it was quite a lot of vomit, and then this wind started to come up and cover the vomit in sand and dust, and the vomit kept coming, and coming…”
He says “And then I felt safe, and satisfied, and relaxed again. And then another wind came, and when the sand had blown away, the vomit had formed into a shape of my naked body, laying on the ground.”
He said “I found that very interesting.”
I nodded and said “Yeah, that’s really, really interesting.”
Thankfully we were called to set and had to go shoot a scene. 3 days later, David was standing on set, and he said “I had a dream last night…” and one of my costars said “Really, what did you dream?”
And I walked away with everybody else, and left that person standing there to hear.
And that’s a true f*cking story.
I know we promised a story about Christian Bale’s ass, and you’re going to get one, although you may regret it.
How was it like working with Christian Bale?
Done 2 films with him. Absolutely love him. Well, not absolutely as being naked and physical, but absolutely love his craft, the way he prepares for work, and the respect he has for what we do as actors.
I remember on The Machinist, I came to work one day, and we were shooting in Barcelona, Spain, and our trailers were these little Spanish 2-wheeled cabanas that were sparked in front of this actual working machine shop.
And I heard “pssst…Michae!” from behind one of the Cabanas.
And I went over, and it was Chris. And he said “Can you look at this?”
And he turned and dropped his overalls, which he was naked under. And he had lost an INCREDIBLE amount of weight for the character. And he said “Michael, there’s something wrong with my ass, can you have a look?”
And the muscles in his ass had literally dropped out of the sockets of his hips. The dignity of the muscles, his ass had literally dropped out of the hips and thigh bones.
And I said “Hey Chris, your ass has dropped.” And he said” What do you mean?”
And I said “You’ve stopped losing body fat, and now you’re actually losing elasticity of muscles” – I forget the exact medical term for it, but I said “You’ve gone beyond body fat, and now you’re into actual muscle tissue and things are being affected.”
And he turned – I wasn’t sure how he was going to react – and he turned, and said “Cool.”
And I said to him “Cool?”
he said “Yeah, I made weight today.”
And what he meant was that when the writer wrote the script, the writer was 5 foot six and he put his own weights in, so he used his own weights for somebody who would be losing weight. So Chris made the weight of either 137 or 127 – so he said “Don’t change the weights in the script, I want to see if I can make them.”
And that was the day they shot the scene with him and the love interest, Jen Lee – it’s the scene where he’s in the bathroom and she says “are you losing weight” and he turns and looks like a skeleton. So the weights he puts on the wall, that is his ACTUAL weight. He wanted to make the weights that the original writer put in, in relation to himself. And Christian is 6 foot, 2 inches. And he did.
He started putting on weight again after that day.
Just to be responsible – Christian had made the weights in the script, and from that day forward, that was the day they were filming the most emaciated scene and from that point forward, he slowly started putting his weight on.
When I saw him again at Sundance 6 months later, he had put on almost 60 pounds of muscle to get ready for Batman. He walked in and looked like a linebacker.