Director Richard Donner On The Legacy Of ‘The Goonies,’ 30 Years Later

Richard Donner Goonies
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First, the bad news: we’re still no closer to a sequel to The Goonies today than we were in 1985. Last year, director Richard Donner caused the internet to collectively freak out when he told a TMZ cameraman that a sequel to The Goonies was finally happening and the original cast was returning. Thanks to sites that most people have never heard of recycling the clip as fresh news, it has become the click that keeps on baiting, with people sharing it daily with the hopes that The Goonies 2 is on its way, 30 years later.

But the good news is that three decades after the release of this iconic cult classic, people still love it so much that they lose their minds when Donner or any of the cast members even mention a sequel. Sean Astin got fans riled up a while back when he told MTV that One-Eyed Willy’s Inferno would soon sail again, and it shouldn’t shatter any monocles that Corey Feldman would readily return as Mouth at the drop of a nude statue. The problem, though, is that even if Donner and Steven Spielberg find a story that they like, we won’t see a complete reunion, because Jeff Cohen reassured us that he has hung up his Hawaiian shirt for a career as a prominent entertainment attorney and author.

The question is, do we really need a sequel to this beloved ‘80s movie? Some stories are just best left alone, especially when they stand the test of time. The Goonies is one of those truly magical films that appeals to children today just as it appealed to their parents when they were children. In an era of remakes and reboots, The Goonies remains an untouchable classic that should be appreciated as is, especially considering it’s a film with a heartwarming story within a heartwarming story, as Donner revealed to us.

“They became the Goonies who loved each other and hated each other.”

Perhaps because he was too busy directing The Color Purple or he was just worn out from working with kids in E.T., Steven Spielberg handed The Goonies off to director Richard Donner and screenwriter Chris Columbus. What’s interesting about Spielberg’s choice for director is that Donner admittedly never liked children, so why on Earth would he be the guy to work with this group of inexperienced child actors?

“My first thoughts were, ‘why me?’ ” Donner recalled. “Because it was Steven Spielberg who made the best movies for kids and for dreaming in the world. So, why are you giving this to me? He said because he was busy doing something else and he thought I was as big a kid as he was and he gave it to me.”

Columbus has previously said that the idea for The Goonies (originally titled The Goon Kids, so thank goodness they changed that one) came from a simple question: What do kids do when they’re bored on a rainy day? In this case, it was to embark on an adventure that had them racing against a notorious criminal family to find a legendary pirate’s treasure. Beats the hell out of playing video games all day. While Donner might have been apprehensive about working with kids, casting directors Mike Fenton and Judy Taylor somehow put together an incredible group with a perfect chemistry — although, the kids were a bit of a handful.

“The annoying thing was the lack of discipline,” Donner told us, “and that was also what was great because it meant that they weren’t professionals. What came out of them was instinct and that was beautiful. But because it was instinct they didn’t have the discipline of a professional actor, a trained actor who knew that on that line or that move they were going to scratch themselves or drink a Coke or eat a slice of pizza, so every time you would make cuts to match, they were all over the place. Never on the same marks. But the reason they weren’t is because they were functioning on their instincts, and their instincts at that moment told them to go there and not there. I just had to figure my way around it, but it drove me nuts.”

Of the young actors playing Donner’s Goonies, very few of them had actual acting experience. Josh Brolin and Kerri Green were making their acting debuts, while Sean Astin, Jonathan Ke Quan and Martha Plimpton had a few prior roles between them. Only Corey Feldman and Jeff Cohen could call themselves veteran child actors in 1985, and even then, Cohen explained, he couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of one castmate. “It’s cool to be a Goonie and everything and I love it,” he said, “but Ke got to be a Goonie and basically save Indiana Jones on numerous occasions.” And yet they all bonded through their inexperience, and that turned them into a fiercely loyal cast, often at Donner’s expense.

“They were all non-professionals and they became the Goonies who loved each other and hated each other,” Donner said. “If you came in the morning and hugged one and didn’t hug the other, they would grump you all day. If you yelled, one of the others would cry. It was an amazing experience for them as well as me. No, no… for me more than them. It was an amazing experience working with these pure, wonderful, unprogrammed minds. I’m not putting down professionally-trained actors. They are great to work with and you become simpatico with them and things flow and that’s another thing totally. But this was just a totally unique experience. It was bliss.”

The hardest of Donner’s chores might have been keeping the kids well-behaved around John Matuszak, the controversial former NFL defensive end who enjoyed a somewhat successful acting career after his playing days. In becoming Sloth, Tooz had to spend a lot of time in the makeup chair each morning, so if anything ruined his makeup it was back to the chair for another four hours. Naturally, Donner wanted to avoid that kind of situation at any cost, but the children didn’t really care about that because Sloth was their beloved gentle giant. Between Donner and Tooz, the Goonies had a blast playing delightful pranks on the adults.

“The things they did,” the director recalled. “They were wonderful. And you couldn’t turn your back on them. I remember doing a water scene when they first see the boat. There’s a wet suit and a dry suit. A wet suit you strip down to your skivvies and it’s this hard rubber suit, you put it on and stay dry. A dry suit is you can put it over your shoes and your clothes and just zipper it at the top, and you’re in and out and it’s easy. When I put it back on I go, ‘oh no,’ and I felt the water seeping into my clothes. They had undone my zippers when I was talking to someone, they came behind me and pulled the zippers down. I mean, they’re devils. But they were children having the time of their lives with all the freedom that they could.

“And John Matuszak, Sloth, it took four hours every time we put his makeup on. Three or four hours, it was terrible. At four in the morning they’d start on him. We had him in the water with the kids after that and I’d say, ‘Whatever you do, listen to me carefully, do not splash John because if that water gets on his makeup, all that material, it’s going to take four hours to do it again, and you’re asking a man to sit through that again.’ And they say, ‘Oh yeah yeah, we understand.’ Bang, first take, John is covered in water. They ran over, as the characters, in glee seeing him and they drenched him. So, you couldn’t get angry at them. He was a saint.”

Of all the Goonies, it was Cohen who probably grew the closest with Matuszak because of their scenes together as Chunk and Sloth. For longtime fans of the NFL, it’s hard to imagine that this infamous Raiders bad boy could be such a sweetheart to children, but long after the athlete-turned-actor’s death, that’s simply how Cohen remembers him.

“He was very nice,” Cohen said. “Jon Matuszak was huge, first of all. I think he was 6-foot-7 or maybe he was taller than that. When he played in the NFL, he was a defensive lineman for the Raiders, and when he played he was the largest man in the National Football League. John was really nice to me and it was fun to work with him. But it’s funny, when I was a teenager and I would start to watch the old NFL films and they would have films of John playing for the Raiders, he was one the meanest players in the history of the league [laughs]. He would just terrify people on the field, which was totally shocking to me. I knew him as Sloth, the nice, lovable giant.”

“They were so honest and so real.”

Arguably the greatest scene in a film packed with quotable lines and memorable moments has Chunk being interrogated by the violent, despicable Fratellis. If he doesn’t tell them everything he knows, they will puree his hand in a blender, which is a pretty terrifying scene for a child to watch, let alone film. So, what was it like having Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano, and Anne Ramsey grilling a young actor like Cohen for that scene? Better yet, how was Cohen so amazing in the finished product?

“I’m hazy if it was Davi or Pantoliano, I think it’s Joey Pants actually at this point, but one of them, the way they got me to cry — because those are real tears — is they actually pulled the little hairs out of the bottom of my neck,” Cohen told us. “It would make me cry and it was so scary, so that was my version of method acting. I thought it was Davi who did it but it could have been Joey Pants, I’m not sure.”

The audience cried along with him because the scene was so hysterical, and it almost certainly inspired a generation of children to become pranksters in their own right. And what’s so amazing about it is that Cohen, just a child, was able to deliver that scene with such sincerity. For Donner, the hardest part wasn’t getting the best out of his actors but keeping himself together while they simply did their thing. “Jeff was brilliant and I remember having to practically pass out by putting a handkerchief in my mouth and jamming it in so that I didn’t break out laughing during every take and every scene and screwing it up for the actors. They just had me in hysterics. The brothers were magnificent, Bobby and Pants. Mama was phenomenal. I don’t remember to this day what was written on the script and what Jeff just threw out that came up. He was that character.”

Cohen, however, remembers how the scene was written, and as much as he could take credit for improvising every last detail of the interrogation, he credits the film’s screenwriter for the payoff. “Dick Donner encouraged me to improvise,” he said. “I talk about pushing my sister Edie down the stairs. I actually do have a sister Edie. Or my Uncle Max’s toupee. I actually do have an Uncle Max, who did not have a toupee, but all his friends thought he had a toupee because his nephew Jeff talked about his toupee in the scene. A lot of it was improv but the throw-up part, that part was written by Chris Columbus. That part was actually in the script already. I wish I was smart enough to figure that one out, but Chris wrote that part.”

“He was playing it so beautifully and so real and then so funny that it was very difficult for [the brothers],” Donner said. “Very. But that’s the beauty of it. The redness in their faces and the anger, it was frustration, not holding back laughter. And yet they were in character, too, so they had to play the heavies. If they didn’t play that heavy then Jeff wouldn’t have reacted as well as he did.”

Watching the movie as kids, we probably weren’t too aware of how mean the “Truffle Shuffle” was, mainly because Chunk reluctantly performed it for his friends and then went about his business. Today, the Truffle Shuffle is still a huge part of our lives, from Lutz performing it as torture on 30 Rock to the Akron RubberDucks minor-league baseball team creating the most amazing bobble-belly Chunk doll. However, Donner recalls it as a “painful” scene to film and it was ultimately the catalyst for his lasting relationship with Cohen.

“There was no direction,” Donner explained. “I don’t take any credit for that, it was just Jeff. He had to stand on that stump and be ridiculed by his friends so he could come in the house, and he did it as best as that character could do it. So much humor comes from pain. Although, I’m sure he was too young to be analytical about it, but I’m sure that was part of his instincts. It was a painful scene.”

In fact, Cohen told us that Donner hiring him as a production assistant when he was jobless was what opened the door for him to “learn the business of show business.”

“Jeff became very special as an individual for me when he did the Truffle Shuffle because there was an honest pain in that scene for that little boy in front of those little kids,” Donner said. “When I saw that, and you could see it, my heart went out. When I told Lauren about it we decided we’re going to have to help him go to work on his body and his mind. So, I got him a gym and some instruction and someone to work with. He lost lots of weight and built this great physique and became captain of his wrestling team in high school, captain of his football team, and president of his school class for two years in a row. I’m not saying I did it, but I know that when he started putting pride into his body and self a lot of things changed. I was probably closer to him.”

“I just hated when Friday came around.”

Working with inexperienced and “unprogrammed” child actors may have been stressful for Donner, but in the end they showed him that no matter how unruly they may have been, they cared about him, too. Of course, Spielberg also made sure that his Goonies expressed their love for Donner in the most appropriate way possible – by acting like total jerks and spoiling his vacation to Hawaii. Donner’s story of their epic “prank” is proof positive of how heartwarming The Goonies really was, for us and especially them.

“Last week of the picture, after I had gotten to love them and understand them, care for them and have pain and emotion for them, they started to just not see me anymore,” he remembered. “I wasn’t even part of the movie, or the set. They would say hello instead of the hugs. It was just ‘good morning.’ That was it, they’d turn their backs on me. The whole first day. Then I sat down with myself and said, sure, they’re damn children actors, they know it’s the last week of the shoot. They don’t need me anymore. They’re off to their next movie, and let’s get this thing over with. It was like that the whole week.

“I said to my wife, who is one the greatest producers in the business, ‘Laur,’ I said, ‘I hate kids. And I hate these kids.’ Because they’ve become the professionals I never thought they were, and she said, ‘You gotta live with it. Maybe that’s it. Who knows?’ In any event, even at the wrap party they kind of ignored me. That was it, I said goodbye to everybody.

“I had bought a house in Hawaii, and the next morning I was on a plane to Maui. I woke up and my neighbor called me to ask if I would drive her into town to go shopping. I said, ‘Nah, I want to go to the beach.’ I said, ‘Take the car.’ And she says, ‘I can’t drive a shift,’ because it was a Jeep. I said, ‘Okay c’mon, we gotta do it fast.’ So, I drove her into town and then she had to go to the post office. Then we had to go by Costco. Then all the sudden it’s been an hour and a half, two hours, and the sun’s leaving me. I’m not on the beach where I should be.

“We finally drive back to the house and go to the beach past my house, and I take my shirt off at the water and who’s coming off the beach but Josh Brolin. To my house. And I said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I was really pissed off. He said, ‘Blah blah blah do you remember… bah dah dah, I talked to my mother, she’s taking me surfing.’ I said, ‘This isn’t a surfing beach,’ and I look at him and he’s not looking at my eyes. He’s looking past me. I turn around to the front of my house and there, coming out of every door, is every Goonie in sight. The parents, all the actors, the Fratellis, everybody. One of them had a movie camera even, and I fell to my knees. I just couldn’t believe it.

“Spielberg told them, ‘Okay you guys, I’m going to give you guys a week’s vacation in Hawaii but we’re going to really screw up Donner. But if he finds out you don’t go.’ So, for one week they had to do the best acting they ever did. They had to pretend I wasn’t there. And they did and I loved them. Their deal was they could only stay five hours and then go to another island, but I kept them. We had a great BBQ and everybody came. But it was them. That’s the first time they ever had to act because up until then they were themselves.”

“I never thought in a million years that it would be what it is in 30 years.”

The Goonies 25 Years
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The Goonies was a box office hit in 1985, earning $61 million on a $19 million budget to become the ninth-highest grossing film of the year, but it’s the way that people have attached themselves to this story and its characters on an emotional level – to the point that they’re harassing the woman who now owns the Walsh home in Astoria – that makes it a defining cult classic. Whatever the legacy may be – a cult classic or a wildly-celebrated blockbuster – it’s one Donner never saw coming. And as much as fans would love to see The Goonies 2 on the big screen before Mikey and the gang are old enough to be grandparents, this treasure map will not lead you to a pirate ship filled with priceless optimism.

“With any movie you make, you just hope it’s successful,” Donner said. “You hope you deliver something that the audience you’re looking for enjoys. You have one of the better times of your life making it. But you have no idea, no idea. When you finish the thing you think, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen? I’ll never work again, it’s a failure.’ I didn’t feel that secure on that movie at all. It was a bizarre thing that you get so personally invested with these kids and this really well-written script, but it was like, besides these kids, who else is going to go see this movie? I’m making it for us. I never thought in a million years — ever thought about it! — that it would be what it is in 30 years. Thirty years. I believe it’s still in the Top 10 family films, and one of the two originals.”

The other film that Donner is referring to is The Wizard of Oz, and they are certainly two films that were among the greatest, if not the greatest, at capturing the imaginations and hearts of people of all ages. What remains so amazing and almost miraculous about The Goonies is that Donner didn’t seem like the right guy for this job. At least he didn’t think he was.

“I wouldn’t have gone to see The Goonies,” Donner said. “That wasn’t my kind of movie. Still not my kind of movie. But it was a great experience making it and living with it afterwards. We’re going to do an off-Broadway, do you know what immersion theatre is? Where there’s no seats, the venue is you go into a warehouse and there’s something happening in that warehouse and that’s the play you’ve come to see, only you become part of it and you travel through with actors. It’s very popular now. We’re doing one on The Goonies. It will take another year or so but it’s going to be wonderful.”

But what about that sequel? The Goonies in front of the screen demand to see their heroes seek out another treasure one more time.

“Look, being an actor is great, I miss being an actor,” Cohen explained. “I think anyone who’s been an actor, you kind of miss it even if you were just in school plays. You miss it because it was a fun experience. But I think I’m going to stick with the entertainment-law thing. That seems to be working out [laughs].”

It is indeed working out, as Cohen has been recognized by Variety as a “Showbiz Strategist” for his career success, and he recently published his book, The Dealmaker’s Ten Commandments. That success is the reason why Chunk won’t be around if and when the Inferno sails again. And it is still an “if,” because while Donner’s optimism in that eternal TMZ clip may have faded, Goonies never say die, damn it.

“Maybe,” Donner said of a sequel. “Again, everything takes a long time to get it right. If you do things fast and quick and easy, that’s a disservice. But if there were going to be another movie it would take us a long time to get it right, because we have a lot of history that we’re involved with and a lot of integrity that we have to keep to what once was, and lives a life of its own without destroying it. Maybe the powers that be are working on something.”