They Live deserves to be celebrated, especially on its 27th anniversary this week. With the previous year’s Prince of Darkness, the film was part of a return to low-budget filmmaking for director John Carpenter after helming projects like Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Thing. It remains one of Carpenter’s most enjoyable works, partly because of its pulp-political material (inspired by Carpenter’s hatred of Reaganomics), and an excellent turn for pro wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Piper did more than just look the part of drifter John Nada — he took on the role with a reserved grit, and seemed every bit the Hollywood star when the film debuted in 1988. In remembrance of the 27th anniversary of the film’s release, here are four things you may not have known about They Live.
WrestleMania III Brought John Carpenter And Roddy Piper Together
The third-annual WrestleMania event is fondly remembered for packing more than 90,000 fans into the Pontiac Silverdome to see Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan finally slug it out over the WWF Championship. But, many people forget that the event also hosted what was to be “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s final match. (Retirements in wrestling are a fickle thing, and usually do not stick.) Piper had a back-up plan, though. Shortly after the event, Piper’s manager asked him to have a meeting with a director he was not familiar with: John Carpenter.
The guy who was managing me at the time, Dave Wolfe, said, ‘I want you have dinner with this guy.’ I never heard of him, but that’s my bad, you know? ’Cause I had been fighting pro since I was 15, I was rolling pretty hard. And he said, ‘Okay, after [WrestleMania is] over, after it’s over.’ So we sat down and, I’m trying not to be too facetious, but it was pretty close to this – ‘Could you pass me the butter? You want a roll? Yeah. Want to star in my next movie? Sure. Can I have some more champagne? Sure.’ It wasn’t much more than that, really.
Carpenter used to be a huge wrestling fan, but decided it wasn’t for him anymore when Vince McMahon told the world that wrestling was just a show.
The “Bubblegum” Line Was Originally Intended For A Wrestling Promo
Roddy Piper’s famous “bubblegum” line was ad-libbed by the pro-wrestler-turned-actor: “I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
It’s the film’s best-known line, but it was really intended for Roddy Piper to use in another venue. Piper — who was known for giving some of the most original interviews in the pro-wrestling business — used it at the behest of Carpenter. In an interview with Nerdist, Carpenter recalled the line’s origin.
It was in the original script, but it all belongs to Roddy, I have to give him complete credit for it. He had a notebook with him in which he would think up one-liners for his matches. And you know part of wrestling is the interview… So his character, his “Rowdy Piper” character, would taunt and insult and so forth, so he’d take a notebook with him, and he’d write the things he would think up… There were others in there, too, but that was the one that really jumped out. I believe that one was for, if I remember right, Playboy Buddy Rose.
The Lengthy Fight Scene With Keith David And Piper Took Six Weeks To Rehearse
On of the best moments in They Live is the extended fight scene (almost six minutes long) between Keith David and Piper. Piper even throws in a few wrestling moves like a back suplex and a chicken wing hold in the brutal-looking affair. The sequence mixes in narrative elements amidst the punches, and it remains one of Carpenter’s proudest moments in the movie.
It’s an obvious asset for Roddy, and they rehearsed that fight for essentially a month and a half – roughly a month and a half. By the end, they were so conversant in the fight, they knew it inside and out, they were making contact with each other, like you said. They were hitting each other. But since they knew the fight, there was no injury whatsoever. Yeah, I’m proud of the fight. I like the fight a lot.
They Live Was Based On A Comic Book
In 1963, author Ray Nelson wrote a short story named “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” about a man who becomes aware of an alien invasion that is hidden from the average person. That short story was later adapted into the comic, Nada, which became the inspiration for John Carpenter’s version of the story for They Live. Carpenter also kept the Nada name — it means “nothing” in Spanish — for Piper in the film. You can read the entire comic here.