October 7th, 2008 | Interviews

michael hsiung

From child actor to cult icon, the cinematic credits—like Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Carnosaur and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father—of Clint Howard are legend. Before the screening of his film Evilspeak, he pauses to discuss some particularly bright aspects to stardom: terrified soccer moms, Maureen O’Hara’s cozy bust and kicking ass with the Fonz.

Since Halloween is creeping upon us, let’s start with Evilspeak at Cinefamily. This was your ‘coming of age’ movie, right?
Yeah, I was in my very early twenties and it was a wonderful experience for me because I was acting for one of the first times on my own. Having been a child actor, I was under the care of my dad Rance Howard. He was always there working as my mentor and my coach and my dad. Evilspeak was the first big opportunity I had to be on my own—to be creative and act. And what a wonderful experience it was. It was shot out of town up in Santa Barbara for the three weeks—four weeks—whatever it was, it’s been a long time. So here I was on my own, and I developed a wonderful relationship with [director] Eric [Weston] early on, which made me feel really good. He just brought me into the creative fold and between Eric, myself, and the cinematographer, Irv Goodnoff, I really felt like we had a wonderful collaboration as we made this movie.
The uncut version of the film was banned in the U.K.?
Oh yeah, they called it a ‘video nasty.’
I heard there is an even more gruesome director’s cut. Is this true?
Eric had edited a version of the film, as all directors usually get to do their version of the movie. And, of course, the director’s cut is usually long but it’s the starting point. I do remember seeing a longer version of the film that probably was too long to play in movie theaters—and remember this movie was released in the theaters in the United States. We actually had a really good opening weekend. Even though it was a small release the box office numbers were really solid. Anyway, I think Eric knew that his version of the movie was probably better—I felt like it was better and it wasn’t just because it was dirtier or more violent. It had more character development and it had elements that he drew out in order to allow it to play at a certain length. And then the producers came and trimmed it all down and delivered it into a ninety-minute package or whatever the length the movie was when it was released.
Do you ever put on your Ice Cream Man costume for Halloween?
[Laughs] No, I don’t have my Ice Cream Man costume and I feel like to go ahead and get some generic ice cream man costume would be sacrilege. I’ll tell you what, though—that was a fun movie to work on. We had a blast on that. There were several times that I chose to drive home back to Burbank in my bloody Ice Cream Man clothes. I got a kick out of seeing my fellow drivers out there who look over and see this guy bloody in an ice cream man suit. I have one very memorable story—after one of the bloodier days on Ice Cream Man, I was getting off the off-ramp and there was a stop light there right near my house. So I’m waiting there for this light to change and some soccer mom in one of those soccer vans drove up next to me. I swear to God I’ll never forget this. She looked over at me and did a double take. Her eyes got really big. Then she leapt out of the driver’s seat, kinda lurched around, and locked the sliding door of the minivan. Her motherly instincts took over when she took one look at me. My God, she wasn’t going to have her children harmed by the Ice Cream Man! And that’s as close as I’ve gotten to wearing my Ice Cream Man costume away from the set.
Where is your MTV Movie Lifetime Achievement Award right this second?
It’s sitting on the top shelf of my bookcase right next to my golf trophy and a picture of me and my dearly departed cat, Sam. It’s in a place of prominence.
How was working with Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara in Steinbeck’s The Red Pony?
Oh boy, working with Hank and Maureen was a wonderful experience. Probably the best work I’ve ever done. And I’m glad you mentioned it because it’s not really available on DVD unless you’ve got a bootleg copy or something. It’s hard to get a hold of and Universal doesn’t show it a lot. But it was a wonderful movie done by a really wonderful director—a fella named Bob Totten who was a dear friend of our family. And getting experience to play Jody Tiflin, Henry and Maureen’s son, was just—oh, man—words can’t express what memories that has for me. It had a wonderful cast and it was a great environment. Bob Totten was a great director and it was a great creative experience. You know, Jack Elam, one of the great all-time character actors, he was in the movie. Ben Johnson was in it and I had scenes with him too. And of course, doing scenes with Hank was really special and I realized—even at thirteen—what a wonderful actor he was. He took the work so seriously, he was so giving and professional—it was a memory I’ll never forget. And Maureen—she was a wonderful lady and she had the nicest breasts a child could ever nuzzle against. You got to remember—at thirteen years old, I was starting to notice nuzzling against breasts. Well, I had a couple of scenes where I was being mothered and my job was to be emotional, crying, and then be hugged and placed in the bosom of Maureen O’Hara. Let me tell you, that was one of the highlights of my juvenile acting career.
I read that you were on the Happy Days softball team. Was this bar league and did the Fonz bat clean-up?
I was actually a really important part of the Happy Days Softball Team. I was the catcher. I caught and Henry [Winkler] pitched. Henry is not a natural athlete and I played high school baseball. Actually, for being a little guy, I was relatively gifted as a ballplayer—I mean, I had my limitations but playing for this team, I was a known guy, a celebrity, but technically I was sort of a ringer. I was right out of high school and I was at my prime athletically. Catching Henry, I made Henry better. It was fun because I knew Henry and catching him, we really had bonded as friends. We’re friends today. And anybody who was around that Happy Days softball team will just start glowing when they get talking about our experience. We traveled. We played softball games at Veteran’s Stadium in Philly, at Wrigley Field, Shea Stadium, Candlestick Park, Dodger Stadium, Anaheim Stadium, San Diego, one time we traveled to Okinawa—sort of a U.S.O. tour. So the experience was a chance of a lifetime, to go and play softball in different places. And the second part of that question was?
Who’s batting clean-up?
Oh, well, Henry—because he was the Fonz—kinda batted anywhere he wanted to. But we had a couple of ringers that would hit fourth. Ron [Howard] was a really good athlete himself at that point in his life. He played left field and he was always solid. Donny Most [“Ralph Malph”] was a great center fielder—he could run like the wind and he hit pretty well, too. Scott Baio [“Chachi”] played short and was really good. Here was the advantage we had—whenever we went to these different cities and played, these other teams thought that we were just going to be another bunch of pansy celebrities. But we showed up, took it seriously, and we were good. I mean, we kicked their ASS! Most of the time, we kicked their ass before they even knew it was happening. You know, it’s fun to play baseball and it’s fun to play softball and it’s fun to play golf, but it’s always better when you win.
What’s going on with your band, Clint Howard and the Kempsters?
I retired the band back in 1983. We had a great two or three year run with great camaraderie and shows. We had a blast but it ended. And I knew deep in my heart that I had a calling in life that was to be an actor, not a musician. It was one of those things where we were a really good ‘garage band.’ We loved the music we were playing, we loved the people we played the music for—it was a great party.
With the remakes and film versions of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Star Trek, and Arrested Development currently in the works, have you been contacted to reprise any of your roles?
No, and I’m certainly willing. In all seriousness, I am a working actor. It’s what I do for a living. I’m not a professional celebrity—I’m a professional actor. If any of those directors call and are interested in finding a place for me, I certainly would be interested because I like to work.
With the election season in full effect and this being Hollywood, have you formally endorsed a candidate and if not, would you like to do so exclusively with L.A. RECORD?
Wow, it’s really tempting to do but I do believe that actors should act. I don’t think that endorsing anyone should weigh on anyone else. My opinion is my opinion and I’m very proud of my vote—my support to the two candidates that I do support. But an official endorsement I think is a little bit out of bounds for an actor. That’s just my own personal opinion. But I really do honestly believe that the two candidates that I am going to vote for—he’s going to be a great president and she’s going to be a great vice president.