[Lunchmeat chats with Jim Murchison - Tommy Whitcomb in MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)]

Q: The Universal question: How did you get the role of Tommy in MY BLOODY VALENTINE?

  Tommy (Jim Murchison) gets the Mooseheads in with Gretchen (Gina Dick) in MY BLOODY VALENTINE

I actually have no recollection of my audition, but I know I did one. I thought I did a good audition but I was convinced someone else had gotten cast, so I went to a farm I had worked at when I was in High school and primed (picked) tobacco. It was near the end of the season and I was coming in from the field. Jeannette, the wife of the farmer was jumping up and down excitedly telling me I was going to be a star. We didn't have cell phones back then so I had left my number in Delhi, Ontario in case my agent wanted me for anything. I called Arden Rhyshpan, the casting director and met her the next day at the Montreal airport. She handed me my ticket and I flew to Sydney Mines.

Q: Why did you accept the role?

I wanted to work. I had done a very large role in a film the year before. The film was called Crunch. The original story had been written by Eugene Levy among others, but it had been rewritten and Eugene Levy took his name off the credits. It had great potential originally but for a number of reasons it never lived up to it. I was very excited to be working on a film again. The subject matter and the location I also thought could make the film a cut above a lot of films in the genre.

  Harry Warden is back in town! Or is he?

Q: What was George Mihalka like to work with?

He was really nice to work with. He seemed to be in the actors' corner. The first thing we did was a read through of the entire script with the cast minus the ending. A read through is pretty typical in theatre, but on film most of the time you just come in for your scenes and the supporting characters first chance to read with the other actors is a rehearsal while the shot is being lit. The other thing that George did that is so simple but brilliant was give us a sense of what the miners did by taking us to a working mine. He wanted the film to have a working class feel and be real and for the most part I think that came through.

Q: Some of my favorite scenes were the 'bar scenes.' Where exactly were the bar scenes shot?

It was a real bar in Sydney Mines. I don't remember the name of it. I remember I was itching to be more involved in the scene. I loved what was going on. There was the drama of the love triangle and the forboding voice of Happy and all the stuff happening under the surface while all the drinking and the singing and partying was going on.

Q: Also, the Recreation Room where everyone threw 'the party' against the Sheriff's wishes: Where was that shot?

That was an actual break room or lunch room I think at the Princess mine. As I recall almost all of the locations were pretty authentic places in the community. There might have been a couple of constructed sets, but if there were, I certainly didn't have any scenes in them.

In a previous interview with the director, I read that there was an accident on set and that someone was clipped by a car during the 'chase into town' scene. He never stated who it was that was injured or who it might have been that hit him. Do you recall this...and if so, can you give us a hint on who it might have been?

No. All of that happened the last week, after I had flown back to Montreal. I was completely unaware of any of it.

Q: What were the town-folk like?

I was born in the maritimes myself and most of my family still lives in New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, so for me it was like getting to go home and get paid for it. The people there are easy going and easy to talk to. A few of the local young men were strutting about a bit when they saw the actresses, but when I think about it so were we. I think we were all a little smitten with the women in the film and felt a little protective of them at the same time. I also remember being at the face of the working mine and seeing how hard it was being underground and the great senses of humour of the men down there, as well as the battle fatigue and exhaustion you feel when you come to the surface. I can't say enough about how humbling that is and what a privelege it was that George was able to do that for us.

  Tommy (center) and the other teenagers don't take the news that the dance has been cancelled lying down

Q: What was your shooting schedule?

It was pretty easy actually. A lot of time I was on call for weather coverage since a lot of my scenes were indoors. The cast would spend a lot of time together if we were on call. It was much tougher on the crew and the cast that had scenes in the mine.

Q: I always loved Paul Kelman's character TJ. What was Paul like to work with?

My only real scene with Paul was just before I race into town to warn Chief Newby that Harry is back in the mine. Paul had his wife with him so off set, I didn't spend much time with him, but we got along fine.

Howard (played by Alf Humphreys) is also a very memorable character in that his jokes seemed to just come from the top of his head. (Elaborate if you will)

John Baird, the writer was on set so we certainly wanted to be faithful to his script, but as I remember we were able to add lines in if it suited the characters. Alf and I got along famously. Alf put me up at his place when I moved to Toronto until I found an apartment. He was always working on bits. At times one didn't know where Alf stopped and Howard started, but he is a very good actor and I think the moment when he realizes that there is a murderer in the mine and the fear wells up in him is what really works for me. I remember in the scenes in the rec room where Alf is snorting coca cola and Tom Kovacs is playing pool there was a lot of ad libbing by Alf, Keith and even I through a tag line in.

Q: In your role as Tommy Whitcomb, were there any special things you did to get into character?

A lot of time I just tried to listen to what was going on. I did work on a few bits of tom foolery with Carl Marotte because we were sidekicks. The most time I took to get into a scene was after Dave gets killed. I wanted to be frightened and crying because TJ and Axel were so deliberate and controlled. I may have overdone it a bit, but thankfully the genre lends itself to hyperbole.

Q: It looked very cold in some scenes. (elaborate)

  Tommy and Dave (Carl Marotte) (left) have a chat at the party before all hell breaks loose

I'm Canadian. I remember thinking it was remarkably mild for October in the maritimes. I think there were a couple of cold nights, but no matter what the temperature, if Don Francks wasn't needed for a scene he was barefoot.

Also, in the interview with George Mihalka that I read, he said something to the effect that he didn't want anyone to know who the killer was. Is this true...and if so, did you have an idea of who it might have been?

That was absolutely true. In fact the original working title of the film was The Secret and at our read through we didn't have the pages leading up to the discovery of the killer. Many of us suspected it was Axel. I was one of them but I kind of hoped it was me.

Q: Would you have ever known that MY BLOODY VALENTINE would have gained such cult status in the horror department?

Absolutely not. I thought it was great fun to work on, but it was so slashed to avoid the x rating, and so universally disliked by critics, I didn't have a clue about it's cult status until the remake. An actor in Australia contacted me on facebook and asked if I was the Jim Murchison that played Tommy Whitcomb and then the reunions started happening. I was blown away. It is very gratifying and humbling to meet the people that love this film.

Q: What did you think of the remake? were you surprised when you found out they were remaking it?

I was shocked that they were remaking it. I didn't see it when it first came out. I went to a reunion with the cast In Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Chris Carbaugh from the remake was there. I thought the effects were great and there were some credible performances, but it certainly didn't have the sense of humour of the original. I tend to like comic relief in a thriller. Jaws and Halloween have that. I didn't get that from the remake.

Q: Of course, Neil Affleck played Axel. He has since went on to do a lot of animation work on some popular children's shows and other cartoons. What was he like to work with?

  Tommy breaks the news that there's a murderer on the loose at the Hanniger mines to Chief Newby (Don Francks)

Neil and I were both living in Montreal when we shot the film. I moved to Toronto first and we shared an apartment for a year or so. I actually worked more closely with him in an HBO CBC co-production of Rich Little's Robin Hood and then later Neil hired me for an animation project on the first world war he was pitching to PBS. He needed someone to interview WW1 vets in Ontario and Quebec. I would interview theses amazing men between 98 and 106 and send him the tapes in LA. He's good to work with and a good friend.

So Jim, back to you: You seemed to have a very promising career in film. What made you decide to stop acting in movies/television?

Geography and circumstance. I moved to Ottawa and finally took a permanent job and was blessed with two wonderful daughters.

Q: Do you still remain in contact with any other cast members?

I do now. After the film when most of us were living in Toronto, the people I kept up with and cared about the most were MBV alumnae. I lived with Alf, Neil and Keith Knight at various times. I would see Lori Hallier, Helene Udy,Gina Dick and Rob Stein now and then. Before I moved to Ottawa most of the cast had moved to LA or Vancouver and we lost touch for a while, but whenever I see them now it is like old times. I also got a chance to meet Paul Zaza (the Composer) for the first time at a reunion in Toronto and reunite with George and Bob Presner, the line producer. It was a great cast and crew.

Q: Was there anything about the whole shooting process of MY BLOODY VALENTINE that you didn't like?

Not for me. I didn't have to do the cold shower scene or get covered in blood. I had it pretty easy.

Q: Did you get to see any of the bigger producers on the set? If so, what were they like?

I honestly don't remember if John Dunning or Andre Link were there. I chatted a lot with Bob Presner and with Ray Sager. They were good fun to be around.

  Alternate MY BLOODY VALENTINE artwork

The special f/x were great and are more prevalent in the new release of My Bloody Valentine on dvd. Did you get to see any of the f/x shots in action?

I remember waiting for a shot that was coming up. Jack Van Evera was walking around with his eye hanging out and was passing by a dummy of himself being dragged along the floor by a pick axe. Blood was boiling on a hot plate and I was sitting in between Gina Dick and Helen Udy when they killed the lights for a reverse shot they were setting up. I had stereo shrieking and fingernails dug deeply into both forearms.

Q: Jack Van Evera (Happy) also chewed up the scenery. What was he like to work with?

I loved his character. He was fun. The scene with Alf and him in the bar cracked me up.

Q: Don Francks: He was already an established actor back then. (elaborate)

He was quiet and cool. He was also a fine musician. I was watching Finnian's Rainbow with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark the other day and this young man is singing this ballad and I was thinking, where do I know him from and then it hit me. It was Don Francks. He recently did an animation project with the company Neil is working for as well.

Q: Were you aware of the popularity of the slasher film back then?

Oh yeah, I was aware of HALLOWEEN and the genre, but when I got cast in MBV I wasn't sure if it was a slasher film or a psychological thriller about cannibalism. After it came out I think it got some criticism because of the time that was a little over the top. I don't think there is any pretentiousness to the film and from talking to the real fans I think that's what they appreciate.

Q: Can you remember the exact shooting dates?

No. Late September, early October I think.

Q: The cars and trucks used in the movies...were these the actors automobiles or were they provided?

Certainly my El Camino and all of the principal actors had them provided. Most of the cast was from Montreal or Toronto and flown in to Cape Breton.

Q: How old were you during the shoot?

I was 24.

Q: Keith Knight (Hollis) passed away sometime ago. He was a great character in the film. What was he like to work with and what were/are your thoughts on his passing?

Keith and I were roommates in Toronto before he married his fiance. He was always very positive and he was great fun on the set too. I had the pleasure of working with John Candy once. Keith would sometimes get called in to audition as Candy's brother and they both had tremendous joy and humanity as many fine actors and comedians do. Keith always connected to the truth in character. He was a fine actor and a wonderful man and I was shocked and saddened when I heard he had died.

Q: Back to Paul Kelman: The last thing I saw him in was BLACK ROSES. Do you ever get the chance to talk to Paul these days?

No, he friended me on facebook when the reunions started happening, and I responded a month later because I don't often go on facebook, but I don't know if he is still at the same account.

Q: If someone came up to you today and offered you a part as one of the surviving miners in a sequel to the remake, would you do it?

In a heartbeat. Particularly if George Mihalka or former cast members were involved.

Q: Do you do any stage work these days?

A couple of years ago, I did a character of Beauregard Blake in a play by a local writer (Maureen Chaume) and a Blues musician (Guy Del Villano) who are friends of mine. There are a couple of videos of me singing and playing Harmonica in a number called Bad Actor Blues on myspace and youtube. I am working on doing some theatre this spring as well. I am a theatre critic for a Canadian online Theatre Journal called the Charlebois Post so I am heavily involved in the Ottawa Theatre scene right now even if I am not on stage.

Q: Do you ever run into a fan of the film that recognizes you?

Outside of the reunions where they're looking for me and other cast members, no.

Q: In three words, describe your experience with MY BLOODY VALENTINE.

I would steal Tommy Whitcomb's line, "What a Blast!"

Thanks you again Jim for taking time to answer these questions.

Relevant Links

Visit Jim Murchison's IMDB page.