Along with its subterranean monsters, Michael Gross’s kooky survivalist Burt Gummer has been a stalwart of the Tremors franchise. STACK caught up with the veteran actor ahead of the release of series’ seventh instalment, Tremors: Shrieker Island.
While the average moviegoer may be familiar with the 1990 cult creature feature Tremors, starring Kevin Bacon, it is perhaps only the diehard fans that have followed the franchise throughout its many instalments (and short-lived television series) all the way to the latest and seventh chapter, Shrieker Island.
The 30-year journey has seen eccentric survivalist Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) encounter every incarnation of the monstrous subterranean earthworms known as Graboids. It’s also taken him on perilous adventures from desolate Nevada landscapes to frozen arctic tundras, and now to a secluded tropical oasis where a greedy billionaire has imported the deadly creatures for big game hunting.
Speaking with STACK, Gross reflects on this new sequel and the longevity of Tremors.
“I didn’t imagine this,” he says with genuine disbelief. “I mean, I did know that it was a good product, and an unusual product, but being the fatalist that I am I never assumed it would last quite this long. But I am thrilled for that reason because Burt is a character that I love revisiting from time to time.”
Having found international stardom as the loveable Steven Keaton in the ‘80s sitcom Family Ties, Tremors is the only other property in which Gross has maintained a steadfast presence.
“I don’t particularly like steady work. I like the variety of freelancing, which is the reason I have only done one sitcom in all of my 45-year career,” he explains. “I just prefer variety, and that’s why Burt suits me, because I only revisit him every few years – and it’s always refreshing to see him again.”
While reflecting on Tremors throughout the years, Gross reveals that at one point fans were very close to seeing a whole lot more of Burt.
“Once upon a time there were plans to do a series with Burt. They were tossing around ideas like ‘Burt’s Basement Compound’ and things like that. Funnily enough he has become the head of the franchise, if only because he keeps surviving. But I always thought that he shouldn’t be the focus because he was always an ancillary character and he’s always more interesting the more you surround him with normal characters, if you know what I mean.
“The quest in all of these pieces is to not centre Burt but to always have sidekicks or more normal people who can look at him like the crazy person he is and be astounded at the things that come out of his mouth,” he continues, adding with a smirk, “and that’s why I never really wanted to do a series about Burt. It seems to work better when someone else is taking the helm and he’s just walking in and out and doing strange things.”
Unlike most of the Tremors sequels before it, Shrieker Island restores a modicum of integrity to the series and boasts a strong ensemble cast – not unlike the original film – with Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder and 3 from Hell’s Richard Brake sparring alongside Gross.
“You know, I love that mixed ensemble,” he says. “We’ve always had mixed race and ethnic backgrounds. Richard Brake – wow – I can just remember the days we had and how many times he had to take a dunk in the water, and just how kind he was. He was such a good sport; I like him immensely. And Jon Heder, he’s marvellous. I always loved Napoleon Dynamite and he was always full of great ideas. And to be honest, I am renewed by the people I work with, it’s that simple.”
Gross’s latest trip as Burt Gummer is one for the ages, and loyal fans won’t be disappointed. With its lavish production design and exotic location distinguishing it from previous instalments, Tremors: Shrieker Island comes loaded with Graboid mayhem and a final act that will prompt much discussion from Tremors devotees.
• Tremors: Shrieker Island is new to watch at home on DVD from Dec 16