Tom Gibis [Interview]

 

Welcome Everyone! I cannot tell you all how excited I am about today’s interview. This one kicked off as another interview with a guy who happened to appear briefly in one of my favorite films of all time, so let’s learn more about them, as we often do around here. But, this…this became something special. This became probably one of the most inspiring interviews we have ever done. I learned a bit of insight into a very impactful film for me growing up, and a scene that guided me in a way to respect people for who they really are, good or bad. That film was 1996’s Beautiful Girls, a widely forgotten showcase of talent in the 90’s that was occurring quite often at Miramax, sadly while a lot of terrible shit was probably going down, involving some of the very people starring in the film. The film also has an admiringly Lolita-ish vibe that can be interrupted bizarrely if I’m being honest. But, the film shaped me as a 12 year old boy and throughout my formative years, so I have a hard time seeing it as anything less than brilliant.

But, that being said, the incredible Tom Gibis is here with us today! Tom portrayed a character named Peter in a scene towards the end of the film that still to this day is incredible impactful. So much so that I went on the hunt to try to talk to “Peter the Eater” (the “Eater” part, I would like to retract from my memory after reading the words below, but you can not disregard the past, you can only move forward from it), and lo and behold he was kind enough to give us a very detailed description of the a classic scene of a classic film (to me) and how it was almost completely ruined, right up until the very last go around of shooting. It’s an amazing tale, and I know you are all going to love it.

And beyond this one scene-stealing moment, Tom has had a wonderful career on TV, film, stage, voice over work, and beyond. He’s an obvious talent, and we are so excited to have him join the TWS family. Brace yourself Folks, this one is an emotional journey that we should all probably partake in, and I am so happy that I was able to showcase it with you all here today. With that being said, please enjoy some wonderful words from the great Tom Gibis!

 

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What inspired you to get into the world of performance? Was it something you aspired to do since your youth, or did you happen to find yourself in this world one day?

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be an actor …that’s not entirely true I wanted to be an astronaut, a fireman, a police officer, Doctor etc. but being an actor allows me to be all of those things and more. When I was 15 my goal was to be a forest ranger.  I was a scout and a Jr. naturalist at the local nature center. I did a lot of camping and outdoor survival trips. (even spent a night in an igloo that I built). I was involved in theatre but thought I could never make a living at it. I never met anyone who was an actor or entertainer. When I was in high school, I discovered that a forestry degree requires a lot of math (not one of my strengths) I also discovered that the US forest service only hires a few people a year. So, I thought well why not do what I really want to do and be an actor. 

What was your first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And where there any sort of lessons learned from this gig that still affect your work to this day?

Not sure I remember my first paid gig … 1) money has never been that important to me.  2) I just wanted to act …some things paid, somethings did not. Over time I did more and more paid things. Then I joined the union and as far as TV and film I really can’t do unpaid work. As far as theatre I still do free stuff from time to time if it’s a favor or it’s something I want to do. There is a saying and it’s goes something like: You have to love the arts so much that you would do it even if they did not pay you.…because chances are they won’t. 

In 1996, you made a very memorable appearance in one of my favorite films of all time. The man who brought Darian Smalls down a very pegs in the brilliant film Beautiful Girls. You were incredible as Peter the Eater? So if you wouldn’t mind, can you tell us a bit about your experience working on this legendary film? Any fun moments you can recall about your time on set?

When I first auditioned for the role I was in Minnesota. I was known around town as a comedian and I had been working at Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop. (kind of like 2nd city in Chicago) so When they brought me in the casting director explained they had brought me in for this funny role in a new film that was being shot locally. She went on about how I would be perfect for this because I was so funny. I read the sides and found nothing funny about it. I could relate to the role I was picked on in high school I was short, chubby, was in theatre, choir and was awful at sports. I didn’t cry in 7th grade but I got where this guy was coming from.

In many ways, I was this guy. My first read the casting director was stunned. I think I caught her off guard she hadn’t seen the drama of the scene. She asked me to do it again but play the comedy of the scene. The direction was to lighten it up. That these stories of Peter being picked on were funny. I made the adjustment and she was pleased. I walked out thinking “If I don’t get this part I don’t care” as I did not like the direction of the scene. They called me back this time for the director Ted Demme. I did it again. I must have pulled a little of the drama back in because his note was to lighten up. He felt all Peter’s past teasing was “water off a duck’s back” I tried to explain that if it was “water off a duck’s back”, why does Peter bring it up all these years later? It obviously bothered him.  I was not winning this argument they wanted it funny. I did the scene again and they thanked me. And I thought “well, I did not get that one” and I moved forward with my plans to move to Los Angeles. They called me back again.

The director really liked me but wanted to see if I could really dial in the funny. I did as he asked. Then I didn’t hear anything. I moved out to LA and month or two later I got a call that they wanted me for the part. I returned to Minneapolis on my own dime to shoot. (FYI: I joined SAG on this film so with the initiation fee and the airfare It cost me money to do this movie) At the wardrobe fitting Ted stopped in and really tried to hammer home the comedy aspects of the scene I laid out what I thought the scene was about. He disagreed but was friendly about it… I had given him something to think about.

We get to the shoot date.  It was in March and there was still snow on the ground in Minnesota. I show up on set and they take me to my trailer. On the door it says “Peter the Eater”. The assistant AD felt the need to point that out and how funny that was. In the script the first line is “Darian Smalls? Peter Gropeman.. you made me cry in 7th grade? “I say my name in the first line. Shouldn’t the door say Peter Gropeman or just Peter? We got ready for the first set up. The establishing wide shot. We block out the scene. I meet Lauren Holly she seems nice enough. We go through the scene and I recall one of the crew members leaning over to me saying “you know what would be funny? If you were eating a sandwich in the scene”. I nodded and smiled in my head I was thinking “Yea that’s funny, cause ya know, fat guys eat all the time.” WTF??

We go through the scene again and they send us off to makeup. I ask Lauren if she would like to run lines and discuss the scene. I was hoping to at least get some validation perhaps another actor could understand how to approach the scene. But no, she said she had to get ready and did not have time to talk about the scene. She kinda blew me off, she was nice about it but it was clear she did not think there was anything to discuss. I get out of make-up return to set and we break for lunch. I go to the lunch area get my food and look for a place to sit down I went over to Lauren Holly’s table thinking, “Great we can talk about the scene”, but no she said that the seats at her table being held for other people. So I sat down at a table in the corner by myself. I was then joined by a couple of extras and my stand-in. As I sat there I had the thought that this is High School all over again. I was so annoyed.

So, lunch is over, and we head back to set. While we waited for everything to get set I would just hang with the extras. So, after an hour of setting lights and such, we are finally ready to shoot the first take. We shoot it. “cut. That’s great let’s get another one for safety” everyone goes back to their first position. The director comes over gives a few small notes. I ask him “since we got the version you wanted on the first take…. can I try one the way I think it should be? He says sure but “keep it light in the beginning and then go there”. I agree. We set up and do it again. “action” we do the scene….”and cut” the room breaks out into applause. I am not kidding applause. Ted (The director) sort of drops his head like “shit, that IS the way to play the scene.” He knew I was right. Lauren runs over to him and says, “is that the way he’s going to play the scene it makes me look like too much of a Bitch?!” He says “yes, that is the scene”.

From that point on we set up for all the other angles and closeups we did it my way. And the strangest thing happened, the crew started calling me Tom. The guy that said I should be eating a sandwich said “man that’s what every guy who got turned down by a girl in high school wishes he had said. And later between shots Lauren called over “Hey Tom, come sit with us”. I replied “Nah, I am good here with the extras. “In the end it was a great experience because I did the task asked of me and at the same time I stood up for what I believed was the way to do the scene. I almost thought Ted had intentionally had everyone treat me that way on set to get a great performance out of me, but that’s a little paranoid. To me the whole scene and perhaps the movie boils down to one fundamental truth: Life is going to knock you on your ass, is it easier if that happens when your 13 or 30? 

And what are your thoughts of the film as a whole after a couple of decades have gone by? In your own personal opinion, does it hold up? Why or why not?

I have not watched it in a long time. Not so sure the Natalie Portman, Tim Hutton relationship would play the same way today. Although, I remember thinking it was a little weird back then. 

We have spoken to several folks who have done some amazing work in the world of voice overs, and you are no exception to that! You’ve worked extensively in the field, even alongside our dear friend Ogie Banks in the Naruto franchise. So I wanted to ask something we are always curious to know: how do you personalize a performance in the world of voice over work? How do you put a bit of your own personality into your voice over roles?

For me acting is acting …if it’s stage or film, dub or original, TV or Improv Comedy, voice or live… There are different requirements for each but at the core is acting. As far as putting your own personality into thing I think it’s almost impossible not to. It’s similar to music…. you can play Mozart on a piano or a trumpet.  The piano will give it a different feel. My voice, my instrument it is unique to me. How my instrument plays a role is different than how someone else would. 

If you were handed the opportunity to create and appear in, or do the voice for, the the biopic of any legendary figure in American history, who would it be?

I love history, so many great figures it’s hard to pick one. Ok if I have to pick one Ben Franklin comes to mind. I just think I could pull it off. Plus no one  knows what he sounded like. Teddy Roosevelt if I was looking for voice match, he had a high nasally sound that I could recreate for sure.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

That’s the thing about being an actor you never know what is around the corner. I continue to work on Boroto and just recorded a few new episodes of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My dog Trixie. She is a clown. 

 

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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