Frank Whaley [Interview]


Hello Folks! I hope this week is finding your safe and healthy and not to fearful of the possible pending doom that surrounds us. Today we have a guest that I have wanted to have on the site since I started this thing almost a decade ago. It’s the brilliant Frank Whaley, Everyone! Frank is an absolutely legendary actor who always tends to show up in just about everything you are watching. In fact, the very night that I received Frank’s amazing answers, I was pretty stoked and felt accomplished enough for the day (as if I actually did anything) and decided to finally watch the film Hustlers that rocked the world last year. And lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it, along comes Frank portraying one of the hilariously duped millionaire roles! It should have felt a bit more serendipitous I suppose, but as I said, Frank is always around!

Obviously everyone will recognize Whaley as Brett, the man who shared his hamburger with a fella and ended up hearing scripture just before being shot all to hell from two angles in the legendary film Pulp Fiction. His portrayal of fear was absolutely incredible, and he will be forever noted as taking part in one of the greatest scenes of cinematic history. And beyond that one project, Frank is also an accomplished writer and director with some amazing work under his proverbial belt. We will get into much of it below, so I will sign off right about here, and let you all just get right to it.

Folks, please enjoy some amazing words from the legendary Frank Whaley!




What initially drove you into the world of performance? Was it something you have always wanted to do since your youth, or did you happen to find yourself in this world one day?


Acting, being on stage, performing is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I certainly did not come from any kind of show business or performance family or environment. I’m not sure where it all came from. Some of my earliest memories as a child are watching The Tom Jones Show or The Flip Wilson Show or famous people being interviewed on Johnny Carson and thinking that’s what I wanted. When I was really little I wanted to be Tom Jones. I would practice my moves in the mirror and insisted on wearing my shirt open and long necklaces to Kindergarten. My family didn’t go to the movies. The first film I saw in a theater was Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon when I was about thirteen, which completely transformed me. I fell in love with acting and films from that moment, and it remains one of my favorite films.


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


My first paying job was an off-broadway play called Tiger’s Wild by John Rechy. I couldn’t contain my happiness. I couldn’t fathom that I was actually being paid for doing what I loved. It was a very strange and difficult play about four messed up teenagers hiding out and taking acid in the desert. Nothing about it worked.The New York Times review declared “Don’t go, send an enemy.” The play closed after a handful of  performances. I was devastated and had to go back to waiting tables. I was convinced that was it for me, and that I would never be hired again,  but eventually I got over it. The lesson I learned: things will undoubtedly devastate you and disappoint you and shatter your little heart into a million little shards but you will eventually get over it. That and never take your clothes off on stage.



You famously portrayed Brett with the “big brain” in one of the most renowned films of all time, Pulp Fiction. Your scene is absolutely legendary. I am curious to know what it was like to do the scene and did you get the sense that you were a part of something legendary? Also how many times a week does someone say ‘Check out the big brain on Brett”?


As I recall the scene took about a week to shoot. It was thrilling to be there. I idolized John Travolta. His performances in Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy are brilliant. And the minute I started working opposite him and Samuel L. Jackson I knew I was a part of something great. At the time of the film’s release I was living in Manhattan and it was astonishing to me how many people recognized me from it. It remains and probably always will be my most recognizable role.


In 2016 you appeared in one of my favorite films of the last 5 years, alongside many wonderful performers we’ve had the pleasure of having on the site (Joe Chrest, Laura Cayoutte, Chester Rushing, & Rachele Brooke Smith) entitled Cold Moon. While it isn’t singularly a horror flick, it was pretty terrifying. We are huge fans of the world of horror here at TWS. So with that, i was wondering how you enjoy working on projects that are a big darker? What sets them apart from the plethora of other genres you have worked in?


I loved working on that film, many very talented actors and a really talented director. I prefer working on darker material and exploring those types of characters. One of my personal favorite roles that I have done is in the film Vacancy, were I play a very dark and demented motel clerk.



In 1999 you directed your first film with the wonderful film Joe the King. What made you want to move behind the camera? And how do you enjoy appearing in your own work?


I wrote Joe The King thinking I would try and get someone to direct the film. I reached out to a few established filmmakers like Robert Benton, Sean Penn (I had just seen Indian Runner, which is truly amazing) and Penny Marshall. No one I reached out to responded so eventually I figured why not do it myself. Little did I know how grueling and difficult making a low budget film with a bunch of kids would be. At the time I was acting in a television series (Buddy Faro) while battling with the film’s producers who hated it and were trying to take the film away from and re-cut it. Thankfully, in the nick of time, the film was invited to premier at the Sundance Film Festival and magically all the producers loved it. I only appeared in Joe The King briefly, (the guy we hired to do the part didn’t show up).


It wasn’t until my second film as writer/director, The Jimmy Show that I really had  to direct myself.. That was probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. The film was very low budget and I am in practically every scene, many of them very difficult emotionally. Fortunately, it turned out great and was also selected to premier at Sundance. I highly recommend it though The New York Times (damn them!) said in their review, “A must to avoid on a bad day.” Needless to say, that less-than-glowing review did not result in box office receipts.



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


I was gearing up to start something just as everything was shut down due to the pandemic. Unfortunately the project was scrapped. Things are slowly beginning to get up a running at the moment so I look forward to getting back to work when things are safe to do so. Meanwhile I have been keeping busy writing and doing a daily podcast THE WHALEY FAMILY HOUR with my wife and writing partner Heather Whaley.


What was the last thing that made you smile?


Waking up this morning next to my amazing wife, knowing that she and my two beautiful kids are all okay, and that soon (November 3rd) this long national nightmare will end so long as everyone gets out there and VOTES.


About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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