Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"The Children of Gatlin" - 25 Years Later
The Anniversary Interview Series

Russ RoachIt was 1984. Ronald Reagan was president, Van Halen made us "Jump", and we made our way into theaters to witness a small town in Nebraska overrun by a religious leader and his group of community children followers. That movie was, of course, Stephen King's Children of the Corn. And as this year marks the twenty-five year anniversary that this milestone in horror was released, we wondered "What was it like on the set for the Iowa-extras that rounded out the children population of Gatlin?" So after much searching through the cornfields and tracking them down, we were pleased to get in touch recently with Russ Roach who played one of the Gatlin-natives led by Isaac. So Outlanders, here it is. After months of planning we give you, the fans, "The Children of Gatlin" - 25 Years Later.

COTCM - Before "Field of Dreams", Iowa was chosen to host another feature about a cornfield with a voice of it's own. Although the story was depicted and set in the state of Nebraska, Iowa had just the right qualities to make it work. Do you remember the excitement surrounding the fact that a major motion picture was to be filmed in your town?

RR - I can't say that when I was auditioning that I knew what the movie was about. But at the auditions, there was a lot of excitment about trying out.

COTCM - As characters like Isaac, Malachai, Vicky and Burt were needed to make the story believable, the "Children" were essential in making the story work. Did your parents encourage you to be in the film or was it something that was initially pursued and suggested by you?

RR - I had a part in a few plays at the community theater and they recommended everyone should try out. At ten years old, I was up for anything.

COTCM - Once the cast was hired, production was ready to begin on Stephen King's Children of the Corn. As far as filming goes, did they release you from school to shoot your scenes or did it revolve around summer break?

RR - Filming started while school was in session. I can remember missing about two weeks of school.

COTCM - For actors, anything can exist while filming including script re-writes, shooting delays, multiple takes and additional camera angles. Thinking back, what was the schedule like for you on a day of filming? Was it hard to get some much needed sleep the night before?

RR - As a child and only an extra, it seemed like we waited around a lot and the filming went pretty smooth.

COTCM - Although Children of The Corn held an array of accomplished actors, for some, it was their first film role. Were you aware of who the lead actors were as they arrived in Iowa and filming began?

RR - Definitely Linda Hamilton was someone I knew about and some of the other actors just seemed familiar.

COTCM - From what we understand, the weather went from hot to very cold temperatures by the end of production. Did this make it difficult for the director, crew or actors to complete specific scenes as the key sequences of the movie take place in the cornfield?

RR - I guess at my age I didn't notice those things. I can remember specific moments like when they blew up the cornfield.

COTCM - It took a lot of kids to complete the look of Isaac's students-turned-followers who abruptly trimmed down the adult population in the quiet midwestern town of Gatlin. Did director Fritz Kiersch give you much input as to what your motivation should be and also, did he address his direction to all the kids as a group or individually?

RR - I can remember being directed as a group for the most part. Only in one scene I was given a little extra advice.

COTCM - Since filming, it seems the "Children of Gatlin" have spread out all over the country. Over the years, have you stayed in touch with any of the Iowa extras or kept in contact with the principal actors?

RR - Most of the kids I knew were from the community theater and a lot older so not really.

COTCM - One of the big events called for a huge fireball in the sky as "He Who Walks Behind The Rows" is perceived to be destroyed in the final minutes of the movie. Were you able to witness the making and completion of any of the behind-the-scenes effects as they were being created? For you as a kid, being on a movie set must have been exciting!

RR - I can remember staying up pretty late to see the explosion. It was pretty awesome.

COTCM - While Hollywood had it's big premiere, Sioux City had an opening night of it's own. Did you get a chance to see it in a theater when it opened in March of 1984 and was seeing yourself on the screen something that will always be etched into your memory? I'm sure that night was the talk of your school the next day!

RR - It was very exciting to go to the Sioux City premiere. I was really only in a few scenes as an extra, but it nice too see many faces I was familiar with on the big screen.

COTCM - From the cafe massacre to the overthrow of Isaac's reign, Iowa locals can be seen giving their performances, enthusiastically with style and talent. Russ, could you tell us which scenes you were involved in, what it was like filming them and what was your favorite part about helping create a town called Gatlin?

RR - I can remember being in the scene with the blue man in the cornfield, in the beginning and the one with Linda being lifted on to the cross. Also, the scene in the church where Amos is getting himself ready for He Who Walks Behind The Rows and last, in the barn before they go out to the cornfield.

COTCM - Over the years, this film has grown and cut it's way into the genre of horror with a cast of superb actors and an intense screenplay. Now, it has been twenty-five years since horror fans first heard the famous "Outlander!" line and with that, made it's mark in pop culture. With the anniversary and a SyFy Channel remake on the way, why do you think the popularity of the movie continues to grow and still brings the audiences, young and old alike, back to the cornfield?

RR - I would hope it's the ability of the viewer to see movie for what it is. A bit of Americana with a hint of one's yearning thoughts of rebellion mixed with sheer horror.

COTCM - Russ, thanks for giving us and the readers an interesting look into the making of a movie that over the years, undeniably put the "Nicest Little Town in Nebraska" on the road map of horror!

RR - Thanks. I hope what little memories I have are benificial for you and your readers.

A big "Thank You" goes out again to Russ for sharing his memories about filming a movie that made kids in the midwest, to this day, frightened beyond imagination. And stay tuned for the next interview in "The Children of Gatlin" - 25 Years Later anniversary series coming soon from!