Weird Science – Grows Up

by Nate "Chops" Johnson on June 11, 2015

in FILM, LOS ANGELES

weird science poster
I was in my hometown of Nashville recently visiting family, and since my “body clock” is two hours behind theirs and I stay up later, one of the first things I do when I walk in the house is scour the tv listings and record shows or movies that I want to watch once the family is in bed. I set a timer for the Dateline murder mysteries of the week I’m obsessed with, 30 Rock reruns, the latest episode of Bob’s Burgers, and…Weird Science.

As I clicked the record button, I saw the year it was released in parenthesis next to the title: Weird Science (1985). Wow, that was 30 years ago! And then I wondered how many times I’d actually seen it in the 30 years since its release. Countless (theater, VHS, cable, replayed ad nauseam on USA Network, DVD). I can recite lines word for word and I know every scene by heart. But I still wanted to watch it because it’s one of those films that is just hilarious no matter how many times you’ve seen it, and it does provide a certain comforting nostalgia connected to my boyhood growing up. After all, it’s a movie every male can relate to: a sweetly perverted coming of age story about two geeky teenagers and the woman they created together because they couldn’t get girlfriends.

The basis of the story, if you really break it down, is actually pretty gross. Two lonely horny teenage boys plan to make a girl they can exploit sexually, and split between themselves because they are too socially awkward to actually land a real girl. But John Hughes somehow turned every boy’s thoughts and perversions of the female gender into a charming film that still resonates with audiences today. Gary and Wyatt, best friends but lonely geeks, decide to create a girl after watching the Universal Horror Classic Frankenstein. But instead of using a dead body, they are 80s era mad scientists that piece together a woman digitally through a home computer system (complete with dial-up modem) and a Barbie doll.

LisaDoll

The result? Kelly LeBrock busting through a wooden door and into their lives. YOWZA! “Look! It’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!”
WeirdScienceLisaDoor

I didn’t really see how universal the film is until I watched it with my two teenage nephews, 17 and 19, while on my trip. I was about 40 minutes into the movie alone one night and they walked in from a late basketball pickup game, and asked what was on. I told them “WEIRD SCIENCE!” but said we should start it over if they wanted to watch it. They said no, they would watch it from this point on. I said ABSOLUTELY NOT! They had to watch from the beginning!

I swear I probably watched them watching it more than I watched the film myself. Afterall, I’ve seen it at least 50 times over the years. I knew the sound and dialog cues, so I just watched their faces for reactions whenever certain scenes or jokes would come up. They loved the naughty jokes of course. The part where Gary and Wyatt discuss preferred breast size for their “lady-creation” got a particularly loud laugh as the computer generated breasts of Kelly LeBrock bounce up and down. (interesting side note: that image was one of Pixar’s earliest animations)

PixarBreasts

In all honesty, there was a smile on their faces the entire time. Even the quiet, introverted, deep thinking one, who barely smiles at anything had a grin for the full 90 minutes. Sitting right there, I had the grand privilege of watching these two boys relate to a hilarious movie about the awkward times they are currently living through, as I was able to reminisce about my own awkward years, that at the time were a nightmare, but looking back I find hilarious (did I really think being a geeky white guy with a rat tail hairy style in a pair of Jordan’s was going to win the girl…any girl?).

Coincidentally, as I was waiting for my flight back to LA, I came across a post on Facebook by the guys over at “Nerds Like Us” for a screening of the 30th Anniversary of Weird Science with guest speakers. I clicked “JOIN” and bought my tickets immediately! The screening was held at the Vista theater in the Los Feliz area of LA. The guys from “Nerds Like Us” were doing a live podcast out front…while wearing bras on their heads of course! (You can listen to the podcast HERE.)

Ilan Mitchell-Smith who played Wyatt was there for a brief Q&A before the movie. He looks completely different now. He’s a grown man in his 40s, but his voice sounds exactly the same as it does in the movie. Actually before the movie, I was standing near him for a bit and didn’t recognize him at all. Then he spoke and I knew immediately it was him. Apparently now he’s an English Lit professor at Cal State Long Beach and is the author of a book about the board game Dungeons & Dragons. He never left the nerding world!

Nate&Wyatt

He spoke of his experience working on the film. He said Hughes was incredibly nice and talented. He mentioned that every male on set was in love with Kelly LeBrock (of course they were!). But I believe my favorite story of his was how he said he stole the suits that he and Anthony Michael Hall wore for the blues bar and party scenes. RAD! And after he spoke, the entire audience kicked back and watched Weird Science for the 100th time in our lives and let John Hughes 80s nostalgia envelop us.

As soon as I posted a photo from the 30th anniversary screening of Weird Science, I got a quick message from a good friend of mine, Rhonda Wong, that read: “I was in that movie. I was a background actor for the party scene.” Then she sent me a couple of photos from the set she had saved for 30 years. My mouth dropped. They were 80’s geek gold!

Rhonda&Beasts01

So I did what I always do when I want someone to spill their guts to me. I offered to take her out for a cocktail or two if I could ask her a few questions about her experience on set. She agreed to sit down with me over a glass of wine, so we met one night after work at Bar Marmont at the famed Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Blvd. She requested a glass of Pinot Grigio, and I chose to stick with water since I would need all of my faculties to write down and remember everything she was about to tell me. I didn’t want to miss a single detail.

Chops: Hi Rhonda. Thank you for meeting with me. I’m geeking out a bit over this but will try to not overwhelm you with my awkward excitement.

Rhonda: No problem. It’s nice memories for me.

Chops: So, John Hughes is known for shooting in the Chicago area. Several of the exterior shots are clearly Chi-town, but interior scenes can be shot anywhere. Where did the party scene shoot?

Rhonda: It would have been great to go to Chicago, but we shot all the interiors, and a tiny bit of exteriors on a soundstage at Universal (Studios). I’m sorry I can’t remember which stage number. Production did a fabulous job of creating the whole house (1st floor) with a great amount of attention to detail.

Chops: How long was the shoot?

Rhonda: As for myself, a background partygoer, I worked about a month. It was a really fun shoot. Great cast and crew!

RhondaScreencap01

RhondaScreencap02

Screencaps of a couple of Rhonda’s scenes in Weird Science.

Chops: What was John Hughes like? Did you have a lot of interaction with him?

Rhonda: I didn’t have contact with him at all really. Just the 1st and 2nd Assistant Directors. I’m so regretful about that!

Chops: So, one of the bullies in the film is Robert Downey, Jr. He’s gone on to have an excellent career. What was he like? Was there any indication that he was special or different back then?

Rhonda: Robert Downey Jr. definitely had something special. People wanted to be around him. He was very intense and serious. But would be spontaneous and joke around as well. I’m so happy for his success.

RHondaDowneyJrRhonda with Robert Downey, Jr and Robert Russler

Chops: Did you hang out with him on set?

Rhonda: We didn’t hang out, as he was in his trailer or with the other principle actors when we weren’t shooting. I spent a good amount of time with Kelly Le Brock and stunt men when we were on our breaks.

Chops: What was Kelly like? What did you two ladies talk about?

Rhonda: She’s a really sweet gal. I can’t remember all of our conversations, but I do remember talking “nails”. At the time I was a licensed manicurist and we talked about getting together at some point so I could do her nails. Never happened. I have a funny pic of both of us hamming it up “acting pregnant” with a stuffed animal.

RHonda&KellyRhonda and Kelly LeBrock…and Rhonda’s nails. WOW!

Chops: What was the energy around her like onset with the guys?

Rhonda: The guys were in awe of her. Rightly so, she was just so gorgeous. She had just finished The Woman in Red.

Chops: I remember that movie! We got a full shot of Kelly’s “LeBrock” in that one. For some strange reason that scene has been stuck in my mind since childhood. What about Anthony Michael Hall (Gary) and Ilan Mitchell-Smith (Wyatt)? Were you around those guys at all? What were they like?

Rhonda: Well, the guy that played Wyatt was cute, adorable, and shy. He was young. I think this was one of his first films. We didn’t hang out much though. Anthony Michael Hall, well, I guess I will say he was nice but didn’t hang out with the ‘little people’ if you catch my drift. But he was young and I’m sure he’s grown out of his attitude as an adult. Hollywood has an odd effect on people sometimes, and if you’re a kid, it can really give a false sense of what’s real. But I’ve always been a fan. I love his work, even now.

Chops: You said you also hung out with the stuntmen on set. Who?

Rhonda: Michael Berryman (the bald biker) is a great guy! Super nice. We hung out a lot. He was living quite a good distance from Universal at the time, so he would drive to the lot in his van, and I think, sometimes stayed there overnight. I remember going there on our breaks to visit and feed his kitty.

Rhonda&Beasts02

Rhonda&Beasts03

Rhonda&Beasts04

RHonda&MadMaxGuy

Chops: Wow! Berryman is a big name in the horror world because of The Hills Have Eyes. Were there any horror groupies haunting him on set?

Rhonda: We did not talk about The Hills Have Eyes. But after Weird Science we were pen pals for quite a while. Those were the days before the internet, Facebook, etc. (laughs)

Chops: Wow that is just AWESOME! You were pen pals with Michael Berryman? Were you guys flirty at all?

Rhonda: (laughs) Michael and I flirty? Well, I guess I’m always flirty to some extent. You know me. (winks)

BerrymanMakeUp Horror icon Michael Berryman in the make-up chair.

BerrymanStuntDouble
Michael Berryman’s stunt double

Chops: We talked a bit about Downey already, but there was another bully in that movie as well. Robert Russler. What was he like?

Rhonda: Robert Russler was a sweetie, not to mention really good looking. Low key and even kind of shy. I remember one day he brought his mom to visit the set and he was so kind the way he introduced her to everyone…cast AND crew.

Chops: Did you get to meet the “piano girl”?

Rhonda: (laughs) No, I didn’t get to meet her. It was a closed set.

Chops: There are some pretty cool EFX in the movie with missiles breaking through the floor and furniture flying around. Were you there for any of the EFX shoot?

Rhonda: No, I didn’t get to see any of the EFX shot. DAMN!

Chops: You’ve mentioned to me before that you used to be a background actor in a lot of movies. What else have you been in?

Rhonda: Scarface, Streets of Fire, CHIPS, Blade Runner, Air Wolf, Gremlins to name a few.

Chops: You were on the Blade Runner and Scarface sets?! WOW! Ok, your wine is getting low. One last question and we can wrap this up. Is there any other Weird Science info or gossip that you’d like to share?

Rhonda: No, I think that’s basically it. It was a really great shoot. Fun people and great chemistry with everyone, which as you know can be hard to come by in “Holly-weird”. Though, I do have a story about the blue kitchen scene, but it has to be completely off record.

RHonda&NateRhonda and I hanging out

I smiled and turned off my tape recorder. I called the waiter back over, asked for Rhonda’s wine to be refilled, and I ordered an Old Fashioned. Then I sat back and listened to some off-the-record gossip about one of my favorite movies of all time. The gossip was good, juicy, and just as blue as the kitchen scene in Weird Science.

You can also check out Nerds Like Us on Facebook for the latest nerdy happenings in LA. They host midnight movies, nerd themed burlesque shows, cosplay conventions, etc.

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Nate Johnson (Sr. Contributing Editor, Los Angeles)

Nate “Chops" Johnson currently holds more than a dozen competitive bearding titles, including 6, 1st place victories, and 2 for Best In Show. He lives in Los Angeles, and enjoys Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

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