Many moons ago, long before Facebook had taken over as the social media giants they would soon become, there was this little site people connected on called Myspace. At the time, I was new to navigating it, and just starting to feel my way around the world of journalism. Looking to score my first interview piece for the magazine I was writing for at the same time, one of the first celebrities I ever followed and reached out to was one I had always been a fan of growing up; Courtney Gains of The ‘Burbs and Children of the Corn fame.
I cannot recall if I ever did hear back regarding my interview inquiry back then or not, but for whatever reason, the moment was simply not meant to be. Fast forward to 2023, where after a solid fifteen years of writing about entertainment for various media outlets has lead to a number of interview opportunities actually presenting themselves to my desktop on nearly a daily basis. One of those recently being none other than Gains, who admittedly I did not realize until fairly recently was also an accomplished musician with a new studio release on the way at the time (in addition to still being a talented actor).
So I jumped at the chance to finally speak with Gains one-on-one, and after finally settling on a mutual day and time, sat down for a phone conversation with him. With a body of work in film that stretches all the way back to the early ’80s, I decided to start off with his music endeavors first, and asked just how long he had been playing for, and what instrument he originally started off with. He told me; “I started taking (guitar) lessons when I was thirteen years old. I’ve been in bands in LA for a number of years, probably from about the time I was eighteen. So it’s always been my side hustle/hobby; it wasn’t how I was making a living (back then), but I was always pursuing it. But this time around I’m really doing my own project as opposed to being in ‘a band.’ The last project that I had before this current one was a band called Ripple Street, and the last album we put out was just a straight break-up record. I played guitar and sang with them, but in this band I really wanted a better guitar player, so I actually play bass and sing, which has been an interesting process for me.”
I decided to dive right into his new EP, Safe Haven, which he had just started officially promoting the week prior to our conversation. Regarding it he informed me; “It’s a six-song EP, all rock ‘n roll and blues, and all things I want to talk about that I think are a little whacked out. For example, I have a song called “The Healer” that’s the point of view of an egotistical plastic surgeon (Laughs). Then there’s songs like “Bills in Space” about the billionaire space race, stuff like that.”
He continued his point regarding the latter song; “I think it’s funny some of the ‘greater minds’ spend all this money so they can go out into space…how about solve some of the problems right here first? (Laughs). What I’ve learned though is you just never know the impact something’s going to have on someone. By talking about/promoting this and getting it out there, there might be at least one person that it effects. If you just put yourself out there, you just never know the impact it’s going to make.”
I wanted to know if he had a personal favorite track from the record, to which he said; “Someone else recently asked me a similar question, and I had to go with “Good Times;” I’ve been playing that song for over twenty years. Three of the songs on the record are songs I’ve had around for awhile, and they all appeared in a movie called Benny Bliss and the Disciples of Greatness from 2009 that I produced and starred in that had an anti-technology message, so there’s definitely a theme there of things that I’m not too keen on (Laughs). But that song has been around forever and is the type of song that just gets people up on their feet, so it’s good to finally get that one out there.”
Gains informed me; “We’ve been really gigging for the last eight or nine months, and it’s all been gearing up for hitting the road next year to really promote the record, that’s what this has all been really heading towards. It also ties in with Children of the Corn’s 40th anniversary next year, so it will definitely be a big convention year for me in 2024. I’ve been doing horror conventions for fifteen years or so now, and it’s been a good run. But I’m getting kind of tired of the traveling and jumping on plans and all that, so I think I’m going to call it and go out on a big note.”
Gains continued; “But it’s good timing-wise, because I can also promote the music during this same run. We’re even talking about doing some 35mm print screenings of the film with some Q&A’s and the band playing.” And as far as if this might make it to Florida, he told me; “We’re going to start coordinating all that soon. I don’t know for sure if there’s any art houses or places in Florida that want to screen it yet, but if they do, we’ll show up!”
As far as landing the role of Malachai in Children… all those years ago, Gains enlightened me of the process; “I had to audition, which I still often do. There was this casting director named Linda Francis who had seen me in a showcase, which were just starting to happen in LA. They would invite agents and casting directors down and you’d present a scene, and if they liked you they might take your picture or whatever. And she took a liking to me and was really the first person to become a ‘fan.’ She cast me in this one film that ended up not happening, but she was the one that kept pushing for me, and really made a big difference in my life.”
He continued further; “But the famous story goes that in the first reading for Children…, I pulled a fake knife on the reader, who didn’t know that it was fake and about wet himself! He’s since gone on to be a huge casting director, and to this day will use that moment as an example at his lectures and tell people to never do that…which I agree, but at the time I was just young and hungry, although that’s a good way to never get called back again (Laughs)! Then the second audition was with John Franklin who played Issac, and I was grabbing/lifting him up by his lapels, and he said I was by far the scariest one in the room, and the rest is history! That was both his and mine’s first film, and we’re still tight and do conventions together to this day.”
I was also curious if Gains had been a Stephen King fan prior to appearing in a film based off of the writer’s work. He told me; “I didn’t really realize how big he was (or was going to be) at the time, but thank God for that, we’ve been riding Stephen King’s coat tails for almost forty years now (Laughs).” And as far as the numerous entries in the franchise that have come since? Gains told me; I saw the sixth one which John (Franklin) returned for, and I did see the Sy Fy reboot that the producer of the original one, Don Borchers, also returned for – and that was alright. I was supposed to actually do a cameo for that, but I wasn’t able to do it because I was actually at a con in Florida at the time, and the weather didn’t permit, so it didn’t end up happening.”
I asked about his follow up to Children…, the 1984 sex comedy Hardbodies, and what that was like filming, and Gains joked; “It was terrible! I got to hang out on the beach all day with hot girls, so it was just absolutely brutal! (Laughs). But I got that part because I would go to this class that the director (Mark Griffiths) would have on Sunday nights, and he took a real liking to me. So when he got greenlit to do that film, he more or less tailored made that role for me, which was basically mine to not blow.”
As far as that sweet checkered hat he wore in the film and hanging out with the all-female rock group Vixen at the time, he informed me; “I put that whole outfit together, and remember actually getting in a fight with the wardrobe lady (Laughs). She was living closer to the south beach areas and what was going on with the kids down there, but I was going for more of a skateboarder vibe. I’d say a good seventy percent of that wardrobe was all stuff of mine, and I had that checkered hat for a number of years afterwards, but I’m not sure whatever happened to it. I do remember the first day driving in Malibu like that though and people were just laughing. But hey, it was already getting a reaction, so I must’ve been on to something! (Laughs).”
And when it came to seeing a pre-famous Vixen on the set; “I was walking from a trailer down this alleyway in Venice Beach, and I heard them as they were actually in the garage rehearsing (just like the scene they appear in the movie), and I thought they’re pretty cool! Then I remember a few years later seeing their poster up somewhere and being blown away by how huge they had become. I thought they were just a band they had put together for the movie (Laughs).”
The following year Gains appeared in the film that would kick off one of the biggest trilogies of all time, 1985’s Back to the Future. Although his role was brief, I asked how it felt to be a part of such a blockbuster series. He explained; “To be associated with that franchise in anyway is a pretty mind-blowing, amazing thing. My character had already been dropped one time, and if you’re doing a movie they can only drop you one time, and if they bring you back they can’t drop you again. So they had already dropped me once in the middle of all the chaos of re-shooting everything after dropping Eric Stoltz in the lead role and replacing him with Michael J. Fox. Still to this day, one of the top residual checks I get is from Back to the Future, so it’s been a financial blessing in my life.”
Ironically Gains would go on to co-star with Stoltz after all in the somewhat forgotten classic, 1990’s Memphis Belle. I asked his thoughts on the film today; “The timing was bad because it came out right when the first Iraqi war broke out, and no one wanted to go see a war movie at the time. But still a very good film with some top-notch people involved with it.”
Of course one cannot forget his role as the nerdy best friend to Patrick Dempsey in 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love. Regarding the film he stated; “Well, it’s definitely had an impact. It was a just the second film for this little indie company called Apollo Pictures which I had already done another movie for. It was originally this low budget film called Boy Meets Girl, and then Disney picked it up with their new division called Touchstone Pictures, and they dumped some more money into it to do some re-shoots and take all of the bad jokes out of it (Laughs). And then they bought the rights to (The Beatles song) “Can’t Buy Me Love” – which was not cheap – and then they made that the title, which really took it to the next level. But that movie was like the the number three movie that summer, and really launched Patrick Dempsey’s career.”
But perhaps the most memorable role of Gains’ career to this day (aside from Malachai) will always be Hans Klopek, creepy neighbor to Tom Hanks in 1989’s The ‘Burbs. Gains stated; “That’s the one that I think is really the most underrated. While we were shooting it, Big had just come out, which was just a huge hit for Tom Hanks. Comparatively they were disappointed, but thanks to home video and all that it really kept getting out there, and it wasn’t until I started doing conventions years later that I realized that there was a whole like dedicated, underground, ‘Burbs community out there (Laughs). There’s people that tell me stories that this was the movie they used to watch with their parents, and now watch with their own kids. It seems to be the movie the whole family agrees on, and I even had a guy tell me it’s the movie his mom watches when she gets depressed! You can never underestimate the impact that a movie can have on people. It’s pretty cool.”
He continued his thoughts on the film; “I had a good time working on it, though. Joe Dante was a nice guy to work for, and Tom Hanks was the most down-to-Earth A-lister you’re ever going to meet. I was (and still am) a huge Bruce Dern fan, so for him to recognize my work at all meant the world to me (and still does). And ironically there was a writer’s strike going on at the time (which we have one going on right now), and it was just us and Fletch Lives shooting on the entire Universal lot, and we got those movies in right before the strike.”
Bruce Dern puts Gains in a chokehold in a still shot from The ‘Burbs (1989).
He then briefly stayed on the topic of the current writer’s strike; “I’ve been seeing the writing on the wall for this coming for a long time now. I was very aware that the residual checks had been becoming less and less and the industry was getting worse for awhile. That’s why I moved out to the southeast, it’s more live-able and also opened me up to the whole east market including, New York. Last year I did a movie in New Jersey called The Wrath of Becky, and that was a great role, and I’m pretty happy with it.”
With Halloween just around the corner, I also wanted to know Gains’ thoughts on his cameo appearance in Rob Zombie’s 2007 version of Halloween. He stated; “It’s pretty crazy how many times they’ve re-booted the movies at this point! But I think that Rob knows his horror, and does try to make a point to bring people from the genre into his films, so I was happy to be a part of that. I had a friend of mine who had worked with Rob before that gave me a really great piece of advice, which was to be prepared that Rob might just completely go off script if he doesn’t like the way something is going. And that turned out to be the greatest advice, because what Rob’s trying to find is the truth of a scene, and I really appreciate that. A lot of times directors get so caught up in the process of moving things along, they don’t stay in the process and try to make something good out of it.”
He went into greater detail; “So what was supposed to be one day’s worth of work turned into another because we kept working it and adding stuff to it. It was such a nasty, disturbing scene though that nobody wanted to hang around the monitor to watch it, and I’ve never seen that before. But I like the way Rob works, and he has a great sense of the vibe and design of a scene. He knows what he likes and what his audience likes, and has a very great sense of all that.
This very weekend (which happens to kick off with a Friday the 13th!) is primed to be a busy one for Gains, as he informed me; “There’s a haunted house out in the woods in North Carolina called the Haunted Pyramids, and my band will be playing two nights there on the 14th and 15th. So we’ll be playing for a bunch of horror fans out there. All the rest of the bands are going to be metal except ours, but we’re going to go out there and rock their asses off anyway! (Laughs).”
And with Halloween just around the corner, the last thing I wanted to know was whether or not Gains had any sort of personal annual traditions for the holiday at all (it should be noted, in addition to all of the films previously mentioned, Gains has also appeared in the likes of more recent seasonal films such as 2015’s The Funhouse Massacre and 2019’s Candy Corn). He told me; “I’m the worst (laughs), because like, what do I do for a living? I get dressed up in costumes! And I’m usually doing conventions around this time, so Halloween is usually my day off! (Laughs).”