IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Greg Grunberg Talks 'Big Ass Spider,' a Possible 'Heroes' Revival Series, and J.J. Abrams directing 'Star Wars: Episode VII'

Monday, 20 January 2014 21:05 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Greg Grunberg Talks 'Big Ass Spider,' a Possible 'Heroes' Revival Series, and J.J. Abrams directing 'Star Wars: Episode VII'

Actor Greg Grunberg is probably best known for his role on the popular series Heroes, as well as his collaborations with childhood friend J.J. Abrams on both the small and big screen. 

He first appeared on AbramsFelicity, before playing Eric Weiss on Alias, the pilot in the first episode of Lost, and his small roles in Mission: Impossible III, and Star Trek. But it was his performance as Matt Parkman on NBC’s Heroes that made him beloved by fan-boys everywhere. Now Grunberg returns with his new film Big Ass Spider, which will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning January 7th. 

In Big Ass Spider, which was directed by Mike Mendez (The Convent), a giant alien spider escapes from a military lab and attacks the city of Los Angeles. When a massive military strike fails, it is up to a team of scientists and one clever exterminator (Grunberg) to kill the creature before the city is destroyed. In addition to Grunberg, the film features Ray Wise (X-Men: First Class), Lin Shaye (Insidious: Chapter 2), and Lombardo Boyer (Gone in Sixty Seconds). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Greg Grunberg about Big Ass Spider. The popular actor discussed his new film, it’s wild premise, the great Ray Wise, improvising on the set, collaborating with director Mike Mendez, and working with low budget visual effects, as well as a possible Heroes revival series, what he thinks about his childhood friend J.J. Abrams directing and co-writing Star Wars: Episode VII, and if he might end up appearing in the highly anticipated project. 

Here is what Greg Grunberg had to say about Big Ass Spider, a Heroes revival series, and J.J. Abrams directing Star Wars: Episode VII:

IAR: To begin with, I as a big fan of your work on Heroes. Matt Parkman was a great character. Do you miss playing that role?

Greg Grunberg: Yeah, that was one I really lucked into. I went in the room and read for the role of Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) and I had no idea that Matt Parkman existed. When I was reading Tim Kring was swarming in his chair and I was like, either I'm doing a really good job or a really bad job. When I left the room I thought I did okay and as I was driving home they were like, “Dude there's another role and if you want it we want you for it.” So it was one of those things where it's kind of just meant to be and I loved it. 

When the show finished it had a somewhat ambiguous ending. I'm curious if there's been any talk over the years of doing a revival mini-series like 24 is currently shooting or similar to what Arrested Development recently did?

Grunberg: I hope they do it. There have been so many different iterations in the works or at least talked about, like we could do something with Xbox. Tim Kring has been approached many times and I know he wants to do it if we do it the right way. It was tough to end the show like that. We all poured our hearts and souls into that. We didn't know that we weren't getting picked up so we had no idea the show was ending. That is no way to end something that people really loved and watched on a regular basis. So we never got a chance to finish up the story the right way. 

Moving on to Big Ass Spider, when you were offered to star in a project with a title like that, what was your initial reaction? Were you like, “Wait, they want me to do what?”

Grunberg: It was called Mega Spider and I had just read a script to a movie called End of the World for Sci-Fi and I love the genre. I love ambitious films that stretch the budget or have no budget and thought, let's see what we can do. But something like Mega Spider, I read it and I was like, okay, first of all I want to be able to improv this. I don't want to take this too seriously because it's ridiculous. This is a ten story alien spider and I want to make sure that we really stay true to the genre. Then I met this director, Mike Mendez, and it was so clear that this guy had the exact same vision I did. He trusted me, he was excited to work with me, and he trusted me bringing in Lombardo Boyar to play my partner. Clare Kramer was involved, and Ray Wise and Lin Shaye. I was like okay, we've got a really good cast and Epic Pictures know how to deliver movies. It was still a challenge because of the budget, but Mike had a great vision and they let him do it. Then he trusted us and we improved 90% of these scenes. We didn't change the story, but we did it much more funny, more relatable and it really worked. It was one of those things where it's like everything came together. We trusted them because it took two years to do those special effects, but they came out great. 

Even with a network series like Heroes, you had to work with modest budgeted special effects. Did that experience prepare you for making a movie like Big Ass Spider?

Grunberg: Yeah, but it's like anything else. The tools are there. The post-production tools are there, but you need artists. These people that are in post-production, it's not like, well if we had more money it's going to look better. That's not always the case. Sometimes you see people that are making films in their garage on YouTube and you go, holy shit man! These people know what they're doing. It really is like anything else. You could shoot something on your iPhone and make it look scary and suspenseful, and it really comes down to the artist. Like I said, Mike Mendez is an artist and he loves the genre. He appreciates it and paid homage to it in a good way. 

The production notes for the film described Big Ass Spider as Shaun of the Dead meets Tremors. Was that he tone you were going for while making the movie?        

Grunberg: Yeah, I mean selfishly because of my character, I thought of John McClane in Die Hard. I was like okay, here's a guy who takes his job seriously, maybe a little too seriously. He's very studied and a little obsessed about what he does. Suddenly he's now facing an alien spider that's ten stories tall. What would actually happen? What he would really do? We played with it, had fun with it and at the same time there was urgency to it, and it all took place in one day. The military can do what they want, but this guy knew about the inner workings of a spider and he really had the key to saving the day. But at the same time, you know all he wanted was the girl. So it was like, there's silliness to it, but I believe we kept it grounded and I'm really proud of the film. 

The great Ray Wise, who is a legendary character actor, co-stars in the movie with you. What was it like working with him?

Grunberg: It was really incredible. Ray could say anything and I'd buy it. He's so talented and he has been a part of some great movies. Also, Lin Shaye is a great actress and Lombardo Boyar too. I did a movie called Group Sex and I cast Lombardo and I've known him forever and we really have a short hand so it really comes across on screen. We didn't have much time at all and we didn't have a lot of takes. So we really worked this stuff out in our trailer and it was just great. He was very respectful of keeping in his character interesting and funny, but not stereotypically. He wanted to keep it as real as possible and he's a great actor. I knew that I had a good team around me, but Mike really made me look great. I owe him so much and he's such a talented filmmaker and it shows. 

Were a lot of the scenes you had with Lombardo Boyar, as well with Lin Shaye improvised?

Grunberg: Yeah, they were improvised but we did what was on the page. Suddenly Lin was like wait a minute, “What if I just jump on you?” Then Mike was like, “Wait, if I shoot from the waste up you won’t know. You’ll think it's a hug and then when I pull back you'll see that you're carrying her.” Stuff like that's not on the page. It was all improvised on the day. A lot of the dialogue with Lombardo was improvised on the day. We would pitch ideas right before we shot. We were like, Mike what about this? He's like, “I fucking love that.” It was that kind of improv, but it was approved improv. Mike really knew what we were shooting before we shot it, but we worked it out and we had a great time. 

Finally, I know you’ve been close friends with J.J. Abrams since your childhood. How do you feel about him taking over the Star Wars franchise?

Grunberg: I don't think there's anybody better. I really don't. The great news is that he really knows how to take a franchise and make it new. I think we've seen that with Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. We're best friends and I've known him since we were four. I know how brilliant he is. The two of us saw Star Wars when we were twelve, or thirteen. I'm so excited to see what he does. It's a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea.

Is there any chance you might appear as a Jedi master in Star Wars: Episode VII?

Grunberg: I would love to answer that question… 

…But you can't.

Grunberg: Exactly!

Well, I hope to see you in it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Greg. 

Grunberg: Thanks man. Take care. 

Big Ass Spider will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning January 7th. 

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