Off Hollywood - Vernon Wells
He reached into the closet and laid a wig head with a prosthetic headpiece, complete with the facial hair, in front of me.
I set out with my Polaroid camera to photograph and interview disappearing Hollywood, the version that matters most to me—the directors, actors, special effects artists, producers, even composers who’ve had great influence but have since fallen under the radar. This is a record and a reminder of the true soul of the movies.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), Commando (1985), Innerspace (1987), Power Rangers Time Force (2001)
In 1981, a relatively small Australian film commonly called The Road Warrior made its way into American theaters and quickly began to burn rubber at the box office. Its success is largely due to its stunning dystopian visuals with images so strong it molded the term “post-apocalyptic.” Simultaneously, the film's plot provided the violent white male hero of Western mythology who would rid the hegemonic "space" of the "deviants" threatening the dominant elite. It's no wonder the role of Mad Max skyrocketed Mel Gibson's career straight out of Australia into the hands of Hollywood.
As The Road Warrior developed into a cult film, its plot was studied by its viewers, its lines were memorized, and replica costumes were created. The characters in the film became iconic, and oddly enough, in the more recent years, a majority of the fans prefer the Marauders, the aberrant savages who took what they wanted and aggressively threatened the status quo and conservative values.
Vernon Wells played Wez, the homicidal Dog of War and Mad Max's main rival in the film. The reason his character strikes a chord with people is largely due to Vernon's passionate performance. Viewers become attached to him in first scene where he pulls an arrow out of his arm slowly, while seeming to enjoy the pain.
The Road Warrior was Vernon Wells' first film. Four years later, he landed the role of Bennett, a man seeking revenge on Arnold Schwartzenegger in Mark L. Lester's Commando, thus launching his career into Hollywood as well. These days he's been making use of his demure accent, saving people from thinking all Australians sound like Crocodile Dundee, by doing voiceover work.
I was curious to meet him as his past characters all seem to be passionately driven and rich with meaning, even in his more obscure films like Circuitry Man.
Not long after I sent Vernon an email, he called me on the phone to set up a time to meet up. Before I got the chance to be star-struck, I noticed he had the hiccups. This made me giggle because the fan in me expected him to be intimidating, possibly even a complete maniac.
As he opened the door and welcomed me into his modest seaside house, I immediately asked him if he owns any old movie props. We walked into a small guest room where he pulled back a curtain to reveal lots of toys and props from Power Rangers Time Force. At that moment my heart dropped because I was unaware he played Ransik, the mutant crime lord from the year 3000, enemy of the Power Rangers. There I was, presenting myself as a fan of Road Warrior and Commando. To see him so proud of Power Rangers, I realized how wonderfully dedicated this man is to playing theatrical villains. A moment later, he reached into the closet and laid a wig head wearing Ransik’s prosthetic headpiece, complete with the facial hair, in front of me. I said, “OK, this will be our first Polaroid.”
He then reached into his closet and pulled out Ransik's bone sword and we headed out to his porch, which overlooked the ocean. I pointed the camera up at him and his eyes lit up with that maniac stare that makes him so intense. It couldn't have been any easier to take his picture. As we sat on his porch he shared his story with me.
Throughout his twenties, Vernon fronted an Australian rock group called Inkers Ink. If it weren't for a serious car accident that ended the band, it's quite possible Vernon would have been a big rock star. I can't help but wonder how fantastic that would have been as well. He explained that he simply fell into acting as a form of employment. He started as an extra, which eventually lead to walk-ons and bit parts in Australian television. It wasn't until his early thirties that he decided to challenge his career by taking on theater, which landed him the role of Cuirette in Michel Tremblay’s Hosana, a poignant and humorous play about a gay relationship. Just as George Miller began casting Mad Max, his girlfriend happened to see the play. She was so moved by Vernon's performance, she brought George Miller to the show, which convinced him to cast Vernon in the role of Wez.
I asked him how he feels knowing his character Wez is considered to be a gay icon.
"It doesn't bother me at all,”he said. “Originally there had been a scene that explained I had raised the the boy on the back of my motorcycle, which would explain why I go mad when he is killed by the Feral Kid. However, in editing they felt the character played better without it, which would make everyone assume we were lovers. I respect what it did for my character, and because of Hosana, it wasn't an issue for me if my character was gay, even if in my real life I am not."
Since he was so comfortable about it all I went further. "Well, you know a lot of people assume Bennett is gay as well."
He laughed. "I was just trying to be macho."
This leads me to believe Vernon Wells is a bit of a genius and a forward thinker.
Previously - Angus Scrimm
Some of Jennifer Juniper Stratford's portraits are currently showing in ”Instant Revolution” at Polaroid’s Impossible Project Gallery with other Polaroids by James Franco, Maripol, Mary Ellen Mark, and Gary Baseman. She also created that weird, amazing epic music video play with Geneva Jacuzzi called Dark Ages for us. And we did an interview with her here.