It's never a dull day on set when you're acting alongside violent puppets and dismembered limbs. Out now in select US theaters and VOD platforms, and coming to home video on September 25th from RLJE Films, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich balances brutal kills and zany humor, with lead character Edgar (Thomas Lennon) navigating the blood-stained carnage after an army of Nazi puppets come to life. Ahead of the movie's upcoming home media release, Daily Dead recently chatted with Lennon about his approach to the comedy and violence in the film, his familiarity with the Puppet Master franchise prior to coming on set for the new film, getting his son a dismembered hand cameo in the movie, and watching The Littlest Reich with an audience that embraced the movie's goriest moments.
Most people would've taken a look at this script or heard the pitch and said, "Oh no, this is not for me." What made you want to be a part of this crazy film?
Thomas Lennon: Well, everything you just described is probably why. If you know anything about my slightly schizophrenic career, I'm trying to keep myself amused and I do a lot of different things. And so, not that you'll ever get bored doing what I do because I'm very lucky that I get to write and act in studio movies, but I'm also always trying to do something that's a little different. I've written giant family comedies and then Hell Baby, which is a tiny R-rated horror [movie]. I love having the street cred of being in two Christopher Nolan movies, one Merchant Ivory movie, and the new Puppet Master movie.
Prior to being a part of this, were you familiar with the Puppet Master series? Did you catch up with it when you knew you were going to be a part of this?
Thomas Lennon: I read the script which was in two words, "Batshit crazy," and I thought, "Can you do most of this?" After I got the script for Littlest Reich, I went back and watched the very first Puppet Master starring William Hickey. And I was like, “Well this is amazing. Who doesn't want to be in a movie where you're covered in blood fighting tiny, weird little things?” I really didn't understand why they wanted me for Puppet Master, and then I realized after I've seen the movie twice now that there is something very silly about me, and something that’s also really serious. I think I have the right kind of weird tone that the creator of this movie needed.
There is this good mix of crazy gore and comedy. Can you talk about working with some of your cast members on this?
Thomas Lennon: It's a great bunch. Jenny Pellicer is great and adds the level of very sincere gravitas to the relationship we have, and then Nelson [Franklin] and I are both kind of playing the same thing. Both of our characters feel like they're in an action movie that's just about them. We're both sort of doing performances as if we're just part of some very serious action movie. At least, I know that's what I'm doing and it seems like that's what he's doing because Nelson’s last scene is the shit—it's two very silly actors giving you their best dramatic performances.
Now, you obviously don’t have previous experience fighting Nazi puppets, as far as I’m aware. What was it like having to actually film these scenes with all of the craziness that is going on? It seems like it would be a lot of fun to film.
Thomas Lennon: To be honest, that's really my favorite part. There's a scene where Grasshopper, I guess is his name, hops up and tries to kill me in the bedroom, and it was really funny. I shoot the gun at him while he's leaping through the air, and all that was just someone who threw him at me and then I've got to pretend that he's literally ripping out part of my neck and I did a sort of backwards somersault, and that was just my favorite thing. That's the part of acting where you get to be a kid when you're acting. That's the fun of these kinds of movies, and also another fun detail is that my son is actually in Puppet Master. So, the little boy who gets his hand chopped off in the parking lot? That is my son. When he knew we were filming a movie over what would be his spring break, he was like, "Can I be in it?" And I was like, "You could probably be in it, but you for sure can't watch it."
When we’re talking about the comedy elements, how much of this movie was exactly in the script versus what changed during filming? Were there any major changes?
Thomas Lennon: [S.] Craig [Zahler]'s a pretty established dude with lots of major credits, so the movie is 99.999% the script. I think there are a couple moments of improvisation in the finished film, but not a lot. It's very much exactly what he wrote. When I read the script, I was like, "You can't do some of this stuff. This is just too disgusting." Nope, it's in there. It's very, very, very, very true to what he wrote.
You mentioned that you saw it twice. Did you have a chance to watch it with an audience? It was great to hear the gasps and laughs when I saw this at Fantasia.
Thomas Lennon: I really feel like the only way to watch this Puppet Master is with some other people. It’s fun to watch with a big group because there's stuff that I wasn't sure how it was going to play. For an example, if someone’s hands have been chopped off in another movie, it would be considered kind of disturbing, but with the Puppet Master crowd, it drew spontaneous applause, which is pretty hilarious.
Red band trailer: