Ronald Hoerr came to Japan in the 1960s with no ambition to become an actor, but he found himself working full-time as a TV and movie performer by the late 1980s and early ’90s. Following his transition into the entertainment industry, Mr. Hoerr appeared in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994) as Professor Alexander Mammilov and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) as Professor Marvin. In October 2006, Mr. Hoerr called Brett Homenick to discuss his work on these two Heisei-era Godzilla films.
Brett Homenick: First, tell me a little bit about your background before you came to Japan.
Ronald Hoerr: You know, I really need to almost start there because it was my mom and dad and younger brother and sister who came to Japan in 1963. I just joined the family as soon as I could graduate from high school, which was (in) Burbank, California. So pretty much my background is Japan. I came here to join the family and enter college in Tokyo. But my hometown was Burbank, California. I graduated from Burbank High.
BH: How did you become involved in movies?
RH: I was the executive sales manager for Comline News Service in Tokyo. If you Google Comline on the Internet, you’ll find that they do mostly technical articles. I ran sales worldwide for them. I was setting up a meeting with an associate, and we needed to finish this meeting. He had an audition because he was moonlighting as an actor. So he said, “While I’m sitting around at auditions, until they call me, let’s go up to Ginza where this place is and continue our meetings.” So I said okay. The manager for those actors walked around the room, and she looked at me and said, “You look like a priest. What are you doing Monday at eleven o’clock?” I said, “What would you like me to do Monday at eleven o’clock?” She said, “I’d like you to be at NHK. I want you to be a priest; I want you to marry a couple of stars of the drama. You’ll be done by two at the latest.” That’s it.
NHK was very close to my office at that time. I thought, “This could be a lark. I’ll take a long lunch break and maybe end up on TV.” That was back in 1987, I guess. I think the bug bit me right there and then. I married a pretty big star to somebody else in the drama. Her name was Ran Ito. She used to be in a singing group that was very popular here. I was sitting there, having lunch with her, thinking, “ My goodness, what a business! Here I am, sitting, talking to Ran-chan on her level!” (laughs) So I started moonlighting myself until it became really the thing I wanted to do. So there’s a long story after that, but I eventually started doing it full-time. Did it full-time for many years. But that was strictly by accident. Do you know any of the early singers in Japan?
BH: The early singers?
RH: Like the Peanuts and the Candies.
BH: Oh, I definitely know the Peanuts. They appeared in a couple of Godzilla movies themselves.
RH: Okay, after the Peanuts, there were three girls called the Candies. They were very popular, and their leader was this girl named Ran Ito. I later spent a week on a production in Northern Japan where she was the star. I got my name as number six on the billing, not because I‘m anybody (I’m not), but because the part was so big. It was a lucky part. I got to spend a week with Ran. Such a smart girl. Her English was superb. Anyway, that was fun. But I had to do that part all in Japanese for seven days. That was an Excedrin week for sure.
BH: (laughs) How’d you get your role in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)?
RH: That was through the same agency that I became exclusive with, who gave me my very first job at NHK, and that’s IMO (the Inagawa Motoko Office). I think you maybe heard about IMO. So they pretty much were picking up the Godzilla movies on an exclusive basis in that era. Actually, everybody that’s in that movie was all with the Inagawa Motoko Office. They’re still doing very strong. So it was through them, and I know you’re going to ask was it an audition, or was it a picture select only. I was out so much during that era that I absolutely don’t remember whether I went out and auditioned for it, or I was selected. I just cannot remember.
BH: Well, you talked about the other people who appeared in it, so if you have any memories of them, just talk about that right now.
RH: Well, I know all of the foreigners that were in it. Andy Smith was actually a manager (on the set). He’s one of the guys that was floating around in the space capsule when the space capsule is destroyed. I had friends in there as well. Frank O’Connor was one of them in there. At the table where we’re having a meeting of the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures people, one of those guys became a best friend of mine while he was in Japan, Ed Sardey. His name is listed at the end of that movie as well. We did a lot of work together.
BH: Do you have anything else to say about the other people who appeared in the movie from IMO, or is that pretty much it?
RH: I’ve got some very good friends that I see on a regular basis that have done Godzilla movies for IMO, and that would be Shelley Sweeney, who’s been in a number of them, the blonde girl from Vancouver.
BH: I interviewed her, actually.
RH: Good, that’s excellent. Shelley and I are very good friends. We have been for years. Done a lot of TV dramas together, so on and so forth. My best buddy right now in Japan is the guy who did the character of the Cathay Pacific pilot in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). At the very beginning of the movie, there’s a Boeing 747 taking off from the old Kai Tak Airport, and Godzilla is in the ocean off of Hong Kong. His name is Jon Gallock. I think his movie name might be Jon Lock. He’s a good friend.
BH: Do you have any memories of director Kensho Yamashita?
RH: Yeah, he might be one of the most fun directors to have ever worked with. Being on the set of (a) Godzilla (movie) is quite different than a weekly TV drama because you’re really pressed for time. You’ve got directors who are not very friendly, and they’re always kicking their assistant directors, which I think is allowed in Japan. But when you’re on a Godzilla set, everybody seems to just be having a good time. The director, Yamashita-san, was always smiling or laughing about something or applauding somebody’s job. When I would do my Russian accent, it would crack him up. I’m sorry that he couldn’t use it; maybe he didn’t have a lot of word in that. Editors do what they do, and directors do what they do.
Then you’d see him like some directors where he’s going into what seemed like a trance because directors have to have, I guess, a tremendous mind for what’s been shot, what needs to be shot, and to put everything together in their mind because, of course, you’re not shooting in scene sequence or anything close to it. So you keep going back to the same places in the movie, and you see him concentrating pretty hard. Then a smile would cross his face, and he’s ready to go again! A fun director to work with, very relaxed, very, very relaxed director. Have you had a chance to meet him?
BH: No, unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to do that.
RH: I was watching the Japanese DVD release of SpaceGodzilla yesterday, and I realized there was a director’s commentary track on there. So he’s on that. So that was only, I guess, a couple of years ago that that DVD came out here with the expanded commentaries and everything on it. There was an earlier one, but when I found out that they had a commentary, and they had a special “Making of Godzilla (vs. SpaceGodzilla),” then I bought that one. So he was around to do that. Good director to work with.
BH: You were talking earlier about some of your experiences with your deleted scenes, and just talk about some of those scenes and what went into them.
RH: A couple of the scenes in SpaceGodzilla are where we’re in that meeting where the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center. Everybody‘s having this meeting. There were a lot of speeches going on there from a lot of different people. I guess I should have figured at the time, kids are not going to sit in the movie theater and stand for much of that. So a lot of that had to be cut, and all of that conversation about how MOGERA gets his energy to fly and everything was completely cut. There were graphs, and there were charts. I was showing things. They were just gone. Probably that was a good move when they cut that back to quite a bit less.
Let’s go over to Destoroyah. That was the one-day job and turned out to be about a one-hour job. IMO told me that it was a callback job. When I got the call for it, they said that an assistant, an AD, from SpaceGodzilla had recommended me for Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. I was full-time with them then, so they knew my schedule was available. So I was given the script. I was told to provide my own costume, which was a business suit, so I just arrived in it. When I arrived on that set, they were ahead of schedule, which was unusual. They said, “If you’re ready to go, we’re ready to go.” So I did two takes on that. The director and I went over to the video to take a look at the video, and we both decided that the first one we liked the best. I went home! (laughs) That was it. That was a good day, actually!
BH: What did you think of Takao Okawara, who directed Destoroyah?
RH: You know, I only had that hour with him. I wasn’t on the set to watch him work, really. I don’t remember whether he invited me to watch the tape. Most actors go and watch the tape. That’s just normal. So we watched both of them, and then he looked at me and said, “What do you think?” “I think I like the first one.” He said, “I think I do, too.” That was it. (laughs) So I don’t know too much about him because I wasn’t there that long. I had a lot of fun on SpaceGodzilla, but a lot of it was sitting around, as you can imagine. You would be there eight or nine hours, and your actual time on film would be three minutes, and they would use three seconds. But that’s the movie business.
BH: What other memories do you have of SpaceGodzilla? Whether it was things that you were involved in or things that you just watched?
RH: I can’t really say. I was only on those two sets, and so much of the time you’re back in the corner, reading your favorite novel. You’re not really involved, or you’re in your waiting room, waiting to be called. When you’re in the movie studio, you’ve got your own room, and they’ve got a TV in there, and you can see what’s going on through cameras. Now if you’re in a TV studio, you’re looking through the cameras that are being used to make the Beta tapes. As you know, in this business, it’s Beta, professional Beta. If you’re watching through those cameras, if you’re in that movie studio, then you’re watching still cameras that are pointing to the set that are not being used in the production. So you can’t learn a lot from there, and usually you turn down the sound. So I wasn’t involved in the production other than an actor that was called in, and I have to tell you I never really was into Godzilla movies. That came later after I did a couple of Godzilla movies. I started searching the Internet. One of the first sites I ever found that even talked about Godzilla was probably Stomp Tokyo. I don’t know if I ended up there because of Godzilla. It might have been because of Pia Zadora!
BH: (laughs) I remember they didn’t have too many good things to say about Pia Zadora on that site. I think we covered pretty much everything about the two movies. Do you have any other memories or anything else that you wanted to talk about from either SpaceGodzilla or Destoroyah?
RH: The movies made me a hero with the little kids in my apartment building. Other than that, my life has gone on pretty much as usual. (laughs)
BH: Just so our readers know about this, you’re the voice of the NASA(-type) announcer during SpaceGodzilla.
RH: In the Japanese version only. In the American release, the music soundtrack immediately got louder, and (I) wasn’t the voice of the U.N. MOGERA control, I guess. That wasn’t in the U.S. version at all. So unless people have copies of that Japanese one, well, they might because these are Godzilla fans, right?
BH: Right, and most people have copies of the Japanese version.
RH: Now, after you talk to me on the phone, you’ll grab your copy and say, “Yeah, that’s Ron’s voice!” You’ll know it once you hear it. It’s like from beginning to end, almost, in various parts. Yeah, they got as much out of us as (they) could. Also, when you have a lot of people running and screaming as Godzilla would hit the various cities of Japan, they had everybody that was on the set go outside where they had microphones set up, and we started running and yelling and screaming because they wanted even more voices. We just did that as a part of our job. Everybody did that. You don’t have the unions here that you have in America, so you’ve got the lighting people and the sound people and the makeup people and the wardrobe people and everybody out there yelling just for the microphones to pick it up at the backlot of Toho. So we did all that, too.