AN ULTRA-ADVENTURE IN AUSTRALIA! Actor David Grybowski Reflects on Ultraman: Towards the Future!

Actor David Grybowski in a recent head shot. Photo © David Grybowski.

David Grybowski is a Canadian-born actor in Australia who was cast to play the recurring comic-relief character Ike on Ultraman: Towards the Future (1992), one of the two ‘90s-era Ultra-series filmed in the West. In March 2019, Mr. Grybowski reflected on his contributions to the Ultraman franchise in an interview with Brett Homenick.

Brett Homenick: What can you tell us about your boyhood days? Where did you grow up? What hobbies did you have?

David Grybowski: I grew up in Toronto, Canada, in a regular suburban neighbourhood. I didn’t leave home until after I finished my geological engineering degree at the University of Toronto in 1979. I went to Calgary right after uni and moved to Adelaide, Australia, in 1982 to continue working in the oil business as a geologist. I started collecting rocks and minerals when I was a kid and would travel to the Royal Ontario Museum all by myself on the subway on Saturday mornings to look at the mineral collection. Although I’ve lived elsewhere, I am currently living in Adelaide.

BH: When did you become interested in acting?

DG: When I was in high school, my girlfriend and I would go downtown to see plays, and I didn’t have any other friends who did that. I was an extra on a film in Calgary. When I got to Adelaide in 1982, I took acting lessons with Bruno Knez at his La Mama Theatre. I was 26 years old.

BH: How did you get started as an actor?

DG: It turned out I was pretty good, and I got good roles in amateur productions and did a lot of TV commercials. Unbelievably, I was in a commercial that ran for 15 years. In 1985, I auditioned for NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney) and for Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in Melbourne. I actually got into VCA, but I decided not to go as I didn’t want to give up my career in geology for a risky life as an actor. That’s when I closed the door to a fully professional acting career.

I didn’t go to school or work after that and instead traveled the world for a year. When I got back, I and a few friends produced the play Kiss of the Spider Woman, in which I played Molina. I sold shares before we started, and we made a profit of 25%, which we distributed to the shareholders after the season.

BH: How did you get cast as Ike on Ultraman: Towards the Future?

DG: I have an agent in Adelaide, and I auditioned. Apparently, the owners of the Ultraman franchise wanted to do a co-production with a Western film company and chose the South Australian Film Corporation. Thirteen episodes were filmed on location and in the SA Film Corp studio in Adelaide, and the monsters were shot in Sydney.

BH: Had you ever heard of Ultraman prior to your casting?

DG: No, not at all.  Now I own an Ultraman lunch set and a doll, which I bought in Japan.

BH: Your character supplies some of the show’s comic relief. How did you approach it? Did you have any inspiration?

DG: I met one of the script writers/editors, Barry Mitchell, after the shooting, and he told me that my part was originally planned for only one episode – the one involving the defrosting monster. However, they loved the character and decided they could work with that, and wrote me into another three episodes, including the two-episode final story.

About the comedy, it just came naturally. I never really described myself as having any particular style, and I didn’t study any role model. We would only get the script a day or two before, so it was all inspiration on the spot. I had a lot of leeway as I wasn’t part of the UMA Team, and my relationship with the general was pretty vague. I was just sort of this loose-cannon government guy who would get in the way of the serious business. That’s funny, of course!

BH: Did you have many dealings with the Japanese side of things (i.e., Tsuburaya Productions)? If so, what can you tell us?

DG: I never saw the Japanese anywhere during my time on the shoot.

BH: What memories do you have of director Andrew Prowse?

DG: Absolutely none!

BH: How would Mr. Prowse direct you on the show?

DG: I can’t remember a thing about Andrew except he was unflappable. I usually did my scenes in one or two takes, and when that happens, you just get on with the next set up. Not much time to build a relationship.

BH: Ultraman’s human alter ego was played by Dore Kraus. What he was like on and off the set?

DG: He was a very nice guy, but they were all nice people. The cast got along very well. He was modest.

BH: Actress Gia Carides went on to have quite a bit of success in Hollywood. How was she to work with on Ultraman?

DG: Gia Carides, I remember very well because we had so many funny scenes together, like when she slapped me. She kept talking about her boyfriend, who I didn’t know at the time, but later understood that he was Anthony LaPaglia. He won the Tony Award for his lead performance in The View from the Bridge on Broadway. They were married from 1998 to 2016. Last year, he married a woman 30 years younger than himself.

Anyways, back to Gia, I really enjoyed her company and camaraderie. A real professional on camera. Straightforward and keen.

BH: Which was your favorite episode to make?

DG: Oh, definitely the two-episode final story with Teddy Hodgeman, a fantastic local Adelaide actor. I turn to joining the UMA Team.

BH: The other regulars on the program were Ralph Cotterill, Grace Parr, Lloyd Morris, and Rick Adams. Does anything stand out about working with any of these actors?

DG: Ralph is a consummate Shakespearean actor – he has a grand and firm way of speaking. He was an anchor for the cast. Loved his work.

BH: Were you able to watch the filming of any of the special effects sequences?

DG: All the monster stuff was shot in Sydney. However, in the final episode, I had joined up with the UMA Team, and we were sent off to some sand dunes just outside Adelaide at 3 a.m. I saw that two cameras were going to operate simultaneously, and we never did that, so I knew something important was going to happen. Andrew said, “OK, you guys are manning these laser guns, David and Grace on that gun over there. There is no live sound, so I’ll instruct you as we go along. You will shoot at the monsters over there (pretend), but at some point, there will be some fire explosions behind you – that’s the monsters shooting back at you. Look at the flames in terror and then keep firing.”

So we did a run-through, and then we’re rolling. We start the shooting with the lasers, and then Andrew said, “Go the explosions,” and behind us, this wall, 10 meters high and wide as a basketball court, flies up into the air with a huge roar. Then the heat blasted towards us with a tremendous wind. Andrew said, “OK, turn away from the fire and keep shooting the lasers!” I turned around, and Grace had run off the set! Andrew said, “Get back! Get back in the shot!” Which she did eventually, trembling. However, the editors had to use the shots on the other laser gun with Gia. That’s why they used two cameras!

BH: Were there any particular challenges on the set?

DG: It’s amazing how organized everything is – lighting, sound, props, camera, meals even. I don’t remember a single hiccup. Except the aforementioned.

BH: What was your favorite part about filming the show?

DG: Oh, I loved filming on location. Suddenly these very ordinary parts of my city were under bright lights and a hub of activity. One morning, we were shooting just down my street. I walked from my house to the set, into the makeup trailer, and into an apartment that I still pass most days. I think that’s episode 10 – “Tourists from the Stars,” where the monster Ryugulo converted himself into a coffee machine. I felt like a Hollywood actor on one of the old movie lots.

BH: Around when were your scenes shot?

DG: All during the summer – January, February March, I believe. It was warm or hot, always that time of year, with long days.

BH: How long was shooting every day?

DG: I was a minor character; I had some half-days or no call at all.  A couple all-day and all-evening, and that one all-nighter.

BH: Where did filming take place? Were any interesting locations used?

DG: All the filming was around Adelaide and in the studios of SA Film Corp. Port Adelaide was used a lot because of the industrial-type buildings and large parking lots and less people around. Grace and I had a great scene in the Maritime Museum. And on the beach. I nearly died running through the surf.

BH: Was there any ad-libbing, or did everyone mostly stick to the script?

DG: Don’t know about the others, but mostly stuck to the script, although I made considerable contribution with comic movement. One of my favorite scenes – with me in it – was when the news reporter was talking about me at the time, and I was doing stuff behind his back. I just made all that up on the rehearsal before we shot. Again, I think that was episode 10.

BH: What did you think of the completed series?

DG: Oh, it’s wacky. Those old-fashioned Godzilla men-in-suits thing. Not exactly Star Wars but very charming and quaint. Interestingly, in 1992, the opening prologue talked about glaciers melting due to climate change. If our politicians understood the problem as early as scriptwriters did, we might have prevented it.

BH: Do you have a favorite monster from the show?

DG: Not really, they are all sort of cuddly and scaly at the same time.

BH: Do you have any other memories from Ultraman that we haven’t already covered?

DG: I remember that everyone was fully respected on the set. There were no stars; everyone was the same, even the crew. I believe film-making in Australia is mostly like that, even today. I loved the location shooting at all and any hours. I loved being a comic.

BH: Since the show, please tell us where your career path has taken you.

DG: Can you believe that Ultraman was the highlight of my career? When I was lined up with the UMA Team in the final scene of the final episode, I thought, “I’ve got it made. I’ve got a job for life!” Never happened, of course. The co-production even sent the SA Film Corp into bankruptcy. I continued with amateur theater, commercials, and short films. The aforementioned script editor, Barry Mitchell, asked me to perform lead parts in two of his short films, Night Release and The Jetty.

Have you heard of six degrees of separation? I am six people connections from President John Kennedy – real, proper relationships. It works like this: Gia Carides and I acted together in Ultraman.  Gia married Anthony LaPaglia. Anthony convinced Arthur Miller to direct him in the lead role of Eddie in The View from the Bridge on Broadway. Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe almost certainly had sex with John Kennedy on his birthday. How’s that!

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