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Interview: Sid Haig

Captain Spaulding
Sid as Captain Spaulding from House of 10,000 Corpses

Sid Haig was born, Sidney Eddie Mosesian, on July 14th 1939, in Fresno California.

At a young age Sid developed an affinity for dancing. And by the age of seven he was dancing for pay children’s shows and vaudeville revivals.

A true Renaissance man, Sid complimented his dancing by playing the drums, and later, acting. Sid is a veteran of the Pasadena Playhouse, the school that produced other Hollywood stars, including Robert Young, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.

After two years of the Playhouse, Sid moved to Hollywood with longtime friend and roommate Stuart Margolin (Angel on The Rockford Files.)

Sid’s first job was in a student film by a young director by the name of Jack Hill at UCLA. This early meeting was the beginning of a decades-long working relationship and friendship.

After taking a leave of absence in 1992 because he was tired of playing “the heavy with the gun,” Sid was recruited by Quentin Tarantino to play the judge in who sentences Pam Grier in Jackie Brown.

Other roles soon followed, most notably Captain Spaulding in House of 10,000 Corpses.

We ran into Sid at the San Francisco Wondercon and sat down for a chat.

BadMouth How did you get started in the business?
Sid Haig I started when I was about seven years old as a dancer. Okay? And getting paid! To that I added music when I was about nine, and I did my first play when I was like 12 years old – The Wizard of Oz – and I played the Scarecrow. I kept involved in the arts all the way through high-school and college, then finally, I decided to get serious and went to the Pasadena Playhouse and then started working and everything is history after that.

Jack Hill and Sid Haig
Sid with friend and director, Jack Hill

BadMouth You’ve spent a large part of your career working with Jack Hill. Obviously, he has respect for you as an actor because he kept casting you over and over and over again. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with him.
Sid Haig It’s always been a really comfortable relationship. One that’s built on trust – him trusting me, me trusting him. It’s always worked out. If we never did a film together, I think we’d still be friends. He’s just really a great guy to work with and for and to kinda hang out with.

BadMouth What kind of director is he?
Sid Haig He’s the best kind of director. Quentin Tarantino – in an interview with Jon Stewart, Jon Stewart asked him who he felt was the greatest living American director, and he said “Jack Hill.”

The reason he is so good is because he has a vision for what it is that he wants, he communicates it to you well, and then he just lets you do your job. He doesn’t have the need to be the puppet-master.

BadMouth The third member of the “blacksploitation triangle” after you and Jack Hill was Pam Grier. What was she like to work with?
Sid Haig She was easy to work with. We’re more like family that anything. I love her dearly. I’d do anything for her, and I feel very confidant that if I needed her for anything she’d be there.

Sid in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

BadMouth What advice would you give to up and coming actors based on your experiences?
Sid Haig Young people that want to become actors or get in the business somehow. I have to tell them to never quit. Just keep going somehow, no matter what. To game yourself a fallback position. Don’t say, “I want to be an actor,” then take a job as a pool-supply guy.

Stick with it. If you starve, don’t worry about it. I did. I got down to – I had a tablespoon of rice, dry rice. It was all that was in the cupboard. I took it with a glass of warm water, and I waited for it to swell up. That’s getting down there, but I kept my eye on what it was that I wanted to do.

BadMouth In 1992 you made a decision to stop playing “the heavy with the gun.” Could you tell me a little about what went into making that decision?
Sid Haig I felt like I was – this is nothing against people who work in a factory – but I felt like I was the guy who screws the light bulb into the car all day long? Every day. And I’m not there.

Sid Haig

BadMouth Having been down a single spoonful of rice earlier in your career, was it difficult for you to start turning work down?
Sid Haig Oh yeah, it’s like getting a divorce or something. It’s very difficult. But I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t like – what I felt at the time was – being abused.

BadMouth So you took a break for a while and then you got cast in Jackie Brown. Did Tarantino come find you for that?
Sid Haig Yeah he did.

BadMouth After that you came back to genre films with House of 1,000 Corpses. How did you get involved with that picture?
Sid Haig It was the same deal. My agent called and said, “Okay, here’s the deal. Go to this building. Sign this letter of non-disclosure. Take this script home and read it, and if you like it, it’s yours.”

BadMouth You’re a cult icon with movies like Spider Baby and House of 10,000 Corpses. Do people recognize you when you walk down the street?
Sid Haig Sometimes. Sometimes.

BadMouth What kind of fan do you draw?
Sid Haig You know, it’s a whole mix. With every generation it gets different. The popularity of Spider Baby is unreal. With every year, we get a whole new audience.

BadMouth You’ve been in more than 50 movies. Do any stand out as favorites?
Sid Haig I pretty much enjoy myself most of the time. Picking a favorite movie is like picking a favorite kid, you know. It’s tough to do. There’s a lot I enjoy more than others, but I pretty much enjoy my work. Even when I was having a bad time with typecasting and stuff like that.

BadMouth Since you don’t have a favorite, let’s talk about one of mine: Spider Baby was a fantastic movie. It was one of your first films and right away you get to work with a legend like Lon Cheney, Jr. What was that experience like?
Sid Haig I was kind of in awe at the beginning, which is understandable, because when I was a kid I used to go see his films. Now I’m on the set with him, working, as equals. He wanted to be treated as an equal. It was really kind of inspiring from that standpoint.

BadMouth What kind of guy was he?
Sid Haig Very cooperative. Easygoing. He was there to help, no matter what. It was funny because he really liked hanging around with us. So it was cool.

Spider Baby
The cult-classic Spider Baby.

BadMouth You’ve worked with Jack Hill, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino: Is there anyone you want to work with that you haven’t gotten to yet?
Sid Haig That’s tough to say. I met Francis Ford Copolla at UCLA when he was student there – classmate of Jack Hill’s. For some reason or another, we nether got to cross paths in a working situation, and I’d like to work with him once.

BadMouth Your early movies through the seventies were either ignored by critics or blasted by them. But today they are considered classics of the genre. What do you think changed people’s perceptions?
Sid Haig Success is very funny. Success gains an army. When House of 1,000 Corpses was first released, the mainstream critics trashed it. However, those same critics when the DVD was released, praised it!

BadMouth Does the fact that your work has been validated in that way give you some satisfaction?
Sid Haig Sure. That’s always a part of it. But, a long time ago, I stopped trying to please people, because you can’t. You just got to do your work, and if it works: great. If it doesn’t: move on.

From that standpoint, I enjoy the fact that people enjoy my work. If they don’t, [shrugs] that’s why they make 31 flavors.

BadMouth House of 1,000 Corpses put you back in the limelight. What new projects are you working on?
Sid Haig Well we’re going to start shooting the sequel at the end of May. There’s that and if work continues past that, great!