Courtney Gains first came to the attention of cinemagoers at the age of twenty when he was cast in the role of the psychotic Malachai in the 1984 adaptation of Stephen King’s Children of the Corn.
The movie would mark the beginning of a prolific run of supporting parts in films that ranged from a cameo as a bully alongside Crispin Glover in Back to the Future to a memorable turn as creepy new neighbour Hans in Joe Dante’s The ‘burbs. During this time Gains also forged a career on the small screen, making guest appearances in such shows as 21 Jump Street.
His intriguing choice of roles continued into the 1990s with Memphis Belle, but perhaps his most offbeat role in recent years was as Lloyd in an episode of My Name is Earl, in which he played a disturbed young man who is building a rocket so he can escape the human race.
Courtney discusses some of his more unique characters from the last three decades.
Prior to appearing in movies what was your acting background and how did you first become involved in the industry?
I studied acting for several years before I got a big break with my acting coach and mentor Virgil Frye. He taught me my craft and became my manager for several years.
Do you recall how you were first introduced to Children of the Corn and what kind of audition process did you go through to land the role of Malachai?
Linda Francis, the casting director, had become a fan seeing me in a showcase where new actors perform a scene as way to be seen by the industry. She had me come in to audition for the producer and director. The story goes I pull a knife on the reader. It was fake but he didn’t know it, was a risky move but it got me the job.
Were you a fan of horror movies and had you already read Stephen King’s short story before you were cast?
I have never been a big horror fan and no, I had not read Night Shift before getting the role.
Did you enjoy playing such an evil character and what kind of directions were you given by Fritz Kiersch on how he wanted you to play the role?
It was a great juicy role and gave me an opportunity to show my range. Fritz was a lot of fun to work with. One of the things he did was make sure the actors who did not like each other in the script keep distant from each other off set to. In my case to be cold to the kids, I think this worked very well.
Were you ever approached about reprising the role in any of the sequels and how do you feel about Daniel Newman’s performance as Malachai in the 2009 TV remake?
We talked about doing something in 666 but it did not happen and to do a cameo in the recent remake, but was not meant to be. I think Daniel did a fine job. It was a different kind of Malachia really, a less aggressive, less power-hungry one.
You appeared briefly as a bully in Back to the Future. Were you concerned that after your role in Children of the Corn you could become typecast as unsympathetic characters?
I love Crispin’s work. My goals in the ’80s was to never do the same thing twice. I feel that worked out well for me and gave me more options later in my career.
One of your most bizarre roles was as Hans Klopek in Joe Dante’s The ‘burbs. How did you develop this character and with Hans being such an oddball were conscious about not overplaying it?
Joe Dante had a very good idea what he wanted for Hans; everything from hair cut to wardrobe to make-up, even hes accent. My big thing was Hans was like a scared animal in a strange land, not comfortable with the people of The ‘burbs.
What memories do you have of working with Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher and was shooting the movie an enjoyable experience?
Tom Hanks is a great guy. Carrie has that strong personality, but both were very good to me. I also really enjoyed Bruce Dern, he took me under his wing and gave me a lot of encouragement. It was a fun project but we shoot a lot of nights, I don’t think I ever got that sleep back.
More recently you played another unusual character, Lloyd, in an episode of My Name is Earl. Who do you feel you were often cast in such strange roles and what do you recall of this episode?
I really enjoyed playing Lloyd. I got to play both my nerdy side and my crazy side, I have done one or the other but rarely both. Well, I guess I just do edgy people well and it fits my look.
Projects you are currently attached to include the horror movies Go Straight to Hell and The Perfect Serial Killer. Would you say you are drawn to dark material and what can you reveal about these films?
These films are in pre-production. At this point not sure when we are going to shoot them. I like all genres but I think I get approached on these types of films because of the impact of Children of the Corn.