Hero of Cult Tony Ganios recently took the time to sit down with Brett Summers of Cult Faction to discuss his iconic roles in The Wanderers, Porky’s and more. Plus we discuss his upcoming project Daddies’ Girls: The Movie – in which Tony reunites with some familiar faces.
Q: You were born and raised in Brooklyn. Hollywood has created many images of Brooklyn through the years some more truthful than others, what was it really like for you growing up in that time period? Is it true you were a bit of an artist?
For some absurd reason the entertainment industry mostly prefers to depict Brooklyn as a filthy, fear-filled, crime ridden cesspool. While I won’t deny that parts of the borough have a rough edge, that worn out Hollywood stereotype is far from the truth. Brooklyn has always been a proving ground that welcomed immigrants or anyone that had the desire to work hard and better himself, a finishing school of sorts that imparts to its alumni a strong sense of ethics (even if they choose not to employ it) and a practical savoir-faire that stays with them whether they continue to reside there or not. I grew up in East New York which has always been considered one of Brooklyn’s worst sections, but as a kid I certainly wasn’t aware of it. I remember playing in the street with my friends under our mothers’ watchful gaze, and running to get sodas for older guys drag racing under the Fulton St. el that looked a lot like the characters in “The Wanderers.” It was a wonderful, happy time.
As for my artistic aspirations, I was accepted into Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in 1978 with hopes of becoming a comic book or commercial artist. My admission was delayed for a semester because my portfolio was lost, and I subsequently wound up getting a job in a warehouse from which I was quickly fired. When the opportunity to act in “The Wanderers” presented itself, I took it and never looked back.
Q: Is it true you Uncle Pete was a famous powerlifter? What influence did he have on your powerlifting?
My Uncle Pete was a bodybuilder, an athlete that uses different forms of progressive resistance training and a specialized diet to develop his or her musculature to classical standards of size, shape, symmetry, and definition. At 19 he was handpicked by Mae West to appear in her beefcake revue at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. At the peak of his career, that spanned the years 1955 – 1960, my uncle accumulated an impressive array of physique titles, and in 1959 placed third in both the AAU Mr. America and NABBA Mr. Universe contests. He was able to parlay his bodybuilding success into a short-lived stint in modeling and live television that culminated in a contract offer to appear in a series of Italian sword and sandal flicks by “Hercules” producer Joseph E. Levine.
I, on the other hand, was a devotee of powerlifting, a strength sport whose adherents concentrate on developing maximum might in three basic lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift, with no emphasis placed on the aesthetic appearance of the lifter’s physique. Though enthusiasts of both bodybuilding and powerlifting use weights in their training, their goals are completely different. Unlike most bodybuilders who exercise with light to moderate poundages and are not necessarily known for their strength, my Uncle Pete’s physical power was nothing less than inhuman. This amazing quality made his exploits the stuff of legend in parts of New York for decades and was what initially attracted me to powerlifting.
Q: Were you shocked when he wanted you to try acting?
The term ‘shocked’ is an understatement. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I couldn’t fathom why a man’s man like my Uncle Pete would want me to attempt a sissy thing like acting, but, because I loved and respected him, I kept my mouth shut and did what I was told. It would be no exaggeration to say he was the only person in the world that could get me to do it.
Q: What was it like walking into that audition?
Entering the outer reception area was like walking into Bedlam. There were clumps of strange looking people holding scripts who were talking to themselves, while others engaged potted plants in rounds of boisterous repartee. Unfamiliar with actors running lines, I thought them all insane and wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there. But my uncle wouldn’t let me leave.
Q: What were you first impressions of director Philip Kaufman?
Phil has an overwhelming presence that is evident even in repose. Though probably the most humble, unassuming person you’d ever want to meet, he exudes an almost preternatural wisdom and authority — like a Greek philosopher or an Old Testament prophet. To this day he is one of the few individuals that commands my total respect.
Q: What was it like walking onto the set of The Wanderers?
It was one big, macho fantasy, yet at the same time it was amazingly real, or more accurately described, surreal. The Bronx neighborhoods we filmed in had changed little in appearance or temperament from the period “The Wanderers” was set in, and many of the locals could recall the feared street gangs featured in the picture, like the Ducky Boys and the Fordham Baldies. During the first days of shooting, a group of unsavory individuals who boasted past membership in the latter gang actually attempted to levy tribute from the production for what they claimed was its unauthorized use of the name of their club.
Q: What was it like off camera? Any tales to tell?
After we stopped being jerks to each other, Ken Wahl, Jim Youngs, John Friedrich, and I became joined at the hip. We bird dogged chicks in all the big New York nightclubs: Studio 54, the Mudd Club, Regine’s, CBGB’s, rode the subway with impunity wearing our Wanderers jackets, and strutted around Central Park at 2 A.M. looking for trouble. We figured we were just cutting loose and having harmless fun, but producer Martin Ransohoff didn’t agree. He thought we were hell bent on killing ourselves, and called us in for a lecture. Our finest acting on the film was done in his office as we summoned up our best contrite expressions and pretended to listen.
Q: Looking back at the cast of that film there are a lot of people who moved onto other things, stand outs for me included Richie (Ken Wahl), Nina (Karen Allen), Turkey (Allen Rosenburg), Terror (Erland Van Lidth), and Clinton Stitch (Michael Wright). What was it like working with such an array of actors? Did you have any ideas then about the various impacts you all would have?
Being new to acting and just about everything else (I was eighteen at the time), I had no idea of the mark these talented people would leave on the film industry, but I was aware that I was in the presence of some extraordinary individuals. For example Erland van Lidith de Jeude, a man whose gargantuan physical proportions belied his true nature, was an MIT graduate who by trade designed computer systems for banks in addition to being a former Olympic wrestler and professional opera singer.
Q: One comparison that often pops up is The Wanderers Vs The Warriors, what did you think of The Warriors?
Although the two films share the same genre, they are very different. Accordingly, any attempt to compare them would be unfair to both. Fans of “The Warriors” may be unaware that the film is a modern retelling of “Anabasis,” the monumental work of the 4th century B.C. Athenian military writer Xenophon that chronicles the march of the Ten Thousand Greek mercenaries through Persian territory and back to the sea. With its highly imaginative adaptation, headlong drive, and masterful direction, “The Warriors” is a unique and memorable movie that I would recommend to anyone.
Q: If it came down to a rumble who would win?
I think The Brady Bunch could beat the crap out of us all.
Q: The Wanderers remains a much loved cult classic to this day, why do you think people still love it? What were your opinions of the finished movie at the time?
Among the marks of a great film is how long interest in it lasts. “The Wanderers” remains popular with audiences because it is an expertly crafted coming of age film that tells a profound truth about the end of America’s age of innocence. And with its slick ‘60s rock score and larger than life characters, “The Wanderers” gives this much beloved era one hell of a sendoff. For me, viewing “The Wanderers” for the first time was an unforgettable experience. I was particularly fortunate to be privy to the seldom screened director’s cut, which, although just six minutes longer than the theatrically released version, offered a more cohesive account of an already amazing motion picture.
Q: Following your iconic role in The Wanderers, came a little film called Porky’s. How did you become involved in that?
Someone left a phone message with my mother in New York asking me to meet Bob Clark, who was casting his new movie from a trailer on the Fox lot in LA. About the same time I was introduced to John Milius as a Robert E. Howard aficionado by his friend Phil Kaufman. Milius was putting together “Conan the Barbarian” and was interested in a real Howard buff’s opinion of the Oliver Stone screenplay. I didn’t think much of it, but Milius seemed to get a kick out of me anyway. I was simultaneously offered a small part in the Conan movie and a lead in “Porky’s.” I opted for the latter.
Q: What were your first impressions of Writer/Director Bob Clark?
Bob certainly was a far cry from the stereotype of a film director that I acquired from watching 1940s Warner Bros. cartoons. At first glance, he reminded me of a high school football coach: a burly, good natured guy with an infectious smile. This perception changed the moment he began to speak. He had a gentle, resonant voice and his words were seasoned with southern sophistication. As he continued, the image of the affable ex-athlete gave way to that of the deep thinker, the born storyteller.
Q: Porky’s was another ensemble movie with a young cast. How did it differ from The Wanderers?
Both movies were a great deal of fun to film. With “The Wanderers,” there was a feeling of reverence for what we were doing, almost as though we knew we were leaving something most excellent for posterity, but “Porky’s” felt like a transcendental twelve week bender with a half dozen degenerate buddies that just happened to be chronicled with a camera.
Q: What was life like on set in Porky’s? There are rumors that A LOT of practical jokes and ribs took place! Care to share any?
Forgive my reluctance to relate any specific incidents. Without firsthand knowledge of the personality quirks of the individuals involved, their actions might appear cruel or even criminal. I wouldn’t want to give our fans the wrong idea. While I won’t name names or cite particular events, I will say being around us was definitely not for the weak. We urinated in beer bottles then replaced the caps, stole cars, defecated in cars, got people to drive to remote locations on wild goose chases then disabled their cars, booby-trapped toilets, sabotaged beds, staged Machiavellian frame ups, anally adulterated toothbrushes, and introduced guys to girls that had VD or who weren’t technically girls at all. It got to the point where you couldn’t eat, sleep, talk on the phone, date, or use the bathroom without waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was all delightfully horrible, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Q: Your character Anthony “Meat” Tupperelo had a certain reputation. Was this reputation ever challenged in real life?
I did it myself on a regular basis. My buddies and I had this game we liked to play in nightclubs to drum up female attention. We would target a group of women and immediately begin a loud and spirited argument over which one of us possessed the smallest member. Inevitably, these disputes would conclude with the ladies into wanting to render a verdict by asking to view respective packages. Politely put, their collective curiosity often resulted in one or more of them biting off a bit more than they could chew.
Q: There were a lot of scenes that could of led to you “catching a cold”. How did you prepare/cope with them?
Although slightly uncomfortable at times, baring it all in “Porky’s” wasn’t much different than being naked around a bunch of guys in a high school locker room. You didn’t really think about it. If it wasn’t for the bizarrely provocative reactions of certain female crew members to our state of undress, we wouldn’t have realized we were nude at all – until one of us sat on a plastic covered chair or somebody’s car keys.
Q: Have you had a bowl of chilli since Porky’s? (That looked like it stung!)
Believe it or not, I actually like the stuff as long as it’s not being jammed into every orifice in my head.
Q: The Porky’s gang definitely had a strong onscreen dynamic which I think helped the film become the success it was. Could you feel that in making the film?
We weren’t immediately aware of any strong onscreen dynamic while shooting “Porky’s,” but we knew we got a huge kick out of each other despite our radically disparate backgrounds. Ultimately, we came to realize our mutual appreciation and on-screen chemistry were directly related.
Q: How did you feel when the critics panned the film?
With the risqué subject matter “Porky’s” contained (it was originally rated X), especially for the time, such censure was to be expected. But when one considers the fact that our little film so upset a thoroughly humorless bunch of pseudo-intellectual stuffed shirts whose sole discernible talent is the ability to ridicule the work of others while creating none of their own, their invective should be deemed an accolade. What I’ll never understand is why the industry itself vilified the actors for the film’s success. Casting directors treated us like we had been selling drugs to kids. One told the late Wyatt Knight, “Just because you stuck your dick in a wall doesn’t mean you can act.” Another held up my resume` pinched between her thumb and forefinger as though it were a dirty diaper and snapped, “Oh God… You were in “Porky’s!”
Q: How did you feel when the box office didn’t pan the film? Breaking box office records around the world (Canada, Ireland amongst others) must have felt good?
Initially “Porky’s”’ runaway success was hard to believe. As ridiculous as this seems, it was difficult for me to shake the gnawing suspicion that our inveterate pranksters had somehow rigged the trade papers to reflect the film’s incredible box office figures. But this feeling quickly faded as excited fans began to waylay us on the street, shouting out our character names and reciting lines from the movie. It was a bit overwhelming, but I would be lying if I said we didn’t get a kick out of all the acclaim. It felt great to know we touched so many lives, and were part of something that made so many people happy.
Q: Porky’s inspired a host of knock off movies most notably Revenge of the Nerds and American Pie. Why do you think it struck such a cord with the audience?
Because “Porky’s” was the first film of a new genre, and highly successful, it would naturally spawn a horde of imitators. But it had several things going for it that separated it from the pack. Its characters were extremely likeable, the type of guys you knew growing up, regular guys you wanted to hang out with and have a beer. Most importantly, you felt these guys really cared about each other. Their affection was subtle, but all important. It held the story together and made the film something more than a ninety minute cavalcade of sight gags, naked teens, and fart jokes.
Q: You returned for Porky’s II: The Next Day, was that a tough decision?
Not really. Twenty-twenty hindsight tells me it probably wasn’t the best career move, but it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.
Q: Then came Porky’s 3: Revenge where Meat becomes very central with his relationship with Porky’s daughter. Was this a big change from what you had done before?
Aside from a little more dialogue, it was pretty much the same. I only wish the writers hadn’t decided to make my character a basketball star. For anyone who even glances at the film it is painfully evident that I am to basketball what Justin Bieber is to boxing.
Q: The story behind Porky’s 3: Revenge is that producers would not wait for Bob Clarke so hired Ziggy Steinberg to write a screenplay for the film. This resulted in Clark stating he hated the screenplay and refused to have anything to do with the film. Did this impact the set at the time?
Bob had washed his hands of anything to do with “Porky’s” after the second film. But his actually hating the “Porky’s Revenge” screenplay is news to me. I honestly don’t think he cared one way or the other. What purpose would it serve for him to decry a project from which he, although no longer directly involved, would still indirectly profit? Bob was definitely missed, but we still had fun and felt extremely fortunate to be working with James Komack.
Q: Following the Porky’s trilogy you made some TV appearances including The Equaliser, Scarecrow and Mrs King before becoming a semi-regular on Wiseguy as Mike “Mooch” Cacciatore. What was it like reuniting with Ken Wahl?
Our only reunion occurred on screen; there was no need for one in real life. Though we lost touch with John Friedrich shortly after “The Wanderers” wrapped, Ken Wahl, Jim Youngs, and I were inseparable – like The Three Musketeers with black leather jackets.
For years if you saw one of us at a nightclub or a party, the other two were within a twenty foot radius. We did everything together: lived in the same apartment buildings, got rip-roaring drunk, dated Penthouse Pets, street raced muscle cars, rebuilt their engines in each other’s living rooms, and even bailed each other out of jail. On one occasion after I was arrested in Hollywood for running the local gendarmerie in Ken’s ’68 Dodge Polara, Jim found himself lacking the wherewithal to spring my bail. Despite my most vehement protests, he called Ken, who sent the funds all the way from New Zealand. In light of this magnanimous gesture, I really felt like crap because I got Ken’s favorite car impounded.
Did our off-screen escapades impart to us some special on-screen rapport? After viewing the “Wiseguy” episode “Romp,” (which was written and directed by Ken and featured all three of us) our friend Michael Miller, director of “Silent Rage” and “Class Reunion,” called it a Wanderers home movie. I have always wondered whether Miller’s remark was a compliment or an affront.
Q: What was it like playing Mooch?
Mooch was a mob lawyer. Most attorneys don’t look like I do. So for the first time in my career I got to play against physical type. In the first few episodes, from which Ken was absent due to injury, I portrayed the character in a dramatic manner, and the writers made sure I was able to hold my own in a verbal duel with actor Jonathan Banks’ acerbic OCB field director Frank McPike. Because Mooch was also lead character Vinnie Terranova’s childhood pal, the shows I did with Ken took on a comedic nature, and were designed as light hearted free-standers to give the writers a break between the heavy duty story arcs. These were lots of fun to do, and replete with snappy insults, leather jackets, drinking, and auto parts on dinner tables that made them seem like snippets of our real lives. The ever-present macho paraphernalia and testosterone fueled dialogue in my scenes with Ken caused renowned cinematographer William Fraker, who directed “Reunion,” to amusedly remark that at times he felt like he was shooting a beer commercial.
Q: Then you showed up as Baker in Die Hard 2. How did that come about?
Every film or television gig I ever worked, including “Die Hard 2” was acquired either by sheer accident or by friends’ referrals, never through agents or managers. (My definition of an agent or manager is a person who won’t take your phone calls, but calls you to find out how much commission he made on a job you booked yourself.) My friend John Fasano, known in screenwriting circles as The Man Who Wrote “Tombstone,” had just finished working on “Another 48 Hrs,” which had the same casting director as “Die Hard 2.” He asked me if I had been seen on the latter and I told him my agent was too lazy to get me in on it. John immediately called the casting director and had her set up an audition. I met with director Renny Harlin and was hired the same day.
Q: Is it true that following Die Hard 2 you retired to become an insurance agent In New York City?
No, but it’s certainly a hell of a lot more interesting than the male stripper, contract killer, and nightclub bouncer I was also supposed to have been. I’d love to say that I retired from acting to paint watercolors along the Côte d’Azur, or because I was recruited by the NSA, but the real reason is far more mundane. By the early ‘90s my ever lethargic career had slowed to a complete stop. Auditions for film and television roles, which had always been few and far between, had now become non-existent. And I was never the darling of the slimy agents and self-important casting directors. It was time to move on.
Q: What brought you back?
It’s a strange thing. While I did miss acting, I didn’t miss the entertainment industry or most of the people in it. But as time went by I would constantly run into fans who were genuinely disappointed to know that I had quit the business. Eventually, even the heartless slobs I grew up with who teased me for years about being “a sissy actor” with “a glamour job” began to ask why I wasn’t making movies. Their votes of confidence notwithstanding, I think few of my friends and fans realized how difficult it would be for me to get back into an industry where I was hardly successful in the first place. Addicted to senseless causes, I decided to try it anyway, with two caveats. I promised myself I would never again read for a role; not because I thought I was some big shot, but because auditions were something at which I was never especially adept. And I would be a producer as well as an actor. With my second grade reading level and bad attitude I figured I’d be a natural.
Q: In 1993 I was sat in a cinema watching Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun that starred Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. They encounter a matchstick tooth picked doorman named Perry played by yourself. Is this the same Perry that was once a Wanderer?
You are indeed perceptive. In subtle homage to “The Wanderers” Phil went out of his way to ensure that I had my trademark matchstick, and that someone called me Perry. I’m fairly certain “The Wanderers” is Phil’s favorite of all the movies he has written and directed, and have heard the legendary filmmaker can still be seen roaming the streets of his beloved San Francisco resplendent in his crimson and gold Wanderers jacket.
Q: What was it like reuniting with Philip Kaufman?
By early 1992 I hadn’t seen Phil in several years. When I heard he was in town and on the Paramount lot, I stopped by for what I thought would be a surprise visit. He hugged me, and as if he knew I was coming, and thrust a script into my hand. “Take a look at this scene,” he said, “You’ll be working with Sean Connery in a few weeks.” Once again I was rendered speechless by the prophetic omniscience of this amazing man, who was referring to his new film “Rising Sun,” then in its final phase of pre-production. Being on a Phil Kaufman set is a privilege, if not a magical experience. Part of Phil’s talent lies in his uncanny ability to figure out what makes his actors tick. This knowledge enables him to tailor his direction to the individual actor to get the exact performance he requires. To the uninformed, Phil’s instructions might appear cryptic or even simplistic. One particular directorial gem I remember from the set of “Rising Sun” was, “Tony. What you just did. Do it again but don’t do it.”
Q: In recent years you have been reunited with your Porky’s gang. What have you been working on?
We are in the process of putting together the financing for our new film project “Daddies’ Girls.” For our fans who don’t know, “Daddies’ Girls” chronicles the comic misadventures of a group of playboys who are paid back for all the women they scammed with a brood of wild teenage daughters. The idea behind “Daddies’ Girls” is that the guys were die hard drunken pussy hounds from their teens to their mid thirties. As a result of their mindless promiscuity and karma, they simultaneously became accidental fathers, and, because no sane woman would put up with them, they also became instant single parents. The film will be shot in 3D and feature an all female principal cast, both firsts in the teen sex comedy genre. Although the film reunites the Porky’s cast, it has absolutely nothing to do with “Porky’s.”
The Daddies’ Girls storyline is simply my twisted take on the guys’ insane experiences of raising their own teenage daughters, and the characters we play, idiotic exaggerations of our real personalities. In addition to the guys, actors Jeffrey Combs, Andrew Divoff, Leslie Easterbrook, William Forsythe, and Jim Youngs have also committed to the project. We also plan to launch a Kickstarter in the near future to help us complete the project’s financing. For more information on the film, our fans can checkout our web site
Q: What was it like seeing everyone again?
Because of the autograph shows we regularly participate in and work on “Daddies’ Girls,” we’re together constantly. We’re like a big, dysfunctional family that for over thirty years has seen each other through marriages, childbirth, divorces, lawsuits, and the tragic loss of one of our own. Sometimes we feel like strangling one another, but when the chips are down we have always rallied for our mutual aid and defense.
Q: As I mentioned earlier, you guys always had such an amazing dynamic – was that easy to recapture?
This dynamic, chemistry, or whatever you want to call it, is something that seems to kick in whenever and wherever we’re together – a natural phenomenon, like lightening or Montezuma’s revenge. And like Neils Bohr’s take on quantum mechanics, any attempt to analyze or justify this phenomenon would cheapen or change it. We consider ourselves fortunate in that we were able to share whatever “it” is with an audience.
Q: How can fans keep in touch with your latest projects?
Q: I would just like to thank you for taking the time to take part in this interview, and thank you further for the iconic work you have given us. Is there anything else you would like to say?
Thank you for your kind words about my career. I am honored to be included among Cult Faction’s Heroes of Cult and had a great deal of fun doing your interview.