Anthony Michael Hall on joining "Halloween Kills" & remembering John Hughes: "I genuinely miss him"

The veteran actor appeared on "Salon Talks" to discuss the Brat Pack legacy & embracing his new role in horror

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 20, 2021 6:45PM (EDT)

Anthony Michael Hall (Riker Bros)
Anthony Michael Hall (Riker Bros)

You know Anthony Michael Hall from classic movies like "Vacation," "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Edward Scissorhands" and "The Dark Knight." Now, he's just stepped into  the role of Tommy Doyle in the blockbuster "Halloween Kills."

Recently appearing on an episode of "Salon Talks," the veteran actor discussed joining a legendary franchise, what he learned from John Hughes, and what the phrase "Brat Pack" really meant to him. You can watch "Halloween Kills" now in theaters, or streaming on Peacock.

Watch our "Salon Talks" episode here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

What brought you to this iconic film series?

I got a call from my management, Untitled, about the project. I was really excited about it. I requested a meeting with [director] David Gordon Green, and he was really nice to comply. We met in LA, and we had a great chat. This was about in August 2019. I wanted to get a sense from him of his objectives with the new film and how he liked to work.

We had a great talk and then I screentested after that about a week later, and just was over the moon. With the exception of "The Dark Knight," I haven't been a part of a big franchise. I think the best part is just knowing we have a great film that's action-packed and will really service the audience. That there's such a huge audience for the film, that anticipation is great too.

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Your character has been played before by two other actors, including Paul Rudd. Tell me who your Tommy is. He is at an interesting point in his life, and he has become an interesting man.

In the original, Kyle Richards' character was Lindsey Wallace, and Tommy Doyle was played by an actor named Brian Andrews. They were two kids that Jamie watched. What's interesting to note too is that his character was bullied by Lonnie. As a kid in the original film, he says, "You can't kill the boogeyman." The young actor who played my part kind of unleashed that mythology on the world in the original film.

Once I met with David and we had some good talks and when I got to the set particularly, he gave me the sense that he wanted Tommy to be very much a hero character. In fairness to all the other actors, that's really the arc that David and [cowriters] Danny McBride and Scott Teems gave us all.

At the beginning of the film, it's a pickup from the 2018 version. It's still Halloween night. All the locals and the townspeople, friends and family alike, are gathered in this bar, and they're commiserating about having been victims and being survivors. Then there's a real turn. It's a heroic turn, because everybody decides to unite and to fight back. That's really the energy that propels the first act of the film and keeps it going. And it just takes off from there.

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One of the things that I just can't get over watching this movie is there's so much comedic talent in this film, both behind the camera and also from people like you, people like Judy Greer. Yet this is a straight-up horror movie. What does that comedy background bring to a movie that is this intense and this scary?

It gives them a certain flexibility. I'm a huge fan of David and Danny's work, even before I'd got this part. Danny was around for the first week or so and then he had to go back to South Carolina. To your question, I think it gives them a certain latitude and flexibility. That was one of the things I loved about working with David. He's very fluid in his process, very inclusive, very collaborative.

He'll take ideas from anybody on the crew, anybody next to him, any of the actors. In that regard, he reminded me of John Hughes, a natural writer, a gifted screenwriter and filmmaker, and certainly an auteur. You can put him in that category. At the same time, I think real intelligence is the humility with which he works, and he's just very flexible and fluid about it.

He's willing to dismiss ideas if they're clunky, if it's a piece of dialogue or something that's not working, or change something or incorporate something new. I've found that to be very impressive, really cool. I think that comes probably from their comedy background, kind of testing things to see how it works.

You talk about John Hughes, a person you are so deeply associated with. I want to ask you about him and about the impact that he had on you as an actor, because he came into your life when you were so young. What did he give you as a performer that you're still hanging onto all these years later?

Confidence is the first thing that came to mind, because he was so loving. He felt like a big older brother that had already taken care of the party. He set everything up. He was such a great guy; he had so much heart. He really worked with a sense of joy, he was always laughing. I see this in David as well, the confidence to trust yourself and to try things. In a very similar way, he's willing to work things through and see how it pans out or make adjustments if necessary.

It's also interesting too, because in a way, it was destined, because he wrote "National Lampoon's Vacation." When I was a kid, that was my first big film before I met John, and then I did the trilogy films with him. When I look back, I genuinely miss him. I really do, all these years later. I loved him as a family member. I was often at the Hughes' residence on the weekends. He had two young sons at the time, and I felt like their adopted third son. He was a great guy, loved music, loved to laugh, and like David, was always very fluid in discussing the project, working things out, trying new ideas.

When I think about those John Hughes movies, I also think about a phrase, "Brat Pack." I'm wondering what it was like for you when you were a teen actor and that phrase was being used, and what you think that means now?

First of all, I think the Rat Pack is very interesting, which is from another era, and that's where the term was coined from, obviously. I felt it was a little bit of a ploy on behalf of the magazine that I don't have to name that did that years ago. I think the situation at that time was about setting those guys up in a way, to be very honest, to kind of get them out and cavorting and having drinks and then doing an interview in that context.

Truth is, I wasn't there at that interview. Then the term itself, it's never really bothered me. I think it's just a way to identify our generation of actors, and so I've always kind of just smiled at it. It doesn't really bother me, but I love the Rat Pack.

Those guys are pretty cool.

But there's some good ones in the Brat Pack too, I guess.

Which brings us now to this franchise that we keep returning to again and again. You shot this movie in the fall of 2019. Watching the movie now, there is a lot about it that hits a little differently. This movie takes on this idea of groupthink for better or worse, banding together in a way to defeat the enemy, but also maybe banding together in a way that is not good and potentially really harmful. What does this movie say to you now?

It's a very interesting point. I have heard Jamie speak to this as well in recent weeks. I think it was that very unique circumstance of life imitating art in a way, because a lot of the issues that we've been through as a country and internationally in the last two years — societal issues, the pandemic and a lot of this political climate that we've seen in our country — it reminds people to some degree of some themes and things that they see in this film. It really was kind of happenstance, obviously, because we were two years ahead of that curve. It's a very interesting twist of fate that hopefully it's worth noting, but it really was kind of that thing of art imitating life in this case, because we didn't plan that.

Certainly from my standpoint, I looked at it like, Tommy's a hero. He's really fighting for good, he's fighting for his loved ones. Jamie Lee's character of Laurie is almost like a surrogate mother to him. The idea of the town deciding to unite and to create some change and to stand up and fight I think is a good idea at it's core. But like any good piece of art or film, it's up for interpretation too how people perceive it.

It's taking on the boogeyman, and we all have our own experience with that now in a different way.

One of the things I heard David Gordon Green say in one of his interviews was there's actually very little in terms of mythology of Myers. We don't know much about him.He was hospitalized, institutionalized, and then he's been running amok for 43 years ever since, kind of reincarnating with every return of the franchise. It's just this idea of playing in this classic themes, which you see in literature, obviously in film, westerns, all the way up to Marvel, which is good versus evil. That juxtaposition is rich ground to play in, and I really enjoyed that. That's how I looked at it. I felt like my character was fighting for good, along with Jamie and everybody else in the town.

It's a very interesting full circle arc all these years later, but I just hit the ground running and I went with my conversations with David. For example, when he gives me the bat in the film, that was something that came to him when we were about a week into production. When I got to the set, I came with this buzzcut that I've been wearing for the last couple years. He even cut his hair like me. He was like, "Oh, I love that haircut." so David shaved his head too.

Without giving anything away, we know there's still going to be another "Halloween." We know you are moving forward in your career in the other projects that you're doing, you just wrapped up something else. I want to ask you about "Trigger Warning," that you just filmed. What is it like now for you as a performer going back out there into the fray and what does it feel like performing again?

It feels great.The truth is I've never had a break. I've had a 45-year career. I just think people most associate me with the John Hughes films, because thank God they've had such a life on television and other areas, other platforms. But I've never stopped. I've been at this a long time. I've often made my career in television, making a living doing that, but when a great film comes along, it's very special.

I remember I had this feeling when I did "The Dark Knight." I had a much smaller role, but that sense of excitement is great. It's not lost on the crew when you're making the film, and then there's an added fun bonus of you know there's an audience waiting, that there's a real hunger and anticipation for the film. All those things combined, I'm getting goosebumps now, I really am, because I'm so excited for people to see this film.

I texted David when he was in Venice a couple weeks back, and he was with Jamie Lee, and he used the perfect turn of phrase. He said, "I can't wait to unleash this movie on the world." So, I feel the same way, I really do. I'm excited.

You mention that your character is the one who calls Michael Myers, also known as The Shape, the boogeyman. He's had different origin stories throughout the history of the franchise. For you going into this just as a film watcher, as a fan, what is Mike Myers' deal? Why is he so hard to put down?

That's a tough question. All I know is I'd like to use it for Tommy Doyle. I'd like to say, "Well, if Myers can come back 12 times, maybe there's hope for Tommy. You never know." It's incredible. He's the human embodiment of evil. He also I think embodies fear, which is obviously a real driver. Fear has one thousand faces in life. That combination of things, maybe not knowing that much about him or the fact that he's always lurking, this kind of stalker, predator. He was always referred to, even on the call sheet, as The Shape. It was never Myers.

"Halloween Kills" is now in theaters and streaming on Peacock. Watch the trailer below on YouTube.

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Anthony Michael Hall Halloween Kills Interview. Salon Talks John Hughes Movies