In A Good Place
Gremlins' Zach Galligan is a New Atlanta Resident and Finally Ready to Relax

By Lee Valentine Smith

He's best-known for Gremlins, but Zach Galligan has nearly 40 years of impressive credits. From his first film, co-starring with Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd to episodic television to a recent string of horror and comedy, the versatile performer is morphing from the all-American leading man-type to seasoned character actor.

Born in New York and based in L.A. for most of his career, he relocated to Georgia a few years ago to get away from the pressure of the big city grind.

INsite spoke with the affable Galligan from his home in suburban Atlanta about his career and his upcoming appearance at Dragon Con.

How long have you been living in Georgia?

Close to four years now. After living in New York first and then L.A., I've found that it's substantially less expensive to live down here. I have literally been spending the last 3 years enjoying not living under crushing financial pressure. And being out of city living, communing with nature and all of those cliché things that people talk about. A lot of people get caught up in city life and now I'm here and just completely enjoying my life on a day-to-day as a human being.

Did it a take a while to adjust to the slower pace of the area?

You know what, all the time I lived in New York, I didn't drive at all. When I moved here, just driving a car became a beautiful new luxury. I hadn't even seen a new car since 2003. I was amazed by all the new computer stuff and the Bluetooth and all of that - it was like having a new toy. Here in the suburbs there's not that much traffic, so driving isn't a chore like it was in Los Angeles. The traffic there makes Atlanta feel like a walk in the park.

Los Angeles is historically such an important destination for so many people, especially in the arts.

It is but the problem with it is when you're doing well, it's the best place to be. But if you're even doing middling to not-so-middling, being there is terrible. You're constantly reminded of the fact that you've somehow fallen to the middle. It's pretty tough on the ego.

This will be your first visit to Dragon Con. But you're no stranger to the convention circuit.

Dragon Con is huge and it seems to get bigger every year. I'm sure it'll be impressive. But yeah, I've done conventions all over the place. From being at so many, I've found that there are two sort of main types of them. The retro ones are focused more on the past and the ComicCons and even Dragon Con seem to be more about the present. What's hot right now, what's on at the moment.

Right. Dragon Con is definitely of the moment. But the fans appreciate the past as well.

I think what might happen is 90 percent of the people may not know who I am. But that's fine with me, too. When I go to the retro cons, it's people who are just obsessed with the holy '80s trinity of "Ghostbusters," "Back To The Future" and "Gremlins."

Your career certainly didn't stall after the '80s. Looking at your filmography, you're as busy now as ever.

As an actor, I've found that the harder I work at it, the worse I do. I've let go of trying to succeed so hard, or pushing myself so hard. I needed to retreat a bit. When I got started as an actor, it came to me. I was just doing plays in Manhattan and casting directors approached me to ask if I wanted to try out for movies. So the whole business came to me. I didn't really pursue it at first. Which is very unusual.

So now you're relaxing and letting things come to you again?

Yeah when I came down here, I came to just relax and live. I'm not going to push and go for six auditions a week or anything like that. It still makes no sense to me how cyclical it all is. Some actors have little bursts in their careers. Hills and valleys. It usually makes no logistical sense how it all happens.

At the top of your IMDB filmography is a new one called "Evil Little Things."

That's a little Atlanta-based movie I did with a friend of mine. That was just a one-day thing. But "The Madness In The Method," the new Jason Mews movie, also comes out this month.

There's a strong and diverse cast in that one - Teri Hatcher, Danny Trejo, even Stan Lee.

Yeah it was fun and it's getting a major-market theatrical and streaming release. So I'm in a little burst. And of course they have the "Gremlins" animated series coming out.

Are you involved in it?

Not at the moment but you never know. It's a prequel, but they could put me in, just to kinda link it.

You've seen so many changes in the industry over your career.

So many. I think everyone is still trying to figure everything out. Entertainment is so segmented that now everything is niche.

Right. When you first came along, you were all over the collective pop culture consciousness because media was a shared experience.

Exactly. When I was on the cover of People in 1985, there were only a few major magazines. If you were on one of them, the exposure was unbelievable. If you were on a show on one of the three television networks, you'd know that basically a third of the country probably saw it. Now it's so diluted. It's like everyone's been put in their own separate room. There's no real shared culture anymore. Maybe the only thing left of shared culture is football. Like the Super Bowl or something.

With the popularity of "Gremlins," the '80s must have been an incredible time for you.

It was so crazy, so intense. Since I've been down here and out of the cities, I've finally had time to think about those years. I'd been too busy hustling and just trying to survive to really look back on it. It's like I'm just beginning to fully process what happened to me when I was like 18 to 38. I could write three books about that twenty-year period. And back then there was that shared experience we were talking about. Movies like "Gremlins" were popular because it was part of a shared experience. So if you were in one of those kind of movies, what it did for you was incredible. I was like 20, I was still a college student.

Your classes must have been chaotic for a while.

Within a semester, I went from being just a kid on campus to going to a lecture and having 200 kids stare at me as I walked to my seat. You get put under the microscope all of a sudden.

A surreal experience for sure.

What it does to your sense of self is bizarre. You think, 'I'm just a normal person.' But then you're getting invited to parties, clubs and restaurants and everything's free - for a while. I was like, 'What's real, what's not? And is there an off switch for this? If there is, I can't seem to find it.'

How did you cope with it?

The best I could. My guess is, probably not that well. But I think my saving grace is that I was from Manhattan, so I had a built-in sketchy person detector. It probably kept me from falling into some destructive patterns. But make no mistake, from 1984 to 2000, I had a ball! Some people might say I had too much of a good time, but now that I'm 55 I'm not sure I'd really trade that.

Now you can take it easy.

Yeah, these days I'm kinda happy to sit on the couch and be with my cats and just recover. I'm glad to be where I am. If I'd booked "Back To The Future" right after "Gremlins," I don't know if I'd even be here. I might have wrapped myself around a telephone pole in a Lamborghini when I was 26. Who knows? So I'm grateful for the way things happened for me.

Your credits are certainly impressive. You've managed to avoid typecasting and bring something new to each job.

In 2021, it'll be 40 years that I've been acting. That's a long time. Yet I still feel like I can still do it for another 20 or 30 years. I'm cogent; I think I'm in the best physical condition of my life. I diet, I don't drink alcohol. So now that I'm being offered horror movies, I'm thinking maybe as I age, I'll go from being like Rob Lowe to finally being Donald Pleasance, you know? I'd be so happy to morph from a typical leading guy into the character actor. I think that's my ultimate goal for the next 20 years, to just disappear into characters.

Zach Galligan appears at the 2019 edition of Dragon Con on August 29 - September 2. Check dragoncon.org for schedules, information and tickets.

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