Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood had a special screening of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” in honor of its 30th anniversary, and the screening was put together by Mad Monster. Before fans got to watch the movie in its pristine digital presentation, there was a Q&A with one of the movie’s stars, Jeremy Licht. Perhaps best known for his work as a child actor on television shows like “The Hogan Family,” Licht was very happy to share his memories of making this film.
Licht appears in the movie’s third segment, “It’s a Good Life,” in which he plays Anthony, a young boy who is suddenly befriended by schoolteacher Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinlan). But when Anthony takes Helen home to meet his “family,” she ends up meeting a group of people who live in sheer horror of Anthony as he lives to terrify them if he suspects they disapprove of him.
The movie is the theatrical version of Rod Serling’s classic television series “The Twilight Zone,” and it is essentially an anthology of four different films by four directors. Licht described the audition process for it as being “really interesting” and that he was not hired until after the filmmakers started shooting the first couple of segments.
“I auditioned a couple of times and knew it was starting to get close, and it was really exciting,” Licht said of the process. “On the second audition that I had, Joe Dante was in there (who directed “It’s a Good Life”). It wasn’t often that I got star struck, but I was kind of in awe of him because of what he had done. He had made ‘Piranha’ which I’m sure you all know more than I do.”
Of course, it’s impossible not to talk about “Twilight Zone: The Movie” without mentioning the tragic accident which still casts a heavy shadow over it. During the filming of the first segment, “Time Out” directed by John Landis, a helicopter crashed and killed actor Vic Morrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. Licht got the news about the accident a week after his second audition.
“I figured that was it. That was the end of it and they were going to shelve the film,” Licht said. “About six months later, I ended up getting a call from my agent that they were actually back in production and that they had wrapped up that segment (“Time Out”), and to come back and for a third audition. I went back in, and at this point I knew it (the material) back and forth, and I walked in and there was Steven Spielberg. He had just come off of ‘E.T.’ and it was really an amazing audition. By the time I had gotten home from that audition there was an offer. It was extremely exciting time for me and for my family and we accepted the offer, and we wound up on the Warner Brothers soundstage in Burbank within a week and we spent three months in principal photography.”
“It’s a Good Life” was a remake of the classic “Twilight Zone” episode of the same name, but Licht said he never watched it until after filming was complete. It also turns out Bill Mumy, who played Anthony in the original episode, makes a cameo appearance as a restaurant patron who intervenes when his friend starts pushing Licht’s character around.
But unlike the original television episode, Dante ended up taking “It’s a Good Life” in a different direction as it was more cartoony. Licht went on to describe Dante as a very “hands-on” director as well as a “big kid,” and that this movie was “his playground.”
“Working with a director like him truly was a treat,” Licht said of Dante. “He was really into letting the actors find what they were looking for. Obviously it was over the top; he was looking for that. He was looking for that cartoonish, extremely uncomfortable feel which I think we certainly accomplished.”
In terms of what was the most rewarding thing about doing “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” Licht replied it was being part of a film which has a huge following. The television series was always unpredictable in how you never knew what direction it would take from episode to episode, and it made fans wonder what the movie was going to be like. Having acted mostly on television and in several “movies of the week,” Licht also came to discover how fortunate he was to play Anthony in this film.
“It’s very rare as a kid, let alone at 13, to be asked to lead or be one of the principals in a film or play a character where nothing is what you think it is,” Licht said. “It’s rare to have that kind of a script, to have something like that come to you, let alone be asked by Joe Dante or Steven Spielberg to be in it. I was pretty honored and pretty humbled, and I am to this day really.”
As for the question Licht gets asked the most about “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” he said it was if the cast really had to eat those peanut butter covered hamburgers.
“I read the script and I thought, ‘Wow, that is really vile! I can’t imagine doing that,’” Licht said of this unusual meal. “The day that we shot it, they actually brought in McDonald’s hamburgers and basically we tried it. First of all, if you’re peanut butter person, it’s really not bad. The problem is, good luck saying your lines with a mouthful of peanut butter!”
Licht retired from acting in the 1990’s although he did appear in a short film in 2009 called “The Closer.” These days, he has his own financial planning company called JL Capital Management which has turned out to be very successful. For a former child actor, he has done very well for himself, and he has not allowed himself to be swallowed whole by the kind of vices which have destroyed so many lives. When asked why some child actors easily transition to an adult career while others don’t, Licht sounded very level-headed in his explanation.
“When I was doing it, there were paparazzi but nothing like things are now where every moment is recorded and every stumble that you take is magnified,” Licht said. “I’ve seen it all. I’ve had friends that have had very successful careers, and sadly I’ve had friends that have fallen. I grew up with good people around me and I still do surround myself with good people. My folks are important and my family is really important. I got into the business very young, but not necessarily at the urging of my family. I wasn’t supporting my family. It (acting) was a hobby that sort of took off. My parents said to me the whole time, ‘If you stop liking this or you become unpleasant to be around, you’re out. You’re gone because this is not what that’s for.’”
“I think a degree of it is luck, I think a degree of it is also upbringing and family, but I think a lot of it is luck,” Licht continued. “It’s like any of your lives growing up, but under a big microscope. I’m sure that we’ve all had times in our life, if you can imagine if cameras were on you, when you stumble the hardest, and how can you recover from that? You can recover privately, but when everybody’s watching you and judging you it’s a tough deal.”
We keep hearing stories day after day of child actors going bad, but we never hear enough about the ones who don’t. Licht is one of those former child actors who has done very well for themselves, and it would be great to hear more about people like him instead of getting all these random updates on others who don’t have the same support.