Rick Moranis Interview Expanded: Dirty Jokes, Full-Body 'Spaceballs' Helmet and Slow-Motion 'Horrors'

Wesley Mann
Rick Moranis

Killer plants, goofy jokes on set and five other fun things that didn't make it into the THR print story.

Rick Moranis tells great stories — so great, in fact, that THR couldn't fit them all into this week's magazine, where Moranis revealed that he's not retired (just looking for the right project) and explained why he ultimately decided to pass on a cameo in the new Ghostbusters.

Here are seven fun things that didn't make the print story due to limited space:

1. The massive headgear worn for Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks' 1987 film Spaceballs was originally way, way bigger.

"In the original script," Moranis says, "the description of the character was that the whole costume was one gigantic helmet. Then it got scaled back to just an exaggerated version of the Darth Vader helmet. It was very light — actually took one prop guy to maneuver it. Where's it now? The Smithsonian?"

2. The plant from Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II, took a lot of manpower to bring to life, and scenes were literally acted out in slow motion.

The man-eating alien in the 1986 film was not CGI, Moranis says. And the bigger it got, the more people were needed to make it work. "It took 55 puppeteers all working simultaneously to work the final iteration of the plant," Moranis says. "The only way to accomplish it was to slow down the music by a third. When I was on camera with the plant, I also had to slow down my lip syncing and movement by a third." The scenes were shot at 16 frames per second and played back at regular speed, he added.

3. Moranis was a lovable goofball on set.

He says he and George Wyner, who played Colonel Sandurz opposite Moranis' Dark Helmet, loved to crack each other up on set. 

"It’s the last day of shooting, and we’re doing this action scene at the end of the movie where there’s some choreography where we’re escaping the ship. So we’re shooting this on the last day, and George attempts to make me laugh by saying, 'So are you going to take the helmet home?' And I heard what he said and I immediately thought of what I was going to counter with. I waited for them to start counting down, and I said to George just before Mel was going to yell 'Action,' I said, 'Yes, I’ll have to reserve the bulkhead.' Of course the take was completely messed up and poor George, I mean it was an OK joke, pretty mediocre joke, but the cruelty of my putting it right before the action call. It was a wonderful way to end the shoot."

4. One of Spaceballs' best dirty jokes was improvised.

Moranis says Dark Helmet's erotic doll play scene — "Your helmet is so big!" — was unscripted and he made it up on the spot.

"What I remember is not feeling that well that day. I think I had a fever. I wasn't at the top of my game, but somehow was able to come up with that. George was so fantastic in that scene. His performance makes the movie. The intensity he creates is what allowed me to be as broad as I needed to be walking around in that outfit."

The doll scene wasn't the only one that pushed boundaries. Moranis says the famous "I'm surrounded by assholes!" scene was "radical" then for a film rated PG.

5. Of all his films, Moranis says he was "luckiest" to land one part in particular.

He doesn't have a favorite film he has done, but Little Shop holds a special place in his heart. "I’m the luckiest guy to get that," Moranis says. "It was timing, and I fit the right type. It was an amazing experience. One of the greatest moments of my life was shooting that thing." 

6. Entertainment-wise, Moranis is mostly a sports guy.

He especially enjoys ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, hosted by Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. "They’re sort of the Siskel & Ebert of sports," he says. "Their chemistry is so entertaining to me, and it’s a way to be on top of what’s happening. Helps me to sound like I know what I'm talking about to the guys in my neighborhood." Still, Moranis prefers radio to TV. "I listen to John Batchelor’s show on WABC," Moranis says. "It’s all kinds of things. It’s analysis and opinion on news, but there's also history, and authors and biography, and he covers things in space that are happening. It’s a wonderful show. Sort of a podcast for geezers."

7. He's pretty much as widely loved as anyone would expect.

His former colleagues adore him. Dave Thomas says he knew Moranis had talent the moment they met years ago. "I’m impressed with funny people, and I knew instantly this guy was funny,” Thomas says. “Working with him was real fun, I mean just real gut-busting laughs.” The pair worked together on SCTV where they created brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie. George Wyner said working with Moranis was one of the great joys of his career. "No one else but Rick could have played [Dark Helmet]. No one,” Wyner said. “His charm and likability are real, and that translates onto the camera.” Frank Oz, the director of Little Shop, was too busy for an extended interview, but said of Moranis: "He's a great friend and a great human being."

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