This story first appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
When the new all-female Ghostbusters reboot arrives in theaters next summer, nearly all the living actors from the original 1980s films — Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, et al. — will be doing cameos. But not Rick Moranis, who was offered the chance to appear in a walk-on role but turned it down. “I wish them well,” says the 62-year-old comedic legend, who’s so stunned by the outcry over his absence in the film that he decided to grant a rare interview with THR. “I hope it’s terrific. But it just makes no sense to me. Why would I do just one day of shooting on something I did 30 years ago?”
Contrary to what it says on his Wikipedia page — and to the fact that he barely has appeared onscreen in the past two decades — Moranis is not retired. Not exactly, anyway. He did take an 18-year hiatus from acting after his wife, Ann, died from breast cancer in 1997 to focus on raising his two young children (ever the overprotective father, he won’t reveal their names). But now that his kids have grown, the actor (“You know who would be great who I haven’t seen in a long time? Rick Moranis,” Fred Armisen said when asked about his dream collaborator at THR‘s Comedy Actor Roundtable in August) is thinking about stepping back in front of the cameras again. He’s just really, really particular about which cameras.
Moranis (left) and Thomas as beer-loving Canadian brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie on ‘SCTV‘ in the early 1980s.
“I took a break, which turned into a longer break,” he says. “But I’m interested in anything that I would find interesting. I still get the occasional query about a film or television role” — he’s repped by the Santa Monica-based endorsement firm Bailey Brand Management — “and as soon as one comes along that piques my interest, I’ll probably do it. [But Ghostbusters] didn’t appeal to me.”
A generation of comics has come and gone since Moranis first came to Hollywood during the early 1980s, riding the craze created by the McKenzie brothers, his Canadian beer-nuts bit with Dave Thomas on SCTV, which became a sort of pre-Internet-era meme (spawning a platinum comedy album in 1982, The Great White North, and a movie in 1983, Strange Brew). Of all the Canadian comics who broke through on SCTV, Moranis was the one who seemed to be building the most momentum. “He’s more than a funny actor, he is very creative,” says George Wyner, who played Colonel Sandurz opposite Moranis‘ Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks‘ 1987 Star Wars spoof, Spaceballs. “I always thought he would make a fantastic director.”
Moranis never got the chance to carry a film the way his late countryman John Candy did. But he did land major roles in a series of hits, like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; Parenthood; Little Shop of Horrors; The Flintstones and, of course, the two Ghostbusters films (in which he played accountant Louis Tully, also known as the Keymaster, harbinger of Gozer the Destroyer). “I was working with really interesting people, wonderful people,” says Moranis of his Hollywood heyday before the death of his wife. “I went from that to being at home with a couple of little kids, which is a very different lifestyle. But it was important to me. I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever. My life is wonderful.”
Moranis as accountant Louis Tully in 1989’s ‘Ghostbusters II.’
Moranis didn’t make the break all at once, but gradually disengaged from appearing onscreen. “It wasn’t a formal decision,” he says. “It began in an already busy year where I declined a film that was being shot out of town as the school year was beginning. But I was fortunate to be able to continue to make a living writing and doing voice work in Manhattan.” For instance, he did the voice of Rutt in Brother Bear, Disney’s 2003 Inuit adventure (which grossed $250 million worldwide). He also did radio commercials (mostly airing in Canada), released comedy albums (My Mother’s Brisket in 2013) and dabbled in writing wry op-eds for The New York Times (like the one in which he counted virtually all his possessions, including “more than 1,000 golf balls”). In other words, he has kept busy.
With Steve Martin in Frank Oz’s 1986 adaptation of ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’
“Stuff happens to people all the time, and people make adjustments, change careers, move to another city,” he says. “Really, that’s all I did.”
Today he lives alone in a sprawling, art-filled apartment on the Upper West Side (not far from the building where the Ghostbusters once did battle with a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man). He doesn’t keep up with comedy trends (“I don’t know who is out there, and I don’t know what they are doing”) but spends his time between voice and writing projects watching ESPN and waging occasional battles with his household electronics. “This morning I was in the Apple store for three hours,” he says. I made the mistake of downloading iOS 9.1 onto an old iPad, and all hell broke loose.” He avoids social media like the plague — “The last thing I need,” he says — and would like to change the line on his Wikipedia page that describes him as “largely retired” but doesn’t have a clue how to go about doing it.
As Dark Helmet in 1987’s sci-fi spoof ‘Spaceballs.’ “In the original script, the whole costume was one big helmet, but it got scaled back,” says Moranis. “It wasn’t uncomfortable at all — it was actually very light.”
But whenever he leaves his apartment, he still gets recognized on the streets of New York. “People are very nice when they see me,” he says. “They ask me, ‘How come they don’t make movies like they used to?’ We were governed by a certain kind of taste at that time, and there were places we wouldn’t go with language and bodily fluids and functions. I think that’s what they’re nostalgic for.”
They’re also nostalgic for Ghostbusters movies, but Moranis just couldn’t be persuaded by Sony to do Paul Feig‘s new one. “It’s hard to come up with original material,” he says. “Occasionally, they get it right or else they wouldn’t attempt to do these things. I’m surprised that Disney hasn’t done Honey, I Shrunk the Grandkids. But I’m happy with the things I said yes to, and I’m very happy with the many things I’ve said no to. Yes, I am picky, and I’ll continue to be picky. Picky has worked for me.”