'Sharknado's' Ian Ziering: 'Maybe This Is My Pulp Fiction Moment'

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Ian Ziering

The "Beverly Hills, 90210" star, currently a Chippendales dancer in Las Vegas, discusses the Twitter-fueled success of the campy Syfy film -- and what he was thinking during that chainsaw scene.

The most viral scene in Sharknado, the breakout SyFy movie about tornado-tossed killer sharks wreaking havoc on land, involves Ian Ziering escaping from inside the belly of a shark with a chainsaw. (If you like laughing and being totally grossed out at the same time, the gory footage can be viewed at the bottom of this post.)

Ziering -- best known for his role as sporty rich kid Steve Sanders on the original Beverly Hills, 90210 -- is back in the zeitgest, this time, as bar owner Fin (ha) who sets out to save his children and estranged wife (Tara Reid) after a series of runaway, uh, sharknadoes, begin terrorizing Los Angeles.

The 49-year-old actor, who's in Las Vegas doing a stint as a celebrity guest performer with the Chippendales, talked to The Hollywood Reporter about having a "John Travolta Pulp Fiction moment" with Sharknado, his desire to team up with Tarantino on the sequel and stripping to sold-out crowds in Sin City.

The Hollywood Reporter: What do you make of the Sharknado phenomenon?

Ian Ziering: I don't know what to make of it. Quite a surprise to know that 17 hours later, it's still one of the top trending topics on Twitter. That it's had global impact because of social media is just astonishing.

THR: Did you expect it to become this popular?

Ziering: After reading the script, I didn't think it would see the light of day! But, you know, I don't normally do things for glory; I do things for accomplishment. And I always wanted to do action-adventure, and science fiction genres were always something that were of great interest to me. And when I read the script and saw that I got to rappel off bridges, chainsaw my way out of the belly out of a shark, you know, this was a chance for me to relive some of those Die Hard moments that I remember being so envious of when I was younger. 

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THR: Tell me about the scene where you chainsaw your way out of a shark. How many takes did that take?

Ziering: We had to do that in one take because that prosthetic shark wasn't inexpensive to make, so we had to make it right the first time. So we made sure there was plenty of blood on me, plenty of fish guts on me, and we went for it. We had that moment on film where I get to have that forever now, where I've chainsawed my way out of the belly of a shark. And I'm proud of that!

THR: Were you really covered in fish guts?

Ziering: You know, with the magic of Hollywood, I'm gonna leave that up to your imagination. Let's say I was.

THR: Awesome. Were you claustrophobic inside the shark?

Ziering: No, not at all. I don't get claustrophobic. What you saw was just what we wanted. In reality, that was done on a set and there was no reason to feel claustrophobic.

THR: Did you practice chainsawing your way out of the shark before you went in?

Ziering: No, but I gave it some thought -- how I could make it look as though I was really trying to fight for my life, get out of that shark belly after I cut through the flesh, how I would extricate myself out of the carcass. You know, I put some thought into that.

THR: Would you let your kids watch?

Ziering: Well, my 2-year-old [daughter, Mia], I'm not gonna let her see that. I mean, the opening scene from Sharknado I think was better than the original Jaws movie. It was scarier, it was bloodier, and it had more high-anxiety moments than the original Jaws movie. And that movie kept me out of the ocean for a summer. So there's no way I'm gonna let my 2-year-old watch any of that movie until she's old enough to realize that this is just make-believe, honey, it's science fiction.

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THR: What's the status on your fear of sharks: more afraid or less so?

Ziering: I did a triathlon, the Malibu triathlon, which is kind of like a mini-triathlon. And I think that was the most scared I ever was of being eaten by a shark. I was wearing a black wetsuit and I was swimming with hundreds of other people in the water. And I figured if there was ever gonna be a shark feeding frenzy, it would be probably be at that moment. Being that we all looked like seals and we were all splashing in the water. So that half-a-mile swim in the ocean was the most fearful I've even been of sharks. 

THR: Could a "sharknado" exist in nature?

Ziering: I think there were some experts that were asked if this could even be possible -- and they said, certainly some marine life can be drawn up out of the ocean, but to think that there's 3- or 4-ton great white sharks that are gonna be drawn up out of the ocean and be deposited inland 15 miles, you're gonna have to use your ability to suspend disbelief for a minute and just buy into it. After all, it is a movie.

THR: Would you do a sequel?

Ziering: Yeah, absolutely! I had so much fun making this, a sequel could only be better.

THR: If you could star opposite anyone besides your original cast members in said sequel, who'd it be?

Ziering: Tarantino. … Because everything that he does it so visceral and so gritty and so honest. I'd like to see his spin on something like this, and I'd love to work with him in some capacity.

THR: I think Tarantino would love Sharknado.

Ziering: Oh my God, absolutely! I think he would too. … Maybe this is my John Travolta Pulp Fiction moment. At some point in my career, you know, if you're lucky enough to get one, maybe this is gonna be it. Who knows?

THR: Who knew that Sharknado would be kind of the perfect summer movie?

Ziering: It is the perfect summer movie. It has so many different levels. First of all, there's sharks and then there's love triangles and unrequited love. … There's a government slant on it as well. There's some comment on global warming, and all of a sudden how there's one character who felt that [what's happening] is all because of the government, because they're watching and listening to everything already. It was just, like, so tongue-in-cheek and so topical that it was fun! The only thing I didn't believe in the movie is that Fin was still attracted to his wife when Nova [Cassie Scerbo] was really into him. … The wife is such a bitch in this movie. What's he doing when he's got Nova so interested in him?! Everything else, I believed.

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THR: How did you like working with Tara?

Ziering: Tara was a doll. Very professional, came to the set prepared and ready to work. Every day. And she's a lot of fun.

THR: I gotta ask: In some of those scenes, how did you two maintain straight faces?

Ziering: You know what? The first takes were generally -- you know, we were laughing through some of the things we're saying. So, you know, we laughed a lot. Ultimately, you had to just get the words out and have them be convincing. Otherwise we couldn't move on. So after we got our giggles out, we stuck to the work at hand.

THR: This film reminds me of Snakes on a Plane with Samuel L. Jackson, another campy and Internet-driven film success. Are you into the culty genre stuff?

Ziering: I love these campy science-fiction movies. I like action-adventure movies. I like these Pacific Rim, Terminator movies. These billion-dollar blockbusters are so spectacular. And I'm a student of the movies. I'm a student of all media. This is what I do, and I like to immerse myself in what's current and what's topical. And I find that I'm drawn to those things.

THR: Tell me about your Vegas residency with the Chippendales.

Ziering: It's been sold out every night here, which has been really so fantastic. They extended my run an extra two weekends. And I'm just finishing out this weekend and I'm looking forward to getting home and being with my family. … My experience has been nothing but top-notch. It's a very well-produced Las Vegas show. All the performers -- they're class acts. They're great guys who by day are trainers, or teachers, or singers, or construction workers, or what have you. But by night, they come and sell the sexy like there's no tomorrow. Night after night, 10 shows a week, these guys, pound for pound, produce the most exciting show on The Strip. And the women go out of their minds! And it's such an honor for me to perform with them. For me, I'm not a Chippendale. I've done my best to get my body composition into the right proportions where I'll have more muscle than fat on my body, and [ended up] dropping 30 pounds to get to where I am now so at least I'm not embarrassing myself on stage. But I'm dancing, I'm singing and having a blast! 

THR: You're like Magic Mike.


Ziering: You know, it's funny, because my wife [Erin Ludwig] calls me Magic Ian.

THR: What does she she think of the show?

Ziering: She's very proud of me. I had her come out. … Unbeknownst to her, I made her part of the show, where she actually had to give me a lap dance! She did a good job.

THR: What do you like the most: performing in front of the Chippendales audience or chainsawing your way out of a shark?

Ziering: I like the fact that I'm involved in a career that gives me so many different mediums to perform in. The entertainment industry in the last 10 years has been so fragmented, from scripted programming to reality. There's work not just on TV and in film, but you know, on your cell phone, on the Internet. There's so many [venues] now, and each of them looking for quality content, that, you know, I'm just going with the flow. And I'm having fun with every wave.

THR: So, 90210-related question: If Steve Sanders came across Sharknado, would he tune in or be too cool for school?

Ziering: I have no idea. … I think Steve Sanders is busy in the cloud forest of Costa Rica where he's the personal life coach to the World's Most Interesting Man.

E-mail: Erin.Carlson@THR.com
Twitter: @ErinLCarlson