Fred Williamson is more of a man than probably about 90 percent of the males in the world. During his seven-year stint in pro football with such teams as the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, he earned the nickname "The Hammer" for his aggressive, smashmouth style of play. Plus, he can also kick your ass in three different martial arts styles.
After invading the film world in 1970, Williamson also became a cinematic badass in such blaxploitation flicks as Mean Johnny Barrows, Black Caesar, and Hell Up in Harlem. He was just as much an ass-kicker in his best-known role as a vampire-killing Vietnam vet in Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn.
Williamson's memorable participation in the 1995 cult vampire movie is one of the reason's why he's a special guest at this weekend's Phoenix FearCon V on Saturday in Scottsdale. Jackalope Ranch spoke with the actor by phone earlier this week about what he'll be doing at the local horror film festival and mini-convention, as well as what it was like making the film, what his feelings are about the current state of the National Football League, and some of his favorite film roles.
So why are you called "The Hammer"? It described my particular way that I decided to tackle people back in the day without getting my uniform dirty. It was like running through somebody's backyard late at night and you run into the clothesline. Your head stops but your feet keep moving.
Are you still "The Hammer" to this day? I'm "The Hammer" until death do us part.
You have a huge body of work... That's better than having a huge body (laughs)
Right. Let me rephrase: You've starred in almost 50 films, but you're best known for your role in From Dusk till Dawn. Well, I think you have to categorize that from a standpoint of my new and latest white fans have seen me in and appreciate me in From Dusk Till Dawn. But, really, my fans is from my black public who remembers me and also me doing the same thing from the first time I got into the business until what I do now, which is kicked ass. So its my black public that has sustained my popularity and notoriety.
What's been favorite role thus far? Well, I have three rules in Hollywood. And if Hollywood obeys most of those rules, then everything that I've done, I've liked. One, you can't kill me in a movie. Two, I have to win all the fights. And three, I get the girl at the end of the movie if I want her. Two out of those three and I'm in your movie. You can't buy me. If I'm not getting those, your price doesn't matter.
Did you have an objection about dying or becoming a vampire in From Dusk Till Dawn? Not after I killed about 16 vampire and satisfied my fans. I got the chance to wipe out a whole bunch of 'em before I turned into this ugly thing and I went down as that ugly thing and not as "The Hammer."
What was it like working with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez? Oh, those cats were cool. It was surprising what great guys they are. How they respect your opinions and things you want to change and things you want to add based on what my fans wanted to me do, which was like doing a martial arts move to this ugly thing that was coming at me and [I] ripped his heart out and he kept coming. That was my idea that my idea that I took to Rodriguez and he said, "That's great, let's do it." Everyone was great. George Clooney? Great guy. Harvey Keitel? Super person. Juliette Lewis? Nice lady. Salma Hayek? Smells good. It was a good experience.
You've also done other films in the horror genre, like Zombie Apocalypse: Redemption in 2010. Do you enjoy doing horror more than other types of films? No, not at all. I'm not that into the horror genre. I did Zombie Apocalypse to help a young guy who I thought was a very innovative director. And that's kind of what I do. I don't mind lending myself to other guys who are trying to make it in the industry, as long as they understand who I am and that I'm not for sale, integrity-wise. My integrity will always be intact, so I'm not doing anything that's going to diminish my popularity or diminish what people like to see me do. My motto is, "I've been in a lot of bad movies, but I've never been bad in a bad movie."
Are you hoping to introduce people at FearCon to more of your non-horror films? Not really. My market in Europe is 10 times bigger than my audience in the USA, like in Spain, Germany, and Italy. Its only because over there, I'm an action star. In America, I'm a black action star. That's not going to change, no matter who comes to [FearCon]
Besides being a hard-hitting pro football star, you also have a background in martial arts, correct? Yes I do. I have three black belts: Shotokan, Taekwondo, and Kenpo.
And I've read that you unleashed those moves against opposing players while on the field? Well, that's what they like to say, but me being a gentle kind of person that I was, I just a found a way from keeping my uniform dirty when I tackled people.
What's your opinion of the current-day state of the NFL? It's boring. And it's real simple why it's so boring. It's boring because when we played, we played for the pride. For the pride of being called a professional. Being good enough to become a professional. Now its about money. You're judged on how much money you make and not how good you are or what you bring to the team in a positive way. How much money you make these days indicates how good you are, which is stupid.
What's your take on the controversy surrounding concussions or hard hits in football? Well, you know, it's amazing that it just now is a concern, people talking about the concussions. So if they can draw a line and talk about concussions, let's also talk about the artificial turf. It gives you a double hit: Somebody hitting you and you hitting the ground and bouncing your head on that artificial turf. And a lot of injuries have been caused by this artificial turf, including knees, ankles, shoulders, collarbones, and heads. And this artificial turf was brought about by team owners [who are] trying to save money to keep from maintaining green grass.
Do you think there should be a major concern for players getting concussions in football? Not really, because the fact that once you start placing an emphasis on that it influences the way that you decide to make a tackle and that's not how you play the game. The game is played on instinct. And if you think a moment while you decide that you can't put your head on the guy's numbers like you were taught in the day when you made a tackle, the guy has run over you and put his footprints across your chest. You're really not helping the game. You're maybe making some of the runners look more fantastic and dynamic more than they really are, because the guy's can really decide how they want to make a tackle, how they wanna hit the guy. Because any way you do it now seems to be the wrong way.
You made the transition from football to movies in 1970's M*A*S*H. How did that role come about? It came about in a great way. I was doing that Julia show, which was kind of not something I really had my heart into when I came into the [film and TV] industry. Becoming Diahann Carroll's boyfriend on that show was not quite the image that I wanted to portray. And we were doing it on the 20th Century Fox lot and one day I was in the commissary and a guy walks by and says, "You're 'The Hammer,' right? I'm doing a movie with a football scene in it and I don't know shit about football. Would you help put all the players together?" And I said, "Yeah." And that was Robert Altman and he gave me the job because he wanted me to put together the football stuff. There were semi-pro football teams around the country at that time, so I brought a semi-pro team down from Santa Barbara and then I brought in some of my comrades from pro football to make the contact [look] official, and that's why it turned out so well.
What was it like working with Altman? Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland reportedly had problems dealing with his unconventional style and were miserable on set. Did you have similar experience? No. They were miserable because they didn't understand what he was doing. The man was way ahead of his time. He mic'd everybody and allowed everybody to talk at one time. Now, to an actor, that's foreign. That's just totally impossible. "How can we all talk at one time?" And, of course, that creates overlapping dialogue. And they didn't understand that what he was doing was very innovative, because you could talk whenever you wanted to, you could overlap anybody. They just didn't get it right away. I think they got it later on.
Your latest film, Last Ounce of Courage, is a departure from your previous roles where you play an attorney who battling for the separation of church and state. Why did you take this role? To show my acting chops, to show that I can also act as well as automatically kick people's ass. That's easy.
Its interesting to note that your character is named Warren Hammerschmidt. Obviously, they wrote it for me (laughs).
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So you're still "The Hammer" no matter what role you're playing? Undoubtedly. Its cooler and much easier to say, "Hey Hammer" than it is to say, "Hey Fred." Hammer just rolls off the tongue easier. People like nicknames anyway, especially since its a nickname that I earned and not a nickname I just gave myself.
Fred Williamson is scheduled to appear at Phoenix FearCon V on Saturday October 13, at UltraLuxe Scottsdale Cinemas. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $40 for VIP access. Visit the event's website for full details.