The Loft Film Fest kicks off tonight with a screening of Revenge of the Nerds," a performance by ’80s cover band 80s and Gentlemen and an appearance by Curtis Armstrong, who played Booger in the film. It's just the start of the Loft Film Fest, which you can read about in last week's Tucson Weekly cover story
or at the Loft Film Fest's official website.
The Weekly caught up with Armstrong ahead of his visit to Tucson. This interview has been edited for clarity.
You have a new book, Revenge of the Nerd: The Singular Adventures of the Man Who Would Be Booger. Tell me a little bit about that and what your impetus was for writing.
I don’t know exactly how it manifested. It was one of those things. I’ve written a lot but mainly it’s been articles for literary journals that I subscribe to. It’s not a part of my life that a lot of people know about. I guess I reached a point where I was starting to look back on these things, as you do. I think you get to a point in your life and you starting thinking, “How did I wind up here?” My daughter is in college now and she’s going for her master’s degree at Oxford and I’ve had this career lasting 40 years. You start doing the conventions and you see how many generations are into work that you’ve done over the years and it just makes you reflective.
I look at Revenge of the Nerds as the coolest movie ever shot in Tucson. Tell me what you knew about Tucson before you filmed here and your experience of Tucson as a city while you were here in ’84.
I had never been to Tucson before. When we got there, we really were very focused on making sense of this screenplay, which was kind of a mess. We spent the first week with the writers and the director, just going through everything and trying to find the humanity in these cartoon characters. The thing that Jeff Kanew, the director, felt strongly about—having been a recovering nerd himself—was that we needed to be able to make the characters human so we would empathize with them. It was a tough challenge. In my case, of course, I’m playing someone named Booger and I’m picking my nose, belching and saying all these horibble things, but you still have to find a way to make that character accessible. So we did a lot of things, a lot improv, a lot of working out stuff on our own about who these characters were. That was the first week, and in the meantime, we were going out in the evenings and going to bars and restaurants, most of which, I think, are gone now. We would go to these places and party. I remember going out to Old Tucson, and that was a thrill to all of us, because we were all film nerds. We shot the interior scenes of the Nerd House inside a house at Old Tucson. It was really strange because you’d shoot all day inside this house and then you’d walk outside and you were in an Old West town.
Talk a little bit about Revenge of the Nerds as the proto-nerd culture movie. Nerd culture has kind of taken over, with computer culture and the conventions you were talking about. Did you have any sense you were on the cutting edge of that?
No, not at all. You wouldn’t have a sense of that at the time because the convention culture—it was happening but it wasn’t anything near what it is today. That whole idea was kind of alien because Revenge of the Nerds was not really a hit. It did OK, it did better than they were expecting, certainly. But it wasn’t this amazing movie that everyone admired so much. It was nothing like that. I think what would up happening, because of home video, that was where it started to get a name for itself over time. It became something that was so much more important to people. It changed over time and it keeps evolving.
It’s almost prescient how in the final speech of the movie, Robert gives a speech about how he’s a nerd and Gilbert says he’s proud of it and then everyone comes down out of the stands to “We Are The Champions.”
That was the future. No one had a sense of it at the time.
I wanted to ask you about some of the shirts you wore in the film. One was for a place called Greasy Tony’s. What do you remember about that?
I just remember it was a place we went occasionally. I don’t remember much about. The costume designer was the one who came up with the idea of Booger wearing all these shirts and part of that came out of desperation, because the in the original script, Booger didn’t even really exist. He was a marginal character, really just there for shock value. He wasn’t really a nerd, so we had to figure out a way to make him noticeable. How he ended up with a Greasy Tony’s shirt—my guess is, one night he went to Greasy Tony’s to eat and he saw the shirt and thought it would be right for Booger, so he picked it up. As group, that was a place we went to eat.
The character of Booger is very well fleshed out as this kind of outsider, stoner-y guy who is an atypical nerd but really fleshes out the sort of character profile of the Tri-Lamb crew.
What it does, more than anything, is give a contrast to the other nerds to show the goodness of the other nerds, because they take him in, as appalling as he is, without question because he got thrown out the same way that they did. They don’t think of him as disgusting, they think of him an another wanderer in the wilderness.
I was very sorry to hear about the passing of Bernie Casey earlier this year.
We were so excited that Bernie Casey was going to be in Nerds because we all loved him from those movies in the ’70s. And then when we did Nerds 2, he was great. I remember he had the flu the night we shot the pep rally scene and he was running a fever of 103 degrees and he was just a mess. And you would never know it. He was there, looking as dapper and awesome as ever. Just a perfect gentlemen and a terrific actor and real pro.