Monday, May 6, 2013

Chunk From The Goonies Speaks! Actor now Attorney Jeff Cohen talks about creating a now iconic movie moment with the Truffle Shuffle.


There probably aren't any attorneys that can wake up every day and claim that they've created an iconic movie moment.  But Los Angeles based entertainment attorney Jeff Cohen can do exactly that.

While Cohen or his L.A. based law practice Cohen Gardner LLP may not be familiar names to readers here at the TV Store Online blog, his childhood likeness certainly will be.  As Cohen now all grown up, was once a child actor, and you may know him better as 'Chunk' from the 1985 movie, THE GOONIES.

Produced by Steven Spielberg, written by Chris Columbus and directed by Richard Donner, THE GOONIES has come to be considered a movie classic over the last fifteen years.   With it's Saturday matinee serial like adventure, unforgettable kid-next-door like characters and humor and wit that treads the fine line of being for adults rather than for kids, THE GOONIES has en-grained itself into the American pop cultural zeitgeist, and Cohen is just as much responsible for that as the films creators.   

Some of the most wonderful and human moments in THE GOONIES comes from Cohen himself and actor John Matuszak.   Matuszak as 'Sloth' connects with Cohen's somewhat eccentric and aloof 'Chunk' and the two become fast friends and develop a rich understanding of one another.   At the core of THE GOONIES this is the essence of the film itself.   It's about childhood friendship and living in the moment.   In addition, fans of THE GOONIES have declared it's most memorable scene to be another that features Cohen.   The scene features Cohen as 'Chunk' being forced by his friends to do a dance called "The Truffle Shuffle".   The scene has become such an iconic movie moment that today thousands of t-shirts are sold every year of Cohen's childhood image from the movie, a band has named themselves after the character and we've seen the Fox television series Family Guy pay homage to it.  

The cast of THE GOONIES:  20 Years Later

Leaving acting behind in the early '90s as a teen, Cohen became interested in football and after graduating from high school enrolled at UC Berkeley with an added interest in business, politics and law.   After graduating first from UC Berkeley, then moving onto law school at UCLA, Cohen would develop a specific interest in entertainment law.   He would graduate law school in 2000, and alongside a colleague, the two would start their own entertainment law firm in Los Angeles in 2002.


Talking to Cohen today is any kid who grew up in the '80s dream.   He's extremely well spoken, witty, and you get the sense just from chatting with him that he's not just a former child actor turned legal badass / attorney in Los Angeles but that he still genuinely loves movies.   He knows comedy too.  Which is clearly obvious when one examines his performance in THE GOONIES.  He can tell you what director directed this or that movie, or who wrote whatever movie that's currently the point of discussion with him. And unlike so many former child actors, you never get the sense that in speaking with Jeff Cohen that he's ever allowed his former celebrity to define him in any way.

In fact, he doesn't seem to take anything related to his former childhood actor self very seriously either.   He'll tell you at the start that being an actor was a lot of fun, but that today he's truly doing what he loves the most, being an attorney.   Below is a conversation with Jeff Cohen about THE GOONIES from last week:


TV STORE:  One of the coolest things you worked on as a kid too besides THE GOONIES was your appearances on the Steven Spielberg produced NBC television series, AMAZING STORIES (1985-86)...

COHEN:  Yeah, Amazing Stories was really cool.  I did two episodes of that.  I remember one of the episodes was called 'Remote Control Man'.  The guy who played my dad was Sydney Lassick and he was in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) and my mom was played by Nancy Parsons from PORKY'S (1982)...The dad in that episode used this remote control to change people and he changed me into Gary Coleman, so it was a really weird almost psychedelic experience, but great none the less.

TV STORE:  And it was directed by the great Bob Clark.

COHEN:  That's right. Bob was such a nice guy and a brilliant director.  My god, he directed A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983), what a great movie.  What happened to him was so tragic.

NOTE: Bob Clark passed away tragically in a car accident on April 4, 2007 in Pacific Palisades, California.

TV STORE:  One of the most interesting aspects to the movie THE GOONIES is how the film is structured.  I mean Sean Astin has the film's lead role of 'Mikey' and the story is centered around his idea to go looking for this treasure with the gang, but yet 'Chunk' too is also very much the lead character as the movie shifts between both of their stories...

COHEN:  Look, the more appropriate title for the movie would've been...CHUNK and THE GOONIES....laughing.   Let's be honest...laughing   Or maybe just lose THE GOONIES all together and just call it CHUNK...laughing.   I agree with you and in fact I pitched it that way to both Dick Donner and Spielberg at the time but they didn't listen, so whatever, they're the smart guys...laughing


TV STORE: That's funny.  Fans that may have listened to your commentary on the Warner Bros. DVD of THE GOONIES can easily pick up on your fun sense of humor, where do you think that comes from?


COHEN:  Well, when I was a kid I grew up watching The Little Rascals, The Three Stooges and the old Jerry Lewis movies.  I would watch Channel 5 out here in Los Angeles and they had this thing called the Family Film Festival and they'd play all of these really old and cool movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.   And I'd watch 'Spanky' from The Little Rascals and say, "That's what I wanna do."   So a lot of what I did was basically just like an imitation of that.  I loved that broad physical comedy.  I wanted to be 'Spanky'.  To me The Little Rascals was just genius.  

TV STORE:  Do you think that you consciously knew at the time while you were working on THE GOONIES that you were trying to do that?

COHEN:  No, I think it was something where I was taking elements from all the different types of broad comedy I was watching.  I was watching Jerry Lewis, Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals and I think I was just taking  in all of these different little jokes from that stuff and filing them away.


TV STORE: How old were you when you shot THE GOONIES?


COHEN:   I was ten.

TV STORE:  Wow, So I know this question has become a bit of a clich√© but I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you to speculate on how you "found" Chunk inside of yourself?

COHEN:  Well basically...Chunk is just always freaked out.  He's freaked out like 80% of the time in the movie.  I mean, he endures a car chase, his hand is almost put into a blender, he's locked up with a monster...So it becomes a question of how do you get freaked out but in a comedic way?  You see that in the Abbott & Costello movies, like ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).  It's like how do you lose your mind but still be funny.  So I think it's just 80% of Chunk being freaked out and enduring child abuse....laughing

Jeff Cohen & Michael Jackson on the set of THE GOONIES



TV STORE:  Did you have to audition for the role of 'Chunk'?


COHEN:   I did.  I grew up as a kid in the San Fernando Valley and I had an agent and I had been doing some television shows, and commercials and stuff like that.   My agent asked me to go in and audition for THE GOONIES and originally I went in and auditioned for 'Mouth' because I had a big mouth and I still do.   The casting director said, "Well, you talk like a Mouth but you look like a Chunk."  So they sent me home with some lines for Chunk and I went home and practiced them and went back the next day and I got it.

TV STORE:  But as a kid, how did you first get into the business?

COHEN:  Well, there was a particular game show on back then called Child's Play.  It was basically this game show where they'd bring on 6 or 7 year old kids and they'd have to describe an actual word to an adult without actually saying the word and the adult would have to guess it.  So my mom sent in my picture to them and I got called in and after that I got an agent and went out on the rounds and did a bunch of the '80s sitcoms like Family Ties, Webster, The Facts Of Life and then I eventually got THE GOONIES.

TV STORE:  You stopped acting at a certain point in your life, how did you handle that transition?  What was that process like for you?  In researching you, it doesn't seem like you let the fact that you stopped working or your past work as an actor become who you are.  It doesn't define you whatsoever.

COHEN:  Well, first off thanks so much for saying that.  I really appreciate that.   Look, acting is the best gig of all time.  They feed you, people are nice, you get to travel, it's great.   I don't think that anyone ever gives up acting intentionally.   It's just too fun.  For me,  I hit puberty and my face changed in a matter of a year and I went from this chunky kid to just looking like a normal 13 year old teenager.   I wanted to work but I just couldn't get jobs anymore and I  really felt lost.   I always wanted to be an actor, but I couldn't get a job, so I didn't know what to do.  Acting... Part of it is based on your looks and if you look different then that can sometimes hurt your career.

I got so lucky though. Like thank-my-stars lucky because when my career fizzled out the director of THE GOONIES Richard Donner took me under his wing.  Dick Donner let me work for him, and I started working in his offices at Warner Brothers as a production assistant when I was in high school.  And he showed me a totally different side of show business, and I just fell in love with a different aspect of the industry.

TV STORE:  So is that were you developed an interest in becoming a lawyer?

COHEN:   I wasn't sure what I wanted to do until I went off to college, but I always knew that I wanted to do something in show business.  So I went off to U.C. Berkeley and tried a bunch of different things.  I ran for student president and I was a "Mic Man."   But I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I graduated.  So I decided to become an entertainment lawyer and I went off to law school at UCLA.  I was interested in becoming a lawyer because a lot of the people that I admired in the industry, producers, agents, managers and executives, even though their not lawyers a lot of them actually have law degrees.  So I was always kind of interested in that, and also I've always been interested in politics and a lot of politicians have backgrounds in law as well.  

When I graduated from law school in 2000, Dick Donner helped me get my first job in entertainment law over at Universal Studios and I really learned the business there, and in 2002 a colleague and myself started our own entertainment law firm and we've been at it for 11 years now and I love it.

TV STORE:  So do you ever miss acting?

COHEN:  Sure. Of course.  I loved acting. It was a blast.  Acting is a great method for artistic expression.  Now with that being said, once you're on the business side of it the notion of going back over to that side is a little unpalatable. Being an entertainment lawyer is the best of both worlds.  I don't have to audition and I still get to go to the parties...laughing

Truffle Shuffle Shirt
TV STORE ONLINE
TV STORE:  So if you don't mind I'd love to ask you about the "Truffle Shuffle."  Is that OK?

COHEN:  Sure.

TV STORE:  I'm sure you get asked about it constantly.

COHEN:  Listen, it's the cost of being an cultural icon...laughing  I get it.

TV STORE:  Right, but in all seriousness, what's it like for you to have done something like that all those years ago and have it now become so en-grained in popular culture.

COHEN:  You know what's funny?  There's a band out there called Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!   Look them up on Facebook.  I love it, and I think 10 year old Jeff Cohen would get a kick out of the fact that people are walking around with t-shirts on that have his face on them.  It's funny...When I was in high school people would ask me to do the "Truffle Shuffle" and I would never do it.

Then when I went off to college and became a "Mic Man" at football games when I'd get up in the student section to lead the cheers I'd get the drunkest frat guys yelling out, "Truffle Shuffle, Truffle Shuffle."   I mean the section of the stadium where I was at had like 10,000 kids in it, and it started to filter out among the crowd where everyone started chanting it, and even the band starting banging the drum to the chanting.    So I knew at that point, that even though I hadn't done the "Truffle Shuffle" in something like 8 years that if I didn't do it I might get beat up.    So I raised my hands up over the crowd and everyone got quiet and then I did it and they went nuts, and after that it became a tradition at the games and they'd have me do it in the fourth quarter of every game....laughing  

TV STORE:   So you were forced into doing it?

COHEN:  Well, Peter Ustinov said and I really believe this: "We should take our duties and not ourselves seriously."   I don't take myself very seriously, but I take my obligations as a professional and lawyer very seriously.   The fact that Chunk is still a cool thing and the fact that people are walking around with Chunk t-shirts is a really cool thing. I think it's really great and it's hilarious.

TV STORE:  Then back when you were shooting the film at the time, the "Truffle Shuffle" wasn't something you really wanted to do was it?

COHEN: The reason I really didn't want to do it was because I had the Chickenpox at the time.   And for whatever reason I thought that if they saw that I had the Chickenpox even though I was in the later stages of them, I was worried that I'd get fired.  So I was trying to hide that.  What's funny about it now is that if you own a "Truffle Shuffle" shirt, you can look at my belly and you'll be able to see all the Chickenpox.   I mean, it was embarrassing but oh well, it was all in good fun.  It was the cost of being a clown, right?

TV STORE:  And it was something that was in the script right?

COHEN:  Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

TV STORE:  One of the things that we get a kick out of in THE GOONIES is how they've dressed Chunk.  It's like they made him Jerry's Uncle Leo on Seinfeld?

COHEN: That's funny....laughing My thought on it is that if you look at every '80s movie ever made you'll always see a fat guy and he's either wearing a Hawaiian shirt or plaid pants. That's just in case you didn't get that he was supposed to be "the fat guy." So with Chunk they gave me both. He was the first character to do both in movie history. Chunk really turned it to "11" as they said in THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984).

Cohen as Chunk with Steven Spielberg, Richard Donner and Jonathan Ke Quan


TV STORE:  Tell me about your experiences working with the great Anne Ramsey from THE GOONIES?

COHEN:  Anne and her husband, Logan Ramsey, who was also a great actor lived in the Valley by me when I was a kid. So my family used to spent holidays with them, so they were really like grand-parents to me.  Anne and Logan where the best. They had the best old acting stories about working on and off Broadway, and Logan worked on Star Trek in the '60s and he'd tell me stories about working on that show.  Anne was just the sweetest person too.  I loved them and I miss them still today.  The fact that Anne was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN (1987) was great, and it was a nice highlight to her career before she passed away and I think that meant quite a bit to her.

TV STORE:  What about John Matuszak who played 'Sloth'.   What was the working relationship like between the two of you?

COHEN:  Matuszak was huge, man.  It's funny, I think when John Matuszak went into the NFL, he was the first overall pick the year he was drafted.   And I think he was the biggest player in the NFL when he was playing too.  He was like 6 foot 9 inches tall.  I've watched old Raiders footage of him as a defensive lineman and he was an absolute monster.  John was great. He was really patent, really talented, and he was like a gentle giant around us kids.

Back when we made THE GOONIES there was no CGI so he'd have to come in to work at like 4 in the morning to have 5 hours of make-up before we even started filming.  Sloth's ear was operated via remote control, and his lower eye was operated by remote control. So for Sloth to blink on camera they'd count it off...1-2-3...blink.  It was crazy.  He had some crazy discipline.  He was just a really really nice guy, that was great to work with and he died too young.

Jeff Cohen and actor John Matuszak in THE GOONIES



TV STORE:  What about that incredible pirate ship set at the end of the movie, what was it like to be on that set?


COHEN:  It was amazing.  That set was incredible.  That was done on the biggest sound stage at Warner Brothers.  They actually dug out the cement inside of the sound stage so they could put in that lake, and I was the shortest kid so  for safety reasons they only made it a certain depth. Which was basically up to my neck.  The only place it was deeper was right under the plank on the ship because that's where the stunt man was going to jump in as it's in the movie.  And the set was built all the way out.  It wasn't like you see it and then you go around the back and it's empty. It was a full 360 degree set, meaning that the entire set literally went out to each of the walls of the sound stage.  It was beautiful.

TV STORE:  I don't understand how you were scarred from the making of this movie emotionally.  I mean, it's supposed to be a kids movie, and there's a ton of comedy in it, but yet for a kids movie it's very violent. I mean, Chunk gets his hand shoved in a blender, he has a gun put to his head, Chunk is throw in the back of a vehicle with a dead body...

COHEN:  Right...laughing   Well, it's a really funny movie.  There's a ton of cursing in it too...laughing  It's certainly not current Disney channel fare for sure, but I think that the reason why THE GOONIES still works and the reason that parents are still watching it with their kids all of these years later is because Dick Donner wanted us to behave like kids.  Kids curse and they talk over each other and they push each other.  He wanted it to be as natural as seven kid actors could be, and I think that it holds up because of that.  I'm really happy about that.  I get emails all the time or Facebook messages from people all of the time telling me how much they love the movie or that they just watched it with their kids and they liked it and I really think that's great.

TV STORE: Whatever happened with the rumored GOONIES sequel?

COHEN:  You know I'm not totally sure. I know there has been rumors.  I mean, there was never a CASABLANCA (1942) part 2 or a CITIZEN KANE (1941) part 2.  I'm totally happy with how THE GOONIES exists now.

Jeff Cohen Today
TV STORE:  But if the opportunity arose for you would you take the part?

COHEN:  Well, I'm not an actor anymore.  What I actually thinks makes more sense in regards to a sequel would be a video game.  GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) did that, and it worked.  You could actually have the same characters, you could get people to do voice match for the kids.  For me I think it would work better as an emursive video game than an actual film.  I mean it was a long time ago.  THE GOONIES was made in 1985. It was almost 30 years ago now.  Look at the other sequels that have been made over the years where they waited too long to release it.  Look at like WALL STREEET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (2010) or the sequel to CHINATOWN (1974), THE TWO JAKES (1990).  They waited too long to do those and those movies suffered from that.

TV STORE:  Do you have a favorite Chunk scene in THE GOONIES?

COHEN:  Probably the blender scene.  That turned out really great and I had been really worried about that because I was supposed to cry in it.


TV STORE:  That's a great scene.  How difficult was it as a kid to cry on camera.


COHEN:  Yeah, actually in order to cry I had to think about my mom dying...laughing   Also, Robert Davi was sitting there and even though he denies doing it...He was pulling the hairs out of the back of my neck.  He totally did it.  It hurt so bad, and it made me cry.  But it worked.  At the time I was really mad about it, but looking back he gave me a great assist.  I am entirely indebted to Robert Davi for pulling the hair out of the back of my neck, but it totally worked.  Those are real tears...laughing

TV STORE:  Looking back all of these years later do you have a fondest memory from working on the movie?

COHEN:  Well, it's hard to pick just one instance.  So I'll tell you this.  I was a kid that came from a broken home in the San Fernando Valley, and by getting the opportunity to work with Richard Donner and eventually to become friends with him opened up a whole new world to me.  And I'm not just taking about THE GOONIES. I mean, Dick was a mentor to me, and the fact that I got to be friends with him after THE GOONIES, that was the best thing I got out of making the movie, because he changed my life forever.

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