On the film’s anniversary, the star tells us about the challenges of filming, and carrying around those massive guns to kill monstrous, underground worms.
There is a moment in Tremors when Reba McEntire’s fictional husband is being dragged by a snake tongue into the mouth of a giant carnivorous earthworm. In marriage, this is when “the worse” part of “for better or worse” kicks in. McEntire snags a high powered rifle off the wall and shoots the monster’s snake tongue three times, freeing her husband from the monster’s grasp. Then, the two unload the full might of their arsenal on the monster invaders. It’s monster movie iconography. And 30 years later, the film remains a cult favorite, along with one of the highlights of McEntire’s career (her debut film role).
Yes, special effects are dated, and sure, the concept of dinosaur-sized earthworms is a little silly, but that’s half the charm of Tremors. It’s B-movie magic, and even though it didn’t do as well in theaters as was expected at the time, it went on to reach cult status—becoming a massive success when it was released on home video. And that remains the case today, as the film inspired four sequels—most recently 2018’s Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell.
“So many times, people wouldn’t even know I sang,” McEntire told me in an interview this week ahead of the movie’s anniversary. “It’s a cult film! People are into it!”
Part of that is that after all these years, people are still discovering the film. And as one of her proudest career moments, McEntire is known to bring it up herself at concerts. An homage to monster films of the 50s and 60s, McEntire remembers it as one of the craziest projects of her career. With a Grammy nomination and an upcoming tour kicking off in March, McEntire took a minute to reflect on the film all these years later.
Reba McEntire: Justin, this is Reba McEntire!
ESQ: Hello, Reba McEntire! Thank you so much for taking time out to talk to me.
So, I’m sure someone told you, but this week is the 30th anniversary of Tremors. I know this was your first movie, but you had all kinds of cinematic-level music videos before Tremors. Do you think that helped prepare for that role?
I think it did. I think it helped a lot, preparing me for movies and television. But the thing that made Tremors hard for me is that I was touring on the weekend, flying to L.A., getting on a puddle jumper to Olancha, California, and them driving to Long Pine to stay in a motel. And then they’d come get me at 6 in the morning to come to set.
When I was through with that, I’d go back to touring, then I even got married in Lake Tahoe during the filming ’cause I had shows at Caesars in Lake Tahoe. So I finished the week, got married, did two or three shows, then went back to filming.
And you didn’t pull your hair out?
[laughs] Well, I was a lot younger and I just was loving what I did.
How did the opportunity come about?
I was doing the Pat Sajak Show—he had a talk show—and Tony Curtis was on the show. When we got there, they told us, “Well, the show’s been canceled.” I said, “Well are we still going to do the show tonight?” and he said, “Oh yeah, absolutely, but it’s not getting picked up.”
I said, “Well, ok. It’s alright, I got to see Pat. I got to meet Tony Curtis.” Then the executive producer [of Tremors], Gale Ann Hurd, was watching the Pat Sajak Show when it aired. She said, “I think that she would be the perfect Heather for the movie.” So they called and asked if I’d be interested, and I said, “Absolutely!” I went and auditioned twice.
They kept telling me, “You’re not going to be able to wear makeup,” and I said, “oh yeah, that’s fine.” Then they said, “Your hair’s going to be up in a ponytail,” and I said, “That’s fine.” Then they said, “It’s gonna be dirty and dusty,” and I said, “I’m all for that. I’m an old cowgirl. It’s fine.” So I auditioned twice and they hired me.
What were some highlights from set or any scenes that still stick out all these years later?
Like I said, I’d get into the motel at about 2 in the morning, and they’d come get me. and I’d go to that trailer and just sit there and sit there. They’d knock on the door, and I’d say, “I’m ready!” They’d say, “I’m just taking your breakfast order.” So I’d say, “Oh, scrambled eggs.”
An hour later, they came back and I said, “I’m ready!” and they said, “I just came by to tell you it’s going to be another hour.” Finally, they came in to get me on my first day on the set, and my one line was, “Ew, stinks too!” They said, “Cut! That’s a wrap,” and I said, “Yes!! My first day on my first movie!” Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but they clapped a little bit. It was so much fun. But it was rough on the parts where it was cold—it was freezing in the morning and at night, because it’s desert. But in the middle of the day, oh my God, it was so hot.
I was doing a bit of research, and Tremors is one of those rare films that is a lot of fun, but also really well received. Do you remember getting feedback when it came out?
Oh yes, absolutely! I was singing the National Anthem at a football game… it might have been the World Series for baseball. The sound guy said, “I gotta tell ya, Tremors is my favorite movie. Can I take a picture with you?” So many times, people wouldn’t even know I sang. They would just be like, “I love Tremors.”
Oh yeah! It’s a cult film. People are into it.
My favorite scene that’s always stuck with me as a kid is the shootout that you did with Michael Gross, where you guys unload on one of the monsters. You were double fisting pistols, called out for a magazine… changed my life. Do you have a particular scene that sticks out for you?
Oh, that was a blast to shoot. I got to do the… what are the things you shoot up in the air to let people know—
A flare gun?
Yeah! Flare gun. That was a lot of fun. At one point, I had to carry the elephant gun in one scene where we’re trying to get onto some rocks, and the gun was so heavy, so they gave me a wooden gun that looked like the elephant gun so I could run with it. And man did that make me look tough. That thing weighed five or ten pounds. Good lord it was heavy.
But you guys weren’t shooting actual rounds on set, right?
I think they were quarter-rounds. Nothing full-powered, but the best I remember is that it was quarter rounds, to make it look as real as possible.
That movie launched a whole string of movies and television for you afterward. Has acting always been something that was in the back of your mind?
I always wanted to [act]. Because when you’re up there singing, the video runs in my mind—the movie of the song. That’s why I love videos so much. It was just so cool to put it on the TV. I just absolutely loved that. I’d never had an acting class. We didn’t have plays. Our school in Oklahoma was so small… we didn’t have a marching band or anything. We had a little country western band that played for special events, but other than that, I never took an acting class. I’d never been in a play before I did Annie Get Your Gun. I just absolutely love acting. Actually, I’m on the set of Young Sheldon right now, doing a cameo part on that.
It is my duty to ask as a hard hitting journalist: are we getting the Reba reboot we deserve?
[laughs] I don’t think so. It’s doing so well on reruns right now. Everybody is so busy and spread out doing their own things now, it’d probably be pretty hard to get everyone back together, but I would love to do that. Even a movie of the week; anything that we could get back together for. I love that cast and crew. So much fun.
There’s such a big market right now for reboots, though! I mean, 30 years after the fact, if Kevin Bacon and Michael Gross called in the next week and said they need a back up because the monsters from Tremors have returned, are you in?
You bet. How fun would that be?
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Bless Your Heart!