Whatever happened to Zach Galligan? If you’ve watched either of the Gremlins movies in recent years, you’ve no doubt asked yourself that very question. At age 19, Galligan got his big break playing Billy Peltzer in the campy horror flick Gremlins, one of the top-grossing films of 1984. But other than Gremlins 2: The New Batch, it’s hard to name another Zach Galligan movie.
In a new interview with The Daily Mail, the actor, now 50, explains why he fell off the radar. Galligan reveals that he took a post-Gremlins break from acting to attend Columbia University, because his parents wanted him to seek “a more stable career.” He believes that moving to New York killed his star momentum.
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‘Three years is a lifetime in Hollywood. If your career starts slipping in LA you can really feel it,” Galligan tells the Daily Mail. “All of a sudden the people that you were beating for a part start beating you.”
While at college, Galligan – who beat out Kevin Bacon, Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson for his Gremlins role – was up for the Michael J. Fox part in Back to the Future, and auditioned via videotape. “I now know that gave me a big disadvantage,” he says. “There’s no substitute to actually being in the room and having people in the room feel the force of your audition. It’s very hard to beat that.”
Galligan at the Hollywood premiere of Hatchet II on June 11, 2013
After he returned to Los Angeles in 1988, Galligan made the Gremlins sequel, which failed to match the success of the first. He spent the next decade hoping (in vain) for another big break. “My days involved waiting for an audition, working out at the gym and partying,” he recalls. “I had a blast in the 90’s, perhaps too much fun, and maybe I should have worked a lot harder and partied a lot less, but I definitely don’t regret the 12 years I spent living out in LA.”
Though he never recaptured stardom, he also managed to avoid the cycle of addiction that affected many of his actor friends, including his Gremlins co-star Corey Feldman and River Phoenix. “River Phoenix and I were friends for nine years and I watched him grow and mature and I also saw him struggle,” says Galligan. “I watched him deal with the whole up and down aspects of Hollywood and saw him bounce back, so when he passed away it was such an enormous shock.”
“After Gremlins came out I should have packed-up everything, moved to Los Angeles from New York and dedicated myself to being a full time film actor…the other side of the coin is I could have moved to L.A, made three or four more movies, become a household name and wrapped myself around a tree when I was 23,” Galligan reflects. “I would have been dead by now.”
Phoebe Cates played Kate Beringer in both Gremlins movies
That said, Galligan does have one regret: Never dating his Gremlins co-star Phoebe Cates, who married Kevin Kline in 1989. “I had a huge crush on Phoebe, but who didn’t? We never dated, but were good friends,” he admits. “She was a model at 17 and very sophisticated and I’d barely entered the adult world… She had a thing for older guys, so it’s no surprise she married Kevin Kline, who is 15 years her senior.”
Galligan’s crush on Cates did help him book Gremlins, however. “I’ve recently learned that it was my obvious crush on Phoebe that won me the role,” he says. “Spielberg noticed it during my audition and said: ‘Look at that! He’s already in love with her! We don’t need to see anybody else.’”
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Photos: Everett, Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images