By Nancy LeBrun
Dr. George W. Hardy, 63, is a family dentist in Alexander City, Alabama who also happens to be a cult movie star and, most recently, the dramatic lead in a recently-completed feature film.
He appears to move fluidly among these roles, amused and still faintly surprised at the twists his life has taken. We spoke with him on the deck of his stylishly rustic home near Lake Martin, surrounded by a couple of rescue beagles, at least one cat, and lush flowering plants.
Dr. Hardy shot the horror film that made him famous – among select movie buffs – in 1989, and still gets fan mail every month. “So many people ask me about Troll 2,” Dr. Hardy says. “It’s known as one of the worst films made in the history of all cinema. It was a train wreck, and now it’s been translated into nine languages worldwide.”
The path to becoming a cult movie icon wound through Alabama, where he grew up and graduated from Auburn University and the University of Alabama’s dental school. A few years later, Dr. Hardy established a general dentistry practice with a friend and colleague, Dr. John Howarth, in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah.
A Fateful Casting Call
The practice flourished, but his life changed almost thirty years ago when he got a call from an acquaintance who suggested he try out for a part in a movie that was casting in Park City.
Dr. Hardy, who has an actor’s “even” features, was intrigued. He’d done some acting in high school and was a cheerleader in college, so performing didn’t feel like that big of a stretch. “When I played high school football, I was the ham of the team. I just thought, ‘why not do it in front of a camera?’”
Click the video above to watch our interview with Dr. George W. Hardy
He decided to take a shot.
The movie was an Italian production, aimed at the American market. The casting call was held at a condo in Park City, led by director Claudio Fragasso and screenwriter Rosella Drudi, Fragasso’s wife.
“I did a cold read with a group of probably nine Italians,” Dr. Hardy recalls. “It was a smoke-filled room, and I could barely even see the script.”
He managed to get through the audition and headed home, bemused by the experience and ready to go back to the office. The next day, he got a call. He won the part. Dr. Hardy knew it was a leading role, but between the minimal English the producers spoke and the perplexing script, he wasn’t entirely sure what the film was about or what he was getting himself into.
“I thought to myself, ‘how am I going to leave my dental practice? A dentist doing this, no way,’” Hardy recalls, but the 13-day shoot was too tempting to pass up.
“How I split my time as a dentist and acting was, if it was a night shoot, I would practice in the morning and go to the location at 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. We would film till 10:00 or 11:00 at night and then I’d get up the next morning. If the shoot was in the day, I was able to arrange my practice [to see patients] during the late afternoon.”
Monsters Will Eat Us
When filming was over, he still had no idea what the movie was about. “I couldn’t piece anything together. We couldn’t decipher or get a feel for the film.” There was one dinner table scene involving corn on the cob with green icing, and in another, “my son gets up and urinates on the table to keep us from eating the vegetarian food because if we do we’ll turn into plants and the monsters will eat us.” The screenwriter’s rationale for this theme was her contempt for vegetarians, but the hazy logic didn’t end there.
“There are no trolls in Troll 2,” Dr. Hardy notes. To Italians, trolls and goblins are interchangeable, and no one conveyed the English nuance to the filmmakers. There’s also no Troll 1 – the filmmakers hoped to capitalize on a 1987 movie called Troll, starring Shelley Hack and Sonny Bono.
Not surprisingly, Troll 2 never made it into theaters, and Dr. Hardy went back to dentistry. That, he thought, would be the end of that.
In 1991, he moved back to Alexander City, where he established the dental practice he still tends, as well as a reputation as a different kind of character.
“Every year, for about 25 years, I go as a different character in the Christmas parade. One year I was the tooth fairy, wearing the ballerina thing, pulling a tooth in a wagon, and it had on the side of the wagon, ‘Pulling a Tooth.’” Whatever character he chooses each year, he portrays it on roller blades.
Around the same time that Dr. Hardy moved back to Alabama, he heard that Troll 2 was available on VHS and ordered a copy. He put it in the cassette player and hit play, but he didn’t make it all the way through. “I wouldn’t even let my kids watch it, and it fell behind the TV. It collected dust. I forgot about it. I ignored it. I was ashamed of it.”
The Troll 2 Phenomenon
Fifteen years later, in 2006, Dr. Hardy got a call from a student at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, who said he was writing a story for the school paper about the Troll 2 phenomenon. When Dr. Hardy asked him what he was talking about, the student explained that there is a worldwide cult following for the movie and that Dr. Hardy should check it out online.
When Dr. Hardy clicked on IMDB (the Internet Movie Data Base, an industry overview of films), he found his movie, complete with sample reviews. “It was the only film to get a double zero on Rotten Tomatoes, ever, in the history of all cinema,” Dr. Hardy says.
Dr. Hardy couldn’t look away.
“I’m about ready to go to sleep, and I keep scrolling, and I hit the rock bottom of the page, and there it read: Troll 2 Cast Reunion Party, April 13th, 2006,” he recalls.
“It was April 11, and I bought a ticket and hopped on the plane. It was a small screening in downtown Provo, and the room is dark, and I sit down. When the lights went on, all of a sudden, all the cast members get attacked by all these college students – ‘you rock, man, you’re incredible’ – and I thought, ‘this is just crazy. There is really something there.’”
That led to a screening at New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade, where Troll 2 had just won an It Sucked award. Somehow, the nonsensical plot and sheer terribleness had captivated audiences, in the mold of The Room, the movie that inspired The Disaster Artist, the 2017 Oscar contender about filmmaker Tommy Wiseau.
Best Worst Movie is a Hit
Troll 2 was a genuine cult hit, and so was Dr. Hardy.
Through various screenings of Troll 2, Dr. Hardy had reconnected with his on-screen son, the actor and director Michael Paul Stephenson. In 2009, they decided to make a documentary about their experience. In a moment of poetic justice, the film, called Best Worst Movie (available on Amazon Prime), has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has won multiple awards at various film festivals. It would seem that Troll 2 and Best Worst are both destined for long and happy lives.
Dr. Hardy describes the whole experience as “surreal.” His dental patients now include Troll 2 fans from around the Southeast, eager to have their teeth cleaned by a cult movie icon.
Recently, another acting opportunity came his way that couldn’t be farther from Troll 2.
“I’ve just played a lead in a film called Texas Cotton. It’s like No Country for Old Men meets Fargo meets Chinatown. It was an amazing experience for me to do that.”
The filmmaker, Tyler Russell, is submitting Texas Cotton to various film festivals, where he hopes to find a distributor.
Dr. Hardy is pulling hard for the new film.
“I really love dentistry, but I did want to be an actor from my childhood,” he explains. “Gosh, life is so short, and I just thought, go for it.”
Author: Contributing writer Nancy LeBrun is a veteran health and wellness writer, and an Emmy-winning video producer. A former editorial staff member at WebMD, she is based in Roswell, GA.
Other recent profiles by Ms. LeBrun include:
- Forensic Dentist: Identifying Dr. Martin Luther King’s Assassin and Victims of 9/11
- This Georgia Dentist Has Taken His Dedication to Public Service Farther Than Most
- Peter C.J. Chiang, DDS: Our Tenth Annual ‘Safe Sedation Dentist of the Year’ Honoree
- A ‘Best-in-the-Nation Sedation Dentist’ – David Kurtzman, DDS