Hiram Jacob Segarra is known as ‘Hy’ or ‘Iggy’ to his friends, the latter because of his terrific performance as the stoned grave-robber/lab assistant of that name in Brian O’Hara’s hilarious Rock’n’Roll Frankenstein. Hy/Iggy answered an e-mail interview for me in January 2003.
How did you land the role of Iggy in Rock'n'Roll Frankenstein?
“It's strange how that happened. It was a Friday night in early July of 1997, and I just got out of where I was working at the time, and I was in a hurry, because I was going to a concert at this great club a few blocks away called ‘Tramps’ (which doesn't exist any more) to see British guitar great Robin Trower. I ran into a girl I know who worked for casting agent Stanley Kaplan here in New York City as I was crossing the street. She told me that there was an audition for a lead role in a movie that was right up my alley, and that I should call Stanley for the details. I told her that I was in a hurry, but thanks for the information. All I had in my mind was that I didn't want to be late for the concert, which was great, by the way!
“Anyway, the whole weekend went by, and I didn't give the audition another thought until Monday, when I remembered what happened and gave Stanley a call. I got director Brian O'Hara's phone number, called him, and he made an appointment with me for that coming Wednesday. I went up to his office, and he gave me a page of the script to look at for a minute or two, as he set up the camera in another room. I went inside, did the reading the way I thought it should be done, with Brian standing behind the camera, reading another actor's dialogue. We finished, he thanked me for coming up, I thanked him for the opportunity, and went home. I didn't give it another thought, as I've done these kinds of auditions many times.
“Anyway, so a few days pass, and Saturday comes up, and I decided to give Brian a follow-up call to see how I did. He told me that I had the job! He was planning to call me soon, he said, possibly after the weekend. Needless to say, I was thrilled, and couldn't wait to get the whole script, so that we could get to work. A few days later, Brian showed up at my job with the 98 page script for Rock’n'Roll Frankenstein. I was riding home on the subway that night with a couple of friends of mine, and we were cracking up at the script. It was brilliant! I was so psyched! I told them, ‘I AM IGGY’!”
“The whole event was the best acting experience I've ever had, being a lead actor, even if it was in a low budget independent film. Getting ready every day to go meet the van to take us to the day's location was so amazing. I never wanted it to end! It was a very eye-opening experience for me. I learned a lot about the process of movie making from this one role. In fact, I don't look at movies the same way any more; I'm always analysing how things were done. I'm like, ‘Oh yeah, I know what they did here,’ and explaining to people how movies are made because of it!!
”The best part was, I was treated like a king from the very first day! In fact, after a couple of hours of filming, I stepped out of the recording studio we were shooting in to get some fresh air. Right away, someone from the crew came outside to ask me if I was alright, and if there was something that I wanted, or needed. Man, I wasn't used to treatment like that! But I'll tell you something - I sure got used to it pretty fast!
“To tell you the truth, I'd have to think very hard to come up with a bad memory when it comes to the making of Rock’n'Roll Frankenstein. The closest I can come is when we started filming in September of 1997, and we were going pretty good, really getting into it, and then, after so many days, out of the blue, Brian told us that we had to stop because of lack of funds. We (the four principal characters) were pretty upset about it. I couldn't believe it - I get a lead role in a really great movie, and we have to stop! And we didn't know if we would ever start up again. However, things did get straightened out eventually, and we resumed filming for good in January of 1998. That would have to be the low point. But that's it!”
How does a principal role on a low-budget movie like RnR Frankie compare with the small roles you've had on big movies like Vanilla Sky and A Beautiful Mind?
“Well, on one hand, while it's exciting to be in a big, Hollywood Oscar winning production like A Beautiful Mind, working closely as I was, with world famous actors like Russell Crowe, and top-notch directors like Ron Howard (who both, by the way, complimented me on my work), the scene was cut considerably from the original footage that was shot. I did a lot more in the scene than was shown, and had a lot of (improvised) lines that the public never got a chance to hear.
”Whereas, on RnR Frankie, although the footage was edited, of course, I was still a big part of the movie, and I'm the only surviving cast member at the end of the film! (Sequel, anyone?) I had the chance to take the role of Iggy that was in the script, and develop him into a real character. That's what a serious actor just loves to do. I would rather have major roles in independent films than tiny roles in Hollywood productions (although my goal is to have more and more principal roles and make it big in this business).”
What did you do in Godzilla?
“I was in a bar scene, when it was announced that Godzilla was making his way to the city. At first, I was given a female partner in the scene, and we were reacting to the news as it was coming in on the TV, but then the director took away my partner and had me sit on a stool on the inside of the bar, with the camera right in front of my face. I was sure it would be fantastic exposure. Then, in another scene, I was part of a group of about five or six people who were running down the street in the rain, with Godzilla in hot pursuit. But don't look for it in the movie - they cut it all out! Oh well. I got over it - it didn't turn out to be the blockbuster that they thought it would be anyway.”
How come you've played two different members of Kiss on Saturday Night Live? (Are you going to play the other two sometime, go for the full set?)
“That's funny, right? What happened is, in September of 1999, I got a call from Brian Siedlecki, the casting director at the time from SNL, and he asked me if I would like to play Gene Simmons in a skit that was called ‘Millennium Moments’ - it was supposed to be about things that never really happened. He said that he thought that I would look very much like the real Gene if I shaved off my beard. And he was right - I shaved it off, and I kinda do look like the real Gene Simmons (who's Jewish like me, too - maybe that had something to do with it?).
”Anyway, they asked me for all my information: shoe size, shirt size, etc. They went out to these S&M shops in Manhattan, shopping for my exact measurements! I liked the costume so much, I told them that I didn't care if they paid me or not - I just wanted that outfit! Unfortunately, they said it had to go back into wardrobe, although it was bought specifically for my use. They said that I shouldn't worry - it would still be here for me for the next time I came on the show!
”Anyway, it turned out to be a photo shoot, and I was standing there as Gene, and to my left there was a guy in a robot costume, much like the robot in Lost in Space. To my right, there was a woman and two gentlemen dressed like people from the 1890s. So they started taking the photographs, and I was posing like Gene, sticking my tongue out (I do have a long tongue like he does), and being generally mischievous. I started terrorising the woman standing next to me! The photographer was laughing and saying, ‘Yes, yes! Keep going!’ - It was a lot of fun.
”Then in April of 2001 I was called again, this time by Josh Payne from SNL. They were doing a parody of this cable show called The Wedding Story, where they have couples who are about to be married, and they tell everyone how they met, and all about the preparations for their upcoming marriage, etc., etc. The guest host on Saturday Night Live that week was Renee Zellweger (I worked with her before on the film A Price Above Rubies, where I played a Rabbi). In this skit, she was marrying Will Ferrell's character, who happened to be in a Kiss copy band.
"He was playing Gene Simmons this time, so I was chosen to play lead guitarist Ace Frehley. It was very funny, and very memorable. By the way, I was the only one in the band who actually looked like the person I was supposed to be representing! As far as what you mentioned - yes, I would love to play the two remaining band members (I'm a drummer and guitarist, anyway). I'm waiting for them to call me back, so that I can do it! That would be great!”
Where is your acting career (hopefully) taking you?
“Hopefully to bigger and better parts. I'm a very versatile character actor, not only changing the way I look with different costumes and hairstyles (sometimes with a full beard, or only a moustache, or even clean shaven; hair up, down, etc.), but I also do several ethnic character accents. It's impossible to live here in New York City and not pick up on all the different languages you hear, especially if you already have a talent for mimicry, like I have.
”For instance, there's a cable show I do here in the city called Apt. 17JJ, which is a comedy improv show, where I created many different characters, such as: Achiram Yaakov, the biker Rabbi; Lingam Tandoori, the Hindu deli owner; Aquinando Parranda (or ‘Chelito’), the Guatemalan salad bar chef; Toh Ching Gao (or ‘Mr Lee’), the Chinese restaurant owner; ‘El Nino’ - and many other characters! In fact, we're shooting two new shows this coming weekend. Apt. 17JJ airs every other Saturday night at 11pm in Manhattan on (Time Warner) Cable Channel 67.
Interview originally posted 7th December 2004