"I know you are but what am I?"
An Interview With Mark Holton - Francis from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
by Lee Sobel (8/16/20)
"You'll be sorry, Pee-Wee Herman!"
One of my favorite comedy movies of the 80's is without a doubt PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985) and if there is a movie that best captures the theme of Greasy Kidstuff Magazine and never wanting to truly grow up, this movie certainly nails this theme. With that in mind, right at the top of my list in starting GKM was finding anyone that had anything to do with PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE to interview. I would have been happy to speak with the third assistant gaffer, but how could I do better than Mark "Francis Buxton" Holton?
Francis: "Today is my birthday. My father said I can have
anything I want."
Pee-Wee: "Good for you and your father."
Mark Holton has made many movies and TV shows but the one I will forever associate him with is the first Pee-Wee Herman movie, which coincidentally was the feature film debut of director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman. When I moved out to L.A. in 1990, a friend of a friend got us into the wrap party for the movie EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and I made a beeline for director Burton to profess my love for his first feature. Burton was quiet and seemed shy and I asked him what he thought of BIG TOP PEE-WEE (1988) which I didn't like nearly as much as ADVENTURE and he mumbled that he
hadn't seen it. It's just as well because PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE is so much fun and Burton did such an amazing job that it's no wonder that Burton is today one of Hollywood's most successful directors. Everything about it is great and it boasts an amazing cast of mostly then unknowns who were incredibly memorable -- Large Marge, Mickey, Dottie, Amazing Larry. But best of all is Mark Holton as the spoiled rich kid who will stop at nothing to steal Pee-Wee's bicycle. I really wish Paul Reubens would make another movie with his arch nemesis, Francis Buxton!
Francis: "Remember when I first saw your bike?
You rode past my house, and I ran out to tell you
how much I liked it."
Pee-Wee: (laughs) "I love that story."
Lee Sobel: You've had an amazing career in movies and television. My personal favorite is Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. You and Paul Reubens had a fantastic chemistry. Was that instantaneous? I would love to see more movies where you could play his adversary!
Mark Holton: I would love an opportunity to work with Paul again, adversary or not. I actually had the luxury of auditioning for Big Adventure with Paul so yes, the chemistry was there from the beginning.
Lee Sobel: Do you have any fun memories of making the movie? Did anything happen on the set that stands out in your memory?
Mark Holton: Yes. I'll share this one with you. We'll call it mostly
scary but also fun. In the Drive-In scene, Francis is launched off Pee-Wee's bike and flies across the screen. To do this they put me in a harness hidden under my jumpsuit, then ran steel cables to a monster crane. On action the crane ripped me off the bike and hoisted me way above the earth at tremendous speed. When the crane operator stopped the cable, I kept gaining altitude, crested, and was abruptly stopped by the harness on the way down putting most of the pressure on my groin! There were expletives flying out of my mouth in a moment of sheer terror. Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol dissolved into laughter below. I was not laughing.
Lee Sobel: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was Tim Burton's feature film directorial debut. What are your memories of working with him and at the time did you feel his career would take off as it did?
Mark Holton: The only thing I knew at the time was, as an actor I was in good hands. I hadn't seen Frankenweenie at the time so in truth I
had no idea. Tim's career certainly exceeded any and all expectations anyone had.
Lee Sobel: When the movie opened, it received negative reviews from Gene Siskel (who also listed it as one of the worst movies of 1985) and Vincent Canby in The New York Times. Did you read these reviews when the movie opened and do you recall how you or Paul felt about them? Obviously they were wrong -- it's one of the
funniest, most entertaining movies ever made!
Mark Holton: I only remember one review after 35 years, and the best in my humble opinion. Pauline Kael's review in The New Yorker Magazine. Paul called it to my attention. He seemed to be very pleased.
We both were.
Lee Sobel: Did you go see the movie in theaters when it opened? Do you recall how audiences reacted to it?
Mark Holton: Except for the premiere I didn't,
but feedback from everyone I heard from was extremely positive.
Lee Sobel: Have you kept in touch with Paul Reubens over the years? Can you talk about the cast reunions at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in L.A.?
Mark Holton: Paul and I have kept in touch for 35 years and it seems like more so lately. I think texting might be the reason. The cemetery screenings were a very weird idea to me. There wasn't a quiet place to talk much with the cast members that attended but it was nice seeing them. Several of us did a fundraiser for The Valley Relics Museum not long ago.
Lee Sobel: Can you talk about some of the highs and lows of your work in movies and TV prior to Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and after the movie? Which of your many roles have you enjoyed the most?
Mark Holton: After my first convention I had a whole new appreciation for roles I hadn't cared much about because I had never seen them through the eyes of others, the fans. Enjoyed the most? There were several I enjoyed making but hated the finished product as well as what I did in them. Hmmm. I can narrow my career down to three scenes that I think were the best. The "I know you are but what am I?" scene in Big
Adventure, the male prostitute pick up scene in Gacy, and A League of Their Own in The Baseball Hall of Fame.
Lee Sobel: What are some of the weird/funny things that have happened to you in show biz?
Mark Holton: Lee, I come from a small town so many unexpected encounters always seemed a bit weird. I never thought I would be standing between Alice Cooper and Rodney Dangerfield having drinks at the after party for Big Adventure. I never thought that while standing there during that conversation that Mr. T would crash a bicycle into the tables in front of us. There was a lot of weirdness and laughter along the way.
Lee Sobel: Have you had any weird experiences with fans?
Mark Holton: Yes, mostly strange and sometimes disturbing mail and only once in person. Disturbing more than dangerous. I am a strong advocate of personal protection.