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Published: Sunday, 11/12/2000

Whoville was home for former Toledoan

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Greg Wise knows the Grinch.

He has peered into the Grinch's unhappy yellow eyes and he has watched the green creature beg for eye drops. He has dragged the Grinch's dead-weight body in a Whoville conga line. And as Wise rode a bicycle, the Grinch sawed it into three parts.

For four months, Wise, a former Toledoan, lived in Whoville, the object of the Grinch's malevolence. As a stuntman and actor, Wise, 37, played the parts of six different characters in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

“They needed specialty people for this movie,” said Wise, a 1981 Whitmer High School graduate. “They really needed someone who could ride a unicycle. I said, `If you can build it, I can ride it.'”

Last week, the 5-foot, 9-inch, 165-pound gymnast got to see the film at a Hollywood showing for cast and crew. It opens Friday in Toledo.

Wise said making his first movie was more fun than a barrel of Whomonkeys, except for one thing: His wife, Michelle, had just given birth to their first child, Tara Gwen. And for most of the baby's first months last fall and winter, Wise was away from their suburban Las Vegas residence, ensconced in an apartment near Los Angeles.

It was especially hard on Michelle when she had to return to her second-shift job and leave the baby with a sitter. She's a “bungeeist” at Treasure Island Hotel in Las Vegas, swinging through the air above the audience in the acrobatic show, Mystere. On weekends, Wise would either drive the four hours or fly home.

Wise (not to be confused with Greg Wise, boyfriend of actress Emma Thompson) actually speaks in the movie, short lines which seem to end in Seussian exclamation points. “He won't catch us on this baby!” he declares as he and two pals evade the Grinch on a three-person bike-trike. And, “The Grinch!”, “Fresh bulbs!”, and “Merry Christmas!” He also stunt-doubles for the actor who portrays Officer Wholihan.

Workdays on the massive Whoville set at Universal City started at 6 a.m. or earlier and lasted 12 to 14 hours. One of 60 make-up artists spent 90 minutes on his face, nose, ears, and hair. Lead actor Jim Carrey spent three hours daily being made into the hairy green Grinch.

Then, Wise waited to be called. Some days, he'd never be called. Sometimes he'd rehearse lines, only to be told at the last minute his lines had been changed.

“With a movie it's always something new because you're building it as it goes,” he said.

Director Ron Howard often did eight or 10 takes for each scene, he said. “And it would just get better and better,” Wise said. Howard had a clear idea of how he wanted a scene to play out, but when Carrey made suggestions, he'd shoot another version, Wise said.

Carrey earned in the double-digit millions for Grinching. Wise himself earned $450 a day, in keeping with the Screen Actors' Guild contract. A special stunt might mean an extra $500. Someone with a bit part such as his could earn about $40,000 to $60,000 plus residuals. “The first residual check could be as much as for making the movie,” he said.

His take on Jim Carrey: “This man has passion. He's driven to do his best.”

On Ron Howard: “I think Ron Howard is a great director and he's definitely a good leader of the ship. ... He's pretty grounded, pretty focused. He knows what he wants. And he seems like a family man.”

The film is dedicated to Howard's late mother, Jean, who recently died. Howard's father, Rance, portrays Whoville's elderly timekeeper.

So how does a nice Toledo boy end up in Hollywood, let alone Whoville?

For one thing, his West Toledo parents, Jean and Kenneth Wise, enrolled him in gymnastics at the age of 5 after observing him walk on his hands, turn cartwheels, and do handstands just about every time they took their camera out.

He quit Eastern Michigan University after two years to perform at school assemblies, doing a one-man road show. Then he went to Disney's MGM Studios in Florida doing six, 10-minute Indiana Jones shows a day. On his two days off, he went to SeaWorld and did aerial water ski and trampoline shows.

“SeaWorld paid the rent and I banked the rest,” he said.

He joined a bungee show, and was preparing to leave for a tour in Japan in an adventure show when a friend told him about Cirque du Soliel's new show, Mystere, being created in Montreal. He moved to Canada for training and then to Vegas for the highly acclaimed Mystere show, which opened in 1994.

He performed on the teeterboard, a 14-foot-long tapered seesaw on which he would propel upwards of 14 feet, and on the way down, would do turns, backflips, and somersaults. When he'd land on a 2-foot-by-2-foot spot, his weight would shoot another acrobat on the far end of the teeterboard into the air.

But a guy can't jump teeterboard forever, he says. “I was ready for a change.”

Looking for the next movie opportunity is a waiting game, he said. He mails out photos and resumes describing his skills at teeterboard, unicycling, hang gliding, stage combat, acrobatics, and aerial work.

“I just have to hook up with the right people,” he said.


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