Taking Chances like Gunnar Hansen

Carrie Jones
3 min readAug 21

When a tall man entered the small airplane at the Bangor Airport, people got out of his way, curling out of the aisle, further into their seats. He was so big, so full of presence. He took up space.

When the flight attendant said that the plane was over its weight capacities, that same man stood up and volunteered to disembark.

“That’s so kind,” someone murmured.

“Do you know who that is?” someone else asked.

“Yeah, the nice guy who just gave up his seat so the rest of us can fly.”

And in that one second, that’s who Gunnar Milton Hansen was.

Born in Iceland, Gunnar Milton Hansen was most well known for being the terrifying Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. When he portrayed the killer, he was 6'4 and 300 pounds. He was someone who terrified millions. But in real life? Hansen’s face was kind and his huge presence: funny, often self-effacing, and sweet.

How did a Hollywood actor end up in Maine? He already spent time there. He was born in Reykjavík to a dentist (Skuli). His mother Sigrid was from Norway, and she moved with him the United States when he was five. They lived an unspecified coastal town in the state until he was eleven and then they moved to Austin.

Before Massacre, he went to the University of Texas in Austin, majoring in physics, saying on his website,

“There’s a certain thrill in studying eigenvectors, as I’m sure you remember from your college days. Somehow, though, I wised up and got my degree in English and mathematics. Wanna know what Herman Melville did on any given day in 1850? Give me a call. Then it was on to graduate school, first in Scandinavian Studies and then back into the English Department.”

He eventually heard that locals in Austin were making a horror movie. They needed a killer. He’d been in a couple college plays and tried out. It was pretty random.

Even more random?

He got the part. He decided a movie was a better job for the summer than bartending or carpentry, and he took it.

His life changed after that, but not in ways one might expect.

Carrie Jones

Internationally & New York Times bestselling novelist. Writing tips. Podcasts. Poems. Psych stuff. www.carriejonesbooks.blog