Actor Derek Mears is strapping on the hockey mask and killing teens in the next Friday the 13th!
It's All Hallows' Eve this week, and what better way to celebrate than talking to Jason Voorhees himself, Derek Mears. For the first time in his career, actor-turned-stuntman Mears is donning Jason's iconic hockey mask and taking to the woods for some trademark teen chopping antics.
Last Friday the 13th, we were invited to the set of Marcus Nispel's new Friday the 13th film, which is being produced by Brad Fuller and Andrew Form of Platinum Dunes. This is the same team that resurrected Leatherface for 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and they are now looking to put just the right spin on this legendary backwoods slasher. From the look of the mask, to the machete, to the script, this is going to be one of the best Friday the 13ths ever committed to celluloid. And they have certainly picked the right performer to portray the vicious man-child that is Jason Voorhees.
At 6.5, Mears got his start as an improvisational comic. He intended to become an actor, but soon found himself falling in with the stuntmen crowd on various film sets. After whipping his body into shape, he, too, became a stuntman. He soon befriending Rick Baker, and became the effects guru's go-to creature performer. Next thing he knew, the young Mears was taking on roles that required both his physical prowess as well as his thespian abilities. Before becoming Jason Voorhees, Derek played the title werewolf in Wes Craven's Cursed, the lead Zorgon in Zathura, and Chameleon in The Hills Have Eyes 2. Now, he is set to take on the biggest challenge of his career. And in doing so, he knows he has to please all of the fans as well as the filmmakers on this particular outing.
Without that trademark hockey mask hanging from his face, Derek is one of the most cordial and engaging guys you could ever hope to meet. But when that mask comes down and that machete comes to life, look out! This is one of the scariest incarnations of Jason to ever grace the blood-splattered silver scene. We got a chance to sit down in the dark woods with Mears and he shared his Camp Crystal Lake experiences with us. This is what it is like to walk around in the skin of Jason Voorhees for a couple of months:
Describe what you are wearing.
Derek Mears: God, I feel like a monkey. I look at this stuff and ask, "Okay, what am I putting on?" I have some regular, very well-worn combat boots. Which I am sure were stolen off some wayward hunter. This T-shirt that I am wearing? It's funny. Its some high priced fashionable T-shirt that cost a hundred dollars. We had to destroy it. The reason we use it is because it is so thin. Through the holes, you can see (special makeup effects artist) Scott Stoddard's details of the chest plate. It is really cool once it is lit. The fake skin is a little bit up right now, because I am all sweaty. But once it is down, you can see the individual muscles move. Especially during the rain sequence. Scott gave me a slight scoliosis to the body. And if you can see here on my back, I have a hump. There are some deformations to this Jason Voorhees.
So, you are wearing full body make-up?
Derek Mears: Yes, from the chest up. I am wearing a lot of heat. For the Hockey mask scenes I am wearing a prosthetic eye. Scott, being a fan of the originals, wanted it to look as cool as possible. So it is glued to my face. Some people ask, "Why isn't it glued to the mask?" Because if it is glued to the mask, it won't move right, and it will look fake. I'm really excited, because I talked to (producers) Brad (Fuller) and Andrew (Form), and I told them how much I hate it when someone has a dead eye. And it looks completely fake. They are talking about CGIing in an eye blink. It will be really fast, so that you can't tell it is CGI. I am so exited about that. Next time I get dressed, I will have the wardrobe come over by you guys so that you can see the detail of it. The jacket I am wearing is actually two jackets sewn together. It is a mismatched piece. The reason it happened was because the wardrobe had so many different jackets. There was one jacket that I really dug. It had a textured collar. It was like a Dickie's hunting jacket. Then the other one was a military type jacket. They wanted the military jacket because it was longer, and you could see these quick "kill" movements that I was making. It would flap. When we are using the handheld camera, it looks a little freakier. We also really liked the other one. So we cut the top off the Dickie's jacket, and sewed it to the other one. It is a giant Frankenstein jacket. My nails, right now, have actually been trimmed down. This is my Christian Bale commitment to the part. I actually had to grow my nails out for the part. The fake ones would pop off. You'd have to keep putting them on over and over again. They said, "If you just grow your nails out, it would be cool." I said, "Are you kidding me? I'll do whatever it takes." So I grew them out. On a different note, I left the set to go get married. I had to keep my long nails. So my wife was thrilled. I have so many stories about me catching them on things. I have been smashed in the face, kicked, and knocked silly during the course of my career. So many different things. But as soon as I get my fingernails caught, I'm like a little girl, "Ah! I'm catching them on the doorknob!" Somebody!" I become a freaking sissy pants. I did another interview, and I told them it was all about commitment. "Dude, for The Machinist, Christian Bale lost so much weight. I am there. I grew out my nails a little bit. Christian? I am with you!" So, I know all about commitment.
What is the idea of Jason this time out?
Derek Mears: Well, he is a little leaner. They wanted something that was more functional. He is a guy that is living in the forest. And he isn't able to eat so much. But he is still actiony. He is lean and functional. With Scott's design, the body is really defined by the hump. On film you will see it cut out, and then it will cut in. As a fan, I was screaming, "Yes! This is what I want to see!" That's what I told them when I originally got hired. I met with them and told them, "This is not an ego thing. If you think I am right for this, Awesome! But just as a fan, I want to see more Friday the 13th. I want you to keep doing it."
What is it about Friday the 13th that makes you such a fan?
Derek Mears: That's a good question. The first videos that I ever rented were Friday The 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2. This is back when you had to rent the whole VCR. You had to get that giant VHS player. I was like, "I can watch movies at home? This is crazy!" But those were the first two movies that I ever rented. And I fell in love with that character. I've been thinking about what I love about the character. I think it's that he is a victim. He represents those people in high school that get picked on. Those people with the lisp, or with the hair loss. The outsiders and the misfits. He is alone, and he has been rejected by society. Then the beautiful people come and take over his place. In this world, we are not socially allowed to lash out and get our revenge. Nothing like that. Jason does that, though he does it in a poor way. People keep crossing over into his territory. I could identify with that when I was growing up. I had alopecia and I had the hair loss. When they did part four with Tommy Jarvis, and he shaved his head, when Feldman did that, I had had my hair in patches. Because my hair started falling out at that time, not to get super personal. And I really related to him. I thought, "I am just like Jason. Okay. Cool!" He has given me so many nightmares. He has always been my favorite iconic character. That is why it is so surreal to me when I am watching that monitor. I want this to be so good, because I can't believe that I am being able to do this. I feel like a kid at home playing Jason. Somebody said, "Hey, you, why don't you come do it in front of everyone else?" I was like, "Huh? What? Really?"
In this film, you have a bag on your head. You have a mask on your face. How do you get these aspects of Jason's personality across without being able to use your face or your emotions?
Derek Mears: I don't mean to get all actory on you. But I bounced back and forth between being an actor and being a stunt man. There is this thing called Greek Mask Work. Where you have the mask, and you have the actor. They are two separate entities. Depending on the situation, you can have any combination of the two. If you have a different actor with a different mask, you will get a different combination, no matter what the mask is. They asked me this when I got hired. When Scott put my name in for the job, they said to me, "Scott says that we really need an actor for this particular role. Why do we need an actor as opposed to just a guy in a mask? Explain that to us." I told them that, as an actor, it doesn't matter if you have something over your head as long as you are thinking that we all come from the same place. And that we are all made of energy. The camera will pick that up. It will pick up what you are thinking, and transfer that. It will be related. Also, being a body actor, you know that working with your team, it is kind of like a NASCAR race. I am the lucky one that gets to be the driver. But the effects team is seeing things that I can't see. They are like my pit crew. They come in and fix me. As an actor, they will make subtle suggestions. "Hey, the ear looks really cool. It is really glistening. If you tilt it this way and turn towards the camera, it will help bring it to life." I'm like, "Awesome!" So, we work together on the character. We have really gotten it together. Sorry, I keep going off on tangents. But if you are an actor, and you are in the right frame of mind and space, and you are thinking about what is going on. And you are not concerned about wearing the mask or being a guy in a suit, it will come across.
So many actors have already played this character. What do you take from them, and how do you make it your own?
Derek Mears: People will ask me about these other actors. And I was a fan of all of them. You had C.J. Graham. You had Kane Hodder. Richard Booker. They are all great. They all had their different takes on it. But it is, again, like Greek Mask Work. When you put someone in that mask, they will rely on their own life experiences and what they have been through. They will add a different take no matter what. It is like handwriting. How you make a D and how I make a D are totally different. But it is still a D. That is what I am trying to get across. But there are parts I have taken from the other actors. These are like little homage shots. There is a shot where I come through the window and grab someone. It was sort of like the scene from Part 2, when Jason comes through the window and grabs someone. I also do that little head tilt that Jason does when he hears his name. I think that is from Part IV. I will add little bits of those things in. But I am mostly trying to do my own thing. I am not thinking about Jason as this guy in a hockey mask. I like to think of Jason as a big, slow moving man. I am trying to put everything else to the side, while at the same time respect it. I want to come at it fresh and new. It's like making the mass of the food new, but the sprinkles of spice are the same things you have seen and eaten before.
You seemed to be kind of hard on yourself. There was a moment during shooting, where you didn't seem to be getting what you wanted.
Derek Mears: We call that in the business tripping. It's because we were going, going, going. Once we were locked inside that bus, there is no air in there at all. Plus, I was spending all of that time in the hole. I felt like Bugs Bunny, and I was in that stew pot. "Okay! Go!" It became: Struggle, struggle, struggle! I started to overheat. I raced out, and they were yelling, "Next shot! Next shot!" I got to the top of the bus, and I was dizzy. As I stepped inside of the bus, the coat would catch, or the machete would catch. It didn't look very strong. My entrance was a little weak because of that. I am really excited. As an actor, they really let me do another take if I think something is off. They also take my input on things, since they know that I am a fan as well as an actor. They will ask what I think about certain things.
Are you actually going to crawl into Crystal Lake?
Derek Mears: Yes. I will be getting into the lake. That is happening next week. It will be interesting. I am scuba certified, but we have a whole underwater thing going on. I am really excited about it. It should be pretty cool.
Everyone has talked about what a juvenile, happy guy you are when the camera is not rolling. But then you become this menacing hulk when the scene starts to roll. How do you switch so effortlessly between those two personas?
Derek Mears: I have a lot of friends that do this kind of work. They play the bad guy, and they think they have to be mean and tough all of the time. They try to intimidate the cast members off the set. But my thought is, "We are all cast members." If you are doing a fight scene, you don't have to go full force with these people. You should know how to control it and make it look intense. But you don't have to scare you partner into freaking out. The switch over? It's funny that you should mention that. The producers would take me out for Sushi, and they would say, "Damn, you are really nice. You will be able to switch? Right?" I'm like, "Totally, dude. I cage fight. Plus I have a lot of daddy issues." So, it was cool. Once they see me switch over for the first time, they are genuinely scared. It is the mindset. I am able to quickly switch over. I call it "fight mode". I can play and be goofy, and then I can get that "in the ring" visual. I can focus on what I am after. I know what my goal is. And I can replace all of my happy thoughts with anger.
The machete that you use is actually sharp?
Derek Mears: One of them is. Yeah.
How do you control yourself when you are using something that could potentially hurt someone else?
Derek Mears: There was a scene where I came in through a tent. And it was spatial, and there was enough background room. I have learned the art of blind fighting from wearing all of these monster suits. I have the one eye covered up. So my depth perception is kind of off. There are little tricks of the trade. You space off how you are going to walk in. You figure out how many steps you have to take. There was one scene where I had to go over one of the actresses with a real machete. I had to make sure that I could see her really well. I slid my foot up against her. Because then I knew where my leg was. And I wasn't going to cut me own leg. I could feel where the machete needed to go. I could space it out. It's always a plotting course. You have to figure it out first, and then you do it.
Can you sum up your take on Jason this time out?
Derek Mears: My take on Jason is that he is a mix of John Rambo from First Blood, a little bit of Tarzan, and the Abdominal Snowman from Looney Tunes. I want to say that he is like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, but that sounds sort of actory. He is very much John Rambo. This is a smart, smart script. Its not just another slasher flick. Boom, another actor is dead. You actually see Jason thinking. You see him setting people up. In my opinion, it is very much like First Blood. He has been wronged. People come in. He fights back. And it is brutal. You understand him. And you know why he is doing this. You have that sympathy for the character. I don't look at him as a villain. He has been wronged.
Is he a smarter Jason?
Derek Mears: That is what is in the script. You see something, and you think its no big deal. But it's actually Jason setting someone up. And when you see that, you think, "That dude is smart!" He is more intelligent. And thoughtful. He is a regular dude. Which I am really excited about.
And he still has mommy issues?
Derek Mears: Of course.
Friday the 13th is set to open Friday, February 13th, 2009.