Quantcast Nathan Baesel interview - BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON

Actor
Nathan Baesel!!!

Actor Nathan Baesel began his acting education by attending Fullerton College where he graduated with an AA. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Theater at U.C.L.A. where he became a founding member of Theater Mitu, the L.A. born and New York based Theater Company created by Ruben Polendo. At The Julliard School in New York he was awarded the Liz Smith prize for voice and speech and turned down the lead in a Broadway production to finish his final year of training.


Moving back to the LA area, Nathan became involved with the acclaimed theater South Coast Repertory, where he starred in several productions. After various guest-starring roles in television, he landed his first starring role last year playing Lewis Sirk, the one-armed deputy in ABC’s sci-fi drama INVASION (created by Shaun Cassidy). While this role won him many admirers for his textured, affecting performance, look for his visibility to soar next month when his first leading role in a feature film hits the big screen! Playing the title role in Anchor Bay’s release of BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON, the film has received some of the greatest acclaim of any genre film in decades, with raves for Mr. Baesel always the standout of any review. - by Adam Barnick 2/07

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Can you tell me what sparked the intention of becoming an actor? What lit the fuse?

Nathan Baesel: I used to do church plays growing up with my family. Performances were always encouraged by our family. Putting on Christmas shows at the house, things like that with my brothers and sisters. Before me, my two older brothers did drama productions in high school, and I just kind of followed in their footsteps. Acting in high school…but it wasn’t until Junior College that I knew it was something I wanted to commit myself to. As a profession. That not only that I had an ability, but I also had a desire to commit myself to a life of poverty. (laughs)

I was still pretty much ego-oriented in my acting, doing it for my self-gratification. When I went to UCLA I had more of a profound realization of what acting could be. Doing a bit of a mind-shift from having it be an egocentric kind of act to one actually using my abilities to contribute to other people’s experiences.

In terms of how the arts can enlighten the culture?

Yeah! Yeah.

And you came up our way, afterwards- to Julliard.

When I completed my (UCLA) degree, I felt like I had gotten a really great taste of what acting can be, and how it can be used to have an impact on an audience. But I felt like I was lacking in a facility. So I knew I wanted to commit myself to a conservatory, some kind of intense training program-so that I could have a facility that would allow me to tackle many styles of acting, many styles of theater, and hopefully many styles of acting for the camera.

I was going to ask you overall if that helped you hone your craft towards all these different facets.

It did, in doing all of the voice and speech training; which is a huge component of acting; otherwise we’re just physically oriented. Without dialogue we’re dancers. That was something I just never had access to, that was tremendous; but also being able to work on many different kind of styles of acting really just pushed my boundaries out. What I was cablaple of doing was so much more than what I’d gone into Julliard with, and I was really grateful to have been able to get everything out of it that I’d initially wanted from it.

Your theater company, Mitu, down in the East Village; did that start in LA? I know they’re here (in New York), but they’re doing performances in Alaska and other parts of the country now, have you kept up with them?

Unfortunately no, I stay connected with the people involved, but I haven’t been able to actively be involved with any of the projects since. It’s unfortunate; working with that theater company is probably the closest that I’ve ever come to feeling like not just an actor, but also an artist.

Do you feel like the quality of what you were communicating with that group was at the top?

Yeah, it’s about as self-expressed as any group of people can be! Ruben Polendo, he’s the artistic director-he creates an environment for people that allows all of the walls to come down and the kind of expression that gets created from that is just mind-blowing! Totally hardcore, it’s raw, and not just an emotional psychological kind of expression; it’s grounded in physicality as well. Which I really enjoyed and gravitate towards as an actor. When I work with that group, usually by the time I’m finished with the project, I’m totally spent. Completely exhausted, and not wanting to do anything like that for a long time (laughs). But when I’m doing it I feel like an artist.

Did you have a favorite performance with them you gave? Or favorite experience producing?

All of my experiences were pretty much of the same level! There was always an incredible quality about each of the projects, which drew from me the most that I was capable of giving. And I enjoy having that kind of demand being put upon me. I love being pushed to the utmost extant of my capabilities, that’s the kind of work that really allows that to happen. Each of the experiences I have had the pleasure of working on with the group, I’ve had the experience of communicating the absolute extant of what I’m capable of communicating, experiencing, feeling, expressing. It’s just a very extreme kind of exploration that is encouraged with that work.

How good is that that was also concurrent with Julliard! As you are honing your skills, you’re putting every single one to the test.

Absolutely! That really was a gift; work at Julliard could be very technical in its orientation, Theater Mitu was like the opposite in many ways of technical endeavors. It employs technique, but it’s always grounded from a place of real truth. It was a great opportunity.

Are there any particular playwrights you gravitate towards? I know you’ve performed Strindberg several times. And Shakespeare...

Shakespeare I always gravitated towards. Brits have this incredible history with Shakespeare, they have a natural ability to speak those words and mine the truth of those words- I feel like Americans, although we don’t have the same kind of relationship with language that Brits do, we kind of make up for things; we have in general a great emotional and psychological power.

I think that to develop the relationship with the language so that it can be something more organic, and still grounded in an emotional and psychological power, is really enjoyable work for me. I love language-based theater, language- based acting, I also love physical expression, and Shakespeare because it’s such epic material. It gives room for and requires both of those expressions.

I love Eugene O’ Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night along with Hamlet, I‘ve felt like I will die unfulfilled if I haven’t played every single male role in that play. (laughs) It’s just as close I think American theater has come to the size and scope of Greek tragedy.

After Julliard, did you come right back to LA? Because I know you were able to jump into a new ‘home’ with South Coast Repertory Theater.

I stayed in New York for two or three months after I graduated. I got married basically on the day of my graduation.

Congratulations!

Thank you! I got married in LA, and went back to New York and stayed out there for a little while. I felt like moving out to California was a good choice, especially if I wanted to raise a family, so we did.

One of my first (California) auditions for a project at South Coast, I got, and started a great relationship with the casting director out there. It’s an incestuous group (laughs) in a great way, they tend to use a lot of the talent that they like in multiple productions and with play reading and workshop opportunities there’s lots of ways to get plugged into projects there.

When you came back to California, you had a couple of guest spots, on the District and Cold Case- was this your first on-camera work other than in training?

We had some on-camera class work in our last year of Julliard. But really their focus on was developing us as theatrical actors. And I think there was a certain amount of wariness that they had about putting too much emphasis in training their students for film or TV careers, because that meant there would be less of a talent pool to draw from in the theatrical community, which is understandable. But I got out here and was really just trying to book any work I could get; I had done a couple commercials in New York.

Is that how you got into SAG?

Yeah I got my SAG with my first commercial, a (laughs) Nintendo Gameboy job. Just got out here and pretty soon found myself getting confused, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t booking work and quickly realized it had really little to do with me.

Just the mundane grind.

It’s just what happens, and I am still constantly walking that line of trying to make adjustments in my performing to accommodate what I think people might be looking for in an audition, and just doing my thing! Doing it the way I feel comfortable doing it, or making a choice that I think might be riskier. It might not be exactly what they’re looking for, but I believe this is the way it might be best to play it, or the most interesting. Only thing you can really do it try to be truthful, and to make bold choices if you feel that’s what is required.

Behind the Mask was one of those where I could see that they were wanting it to go a certain way, and I just felt like if this was a role that I was gonna play, going to want to play for however long the shoot was gonna be, heck, I want to make it as interesting for me as I can. So my choice making was unconventional, but..

That was an example of how they saw your choices and realized what you could bring to this!

Yeah! I think I kind of caused a mini-crisis, not even a mini, I think it was a total crisis because they had really envisioned it to be a much different kind of film, and I was making Scott rethink the whole tone of the movie! And fortunately he was open to my efforts to convince him that it could work the way I was doing it.

Shaun Cassidy was a producer on Cold Case, did you make his acquaintance on that program?

No, I wish! I think he started executive producing that after I did my episode for it, I did the first season of Cold Case and I think he started after that. But no, I met him for the first time when I found out I’d gotten the role (on Invasion) and I came into talk with the producers, and it was basically sitting down with Shaun Cassidy! (laughs) You totally recognize him, seen his work, and there’s so much reverence for him. I grew up watching that Hardy Boys show, I read all the books! And here he is, my boss. But he was great. Really down to earth, always made himself available for any questions that I had, he was awesome.
I don’t know if you ever saw his show American Gothic

You know, I bought the DVD set! (laughs) When I was working on Invasion, so many people were talking about it. I started getting contacted by fans of the show, many of whom who were turned on to his work from American Gothic! They’d been following him and all his projects, because there’s this unique, kind of non-commercial quality to his projects that have probably cost him.

But a lot of people see that originality.

Yeah! I think he’s a really turned on by dark themes, and at least from what I’ve seen with American Gothic and Invasion- there’s a tone and a pace that is probably not every single person’s cup of tea, but there’s also something really intriguing and really captivating about his projects. It really resonates with people and strikes such a chord; those people gravitate towards it VERY enthusiastically.

One of Shaun’s strengths- in Gothic and Invasion particularly - he’s taking genre settings, but presenting it with the people being most important. Invasion isn’t about special effects. It’s about divided families and how do they each affect each other. Genre but all about humanity and ideas. And Shaun’s really good with slow-burn, potboilers.

Absolutely. (laughs)

Some people really appreciate it.

I think a lot of people don’t have the patience for slow-burn, but something that I appreciated about Invasion while I was working on it and while I was watching it was that you just don’t see a show like that, about families, that’s really what it came down to. It was about broken families and hurt people, but ultimately about the good of people, trying to pull themselves together and keep their families together.

And how do we maintain who we are when we have this personal crisis of helping our families and this external crisis, the hurricanes and the town takeover.

And there was silence! There was some nice “quiet!” You know? I would read pages in the script where there was maybe like 5 lines of dialogue, and I was like “oh, that’s great!” I get to actually just ‘be’, I’m not just a talking head! That’s fun acting!

I always liked that he used hurricanes as a metaphor for divorce. It’s a tumultuous force that splits families up and you have to pick up the pieces.

Can you tell me about what the network’s audition process was like?


I got the audition for it, the audition information sheet mentioned the character was an amputee, and I thought it was really curious they were auditioning two-armed actors, but I figured they must know what they’re doing. So I went, tucked my arm behind my back, had my shirt sleeve hanging limp, I was totally embarrassed and self-conscious.

Looking around the waiting room, all of them had two arms, not hiding it in any way. I thought oh man, I’m (laughs) really gonna embarrass myself or…and I went in there and actually when I was sitting there, I thought “I’m totally self conscious and embarrassed, and I believe this is exactly how he would be feeling, he’s a recent amputee. He’s not used to this, he’s lived his life for twenty something years as a two armed man, he’s not any more. He’s totally off kilter, and trying to orient himself again- so anything that I’m feeling right now is totally appropriate!”

Once again you’re making those bold choices that people responded to.

Trying to just negate all that internal chaos was pointless because there’s no way to ignore it. So you have to find a way to embrace it as what it is. The audition went well, and then I went in for a callback with one of the producers and the casting director. I found out a few days later that I’d gotten the part! That was awesome.

Did you know from the start your part would expand as time passed?

That was part of the meeting that I had with Shaun early on-looking around the room and seeing all the other actors auditioning had two arms, I thought there must be a reason why they’re auditioning two-armed people.

After reading the first script, and getting a sense of what this thing was, it was probably because they were going to introduce a storyline at some point where that character had two arms! And Shaun assured me from our meeting that though the stuff I had to do early on was pretty minimal, there was gonna be some really cool storylines later on that would involve my character a great deal. The first half of the season you’ll notice I’m just kind of standing in the background looking very stern…

“Move along, sir..”

Yep, ‘move along.’ And kind of giving the Sheriff a reason to speak his thoughts out loud, kind of a wall to bounce things off of. I’m more wallpaper than anything else. But then later on I was given some pretty heavy duty stuff, which was great because I’d been given a good amount of time to kind of ease myself into the waters of this world, making relationships with the cast and crew. By the time I’d been given some good pitches I was able to make some good hits!

Can you tell me a bit about- 90 percent of your scenes are with William Fichtner, who always makes some interesting choices. It’s a full time job just trying to ‘read’ him early on in the show.

Oh yeah! I spent a good amount of time with him, it’s funny because exactly what that character was how he came across in real life. He had a really great sense of humor, which also came across in the show, joking around and wiseassing, but he was also very self-contained and I always deferred to allow him his own space. That episode kind of changed things, the one with (Nathan’s character Lewis Sirk) the cutting off (his) arm.
Because it was finally the first time I felt like I had earned my right to take up space, you know? (laughs) Up to that point I was kind of doing the role of the yes man. And Bill, he kind of creates this universe around himself that is really attractive and engaging, but it’s also very personal to him. He’s not the type of guy you would feel you’d just walk up and shoot the shit. If he lets you shoot the shit, then you can shoot the shit. (laughs)

Before that, there’s a bubble around him?

I don’t even know if he intentionally projects that. I was always really timid around him, which I think worked for the relationship.

Could you contrast that with your relationship with Alexis (Dziena, who plays the sheriff’s daughter Kira)? To me, Lewis and Kira are both outsiders, but thrust into what’s going on, there’s a solace they got from each other- I loved that relationship.

I was grateful when that storyline started up, I felt like the extent of the characterization that I was exploring up to that point, was the relationship between myself and the sheriff. With that, I felt there was a whole new world of character exploration I was going to be able to embark on.

Kind of a second arc?
Yeah! There was a more powerful and more intimate and tender side to him then I had been allowed to explore at that point, so I was really grateful. I think that they were kind of testing the waters with us early on to see if there was any kind of chemistry there, or anything. And Shaun would ask “so how do you like working with Nathan?” to Alexis and she’d say “we’re getting along good” and he’s ask me ‘how do you feel about working with Alexis? I said ‘she’s great!’

When we were anticipating there would be a second season, he told us that we were going to have a lot more stuff (to do) then, and he implied it was going to get kind of crazy. I have no idea what he was thinking, but it was great because it felt like we actually had some say where our characters went in the show. So they were going to continue to explore that.

Can you give us a general synopsis of Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon for the uninitiated?

(laughs) Oh gosh, I don’t do nearly as good a job of explaining it as some people that I’ve read, but ... The main conceit of the thing, is that it takes place in this alternate reality where we don’t have serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy; our serial killers, if you want to call them that, are Freddy, Jason, Mike Meyers. These are our serial killers, but they’re not even referred to as serial killers. Really there’s not that kind of stamp that’ s placed on them. Most of the time they’re spoken of with reverence. And so there’s room for comedy in a subject where there really shouldn’t be if you were talking about it –

Yeah nobody’s going to compare John Wayne Gacy to Hank Aaron.

No. But in this world, that’s applicable. At least with the character that I play. And this guy (Leslie Vernon) has been training for years and preparing a legend, so that he can unleash himself into the pantheon of great psycho slashers of all time. And he intends to not just be a great, but I think to be the greatest. He has enlisted the help of a documentary crew to record this.

When it comes to the point where he is about to unveil his legend to the community, the documentary crew has a crisis of conscience, and shut their cameras off. At that point the film switches over into a traditional slasher pic, except the audience has been walked through so much of the process that they can anticipate the road that it’s going to go down… with a few twists and turns here and there!

You said you caused the filmmakers to rethink the character after seeing what you were bringing to it in auditions. How did Leslie come across in the script you read? What was your immediate take on the character? What appealed to you about it off the bat?

Up until Behind The Mask, the only jobs that I was getting in film or TV were the bad guys (laughs) and I think why I was getting those roles was because... Even though they do bad, I find that what makes a bad character more compelling is that there’s enough of a humanity to them to ground them in something familiar, so that the audience isn’t just steered in the direction of the duality of “here’s the good guy, here’s the bad guy.”

Villains who sit home and clean their guns all day and nothing else.

Yeah! I enjoy creating characters, even good people that have other shades in them! So for my bad guys, I like to explore their humanity. And with this guy, I felt like, yes, on the page he is the embodiment of everything that is evil.

I think what would be so much more interesting and compelling and ultimately could be very funny without having to put any kind of over-the-top comedic spin on anything… I think you could cover all your bases by having the character be capable of dark and terrible things, yet in the next moment, be very charming and down-to-earth and relatable. So that’s where I was coming from with him; you know, make a ‘guy next door!’ He’s actually a pretty nice guy! He loves his job! A doctor saves lives, and he believes he has to provide a balance to the universe. He’s somebody that takes lives.

Funny you say that, my take on Leslie in general was this was a respected, sort of, position in this world. He’s gonna pay his dues and work hard, the humor came out of the fact that his trade was fear and murder.

Sure! I reached a very good point during the shoot where I felt that there was something philosophically relevant about what he was doing. Something that was actually morally relevant about what he was doing which (laughs) sounds really bizarre and inhuman, but in fact in universal terms, he’s providing a balance to the universe. You’ve got your Yin, you’ve gotta have your Yang.

In terms of the metaphors, you’ve also got Scott Wilson as the mentor figure, as a killer in the film and he’s a veteran of the screen, and you have the dual meaning with Robert (Englund), who’s been performing for 30 years, most notably AS one of these bad guys, what Leslie’s gonna become.

You touched on finding where the humanity was in these characters; I wanted to ask you about playing…well any character for you personally… is the key to it finding something in the character you can relate to? Do you need to create these emotions or find something you’ve gone through that parallels the emotions? I’m curious about your process.

I think I try to steer away from having a preconception of where it needs to go. A certain scene, or a character overall. Because I feel like a lot of the answers are going to come in the actual exploration of it... and then the collaboration. A lot of those questions will be answered. But sometimes there are choices that it feels like have the most potential for being mined, and developing interesting opportunities, so I do make some overall choices sometimes that might aid down the line, or offer the most potential to have yummy things to explore down the line-

But it’s different for every project and role. I think that’s why I’m grateful I have the training and experience that I have. I have a lot to draw from, in terms of addressing certain problems that come up.

With Behind the Mask on a lot of the scenes I would intentionally not memorize my lines. I wanted to have to be fully present to everything that was going on. From working with certain props, or taking in my environment or interacting with the people around me, I wanted to try to force myself to be as present as possible, and so I didn’t want to have my lines all clean and clear and well-rehearsed, and all my ideas set in stone as to how a scene needed to go. I wanted to get turned on by the things that were happening around me.

Is it a matter of if you got too much of the preconceived game plan, you might miss what’s in front of you?

Yeah, that tends to be the case a lot! I was just doing an episode of Without a Trace, and my experience of Invasion-because Invasion was the first recurring role that I ever had- you know I’m up to episode 17, I didn’t have to worry about my job ‘ending’ or if I ‘did a shitty job,’ that somebody was going to fire me. So there was a greater level of ease. With my work on Without a Trace, once I had the job, I knew ‘I had the job’! So I could eliminate some of the stress and considerations. In fact I can allow myself to, even encourage myself to ‘screw up!’

You never know where it will take you!

You never know! I try to do everything that I can to insure that I’m not controlling where it’s gonna go.

The documentary sections of Behind the Mask, they’re really good for you then because they’re a little more free form, playing an entire scene out as opposed to doing one shot for ten seconds.

That was a lot of fun.

Are these television programs much more restricted because of the pace of TV, shots set up a certain way, etc.?

It is restrictive, but that’s the form; that’s the way it is, a very technical medium. Behind the Mask was great because it was both an opportunity to work in both a ‘reality based’ way, with the DV where we could play whole scenes though; and then work with film, which is more of a confined medium. (I’m) developing a little more rapport with that kind of process too. So I got to have an opportunity to develop my skills in both mediums at the same time.
The filmic scenes, when Leslie Vernon’s in silent-killer mode. Did they need you to be much more precise and set then, or does it just come across that way because that’s the part that’s shot more like a traditional movie?

I think it was more precise, in spite of the I guess ‘technical restrictions’ I didn’t feel all that restricted, my attentions and focus were completely absorbed with the task that I had at hand, which generally was stalking (laughs) and I went a little method with that. (laughs)

You mentioned in terms of not wanting to ‘completely paint out your portrait’ in advance so to speak, can you talk about how you worked with Scott (Glosserman) in shaping this character?

I was given an amazing amount of freedom to do my thing. The thing that made the experience so great was it seemed to be Scott was really trying to do team building, with the auditions. And once he’d cast, because he was a first time director, he trusted that the actors knew what they were doing. If there was a technical consideration that needed to be addressed, he’d step in, but for the most part, we were given license to play. It was a very liberating experience. I never felt confined, always felt free flowing.

What a great way to start out for your first big film!

Oh man! I can’t tell you how incredible an experience that was, knowing it was my first film. You know that scene where Leslie is sitting atop that hayloft with Taylor?

Before the reign of terror?

Yeah, (Leslie’s) saying “this is like my Christmas” and he’s crying, saying “I’m so happy?” That actually was meant to be a funny scene! It was written to be a throwaway scene.

I was dropped off at the farmhouse that we were going to shoot at. They were doing location scouting, checking out the house, and I just walked around the fields for a few hours. Just sitting there with my thoughts, mulling over everything. I just felt so incredibly fortunate, realizing the best of what it is to be an actor, an employed actor; being able to put food on the table and feeling creatively fulfilled at the same time. Working my ass off, but doing work I was so in love with doing. I felt like I had realized my purpose. (laughs)

That scene in the movie is basically the realization I had while I was walking those fields. I realized “Oh my God, this is that scene!” And I talked with Scott, and he said “Let’s go for it!”

Was all your rehearsal generally in front of the camera?

The great thing about the role that I was playing was I was the focus; the subject of the documentary was me. And so I didn’t really have to worry about what other people were doing, because they had come here to document me and pay attention to what I was saying. That took a whole lot of the onus off me to have any considerations other than what was swimming around in my head (laughs) which is really selfish on one hand, but so was that character.

Sure! The magnifying glass is on you.

Really all I ever had to do was make sure I understood what the scope of the scene was, and a sense of what I wanted to do rhythmically in the scene, and a sense of what my lines were, and then we could just start playing! We would generally shoot the rehearsals, and were usually able to knock a scene out in four takes.

Would Scott give you a direction to start it off with or just sort of let it run and see where you went, and then shape it to what he thought might be best?

Well the great thing about the DV was, unless we were confined in a space like the van, we were free to move without considerations of falling out of frame or anything. We could just play a scene out, and if Scott wanted to jump in and take care of something, he could; but for the most part we were able to just play around with each other like kids in a sandbox, and have fun!

That was also really great about playing the character; he loves and has fun with what he is doing. So it was really an opportunity to fuck around and the more excited and the more fun he was having, the better things would come across on film!

I wanted to ask you about Angela Goethals as Taylor Gentry.

She was awesome.

She goes so many different places in this, and she’s a good foil/balance for your character, with all those emotional notes she hits. Everyone is there to document YOU; I was wondering if you could tell me about working with her, she’s really the main person you get to act with.

She was just tremendous, as an actor and as a person. It’s funny, because the relationship that got built between our characters was mirroring the friendship that was getting built between us personally. I think it’s actually appropriate that it’s coming out on Valentine’s Day, because in a way it’s a love story in my opinion. She was just a total pleasure to work with. We just had a ball working on that thing, a labor of love.

We were getting a lot of work done in a short amount of time; but on the other hand we were all doing work that was so enjoyable to do, and in our off times, we were enjoying everybody so much, spending all of our off time hanging out, getting drinks. It was a real fraternal kind of working environment.

(Angela) was very giving too as an actor, open and available. So much of what happens on the screen was not in the script, just came out of what was there, what she was bringing, and what she was doing that made me feel I should do ‘this’, just a really good back-and-forth.
Because it’s Icons of Fright, I am required to ask at least one question about Robert Englund, who plays Doc Halloran (Leslie’s nemesis) in the film.

Robert’s awesome!

Really the only scenes we have together are in the library with Zelda (Rubinstein), when I reveal myself for the first time-and at the end. He wrapped up all his stuff in three days at the most.
We were all just so grateful that he’d signed on to do this film, it put such a stamp of legitimacy on what we were doing; the story we were telling could have been told without him, but simply because of his credit, and the associations built up with his fan base, and his associations with that character, it brought a whole new texture to the movie that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Same with Kane Hodder’s cameo.
It’s like meta-casting.

Yeah it’s not even that it necessarily that it makes it legitimized, it actually it takes it to another place conceptually.

The night Robert got there he took us all out for drinks, and paid for them all. We’re like “No! No!” Are you kidding me?” And he just said ”Hey, come on; let me take care of it.” (laughs)

I had a lot of reverence for him. His movies were really the only horror/slasher films I had seen growing up! I saw Friday the 13th for the first time right before I went to Portland to do the film, hadn’t seen the Halloween movies all the way through.

I remember he finished one of his scenes, and then he waited around because there was a scene that followed it where Angela and I are against the van, where it gets kind of tense.

I think it was kind of checking out what he’d gotten himself into. You know? And I think he was specifically checking ME out. And he watched (the scene being shot), and kind of pulled me aside afterwards and said “It’s really good man, what you’re doing is really good. (Leslie’s) got a real volatility to him, where he can turn on a dime, that’s great.” And he told me “You remind me of a young Anthony Perkins, has anyone ever told you that?” And I was like “NO!! THANK YOU!!” (laughs) “Oh my God! Robert Englund told me I reminded him of Anthony Perkins!” I think I called my wife right after that and told her that.

Leslie’s body language when you’re in masked-killer mode, I was just wondering if you could talk about your approach in those scenes. You did some interesting stuff in there. You’ve got a moment when you’re going to make your first kill, where you rise up to your feet like a cobra. I was wondering where you were coming from with that aspect of the character.

Well, I wanted to try to put in visually some of the (slasher) conventions that I knew of, and obviously I wasn’t as well-versed in them as Scott or David (David J. Stieve, the screenwriter), but there were certain things like the ‘sitting up when you think he’s dead’ that you see in all of those movies… it felt like the ones that needed to be in there, got in.

I was really stumped for a while on what the physicality for this guy (in costume) would end up being! I started going down this road of trying to conceptualize what his physicality would be, based on the fact that the character has created this boy; the legend he’s created for this boy is that he was killed when he was 10 or so.

I thought well, he’s a ten-year-old boy, there shouldn’t be a masculine physicality, it should be a childish, impish physicality. And the first time I started shooting it as this ‘boy’, Scott stopped me and he’s like “let’s do it again, but don’t do any of that stuff that you were doing.” (laughs)

So I toned it down, we did it again and he’s like “all that stuff, I think it’s too much!” I think he just needs to kind of stand there.” (laughs) I was totally confused, I didn’t know what do with him- ultimately I’m grateful that he pulled me aside and told me that. In retrospect, what I was trying to do was set my character apart from those other guys, and he was steering me towards the traditional which I think ultimately worked much better.

Once I started embracing the physicality of a powerful force, it really aided me on many levels, it was like Batman. My childhood intrigue with Batman was I felt like I was perfectly capable of being Batman because he has no “powers”, he just trains and hones himself to the extent of human perfection. In a way, I felt like that’s what I was able to do with Leslie. There’s this scene where I’m dragging this body across the field, it’s rather fluid despite the fact I’m dragging this 180 pound guy.
And you have to make it look effortless.

Yes! You know? He would be impervious to pain, he wouldn’t be conscious of pain, that’s another thing that served really well... because it was really cold and I had made the bonehead choice that the character didn’t wear shoes. So I’m standing in than colder-than-freezing weather, standing on pebbles, rocks and mud. My feet were just…putting myself into the mindset of this character allowed me to just not entertain any of those thoughts.

Have you been to the festival screenings of Leslie Vernon? Can you watch the film objectively?

I was at Gen Art in New York and Screamfest in LA. I don’t think that I can be truly ‘objective’, but I’m not cringing. For the most part I felt very much that I was doing the best job I was capable of doing at the time and so I don’t really have any regrets. For the most part I’m able to watch the film and really enjoy it. What’s really surprising to me, after the number of times that I’ve seen it, I’m still able to enjoy it. I like watching it in front of crowds just to see the reaction.

The festival screenings have been really cool because people have been responding to completely different things. That’s been really fun to see different audiences having completely different takes on the movie, appreciating completely different things. And something that has pleased me to no end is that even the non-genre-oriented crowd, people that steer away from horror films because horror films scare them. I’m one of those people..I’m really thrilled to see those people enjoying the film just as much as horror fans.

It is for the geek, there’s a part of the film geared directly toward the geek; these are the people that will get the DVD when it comes out and analyze all the little bits that were put in there consciously to please them. There’s SO many choices that were made, even in design, to please and excite the horror fan, you might not pick up on the first viewing. But maybe on a third or fourth viewing you’ll still get more out of it!

There’s also a quality about the movie; its humor and its humanity is for people that are horror and non-horror fans alike. I hope this movie will actually create horror fans from those people who steer away from horror films because of fear of them; maybe this movie will excite them in an intellectual examination of horror convention, and concept! And they’ll go to see horror films to break them down conceptually. That’s really exciting; to feel maybe we can be a part of turning people on to the genre who would never have done so otherwise!

This movie is an examination of deeper themes of things you might not think would be in a horror movie, and it happens to say “look, not all of these films are mindless murder fests.”

There’s some great benefits that have been mined from Scott’s classes of ‘horror convention’ at Penn State! (laughs) He was approaching it from a reverential and analytical viewpoint, and I think that all of that makes it not just a love note to horror fans, maybe this is an academic endeavor as well.

You did a film late last year called Like Moles, Like Rats... out of Alabama.

It was a really crazy project, a passion project of these guys who are looking to bring more of a film industry to the Alabama scene. They got this thing together that they’d developed for a number of years.

What’s your character like?

It sounds similar to some of the story behind Children of Men. Everyone is sterile, it takes place in this kind of post-apocalyptic world, and people are sterilized due to (nuclear) fallout. Certain camps of people have survived, this woman is pregnant with the first child in fifteen years, there’s a spiritual element about it. A kind of Biblical connection. . And she is escorted by these people to get to a city where she can safely bring this child into the world.

My character is this guy who is actually the long-lost brother of this girl. I’ve been brought up by this woman who has basically twisted my mind and body, turned her into a dark pupil of hers…and she sends me out to kidnap the woman and kill the child. Ultimately there’s redemption, but I do some pretty horrible things. It was a fun character to do because I got to throw myself into a role that was highly physical; and he was a really dark guy, but part of the task was bringing some of the humanity to this guy that ultimately would have an opportunity to redeem himself.

Are you doing any more writing? I checked out the script you wrote for Invasion, great stuff… you had one part where you described the Varon’s family scene as “Norman Rockwell with a five o’ clock shadow.” Dammit I wish I wrote that.

(laughs) I really enjoy writing, and that was something that struck me when (on Invasion) I had a lot of time on my hands. I was being used (in early episodes) and I’d read enough scripts to get the gist of how they composed their stories rhythmically, and how the characters are going, I didn’t know where they’re taking the story, I’ll use the information I had as a jumping-off point. And so I just put myself to work; I enjoyed it tremendously, such a great creative outlet at a time when I had a lot of time on my hands.

By the time I actually finished it, it turned out that the episodes were going in a completely different direction, but it was fun to see some of the ideas I’d introduced in my script were introduced in some of the episodes they ended up doing. That was without any collaboration or consultation, it was nice to see I’d gotten my finger on the pulse, a little bit, of what the writers were doing. I really wanted to use it as an opportunity to meet with writers and pick their brains and all that. Ultimately I got to realize that’s something that I want to explore more, other than the acting side of me.

Any ideas you’re developing?

I have a script I’ve been mulling over, I actually wrote it out but I’ve been feeling more and more pulled to work on it; that seems to be the one way people can stay working, producing their own stuff.

Bio picture copyright of Richard Knapp
Invasion pics are © 2005 ABC Television Networks
Behind the mask: © 2007 Anchor Bay Entertainment/Glen Echo Entertainment


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Official trailer for BEHIND THE MASK:
THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON


Alternate Trailer


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