Jason has represented many different things to those brave enough to play him. For actor/stuntman Kane Hodder, who has essayed the fearsome role in the last three Friday The 13th fright fests (see page 44), donning the hockey mask and disgusting makeup has lead to an active film career and a major fan following; the others who slashed their way through countless Camp Crystal Lake teens have not been as fortunate and failed to win the legendary part more than once. But no matter what effect the Friday films have had on their careers, all the thespians who have played Jason can count the job as one of the more unique additions to their resumes.
The original Friday The 13th was a lean, mean horror machine. When the long-abandoned (and soon to be notorious) Camp Crystal Lake is reopened, a group of youths are knocked off by an unseen killer. Though it’s Jason’s mom who turns out to be the vengeful slasher in this bloody whodunit, who can forget adolescent Jason’s terrifying leap from the lake at the film’s conclusion? Not Ari Lehman, who appeared as the teenaged corpse in that scene and as a drowning flashback.
“I was taking the idea of playing Jason very seriously,” recalls Lehman, who was 14 when he nabbed the brief but memorable role. “[Sean] Cunningham told me what he wanted, but you could tell he was getting a kick out of this kid wanting to know how he should be playing Jason. I was probably taking the role much more seriously than anybody else on the film.”
Lehman, who earlier made an unsuccessful attempt at landing a role in the Cunningham obscurity Manny’s Orphans, spent four days on the original Friday The 13th set and, no doubt, bumped into the then-11-year-old Adam Marcus (who served as a gofer on the film and would grow up to direct Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday). He certainly crossed paths with makeup artist Tom Savini. “We had the makeup down to a science,” Lehman laughingly recalls. “Tom would come in, pour a bucket of plaster over my head, and I was Jason.”
The young actor recalls having a good working relationship with the cast and crew, “even though they did kind of look at me as just being this kid,” but did not get to see the finished Friday The 13th until two years after its release. And since his parents had given their blessing for the young actor to do the part, he felt the least he could do was take them along. “Boy! My parents were totally grossed out!” he laughs. “I don’t think they knew how bloody the movie was going to be.”
For his big scene, in which he wore only a jockstrap and Savini’s makeup, Lehamn was required to spend a good deal of time submerged in freezing water. “We rehearsed that one a number of times,” he says. “At one point, Sean saw something he liked and told me to try it again, but to move a little slower. What he did not tell me was that he had the cameras rolling all the time. So what was supposed to be a rehearsal scene ended up being the cut that made the film.”
Lehman’s Friday gig ended his acting career, which he exchanged for one in music. “But I’ll always remember playing Jason,” he concludes. “And I have no regrets.”
Neither does Francis Warrington Gillette III, who used only his middle and last name when he played Jason in Friday The 13th Part 2. Gillette, a former economics major who was then a struggling actor, settled for the murderous role when he failed to land a speaking part. But he did get to play a mature Jason, chopping and slashing his way out of the woods and into a new series of Crystal Lake counselors to avenge his mother’s death in the earlier hit.
The Maryland-born Gillette, now an East Coast clothing entrepreneur, knew the part would demand little of his acting skills, “But I thought the idea of running around killing people and offering the kill’s to my mother’s head would be amusing,” he says. However, the difficult Carl Fullerton makeup he had to wear left him far from laughing. “They glued rubber pieces on my face to distort it, put dentures in my mouth that kept it forced open and closed off one of my eyes.” He recalls. “I had trouble eating and drinking and, with only one eye open, I lost my depth perception.”
Things went from bad to worse when it came time for him to leap through a cabin window and attack heroine Amy Steel. “The art director forgot to score the window,” Gillette explains. “So when the director [Steve Miner] called for action, I ran full speed at the window, hit it and bounced straight back. By the time we reached that scene, I was so sick and uncomfortable with the whole process that I really could have killed that girl.”
When Gillette and a group of friends went to see the fruits of his labor, the actor expected quite a bit more then he saw. “I thought I had this really great part.” He says, “and there I was on the big screen, saying absolutely nothing and just killing a bunch of kids.”
Richard Brooker was new in the country and needed work. Little did he know that when he answered a trade magazine ad looking for a big man to star in an unnamed horror film, he would end up playing Jason in Friday The 13th Part III. This surprise provided the 6-foot-3-inch actor and professional trapeze artist with both a job and a chance to test his theory about the previous Friday films.
“Starring as a totally mindless killing machine seemed the perfect opportunity to prove that you don’t have to talk to act,” he explains. “The director [Miner again] agreed that Jason should be played in a largely improvisational manner. The only advice he had was not to ask what Jason’s motivation was for a particular scene, because Jason has no motivation.”
Part III, the first and only film of the series to be shot in 3-D, moves the action away from the infamous summer camp to an isolated house and barn. There, a group of teenagers encounter the dreaded Voorhees—who dons his now-trademark hockey mask for the first time. The second sequel’s hook consisted of some decent dimensional FX, which lent extra visual interest to several mundane murders, and a nifty eyeball-popping sequence.
Predictably, it was the filming of these moments that Brooker found most painstaking. “The kills were probably the hardest things we had to shoot,” he says, “because the 3-D process we used necessitated multiple takes on everything. It was not uncommon to do 14 or 15 takes of a simple stabbing sequence; we spent hours and hours on the eyeball squeeze.”
But the 3-D hardships paid off, after a fashion. “I wasn’t a bad Jason.” Brooker laughingly claims, adding that having essayed the masked killer proved to be an ice-breaker with the ladies. “I was once introduced to a girl in a bar as the guy who played Jason,” he smiles. “She wanted to know if I slept with a hatched in my bed.”
One and a half years after the third film, the monstrous marauder returned for what was ostensibly Friday The 13th—The Final Chapter. After coming back to life and offing a couple of morgue attendants. Jason returns to Crystal Lake, where another group of teens have shacked up in yet another isolated house. The hook here is that Jason has finally met his match, and is reduced to hamburger by youthful monster-killer Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman).
This time, veteran stuntman Ted White answered the call to fill in Jason’s boots. At first, White hated everything about Friday The 13th. “Except the money,” he admits. “I was totally mercenary. I did it for the bucks.”
But once he was on the Final Chapter set, White got into the film’s spirit—so much so that he developed his own philosophy on how to add depth to the stalker. “When I was not on the set, I did not socialize and basically kept away from everybody,” he recalls. “My idea was that once people became too familiar with him, they would lose their fear of him on screen. I felt the other actors really had to fear Jason for the movie to be effective.”
He didn’t keep too much in character, though. The actor, who relates that the only drawback to the role was laying on the morgue slab, actually turned guardian angel during a long night’s filming. “We were shooting the scene where the girl is naked in the middle of the lake,” he says. “It was the dead of winter, and she was so cold that she actually started crying. Finally, I got fed up and told the director [Joseph Zito] that I would stop working if they didn’t get her out of the lake and let her warm up a bit. They did.”
White, whose numerous credits include an unmasked villain role in the same year’s Romancing the Stone, retained his basic objection to this type of movie and refused screen credit on Final Chapter. Nonetheless, he was surprised at the finished product. “Production-wise, it was a much better movie than I thought it would be,” he allows. It was scary, and it had all the fright anybody could ask for.”
Not enough in the producers’ eyes, apparently, since they unleashed Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning upon the movie-going public in 1985. This installment finds a now-teenaged Tommy Jarvis sequestered in a halfway house for mental patients, dreaming of Jason and soon discovering that the seemingly immortal murderer is back and slaying again. This Jason turns out not to be the genuine article, but a deranged paramedic named Roy Burns. Dick Wieand essayed this pseudo-Jason, and would just as soon forget the whole thing. “I’m not ashamed of having played Jason, but I wish people would stop making such a big deal out of it,” he says. “I really do wish that people would forget that I did that picture.”
During the film’s release, Wieand told people magazine about the bizarre audition process he went through for the role. “The director told me to stare at an empty desk and react as if I saw my son laying there hacked to bits,” he says. “How I got the part is beyond me, because I really did not belong in Jason’s shoes. I’m absolutely not a scary person.”
C.J. Graham auditioned for the part of Jason in Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives on a whim. Though the actor thought that he was the clear frontrunner, he was not too disappointed when the job went to somebody else. But he was downright surprised when, five days later, he received a telephone call from the filmmakers.
“The stuntman they had hired was not coming across with the power and force that the director wanted,” says the nightclub manager-turned-actor. “It was Friday. They wanted me in costume and on the set Monday.”
As its title suggests, this sequel brings Jason back from the grave, courtesy of a lightning bolt and an ill-placed metal fence post. Once ambulatory, the masked one proceeds to torment a grown Tommy Jarvis and kill yet another group of counselors at Crystal Lake (this time, the town is renamed Forest Green). Despite a few tweaks by director Tom McLoughlin, fatal slashings and gory action sequences were still the name of the game—as the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Graham quickly discovered firsthand.
“I was taken aside before each stunt and told exactly what would occur,” he says. “I knew precisely what the impact of going through a wall or a door would feel like before I did it, so there was no surprise or fear.”
Graham’s biggest jolt during Friday VI was a literal one—specifically, during the bit in which Jason gets hit by a shotgun blast. “The jerk cable I was tied to was set to hit me with 300 pounds of pressure,” he reveals, “which could have done some serious damage if I did not have an idea of what was coming. I started out with practice jolts of 100 and then 200 pounds, so I could gradually work up to the required impact.”
The actor had no such luxury during the film’s fire-in-the-lake finale. “That was a one-taker,” he says. “My entire back was on fire, but fortunately, I was waist-deep in water at the time. So if it got too hot, all I had to do was dunk myself. Unfortunately, when I did that, I ended up getting covered with leeches—which wasn’t too much fun.”
Having since passed the machete to current Jason actor Kane Hodder, Graham donned another ugly mask as Hellcop in last year’s amusing Highway to Hell. However, his Crystal Lake memories remained the fondest. “I wasn’t a serious actor at the time—I just did it as a lark,” he concludes. “The role of Jason was basically dumped in my lap. But I would put on the mask in a minute if they asked me to do it again.”
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