We all recently bore witness to the resurrection of one of the most iconic characters in cinema history. Jason Voorhees has terrified audiences for nearly 3 decades and has recently slashed his way back into the hearts and minds of many adults and teenagers around the world. While the role has been filled by many brilliant actors over the years, the newest man to take up the hockey mask and machete has introduced us to a much more darker and more human version of the unstoppable killer. Derek Mears, contrary to his persona in 2009′s Friday the 13th, could not be a nicer guy. An accomplished actor and stuntman, Derek is humbled by his success and is enthusiastic about what the future holds for him. Derek recently sat down with Icon vs. Icon‘s Steve Johnson to discuss his past, his career as a stuntman and actor, his experiences while on the set of Friday the 13th, and his undeniable appreciation of his fans. Look out! Here comes the man behind the mask!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Bakersfield, California. Known for agriculture, Buck Owens, and the rock band Korn.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in film?
Kinda early I guess. I remember being younger and having my mom asking me what I wanted to do for a living. I said that I wanted to play with my friends for the rest of my life, but I want to get paid for it. She said no, in a loving, supporting way of course. I started off playing Dungeon and Dragons at young age and went, this is great, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life and I’m kinda doing the same thing, just a live action version.
You performed improv comedy, is that something you enjoyed?
Yeah, that’s how I got started off years back, when I was seventeen years old. I was invited to join a troupe called ComedySportz in Bakersfield. ComedySportz is competitive improv comedy and is a giant national franchise. I would go every year to this big tournament in Milwaukee, where it originated from and I made a lot of friends there. We all eventually kinda moved out to Los Angeles and I joined the LA team and played for a while. I took like eight years off to work on tv and film and now I have been back for three years with the main company, performing here in LA. So I have been doing it for twelve years now, which is so much fun.
You have credits in films and television as an actor and a stuntman, which do you prefer?
Truthfully I like them both. The difference between the two is kinda a white collar, blue collar job. As an actor you can have a little more creative freedom, but I really enjoy being physical on the stuntman side of it. I dunno, it’s so funny, even if I get a job and I’m hired as a stuntman, I’m like aw man…, you can always make a character, you know and your dialog is, eh… ok. But then if I get hired as just a plain actor, I’m like can I bash through something, get launched across the room, or fight somebody? No? Ok… So, I’m never happy.
How did you get involved in being a stuntman?
When I moved out to Los Angeles from Bakersfield, my first “hollywood audition” was for Universal Studios Hollywood for the Wild, Wild, Wild, West Stunt Show. I got hired there. Half of the people were actors who they trained to be stunt people and the other half were stunt people they trained to be actors. I actually came in on the acting side and they trained me to do the stunts for that show and I became friends with a lot of the stunt guys and have a background in martial arts. They would go out and learn new stunts and were like, “hey man you want to hang out” and I was like “ok, but I mainly do acting and comedy.” I would just learn with them and I kinda fell into it, no pun intended. [laughs]
As a stuntman, have you ever had any close calls or serious injuries?
Where is some wood, I’m going to knock on it. I have been so lucky. I have had minor breaks, but nothing really big, so I have been very, very fortunate. There are times when you do a stunt when something kinda close happens, you’re like, hey if I were a few inches off that could have knocked me out or done permanent damage.
What do you do to keep in top physical shape?
I do different weight training regimens. I do some stuff called CrossFit, which is all functional body training. It’s a website called Crossfit.com, where they give you a workout for each day. It is just fantastic. I train MMA as a hobbyist at John McCarthy’s ultimate fighting school, which is so much fun to do. They also offer a CrossFit there too. So I bounce between that and of course doing different weights in the gym and stuff for the aesthetic body look.
How do you prepare physically for your acting roles versus stuntman roles?
I kinda stay neutral. Depending on what role I am doing, I’ll tailor that work out for that role. In some roles they may want me to be larger body wise or they may want me to be thinner body wise, so I’ll tailor the work out accordingly.
We understand that you are a fan of the horror genre. Do you have any favorite movies or directors?
Oh yeah. Totally. I don’t know if it is particularly horror, it’s more kind of sci-fi, but Del Toro is amazing, Guillermo Del Toro. His attention to different makeup effects, seeing that he came from a makeup background. What he shoots looks so freaking amazing, that guys is a ugh… I am a fan. Some of my favorite horror movies. Not because I am a part of the series, but before I was a part of the series, I love the Friday the 13th series, the Evil Dead series, I love Alien, sort of sci-fi/horror. If it has to do with sci-fi, comic books, or horror, I am a fan.
You have been involved in a few remakes of classic horror films. What is your feeling on the latest craze in Hollywood of remaking movies?
I kinda understand both sides of the argument for remakes. I guess I would be more on the pro side, not because I am a part of it, but just for the fact you always have the original and the classics. Some of them, I think it is a good idea to remake just to update what’s going on because some of them may have lacked in plot or they lacked in special effects. There are certain things you can improve on and I am always up for that. So if they do something, like Dawn of the Dead for example, I think was an amazing job updating the zombies and it looked fantastic. Something like that I am totally pro. If it turns out they do a remake of something I don’t like, I always keep in my mind you know, well they tried, I still have the classics. I kinda separate the two and not think that the new ones or the remakes have ruined the old films.
Are you a fan of the Friday the 13th series? If so, what is your favorite movie in the series?
Part four with Ted White. It’s so wild, I really relate to it. That’s the one that kinda drew me in. I kinda have an emotional connection to part four. I grew up with a disorder called alopecia, which means that I don’t grow a lot of hair basically. My body sees the hair as a foreign entity and rejects it. So, the part in part four where Corey Feldman comes downstairs and he has his head shaved and he trying to get Jason’s attention because he is trying to emulate the young version of Jason. I really connected to that because at the time that’s what my hair looked like. I had little clumps of hair here and there and I was like oh my gosh, I am a little version of Jason. So, I easily became emotionally connected to the character. Now I actually get to play the character, which is bizarre.
How did you get the role of Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th?
I payed Platinum Dunes six million dollars. No, [laughs] Platinum Dunes talked to a bunch of different industry professionals, who they were asking who they thought would be the new Jason. I am very fortunate because my name kept popping up. They ended up bringing two people in for a meeting. It was me and another person and I got it, so I was extremely, extremely lucky.
The role of Jason Vorhees has been filled by many actors, each with their own spin on the role. Did you find donning the hockey mask a bit intimidating at first?
A little bit. Myself being a horror fan, being respectful or being a fan of the guys that came before me. I kinda didn’t want to be the guy like, “that’s the guy who ruined the series,” for my time holding the conch. That was factored in. My job is that I feel like I am representing the horror fans and I just want to do a good job, to represent the character to its full potential.
Being a part of the Friday the 13th family as one of the Jasons, have you found any sort of rivalry or brotherhood between you and the other actors that have played Jason?
There really is like a brotherhood. It was nice, I have met almost everybody that has played Jason before and everyone has been so warm and welcoming. C.J. Graham, Jason from part six, was over the top welcoming. He was the first one to kinda take me in and go, “hey congratulations on everything and welcome to the family. It’s a very small unique group of guys and at one time I was the new guy, at one time Kane was the new guy. It’s your turn to be the new guy and enjoy it and live it up because later on it will pass on to someone else. Welcome, have a good time.” I was really blow away with that. He was really, really, kind.
Your Jason is angrier and is far more human than any other Jason in the series. Did you have input into the development of the character or was it laid out for you in the script?
The aggressiveness was kinda all me. [laughs] The humanization of the character, a lot of that credits back to Mark Swift and Damian Shannon and the writers. They really wanted to get the script back to the original base of what made Jason great in the earlier films and make him more human, which made him, in my opinion scary. Their purpose was to make Jason frightening again. So I have to give the credit to them for that side of it.
Where there any challenges while performing on set? Only having one eye to see out of, filming in texas, etc…
Yeah definitely. Having the one eye to see out of was really tough. I had a small slit in the other eye. It was almost as if you are looking through a toilet paper dispenser. You lose all of your peripheral vision from that one eye. I bashed myself so many times into so many different things around the set. When you’re fully committed to the scene, chasing somebody or being aggressive, you can’t see some of the low hanging objects. I thank god that Scott Stoddard, who in my opinion is fifty percent of the Jason character because he did the special effects for him and the design for him. I thank him so much for making the hockey mask out of what you would actually make a protective hockey mask out of. That saved my face many a time. Just to elaborate on the other hardships of the character. We shot in Austin, Texas in the summer time. From my navel up to my head, I had a full body prosthetic on. After about the second week of shooting your skin starts to get irritated. You got heat rash and you try not to move so much when you are not shooting so the medical adhesive, which keeps the prosthetic onto your own skin, doesn’t rip or pull the irritated skin. So after awhile, you feel like a horse with a burr under its saddle. You get to the aggressive mode a little easier, but still, you are wearing it all day long. In no way I am complaining because you know going into it, it is going to be uncomfortable. You try to focus on the final product, that if it is going to look good, it’s going to be great and not worry about the pain now. Was is the adage I always say, pain is temporary and dumb is forever.
Which incarnation of Jason do you prefer in the film? Sack head Jason or the masked version?
I like them both equally. I like what Scott came up with, with the creepy sack mask and later on with the hockey mask, it looks great also. I really don’t have a preference, I liked doing both. I was really happy as a fan that they added the sack into the script.
What is your favorite kill in the new movie?
I really enjoyed the throat kill with Aaron Yoo inside the toolshed. When we actually shot that, the take they ended up using with Arron sputtering the blood, after we yelled cut I asked him if he was ok, what’s going on? What he did was, he tried to inhale the blood that he had in his mouth into his sinuses, so he would spit it out of his nose also, but he started to gag on it. It was horrible sounding, so it was very realistic when we actually shot it. He was such a great guy too, he was so hilarious! All of those funny bits that he did in the toolshed is him just improvising.
Were any of the other actors/actresses intimidated or scared by your presence while in full costume?
It was funny because when I talked to them about it they knew it was me, we all hung out and had become very close friends, but when you switch over and you have the Jason gear on, I am still myself moving around until they yell action then you switch over to the bad side of yourself. Some of them kept telling me I know it is you underneath there, it’s freaking me out, but I know it’s you, I know your nice, I know your nice and they kept kinda repeating that mantra over and over again. I remember Willa Ford, when she was doing her scene in the lake. The first time she ever saw me in full Jason gear, I kinda on purpose showed up to help her for an eye line. Her eye line was off camera looking at somebody and I walked in and just stood there and I kinda helped her freak out a little bit more. That’s what I am, I am a giver Steve. [laughs]
Are you happy with the success of the Friday the 13th?
Yes, I really am. For a lot of us who worked on the film, we are fans of the series and for us it was more of a passion project than just another job and we really wanted it to be good. We had to be respectful of what happened in the past, but we also had to take risks for the new audience. The feedback I’ve been getting is really, really positive. Everyone has their critiques, but the majority of the feedback I have been getting is great, so I am very, very satisfied and proud to be a part of the series.
Can you tell us anything about the upcoming Friday the 13th DVD/Blu-Ray? Was there behind the scene footage filmed? Will we see an unrated version of the film?
We shot a lot of the scenes a couple different ways. Being that Jason is not just pure evil, that he was a victim and kinda created, we empathize with him and we empathize for him. We shot scenes in ways where you would feel more sympathy for Jason and then we shot it more aggressively, so when we did the editing, the editor could choose the flow as to play it how the scene needed. There’s that fine line between sympathy and aggressiveness. If you go too sympathetic you lose the ferocity of the character and if you go too ferocious you lose the human tie or the empathy for the character.
A sequel to Friday the 13th was recently announced, will you be back as Jason and is there anything you can tell us about it?
What I can officially say from the producers is the writers are writing the sequel right now. It’s still in the rumor status because it hasn’t been officially green lit. I do have a second picture option with Platinum Dunes. It could be for part two or it could be for a different film entirely. Being that the film is not yet green lit, they can’t make any offers or anything. I would like to return, but nothing is for sure.
You were featured in the Friday the 13th retrospective His Name Was Jason. How did you get involved in that film and what was that experience like?
That was crazy. How did I get involved in that? They just called up and said “hey, we are doing a retrospect for the Friday the 13th series, do you want to be a part of it” and I go “Yes, are you kidding me?” I just remember at the time I was so excited and being a total goofball and doing the interview. It was a blast. It was just fun being a part of something that you are a fan of and meet people that I have watched over years and meet them in person. Another thing with all of the focus and attention from the Jason role is being a fan of different celebrities and having them know who you are. It’s a little surreal, it’s a little out of this world.
What other projects are in your immediate future?
It’s crazy. I’ve been asked that a lot lately. I totally want to talk about it, but I can’t. There’s a project that is a super-secret project, it’s a big project, but I can’t divulge any information about it at all or the studio will destroy me. I feel like a kid who has a birthday present for somebody and he wants to tell them so bad about it and how cool it is, but I can’t say anything right now, I can’t. So, I can’t divulge anything right now, but it’s something cool.
You have been hitting the convention circuit for a while now. What has that experience been like for you? Do you enjoy meeting fans?
Oh man, that is so much fun. I am actually going to one this coming weekend. The horror fans are so amazing. They are so loving and accepting. It’s funny because people, they thank me for coming out to the conventions and I’m like, “thank you guys for coming out.” On my end they go “Hey Derek we’d like to pay you to come out and talk about sci-fi, horror, and comic books, is that cool with you?” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what I do every day.” Hollywood doesn’t have to pay me to do it, I love to do it. So I sit around with all of these friends and I geek gossip a bit. I dig it.
Any strange encounters or notable interaction with other actors?
Yeah actually, can you believe it, I have. This one thing that I would say is the strangest encounter or the strangest thing that has happened. It’s not super strange, but it was kinda strange for me. Before the film came out, I was having a conversation with a guy and we were talking about being Friday the 13th fans, he and I, and I told him that I learned that to be a super fan you’ve got to have a tattoo. Now that is a commitment if you have a tattoo and he goes “oh really?” This guy has a shaved head and he turned around and on the back of his head he has a giant Jason mask tattooed there. I go “ok, you are a huge fan.” He shows me his drivers license, which is awesome, and he legally changed his name to Jason Vorhees with a “z”. I am like, “You are a hardcore fan, you might be the biggest fan I have seen.” He goes “I know what I want you to sign” and I go “Oh cool what” and he points to the back of his head. I go, “Oh dude, think about this” and I go “what if the film sucks?” He goes “The film is not going to suck.” I’m like, “Yeah you’re right, the film is not going to suck.” So I signed the back of his head and he had it tattooed onto him. It’s so wild because he is just a big fan and he’s not sick or anything like that, he is just really nice, he is just a big fan. It just kinda wowed me.
Do you have an advice for anyone who would like to get involved in the film industry as an actor or stuntman?
I get asked for advice all of the time and it’s really, really tough because I don’t really know what to say. There are so many different routes to get to where you want to be. I have so many talented friends myself that aren’t working and it is bizarre to me. It’s a mixture of talent, luck, and timing. Every time when I get a phone call to work on a show, I keep expecting the phone to stop ringing or this could be my last show. I feel very, very fortunate that the phone keeps ringing. It’s really tough to give advice, I don’t know. I’m still kinda wondering how the hell I got here.
Do you have any last words?
I just want to thank the fans. The fans have been so great. It’s a wild ride!
Thanks for your time and best of luck!