Derek Mears for “Friday the 13th”

You may not see his face on screen but in Friday the 13th, he resonates as the new, chilling and imposing presence of Jason Voorhees in the reimagining of the horror franchise Friday the 13th. In this exclusive interview with PAUL FISCHER, Meers discusses the challenge of playing this non-verbal, yet iconic, character.

Question: When you go up for a role like this, where it’s completely visual and completely nonverbal, what do you think producers and the director are looking for in a new take on this particular iconic character?

Mears: Well, I don’t know. When I went in for the meeting, and I had a camera meeting via the casting director, there were only two of us who were brought in. When I went in, one of the questions that really stuck with me was, the casting director asked me – you know, ” We’ve been told that we needed an actual actor to play the role of Jason. Why do you think we need an actor, and not just put any big guy in a mask?” And I was explaining that – you know, once you do the research, and you build the character, that it doesn’t matter – acting is acting, to me. Not like a prosthetic actor, or a creature actor, or a mask work actor. That, if you’re in the right mindset for what’s happening in the scene, and you have the character’s skin on, that that energy that you’re creating is going to transfer and come through the mask, and will be captured on film. So, there’s no special – in my opinion – you know, ” I’m gonna act a little different. I’m gonna exaggerate my arm movement.” Or, you know, ” Act with my one eyeball.” It’s happening the whole time for me. So I think that they liked that answer. And I got hired. So. And I’m super-duper lucky.

Question: Let me start with this. There’s that wonderful scene where you discover the mask, and you put it on. When you’re required to do that, and you put that mask on for the first time, what goes through your mind?

Mears: In that time, the character – I mean, Jason – my mental side is that Jason has been rejected by society, and he thinks he’s horrible-looking. He wears a sack, before he finds the regular hockey mask. But when he finds the hockey mask, it’s like a symbolic protection from society. Where the mask almost makes him normal. You know, as he’s putting it on, he’s like, ” I’ll fit in more.” But it’s still that symbolism of protection. And that’s what was going through my mind, when I’m doing that scene?

Question: It is a very physical role for you. And there are moments where you feel the pathos, almost, in this character, especially when he’s alone with Amanda. Whitney.. What are the difficulties or the challenges for you as an actor to work with that mask on and make the audience feel even a tad compassionate for this character?

Mears: I think it’s a leap of faith, to trust, because I would be doing the same exact thing if I didn’t have the mask on. And I just trusted that it would come through, and be – the audience would be able to read it. So. Like I said before, I didn’t really do anything different. I just was in the movement of what was happening, and that leap of faith that it was conveyed.

Question: Do you feel that Jason is purely a psychopath, or do you see him as more than that? I mean, how do you define this character?

Mears: I think Jason’s the ultimate victim. If you look on a broad scale, and everyone looking ahead, that he would be – you know, there are mental problems with him. But the way that I play him, no villain ever sees themselves as a villain. He’s justified for everything he’s done. I mean, he’s been rejected by society. These kids have killed his mother. Like, the scenes where Jason goes and kill the kids, I play that almost – my mental set is that it’s like a Vietnam flashback. Like, these kids just killed his mother. And it literally just happened. And it gets that intensity, and brings out that emotion, so that it’s not just a guy walking forward and stabbing somebody. There’s a reason behind it. Like, ” You just killed the only lifeline that I have in this world. You know, the only person that loves me.” And that intensity and passion, I hope, comes through.

Question: Is it a daunting task for you to play such an iconic character as this?

Mears: Oh, yeah. I had nightmares growing up. There’s two things that gave me nightmares. It was Jason and Friday the 13th, and the Sasquatch in Six-Million Dollar Man, freaked me out. But, yeah. I mean, being a fan myself, and having the guys who played the character before me, like Ted White, C.J. Graham, Kane Hodder. You know, I’m a fan of theirs. And you just want to be able to do a good job, that – you want to continue the series. I told them when I first met with Brad and Drew from Platinum Dunes, I go, ” Look. First and foremost, I’m a fan. And if I’m right for the part, fantastic. I would love to do it. But if I’m not right for it, grab somebody who is right. Because I just want to see more Friday the 13th films, if I’m involved or not.”

Question: So do you sign a sequel clause for this at all?

Mears: I have a second picture option with Platinum Dunes. And that means it could be for – if they want to do Part Two, or it could be for another film, if they want to do that. So, it’s just with them in general.

Question: Now, you’ve been acting for around about ten years or so. What are the difficulties for you to persuade people that you’re right for something, when you’ve done a film where you’re not visible or verbal?

Mears: Yeah, that’s a tough thing. That’s the ongoing struggle. The other problem that I deal with is, being that I bounce between acting and stunts – like, early on I was always told, ” You need to decide. Either you’re an actor or you’re a stunt man.” I’m like, ” Why can’t you do both?” And that was my choice, to do both. But sometimes when you go in for legitimate acting roles and they see that you’ve done stunts, like, on your IMDB or something, like, ” Wait a second. It’s a stunt guy trying to act.” Which drives me crazy. But – you know, you just try to build up a body of work and have tape on yourself. And hopefully, they like what you’re doing. It’s a tough struggle. It’s a constant ongoing thing with me.

Question: So I presume that you did your own stunts on this movie.

Mears: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely.

Question: I guess if they hire you, it saves them money.

Mears: [LAUGHTER] Yeah. It’s true, that’s very true. The one thing I’m excited about, though – like, Doug Jones, for example, is a good friend of mine. And Doug is known now for doing, like, a Pan’s Labyrinth, or Hellboy II, or in Hellboy I, doing the Abe Sapien character. But first and foremost, Doug is a talented, talented actor. And for the longest time, people would pigeonhole him. Like, ” Oh, he’s just a creature actor, or a makeup actor.” We’re like, ” You don’t understand. He’s so talented.” And now, the industry, I think there’s a turn in the entertainment industry where they’re starting to understand. Like, ” Wait a second. They’re actually actors, and there’s – there’s a difference when there’s people under the makeup.” And I’m so proud and happy for Doug that he’s getting the respect that he deserves now, with Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies.

Question: Why do you think it is important to reboot, or remake a movie like Friday the 13th?

Mears: I mean, as a fan, in my own opinion, I want to see more Friday the 13th’s. And you have to please the fans who have been so loyal throughout the years, through all the other films. But also, you have to add new things that invite or welcome new, younger viewers, to give them the experience. So I think it’s a good thing to reboot a series that people love, if you do it in a passionate and right way. As I said before, being respectful to the past, but adding things new to the future, because it gives the chance to continue the series. I would rather see a horrible remake, than not see anything happen at all.

Question: Do you see this as being as much a suspense thriller as a horror movie? I mean, there seems to be much more atmosphere in this than I was expecting. Much more suspense than I was expecting.

Mears: Not so much – I mean, I still see it as a horror movie. A stylized horror movie. Like, the lighting that Daniel Pearl did is – I was so blown away. It’s neat watching people work on set who – some of their skills, or their art, you don’t necessarily understand. But you can tell when they’re working – like, this guy is top of the line. He is so passionate about what he’s doing. And you just get mesmerized, and you want to learn.

Question: Was it important for you to watch the original series of the Friday the 13th movies, to get into this?

Mears: Not so much. I am a fan. Like I said before, I already have all the series on DVD, and I’m very familiar with the series. But for the character, I used the script that Mark and Damian wrote as a blueprint. And you try to put all the other stuff that you’ve seen before with Jason away to the side, and just work on your own unique character. But there are times in the film here and there that I’ve done – like, little – I try to do little homages, just so I can be respectful to the guys who played Jason before me. So I tried to do, like, a Ted White head tilt, or little things like that. Some of it didn’t make it into the film, but maybe – you know, they’ll put it on the DVD, which would be great.

Question: What do you hope to be doing next, any idea?

Mears: I’m in talks for a couple different things. Nothing I can officially talk about yet. But I’m a nerd. I’d love to continue to do stuff in the horror, sci-fi, or comic book genre. That’s kind of what I’m into.

Question: Well, I do hope that people appreciate your work in this, because I thought you were great. And I thought the movie was really unexpected.

Mears: Thank you. I really, really appreciate that. I just want to – it’s such an honor to play the character, and I want to do everybody proud. You know, just keep the – like you have in that game, where you try to keep the balloon from hitting the ground. And Jason – you know, with the franchise being the balloon. I don’t want to be the guy who drops it. I want to bump it for the next guy to continue, or whatever they want to do with it.