It’s Friday the 13th and Halloween is just around the corner, which means that ghosts and ghouls, boogeymen and baddies are up to no good – at least in our favorite horror movies. Scoop began the week of Friday the 13th by talking to C.J. Graham, the actor who portrayed Jason Voorhees, one of the most popular slasher villains, in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. Graham shared filming details, including incredible stunts and challenges inherent to the character. He also discussed the character’s enduring popularity and devoted fandom.
Scoop: What made you want to play Jason, were you already a fan of the series?
C.J. Graham (CJG): Well, I wasn’t actually a fan at the time. Jason had only been out for a few years, even though it was already up to part six. It kind of originated quickly. I had to go back and do a little bit of research before I went out for the part. Which allowed me to get caught up or take a look at the speed of what it was. So, originally I wasn’t necessarily a fan, I wasn’t not, but I just didn’t really monitor it as much as I did once I was out for the part. Since I’ve done the part, you kind of stay part of the franchise because you’re kind of in tune with what’s going on today.
Scoop: As a viewer, did you keep up with the films that came after yours?
CJG: Yes. It’s like I was saying, you may not be a, let’s just say, a New York Giants fan until you live in New York. Then even if you leave New York you kind of follow the Giants as you go forward because it becomes part of your DNA. It’s the same thing you do as a Friday the 13th fan ‒ once you become a fan, I think people become a fan forever.
And that’s why we see such a large generation. I have people 5 years old coming up that are big fans in full wardrobe and then we have people 65-70 years old that come up with their children that are 30-40, talking about how they started their children with the Friday the 13th series.
Scoop: I got into horror movies in a similar way, through older family members.
CJG: Exactly, and I think that’s the longevity of the franchise is two-fold: one good reason is Kane Hodder playing [Friday the 13th] 7-10 has been an amazing ambassador of the series going out there every weekend doing conventions and comic cons and just continuing to promote the series even well beyond his tenure as Jason; and I think the other side is it just picked up generations after generations and it just keeps going to no end.
Scoop: Since Jason is silent and wears a mask, it limits what he can do, expressively. What did you do to make him intimidating?
CJG: It’s interesting because people think you don’t speak – how hard can that be? I challenge anybody to take a cardboard box and put it in front of their face and cut out one eye, and that’s all you’re going to see is a little bit of vision and your other eye is blacked out. Then I want you to stand in front of somebody without saying a word and show anger, show curiosity, show power or force or show the fact that you’re showing an expression because it’s impossible and it takes a little talent.
But what I would do as soon as I put the mask on ‒ I flipped a switch. Being ex-military, I came out of the shoot very powerful, you know 30” all-around walk that you’re taught in all military forces. I still have that today. Not to mention being 6’3” [weighing] 245-250, doesn’t hurt. So stepping into the roll for me was just stepping out and taking a menacing posture and stepping forward with authority and then just demanding control every time I stepped into a scene.
Scoop: I’ve always wondered about that type of performance because you’re right it’d be hard to just put on the mask and scare somebody. There has to be a way you carry yourself or move to be intimidating.
CJG: Yeah, I agree. If you see somebody walking towards you, if you really size somebody up you can tell by their body language a little bit about their personality. If you think about it, the next time the fans who [read] this will think, “Hey let me take a look at that perspective and watch people.” You’ll watch people with more authority, you’ll watch people that are just staring at their phone the whole way down the sidewalk and haven’t got a clue what’s going on around them. Then you’ll see the people that are a little more observant and as they walk they are more in control of their status as they’re going down the street.
Scoop: Between being set on fire and chained under water you had some seriously intense stunts. Can you tell me about how you did some of the more challenge stunts?
CJG: The nice thing is I can say I did all my stunts and I can also say I was probably a little stupid and naïve because up to that point I’d never done a stunt in my life.
CJG: A lot of people don’t know that. As you just implied. I was not a stuntman, I wasn’t even really what I’d consider an actor, nor did I have an interest or even know what a Screen Actors Guild union card was. I am somebody who just stepped into a role and was fortunate enough to have a great stunt coordinator around me and felt powerful enough or maybe I was a little arrogant that I could do everything that was required of me and fortunately I did without any repercussion or harm to myself or anybody I worked with.
When I was set on fire, most people don’t really go through that part. As a stunt person, you use different people for different stunts. Usually, in today’s world, most stunt people are not universal – some are drivers, some are fire, some are fight scene, and so on. Back then you were just one and you were required to do all of your stunts, so being set on fire was interesting. I did have a racecar driver fireproof suit underneath my wardrobe. Michael Nomad, who was my coordinator, gave me a walkthrough of what I would feel with the intensity of the heat as my body would warm up. What’s interesting when you set yourself on fire, they put gel all over you and you see that flame come over that one eye in the hockey mask, that’s all you can see out of, you kind of wonder, “What am I doing here and is the paycheck good?”
Of course, being underwater is another challenge. A lot of safety divers kept me safe. We were in a swimming pool about 20 feet deep, which is an Olympic size diving pool in Los Angeles. They would put a black tarp throughout the pool so it looked black and you really couldn’t see the pool itself, and of course, we shot at night. But they also put me on the bottom, standing on a cinderblock and that’s a real chain. As you can tell it’s a big chain and it’s hooked around my neck and screwed down, so I wasn’t going anywhere unless the safety divers came in and took that chain off my neck. It wasn’t something that I could physically get off. If you look real close it’s screwed on my neck. So what I would do is signal for air, which is a pound to your chest right over your heart, and the safety divers would just automatically swim in and put the regulator in my mouth. I’d take a few extra breaths, put the hockey mask back down over my face, and continue shooting the scene.
Scoop: Wow. That’s terrifying.
CJG: Again, I think there was some stupidity, some naiveté, and some arrogance involved. I think I’d reevaluate at this point in my life to do that. But you know what, I’m happy, I’m proud that I was able to deliver the performance that I did.
Scoop: Yeah, that’s a heck of a scene. How long did you hold your breath during the takes?
CJG: You just hold your breath for as long as you can. You have a fight scene, so you’re going through the oxygen in your lungs more quickly. So, if you can imagine being under water, you hold your breath as long as you can until you’re getting close to the end and you signal for a safety diver. Now, one could argue that could be 15 seconds, it could be 45 seconds. As soon as the diver comes in, the camera would cut and you take a couple deep breaths. They get out of frame and you could hear the camera underwater going again and you’d start the fight scene for another 15, 30, 45 seconds and then you’d signal for your oxygen again.
Scoop: That’s wild.
CJG: Yeah, I think that’s one of the more unusual scenes. Being set on fire is interesting to a point, but when you’re surrounded by water, there’s a sense of self control. When you’re underwater and you’re chained down, you’re really at the mercy of your safety divers and people that are taking care of you.
Scoop: Being chained down is a lot different than just doing underwater scenes where you can come up for air. You really were at the mercy of the divers. Were there any stunts that made you nervous or uncomfortable before doing them?
CJG: No, actually looking at the stunts, I really never went through the script in detail. I would just wait until the day of the stunts. Like I said, Michael Nomad would say, “Okay, C.J. we’re going to put this cable on you and we’re going to do a PSI jerk back with a shotgun blast. We’re going to jerk you back at so much PSI and let you start to feel the force. However, when we put it up to full power and that cable jerks you back, just go with it. Let it take you back and try to land on your back as easily as you can.” So, I think in most cases, it was just a day on, day off and it was just another day at the office as far as I was concerned.
Scoop: At the beginning of the movie when Jason is in the grave being revived, were you actually covered in maggots and creepy crawlies?
CJG: That was a guy from special effects, his name was Chris. I was on set doing another shoot, so the gentleman, Chris, with real effects that was doing my makeup volunteered to have that part of the makeup put around his eye and have maggots on his eye to get that second unit close-up. It’s a second unit shot done by a second unit director. They do a lot of that. I’ll give you an example, you’ll see the two hands reach in the coffin to open it, and then there’s this poof of powder that comes out when it gets opened. That actually is Tom McLoughlin the director’s hands, not Tommy’s [the lead character] because Tommy wasn’t there and that was a pickup shot. Tom used his hands to put that in. So, Chris volunteered, since I was on another set, to put those maggots on his eye. Those are real maggots, so they had what you call a maggot wrangler with a Q-tip keeping them from getting into his eye while he shot that piece.
Scoop: In the camper scenes, were you inside an actual camper or was it a set dressed like a camper?
CJG: Part of it’s shot in the camper because there is that camper scene where she starts to walk back and I flip the door open and grab her and pull her into the bathroom. So once I pull her into the bathroom, which is the camper bathroom, we cut and go to a set bathroom which is under more controlled conditions. The actress is allowing me to physically take her face and throw it into a camera to give you that closeup proximity of her face coming towards the wall. And of course, they shoot me walking, back inside the camper, taking out a real ‒ that’s a real hunting knife – and grabbing the head of the actor and physically lunging it at his head and stopping within a few inches of his head ‒ with a real hunting knife. Again, the actors and actresses trusted my capabilities to not harm them or anybody else.
Scoop: The camper scene when it rolls and Jason climbs out is such a scary moment. It’s one of the most memorable from the series.
CJG: Everybody likes the closeup pictures of Jason in photos, but everybody thinks that the motorhome where Jason comes out and the door gets thrown a few feet in the air when I step out and take a position is a very powerful statement itself.
Being Jason in Part VI, I’m right in the middle of a kind of pivot of the Jason series and I was very fortunate because I have a lot things that the other Jasons don’t have. I have Alice Cooper doing the music to “The Man Behind the Mask,” who is a Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer, which is great. I also use, what I call, a Batman utility belt with different ways of killing people, which is great. I’ve got the Bond 007 opening, which is iconic in itself. And last but not least, you think about it, I’ve got the old Frankenstein of the ’60s coming back to life with the electricity, which now gives you sub-powerful but not quite human curiosity factors but unstoppable. So, I kind of have four features that most of the other Jasons didn’t have.
Scoop: You were in the music video for that Alice Cooper song too.
CJG: Yeah, I worked with Alice Cooper and I’ve seen him a few times since, we did some photos sessions together way back when. That’s why I always laugh and give Kane Hodder, my friend, a hard time because Kane loves to choke the fans when he takes photos with them. I always tell him I’ve got a copyright on that and he used to say, “No, no that’s my move.” So I pulled out a picture of me choking Alice Cooper during the photo and he said, “Okay, okay you’re right.” We have that ongoing rivalry back and forth on who’s the best Jason. But at the end of the day, I think the recognition that Jason’s gotten has been in large part because of all the hard work Kane did. And you have to give the studios credit also, I understand that in the marketing strategies. But, Kane has traveled the world promoting that hockey mask and Jason. Along with the great value of New Line Cinema and Paramount putting out the films after Part VII, I think, it’s very interesting to see how it continues to grow. There hasn’t been a Friday the 13th since 2009 now, so we’re 7-8 years into it and it just keeps growing and the fans are hungry. They’re ready to go.
Scoop: Did you have fun filming the movie and the music video?
CJG: Everything we did was fun. We’d be onset all night long shooting, but everything was controlled – it’s movie magic at the end of the day. You have to realize, 30-31 years ago we didn’t realize the magnitude or the impact we’d have on the horror community today. I looked at Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason, Freddy Krueger as the Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney days of the Mummy, Frankenstein, the Werewolf, and Dracula. To date it has continued to take top reward. There is still some great horror out there, be it It or Chucky, any others that have been hugely recognized. Jason has continued as a phenomenon to grow and part of that is the fans, the dedication of our fans. This past weekend I was in Liverpool, England and a young man came up to me, he was 5 years old, had his hockey mask on, had a plastic machete. He was a fan. When he had that hockey mask on he would not talk, he kept in character. But as soon as he pulled that mask up, he started talking away about how he loves Friday the 13th Part VI. He just went on and on, it was amazing.
Scoop: I met a kid at Monster-Mania who was dressed like Jason. I took his picture and told him how scary he looked but he wouldn’t say anything. His parents told me, “C.J. told him not to speak when he wears the mask.”
CJG: Yes, I have, I’ve been very clear that all the guys and girls that play Jason, “When the mask comes down you go into character, you’re not allowed to talk. You want to talk, lift the mask so I can see your face and then you speak.” So, I’m glad they’re listening because that’s what makes the character scary. Just that stare of one eye or two eyes and your talking but the person is not really acknowledging you.
Scoop: It does make you nervous.
CJG: Very much so.
Scoop: How long was the process and how intense was the makeup?
CJG: The beginning of the film where you see Jason wearing the full prosthetic headpiece and the mouthpiece, that took about 2-1/2 hours to get into character. Now once he turned around and put the hockey mask back on and Jason was now back, so to speak, that’s when it became about a 45- to 50-minute appliance. The front of the mask could be cut out and just glued to my skin and then my eyes could be blacked out with camouflage stick like they use in the military.
Scoop: Did you have good visibility through the mask?
CJG: No, that’s why I said earlier, if you take cardboard and cut a little circle out for one eye, I’d like everybody to try it – that’s it. You have no peripheral vision. The other way to do it is just take your fingers and make an “O” and put it up against your right eye, like you’re doing right now [interviewer’s note – I was] and that’s it, that’s all you see. You see in front of you about 10 feet straight forward, to your left or right at 90 degrees you lost all that visibility and remember your left eye needs to be closed because it’s blacked out.
Scoop: That must have been very hard to move around and have any depth perception while doing scenes.
CJG: Underwater there was no depth perception, all you saw was dark because you were basically underwater at night. Going through the wall, stepping down about 12 inches, we were fortunate because it was one take. I blew the wall out, came down, and grabbed Megan but I didn’t hit any of the debris or fall or trip. Same thing with the door, you hit that door full force and you’re hoping you don’t step on any of the debris because once you blow through it, you’re hoping your footing comes down to stable footing and you can continue to go through. That’s the pros and cons of having your peripheral vision taken away from you and only using one eye.
Scoop: What do you like about going to conventions?
CJG: I think the best thing is just realizing the impact you’ve had on people. One would think, “Well, it’s a horror movie, you’re killing people, you’re awful.” However, I will tell you in the last couple shows I had a young gentleman, probably 20-21 [years old] standing in front of me and was extremely emotional to the point of having tears in his eyes, thanking me because he had a real rough childhood at school and he’d come home and escape watching Friday the 13th and one of the ones he’d really watch was Part VI. This is his words, it saved his life. Now, that seems like a far stretch, but there’s a therapy when somebody can watch a film and get rid of their frustrations and make them feel normal again. Which, everyone has a definition of “normal.” But I think it was really nice to hear the story and I think people were shocked when he was telling this story, that it saved his life. But, it was obvious that he was very sincere – he’d had some challenges at school and his escape was watching Friday the 13th.
Scoop: That’s a pretty memorable fan encounter. Are there other memorable fan encounters that come to mind?
CJG: I’ve had photos taken with family members in full wardrobe and there’s three of them. One of them is right around 8 years old, if I recall, the other is around 17, and then the parent is 35. So I’m thinking the parent was barely 5 years old when the movie came out, so the parent picked it up from their mother or father and now all three of them are decked out as Jason with different Jasons – one was Part VI, one was Part VII, and one was Part VIII. And I’m just amazed how it’s carried over into that era where it’s really a big deal. When you say Tom Cruise, everybody knows Tom Cruise. When you say C.J. Graham, most people don’t know who C.J. Graham is. However, if you say “Friday the 13th, you know, the hockey mask?” you’ll get the same response, “Yeah, I know the hockey mask.” I say, “I play Jason,” and they say “No way!” It’s interesting to see the impact, that brand that’s out there.
Scoop: Are you scheduled for convention appearances in the next few months and if so, which ones?
CJG: I’ve got two more coming up, not this week but next week I’ll be doing the Boston Megafest and then I’ll be doing Spooky Empire at the end of October in Orlando, Florida. It’s my first time doing both of those shows, so I’m excited about going to see the Boston fans and I’m really excited to go down to Orlando. I’ve never been there, never done Spooky Empire. I’m looking forward to it.
Scoop: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I appreciate it, especially since you just got back from a trip.
CJG: Yeah, no problem, Amanda.