In the Limelight

Actor-producer John Shepherd, who starred in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, attended Texas Frightmare last weekend. Scoop, stopped by to see him and talk about working on Friday the 13th, stunts, being a method actor, and producing projects.

Scoop: Are you having a good time at Texas Frightmare?
John Shepherd (JS):
I’m having an excellent time. Dallas has been very, very good to me.

Scoop: What are people asking about the most?
JS: Uh, “What’s some of your most memorable lines from the movie [Friday the 13th: A New Beginning]?” And for a guy who only had, like, 24 lines in the movie and most of them were “Jason, no, no!” I’ve been stumped. But finally one guy told me, “Your best line is ‘I’m okay.’” So, that’s what I’ve been signing, “I’m okay.” [laughs]

Scoop: Did you have any really memorable or scary stunts you did for Friday the 13th?
JS: My most memorable was I got to flip a guy and crash him down on a table. It was the hardest scene to do and I didn’t want to hurt the guy and I didn’t want him to hurt me. I worked with this stuntman named Steady Eddie Matthews, he was phenomenal. He was able to do a handstand on my shoulders so that when I flipped him it looked like I had superhuman strength but the stunt guy helped me out quite a bit. He was just a great guy. We’ve been friends, probably since I did the movie, so 30 plus years.

Scoop: That’s neat. Do you enjoy doing stunts?
JS: Yeah, I love it. All actors want to do their own stunts until they get hurt. [laughs] This one was a fun one because I got to work with a great, great team of people. There was some martial arts. I got to get out some of my anger, some of my anger issues, so that was fun.

Scoop: Are you a fan of horror movies as a viewer?
JS: I had not been a fan before I did a Friday the 13th. I’d never seen one. At the time that I prepared for this I said I’ve got to see the earlier versions and they said that it’s not on VHS yet – because that’s all that we had in the day – they said I could come watch it in the theater at Paramount. So I sat in the dark and watched Friday the 13th: Part IV and it scared me to death. I thought, “Wow, this is a powerful franchise and it’s kind of cool to be a part of it.”

Scoop: In this type of movie you have to put yourself in the frame of mind as either really scared or really intimidating. Did you have a certain process you went through to get into character?
I was a method actor, so I was studying at Stroudsburg and you really become the character. A buddy of mine named Mike Hitchcock, now a well known director and writer, said “You have to take it seriously, you have to study and prepare for this.” So, I went to work at a state mental hospital for a month and just kind of learned what it was like to be in an asylum and come out it. I really took it very seriously, I tried to stay in character the whole time we were making the film. So, a lot of good preparation and I feel like it’s some of my better work. I really enjoyed the experience.  

Scoop: Since you were so involved with the project, did it mess with you outside of work? Did you have nightmares or any weird experiences like being freaked out in a parking lot thinking someone was following you?
JS: Not so much for me, but I was dating a girl at the time and we’d be working all night in a barn in Camero in the rain. Then I’d get off around 4:30 or 5 and drive over to her sorority at UCLA and sometimes just sit outside waiting for her to wake up. I think one day she looked out her balcony and I was just standing there on the curb and she went, “Oh my gosh, who am I dating?” Then when we went to the movie she’d look at the screen and scream and then turn and I’m sitting right next to her and it was more cause for horror and terror. So, I married her and now everything’s alright.

Scoop: That has to be a surreal experience seeing you onscreen and then you’re also right next to her.
JS: I never really thought about it, but she and I actually met when we were working in college at a house of horrors that we were doing a fundraiser for UNICEF and we both worked in this haunted house and I was the knight and she was the screaming woman in the entryway. That’s one of our first dates.

Scoop: Are you signed up for more convention appearances?
No, I’m not. I don’t do a lot of conventions. This is a great one. I think I’ll take a break for a while. It’s been a great experience, but when you are a full-time producer and family man and I got work obligations, it’s hard to get away. But the fans are just great.

Scoop: What are you producing right now?
JS: We just finished a couple of documentaries. I was just here in Dallas last week showing a film called The Dating Project, which is all about the Tinder scene. Very exciting and totally outside my sphere of experience. Then we’re doing one down in Charleston called Emanuel about the true story of this church where white supremacists went in and shot nine members of this black Bible study. It’s a wonderful story of reconciliation and healing. The streets didn’t burn, the people came together in forgiveness. Then I just did a movie with Shia LaBeouf, Kate Mara, Gary Oldman, and Jai Courtney called Man Down, which is about a Marine coming home from war and that’s pretty much a horror film.