Derek Mears, who take on the iconic role of Jason Voorhees in the upcoming Friday the 13th reboot movie, told SCI FI Wire that he tried to honor previous Jason actors with little homages in his performance while making the character his own.
"I know the series already," the 6-foot-5 stuntman and actor said in an exclusive interview in Beverly Hills, Calif., last weekend. "So I'm familiar with the other actors' performances. It was tough, because what I had to do for the character, I had to put what I'd seen before aside and kind of try to forget about it, and just focus on the script that Mark Swift and Damian Shannon wrote. And use that as my blueprint to build the character for what I wanted. But then, later on, when we were doing certain scenes, I would do little homages from time to time, like different takes. Like, maybe I'll try the Ted White head tilt or move ... more aggressive, like ... C.J. Graham. So I don't know what ... made it into the film. ... It was more like a tip of the hat to the guys who came before me."
The new film, from director Marcus Nispel, reboots the franchise with an original story that alludes to the mythology of the original Friday the 13th movies, especially the first three in the series. In it, a group of young people encounter an adult Jason in the woods around Crystal Lake. Mears had to play the new Jason as a real person—who had been living in the woods, isolated from humanity, bearing a massive grief for his murdered mother and hunting to stay alive—and not as some kind of hulking supernatural monster.
"They really wanted to base it in reality, and they wanted to make Jason scary again," Mears said. "There was a reason for everything. ... That was our goal, just to really make it realistic."
Mears also endured hours of makeup to transform himself into Jason, wearing a latex prosthetic torso to simulate Jason's scoliosis and scarred chest, as well as a full neck and head prosthetic to represent the character's scarred head and wispy hair. Over that, Mears wore ragged pants, a ragged T-shirt and an overcoat. And, of course, a new version of the famous hockey mask, created by special makeup effects artist Scott Stoddard.
Following is an edited version of the rest of our interview with Mears. Friday the 13th opens on Feb. 13. (There may be some minor spoilers ahead!)
Talk about the actual shooting. It must have been very physically demanding. You're a big guy, and you're obviously in shape, but, still, it must have been hard.
Mears: It was. It's wild. You go to work for some nights, and you would ... fight all night long. ...
We shot [in the] summertime in Austin, Texas, and it was extremely hot. Even ... at nighttime. And I have, from my navel up, like, a full-body prosthetic that's glued down. And after about a week of shooting, your skin starts to get really irritated from all the adhesive and ... moving and twisting. And just the heat alone. You start to get a little rashy; then you get irritated. And it was tough, it was pretty tough. But you know, you focus on what the final product is.
In some of the scenes you're getting beat up or thrashed, like Amanda [Righetti]'s ... kicking me in the face. Does it look cool? I'm bleeding, but no, no, does it look cool? All right, hold on, wait ... You got to do what you got to do to make it look good.
She didn't actually connect with your head, did she, when she was supposed to be kicking you in the face?
Mears: Maybe. Some takes, yes, some takes, no. ... Actually, some of them, [I told her,] the camera angle was [such that she had to connect.] ... Like, you've got to do it so it reads, you know?
Good thing you had the hockey mask on.
Mears: Yeah, well, that's it. I told Scott Stoddard afterward—[he] created the new look for Jason and created the mask—he actually made the mask out of what you would make a protective hockey mask out of. And afterward, I went, "Hey, man, I really want to thank you for making that out of the right material, because I took some serious blows" [laughs]. ...
We were on set one of the nights you were shooting on the bus, and Amanda Righetti was crawling around on the floor of that bus, and because of the angles and because of the way it was shot, she wasn't wearing any protective padding. She was crawling around in all that stuff.
Mears: Yeah, ... she's a tough [girl]. Some of those scenes that didn't make it into the film, I mean, I brutally manhandled her. ...
I'd thrash her around, and it would be horrible, her screaming, and "Cut!" [Mimics Amanda's voice in falsetto] "Hey, are you OK? Everything's good?" And she would, you know, start laughing and teasing. ...
The hard part working with Amanda is, before shooting, you start to get into character, she kept making jokes back and forth. "Stop it! Stop making me laugh, you're killing me, you're making the hockey mask shake, shut up." ...
Besides being kicked in the face, what were some of the hairiest things you had to do?
Mears: ... The funny thing wearing the mask is, your vision is so limited that ... you have a little slit on the one eye with the cataract eye [contact lens], and looking out the other eye [hole], it's almost like you're looking out a tube, like a toilet-paper roll, so you lose all your peripheral vision.
The scenes inside where Whitney [played by Righetti] is ... inside Jason's home, running around, there's so many low-hanging objects, like, support beams and debris: Many times I'd be so into the character and the passion of the scene and I would ... race across the room, and [mimes being smacked in the forehead]. It felt like somebody had a 2-by-4 or a baseball bat and would just hit me straight in the face. And I would be floored to the ground, because I would hit the support beams. ... You would literally hear [producers] Brad [Fuller] or Drew [Form] behind the monitors, like, "OOOH! OOHH!" And it was like, "Are you OK in there?" And of course, you know, I'm hearing Jason lay on the ground cursing, "Motherf--ker ... yeah, yeah, we're good!" So my [head], that entire movie, took a tremendous beating, left and right."