I’ve had the honor of talking to Jim a couple of time now. I interviewed Jim for his short film Heavy Lifting, a while back and we spoke briefly about the upcoming project he was preparing for. While he couldn’t really give details at the time, it turned out that he was cast as Officer Marvin in the latest Texas Chainsaw Massacre film. Armed with this knowledge, I knew that A) I would need to see it and B) that I would have to chat with Jim about it. I threw the request out to Jim, and being the incredibly cool guy he is, he agreed to give up some of his time on a Sunday to answer my questions about filming a horror movie and what it was like going up against Leatherface. We had some good laughs as he rehashed his experience filming his first full horror roles, and I even learned a thing or two. Check out the interview for yourself, and you can also check out my review of the film over at 3 Guys 1 Movie.
SPOILER ALERT: For those who haven’t seen the film, this interview is riddled with spoilers.
RG: Tell me about the movie, how was it? How was filming in Louisiana in the summer?
Jim: Well yeah, there you go. The crazy thing was, it was the worst heat they’d had in years. It was about 108 every day and it was relentless. It’s humid and I mean, I’ve not been in heat like that. We were filming the scene where the house burns down, we were filming that outdoor and we had extras, but they didn’t have air conditioned tent to put them in and people were passing out. It was brutal. That makes it kind of intense. But I do really like Louisiana. I’ve never been there for an extended period of time. I was there for so long and my days for filming were scattered, so I just rented a car and drove to all these small towns and took pictures and went to little cafes and ate catfish. It was a blast and an adventure.
RG: I thought about you when I saw the movie in that one scene where your character is walking through the house at night and you could see the sweat beading on your arms. I just thought, “Oh god…he had to have been miserable filming in that heat.”
Jim: It was actually perfect because I didn’t even have to act. It was great. Usually I have to get sprayed down to look intense and sweaty, I didn’t have to do that this time. It was nice though because that Millennium Studios that’ down in Shreveport, we shot a lot of the interior scenes in the studio.
RG: Were you a fan of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
Jim: I had actually never seen the original. I don’t really know horror films at all so I had never seen it. Once I got the part, I rented the original and, what a great film you know? I love that weird 70′s vibe it has. Have you seen it?
RG: I have, but it’s been 20 years or so since I’ve seen it, so I don’t remember all the details aside from Leatherface of course. When I first saw it I was 18 or 19 and I rented it because it’s one of those films that every film fanatic should see.
Jim: Well it really hold up, it’s funny because films weren’t as gory back then as they are now, but for the time it was probably very gory. It even seems creepier now, because of that weird, indie, 70′s vibe and it was shot well. But the characters in it, Bill Mosley and Gunnar Hansen, they were just such great actors and such great characters, and it was just this really believable, twisted, Deliverance type family. So, it really came off well.
I haven’t seen any of the other sequels though, I only rented the original. Just to get a vibe because the producer Carl Mazzocone, his idea was to reboot the film, and he really went back. He went to Tobe Hooper, the original director, and got approval from everyone and he pitched this idea of it starting with the whole 70′s flashback, which I really like. He just wanted to make a really good movie. The demand for this film was pretty good, which you can see by opening weekend numbers, which is pretty surprising. So I think he really put a lot of time in to making sure it was done right. And he got some of the original actors to do cameos. Like Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface, in the beginning of the film he’s got a couple of lines, and you probably wouldn’t know unless you were on set, but he’s the guy in the beginning who’s sitting in the rocking chair and has a couple of lines.
RG: Oh wow…I didn’t even know that.
Jim: Oh yeah, and then at the end of the film, the grandmother, Marilyn Burns, it’s just one shot of her reading the letter to Heather, she was the blonde in the original who runs out and gets away.
And Bill Mosley, who has the shotgun when he opens the door, he was in the original as well. For the real hardcore Chainsaw fans, they knew these guys were in the film and excited to see them again. I was only on set one day when we shot the burning down of the house and they were just telling all these stories from the original shoot in the 70′s and how weird and fun it was. They had some great stories. I think they’re really selling it as an authentic production by having those people involved.
RG: I like to go into films as blind as possible. I don’t watch a lot of trailers or clips because I like the film to unfold in front of me while I’m watching it. So it wasn’t until I was actually in the theater that I realized this film was a direct continuation of the original and picks up right at the end of the original and completely disregards all the sequels and other remakes/reboots. That was a big surprise too because sequels and reboots are so overdone these days. So you didn’t see any of the others?
Jim: Yeah I just saw the first one. But I’m like you in that I don’t like to be spoiled.
RG: As far as filming this one, what do you think makes this film stand out from others in the horror genre? So many follow a formula and you know what’s going to happen.
Jim: I actually think the story is pretty interesting and I think they actually spent time figuring out a story that has some twists and turns. It kind of was a little more thought out than your average slasher-running-scared-into-the-night type of film. This is the first horror film I’ve made aside from a film by Italian filmmaker Dario Argento called Two Evil Eyes. It was based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe but that was 25 years ago. I don’t really get into them. Horror films are kind of a mystery to me. I like the suspense and if there is a good story I’ll go with it. And they did have a story here, with how it left off and then picks up again, it was really interesting. I thought the characters were pretty fleshed out you know. I mean, you have your attractive 20 something running around because that’s going to be there and it’s going to be fun, it’s what makes it classic. It was a real cast, they were really top notch actors and that takes it up a notch. And I also thought it looked good and was edited really well.
RG: I do like that little twist toward the end. I wasn’t expecting that and it sort of turned the film on its head.
Jim: Yeah, the person I went to see it with, a friend of mine, he called it politically correct, where they almost try to rehabilitate the mass murderer and make him more human and it does do that in an interesting way. Most those movies end where it’s just based on pure revenge, and the young lead kills the bad guy at the end and she’s the hero and here you have that ambiguous ending and think “how am I supposed to feel about that”. Like all of a sudden, she’s siding with him and how family is thicker than whatever and I like that. I like that gray area and you know it’s going to piss some people off. But it’s kind of interesting.
RG: What, for you, was the best part of making this film?
Jim: I think it was really fun to do something different like this. The best part was doing this type of film in general. And like I said, I’ve never really done a horror film, so I got to go in and spoiler alert…to have my face ripped off.
I went to this special effects studio in the valley where they had to cover my head in about five tons of polyurethane and I really started to panic when I couldn’t hear them. If you have any claustrophobic tendencies, you’re in trouble. I actually was fine, but it was really fun to have that whole experience. Then when we did the scene where he rips my face off, I was actually wearing two masks. One showing the muscles, and the other was the mask of my face that he rips off. That whole process was really new and different and interesting. I’m pretty squeamish too. I actually had to close my eyes a few times watching the film, but the whole process that the make-up department does, it’s this cool art form and I was fascinated by the whole process. It takes hours to do these latex masks and make up and prosthetics and gallons of blood. It’s just this crazy world. Experiencing that, was the for me, the most fun.
RG: Well, when I saw the picture you posted to Facebook from when you were getting your mold made, I knew then. I had the thought ‘uh oh…his character is going to meet a grisly end.” So the whole movie I was thinking that. “ Oh is this it?” And then when you got the hatchet to the back, I figured that was it…but then I saw you get your face ripped off. And I have to say, I loved the little embellishment of the twitching foot.
Jim: Yeah that scene we did with the hatchet, that was pretty intense. That’s crazy too; because you have to time your reaction for when the rubber hatchet hits your back….you have to time it with the squibs exploding. It really is fun. It’s like being a kid on Halloween. It is as fun as it seems. It’s not scary, it’s serious, and everyone is serious on set but what a bizarre world. It’s pretty amazing.
RG: Was the twitching foot planned or were you just thinking “oh god get me out of here”?
Jim: No, that just came out of the moment. It was a choice that I went with and we did a couple of takes. One of them with the twitch and one were I’m completely still. John (Lussenhop) said that it was really creepy and wanted one without. But it was decided to keep it because it did make it that much creepier.
RG: Well I figured it was just one of those automatic reactions that the body can’t help.
Jim: Exactly! I think it’s pretty intense to show that this guy isn’t dead yet and his body is still responding even though his face was just ripped off. I thought it makes it that much more terrifying. I think I also had the honor in all the Chainsaw movies, I mean he wears all these faces, but I’m the only guy you actually see. And I actually have it here in my office. I kept it. They have all these extras, and I wanted a memento.
RG: We’ve talked before about how you’re normally cast as the military/agent/law enforcement type of character. would you even consider playing a character like Leatherface and being the psycho killer?
Jim: Yeah I would. At this point, I would. I made this one and thought how it was a fun process. I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel about it but it was great. Honestly, I don’t know if I’d do something like Saw or those torture horror film. But something that has any, story and any redeemable quality about the bad guy, like revenge or something, I wouldn’t rule it out.
RG: Did filming a horror movie require any different approach or was it just like any other film?
Jim: No, as far as the acting, it was like making any other film. I approached the character the same way I would approach any other character. Who is this guy, what’s his story, his past, motivation etc. All my preparation and the way I approached the role was the same.
RG: How did it feel to, sorry to use a horrible pun here, face off against such an iconic character?
Jim: That was one of the best parts of the project. It did have that weight to it and it is an iconic film. To take on Leatherface, I mean, to get in a fight with Leatherface? C’mon! I thought it was awesome! When you get to make a movie, one of the most exciting things is to be a part of film-making history. Watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre and knowing I was going to be a part of it, it was really cool.
RG: Speaking of Leatherface and being iconic, what’s Dan Yeager like?
He’s a really nice guy actually. These guys, I tend to hear from working with other people, they all say that these are the nicest guys. Unfortunately I didn’t get to know Dan really well. He was really nice on set, but was really quiet and focused. Since we played opposite each other, we spoke a few times, but we did face off against each other. I didn’t get to talk to him too much, but seems like a really good guy.
RG: I figured these guys who play these characters are probably super nice in real life, but you know, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for!
Jim: That’s so true! But it’s hard to know. You don’t want to bother other actors on set because you don’t know what their process is. I know for me I’ll go off into a corner and just sit and think about what I’m going to do for the scene. Every actor’s process is different.
RG: So what do you have going on now?
Jim: I’m most excited about the feature I’m working on. My wife wrote a book, and I’m writing the screenplay for it. Ever since I did that short film, I’ve wanted to direct a feature and this is a great story so I’m hoping to do that. Aside from spending my energy in getting roles, I really want to direct again.
Thanks to Jim for for humoring me once again and answering my seemingly endless barrage of questions.Tags: Dan yeager, Gunnar Hansen, Jamed MacDonald, Jim MacDonald, John Luessenhop, Leatherface, Texas Chainsaw 3D, Texas Chainsaw Massacre