Interview: Skinwalkers’ Jason Behr


Hungry like a wolf

Revealing the primal id in its hairiest form has been a privilege held by many actors, Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) being film history’s most notable fierce forefather to a lengthy lineage of on-screen lycanthropes. Everyone will have their favorites, whether its British thespian Henry Hull’s romp as the Werewolf of London, Oliver Reed’s tortured performance in Curse of the Werewolf or David Naughton as David Kessler in An American Werewolf in London.

Unleashing the beast isn’t an exclusive man’s game either. Elisabeth Brooks (The Howling), Patsy Kensit (Full Eclipse) and the “Ginger Snaps” duo Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins have all suffered that rotten time of the month when the full moon is high and tooth and nail run longer and sharper than usual.

Both sexes are granted equal opportunity to go wild again in James Isaac’s Skinwalkers, the high-firepower werewolf-on-werewolf fiesta opening in theaters on August 10th. And like many before him, Jason Behr is afflicted with an animalistic curse he can’t shake. snared the actor – who has appeared in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” The Grudge and the upcoming Dragon Wars – at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about his role as the villainous Varek. Here are some of the highlights from our one-on-one discussion and the roundtable Q&A. You’re usually the hero, so, for “Skinwalkers,” did you consciously go after the role that was the antithesis of past roles?

Jason Behr:
That was one of the biggest draws for me – I’m playing the bad guy. It’s such a departure for me, something I’ve never done before. I’m doing all of these things I’ve always wanted to do as a kid and as an actor – here I got to shoot guns and ride motorcycles and do all of this insane wire work and stunts. Just be a big bad-ass wolf.

Shock: Who do you play?

Varek is the alpha leader of this group. The movie’s about two very different tribes of skinwalkers, one – Varek’s group – is the purist group. They have embraced that power, that freedom and bloodlust. They’re almost addicted to it, but they believe that power is a gift. The others, the wimpy wolves, they believe it to be a curse. They have suppressed that primal instinct for centuries, so I get to play the big bad-ass alpha werewolf.

Shock: You got ripped for this role – was that total diet and training or what?

It was a steady diet of cow. [laughs] Anything else I could eat. They got us a trainer and said, whenever you want him, use him. His name was Nuno, he’s based out of Toronto. He’s this big Portuguese stallion. [laughs] Me and [co-star] Kim Coates were the only ones that took advantage of him. Kim became like a brother to me. The relationship you see on film was like our relationship in real life, he was at my wedding and he became one of my best friends. He’s a real guy’s guy. We sorta challenged each other to be better and do the best we possibly could, so we were [at the gym] 4 o’clock in the morning every day for at least two hours and then go to work. I have never put myself through that much torture in my life, I don’t think I ever will again. Nuno kicked my ass. We’d sit there, show up in the morning, be tired, a little hungover from the night before and look at each other across the weight room and say, “Why am I here? Why am I putting myself through this torture?” It really did pay off because not only did we feel stronger but I think we were a little more empowered by that as well.

Shock: You went to the zoo to study wolf behavior, did that help your performance in the long run?

I just wanted to be as truthful as I could to the material and to Stan Winston and everything that he’s done for the project. We started off with watching this documentary about the sawtooth mountain wolves – it’s incredible footage of these very free, very beautiful wolf packs. Beyond that, I wanted to go and see what it was like at the zoo in Toronto. It was a real reflection and representation of these two tribal packs. If you have that’s very free, then you have the one that’s in the zoo. I felt really bad for them, I’m sure they were very well taken care of, but they were confined, they were suppressed. Reduced to this small place. It actually gave me a little bit more insight – to have more empathy for them. It also gave me a real clear vision of what these other guys are supposed to be, how free they’re supposed to be.

Shock: How was it to work with Winston and getting into makeup?

It was a pretty long process, but it did help get into that mode. Stan is a legend and he’s been doing this a long time. I figure, if you’re going to do a werewolf movie, do it with Stan ’cause he’s the best at what he does. Pure genius. He’s been wanting to do a werewolf movie since he was a teenager – he has a story about how he went out on Halloween dressed as a werewolf because he loved werewolves. It’s the reason he got into the business in the first place. I felt like I was in extraordinary hands with him. His creation, his wolf suit, gave us the freedom and permission to play full-out. When you put in the claws, eyes and teeth – you stand up and you feel like you’ve become something else.

Shock: Did the makeup process unify your group – Coates, Natassia Malthe – because you were all going through this laborious, patience-testing boot camp-like ordeal together?

Oh yeah. Not only were we going through that, but we were going through all of the firearms training and gunplay we had to learn. Load a clip, shoot a gun – make it look like we’ve been doing it for years. It definitely did bond us. I’ve ridden motorcycles all of my life, Natassia has never ridden on anything with two wheels in her life, but she was hellbent on learning how to ride a motorcycles. So we were all shocked and in awe that she took it upon herself to learn how to ride a motorcycle just for this film.

Shock: Were you at all immobilized by the added wolf-like accoutrements?

The vision was a little tough to get into. I’m talking about contacts that fit on the entire eyeball. You don’t have full vision and it’s pretty small. You get used to it, you sorta have to. The suits themselves allowed for physical freedom because Stan knew we had to do all of these stunts. And I did as much as I possibly could with the stunts.

Shock: From “The Grudge” to “Dragon Wars” – you’re preferences seem to lean more towards horror/sci-fi. Are you a fan or do you just think the roles are strong?

It’s usually based on a project-by-project basis. I’ve tried to balance it out with a lot of independent character-driven pieces as well, which I’ve been lucky enough and fortunate enough to do. But to me it has always been, first and foremost, the character and the character within the piece and the story. If anything, I’m drawn to good storytelling.

Source: Ryan Rotten