Derek Mears makes the hockey mask his own
If there’s anything that separates the new Jason Voorhees, Derek Mears, from his predecessors, it’s that this one has a funny bone. “My background is actually improv comedy, which I just got back into doing again,” the towering actor discloses on the set of Platinum Dunes’ (“don’t call it a remake of”) Friday the 13th. Following high school he “joined a comedy troupe. I was the youngest performer at 17.” So one might say that Mears could slay you with his machete and laughter.
The sight before us is almost comical in and of itself. Mears’ lean frame is slack in a folding chair and tattered clothes, the same he wore chasing co-stars Jared Padalecki and Amanda Righetti moments ago before breaking for lunch (read our full set report). He’s wearing a prosthetic hump and cowl, created by Scott Stoddard and his FX team, which hugs his neck and head, framing his amiable face that peeks out like a baby wrapped in blankets. It makes for an oddly unsettling, yet amusing, image.
“From the chest up, I’m wearing a lot of heat,” he says, replenishing his system with a bottle of water. “For the hockey mask scenes, I have a prosthetic eye that goes on,” he points to the spot it would usually sit: Over the right eye. “Scott being a fan, he wanted it to look as realistic as possible so it’s actually glued to my face and not the mask. If it was glued to the mask, it’d look fake, that way if the mask moves the eye will stay in place. I was talking to [producers] Brad [Fuller] and Andrew [Form] and I told them I hate seeing the horror movies where you see the guy with the dead eye and it’s so fake. They’re talking about CG’ing in an eye blink every now and then, so it doesn’t look CG but it looks alive.”
And like that, Mears has us sold. He’s a fan. A guy like me and you who appreciates the genre. Scrutinizes it. But is one of those rare individuals living the dream, playing a part in business and trying on the skin of one of the biggest icons in horror history. One that has endured nearly thirty years of criticism, redesigns and actors slipping in and out of that signature hockey mask.
Getting to this point for Mears started when he nurtured a morsel of empathy for Jason Voorhees during a double-feature of Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2 as a youngster. The actor sees killer as a victim. “He represents the people I grew up with in high school with the lisps or hair loss, the outsiders and the misfits,” Mears elaborates. “He’s rejected by society and we’re never allowed, socially, to fight back. [Jason’s] doing it in a poor way. He wants to be left alone, but people keep crossing into his territory.” One particular Friday sequel struck a significant chord for Mears who had grown up with Alopecia. “When they did part four with Tommy Jarvis, when he shaved his head and came downstairs…at the time I had my hair in patches, because it started to fall out. I totally related to him.”
Now, years of stunt experience (he began on Wild Wild West) and creature performing (Rick Baker hailed Mears’ look and body type as the perfect canvas upon which to work) later, this Bakersfield, California native is suiting up for a re-interpretation of Voorhees that he likens to John Rambo in First Blood.
“He’s been wronged. People come in, he fights back and it’s brutal, but you also understand why he’s doing it. There’s that sympathy for the character. He’s not a villain, he doesn’t see himself that way.” Mears is pretty convinced of this, so we ask him to explain further. “I did research for the character, about survivalists, the psychology of survival when you’re by yourself. But also child development. Where it happened when [Jason] saw his mom get killed, he was like nine or ten years old. At that stage of child development is when you start to become integrated into society and so being that society was already against him and his mom is his only tie to the world, he loses her. He never got the chance to go through to have skills with other people, thus, he doesn’t understand and pulls back.” Mears’ grin spreads across his face sandwiched in foam rubber. “It’s all actor-y stuff.”
The John Rambo-esque parallels also come in when, as Mears says, you see “Jason setting people up” for their demises. “You’re like, that dude is smart. He is a much more intelligent Jason, he’s not so stiff.” Also, “their vision of Jason is a little leaner. They wanted someone more functional. Brad and Drew talked about their vision of this guy living in the forest, he’s not going to be able to eat so much but he’s still lean.”
When Mears talks “Voorhees” it’s with an uncanny enthusiasm and sophistication. He’ll rattle off the names of the Jason actors before him with reverence (“C.J. Graham, Kane Hodder, Richard Brooker, they’re all great!”) and wax philosophical when it comes to donning Voorhees’ visage.
“It’s [as my friend explained to me] Greek mask work where you have the mask and you have the actor and they’re two separate entities,” the actors says. “Depending on the combination, you can put a different actor in there and you’re going to get a different combination once you put that mask on. When Scott put my name in for the job, [the producers asked], Why do we need an actor and not just a guy in the mask? What I told them was, as an actor, I believe that it doesn’t matter what you have over your head as long as your thinking in the right mindset that, getting metaphysical, we’re all made of energy and the camera will pick that up and come through a little subtly. I will pick up what you’re thinking and transfer that.”
Taking that further, Mears draws up a NASCAR analogy to help us understand the creature performing he does. “Working with your team, it’s 50/50 – working with the FX team. I’m the lucky one who gets to be the driver, but they’re seeing things, I can’t see. Like my pit crew. They’ll call and say, This is what you’ve been doing, you need to come in, you’re tires are doing this. They’ll fix me and I’ll go back out. They’ll make subtle suggestions like, the ear looks really cool. It’s glistening. If you tilt it a little bit this way and turn towards camera, it’ll help bring it to life. So we work together as a team to bring this character together.”
Lunch is wrapping and Mears is called back to set. “I had so many nightmares of Jason growing up, he’s always been my favorite iconic character,” he says suiting up. “It’s so surreal to me, I want this to be so good, I can’t believe I’m being able to do this.” Of his career going from films such as Men in Black II to The Hills Have Eyes 2 to his current rampage on Crystal Lake: “I feel like a giant child and new playgrounds keep opening up.”
Source: Ryan Rotten