Fan Fest ’31 Days of Slashers’: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – C.J Graham talks playing Jason Voorhees, and the ‘Friday the 13th’ Series!
Happy October, my fellow geeklings! Now that October has finally stumbled upon us, we can officially begin our haunting season. For the month of October, we will be doing ’31 Days of Slashers’, which will feature facts, spotlights and even some interviews from some of our favorite iconic horror villains.
Are you ready for Halloween?! We sure are!
We have a special treat for you today, on this very special day… did you realize that today is Friday, October 13th? What are the chances! Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with C.J Graham, who played the iconic character of Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, which was released in 1986.
C.J Graham was the 6th actor to play Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series, but his portrayal of Jason has widely been a fan favorite. Prior to being casted as Jason, he worked as a nightclub owner and was also a Soldier in the United States Army.
Jules: Before taking on the role of Jason had you ever watched any of the Friday the 13th films, or at least heard of them?
C.J: Actually I had heard of them, but I had not actually watched them up until that point. So it kind of gave me some self motivation to get up and watch the first five to get a background, or a foundation of what I was supposed to do. That was just for informational purposes for myself for my own input. Once I got on set Tom McLoughlin, the writer and director really coached me through what his vision of what the Jason character as he was being resurrected and how he would come across and how the fans would see Jason in the future. So, at the end of the day the five that I watched didn’t contribute to my capabilities of doing the film. It was more so myself and Tom Mcloughlin going through what Jason was going to be in the future.
Jules: How did you make the career adjustment from going from a nightclub owner to the world of stunts and acting in Hollywood?
C.J: Everybody refers to something that changes them, I spend 4 years in the Army Infantry 1974-1978. I had only been out of the military a half a dozen years, and everything I had done since then has always been around some of the things I’ve learned in the military. In the military you adapt, overcome and improvise. In the corporate world, I’ve always taken a very similar approach. I’ve taught my decadents to qualify, quantify and simplify. Every time I stepped on screen that’s what I did. Adapted, Overcame and Improvised. Stepping into a role I’ve never done. The leadership I was coming out of as a SGT in the Army and the GM nightclub gave me the ability to take directions and then implement those directions into the vision that Tom Mcloughlin set.
Jules: Friday the 13th is coming up on it’s 40th anniversary. What does it mean to you to have been Jason, given that fact?
C.J: Ours was actually 31 years in August! So when we did our 30 year reunion for Part 6, Jason Lives it was interesting for me because of how the characters evolved. I mean, Jason at one time was just one of the actors in the film. The principals were the camp counselors. The principals were those in the film with facial recognition. However, since the evolution of Part 3 with Richard Brooker, Part 4 with Ted White and then kind of a mini series in Part 5, Jason has become the brand. Jason is the image of the Friday the 13th series now. So, everywhere I go they may not know my face. BUT if you happen to mention Friday the 13th and they go ‘oh yeah, the guy with the hockey mask’ and I say ‘that was me. I was him in Part 6’ and their response is ‘no way’.
So positively, coming back to it, everybody loves it. I think just the adjustment to the role was taking what I learned and applying it. Not just in the film industry, but everywhere else. From what I learned as a Sergeant in the Military.
Jules: What was the first scene you filmed as Jason?
C.J: The interesting thing is, and a lot of readers may or may not know this, a good friend of mine – Kane Hodder- played Jason in VII, VIII, IX, and X. Kane and I do shows periodically, you know conventions and we were on a panel recently and Kane found out when a question came out about stunts that I never went to stunt school. The question then was ‘have you had any training’ and my response was ‘no, I haven’t had any training. I was OJT on the job training.’ I stepped out there with the stunt coordinator, Michael Nomand and I was given direction for what it would feel like when I was set on fire or breathing underwater at 20 feet off a regulator. Physically chained to the bottom of an Olympic pool. Then going through a wall or a door, or even a jerk back when I had a cable tied to my back when I was hit with the gun.
At that point Kane just looked at me and said ‘you haven’t had any training’ and I said ‘no’ and he was amazed. He thought I had some type of formal training. Everything was really challenging and exciting when I completed each one of my missions. I was more proud of myself then the one before. Every time we shot something that pertained to a stunt and I completed it I was extremely proud.
One example would be when I crashed through the door of the children’s cabin. That was a one-take. Meaning I crashed through it and I didn’t step on any of the wood as I came in and I didn’t lose my balance, I just came through and it as a cut, take print. The next one would be when I crashed through the wall of the cabin and I actually had to step down about twelve inches as I went through a wall, at night of course. The concern was me loosing my footing or not being able to see anything. I was very fortunate. I stepped through and the footing came down perfect and then went after Megan. Both of those scenes were one take, and would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to reset if something had happened to my footing or my capabilities to shoot it again.
Jules: Jason kills teenagers, that is no secret. There is a scene in Part 6 where Jason walks into the children’s cabin and this little girl wakes up and sees Jason. Jason kind of approaches her and starts leaning in closer as she hides under her covers in fear. Were you given any direction for that scene? There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not Jason would hurt anyone outside of teenagers and adults. How do you think Jason views kids?
C.J: Tom McLoughlin wrote and directed Part 6 and he wanted to make it a different feel in the series. To portray that Jason was stronger than he ever had been. The scene with the children was more about curiosity. Tom and I have had a lot of conversations about Jason and how the character was being portrayed. One of the things that Tom loved was the old black and white Frankenstein and you think back to that movie and there was the scene with the little girl and Frankenstein at the edge of the water. She handed him a daisy and he kind of looked at her in curiosity but he didn’t touch or harm the little girl. It was the same conceptual idea. Curiosity about the little girl but never, ever would Jason harm a child is what I always tell people. It is all about the Camp Counselors and anyone else of age that wants to step in his way.
Jules: There was a lot of cool concepts in Friday the 13th Part 6 and a lot of nods to a lot of pop culture!
C.J: Yeah! I mean I got to wear a Batman utility belt and have a rock and roll hall of famer (Alice Cooper) put three songs into the movie. That’s great! It was super cool. Then, I got a James Bond opening scene. I also love the slight humor in the film, like Abbott and Costello. Not enough take away from Jason, but just enough to take the edge off of the audience to make them feel engaged and in a way that it isn’t corny. You know, even the scene with the American Express Card. It used to be a saying ‘you never leave home without it’ and yet in one scene with Nancy Mcloughlin it sort of floats away in the muddy water.
Then take a look at the ending when Jason is underwater and the eye opens, it sets the stage for the Part 7.
Jules: Jason is a serial killer who doesn’t talk, and one who wears a mask.What were some of the challenges you faced getting that horror feel across, when you couldn’t display emotion?
C.J: It was challenging yes, but it was also rewarding. I tell people who act that if you can think about having one of your eyes blocked out, and a 90 degree angle on the other and then showing anger without saying a word, think about how that is. It’s like going to basic training for the Army. That drill sergeant is in your face verbally. But what if they couldn’t say anything? What if you couldn’t see their face getting red and their eyes popping out because they had a mask on?
It does get challenging to show that. That physical capability, that curiosity and that anger without actually seeing the expression in your face or without hearing your voice go up or down. So I do challenge anyone to try that. I’ve been known to be on panels and give people an example of power. What I would do is, when on a panel, I would give a display of that by standing up and flipping a table. It scared the audience!
I didn’t say anything. I just stood up and flipped the table off of the stage. That is what Jason is about. Just raw power.
Jules: During the filming what was your relationship with the rest of the cast? Did you distance yourself from the kids?
C.J: I was a little different. My friend Kane stays an arms distance from them. He wanted to keep everyone on edge and didn’t want anyone to see a character. It was my first time I had ever done any stunt work or acting so they gave me a screen actors guild union card, so I wasn’t really familiar with anything. Every day we would sleep and then just relax at the pool at the hotel we were staying at and all of us were interacting. From the wardrobe to the AD to the Director, so for me it was just a big good time and having fun.
There were times when I would be in a special FX trailer at 3AM with my head on a sandbag and the mask off just waiting to be called back on set.
Jules: Is there a backstory to the 007 mask used in your film?
C.J: The very last shooting we did was the 007 opening, which was shot on a green screen. We needed one last mask for that purpose. The mask was made and after we finished filming I asked my friend Chris if I could have it he worked for a company called REEL Effects and he told me I could keep it. Never would I realize the value or the magnitude of keeping it. Looking at it now, I never would have thought about this then. The iconic image it has set amongst fans. For the past few years it was sitting in my garage in a box. I took it out of the garage and put it in a shadow box!
Jules: You did a lot of work in the water, how challenging was that?
C.J: We did several scenes in the water. Everything was shot differently. The scene where I’m walking out into the lake is truly a stagnant lake in Covington, GA. It was cold and I didn’t know the lake was stagnant so I didn’t even think about leeches or water moccasins. Once I got out of the cold lake I was told to get a shower and check myself and I thought ‘check myself for what’ and then they told me that since it’s a stagnant lake to be aware of the leeches and things. So in the shower I’m looking for big patches on my legs!
I also had to go into water in that stagnant lake and go underwater so that the camera could see me coming at the boat and so that the camera could get me from my back. Once we were done with that we went back to Los Angeles to an Olympic sized swimming pool and we were actually chained 20 feet down underwater, and they put black tarp down on the bottom to make it look like night, and of course it was shot at night. That was a real, big chain around my neck. They tied it up so I couldn’t get out and they had me standing on a cinder block and the chain weighed me down. I wasn’t going up or anywhere with that chain weighing me down. They had a couple of safety divers down there with me so that whenever I waved or signaled for air they would come down and I would have to take my mask off so I could take a breath out of the regulator.
I would have to hold my breath to get ahold of whoever I was fighting at the time and we would start the fight scene all over again. It got really exhausting doing all of those fight scenes. We shot all of those scenes all night long.
The scene where I was set on fire was set in another pool, so that was fun. Then there was a fourth pool we were working out of when Jason was hit by the boat propeller. That scene was actually shot in Tom Mcloughlin’s mother and fathers pool in the backyard of their house.
Jules: That sounds like a lot of pool hopping!
C.J: (Laughs) Welcome to Movie Magic!
Jules: Did you have a favorite scene that you filmed as Jason?
C.J: My favorite scene will always be my first scene. I had never done film before and it was just that butterfly feeling. The first scene where I stop into camera POV and I step in with my side profile in full wardrobe and you can see behind me at 3AM, you can see the motorhome rocking. Then I turn straight profile and I walk straight towards the motorhome. That will always be my favorite scene.
My favorite kill is the breaking the sheriff in half. You know, anyone can do blood and guts but the physical characteristics and stunts to these unique kills that some of these guys do is just amazing.
Jules: Have you been back to Camp David Morgan since filming Jason Lives?
C.J: No I haven’t! The closest I got was earlier this year. It was the first time I was within 30 miles of the camp, I was at a convention. We actually were planning a trip out to the camp. I thought it would be cool to go out in the Jason wardrobe, since we do in costume photo ops at cons, and get some of the dirt and stuff to add to the wardrobe. Unfortunately the camp was closed for about 3 months for we thought a production company. We weren’t allowed to get to it because there were people on it.
Jules: If you could play another iconic horror character that isn’t Jason, who would it be?
C.J: I would have to step into Kane’s world and take on Hatchet! Just because I like to mess with Kane (laughs). I would have loved to been Michael Myers or wear the wardrobe to be Leatherface or even Predator! I didn’t really care about my face being shown or anything, I just wanted to be that charismatic horror monster that jumped out of closets! I think it would have been cool to have had all of those characters under my belt.
I do like to give a good poke to Michael Myers actors, I actually have a shirt with Michael Myers and on the back it says ‘Real Men use a Machete!’
Jules: I just love seeing the interaction you and the other Jason actors have with each other. You may not have acted in the same films together but that comradery is just spectacular! You don’t see a lot of that nowadays!
C.J: It is almost like a comedy score when all of us are on stage! It is a lot of fun to hear each others stories and see how everything has developed over the years.
Jules: Nerdy Question time, if you had to chose to be Team Batman or Team Superman who would it be?
C.J: Team Jason! (laughs)
If you’re looking for an amazing flick to check out this Friday the 13th, I highly recommend Jason Lives.
And always remember, real men use a machete… not an Outback Steakhouse knife! 🙂
Thank You C.J for your time, and for your service to this country!