JASON'S FINAL FOE
TV's "Friday the 13th" veteran John D. LeMay was happy to find
that starring in the concluding film involved more than
sending the masked one to hell.
Fangoria #126 (September 1993), pp. 28-31.
You think breaking up is hard to do? Try getting back together with the one you love in the world of Friday the 13th. Now that can be rough!
"Not only do I find out that the girlfriend I broke up with has had my child, but she also happens to be related to Jason Voorhees," moans actor John D. LeMay, explaining the situation of his character Steven Freeman in Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday. "Now, who in their right mind would jump into that situation? I do - so it must be love."
LeMay, whose Friday background includes a starring role in the first two seasons of TV's Friday the 13th: The Series, landed the part of this last Jason caper when a former assistant director on that series recommended him to director Adam Marcus. LeMay thought twice about signing on: though he had never seen a Friday the 13th movie, he knew enough about them to think of them as "boring" and "gratuitous." "Every interview I did during the TV series spent a lot of time comparing the show and the movies," he explains, "even though the only thing they had in common was the title. I tried to disassociate myself from the movies, and to do a Friday the 13th film right after that ... I wasn't sure it was the right move."
A look at the Jason Goes To Hell screenplay quickly swayed LeMay's opinion. Not only did he get to play the hero in a world where young adults facing a supernatural menace did logical things, but this ninth Friday actually had a story to it. "It was the quality of the script that changed my mind," he reveals. "They've created a myth around Jason and given him a curse to deal with which, in a sense, goes along the lines of the way the Friday the 13th series played. I generally felt that making this film would be a really fun thing to do."
Three weeks into filming, LeMay finally broke down and rented the first Friday movie - not so much for research, but to see what creator Sean Cunningham's initial vision was. He passed, however, on the subsequent sequels. "I really didn't feel that it was necessary to see any of the other seven," he says, "because we were trying to do something new here. There was no need to look back."
There aren't many similarities between LeMay's Steven and the protagonists of Fridays past. The role, he believes, is far more substantial than the usual Jason target. "My character definitely has the strongest arc in this film," he explains. "Steven starts out at the lowest possible psychological and emotional point. He's just kind of floating through life, and he doesn't have the desire to fight for much of anything. But all of a sudden, he discovers he's got a kid with a woman he really loves, and that both are being threatened by Jason. Because of that, he grows and matures over the course of the film."
If all that sounds like intense business, that's because, according to LeMay, it is. "My character tends to take all of this very seriously, and out of that seriousness may come some moments of humour, he says. "At least, that's what I've tried to do. But let's face it, it's hard to be humourous when you're trying to fight the devil."
The actor's memories of filming Jason's last jam come in fits and starts. One particular moment that jumps out is his climactic mano a mano battle with Jason, which the actor considers to be a highpoint of his Friday experience. "I loved doing that scene," he says. "I was able to come in and sweat, scream and yell. It was a blast. I had a stuntman, but they let me do many of my own falls and things durng the fight sequence that actually made it into the film."
But the actor's fond memories are not limited to that climactic confrontation. "A lot of the non-action stuff - the scenes people tend to forget - also worked real well," he recalls. "The scene with Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) in the jail cell basically deals with exposition, and we all know that those scenes can be deadly. But the writer (Dean Lorey) composed it very well. There's some true energy in it: tension, vulnerability, sexuality. There's all this stuff going on while we're getting out the information that the audience needs to know.
"I also liked the scenes I have with Jessica (Kari Keegan)," he continues. "These people have a definite history together, and in those moments we get a real emotional sense of who they are, even while there's all this madness around them. You get the feeling that this is how these two would bounce off each other, even if Jason wasn't in the picture."
The young actor believes that his relationship with director Adam Marcus and Jason actor Kane Hodder was integral to making the film work. "Adam, for being as young as he is, really has a lot on the ball," he praises, "especially when it came down to keeping things logical. We had our moments on the set where we'd fight about whether something we were doing was sacrificing logic for the sake of the storyline. And for the most part, Adam really had an eye on what translated as being real. A big part of my job was trusting him to save me from all the moments where the audience ends up saying, "What is he doing going into that house again when he knows Jason is there?' And that trust was rewarded.
"The same goes for Kane," LeMay continues, referring to the masked actor's duties as stunt coordinator. "I had some action/stunt experience from the TV series, which helped. Ultimately, it was up to Kane to make sure I could make all this look real. He was very patient and supportive, and that translated into some of the best action scenes this series has seen."
One constant of the Friday the 13th films that has gone by the wayside for the new installment is the "have sex and die" credo. This particular element is one that LeMay is glad has been lost. "Do I get laid?" he chuckles. "Unfortunately not. But I guess that happened before the movie started, because I do have a kid. There's not a lot of that in this film - and when there is, it's not just teens having sex and dying. Now it's mature adults fooling around on their wives and dying." (After this interview took place, however, the producers added a "have unsafe sex and die" scene!)
All this Friday talk eventually brings back recollections of his stint as Ryan Dallion on Friday the 13th: The Series. As the actor remembers, the show's producers initially resisted his take on the character. "I don't think I was exactly what they bargained for when they hired me," he says. "They wanted somebody who would stick out their chin a little quicker than I did, while I wanted to make Ryan more intelligent and vulnerable. Finally, the producers agreed that it was what they wanted as well."
During the first season, getting his character nailed down was basically a matter of trial by fire for LeMay. "Within the range they wanted me to play, my character came along fairly well," he says. "But it always seemed to me, especially at the beginning, that it was kind of hit and miss. There were some really great episodes, some mediocre ones and a couple of really bad ones. We spent the first few shows just trying to figure out who these characters were and how they were going to develop.
"It took a while to figure out how our characters were going to be made unique," he continues. "In the beginning, Robey's lines could have been switched with mine at any time and it would not have made any difference. By the second season, we finally got a consistency in the writers we used, and they were able to sit down and begin writing for us."
Just the same, by the third season, LeMay grew weary of the role, so the producers decided to write him off the show. "They threw around a lot of ideas on how to get rid of me," he recalls. "Tom McLoughlin (who wrote and directed "The Prophecies," the two-hour third-season premiere in which LeMay bows out) came up with this idea of shrinking me back to a child. It struck a lot of people as weird and strange, but I thought it was a rather ingenious way to drop me. Here was somebody who had been fighting on the side of good and, rather than merely dying, there was sonme retribution in that he was given the chance to live his life again without the pain and horror."
Despite the burnout, LeMay has nothing but good memories of his co-stars, Robey and Chris Wiggins. "It was a great experience," he says. "I was working every day for two years, and I came out of that a much more confident actor." Moreover, LeMay's Friday the 13th tenure did not get in the way of his finding further work. The actor's post-Friday series credits include recurring turns on the TV series Tour of Duty and Over My Dead Body. In addition, LeMay ventured into the horror anthology genre with guest shots on the new Twilight Zone's "Aqua Vita" and "Roadway to Hell" installments.
The Minnesota-born LeMay first got a taste for terror while growing up in Normal, Illinois. "When I was a kid, I used to stay up late at night and watch Creature Features, things like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. But I'd always end up falling asleep and never make it all the way through."
He had chalked up a number of hometown theatre credits when, on a whim, he went to Los Angeles to audition for the vampire comedy Once Bitten. He didn't get the part, but decided to stick around nonetheless, gathering up episodic TV credits until Friday the 13ths came along.
"I've never been crazy about horror films," he says. "But now that I"ve done them, I've gained new respect for them. They're not as easy to do as they appear. Being scared and scaring people is hard work."
LeMay is not sure whether starring in Jason Goes To Hell will help or hurt his career. "I know the trailer for this movie will be hissed when it comes on before the latest Meryl Streep film," he says, "But I also know the movie will be seen by a lot of people. Being in a Friday the 13th didn't hurt Kevin Bacon's career, and I don't really see it harming me when I go to audition for other parts. It can only help.
"Both the Friday the 13th series, and movie have been very good for me," LeMay says, adding that it should come as no surprise that his character makes it through the carnage while Jason Goes To Hell. "Of course I survive," he laughs. "It's hard to kill Jason, but it's even harder to kill me."