Taking inspiration from Dr. Frankenstein, filmmaker Tom McLoughlin resurrected Jason Voorhees from the dead with a bolt of lightning in the mid-’80s. After a last-minute change early in filming, C.J. Graham was the man behind the mask for the sixth installment in the franchise, emerging from Jason's unearthed grave and brining the zombified version of the horror icon to life with style, humor, and a whole lot of horror. At Crypticon Minneapolis late last year, Daily Dead had the great pleasure of speaking with Graham about playing the eponymous role in Jason Lives, and as a special treat for the first Friday the 13th of 2018, we're sharing our Part VI interview with readers!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I talked with Jason Lives director Tom McLoughlin a couple of years ago, and the stories about the making of the film are fascinating. You even came in after the movie started filming. How did you get discovered to play Jason?
C.J. Graham: Well, I had met somebody through a night club I was involved with. I put on the [Jason Voorhees] wardrobe for a hypnotist show, and it just so happened that some of the people who were doing the special effects for Friday the 13th were there, and when they saw me in wardrobe, they were like, "We've got to cast him as Jason." A few months later they came down and I went on a call to Paramount Pictures. Myself and another individual [Dan Bradley] were up for the part, and the other was a stunt man, a stunt coordinator, and I had never done stunts in my life for a film, but I had the physical structure. They decided to go with the other guy, and I thought, "That's fine." I was just honored to be considered, it was kind of neat.
Apparently, one day into the shooting of Jason Lives, they had a daily that came back, where they got to see how the person in character looks on the screen. My understanding is the person [as Jason] didn't look like what they were going for, and it just happened to be that scene with the paintball hitting the body of Jason. So they called me on a Friday, and by Monday I was on the set playing Jason for the rest of the film. The gentleman who didn't do the movie all the way through has gone on to be a very successful stunt coordinator throughout his career, so I don't think he really minds, but at the same time I'm really grateful for the opportunity to step into the role.
Tom had the unique vision to do a zombie Jason for this movie, and it brought up chances for plenty of horror and humor in the film. Did you and Tom collaborate a lot about how to present Jason?
C.J. Graham: Yeah, it was more Tom giving me direction. As a good soldier, you listen to your captain. He had a vision of what he thought Jason should represent, so it was really easy for me structurally. I think that's why Tom and I hit it off. Tom was leaning towards me in the first part of the movie because I had that can-do attitude with whatever Tom said. He was very clear that he wanted Jason to be strong and physically intimidating, but also coming back to life like Frankenstein's monster was important to Tom, being a big horror fan of the ’50s and ’60s. But at the same time, he didn't want me to walk like a zombie. He was supposed to be a lifeless but authoritative figure while walking, which I think we were able to project on the screen.
You did some pretty ambitious work in this movie, including the scene where you stand on top of the burning RV. Did you do all of the stunt work as well?
C.J. Graham: Everything you see is a stunt that I did. They set my back on fire, I was underwater 20 feet breathing off regulators, I went through doors, I went through walls, having a cable hooked on my back so when I got shot, the PSI—the power per square inch—would jerk my body back as though I was being thrown from a body shot. It was pretty amazing.
That's awesome. This was the first Friday the 13th movie where Jason was at camp at the same time as the campers. What was it like working with the kids?
C.J. Graham: Yeah, that was Tom trying to throw a little twist in there. Like I always tell people, if you're not 16 years of age, you're safe with Jason. Going back to Frankenstein's monster, he met the little girl who gave him a flower on the side of a riverbank and he didn't intentionally harm the little girl, it was more of a curiosity factor. It's the same similar curiosity factor when I looked down at the little girl in her bed and she closed her eyes. It was curiosity, nothing else.
And you also got to work with Thom Mathews, the third actor to play Jason's arch-nemesis Tommy Jarvis.
C.J. Graham: Thom has had an outstanding career prior and after Friday the 13th Part VI. It was a pleasure to work with him. Everyone on set was really uniformly working together. It was all-night shooting.
It's interesting, 30 years later, how iconic the image of Jason has become to the Friday the 13th series. When people say "Jason," they know who it is, or when someone says "Friday the 13th," their natural reflection is Jason with the hockey mask.
You also played Jason in Alice Cooper's music video for "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)."
C.J. Graham: Yeah, I was fortunate to do a photo session with Alice Cooper. I got some great photos with Alice Cooper, choking him and going through everything. That was the nice thing about Part VI: Tom McLaughlin did a great job, we had future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Alice Cooper doing music. We've got Jason wearing a utility belt like Batman. Jason comes back to life like Frankenstein's monster, and we have the famous opening scene like James Bond. How cool is that? I'm very fortunate to have been in Part VI and done my contribution to the overall series.
What are your hopes for the future of the Friday the 13th franchise?
C.J. Graham: I don't get into the politics, but as an arm to a quarterback, looking at the series, I'm hoping that in the future—when they may go ahead and start shooting one, two, or three of them—they do it sequentially, utilizing the same Jason and similarities between the directors and the writers, so the scripts have some continuity. I think we looked to the left, a little to the right, and down the middle. It's almost like politics. Everybody's moving different directions. If we could just get some uniformity, I think the fans would come around and appreciate it. I also think they should definitely rebuild the iconic image of Jason into something that nobody has ever seen, because it's ready for that consistency, similar to the Harry Potter series. There was a formula that started, they stayed with the formula, they stayed true to the formula, and look at what it's become.
As someone who has played Jason Voorhees, is there anything you want to say to the fans?
C.J. Graham: The best thing I can tell you is thanks to all the fans, because without the fans, we wouldn't have what we have today. We have a very loyal fan base. I know a lot of people say that, but at the end of the day, you may not know who C.J. Graham is, or even Kane Hodder, but as soon as we say, "You know the guy with the hockey mask?" They go, "Jason." They know who Jason is. So we may not get recognized at the supermarket or the shopping mall like other actors, but I guarantee you if you ask someone about Jason's hockey mask, they'll know who Jason is with the same caliber of any actor out there, and that's kind of cool.
In case you missed it, read our Jason Lives retrospective interview with director Tom McLoughlin.