[Interview] Jim Winburn on Falling for Michael Myers in ‘Halloween’

For four decades, Michael Myers has terrorized babysitters and delighted horror fans as a singular unstoppable force of pure evil in the Halloween movies, but The Shape was initially created by a combination of individuals, each bringing something different to the role, culminating in six gun shots from Dr. Loomis and a fateful fall from the balcony of the Doyle residence, an iconic finale performed by stuntman Jim Winburn.

While nobody may know how to kill him, it definitely took a lot of people to bring Michael Myers to life, as it was producer Debra Hill’s hands that reach for the very first knife in the opening scene of John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween, and Will Sandin was then seen as Myers at age six. Nick Castle (read our interview here) was behind the mask for most of the scenes with Michael walking, but it was production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (read our interview here) whenever Myers had to break any part of the set, and of course Tony Moran (read our interview here) is the briefly unmasked Michael at age 21.

But it’s Jim Winburn who was called in to don the mask for the film’s one actual stunt, the climactic final scene where Myers is shot by Loomis and then falls from the second story balcony.

Like cinematographer Dean Cundey, Winburn was brought into the production by a then-unknown Debra Hill, who had served as a script supervisor on a number of small indie films, where she met Cundey and Winburn. She remembered them later when she was producing a little horror film about a masked killer that she had co-written with Carpenter. They would all go on to work together again on The Fog and Escape from New York.

I talked to Winburn for a few minutes at this past October’s historic H40: Forty Years of Terror Halloween anniversary event in Pasadena, CA., where he was among a total of 19 actors and stuntmen that played Myers throughout all 11 films of the franchise that were in attendance along with over 50 other cast and crew, the largest gathering of its kind in history.

Read on for our interview with Jim Winburn, in which we discuss how he joined Carpenter’s group of regular collaborators, his memories of attending Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween premiere, and taking a fall for Michael Myers.

Jim Winburn as Michael Myers in 'Halloween'
Jim Winburn as Michael Myers in ‘Halloween’

So how did you get involved with Halloween?

Originally, Debra Hill called me. I was under contract with Warner Bros., and we were working in downtown Los Angeles, slinging cop cars and all that stuff. I told her I didn’t know if I could get off, but they wrapped early because they had to move to another location, so I was relieved. And I went over to Hollywood on Orange Grove Avenue.

I knew Debra Hill really well, because we had worked on many shows (together) before that, and Dean Cundey, the cameraman, and his whole crew, they were a great independent group. And Don Behrns, who was the production manager, we were very close friends. So everybody knew me, except John (Carpenter). It was my first time meeting John. 

Then I met Tommy (Lee Wallace), who was actually the production designer and the prop guy, and Michael Myers, and editor; he was an all around cowboy. He, to me, was one of the most important people on the show.

I came in and worked with them all night long. I did the fall, and then went back to work at Warner Bros.

So it was just one night.

Yes, one night.

How many times did you have to do the fall?

One time. I rigged it. See the balcony railing was higher than on a normal balcony, because of the lady’s grandchildren or whatever. It was too low (to protect the children), so they built it up higher. At the edge of the roof, if you measured it down to the level of the balcony railing, it was 18 inches (higher than the top of the railing). So I had to go through 18 inches without hitting my head.

And John asked me to keep it in the character of Michael Myers. So we worked it out. I did the pickup shots, and then I went over (the balcony) and hit the mat, and everything went great. One shot.

Then Dean went upstairs and re-rigged the camera, and shot me laying on the ground. Then we had to move, because they had a 10pm curfew on filming. They had to move all the cars off street, all the trucks and whatever.

So we went inside, and I followed John to do whatever scene they were doing. I did some pickup shots for him. But mainly the big scene that night was him (Myers) in the closet. And then they wrapped me, and I went back to Warner Bros. So I was there only one night.

Jim Winburn as Michael Myers in 'Halloween'
Jim Winburn as Michael Myers in ‘Halloween’

And now, 40 years later, can you believe that all this – the convention, the franchise, the fandom, the new movie – is happening, after that one night?

Well, it’s hard for me to believe that a $300,000 picture of that calibre of horror at that time would outlive everything, all of the shows I’ve worked on all over the world with $40 million or $120 million, with major actors, and nobody can even remember them. I’ve worked all over the world, and people would come up to me in China, in Germany, and they’d say, ‘Are you Michael Myers?’

Forty years have gone by, and it’s still a very successful franchise.

Debra Hill was a very close, dear friend of mine. I talked to her a few months before she passed away. She didn’t tell me how sick she was. I’d known her basically since she first came to town looking for a job, and she started working as an A.D. or script supervisor on some independent films. We did about six or seven low budget films. Dean Cundey was on them, and she would keep me on them. So we were all doing pretty good, because they were a solid group of filmmakers.

And John really got the best guy he could. Dean Cundey went to Panasonic and got their latest camera for free, because they wanted to show it off, and Dean did. Dean is one of the best camera D.P.’s in the business worldwide. And Ray Stella, his operator, has been with him all these years.

I have no remorse or anything working with these guys, because they were more professional than some of guys that worked at the studio. They all jumped in and helped.

As I said, Tommy Lee Wallace was the big all-around cowboy of that show. And John Carpenter had a clear idea of what he wanted.

HDN's Matt Artz interviewing Jim Winburn at H40: Forty Years of Terror (photo by Sue Artz for Halloween Daily News)
HDN’s Matt Artz interviewing Jim Winburn at H40: Forty Years of Terror (photo by Sue Artz for Halloween Daily News)

The tragedy is that when it opened on Halloween, it bombed. Nobody went and saw it, for whatever reason. I was in New York working with Chevy Chase. Debra was a little upset. Carpenter was doing the Elvis NBC movie with Kurt Russell. Anyway, there was two radio guys in New York that went to see it in a little theater, and they loved it. So they P.R.’ed the hell out of it on the radio. They released it a second time and it was a great success, for an independent show, and it opened with over $30 million.

And I have to tell you, honestly, they did a screening at the Directors Guild – I got there late because I was working at Warner Bros. – and the only thing I saw was just before I did the fall. I didn’t get to see the film. I’ve never seen the film or any of the franchise.

Rob Zombie called me and wanted me to come to his (Halloween 2007) premiere at the (TCL) Chinese Theatre. And I met Tyler Mane. He’s a great guy, good personality.

Rob and I went out on Hollywood Blvd., and there was thousands of people, and they broke through the line. So Rob took off, and I stood out there. He said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to go,’ but I said, ‘No, they just want to take photos. It ain’t gonna hurt ya.’ We were out there doing that, and they came and got me and said, ‘Come on, they’re starting the show.’

So we went in, I was sitting next to the wall on the right side of the screen, and they started the movie. I only saw the first 15 minutes, because when Rob Zombie got to the part where Michael Myers was killing his sister, it went on for five minutes because they were selling Rob Zombie’s music. I got up and walked out. And I went outside and was talking to the producers and all the people. Then I went home. And they asked me why I was leaving, I said, ‘Well, I have to go to work tomorrow.’ I really didn’t, because it was the weekend. But I just wanted to get out of there.

But this franchise, it is what is in the horror faction, and people love it.

I made sure to thank Rob Zombie before I left. I told him, ‘Your show makes Michael Myers No. 1 look like a wimp.’ (laughs)

But if you look at what John Carpenter did, he was an Alfred Hitchcock. He likes mystery and suspense. That’s what he put in Halloween that made it a great success. That was the success of what John and Debra did. I was just a tool.

You can see more of our coverage from H40: Forty Years of Terror here.

HDN's Matt Artz with Jim Winburn at H40: Forty Years of Terror (photo by Sue Artz for Halloween Daily News)
HDN’s Matt Artz with Jim Winburn at H40: Forty Years of Terror (photo by Sue Artz for Halloween Daily News)

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[Interview] Jim Winburn on Falling for Michael Myers in ‘Halloween’