He is an Oscar winner and a two-time Emmy winner, and he has worked on many of our favorite films over the past thirty years, and now special effects makeup artist Christopher Nelson is also the creator of the iconic mask for Michael Myers in the highly anticipated new Halloween movie.
Nelson has transformed characters through his practical effects artistry in everything from Kill Bill to American Horror Story to Avengers: Infinity War, but he says that this October’s Halloween is the culmination of a journey that started when he was 10 years old and first saw The Shape.
Even more than the maker of the all-important mask, James Jude Courtney, who plays Myers along with Nick Castle in the new film, told us that he credits Nelson with actually co-creating this new version of the character with Courtney, as they worked tightly together every day on set to capture the essence of John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece.
When I talked to Christopher just few weeks after filming of Halloween 2018 wrapped, he explained that he has been a massive fan of the franchise since it began, and he wants all of us to know that the work he put into the new mask comes from a place of love and respect for the original. In our conversation, we also discussed how he got into character makeup, some notable career highlights, how he approached his design of the new Myers mask, and how he worked with director David Gordon Green to create postcards of tragedy throughout the film.
Read on for our interview with Christopher Nelson on making monsters and the new Michael Myers mask.
Can you tell me about how you first got into doing what you do? I imagine as a kid you were probably pretty into Halloween the holiday?
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and yes, Halloween the holiday was a huge influence on me. And I grew up with George Romero (living in the same city) and every summer Night of the Living Dead played on TV and it was a monumental event for me every summer. That was a big thing for me, and Tom Savini (also being from Pittsburgh) and things like that, and Pittsburgh was kind of a big horror town, oddly enough.
From a very young age, around I guess 6 or 7, I started realizing that that’s what I gravitated towards and that’s what I loved, I loved horror movies. And I’d come home from school and I’d watch horror movies on TV, you know UHF channels, things like Fiend Without a Face and Creature from the Black Lagoon, all these really great movies that influenced me.
That just really spoke to me as a kid. I was a latchkey kid, so I spent a lot of time alone. I realized early on that character makeup and prosthetics existed, and I was just fascinated at being able to change somebody into another being or creature and create creatures and things. It just sounded like the most perfect thing in the world. (laughs)
So I just started messing around with it. At that time there was no internet and no videotapes on how to do it, so you just got books, lots of books, and I just practiced it using household stuff. Doing odd jobs, I slowly saved money to buy makeup supplies at local places or have them order them, and just experiment on myself or friends.
Halloween was my Christmas and movies were my church. I would go to the movies weekly at the dollar theater, and watch anything I could, and not just horror films, but any films. I’m just a fan of movies, period, no matter what genre.
And I just studied movies and makeup, and worked hard in my little room listening to heavy metal. Then around the age of 15, I saved up enough money to move to Los Angeles. I took my GED, got out of school early, because I felt like it was a waste of my time.
And I started practicing makeup, and trying to meet people and network. The rest is history. I started getting jobs in shops, and have been doing it ever since.
So at 15, you took your GED and just went to L.A.?
Did you know anybody out there or have any connections?
I had family in Los Angeles, and shacked up with them for the first brief part of my move, and then slowly, after working and saving money, moved out on my own. I didn’t know anybody in the effects world by any means. So it just took a lot of footwork and a lot of trying to find out who the players were, reading Fangoria, reading GoreZone, looking in the books. And then knowing who all the players were and just calling them incessantly, and building my portfolio and trying to get out and show it, and express my interest and my love for it. I just hounded people until somebody finally gave me a job.
Tom Burman was the first shop I ever worked at, Burman Studios. He gave me my first break in a shop, and from there I just met people, and realized that there was this community of monster lovers and makeup lovers and artists and film lovers. And I just slipped in with them and found my place in life.
What was that first film?
The first professional thing I got paid for was for Tom Burman, it was a commercial actually, a Budweiser commercial. Then I got to work on some Charlie Band movies, you know, like Dollman vs. Demonic Toys and Mandroid and things like that, not for Tom, but I had moved on to a shop called Alchemy Effects.
I worked at Optic Nerve on The Dark Half and Batman Returns, and some other things there. And then I just hopped around the shops a little.
And as you worked, like you said, I imagine more connections were made and different people would move on to other projects and remember you.
Absolutely, it was all just making friends and finding people that you relate to and get along with. Somebody says, ‘Hey man, this shop’s hiring, I just got a gig, they could use you.’ Then you go there and you make more friends. You try to get better at your craft. At that time, you had to be really well-rounded and be able to do a lot of everything. Now it’s more specialized. People can just sculpt or just paint, but at that time, you kind of had to know a little about everything in order to continue to work and make a living. So that was really beneficial.
And you have also done some acting too. Let’s talk about Kill Bill. You worked on the effects for both Kill Bill movies and you also play the Groom, whose death sets the Bride on her path. How did that come about?
At the time, I was working at KNB EFX Group. I had worked at Steve Johnson’s XFX Group for years, and I left Steve’s and went over to KNB, and I really got along well with Howard Berger and Greg (Nicotero). I liked their vibe in the shop, just great people. And they were gracious enough to hire me and put me on these great projects, and Kill Bill was one of them.
I went and did the makeup and all the effects and blood for Kill Bill with Howard Berger in China. The first section of the movie was shot in China. It’s odd because around that time I was thinking about acting. I had always wanted to be an actor along with makeup. I loved Lon Chaney Sr. I loved Gene Hackman. I just loved these character actors.
So on the plane flying to China to start our first section of shooting, I was reading the script, and I came across that character, Tommy Plympton. I had been taking some acting classes. So I was like, ‘Oh, I can play that role. That sounds like something I can do.’ And then I just kind of forgot about it. I didn’t think really about it. We went and we shot for four or five months in China. It was grueling, but it was really satisfying. We did the House of Blue Leaves and all those blood gags.
Then I came back to L.A. to shoot the L. A. portion, and we had a hiatus. And I was in a meeting with Quentin (Tarantino) and Greg Nicotero regarding the next leg of the effects, and Greg said, ‘The groom here that gets his head blown off. Who’s playing that? We need to get them life cast because that’s coming up in the schedule.’ Quentin said, ‘I don’t know who’s playing it. I’m casting it this Friday.’ Then Greg Nicotero to his credit said, ‘Hey, you know Chris is an actor.’
Quentin said, ‘What?’ and he looked at me and goes, ‘You look like you could be the guy. But you’ve got to audition, because it’s kind of a big role and I can’t just give it to you.’ I was like, ‘What? I’d be honored just to have an audition.’ So he set up an audition for me that Friday, and then we started shooting. He kept teasing me about how good my audition was and how much he liked it, but he hadn’t made a choice yet and it was down to two people and I’m one of them. And he kept teasing me about it.
The one day he came up to me on set and told me I got the role. And literally I had to go from the set to get my life cast done and a week later I was on the set acting with Uma Thurman and Sam Jackson and Bo Svenson and David Carradine. It was quite the experience. I was nervous as hell. I’ll never forget Quentin came up to me right before my first take and said, ‘Don’t fuck it up.’ (laughs)
So that’s how all that came about. My life’s been full of crazy experiences like that, and I’m so lucky and grateful to have had them. I hope they continue.
And you worked on Land of the Dead too. Obviously with being from Pittsburgh and the Romero connection there, when you worked with him, it must have been another amazing moment.
It was a dream come true. George was such a sweet and gracious man. We got along well, and again, Greg had introduced me to him. I had worked with him real briefly for some reshoots of The Dark Half.
I remember also when I was a kid in Pittsburgh, they had shot some of the running over of zombies with the trucks near my school, and I used to go after school and watch them shoot and wish that someday I could work on a Romero film. And he came over and said hi to us when I was a kid then. So to be on set on Land of the Dead, working on a zombie epic with him, and to talk with him and he’s just one of us, and to just hang out on set and make zombies and do gore and be with all my friends, it was a dream come true, so fantastic.
And then to end up being in it too –I was a zombie in it and I was also a regular guy in it, so that’s pretty cool. (laughs)
I got to work with him a couple times after that and anytime I ran into him at a convention or something, he always remembered me and we’d sit and have a drink and a smoke together, and talk. He was so lovely, and I miss him very much.
You’ve also done quite a bit of work on American Horror Story, and you won two Emmys for Freak Show (Season 4). I love the show, and I love how it’s different every season. I’ve seen every episode since it started. Maybe you can talk a little about your experiences working on that.
Working on that show is so fun and amazing, and satisfying as an artist and as a horror lover. I started working on that show after I had taken a break from makeup to pursue some acting, and I did the Kill Bills and Criminal Minds and this and that, and I was missing the camaraderie of makeup. I was missing being back in the trenches and the art form.
So lucky enough, the department head of American Horror Story, Eryn Krueger Mekash, realized that I wanted to get back to makeup and she gave me a job on the first season, and kept bringing me back and kept throwing challenges at me. I worked pretty fulltime on that show for the first four seasons.
It was just so great, because, like you said, every season is different, the characters are different, the vibe is different, the tone is different. It was shot on film. That was kind of the beginning when the cable shows were able to do a lot more explicit stuff, graphic stuff, and also exploring character makeup and prosthetic makeup as main characters that play throughout a series. And that was one of the first shows that did that.
To be there while it grew and while it happened was just amazing. I’ll never forget my time on Horror Story. It is just a beautiful show. I really like the show. I try to go back whenever I can. I was back on Cult last season, and that was fun and weird. I just like the weirdness and the darkness of it and the pervertedness of it. It’s something that I think we need more of, and I love it.
And it’s smart too. They work a lot of social commentary in there. I love every aspect of it. It’s like every week is a season finale episode.
That’s exactly right. And again, as an artist it’s just fantastic. It’s so satisfying because it’s different all the time. You’re not doing the same thing every day or every episode. There’s something new being thrown at you all the time and it’s dark and it’s ugly, but it’s beautiful at the same time. That’s what I love.
And I got two Emmys out of Freak Show, which was a really challenging and tough season. We were shooting in New Orleans in the summer. It was really hot. We had a lot of characters wearing prosthetics all the time. It was really hard, but again, super satisfying, and then getting two Emmys after being nominated like eight times. Not that that’s the most important thing, but it’s nice to win. And to win two (for Outstanding Makeup and Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup) in one night was again a dream come true.
After that, I missed movies and working on films, so I kind of took a break from working on that and went back to going after and trying to get on movies.
And you definitely have. You’ve worked on some of the biggest movies in the last few years. Let’s talk about some of the Marvel movies you’ve worked on. You did the second Guardians of the Galaxy and you were on Deadpool, and then of course Avengers: Infinity War is coming up here soon. But you did some work on the first X-Men movie too.
I didn’t do a whole lot for that movie, but I built a couple gags for X-Men out of KNB’s shop. That was one of the first comic book based things I had ever done.
Actually the first one (superhero comic book movie) I ever did was Batman Returns. I had done some work for Optic Nerve and did some gags for it, and then I was puppeteering penguins for Stan Winston – lots of days sitting on Universal (Studios) puppeteering penguins, which was so fun. I met friends on that movie that I have to this day. That was my first comic book thing.
Not too long after X-Men you worked on Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Thor: The Dark World, and then Deadpool, which of course was huge.
I did additional photography for Deadpool. Bill Corso, who headed up the Deadpool makeup and sculpted it and created it, couldn’t do the additional photography. They had to reshoot a lot of key scenes. So I was honored that he called me and asked me to do it. I believe he said that he thought I was the only one that had the balls to step into that. (laughs) So I did it, and that was super fun. It was only I think a week of additional photography, but some key scenes.
It was great doing that makeup, and Ryan (Reynolds) is a super nice guy, super committed to that character and that makeup.
With Guardians 2, Brian Sipe, who was the department head on that over at Legacy, called me up and asked if I was available to work on it. I really liked the first Guardians, and I actually told him, ‘Please tell me I get to do Nebula,’ because that was my favorite character in the first one. And he said, ‘Yeah, as a matter of fact, you and Alexei Dmitiew are going to do Nebula. So I got to do Nebula for that whole movie, and Karen Gillan is amazing. She’s super nice and is totally into the makeup, and we had a great time.
It was challenging makeup, one of the hardest makeups I’ve ever done in my life, because it’s so clean and such a puzzle piece of a makeup, and beautiful and colorful, and has to be so precise. It takes a lot out of you to do that makeup, because it’s a long process that you have to concentrate very hard on.
So that was just a great experience, and then I was lucky enough that Brain and Karen asked me and Alexei back to do (her makeup again) when she was in Infinity War. That was such an honor to go back and do it again.
Those comic book movies are quite epic and they’re quite challenging, and they pay a lot of peoples’ mortgages, so they’re just fun to work on. I’m super lucky to get to work on those. I think I’m going to go work on Captain Marvel starting in April.
Oh, that’s awesome, man. That’s going to be huge. And yeah, I agree, Nebula was my favorite from both of the Guardians films. I think that’s especially awesome that Karen wanted you to come back and be there for Infinity War because it was such a good experience for everyone involved it sounds like. Now we’ve got to talk about Suicide Squad, which you won an Oscar for.
Much to the nation’s chagrin. (laughs) That was a year or two of surreal experiences. I had just finished a project and I had gotten home, and I was taking a little rest. I had been travelling a lot. I got a call from Greg Nicotero over at KNB, and he was like, ‘Hey, I got this movie that we’re doing and it’s a big comic book movie called Suicide Squad, it’s a DC thing, and I need someone to head up one of the main characters, Killer Croc.’ I was a little familiar with Suicide Squad, not like really well read on it, but I knew what it was, and it sounded really interesting. And he said, ‘Would you be interested in doing it?’
Then as we talked more, he made it sound so good. And again, I was lucky enough that he had called. I don’t know if he called other people (first). He might have. But I was like, ‘Alright, let’s talk about it.’ We talked, and I decided to it.
The Killer Croc character had already been kind of through the design stage with (Suicide Squad director) David Ayer and KNB and other artists, and there were some tweaks and things to be done, and the sculpture was well underway by David Grasso, who did a fantastic job. So they brought me in to kind of head up that character, getting it prepped, getting the paint scheme figured out and how it was all going to work, and getting up to Toronto to do makeup tests.
I ended up doing a basic kind of crocodile makeup on it and David really liked it and thought it was cool, but he wanted something bolder, a little more edgy. So I had been studying this genetic skin thing called Vitiligo, and I found it quite beautiful and quite alluring, so I incorporated that into the paint scheme, really contrasty. I kind of did my own thing, with a lot of pointillism. And David really responded well to it. We did another test with that, and David loved it and approved it on the spot. And a few days later, we were shooting.
It was a grueling shoot. We were supposed to be there for four months, and I ended up being there for six, or almost seven. (There were) a lot of nights, a lot of cold, a lot of rain. It was a really hard experience, and then it was done, and you know, you move on. In this business, you go on to the next thing and the next thing, and the movies have a life of their own. Then the movie came out, and everyone hated it. But it made a ton of money, and I thought that character looked good. I thought all the makeups in the movie looked good. You have a lot of main characters, iconic characters, that have to live on screen, and I thought they all looked really great. It was a great looking film.
And then I got a letter from the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) saying, ‘Suicide Squad is being considered to be considered to be considered. And what was your involvement?’ (laughs) The Academy does a tremendous amount of research on who did what and how and why and all that. It’s not a lottery. It’s all very calculated. So I wrote my letter back to them. And then it just kept escalating and going further and further.
Then there’s a thing called the Bake Off, where it’s the seven films that are to be considered to be whittled down to the three films, and you go up and make a presentation, and it kept going. Then suddenly one morning, my phone’s blowing up at six in the morning and it says, ‘You’re nominated for an Oscar.’
I just couldn’t believe it. My girlfriend made a joke after I won two Emmys that ‘The two girls need a guy to hang out with. Maybe someday…’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, maybe someday.’ You know, you always have it your head working in the movie business that ‘maybe someday I’ll even be considered.’ And then boom, it happened, and it was all so surreal. It moved so fast, and then I’m at the Oscars.
I honestly did not think we were going to win. It was an honor just to be there, just to have the experience. I was just going to go with my girl and hang out, and just be in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.
Then when they called Suicide Squad, my brain and my entire life just went into a surreal dreamlike state. And then you’re standing on stage suddenly and you’re looking down holding an Oscar, with Meryl Streep in the audience, and you’re going, ‘How did I get here?’ And all you see is that big clock ticking down. (laughs) So you say what you try to say as fast as you can, with that big stupid grin on your face. And then you walk backstage, and there’s a gauntlet of press. It was just all very surreal.
But I think what I wasn’t prepared for was the backlash of it all. There was a huge backlash. Still to this day I just catch so much shit for winning that Oscar for that movie. And I don’t know why. I guess part of me does understand, but the other part of me just doesn’t understand why people are the way they are. I just try to be grateful that I experienced that and that happened to me, and not to listen to what the people say. You keep going, and you move on to the next one.
I am, to this day and will always be, terribly honored for that experience.
I think it’s great that movies on that level – the Marvel and DC blockbusters – are still seeing the advantage of using at least some practical makeup and effects, whereas the technology is there that pretty much anything is possible these days. It seems like right now there’s good mix of these massive productions that do have some appreciation for practical effects that luckily are not getting lost in all the digital possibilities.
I think, again, it’s just a matter of time. We all know how art works and how Hollywood works. When something new or groundbreaking comes out, be it story or technology, people tend to throw all their change into that fountain. They just go for it like it’s the second coming and this is the answer to everything, and I think that’s what happened with the effects. It (CGI) just took over for a while. Then I think people started realizing that for as good as it is and all the benefits that it has, ultimately filmmaking is a collaborative thing. Films are best when they’re collaborative and when people work together.
It just took some time for filmmakers to realize that if we collaborate and combine visual effects and practical effects, we get a better product, a more heartfelt product. I think audiences are getting sick of realizing that there is something that isn’t anything actually there that actor’s looking at. At least give them something to relate to, something to interact with. And I think it works best for audiences when you realize that there is something there. To combine the two is when it works well.
And as artists, we’re also getting smarter about when is the right time to use this and when is the right time to use practical. It’s not always that way. There are some projects recently that I see that could have and very well should have been practical things, and then they went digital. It hasn’t caught up yet, but it’s catching up more. And I think also that television programming has developed so much into almost filmmaking on television and using a lot of practical makeups, and I think that helped a lot to bring, dare I say, a resurgence of practical effects back. I think it will continue to grow and evolve into everybody playing together nicely for the final product to be the best it can be.
Now let’s talk about what has brought you to Haddonfield. How did you become the guy that was going to create the new Michael Myers mask?
Well first off, look – when I was going on 10 years old, the original Halloween came out, and it changed my life. I loved Psycho and I loved Alfred Hitchcock, and it was very much a nod to that. And I was obsessed with John Carpenter’s Halloween.
I was obsessed with The Shape. I was obsessed with Michael Myers. At that time they had come out with these cool novelizations and I had bought and read that. I was drawing Michael Myers constantly. Maybe it was just my young imagination, but I saw more in it than just a guy with a knife.
I understand it’s considered the ultimate slasher film, but I never considered it really a slasher film. It’s very simple and efficient, but I always just found that Michael Myers was more than that. He was the Boogeyman.
And because of that mask, the simplicity of that mask and the simplicity of the way that Nick Castle played it, I think that is what lingers to this day and made it so beautiful.
It was a perfect storm. If you tried to make that movie again right now, it wouldn’t happen. You didn’t have behind-the-scenes everything, you didn’t have any of that stuff. It was this mysterious movie that lived on its own, made by passionate filmmakers.
That mask was a simple thing that they just altered really quickly and efficiently and simply. It was the way it sat on Nick Castle and the way he stood there. It was the way it was filmed, the way Dean Cundey photographed it and lit it. It was the way that John directed it.
It was just this perfect storm that you will never ever recreate, and I didn’t go into this new Halloween thinking that we had to recreate this perfect storm. You could try, but it’s just not going to happen.
I got involved with Halloween when I was at a gathering with some mutual friends of Ryan Turek, one of the creative producers over at Blumhouse, who I had known back from the days when was writing for Fangoria as Ryan Rotten. I had known him all these years, and he asked what I was up to and congratulated me on the Oscar. I said, ‘I just finished this. What are you up to?’ He said, ‘We’re doing the new Halloween at Blumhouse.’
I said, ‘You have to at least get me an interview for it.’ And he goes, ‘You would want to do that?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah.’ He said, ‘Well you know it’s not a big budget movie, there’s not a lot of money on it, and we’re going to do it quick.’
I said, ‘I’m not doing this for the money. I’m doing this for passion. This is a movie that I have to do, and I want to do it. I’d love an interview.’ And he hooked me up with some phone calls. I had to be vetted by Malek Akkad and I had to talk to David Gordon Green. I talked to all the powers that be.
And when I talked to David Gordon Green and got his take on what they were going to do, I even got more excited. And we just started talking about Halloween, not only about the original movie, but the feeling that movie gave to people and how he wanted to give that feeling back to the fans of Halloween. And we just got excited. I told him ideas I had that maybe we could do, and he got excited, we got excited. We just got along so well. And I got along with Malek. I think maybe, I’m hoping, they were impressed with my knowledge of Halloween and the Halloween franchise, because I know way too much about it. (laughs)
I called my good friend and fellow makeup effects guy Vincent Van Dyke, who has his own shop, because I didn’t have my own shop up and running yet, and he said he was into it, so I put in a bid and they approved it. They approved my designs, and we started getting going. Then it kind of fell apart. There were some legal issues with it, so it went away, and I was really disappointed. Then it came back again, and I said, ‘Well look, if we’re going to do this, let’s do this.’ Then we got started.
It was a dream come true, and again another surreal moment.
The first order of business, of course, was the mask. I have a strong working knowledge of the original mask, and what the second one was about, and all the masks (of the sequels) and who did them and what they looked like.
The point was to get back to the original, and to bring Michael Myers to life again, to bring that character, that feeling that you get – I really approached it more as a feeling than I did trying to copy the original mask.
The film takes place 40 years later, so you’re not going to have that same mask, it’s not going to be this pristine, beautiful thing that it was in 1978. You have to approach it from that standpoint. I had 40-year-old masks that I studied and looked at how they broke down, how they wrinkled, how they did this and how they did that. I also took into account the context of the film. Where is the mask now and where has it been for these 40 years? Without revealing anything, I took that into context. I had hundreds of photos and books.
I mostly really wanted to capture that feeling you got when you saw Michael Myers. I was also talking to David about how we were going to shoot it, and being very careful about it, very strategic about it, looking back at Carpenter and Dean Cundey and how they did that. That’s how I approached the mask.
I’m very happy with it. I think it’s going to be cool. I wanted to create the character of Michael Myers, not just the mask. You’re not creating just a mask. You’re creating a character. You’re creating a feeling that you get that does have an expression. The mask does have an expression, but also the mask looks completely different in every single angle it’s ever been photographed at, and I wanted that feeling too.
I wanted the feeling that when you saw Michael Myers, it morphs, it changes, it looks different from every single angle, like the original one did. I can safely say we accomplished that.
When I talked to James Jude Courtney (read our interview here) about playing Michael Myers, he really credits you with co-creating this new version of the character with him.
When they were going through casting of The Shape, I was worried. This was a big thing for me. I told David, ‘Do not get a big hulking stunt man. Please don’t do that.’ And he agreed.
When they said they had cast him (Courtney) and they were sending him over to get life cast, James showed up, and when I saw him I was so relieved at his physicality, just the way he’s naturally built. His face is very angelic. And I could see it. Then also after talking to him about approaching Michael Myers and what his thoughts were, and telling him what I thought Michael Myers was like and how he moved and how he stood, and we both were just on the same page. And we worked together.
I have seen Halloween a billion times, but again, it’s a matter of capturing the essence of that character. James was really cool. He said, ‘Hey man, if I’m ever doing something that’s out of character or not something The Shape would do, tell me. I want you to be on me all the time.’ I said, ‘You got it. I have no problem doing that.’ So we worked together.
On set, I was the guy that put that mask on every take and took it off every take. We had to be very careful about photos getting taken or leaked, so I was very adamant about getting that mask off and getting it put in a bag. I took care of it every night. It was a big deal to me. I took it very seriously, so seriously that the crew used to make fun of me. They’d say, ‘Hey do you sleep with that thing at night?’ And I’d say, ‘Maybe.’ (laughs)
I took it very seriously, because this is my one opportunity to, you know – yes, you want to make the fans happy, and yes, you want to create film history, but you don’t have any control over that. All you can do is make the fan inside yourself happy, and give the fan inside yourself what it wants. That’s the way we approached it, and the way I approached it.
I’m very happy with it. I’m nervous as hell of what people are going to say. But it goes back to you can’t control what people are going to say. Half the people are going to hate it and half the people will like it, and some people will love it. You’ve got to let it sail. You know what I mean?
I agree, like you said, some people will like it and some won’t, but that would be true no matter what you did. I think everything that they’ve done so far with this project that has been put out there, starting with Carpenter coming back to executive produce and then Jamie Lee Curtis coming back and getting Nick involved. I think the fans are generally excited right now. I know a lot of them were skeptical until the filming actually started, and then it kind of became real. I feel like people are more excited than ever right now. Of course the mask is going to be discussed and debated until the end of time, like all of them from every film have been.
Dude, as soon as people found out I was making it, since that day to this very day, I get anonymous messages from people online, you know, ‘You better not fuck this up. Don’t fuck this up. You’re going to fuck this up.’ It’s unbelievable the outpour of people that have gotten in touch with me. I get people asking me daily to send them a picture of it. They promise they won’t share it. It’s unbelievable how many people want a copy of it. They’re like, ‘I’ll pay anything for a copy of this thing.’ They’re rabid. It’s insane. Yeah, okay, since you promised you wouldn’t share it, I’ll send a picture. (laughs) That would be the end of my career.
The fans are rabid about this character and this mask. I’ve been told by friends, ‘You can’t read that shit. You can’t look at what people are saying. You can’t read those emails. Especially after it comes out, don’t read that stuff,’ and you know, I probably won’t. It’s just got to live. It’s going to do what it’s going to do.
I was on set the entire time, and look, there were moments – I was just excited to be there working on a Halloween movie, first of all. – There were moments where I literally got goose bumps.
The day when we first had The Shape in the mask, literally David Gordon Green and I looked at each other and we had tears welling up in our eyes. It was such a moment. I was just filled with so much happiness and joy at how it looked and how it was shot. And those moments continued throughout shooting. There were moments where I just got goose bumps, because I’m sitting there looking at The Shape. There it is, and it looks killer. (laughs) And it’s Michael Myers.
Then to have Nick Castle on set too was a whole other legendary, monumental thing in my career and my life. And then to have John and Jamie Lee there at the same time, it was surreal, man, totally surreal.
I think honestly, if you’re a real Halloween fan, you are going to be very, very happy. I think it’s going to be super cool. You’ve got to let the comparisons go and let Halloween live and be mysterious.
I’m hesitant to talk a lot about the process of (making) the mask and the process of who wore it and how they did it and stuff, because the original, one of the reasons why it was such a perfect storm that makes it so wonderful, there was a lot of mystery behind it. You didn’t know who made the mask. You didn’t know how it was created at that time. You didn’t know who was underneath it. It lived within the world of the story in the film. So I’m hesitant to do that with this film, to say too much or go too far with it, because one of the goals and approaches is to let this live within the film like the original did, and leave it alone, let the Boogeyman live, and let you project what you want and what you see onto that mask and onto that film.
Don’t you want to go into it and like it? Don’t you want to go into it with an attitude of, ‘Hey, I’m just going to let this live and be back in this world with these characters that I love so much’? Then do that. Why are you fighting it? Just do it. (laughs)
That’s great for me as a fan to hear that you are also first and foremost a fan, starting when you were 10, and that you are knowledgeable about the franchise itself. After it’s out, somewhere down the road we can have a conversation about the making of the mask.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s so hard having a discussion about it without revealing anything. I’m anxious for people to see it, and also nervous at the same time.
Everyone needs to know that it was approached from a place of love and respect for the first movie and for this character first and foremost. And everybody on this film, from Malek to John to David Gordon Green to Danny McBride, from the top all the way down to the bottom, approached this movie with love and respect for these characters and this film, and for its iconic place in history. It all comes from that place, and everyone needs to know that.
I think that’s great to hear. James Courtney told me basically the same thing that everyone on that set on every level was doing it for the right reasons. He said the script is really excellent too. And when I asked Nick what the biggest difference was from 40 years ago, he said it was the opposite, that he felt the similarities more than anything, a very tight knit group that was like a family, happy to be there.
He’s exactly right. And he’s one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. To hear Nick’s stories about the first film and his experiences on that was just amazing, and the 10-year-old geek in me was just losing my mind. Yeah, it’s all coming from a great place.
I think fans will dig it. I hope so. I think the script is great. I just hope people will go, and check their bullshit at the door, and just enjoy seeing another Halloween film, because we’re lucky enough to have one. It’s been 40 years, and I think we should just celebrate it and enjoy it.
I think some people were sketchy at first when they heard Jamie was coming back, because they couldn’t see how they could do that. But I think you’re right, you just have to take this for what it is.
And it’s storytelling. You can do whatever you want. You can do an alternate timeline. Why do we have to follow all those rules of the sequels that went so far off the rails? Wouldn’t you want to get it back on the rails? Let’s do that. You can do whatever you want with storytelling, if you let yourself go to just being told an alternate, fun story. It’s all about entertainment, and it’s all coming from love.
Go into it with an open mind, and you might be really pleasantly surprised, and then you go, ‘Oh, this is where it should have gone a long time ago.’ You don’t know. Until you see it and absorb it, and embrace what the people who love it tried to do, give it a rest. (laughs)
Were there any specific instructions that came from Malek or David that you can talk about?
The mask aside, let’s talk real briefly about the rest of the makeup and effects. The way David and I agreed to approach it was we wanted it to be very stylized, and we wanted them to be postcards. We wanted to try to create images that audiences will remember. There are images in the first film, and some of the sequels as well, that you never forget. These images of these deaths are images that you will never forget, and they were picture postcards. I approached the makeup effects in this film like that. I wanted each moment that had something to do with tragedy, I’ll put it that way, to be kind of a postcard, an image that hopefully you will remember when you walk out of that theater.
When it came to the mask, I can’t say they had a lot of notes. I’m very honored they gave me a lot of trust, because they know how much I love it, how much I respect it, and how big of a fan I am. I think they let me do what I was going to do and bring the people onto my crew that also feel the same way, that we’re going to respect it and do the best work that we can. So they let us do what we did with very few notes, because we really wanted to nail it the first time.
They only real note was, ‘Let’s just try to give the fans what they want within the context of this new story, within the 40 years later, and within the character, where Michael has been and where he is now, and let’s respect and honor the original.’ That was really the main and only note.
Once things started developing and sculptures started being made and photos started being sent, I think we all agreed that it was going on the right track and that we were in a good place. It wasn’t as tedious and as hard as it could have been, because again, we were all coming at it from the same place.
Nick also told me that pretty much the first thing they told him was, ‘We want to do it how John did it.’ And James told me too that it was a conscious thing that was regularly talked about on set that this thing has a huge legacy and a massive fan base, and it’s an iconic franchise that is special. And I agree that the original is so much more than just a slasher. It’s a landmark film.
It changed the face of the genre forever.
James also talked about the moment when you first arrived on set with the mask for the first time and there was an unveiling, and then he put it on for the first time. He said he felt some magic in that room that day. Can you describe that unveiling from your perspective?
Yeah, I remember that. There definitely was some magic going on there. (laughs) There was a lot of goose bumps going on there.
It was the ultimate moment, the moment I had been waiting for since I signed on to the project, and I think it was for everybody, from David to Jim (Courtney) to myself, that triangle of this is the moment. I finally made it South Carolina, and I unpacked the masks and got them ready, and it was time to go do a show and tell on the set.
The moment that I took it out, we were all like (mimics a choir’s angelic ‘Aaahhh’) looking at the mask, just so happy.
You know, you can make a mask and you can hold it up and it can look bitchin’, but it’s not going to mean shit until you put it on the head, see how it’s going to rest, make any adjustments you need to, then also with the costume and the light, and how the actor’s going to portray it within that mask. That’s the only moment when you know if it’s going to work or not.
The moment that I put it on James, David was there and we were all just (very emotional). It was such a monumental goose bump-inducing moment, that finally it’s here and finally here he is, it’s Michael Myers, it’s The Shape. It was at that moment, when we put him in the lighting and in the costume and mask, and we stood back and looked at it, it was at that moment that we realized it was going to work.
Everybody, David and I included, breathed a sigh of relief once Jim did what he was going to do and we saw it. We just all breathed this huge sigh of relief that this is actually going to work and this is going to surpass what we were hoping to try to achieve. It was a great moment. I’ll never forget it.
It sounds like it. James told me you were there for every scene, putting the mask on him and taking it off, and he said you were kind of coaching him through it to help him get back into character when he needed to.
Like I said, when I was a kid, I was obsessed with The Shape, probably a disturbing amount. I loved the way that The Shape moved, and the way that the mask fit, and I was obsessed with how it fit Nick Castle in the original. I was obsessed with the way he stood and the way he walked. And then over the years you realize that John Carpenter’s only direction was ‘Just walk from here to there.’ (laughs) There wasn’t much thought put into it, other than ‘Just put the mask on and walk from here to there’ or ‘Just stand there.’
That being said, Jim is a very athletic guy. He’s a former stuntman and an actor. If there were moments, due to maybe the cold or the circumstances or the rain or the environment, that I felt he wasn’t moving quite like The Shape, who is a great white shark swimming through an ocean of food, I would just walk up and remind Jim about this or that, and we had a language that we spoke together. He knew what I was talking about, because we had learned all these little details that needed to be maintained in order to have the continuity of that character ring through the entire script. We were both just working together.
James is fantastic in it, I’ve got to say. There are moments I couldn’t believe he was doing what he was doing, as far as like how he captured that essence of The Shape. He nailed it so many times. It was just a joy to watch him play it sometimes. He’s really great in it. And he’s in for a world of hurt when this comes out, because fans are going to crazy over him. (laughs)
That’s the same thing Nick said, that everyone is going to want to talk to James after they see what he does in this movie. They both made it clear that the script is very physical. Can you talk a little about the importance of having somebody who is an actor as well as a stuntman, rather than someone who can just do the stunts?
They got lucky finding him. That combination does work really well. But really to simplify it, maybe more so than anyone’s going to want to hear, it wasn’t about are you a stuntman or are you an actor. It was about (the fact that) it was the right casting, not only physically, but internally.
James really knows how to approach Michael Myers – less is more. He figured out a way to do what everybody projected onto the original. You project your own idea of what evil is, of what this disconnected killing machine is, your own projection of what the Boogeyman is behind that mask, what he’s thinking, what his motivation is if there is any. That’s what made the original so fantastic. And James figured out a way to tap into that.
A lot of times I’d be sitting on set thinking, ‘I’m projecting my own version of the Boogeyman here,’ and he figured out a way to anticipate those movements or lack thereof, as you were thinking it or even before that. And that’s a testament to him.
That just gets me even more excited. As a fan, I can’t wait. It sounds amazing.
Dude, I was there and I can’t wait to see it. (laughs)
The new Halloween arrives in theaters on October 19.
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