We caught up with Jason Behr, Natassia Malthe, Shawn Roberts and creature effects genius Stan Winston (who also designed the Tooth Fairy for Darkness Falls) last week in L.A. during their press day to talk about the movie. Today we bring you our interview with Jason. Part 2 will be coming up over the next few days.
Jason Behr: How’re you guys doing today? It’s a little hot…
Not as hot as it was in the movie, shot in the Summer, with all the leather…
JB: That’s the rumor, yes. Don’t tell anybody!
What attracted you to this movie?
JB: Basically the fact that I am playing a bad guy. That was such a departure for me! And I’m doing all these things that I’ve always wanted to do, I think, as a kid and then as an actor. I got a chance to shoot guns and ride motorcycles and do insane wire-work and stunts and just be a big, bad-ass wolf!
Can you describe your character, in your own words?
JB: Varek is the very Alpha leader of this group of Naturalists or Purists. The movie is about two very different types of Skinwalkers. Varek’s group is the Purist; they have embraced that power, that freedom and bloodlust; they’re almost addicted to it, and they believe that power to be a gift. The others, the Wintry Wolves (laughs), they have suppressed that primal instinct for centuries, and so I get to play the big, bad-ass, Alpha werewolf which was just cool for me.
Skinwalkers seems like a coming of age story for the boy at its center…
…Could you talk a little more about that? Also, there seems to be a heavy drug use metaphor.
JB: I think Matthew Knight (who plays Timothy) is a really talented kid, and it’s a lot of pressure on somebody to really carry that discovery and the moral compass of the piece. There’s a coming of age story about him sort of finding within himself to really embrace his own power and to really believe in himself. As far as the drug use metaphor, absolutely! Blood lust has that addictive quality, and that was something we all talked about and discussed even before we started shooting.
We were told that you studied wolves…
JB: I did!
For what purpose? Did it help with your movement, or…?
JB: You know, I wanted to be as truthful as I possibly could to the material, and to Stan Winston, and everything he’s done for the project. We started off watching this documentary about the Sawtooth Mountain wolves, and it’s incredible footage of these very free, very beautiful wolf packs, and then, beyond that, I wanted to see what it was like at the zoo in Toronto, and it really did sort of polarize– It was real reflection and representation of these two tribal packs. You have one that’s very free, and then the one at the zoo that I felt really bad for, cos, you know, I’m sure they’re well taken care of, but they were confined, they were suppressed, they were reduced to this small place. They weren’t really truly free, and so it actually gave me an insight to have empathy for them, but it also gave me a real glimpse of what these other guys were supposed to be.
So how’s the werewolf sex?
JB: The werewolf sex?! (laughs all around) Fantastic, just fantastic! (more laughs) What a question! You really want me to answer that? (more laughs) Pretty amazing! You know, it was—we had our teeth in, we had our eyes in, we’re in the middle of nowhere, literally naked… It was interesting, I’ll say that. You have to be really careful with the teeth, because you could really take some flesh off with that! (more laughs)
To what extent did Stan Winston’s makeup help you get into character, and was it a pretty long, arduous process for you?
JB: It was a pretty long process, but it did help get into that mode, I mean, Stan’s a legend; he’s been doing this for a long time. If you’re gonna do a werewolf movie, you might as well do it with Stan, because he’s the best at what he does. Pure genius! He’s been wanting to do a werewolf movie for—since he was a teenager. He has a story about how, on Halloween, he’d go out dressed as a werewolf, because he loves werewolves, and it’s the reason why he got into this business in the first place, and he’s never done a werewolf movie before, so I felt like I was in extraordinary hands with him. His creation, his wolf suit, allowed us the freedom and gave us permission to play full out. When you put on the suit, and the teeth, and the eyes, and you stand up, you feel like you’ve become something else! It gave you complete freedom.
When you’re in that makeup, do you feel a little immobilized? Because we hear, sometimes, when they put in the contacts, you can’t really see…
JB: I’d say the vision was a little tough to get used to; you’re talking about contacts that cover up the entire eyeball, and you don’t have a lot of peripheral vision, it’s pretty small, but you get used to it; you have to. The suits themselves allowed for a lot of freedom and movement, cos Stan knew that we had to do all these stunts, and I did as many stunts as I possibly could. We had Steve Lucescu, who’s one of the world’s best stuntmen, and he’d show me something to do, and I’d come back the next day and say, ‘Give me more, give me more, give me more!’ I felt like a big, giant kid playing every day.
They allowed you to do that?
JB: Yeah, absolutely!
No stunt double?
JB: No, there were some things that they had (to use a stunt double) that was only because of time issues, but for the most part it’s all me, it’s all wolf, it’s all fun!
Did you have to do a lot of training beforehand, specific training to do this?
JB: I’d done some stage combat before, so I’m familiar with that. As far as training—they really didn’t give us a lot of time to fully prepare for it. They gave us a really condensed gun training; we needed to be safe, but as far as getting familiar with the gun, if you’ve seen the movie, I have some pretty heavy guns! (laughs) So, they didn’t really give us a whole lot of time to adjust to that, so we were sort of—It was fast, it was furious and it was sort of left to instinct, which, I guess, is what it’s all about.
Had you done wirework before?
JB: Never! Like I said, Steve Lucescu, the stunt guy, our stunt guru, really wanted to make this fun and new, and do things that had never been done before in the stunt world, and I really took it upon myself to do as much as I possibly could to allow that to happen, but I’d never done wirework before, never shot that kind of gun before, never put on a werewolf outfit before, so… (laughs all around) It was just a lot of fun; I had the time of my life.
How hard is stunt wirework to learn? Is it something you can pick up easily?
JB: I was the only person who really did it; I mean, me
and Kim Coates (who plays Zo, my right-hand man in the piece)—he did a few things here and there, but I think they saved most of the wirework for Varek, because he’s supposed to be the biggest bad-ass in the world.
For what I’ve seen—you were in Roswell, then in The Grudge, now in this, next in Dragon Wars —Is it a personal preference to lean towards sci-fi and fantasy and horror, or is it the project that attracts you to it?
JB: It’s usually based on a project-by-project basis. I’ve tried to balance it out with a lot of independent, character-driven pieces as well, which I’ve been lucky enough and fortunate enough to do, but to me it always has been, first and foremost, the character and the character within the piece and the story, so, if anything, I’m drawn to good storytelling.
What does it for you about scripts? Something that just jumps out of the page?
JB: There is never a specific thing; like I said, it’s always about the character and what that character’s journey is. Sometimes you’ll find a very interesting, very captivating character within a mediocre story, but you don’t really want to be part of a mediocre story, so you wonder if there’s any way you could make that better. But, there’s never really one specific thing, but I love challenges and I love to mix it up a bit and have variety, so I’m constantly trying to challenge myself as an actor, and also allow myself to explore things that I’ve never explored before.
Can you talk about what’s coming up for you?
JB: I did a movie, D-War, that’s coming out in September; and then after that I have The Tattooist that I did in New Zealand. It’s about this tattoo artist who finds himself immersed in the Samoan culture and tradition of tattoos and all the beliefs that go with it. After that, I have a movie called Senseless coming up, based on the Stona Fitch novel, and I just finished a movie in New York called Frost, another independent, character-driven piece like Senseless—a coming of age story about a man in his 30’s who has an existential crisis.
Sounds like a busy schedule!
JB: Thank goodness! Thank goodness! I love it.
You ever think about going back to TV?
JB: Yeah, I think there are great stories being told on TV right now; the lines between TV and film are becoming very blurry. Again, it’s on a project-by-project basis.
Thank you for talking to us.