Horror Month: Interview with Ari Lehman (Friday the 13th)

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Horror Month – June 2015

Continuing our Friday the 13th week! We interview the actor who played the first ever portrayal of the iconic Jason Voorhees in the original film!! He has gone on to many other film roles as well as a successful music career.

Sean [Cunningham] called me up and asked, “Can you swim?” and when I replied that I could, he said, “Great! You got the part”


What led you to become an Actor?
Greetings to you and your readers from Camp Crystal Lake! When I was 13 years old, my Father took me to see the premiere of STAR WARS at Times Square in New York City. I was completely thrilled and amazed, and decided right then and there that I wanted to be in a movie. I was already studying Jazz Piano at that point, but I was curious about the acting experience too. The next year I successfully auditioned for a part in “Manny’s Orphans” a Comedy about a rag-tag bunch of inner city kids who save their orphanage by winning a Soccer tournament. The film was directed by Sean S. Cunningham and shot in Westport, Connecticut, where I lived at the time. I was given an 80-line role, playing “Roger” a randy youngster who always was seen carrying a Playboy magazine. The very next film that Sean Cunningham made was to be “Friday the 13th“, and there was a role that called for a young man that could swim. Sean called me up and asked, “Can you swim?” and when I replied that I could, he said, “Great! You got the part. Come on down to the office tomorrow.” That’s how I was cast as the First Jason Voorhees in “Friday the 13th”. In the end, I decided that playing Music was better suited for my personality and abilities, so I chose Music as my profession.

What were your experiences like working on the iconic Friday the 13th?
Being on the set of any Feature Film is an enlightening experience, especially as a young person. For “Friday the 13th” I had the honor to work with the great Special Effects wizard Tom Savini. Over the course of four months I played a part in the creation of the original Jason Voorhees mask and costume. The first time I saw myself in the makeup, it was absolutely surreal. Seeing myself transformed completely into Jason empowered me to actual “become” the Boy in the Lake on the set weeks later. The mask consisted of a glass eye, false teeth, a prosthetic face and scalp, and eventually plenty of real mud from the pond. It was great fun to be on that set, since most of the Cast and Crew lived in New York City and welcomed working in that bucolic setting of the Delaware Water Gap region. The team spirit on the set was very inspiring to me, all of us sleeping in the cabins actually used in the movie, and swimming in the pond after a long day of shooting and re-shooting. The Crewmembers helped me pass the time by playing 8-track tapes of the latest sounds in their pickup trucks. We listened to Patti Smith, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Damned and even The Doors on the set of F13.

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Did you think the film would lead to one of the biggest horror franchises ever?
At that time we hadn’t a clue that there would be such a lasting response. I feel that the first film truly owes it’s success to the way the Betsy Palmer played the character that Victor Miller created. Her portrayal of Pamela Voorhees, Jason’s Mother is distinctive and memorable. She invested the same uncompromising qualities into that performance as she did in her dozens of Feature Film roles opposite big names like Henry Fonda, James Dean and Jack Lemmon. It made no difference to her, once she was cast, she made it her goal to give it her all. In turn Betsy inspired and elevated the entire Cast and Crew to make the movie the best it could possibly be. Betsy earned her wings just a few days ago, and we loved her madly. She always told me to “Knock ’em Dead, and Leave ’em Writhing in the Aisles!”

Her unique approach to this character resonated with an inner turmoil. I strongly feel that without the unshakable Mrs. Voorhees we’d never have the Hockey Masked Jason, and without that no franchise at all.

How does it feel to be the original Jason?
The fans of Jason Voorhees are the most dedicated fans in the world! I am deeply gratified that people still watch the movie that I was honoured to be in 35 years later. There is a real Mythos that surrounds Jason Voorhees, and to be the actual First, Original Jason has a mystique all it’s own. The setting of the Lake, as well as his connection to his Mother are two eternal archetypes that open up entire realms of symbolism and meaning.

Tom-SaviniI certainly make use of this imagery in my musical project FIRST JASON. It’s an absolute thrill to be a part of Horror History and I never take that for granted. That said, it’s really all about the viewers, the fans. They are the ones who bring Jason Voorhees back to life every time they go back to the theater to see him take on anyone who trespasses his territory with brutal and deadly force.

Are you a fan of horror films yourself?
Yes I enjoy in particular German Silent Expressionist Films like Der Golem, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Faust, as well as Universal films like Boris Karloff’s The Mummy. Hammer Horrors like The Curse of The Werewolf starring Oliver Reed are outstanding. One film that I feel deserves more attention for actually initiating the American Slasher Genre is The Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum as a travelling preacher/serial killer in Depression-era rural America. Directed by Charles Laughton this film is a departure from the Gothic-style Horror that preceded it. I’m also a devotee of the Italian Giallo of Dario Argento: Deep Red, Phenomena and Opera are fantastic, especially the soundtrack work by Goblin. New Horror Films that I really like include The Orphan, Hard Candy, Zombieland and [REC].

If you could play any role from any movie which would it be any why?
Svengali. John Barrymore made this character from the then best-selling book “Trilby” one of the most unforgettable motion-picture characters of all time. The sheer range and spectrum of emotions that Svengali encounters in this film are staggering. It’s a manifesto of the modern concept of domination and manipulation, driven blindly by ego and greed. Also Svengali is a brilliant Pianist, Volinist, Composer etc, and I relate to him personally on that level and others.
When he hypnotizes Trilby from miles away, across the rooftops of Old Paris, she comes to him, unaware of what she is doing, only aware of his penetrating powerful gaze. SVENGALI!

What lead you to go into the music business?
At a very early age it was discovered that I could sing, and that I could learn music by ear on the piano or violin very quickly. I studied Classical music and Jazz, going on to win a Scholarship to Berklee School of Music awarded to me by the great Jazz Educator Dr. Billy Taylor. Around the same time that I was in “Friday the 13th” I was studying with the top Jazz Piano teachers in my region, and upon graduating High School I moved to New York City to seek out a career. Originally I found work on the Reggae and World Music scene, and went on to work for Interscope and Tuff Gong Records as a touring and recording artist, travelling all over the USA and even to West Africa. Later, I wanted to reach the Horror Fans, who enjoy Rock, Punk and Metal so I developed FIRST JASON, my current project where I lead the band on a Heavy Metal Keytar that’s on a giant Machete with an LED Jason Mask in the blade!

FIRST JASON now has two albums out, “JASON IS WATCHING” and “HEED MY WARNING” with songs like “Jason Never Dies”, “Machete is My Friend”, “Jason’s Bride” and “Sink or Swim” thereby giving voice the inner workings of the mind of the ever-silent Jason Voorhees.

Do you enjoy meeting fans and attending conventions?
Yes! What could possibly be more fun than meeting so many enthusiastic fan/friends? Horror Conventions in particular are very exciting, and I am always honored to work beside so many truly great actors, filmmakers and artists. “Friday the 13th” is one of those films that people like to watch together. I get regaled with hilarious stories of how I scared some very nice people. If you have not attended a Horror Convention yet, go and enjoy, and meet the monsters live!

What is your favourite film of all time?
The original Star Wars that my Dad took me to see in Times Square!

Do you have any upcoming projects?
FIRST JASON is doing a new Album/Book project called “AMERICAN ORIGINAL”. The title comes from a line that Annie says to Enos the Truck Driver in the opening segment of F13. Taking the experience a bit deeper, this album reflects not only upon the mind of Jason, but on what it’s like to be the man who played Jason as a young boy. FIRST JASON get the opportunity to travel all over the USA, meeting so many unique and amazing people, and visiting so many wonderful locations, so I decided that we should make that the real theme of this new album. We are welcoming the involvement of our fan/friends in both the book and the album, welcoming artwork, poems, photos. First Jason Takes America THEN THE WORLD!

JASON NEVER DIES!!! – Ari Lehman/FIRST JASON http://www.firstjason.com


See Also
Interview with Adrienne King (Alice – Friday the 13th)
Interview with Victor Miller (Writer – Friday the 13th)


Get involved with Horror Month!

Take part in our Survey for a chance to win some horror goodies and tickets to HorrorCon UK 2015! Contest details here.

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