Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Man Beneath the Makeup: Talking Terrifier with David Howard Thornton (aka Art The Clown)

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Damien Leone and his horror progeny, Art the Clown. I feel like I've taken every opportunity possible to gush about Art and the films that feature him, whether it's breaking down the benefits of supporting Terrifier's Indiegogo campaign, bringing up clown over-saturation in my interview with Damien Leone, or getting too tongue tied to say anything worthwhile on The Overlook Hour after finally getting to watch my most anticipated movie in recent memory. But all this time I didn't think to talk to a very important person in the equation; the man behind the Art makeup.

There have been two actors to dawn the brutal clown's attire and I spoke to the second, David Howard Thornton. He took over the villain's role for Terrifier, and with the film's release scheduled for this March, it's about time we got to know our eccentric star.

Huntress: First, I'd like to get to know you a bit. How did you get into theatre acting? Was the transition from stage to screen difficult to adjust to?

David: I pretty much came out of the womb as an actor/singer. My parents were very involved in our church's drama program so I naturally started doing shows with my children's choir, as well as school plays. Oddly enough, I was a shy child, especially during my middle school years where I was bullied a lot, but found that I could escape from myself and be someone else on stage and make people laugh. When you can make people laugh, they stop laughing at you and start laughing with you. This was a saving grace for me. My mother noticed this, and encouraged me to audition for our local community theater productions, which I eventually got cast in and started acting in on a regular basis throughout my high school and college years. Oddly enough, I did not get a degree in theater, but rather in teaching young minds since I was trying to be pragmatic with my career choices. Sadly, my mother passed away from cancer while I was in college, which led to a dark year or so in my life where I did a lot of soul searching about what would make me happy. I reached the conclusion that entertaining others was my calling in life, so I decided to forgo a teaching career and move to NYC to pursue my life long passion. I haven't looked back since and have had amazing opportunities to act in national tours, stage productions, TV, voice over, and film. My mom's death taught me a valuable lesson of living a life without regrets, and that is the type of life that I intend to live. 

As for making the change from stage to screen, yes, that was a somewhat difficult adjustment to make. I typically have played a lot of comedic characters and have incorporated a lot of physical comedy into them. On stage you have to make larger gestures that can read to the back of the audience, and also have to be good at projecting your voice, especially since microphones sometimes have the wonderful tendency to not work at times. Film work is different since the camera can pick up the smallest movements and the mics can pick up the smallest of sounds. Those are some of the things that I have had to learn, and still am learning, to make adjustments for.

Huntress: I can't get over the irony that you can do over a hundred voice impressions, yet you are playing a silent villain. How did you develop that talent? And what was it that drew you to the role of Art? 

David: Yes, I find it funny that I am playing a silent character. I have been doing character voices since I was in the 1st grade. There was a girl in my class that I had a crush on that passed me a note during story time (which was from a Mickey Mouse book) asking me to be her boyfriend. I let out a "H'yuck! Gawrsh!" in the form of Goofy out of nowhere, and a new skill set was born. Something just clicked inside of my brain that day. I honestly don't know how I can do what I do. It is some innate ability that I have inside of me that I can mimic interesting voices that I hear. When I learned that Mel Blanc did almost all of the voices for Warner Bros. cartoons, I felt compelled to figure out how to do the same. Anytime I hear an interesting voice, I try my best to figure out how to replicate it. I am constantly walking around practicing voices. I am sure my neighbors think I am mad. Character voices are like Pokemon to me, in a way. I feel compelled to "catch" them all. 

Because of this, I find it ironic that Art is completely silent. Voices have always been my go to in developing and portraying characters. That has always been my strength. Damien took that away from me and presented me with a real challenge of portraying an entertaining and menacing character merely through physicality. I love challenges like this as an actor, so that is what partly drew me to the role of Art. I am a HUGE fan of silent film comediennes like Chaplin, Keaton, Marx, as well as other characters like Mr. Bean that rely on physicality over dialogue to portray meaning and intent. I think physical comedy is a lost art form that is rarely seen today. I've had the fortune to study under probably one of the best physical comediennes alive, Stefan Karl (Robbie Rotten from "Lazy Town") when I toured with "How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical" as his understudy as the Grinch. Stefan is a master in this craft and I learned a lot from him during those years. I've always wanted to develop such a silent character in that same vein. I am also a big fan of classic silent slasher villains such as Jason and Michael Myers since I have always found their silence very unnerving. Plus I am also a huge fan of the menacing hilarity of Freddy Krueger and Chucky. To me, it is like Damien took all of the things I love, put them in a blender, and made a bloody delicious frappe when he created Art. How could I not be drawn to playing such a character?

Huntress: You also play the Joker in the web series Nightwing: Escalation. Is it a coincidence or is there something about playing the villain that appeals to you?

David: The Joker is my all time favorite villain. I love that he can be funny and entertaining and scary as hell at the exact same time. I've always wanted to play him on the big screen, and fully intend to one day, so I have loved playing him on Nightwing: Escalation as well. I've definitely brought a little bit of Joker into Art. 

I do indeed love playing the villain. I find playing characters that are the exact opposite of myself to be a real joy because I can really explore a lot of new territory. It can be so freeing! Plus, villains have always intrigued me more than heroes. I enjoy figuring out what makes a person "tick", and I find the journey that villains have gone on to lead them to why they are the way they are to be extremely fascinating. There are so many different types! My two favorite types are the ones that don't realize that they are the villain and believe what they are doing is for good, and the ones that completely recognize that they are evil and simply relish and revel in that concept. Both Joker and Art fall into that later category. We don't really delve too deeply into who Art is in Terrifier but offer subtle clues. However, in future installments, we full intend to delve more into who/what he actually is and what drives him into doing the horrible things he does. I am really looking forward to exploring more of that in the future with him!

Huntress: Your stage background definitely came through in your portrayal of Art the Clown. Was it difficult to act with a full facial prosthetic on? 

David: Oddly enough, no! Damien is such a talented guy, especially when it comes to practical effects and prosthetics. They made a mold of my head and teeth, so the mask that I wear as Art covers my entire face and is made to fit me perfectly. The process of putting it on usually took about 3-4 hours since it all had to be glued to my face, but it was well worth it since it allowed me a full range of movement and expression, which is key for a character that does not speak. It really was like putting on a second skin and became natural to me. I'd constantly forget that I was wearing it, which led to some interesting moments with random people.

Huntress: Did you put yourself through any kind of mental preparation in order to play such an unapologetically evil character?

David: I wish I could say I did, but not really. I think that is because I have played several villains in the past and now have an easier time slipping into such a mindset when the cameras are ready to roll. I did watch the original Art's performance (Mike Giannelli) so I could pick up on key movements and the essence of the character. Mike did a great job first establishing Art's persona. I wanted to take what he had already done and build upon that while also bringing my own spin to the character.

Huntress: What was the most memorable part of filming the movie? How did people on set react to you in full makeup?

David: My most memorable night had to have been while we were filming at this sketchy warehouse in Trenton, NJ. I mentioned earlier how I would forget how I looked at times. There was this one night where I was chilling out in the makeup/holding room while they were filming another scene. These two women were arguing on the street outside of my window, so I went over to watch the events unfold. At one point, one of them looked up and saw this blood soaked clown looking down at them who then waved at them. They screamed and ran off. About 30 minutes later, my producer comes in saying "Dave, don't worry about this, but when we ask you to come outside, come outside. Some people want to meet you." My curiosity was piqued! We were filming in this big garage in the warehouse that had those roll up shutter doors. I heard a voice from the other side ask me to come out, so I rolled up the door and stepped under. When I looked up, I was staring at about 10-15 cops in full riot gear armed to the teeth. "Whassup guys!" is what came out of my mouth to which they all broke out in a fit of laughter. They commented that I better be glad that I was not the first one to come out or they would have shot me on sight. I took pictures with them, though some were too afraid to come near me despite being armed. It turns out that the women from earlier called them and told them what they saw, and that is how they responded. It says a lot about the area we were filming in. It was hilarious to me, and I am glad that I led to some fun stories for lots of people to tell that night... all because I forgot what I looked like. 

As for others on set reacting to me. At first most were a bit wary since I was usually in makeup before they arrived on set and had not had a chance to meet me in my regular persona. Everyone got used to me quickly enough though.

Huntress: The kills in Terrifier get pretty disturbing, especially with how graphic they are. Did you have a hard time with any of the scenes?

David: Boy howdy are they disturbing! I didn't really have any real problems, per se, because I know how to separate fact from fiction. I will say that I have enormous respect in all of my costars for what all they had to endure, especially for Catie. I won't go into more there to risk spoiling anything though. I will say that I found myself go on an interesting journey while filming. My first night filming was a fight scene between myself and Jenna. I was so concerned about hurting her and constantly checking to make sure she was ok, which is kind of funny considering how I looked etc. She has a lot of experience with such scenes, so she told me not worry about it, especially since it helped her more character wise. Flash forward to the end of filming and I was like "You want me to do this and this to such and such? All right! No problem!" I truly became accustomed to killing while filming. Ha ha!

Huntress: What would you do if you saw Art the Clown walking abound on Halloween night?

David: Depends on which state he was in. If he was Art at the beginning of the film, I'd probably give him a head nod and walk on. I'm a New Yorker, after all. We are used to strange things. Art at the end of the film though... I'd give him a WIDE berth.

Huntress: What direction would you like to go next? Do you plan to do more film or voice over work?

David: I'd definitely love to do more film work as well as voice over work! First and foremost, I'm wanting to do the next film in this franchise! There is so much more that I want to explore with with Art. Keeping in the same vein of killer clowns, I would absolutely love to play the adult version of Richie "Trashmouth" Tozier in the sequel to It. In many ways, I am the real life version of the character. I mean, how much fun would that be on so many different levels? Other than that, I'd love to voice some more characters in various animated series or get on some of these popular super hero shows. I've already played a small role on "Gotham" where I helped create Solomon Grundy, and would love to do more projects like that. Time will tell! I'm just enjoying the journey in the mean time.

Huntress: Are you working on anything new that you can talk about? Where can people keep up with your new projects on social media? 

David: Right now, I am in between projects and am auditioning a lot. You can catch me on Season 3 of Nightwing: Escalation as The Joker online, and might occasionally hear me on animated children shows like Super Wings. I also voice the villainous Sam Locker on the award winning audio drama Powder Burns which stars John Wesley Shipp ("The Flash"). If you want, you can also follow me on either Instagram (davidhowardthornton) or Twitter (@DavidHThornton). I usually try to update everyone on my projects on there.

Huntress: What was your last most anticipated movie?

David: My last most anticipated movies were It, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the next Star Wars installment. I am such an 80's kid at heart! And my next most anticipated movies would have to be 
Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2.

Huntress: Terrifier has been getting some very positive responses from its film festival screenings. Have you gotten to watch it with an audience? If so, how did they react?

David: Yes it has! I've been floored by the positive response we have been getting! I have gotten to see it twice with audiences at various screenings, and both of them were fantastic experiences. I enjoyed being able to watch everyone's reactions. I found a lot of joy in seeing people laugh and scream in the same minute, and even when people got up and left because they were too scared. It made me feel that we had all done our job properly. When the audience spontaneously breaks out into a chant of "Art! Art! Art!" during the credits, you know that you have created something great. It gives me a lot of hope of how well it will be received by the masses when we finally release! I truly hope everyone enjoys the film as much as I enjoyed making it for them.

Keep up with Terrifier and Art the Clown on Facebook and Twitter.
And find out what David is up to by following him on Instagram and Twitter 🤡
And prepare for the release of Terrifier, coming sooner than you think!


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