With the big Friday the 13th DVD box set coming out this Tuesday, I felt that it was important to sit down with a couple of actors who have portrayed our favorite camp counselor killing mongoloid himself, Jason Vorhees. Today we talk to the very first Jason to grace the screen in the originalFriday the 13th, Mr. Ari Lehman.
Sean Clark: When did you first realize how popular your character had become? Ari Lehman: Well that’s a good question because when we first made Friday the 13th the director, Sean Cunningham, was unsure of the success so to make a long story short he ultimately sold the rights to the original one to a different producer Steve Miner, which was why it passed from one group to another even at the beginning. So we had no inkling that it was going to be successful. We all just wanted to make a decent picture and do a good job. The next thing I know, maybe a year later when I was in junior high school, somebody just came up to me and said, “Hey Ari, chi, chi, chi. Kill her mommy, kill her!” I was like, no way man! Immediately all of these people knew about it but at first we had no idea. When it grossed as much as it did and went to international distribution we were all very surprised and happy. It was like a good laugh at the end of a joke because we all got together and did what we thought was a good job, had a lot of fun doing it. It wasn’t done with a big budget, it wasn’t done with a great seriousness, it was just done with a fun approach and I think that is one of the most lasting things about it. SC: Obviously you knew that the film had success and spawned many sequels but when did you first realize that you had fans out there that wanted to meet you and how the character of Jason had become this iconic figure? AL: That’s another good question. I became a musician. I was in New York City with a lot of different groups. I started getting into reggae and African music so I started playing on the reggae scene and I was playing with top reggae artists. I went to Africa and was touring with groups like Steel Pulse. So I came back and I had my own band the Ari Ben Moses Band, it’s like a reggae rock group. SC: And what do you play? AL: I sing and I play keyboards. I’m like the band leader, singer/songwriter. Interestingly enough we mainly get gigs on the Jewish scene. So Jason gets the Jewish gigs! So I checked Google under my band’s name looking for stuff and I happened to search my own name and all of this stuff came up. Like thousands of entries and a lot of them had misinformation. Since they had never taken the time to actually interview me like you are they were putting in wives that I never had, kids that I never had, where I lived. They put that I was in California at one point, just all of this stuff. So I started e-mailing a few people just out of courtesy to let them know the correct info. In the process of doing that Eric Lee Nash, the webmaster for CampCrystalLake.com was one of the first people who kind of enlightened me and told me that there were all of these fans out there. The most impressive thing to me is that they just want to meet me just to say hi. I like to meet actors or actresses I liked in a film, that’s a thrill you know? SC: What was your involvement with the new DVD box set? Did you do any interviews or a commentary? AL: It’s going to be a great box set. I was interviewed for it at the Fangoria convention in New Jersey last January. They did a lot of interviews for the special features. I know there is going to be deleted footage in there, and also I know Tom Savini has some extensive commentary in there. I think they did a great job with it. SC: I’m not sure if you are aware of this or not but when they initially announced the box set it was on a much grander scale, which got pulled back a great deal. For instance I had spoken to Joe Zito, the director of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and he had said that he knew where all of the cut footage was from the film and would be more than willing to go back in and re-edit the film but for some reason that never happened. AL: I’m not as well informed about it. I knew there was some scaling back and that always seems to happen in projects. I think they are making every effort to make it a lot of fun. If Joe Zito came forward and said that then he would have had to make special arrangements to have that done and maybe that was prohibitive, I don’t know. You know this doesn’t have to be the only version of this box set that comes out. Maybe if there is enough outcry to those in charge they will do another one. I am hopeful that they will do as much as they can for the fans because they really owe it to the fans. SC: I think we all know that they will eventually bring out another version. We have seen how studios bring out version after version of successful films. It just seems to me that someone dropped the ball on this one. AL: Well maybe next time they can get the fans more directly involved to bring out a product that pleases everyone. SC: Have you seen every Friday the 13th film? AL: Yes I have seen every single one. SC: Do you have a favorite other than your own? AL: I like part four. I like that it keeps the storyline going in a certain way and Tom is there again. Of course I’m a big Tom Savini fan. I also like Jason X. SC: It’s a fun movie. AL: Yeah and that is the essence of it. You don’t need to get too wrapped up in the psycho drama. I know a lot of people may not agree with me but I think that New Line did a good effort on Freddy vs. Jason. It would have been wiser if they had chosen Kane, not to take anything away from Ken Kirzinger but to me Kane sort of personifies the character. SC: Plus he has such a large fan following. Why would you turn your back on the very same fans you are trying to please? AL: It’s odd, I have no idea. SC: And I agree Ken didn’t do a bad job by any means but in Kane here is a guy who really embodies the character and goes out and promotes it like crazy. Why would you turn your back on that? AL: Exactly, exactly. It’s all politics. Maybe they really didn’t know how loyal Kane Hodder’s fan base is and that is a great tribute to him. When you get C.J. and him together they are a riot. And they like to pick on me like I’m the little brother. We want to do a reality show called “The Jason’s” where we get all of the Jason’s to live together in a house in Malibu or something. The first week they all get along its like, “Hey thanks for sharpening my axe.” “No problem brother Jason.” The last week they are all at each other throats like, “Give me back my head!” (laughs) SC: I think that could work but it would have to be real and not scripted and you would have to put Ken Kirzinger in there with Kane. AL: Oh my God no! It’s so funny because when C.J. and Kane get together and a fan says to one or the other, “I really like your version of Jason better than his” they yell, “What!” And really play off of that. They are very professional both of them and have respect for each other. Plus they are so good to the fans. They are both a really big part of me being around at the conventions. SC: Have you met all of the other actors who have played Jason? AL: I think I have met just about all of them but I haven’t met Ken Kirzinger or Steve Daskawisz who did some of the stunts in part two. SC: Do you have a favorite Jason other than yourself of course? AL: Kane. SC: Yeah but Kane is the obvious answer. AL: The thing about Kane is that he was a stuntman all along. Now I think Richard Brooker did a really good job. I also think that C.J. did a good job. I think that the reason why the character is what it is is because so many different people approached it and brought something new to it. It’s just like with Dracula or Frankenstein you have your Bela Lugosi, you have your Lon Chaney Jr. There is a lot with this movie that echoes a lot of the great traditions of horror. I always kind of compared my Jason to the Creature From the Black Lagoon because he has the water thing going on and he grabs the girl. I love that movie. SC: So what are you doing now? AL: Well actually we are working on a project for a stage show which is kind of a death metal project. I’ve got the drummer from the Cro-Mags in there and I know that is a punk band. SC: Mackie? AL: You know them? SC: I was a huge Cro-Mags fan back in the day. AL: Well this is actually Amed he toured with them in Europe when Mackie didn’t go. So we are trying to create a stage show probably in masks. Have the whole band in masks. Kind of like fifteen minutes of wildness and then fifteen minutes of me drowning, fifteen minutes of me coming out of the water and grabbing the girl etc. So we started to work on the music for it to do something that is really contemporary with some of the better metal, hardcore and neo-punk that is kind of going on right now. SC: Does this project have a name? AL: It’s going to be called The Jason Experience. SC: Anything else you would like to mention like your website where fans can contact you and such. AL: Yeah well my band is the Ari Ben Moses Band and our website is Ari Ben Moses Band.com. We are also currently putting together a Jason dedicated website and that is in the works right now. Of course once that is ready there will be a link to that off of my website. We don’t have a domain name yet for that website so we will see. Once that is up it will be a place where fans can get various products like my mask from Bump in the Night Productions and stuff like that. SC: I really appreciate your time. AL: Thank you so much bro!
Stay tuned for my interview with Jason #2 Warrington Gillette next!