Interview: David Howard Thornton Steps Into The Big Shoes Of Art The Clown
Hey, no one ever said taking a new job was an easy thing to do, especially when it comes to filling the very big clodhoppers of a murderous clown. Enter David Howard Thornton, your new Art The Clown in Damien Leone’s Terrifier, which is cutting its way through select theaters now, and will be kicking in your big screen TVs on March 27th.
Starting off in local church theater in his hometown in Alabama where sports were king, he was bullied, but took to performing like a natural. Even though he enjoyed his time on stage, he wanted to go the route of his family, so he went to college and got a degree in Elementary Education, and after a conversation he had with his mother shortly before she passed away in 2002, it came to him that he enjoyed entertaining his students more than teaching them, and the move was made to leap into the acting business.
He was generous enough to give us a few minutes of his time to discuss his new role, as well as where he’d like to progress to in the future – settle in, read on and enjoy!
Make sure to rent Terrifier on iTunes.
Dread Central: David, for the fans that will be heading out to see the film, an you tell them what to expect when they sit down to take this thing in?
David H. Thornton: I would say it’s a nice homage to the classic slasher genre – there’s a lot of blood, guts and gore, but also a lot of good suspense and a bit of humor in there as well. It’s a nice way to bring back the iconic horror villain – a return to form, I guess you could say.
DC: Take us back to the beginning – tell us how it came to be that you snagged the role for the film?
DT: I had seen a posting that was up on Actors Access – it’s an audition website, and they were looking for a tall, skinny comedic actor that had experience in clowning and comedy, and I thought that it was something totally up my alley. I was already familiar with All Hallows Eve, so I contacted my agent and asked them to please submit me for this, so they did, and I went in and auditioned, and it was probably one of the most interesting auditions I’ve ever had! (laughs) – Well, you know Art doesn’t talk, so there was no script and I thought “what the heck am I going to do?” So I head into the room, and it’s Damien and Phil (Falcone), our producer, and when I asked them what they’d like me to do, they wanted me to improvise a kill scene for them. So I ended up doing something right off the top of my head – Art sneaks up behind a guy (with a little Jim Carrey from The Mask in there) – I hit him in the head and knock him down, and I take a hacksaw out of my big bag, saw off his head, hold it up, and taste a bit of his blood with my finger and give a reaction like “eww no!” I then reach back into my bag and grab a salt shaker and start salting the head, taste it again and act like “now it’s perfect!” (laughs) Then I toss the head in my bag, like a doggie-bag, then happily skip away – they were all cracking up, and I said “yep, that’s what was in my head all the time!”
They then asked me if I was okay with makeup, and I’ve done a lot of children’s theater and I’ve also played the Grinch which requires a lot of makeup, so I’m used to being in the chair. They then asked me if I wanted to come in for a makeup test, and I said yes, and a few months later I’m in for the makeup test, and the whole time I’m thinking “I think I have the job, but I’m not sure” because I never got a solid yes, so I asked one of the makeup guys if I had the job and he said “oh yeah, you do!” (laughs)
DC: Pertaining to the makeup – after you’re all done up and ready to shoot, and you finally see yourself for the first time as Art, what was running through your head?
DT: Something like “this is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy!” (laughs) It actually was a very surreal scene with the whole ensemble on for the first time, and Jenna (Kannell) and Katie (Maguire) had already shot for a few nights before I arrived on-set, so they were comfortable with things, but when I showed up I kind of freaked out.
DC: Did Damien want to keep Art more towards the way he was in the short film and All Hallows Eve, or was he receptive to you adding a touch of personal flavor to the character this time around?
DT: There was definitely some collaboration on all of our parts, and there was a lot of time spent in the makeup chair, so we’d use that time to chat about what we wanted to do for the day, as well as long-term with the character. He had a lot of ideas how he wanted the character to be, but he also allowed me to play around with it a bit and add my own things to it, and I’d ask questions about how did he want a certain facial expression, and we’d sometimes do different takes to see what worked and what didn’t, and one scene where I’m torturing a character (I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum) I’m going through all my tools that I’ve got stuffed in my bag, and I was improvising different things with each tool. One of the tools was this large pipe with a spike attached to the end of it, so I improvised this whole swinging golf-club act where I hit the person in the knee, and some things came out a little too funny, so maybe they’ll end up in the DVD extras, but I just wanted to try and give some options to see what would work. It was really fun though – I had my moments where I could just play around and see what I could come up with on the spot.
DC: Would you say that playing this role has been your most challenging to date?
DT: Yeah, probably – one of my biggest skill-sets that I’ve relied on in my career so far has been my voice. I do over 200 character voices and 25 different dialects, so that’s something that I’ve always relied upon to create a character…and Art doesn’t talk! (laughs) So the challenge then became how to convey emotions without talking, and I grew up watching the old silent films – Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy – and they had to convey all that meaning with just their faces and physical movements, and I also did a lot of physical comedy in the shows I was in.
I also am inspired by actors like Doug Jones and Rowan Atkinson, and one of my biggest influences is the man I understudied for while on The Grinch: Stefan Karl – this man is absolutely amazing. He’s like a masterclass in physical comedy, and he’s regarded in Iceland as their Jim Carrey, and I’ve never seen this kind of talent in my life, let alone someone I could learn from first-hand, so for those five years I was touring with The Grinch I was constantly asking questions and observing everything he was doing. So when I wondered on-set what would Art do in a certain situation, I thought “what would Stefan do here?”
DC: So what’s going to be keeping you busy after Terrifier scares the shit out of the masses?
DT: I really have no idea right now – hopefully a sequel! Damien and I have been shooting ideas back and forth to each other about things we’d like to do with the next films, and we’ve got some fun ideas. I recently auditioned for another animated series, so I hope something will happen there. But the one thing I’d absolutely LOVE to come about, and I’m putting this out there to the universe, but I would love to play the adult version of Richie Tozier in the sequel to IT. In the books, Richie’s known as “the man of a thousand voices” so I would love to have that happen! Imagine the tie-in: this guy played Art The Clown and now he’s going up against Pennywise – it sells itself!