An American Werewolf in London was a milestone for the werewolf genre. Before David Kessler, werewolves had the benefit of a breather during the day while they contemplated what to do about their “situation” before the next full moon. David Kessler had no such luxury: After incurring the mark of the beast — and losing his best friend — David woke up to a never-ending barrage of guilt, nightmares and loss of sanity, the only reprieve from which would be death. Being a werewolf was not cool – it was a curse.
The role of David Kessler required an actor whose talent could reflect the melancholy nature of the beast. Director John Landis wisely chose David Naughton for the part. Thirty years after the release of An American Werewolf in London, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Naughton at the Weekend of Horrors convention in Bottrop, Germany.
How did you end up getting into the acting business?
Growing up in Connecticut I went to public school where we had a great drama teacher and high school musicals, and that’s how we got involved. My brother James is also a director and actor, and we went to the same school. So we were both inspired by this great teaching at the high school level, which continued into college, and then I decided acting was something I wanted to pursue, and so I went on to drama school in New York and majored in theater.
Is it true you had a singing career once?
Well, yeah, besides just doing musical theater and a number of off-Broadway shows, I did a television show as well. I did a show called Makin’ It and got the chance to record the title song for the series, and the song just wouldn’t quit – even though the series didn’t get a fair shake, I’m sorry to say. We just lasted one season, but the song could not die and just climbed right up the charts. It was was pretty amazing.
When I was a kid I saw this movie called The Man Who Could Cheat Death, and what I found particularly weird about it was they had some serious makeup when this guy, toward the end of the film, lived down in this dungeon and he kept prisoners and it was very bizarre – keep in mind I was a kid when I watched it – and I remember at the end there was this potion that kept him young and when he ran out of it (or when they took it away from him), he started to just contort and melt down, which was pretty scary for a kid. I was around ten years old when I saw it.
Who do you think would win a fight: David Kessler or Twilight‘s Jacob Black?
I have to say my transformation turned me into a four legged, pretty good-sized werewolf. I think I could handle him. Yeah, I’d definitely tear him limb from limb.
Ten hours of makeup, five hours in the floor, countless re-takes: Would you do it all again to be the werewolf we remember?
I’m sure Rick Baker has some new, much faster ways of doing what he wanted to do. I mean, at the time, I did this scare-face makeup wearing these full glass lenses in my eye. Today, with the soft lenses, people have it easy. So I think there are some streamlined ways to get it done. Then I’d go back into it.
There’s this certain blend, you know? There’s this transformation between regular makeup and CGI. I think CGI can work but there has to be that bridge. Rick Baker is the best with those techniques and the opportunity to work with him again would be really fun.
If there’s anything you could change in the horror industry today, what would it be?
Less reliance on CGI, and not just for horror, but for all films. CGI is generally a major portion of the budget. In my opinion, you could do more with less and go back to traditional forms of makeup.
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while filming a horror movie?
In [An American Werewolf in London] we got out of the street when I was in half makeup so I just wore a shirt with a big, hairy chest. I ripped my hair off inside a pub going, “Hey what’s wrong with the service in here?” and it got some incredible looks from people going, “Did you see what that guy did? He just pulled the hair right off his chest!”