What does a man who specializes in doing voice over work do, in his premiere breakout horror movie role? Well, he keeps his mouth shut, of course! That's right, David Howard Thornton, a talented artist with an especially impressive gift for impressions (he's done voice work for over 200 different characters spanning various projects), has taken the mantle of sociopathic killer clown, Art - in one of the year's most brutal horror films, TERRIFIER. While the film does feature plenty of hollering and screaming, David Thornton on the other hand, will not be uttering a single word. And he's all the more scary for it.
How, you ask? Well as it turns out, Thornton, not unlike the clowns he's used to portraying, has a few tricks up his sleeve...
(that's your cue to scream)
How difficult is it to bring life to a character that can't speak? How do you even prepare for a role like this?
It definitely was a challenge. The one skill set that I have mainly relied on as an actor is my voice, especially since I do over 200 character voices. Luckily, I have an extensive background in physical comedy and clowning since I grew up watching the great silent film performers like Chaplin and Keaton, and also engrossed myself in the works of great modern physical actors as Doug Jones, Jim Carrey, and Rowan Atkinson. I also had the great fortune of being the understudy for the amazingly talented Stefan Karl (Robbie Rotten of "Lazy Town" fame) for 5 years touring with "How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical" as the Grinch (as well as playing "Grandpa Who" in the show). Stefan is a master in this area, and taught me much and helped me fine tune my skills. When I was stumped about how to approach a scene, I would think to myself, "What would Stefan do?" - and the answer would come!
As for how I prepared myself, I did a lot of research into clowning as well as having watched 'All Hallow's Eve' several times, so I could get the basic nuances of the character down Mike Gianelli's original performance. I then thought of ways of tweaking what he did and making the character my own. I hope it comes across well on screen! There definitely is much more tweaking and experimentation that I want to do with the character though. I'm almost never satisfied with any role I play since I always think there is more that I can add to the character in some way. I look forward to doing more of that in the future!
Were you given any leeway regarding the interpretation of Art the Clown in your performance, or did you follow Mike Gianelli's lead and build off that?
A bit of both. Mike's wonderful portrayal of Art gave me a great starting point to build from. Damien gave me a lot of leeway at times to play around with the character as well, especially with some of the kill scenes. There are probably several hours of outtakes of me playing around. Some were too funny for the moment in the film to actually make it in since we did not want to detract from the scene and go into campy territory. There were other times that Damien knew exactly what he wanted, down to the facial expressions that I would make. It definitely was a collaborative effort between Damien and I, and I appreciated having that freedom to take risks!
We were completely blown away by your work in Terrifier. Art the Clown felt like a truly frightening force of evil, and the film as a result, was one of the scariest we've experienced this year. Did you at any point during filming feel like you got lost in the character's head space? Maybe needed a moment to reset and reconnect with reality? Sorry if this sounds like some kind of psychological profiling - haha, we promise it's not!
Oddly enough, no! I've never been one to have to go full on "Method" for a role and have an easy time transitioning between myself and the characters that I play. Not to demean other actors that do do that though. You do whatever works best for you, I say! During extremely violent scenes, I was always checking in with my costars to make sure that they were ok etc between takes, which I can imagine was a surreal experience for them considering the circumstances. One second I am flaying the crap out of them, the next I am making sure they aren't hurt or anything. LOL!
How was the mood on set? Anyone legitimately freaked out by your performance? Sounds like the perfect excuse to play a few pranks...
There were a lot of laughs on set. I was always trying to keep the mood light, especially during some of the more disturbing scenes. This was especially true during the nights we filmed my "Buffalo Bill" scene since that was especially disturbing. Since the cast and crew had to keep looking at my skinny butt all night, I was constantly making butt jokes etc to lighten the mood. I think Samantha has some good footage of me that night as well spoofing Adele's "Hello". It seemed that the more the night progressed and the loopier we all got, the more laughs we would have to keep our sanity. I kid because I care!
There's no doubt we'll be seeing Art, again. But what about you? Plans to reprise the role, or will the torch be passed down once more?
Oh, I definitely plan on returning to the character as much as possible! He is such a fun character to play and there is MUCH more that I want to do with him in the future! Damien and I are constantly spit-balling ideas for future films etc. There is one kill scene in particular that I eventually want to do in a future film that is a nice homage to a classic Marx Brother's routine but in a VERY dark way. I'll be sticking around for as long as there is a demand for the character, rest assured!
We asked Damien Leone this question already, but we're curious what you have to say on the subject. What exactly is it about clowns that make them such an effectively creepy horror movie villain?
I think it comes down to the exaggerated looks and movements. They look almost human, but there is something that is a bit off about clowns that gives a lot of people the creeps. When you couple this into a character like Art and The Joker, that find their horrible actions to be humorous, that just makes them even more terrifying. How disturbing is it that something that is supposed to exist as a form of amusement and fun is instead finding amusement and fun out of causing someone else great mental and bodily harm? I can definitely see why they would be scary!
Is horror a genre you find yourself attracted to as a professional in the industry, or was it a kind of happenstance that you ended up in this role?
I've always done comedy. Growing up, I loved horror films, but never really imagined that I would be doing them. If I was in one, I figured I would be the comic relief that got killed off, not the main villain! So yeah, this was a bit of serendipitous happenstance! I've always had a dark sense of humor, so I am glad that the Fates decided to allow me to merge two things I enjoy (comedy and horror) into a career!
Where can we expect to see you next? Another horror film perhaps?
Definitely another Art the Clown film for one! I'm also working on a few other animated projects at the moment that I cannot discuss. I'm also still filming the final episodes of the web series "Nightwing: Escalation" that I am on where I play another famous killer clown and dream role of mine, The Joker. Speaking of killer clowns and horror films, I am putting this next part out there to the world... I would love to play the adult version of Richie Tozier in the sequel to "It". In the book, Richie grows up to be a radio celebrity that is known for doing tons of voices, kind of like myself! I love this character. Plus I think it would be pretty cool to have (essentially) Art the Clown go up against Pennywise in a film! If you are reading this, Mr. Muschietti, call me! I'm ready for my close up!
Best clown character in any film, show, or comic - GO!
Besides Art, The Joker, bar none. He's the perfect blend of pure evil, madness, hilarity, and mystery, and such a formidable opponent to one of the most formidable super heroes. He's my favorite villain of all time, and a role that I am determined to play on the big screen one day! P.S. Hamill is my favorite version of the character, without a doubt. He fully gets the character like no one else has.
Who would win in a "fight", Art the Clown or Joker?
Oh jeez! That is a tough one! Wouldn't that be an interesting fight? I think it would end in a draw with both of them killing each other, but somehow both coming back like the tricky devils that they are. I do imagine that Art would get the drop on Mr. J once he starts to monologue though. LOL!
Thanks for taking the time David, it's a real honor!
Thank you as well! This was a lot of fun! I appreciate you all for being fans of the character! This movie would not have been made if it weren't for fans like you demanding for it to be so, so the honor is all mine. You all rock! As long as you all want more Art, he'll be there for you!