We recently got the chance to interview the very talented Derek Mears. Who is Derek Mears? You may know him as the actor behind the hockey mask in 2009’s Friday the 13th reboot. Or, perhaps, as the actor inside the “classic Predator” costume in Robert Rodriguez’s Predators. Maybe you were out in L.A. and saw him performing improv comedy at ComedySportz LA? The point is, you have seen this man somewhere and that film or event was better for having him in it. Derek has worked on over 80 films or specials as an actor, stuntman, or crew person. At 6′ 5”, this large, well-built man might intimidate the un-introduced – but, don’t let that fool you. Underneath his intimidating frame is an extremely talented individual and great guy, with an incredible outlook on life. Recently, Derek has provided voice work for the HALO 4 Spartan Ops web series and has a big role in the upcoming Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
GS: [After some technical problems] Yay! It works, we are now recording.
Derek Mears: Take that, technology – boom!
GS: So, Derek, we had some questions posed to us for you from some of our readers (and ourselves) and we thought we would shoot ’em your way.
Derek Mears: Cool, I have no problems embarrassing myself, so let’s do this![Laughing]
GS: You are now involved with the venerable HALO franchise. How did that happen – what was it like?
Derek Mears: Well my entire career I have felt like a fan representing the fans out there. I’m such a, in a loving way, nerd/fanboy. I love comic books, sci-fi, machinima – yup, that’s me! [laughs] With the HALO game, I guess my name was being tossed around somewhere and I was asked, “Hey, if you could work on the new downloadable content for HALO 4, would you want to be involved?” and I just said, “Yeah, are you kidding me?!?” I tried to hide the twelve year-old cheerleader in me that wanted to lose my mind and they said, “Great, we’ll talk to the game managers and work this stuff out”. It was super-flattering and super-fantastic to be apart of. I play a giant, human-hating elite named “Gek”.
GS: You have been able to play, I am looking over your IMDB here, you have been in a ton of stuff – as an actor, stuntman, etc. Of all the things you have done – of all the characters you’ve been able to play, which has been your favorite?
Derek Mears: You know, it’s tough. I’m a horror-nerd and I know its cliché but Jason Vorhees is my favorite horror character and he gave me so many nightmares growing up as a child – being able to play him is unbelievable. It came out in 2009 and even today I get tingles thinking to myself, “I got to play Jason! How fricken’ cool was that?” That was an absolute blast. The runner-up to that character would be with Steven C. Miller who just did Silent Night the remake. We did a movie called The Aggression Scale and I played a character called “Chissolm”, which is a horrible, horrible-sounding name [laughs], but that was a lot of fun – the movie is kind of like Home Alone on crack, I’d say [laughs]. Don’t get me wrong, any role that I get I am just thrilled and feel very fortunate to play.
GS: So we touched on video games a little before, but I wanted to ask if you had any favorite games that you’re playing right now?
Derek Mears: Yeah, well it’s so crazy right now with everything going on – I recently got to touch on HALO again and re-visit Skyrim a little bit. I have been finding myself doing this crazy “new thing” called reading books [laughs], which is weird. Um, I do love the Resident Evil game series. When I play them I like to turn off all the lights, turn my surround sound up and get completely immersed in the game. I find myself doing things like trying to look around the screen with my own face instead of the character’s face – like I am actually going to be able to see around the corner that way [laughs]. I love the horror/survival games.
GS: Have you gotten a chance to checkout any of the Dead Space games?
Derek Mears: No I haven’t yet, how are they?
GS: Pretty darn good – they have a survival-horror aspect to them but mix in a bit more of the shooting stuff so the pace is a bit faster than most survival-horror games out there. It’s kind of like The Thing meets Aliens [laughs].
Derek Mears: [laughs] Aw, dude, those are two of like my favorite movies right there! Based on that alone, I am sold.
GS: Some people might not know this, but you are pretty involved with improv comedy and the ComedySportz LA troupe. How did you get into that world?
Derek Mears: Well, I grew up in Bakersfield, California and I have a disorder called alopecia which basically means I don’t grow hair, though I do a little bit now. People are always like “Oh wow, you were the jock in school ’cause you’re muscular”, and I am like “Oh no, I was the nerdy kid reading comic books”. I got into acting because of Dungeons and Dragons. My Mom bought it for me and I was like, wow, I wish could actually make a career out of playing with my friends – acting was the closest thing. When I was in high school, I went and saw an improv comedy show called “ComedSportz” and it was similar to “Who’s Line is it, Anyway?” and I fell in love with it. There is no script, it’s just an amazing creative process happening in the moment and evolving. It’s like having a giant party on stage and asking the audience to join you. Afterwards, they offered classes on who to play the on-stage games and I thought it would be fun to do and, at 17, I took a class. My only intention was to have fun and play and the owner came up to me and was like “Hey, we think you’re funny. Would you like to join the main company?” and I was just like “But I’m only 17 and you guys are much older…” and he just said, “We know!” So, I joined the team. Eventually, I moved to Los Angeles to do acting and comedy and ComedySportz LA was like, “You don’t need to audition, you’re part of the main company here” [laughs]. So, in my film jobs I am mainly known for punching you in the face and throwing you through a window – doing fight scenes, but my background is all improv so in my free time I like to go goof around and have a great time.
GS: That’s an awesome story. Is that something you would like to do more of on-screen?
Derek Mears: Yeah, it’s funny because all my buddies are comedy guys and seeing them in film and TV is awesome. I would love to do more.
GS: So is there one type of work you like doing more than the other: Acting, comedy, stuntwork, etc?
Derek Mears: You know, it’s hard to say because for me it’s like playing with all my friends. I like to play and create and so I feel like my job in life is to tell stories. My life philosophy is that nobody is better than anyone else – we all have our different skills and areas. I used to teach martial arts and I remember I had a student come in at one point and he had his head all lowered and bowed his head toward me. He said he saw me in a film and it was really cool and all that and I was like why are you bowing? He said “Well, its cool but I don’t do what you do.” and I just said “Dude, everyone has their skills – nobody is better than anybody else”. I asked him what he did and he said he was “just a mechanic”. I said “we all work together as a society. I have no idea how to work on a car. If my car breaks down, I go to you – you help me. You need a story told in your life, some entertainment, that’s my job, that’s what I do. No one is better”. What he did was very important and he said he basically never thought of it that way. That’s just kind of my philosophy in general about things.
GS: You spoke about martial arts – you’re a big guy, you obviously keep in shape. How much does fitness play a role in your daily life?
Derek Mears: It’s kind of part of the job now where it’s like me clocking into the office is me clocking into the gym or training in martial arts. I get my work from being the big bad guy so I don’t know how many times a week I work out – it varies as I kind of listen to my body. But I definitely have to maintain a certain level of fitness, not for vanity but for a certain level of marketability.
GS: So have you found a particular workout program or set that you really like – free weights, CrossFit, etc?
Derek Mears: No it just depends on what role I have coming up if I need to gain weight or lose weight or have, you know, functional strength. I definitely vary it up – I bounce between things like CrossFit, martial arts. Anything I can do for muscle confusion.
GS: You have a very distinguished filmography and worked with some very interesting people. Is there a particular person you would like to team up with again?
Derek Mears: I have been so fortunate, man, to work with some really great human beings out there. If I am a fan of a particular actor and I don’t know them before the shoot, I sometimes find myself hanging back and not engage as much with them because the fear is – it’s happened before where you meet somebody and they turn out not be a good person and then any film I see them in afterwards I am like sad because I can’t get into their character because I know that they are not a good person. There are so many people who really deserve their careers – Will Smith is a fantastic human being. Jared Padalecki who I worked with on Friday the 13th is phenomenal – like just a down to Earth, good guy. I could literally make a list of a ton of people that are rock stars and I am so happy for them because they deserve all the accolades they receive.
GS: So when you were growing up and first coming into the business, who were your idols? Were they stuntmen, comics, maybe?
Derek Mears: That’s a big question – I don’t know, that’s a good one… A lot of them are not so much, like, well-known people. I liked a lot of people for different aspects like in my relationships there are certain things that I admire about people that I really dig. Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon, for instance, are friends of mine. Dan created Community and Rob created Monster House and we’ve been friends since… Well, I have known them since I did ComedySportz in 1990 – since I was 17. Seeing them as creative individuals, constantly in different mediums, being open, and constantly creating – it’s so inspiring to me. I remember they kept getting close to these really big projects and commercial success which would end up falling through. I just kept telling them to keep going – that they are both so far beyond talented. I am so stoked to see the industry finally saying that they are really great and to see them blow up and get that love and respect they deserve. They just have that perseverance like a true artist. You know, whether I get paid or not I am going to be doing the exact same thing but from home because that’s what I am here to do. I really respect and admire them for that.
GS: Is there anyone you would like to work with in the future that you have not yet?
Derek Mears: Oh yeah, for sure. It’s weird because when it comes to actors, as a fan, I like actors that have a bit of madness about them [laughs]. Like you look behind their eyes and say “there’s something going on – there is some history there”. Like, I would love to work with Tom Hardy some day. He’s got that kind of “Hmm, what’s going on behind your brain” quality [laughs]. It’s hard to shoot from the hip on this answer – later on I am going to be looking through the article, I’ll read it and be like “Oh no, wait up, what I meant to say was –“.[laughing]
GS: So is there anything you have coming up that you wanted to talk about specifically?
Derek Mears: Yeah, I am so lucky, man. I have a lot of stuff coming out in the first quarter of this year. I have a small spot in Gangster Squad – have a fun little scene with Josh Brolin that’s cool. The big thing for me right now is I have a big character in the upcoming Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters. I really hope people like it because after reading the script I was like “Oh my god, I am the demographic for this movie”. It’s the writer and director from the Norwegian zombie movie called Dead Snow. This is their first big production, possible tent pole movie. How I tried to explain it to people was like what Evil Dead is to horror, Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters is to action-fantasy with a huge horror element and cool feel to it. So, you’ll see characters get their faces blown off – it’s at the point where the violence is so over the top where it becomes slapsticky and funny. When they first pitched it to me, being a fanboy, I was just thinking that this was another fairy tale movie. After reading the script, I was just thinking about how much comedy was in it was so off-the-wall, cursing comedy. It is so wacky and yet taken so serious. I really hope people dig that (Editor’s Note: I really think the studio should have re-thought their marketing campaign for this film. Derek’s description makes me want to see it ASAP, unlike the trailer they released for it). So I also have Hatchet 3 coming out in, I think, the beginning of Summer and that was fun. I just did a movie called Compound Fracture with Tyler Mane who played Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake.
GS: So what advice would you give young people out there looking to break into the industry these days?
Derek Mears: Well, as actors we are always taught to be creative – that’s really our job. The weird thing about this business – to make a career out of it, is that we are often not taught that business side of it. The business is changing so fast now because of all the new media and its accessibility. That’s really where I see the future of all this. I always tell people that so many of us just sit around and wait for that big call. I just think that if you are creative, stop wasting your talent waiting and start creating now with whatever means you have. Get a video camera, get an iPhone, shoot yourself doing whatever you do and post it online. It’s also great in a marketing sense because if, say, you are a can of great soda and you are not on the store shelves, no one knows you exist. If you have that can of soda and its a good product, put it on that shelf – the Internet in this case, so people can shop and see it. The talent, I think, always rises to the top… It also helps you get better and better at the skills you have producing this content that eventually you might have a job in the industry because of all that time you spent just creating.
GS: The last question we have for you today is, are there any plans for a sequel to your Friday the 13th?
Derek Mears: Aw, man, I wish. I really wish. I spoke to Brad Fuller a couple months back and we had lunch. He was saying how Friday the 13th was his favorite project to have worked on. It’s all in the studio’s hands at this point…If they green-lit it, we would drop whatever it is that we are doing and we would make part two. We have a script and we are ready to rock but it’s all just the studios deciding what they want to do. He had mentioned that they wanted me to come back as Jason if they did it. I was just telling him that, as a fan – even if I didn’t come back, I am a fan and I would want to see more from the series as we all love the iconic character, Jason.
GS: Well I hope they would have you return, your portrayal of Jason was amazing. The way you approached the character and managed to get emotion through a hockey mask – even before it was the hockey mask in the movie, was pretty darn incredible. It was a totally different take on the character that was before but still paying homage to the original character that was before.
Derek Mears: That means the world to me, man, thank you so much for that compliment. When we were shooting it, we were trying do just that. You have to be respectful to what happened in the past with such a loyal fan following but you also have to take a risk and try to do something new for the new generation of fans who might not know about the character’s past and put them together. It was a challenge to do it but I am so happy that people enjoyed it.
We would like to give a special thanks to the awesome Derek Mears and the good folks at Persona-PR for making this interview possible.