Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Jackie Earle Haley got his start as a child actor, first in commercials, then in TV and film, earning his first big burst of recognition for playing baseball bad boy Kelly Leak over the course of three Bad News Bears films. Although he continued acting into adulthood, Haley took a lengthy hiatus from Hollywood in the early ’90s. Since returning in 2006 with his widely praised performance in Little Children, he has continued to earn high-profile movie roles (Watchmen, Shutter Island) while also taking on the occasional television gig (Human Target). Haley can currently be seen in Tim Burton’s cinematic adaptation of the classic TV series Dark Shadows.
Dark Shadows (2012)—“Willie Loomis”
Jackie Earle Haley: He’s a little bit different than the soap-opera version. In this version, he’s the drunken, curmudgeonly butler that is serving the Collins family, and he’s a pretty stoic guy, just going through the paces. The Collins are broke, but pretending to be rich nobility. Their fortune has way more than dwindled, their huge mansion is basically falling apart, but they’re still pretending, so Willie’s more than happy to pretend along with them, as long as he gets a cot, a couple of squares a day, and a safe place to drink. [Laughs.] But early on, Barnabas turns up and hypnotizes him, and then he pretty much has to work. It’s a real cool, fun part, and it was awesome getting to be part of a Tim Burton world. That guy is a real unique filmmaker. I like saying that he’s one of the few that just seems to have his own genre.
The A.V. Club: So how did you come to be a part of Tim Burton’s world?
JEH: You know, I had done a few auditions for him in the past, and I really think he just remembered those and decided I was right to play Willie Loomis. When I got the call that he wanted to do it… I mean, I cannot tell you what a thrill that is, to get to go and help populate one of these worlds that this guy just creates out of his head.
AVC: Several cast members from the original series make cameos in the film. Were you able to meet with John Karlen, the actor who played Willie Loomis the longest?
JEH: I don’t think he was there, so no, I never really got to speak with him. But I definitely looked up a bunch of the scenes on YouTube and watched a bunch of his work on there. And I was a fan of his on Cagney & Lacey when I was a kid.
AVC: How familiar were you with the original Dark Shadows before doing the film?
JEH: I was definitely familiar with it. I wasn’t, like, a fan. I wasn’t one of the kids that ran home from school to see it. But I definitely remember seeing it up on the TV, and I distinctly remember that sound of the music that would kick in when Barnabas would hypnotize someone, and how the screen would spin behind the person. I totally remember that. But my wife was one of the kids that ran home from school to watch it. I’ve also got this buddy who, when I told him I was playing Willie Loomis, he was, like, “You’re kidding! Dark Shadows? You’re gonna be in Dark Shadows?!?” And he’s, like, “Do you remember my cat?” And I knew this cat for, like, 20 years. His name was Barnabas. I had no idea who Barnabas was named after. [Laughs.]
The Outside Man (1972)—“Eric”
JEH: [Laughs.] Well, first off, I could literally watch that movie right now and not remember any of it. I haven’t seen it in… I don’t know, what was that, 40 years ago? But you know, I do remember a story on that. Jean-Louis Trintignant, who was the star of that movie, barely spoke any English, and the director, Jacques Deray, he didn’t speak English as well. There was this one scene in particular where Jean-Louis, if I remember correctly, somehow took me and my mom hostage, broke into our apartment and kept us there, or something like that. But there’s a scene where my character comes out, and… Now you’ve got to picture that I was 12 or something at the time. Just a wee tyke. [Laughs.] So my character comes out and says something, and Jean-Louis comes up and says, “Go to bed,” or something to that effect. And I think my character didn’t really move away or anything, so he proceeds to slap me. And it was a two-stroke slap. It was first backhand, and then the forehand. And when we did it the first time, he seriously slapped me, just to make sure it looked real, and it was really jarring. Which is why I’ll never forget when the director came up afterward and asked, “Can we do one more?” [Laughs.] And I was, like, “Uh… uh, okay?” So we did one more take, and he proceeded to slap the shit out of me again. Yeah, that was an indelible impression.
AVC: That was your first film, but what made you decide to turn to a career in acting in the first place?
JEH: You know, my father was an actor. He started out in radio and was really successful as a talk-show radio guy in northern California, and he decided to come to L.A. and focus on acting. So he went out there and got an agent and was doing some auditions, and… he never really did some stuff where I could say, “He was the guy who did that,” but he got connected, and at some point in time, a friend of his, Mike Wong, who owned this little sound-recording company, was looking all over America—he’d been to, like, New York, Chicago, L.A., and some other places—and they were having a real hard time trying to find the voice of a 5- or 6-year-old to play Dennis the Menace in some cartoons and television commercials. So they were playing golf, and the guy was so desperate that he was even going to his friends and asking, “So, how many boys have you got?” And my dad said, “Well, I’ve got three boys: one’s 5, one’s 8, and one’s 9.” He said, “Put the 5-year-old on tape. I’ll give you the script. We’re just dying here, looking for this guy.” And somehow, miraculously, I got this part. And I spent the next few years doing Dennis the Menace voiceovers for Dairy Queen, as well as, I think, a couple of 30-minute cartoons. And that later on led to a situation where Mike was casting for Tony the Tiger, Jr. for Frosted Rice. So I ended up working with him for a number of years on that. I think I was able to do that up until about 11 or 12 or something.
Human Target (2010-2011)—“Guerrero”
JEH: First off, what a fun show. I really loved that people understood that it just was this fun show that wasn’t taking itself seriously. It was just this real good action fun, and some cool characters on this weekly program. I really got a kick out of all of the guys producing, writing, and directing the show. The crew was great, the cast was phenomenal… I mean, hanging out with Mark Valley and Chi McBride was incredible in the first season, and then when we added the girls [Indira Varma and Janet Montgomery] in the second season, that was great, too.
It was really fun playing Guerrero. He was such a well-written character, and I loved how the writers in both the first season and the second season slowly added to what was built in the pilot. It was unique and fun as an actor as well as a fan of the show to watch how these characters were growing, and things that we would learn over time, like the fact that Guerrero used to be an assassin back in the day when [Valley’s character] Chance was, or working with him back there. Slowly, over time, you began to realize what these relationships were. Guerrero was just a lot of fun to play, and… I actually miss the character, because we had a blast working on that show. And I’ll tell you, starting that show was a bit scary for me, because I’m used to working on a project that’s more like a movie, where you go and do it and you’re done. So this was a different sort of thing, to be doing a whole new show every 10 days. Again, I think the writers were just so awesome that you could really put your trust and faith in them, talking to them when there was a little concern here or there, but it just seemed to flow in a really cool way, and it was a blast to work on.
AVC: From a creative standpoint, how did you feel about the expansion of the cast in the show’s second season?
JEH: I myself really liked it. I felt that having the five of us in there really allowed them to mix those people up in many ways as they’re trying to craft the script. If you take three people, you can only mix them up so many ways. [Laughs.] So there was a little handcuffing in terms of their ability to write until they did that. I really enjoyed the characters, too, and as I said, I enjoyed working with them as well.
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (1972)—“Jamie Boyle” / Valley Of The Dinosaurs (1974)—“Greg Butler” / Gravedale High (1990)—“Gill Waterman”
AVC: You worked on a couple of Hanna-Barbera series in the early ’70s. Did that voiceover work come about as a result of the commercial work you’d done?
JEH: Y’know, I don’t know if that had anything to do with the Dennis the Menace stuff or not. It might’ve just been stuff I auditioned for and got. I really don’t remember. I was really young when I worked on Wait Till Your Father Gets Home—it seems to me that they practically had to read the lines to me, and I’d read them back—and… I think I did a season or so, and then I was replaced. [Laughs.] Luckily, I think that’s the only time that’s ever happened. And Valley Of The Dinosaurs… Geez, I don’t really even remember it. Sorry! But a decade or more later, I did a show called Gravedale High with Rick Moranis. That was fun. I can’t even remember how many episodes we did, but I was playing a surfer-dude fishman. Or something. [Laughs.] A Creature Of The Black Lagoon type.
AVC: Do you enjoy doing voice acting?
JEH: Yeah, I do. But, I mean, I haven’t really done much of it in a while. The closest thing has been, like, ADR stuff. But I’ve enjoyed it in the past.
Little Children (2006)—“Ronnie J. McGorvey”
JEH: [Long pause.] Yeah, where do you start with that? Um… well, you know, that was one of the most incredible experiences working on a film. Todd Field adapted that with the writer of the novel, Tom Perrotta, and it just had such nuance and depth. And I’m talking about, like, the whole screenplay. And the way Todd directed the movie, that slow-burning love affair brewing between the Kate Winslet character and Patrick Wilson’s character… that love story, to me, is one of the best ever filmed. I mean, just the way the guy takes form and turns it on its ear. You expect things to happen, and then something else happens. And the way the Ronnie McGorvey character was written was just incredible. Getting to work with a director who is also an actor… for him to have such incredible sensibilities and chops as a director was one thing, but when you know he really understands what you’re going through, that’s another thing.
One of the things that really told me this guy was super-amazing as a director was… I was sitting on that swing, doing that scene at the end of the movie that was, y’know, a pretty emotional scene, and I had to go to a really emotional place, but I remember him coming up and sitting there, and he says a couple of things, and I’m hearing them, but we’re getting ready to roll. And then he looks down at me, and he says, “Okay, well, I’m gonna go over there by the monitors.” And then he goes, “Better you than me.” And when he said that, I so got it. In other words, he knew what I was going through at that moment. It’s not really fun, you know? It’s hard. When you look back on your work, it’s cool, but at the same time, when you’re doing gut-wrenching work, it’s gut-wrenching for you, too. And when he said, “Better you than me,” I totally and completely realized, “This guy knows everything I’m going through.” Those were the first few days, too, I think. I started with those scenes. But, yeah, an amazing experience working with Todd.
AVC: I interviewed Jane Adams a few years ago, and when I asked her about your date in the film, she said, “Inasmuch as you can say so for that scene, it was a great time.”
JEH: [Laughs.] That was cool, man. That really was a neat time. And for me, y’know, it was… I had just finished All The King’s Men four months before, and I didn’t know where any of this was going, ’cause that was the first film I’d done in 13 or 14 years, so to me, the whole career was pretty much dead. So I went and did that film, and then to get cast in Little Children was… I just couldn’t believe I was out there working for the guy who did In The Bedroom, and working with such an amazing cast. Yeah, it was a cool time. And Jane was awesome. She’s a sweetheart and an amazing actress, man. I just love her take on things.
All The King’s Men (2006)—“Roderick ‘Sugar Boy’ Ellis”
AVC: As you said, this was your first film in many moons.
JEH: Yeah, it was. First off, it was a real fun part to play. It was really quiet, but it was neat just being a fly on the wall in so many of these Sean Penn scenes and getting to watch him work. You know, the trip about that thing is that I was on my honeymoon in France, and… Okay, here you’ve got to picture that I hadn’t been pursuing acting for a decade and a half, and I get this call that Steve Zaillian’s looking for me for this movie, and that when I get back, could I put an audition tape together? I’m like, “Sure,” but then it’s like, “Geez, I haven’t done this in a long time… ” I mean, I didn’t even know if I could still act! [Laughs.] So, y’know, I started working on the scene with a couple of my friends, and then I went to my little production company here, and we just pulled up some lights and stuff and did an audition tape. We sent it to Steve, and, man, about a week or so goes by, and Steve wants to fly me out to have lunch with him. So I go out there, and… I mean, you’ve got to imagine, this is all just a total trip, a mind-blowing trip. I’m meeting Steve Zaillian! I’m so far removed from this world.
So I go out there, and Steve starts telling me all about the movie, he’s showing me all sorts of prep work and pictures, giving me the look of the film that he’s going for, and we’re just having this great conversation. And then we get up, we go have lunch across the street, we’re talking some more, and then Steve says something to the effect of, “You know, we didn’t even send you the whole script.” There’s this one scene that was cut out of the movie at the end that did have some dialogue, so that was the scene I did for the audition. And he said, “You didn’t even have the whole script. How did you even know how to approach this character?” I say, “I don’t know.” He said, “Because we’ve seen a lot of people on this, and your audition tape really just seemed to nail who this character was.” And again, I’m just like, “I don’t know.” [Laughs.] So at this point, he starts to lean over the table, and I think, “Oh my gosh, he’s gonna say, ‘So, do you want to do this?’” And he leans over, and he says, “Look, I can’t really hire you for this part right now, because I cast somebody in it last week.” And I’m just like “Oh my God.” But then he did say, “Listen, I do want to try to work this out, and I don’t know if I can or not, but let me try, and I’ll get back to you.” And about a week later or so, I got the call that they did work it out with this other actor, everything was cool, and they wanted me to do the movie. And that just felt like the sky opened up, you know what I mean? And Steve Zaillian’s arm came down and picked me up, and he said, “Hey, man, do you wanna do some of this movie stuff again?”
AVC: So why did you leave acting behind in the first place? Was it a case where the parts weren’t there? Or the parts that were there weren’t worth doing?
JEH: Yeah, it was just… You know, as a kid actor or kid celebrity or whatever you want to call it, it’s often really hard to make that transition into adulthood. And when I did make that transition… I did still sort of do some things, but my choices were bad, I was getting into B-movies and going straight on down to F-movies. [Laughs.] The work was just getting… the roles weren’t all that great, and I was trying to revive my career at one point, because I knew it was stale and dying and it just wasn’t happening—this was when I was in my late 20s—and I was looking for a manager, and I distinctly remember having this meeting with a manager where she said, “Well, listen, here’s the thing: I’d almost rather hire some new, fresh guy who’s just come into town from Albuquerque or wherever, because the problem we’ve got with you is that all the casting directors know you, and I fear that they might think, ‘Well, why hasn’t he made it yet?’” It was like I was this known quantity, but I think the dip in the career had a psychological effect across the casting people. But then she said something oddly prescient. She said, “You know what you should do? You should disappear for about 10 or 15 years.” [Laughs.] I swear to God, dude. I can totally remember her saying that. I didn’t actually do it on her suggestion, but I guess she was right!
At any rate, after a while, I got tired of waiting around or even trying to ignite it, and I decided it was just either time to completely start all over as an actor, or to move on and do something else. And I think it just made more sense for me to move on and do something else. And then, you know, life was really interesting, and I got to go out there for 15 years and really grow in a lot of different ways. Working for corporations, understanding how that whole world works. I never really fully ended up leaving production. It seemed like I always ended up producing corporate videos or making infomercials and commercials and stuff like that, because that’s what I knew. But it was in a much different sort of capacity, and with a combined skill set.
Breaking Away (1979) / Breaking Away (1980-1981)—“Moocher”
JEH: I’ve gotta tell you, I barely remember the TV show. [Laughs.] But that was a cool movie, in the sense that I don’t think any of us realized how darned good it was going to be. At the time, I want to say we were making the film for something like $3.8 million—I could have the numbers off—but it was a really low-budget film. But working for Peter Yates was really cool. He was a really good director. And that was just a wonderful screenplay, and a really cool, nuanced character to play.
AVC: Do you remember if you were surprised when you got the call to reprise the role of Moocher for the series?
JEH: I don’t even remember that much. [Laughs.] I mean, I remember working on the show. I know we had a good time doing it, but it seems like it was only, like, half a season. I know we were in Athens, Georgia, pretending it was Bloomington, Indiana, and it actually worked pretty well. As a young adult, it was fun, because I think I was something like 18 at the time, so going down there and living for half a year was pretty cool. I’d just gotten married to my first wife, and I think we flew out there and set up a residence and did all of this stuff, and then all of a sudden there was a strike, either the writers or the actors, and we figured, “Okay, we’ll wait it out in Georgia, then.” But man, it just kept going and going, so pretty soon, we got rid of the house, jumped in the car, and drove home, and then a few months later, we flew back and did the show.
AVC: Did you end up becoming a regular bike rider as a result of the Breaking Away experience, or were you sick of cycling by the time it was over?
JEH: Well, I was almost never actually the guy on the bike. [Laughs.] But no, I’ve never been much of a bicyclist. I mean, they’re fun, but I don’t do that for exercise. I’ll do rollers or yoga or weight training, and… I do a whole bunch of stuff. But not bicycling.
Losin’ It (1983)—“Dave”
JEH: Now that was a fun character. It really was! Dave was the goofy guy, wasn’t he? Out there trying to get laid at all cost in Tijuana, along with his search for Spanish fly. [Laughs.] I remember I had a buddy of mine who really helped me with that scene, a guy named Scott. We were working on the scene, and one day he goes [Dave voice.] “Hey, why don’t you do it like this?” And then I went and did it just like that. [Laughs.] I thought, “Damn, that’s good! I don’t even need to fix that.” So yeah, that was a cool movie to work on. And that was back before Tom Cruise was Tom Cruise. We had a good time, man. We really hung out a lot. He was a really cool guy. I haven’t seen him since then. [Laughs.] I’d like to, though, because we really did spend quite a bit of time together working on that movie, so we’ve got a bit of history. But, man, that was a long time ago. I guess I was 19 and he was 18. But he was already very serious about his work even then.
The Partridge Family (1973)—“Rusty”
JEH: You know, I barely remember that, because I think I only did, like, one scene in that, and I think it was at a baseball field. But for some reason, Danny Bonaduce and I hit it off, and we discovered that we lived really close to each other, and I think the very next weekend or whatever, I went to spend the night at his house. And when his mom crashed, him and I got into the wine, and we put Tang in it to make it more palatable for our 13-year-old selves, or however old we were at the time, and then we proceeded to get shitfaced in his room. [Laughs.] And his room was on the second floor, and he had a window, and I remember that we’d hang out in the room, then we’d climb out the window and climb down, and then climb back up again. It’s a miracle we didn’t fall and bust our heads open.
Planet Of The Apes (1974)—“Kraik” / Shazam! (1974) —“Norm Briggs”
JEH: Gosh, I remember both of those, amazingly enough. [Laughs.] Although with Shazam!, I think I more remember the show than being on it, because I think I watched it a bunch. Not every episode, but I dug it, because it was a guy who could fly. I remember how they did the flying shots, which were admittedly really cheesy. [Laughs.] Sometimes he’d be like, on the back of a truck or something, propped up, and it’d ruffle his cape and stuff as the truck was moving down the street, so it looks like he’s flying… but not really. And he’d just jump off a ladder or something and into a shot as if he’s coming in for a landing. So yeah, cheesy.
Planet Of The Apes, though, that one was really cool, getting that part. I was and still am a huge Planet Of The Apes fan. And, by the way, I loved the last movie. Honestly, I’ve liked all of the incarnations, if for different reasons. But back then, they’d done the original five movies, and… I guess all five had come out by the time they did the TV show, but either way, what was really cool was that Roddy McDowall was part of the series, so that was really exciting, because I was such a fan of his from the films. And then I became a fan in general, and just loved everything he was involved in. Even when he was a human. [Laughs.] So it was really cool just going and getting to meet him, but… gosh, I think the only time I ever saw Roddy, it was when he was an ape! I don’t think I ever actually talked to him when he wasn’t in his ape outfit. Which is somehow even cooler, I guess. But at the end of the thing… I’m trying to remember the name of the makeup artist on the show, but he was a real renowned guy. At any rate, at the end of the episode, per my dad’s request, this guy just happily gave me a couple of the appliances. He just told us to bring in a black wig, so me and my dad went and bought a black wig, and he prepped up a couple of appliances, and then he totally showed me—while putting it on me—how to do it, and then he gave me all of the materials. So for the next several Halloweens, I’d pull out these old appliances, fix ’em up, and throw on my own Planet Of The Apes makeup. And that was extra-cool, because I only played a human on the show. [Laughs.] I finally had to throw out the box where I kept them, because after a decade and a half or so, they just started to deteriorate. But they lasted me a good long time.
Shutter Island (2010)—“George Noyce”
JEH: That was a really interesting part. It was a nice, pivotal part of the film, where Leo [DiCaprio]’s character comes to some sort of realization from that scene. But that was neat. And it was a pinch-me type of moment, getting to play across from Leo while Marty [Scorsese] is coming up and directing between takes. So it was a really interesting experience. A phenomenal experience. It was also fun playing with a Boston accent and diving in and just trying to find this whack-job and where he lives. [Laughs.]
JEH: You know, that one’s like Little Children. In a different way, but I mean by my experience. That was one of the coolest movie-acting experiences ever. You know, after reading the script and thinking, “Wow, this is cool,” and then diving into the comic book, I became a fan of the source material, and I realized what an iconic character this guy is, and how brilliant Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work was. So it was a real honor to get to play that guy, and it was just a great experience. I mean, to this day, that has to be one of the coolest experiences, working with Zack Snyder, who’s so incredibly prepared that it almost seems effortless for him, just because he’s done all his homework and he knows what he wants to do when he gets there. That’s not to say he doesn’t deal with the nuance of things and everything that’s going on when he’s there, but he’s just so planned-out and so meticulous, and stuff looks so great.
I remember I really, really wanted that part, and I remember early on, they were talking to some big guys, like, I think, Tom Cruise and Sean Penn at one point. And I think Zack was really considering maybe going down that road with the movie. But before I heard that, I’d already sent in an audition tape that we’d really put a lot of work into. And at one point, I kept asking my agent about it and going, “What’s going on with that?” And they’re like, “Dude, it’s dead, they’re going with a movie star, just move forward.” But somehow it swung back around, and when I got the part, I was just so incredibly thrilled.
AVC: Even the people who hated the idea of a Watchmen movie often still tended to say, “That said, Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach is perfect casting.”
JEH: [Laughs.] I know, right? That’s a trip. But, you know, the whole design of that movie, the way he did it, the balls that he had to do it that way and to keep it so close to the book, and make the movie this event instead of just a motion picture? I love the tangents in it, and… geez, everything about it, I thought was cool.
JEH: You know, that was fun, too. That was really cool. It was neat just to do something light and comedic, and playing this stoner guy across from Will Ferrell… I mean, you can’t beat that. You go to do a little comedy and you end up next to Will Ferrell? It was just the bomb. Yeah, that was a cute bit of fun. It didn’t take a whole lot of time, but it really was a blast.
AVC: You don’t really do a great deal of comedy. Do you enjoy getting to switch up once in awhile?
JEH: Yeah, I love it. You know, as an actor, you really want to do diverse things, and you don’t want to get pigeonholed in certain areas, so you try to do some different things. That’s what was fun about Tim wanting me to play Willie Loomis in Dark Shadows. I think it’s a lighter role. He’s not a bad guy. He’s probably the most normal guy in the house. Which is really not a good thing. [Laughs.] He’s not all that normal. But yeah, when you get to do stuff that’s diverse, you really try to embody different types of people in mannerisms and attitudes and voice, and you try to find a way to make that stuff sit in a real place where you can really own it.
The Bad News Bears (1976) / The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training (1977) / The Bad News Bears Go To Japan (1978)—“Kelly Leak”
JEH: Well, that was an amazing time, ’cause that first film was just huge, and the career and everything just caught fire. It was such a really good script that Bill Lancaster—Burt’s son—wrote. The screenplay was just this wonderful, perfect thing. I think it even holds up today, you know? And the Kelly Leak character, he became iconic after the movie came out, and… he’s just such a cool character. I don’t know if the character was to everybody else what he was for me, but he was just one of those guys who could do no wrong, always seemed to make the right decision about stuff, and was just laid-back and seriously cool. [Laughs.] And he was also a badass at baseball and all that stuff, and a tough guy. Especially as a kid, that was a really cool character to be associated with, because I mean, it’s nothing like me. I was a bit more goofy, a class-clown guy.
AVC: How was Walter Matthau to work with?
JEH: You know, Matthau was almost like you’d expect him to be from the movies I’ve seen. He always seemed to play a happy-go-lucky guy, funny, witty. And that’s literally what the guy was like in real life. I remember he was just super-sweet, super-nice. I remember when we ended the shoot, he gave all of us a cool little silver keychain from Tiffany’s with a little inscription on the back. I don’t even know if I still have it, but it said something like, “To Jackie from Walter.” It was really cool.
AVC: What were the experiences of the other two films like for you?
JEH: Oh, they were all a real fun time. We really had a blast, the group of kids. We got to go to Houston together and do Breaking Training, and that was more of a summer fun film. And then, of course, there was one of the worst films ever made, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan. [Laughs.] But the experience of working on the film was a treat. I actually fell in love with that girl I was playing across from, and she came out to L.A. and spent some time with me, and we stayed in touch on the phone. And all of this is very funny because she didn’t speak English. And I didn’t speak Japanese. [Laughs.] We both had, like, 10 words that we would just try to figure out how to organize them and communicate.
The Day Of The Locust (1975)—“Adore”
JEH: That was an interesting experience. It was this huge movie at the time—or at least it seemed like it—and John Schlesinger was directing, and I was playing Adore, who was based more or less on Little Lord Fauntleroy, that character. His mom was a stage mom, trying to get him into acting, and… I think a lot of people thought it was a little girl. [Laughs.] They didn’t realize it was actually a little boy, because they bleached my hair strawberry blonde and put curls in it every day. And I remember that very last scene, where Donald Sutherland stomps on the character, stomping him to death. I remember John Schlesinger coming up and saying [British accent.] “Awright, here’s what we’re gonna do. Now, your character’s gonna fall down here, and Donald’s gonna come up. Now, he’s gonna hold himself up on these planks, so you have to trust me, and he’ll fake like he’s pounding his feet on your back. Are you okay with that?” And I’m like, “Uh, welllllll… I think we should ask my [on-set] teacher.” [Laughs.] And then the teacher comes over, and he says, “Yeah, that’ll work.” And I sigh, and I’m like, “Okayyyyyy…” Still not really sure. And, sure enough, when they did the close-up of my head, where he’s supposed to be stomping on me, some grip is, like, jerking my body a little bit, and I’m trying to look like I’m dying, and… my head is literally coming off the floor, which is that tarmac stuff, about two or three inches, and, man, it was really pounding afterward. I still remember that. Funny how I remember getting slapped or having my head pounded around. [Laughs.]
Damnation Alley (1977)—“Billy”
AVC: You heard that Shout Factory reissued the film on DVD last year, didn’t you?
JEH: I did not! I didn’t know that.
AVC: They did a nice job of restoring it, and they’ve even got some bonus material on there. It’s still the relative classic it always was.
JEH: Yeah, you know, I remember it coming out and getting panned a bunch, or maybe it didn’t make much money, but as a kid, when I went to see it, I dug it! [Laughs.] It’s fun in a cheesy way. The skies still look oddly cool. Of course, they can do anything now, as far as special effects, but sometimes in there… like, when the cockroaches were attacking, you can see that they’re all on a blanket and being rustled and moving together. But it was fun working on that, and it was neat working with Jan-Michael [Vincent] and Jack Smight and George Peppard.
AVC: At the Television Critics Association press tour a few years ago, didn’t I hear you tell someone that one of the Landmasters was sitting on the side of the road in North Hollywood for years after the movie was made?
JEH: Dude, that thing was there for… I’m not even sure, it could still be there. [Laughs.] I mean, I drove past that thing for decades after that movie, and it was just sitting there. I forget the name of the guy’s shop, but it belonged to Dean… something. [The shop belonged to Dean Jeffries, who built the Black Beauty for the Green Hornet TV series and the Monkeemobile, as well as helping design the Adam-West-era Batmobile. —ed.] But yeah, that was a cool machine, man. That thing really worked, and it really floated. Those things would push it along in the water. Of course, not as well as the movie makes it look like. [Laughs.] But, yeah, that thing really turned along with the hydraulics, and the six wheels—two groups of three on each side—when it hit something, it’d rotate over to the next wheel. All that stuff really worked.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)—“Freddy Krueger”
JEH: Man, I’ll tell you, that was a lot of work. The makeup alone was… I mean, I think the very first day, it was something like seven hours. And then after all the decisions are being made and everybody’s happy with it, we’re just repeating putting it on, and it’d work itself down to five hours, or maybe four and a half. I think the quickest we got it down to was something like three hours and 15 minutes. So yeah, that was pretty tough with all the makeup, but it was a cool experience. I really think the kids were awesome in it. I loved Rooney [Mara]’s performance, and I think [director] Sam [Bayer] did a pretty good job, visually. He made that thing zing. It was fun to work on. It was just a lot of hard work with that makeup.
AVC: Has there been any further discussion of doing another one? You’re contracted for more.
JEH: You know, I haven’t heard anything, so I have no idea. But I will tell you, man, just talking about getting to do some different things, if you’re going to do a horror movie, getting to come out as one of the most iconic horror characters ever… to try and fill those shoes is a pretty daunting task, because, y’know, Robert [Englund] had done such an amazing job in all of those prior features.
AVC: He approved of you as his successor, though. That’s got to count for something.
JEH: Yeah, that was pretty cool. [Laughs.]
AVC: Speaking of the earlier films—and to bring this conversation full circle, more or less—there’s a recurring rumor that you actually went to the auditions for the original A Nightmare On Elm Street.
JEH: Well, I might’ve, but I don’t remember for sure. But if I did, I definitely didn’t go there with Johnny [Depp]. [Laughs.] Yeah, I’ve heard that, too, but I think someone cut that out of whole cloth. Like I said, it’s possible I was there, and it’s possible that someone saw us standing near each other and thought we were together, but, no, we definitely didn’t go there together. It’s just a rumor. Sorry. [Laughs.]