Sinister Seven: David Naughton, An American Werewolf in London

David Naughton at Weekend of Horrors 2011 in Bottrop, Germany.

David Naughton at Weekend of Horrors 2011 in Bottrop, Germany.

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, loss of sanity, and the only reprieve from all of this would be death. Being a werewolf was not cool – it was a curse. As far as dramatic roles in cinema are concerned, the role of David Kessler required an actor whose talent could reflect the melancholy nature of the role. 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.

What’s your favorite horror movie?
When I was a kid I saw this movie called “The Man Who Could Cheat Death,” and what was particularly weird about it was they had some serious make up when, this guy, toward the end of the film, lived down in this dungeon and he kept you know prisoners and it was very bizarre – 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 guess I was around 10 when I saw it.

Were you a fan of horror movies growing up?
Well I didn’t really get a chance to go see them. We weren’t allowed to go see a lot of stuff. There were more science fiction things: Sin Bad, and those kinds of early Ray Harryhausen movies. There wasn’t anything really scary about King Kong, but I absolutely enjoyed it.

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 is 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, and then it continued into college, and then I decided this was something I wanted to pursue, and so, I went on to drama school and started a theater major in New York.

Is it true you had a singing career once?
Well yeah,  besides just doing musical theater, and a doing a number of off Broadway shows, when it came time to do a television series called ‘Makin It’ I got a 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.

Who do you think would win a fight: David Kessler or Twilight’s Jacob Black?
Well you know I have to say my transformation turned me into a four legged, pretty good sized werewolf. I think I could probably handle him. Yeah I’d definitely tear him from limb to limb.

10 hours of makeup, 5 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 make up wearing these full glass lenses in my eye. Today, with the soft lenses people have it easy. So yeah I think there are some streamline ways to get it done. Then I’d go back into it and get it done.

You’d go back into it with better technology. But would you do it again with the same technology?
(Laughs) Well there’s this certain blend you know? There’s this transformation between regular make up 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 make up.

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 and 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!”

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