Los Angeles loves its horror conventions and Days of the Dead, which came to the Hilton LAX this weekend scared up some big names for our city’s creep-loving crowds. One of the biggest draws were appearances by the evil geniuses behind the Terrifier franchise, including creator/director Damien Leone and David Howard Thornton, the man who plays the sinister slasher Art the Clown.

LA Weekly spoke to the newly iconic character actor about Days and conventions like them, his role in the killer cult hit, the entertainment industry strikes and what’s to come (Art isn’t the only monstrous murderer he’s played recently).

LA WEEKLY: Let’s talk about conventions. Have you been doing a lot of them since you’ve been in the Terrifer series?

DAVID HOWARD THORNTON: Yes. This year alone I’ve probably done at least 20 of them. So I am keeping myself pretty busy right now. I’m not complaining, it’s a nice thing to have, especially during the actor’s strike right now. It’s something I can actually make a little bit of a living off of in between gigs and stuff like that. Nothing’s really filming right now.

What’s okay in terms of promoting yourself and your projects at conventions during the strike?

It’s very confusing, but a lot of it has to do with those of us that are in the union, we can’t promote movies, or even past projects that are from ‘struck’ companies or anything that’s under that umbrella of the AMPTP. Fortunately, Terrifier and other films I’ve done recently have all been independent film, so it doesn’t really fall under that umbrella so I’m lucky in that regard. So yay independent film!

Independent film companies have been more agreeable and supportive of the things that actors are fighting for haven’t they?

Very much so.  It’s because they’re more in tune to what’s going on. Usually a lot of these independent filmmakers are down in the trenches like everybody else, so they know what goes into making a movie and what people will endure on the sets. They understand if you keep everybody happy, then you’re just going  to be as equally fulfilled when it comes to financial returns at the box office and everything like that.

The big CEOs are the ones that we’re having to strike against right now. Because they’re not willing to come to the table and negotiate with us. And they’re the ones that make hundreds of millions of dollars a year off of doing nothing. They just sit there and take in the profits while everybody else does the work for them. So they don’t really understand what’s its like the way independent filmmakers do.

Our producers for Terrifier and Terrifier 2, they were part of the crew. Our producer Phil was probably the biggest producer on the film, he put the most money into it, and he was on set every single day even after having heart surgery. He was on set, helping Damien build the prosthetics and all the props that were needed for the film. So it’s like, these are the people that get down and dirty with the rest of us.

Art the Clown

(Epic Pictures)

Terrifier really stood out amid the crowded horror and slasher landscape, in particular in how it was received in theaters, with people throwing up and walking out. It got so much buzz too.

Yeah and it was purely organic. We didn’t have a publicity budget or anything like that. So that was pure fan driven word of mouth. That was the coolest thing because it was real. That wasn’t a studio just putting out publicity, it wasn’t fake. I mean, we were only supposed to be in theaters for one weekend. And we ended up being in theaters for like six weeks. It’s because it had that word of mouth and that demand and people kept talking about it online and in person to their friends. And it just kept going and going and going. And that’s an amazing thing to watch happen in this day and age of a Marvel movie being released every few months.

The violence is pretty brutal and really well done. I had to cover my eyes a lot during both movies, but that’s part of the fun I guess. 

I could see why it disturbs a lot of people. But you know, I think I’ve become so desensitized to it because I’m right there. I know exactly how it’s all made and everything. So it doesn’t scare me. But I have creeped myself out unintentionally. Like, I will forget that I’m wearing the makeup and I’ll be really tired. And I’ll see myself in a mirror and  jump. I will say there were a few times on set in part two, where I was kind of like, eeh…  The prosthetic that Damien made where I’m breaking the arm? It was something I could just repeatedly break over and over again, and it would just go back to what it was. And for me, it’s like I have broken an arm myself so I know what that pain is. So anything with broken arms or eyeballs, or like fingernails, that’s the stuff that makes me kind of cringe.

That bedroom scene in T2 was the worst I think. The breakage and burning. So disturbing. 

When a head gets chopped off, you don’t feel it because that’s just boom, you’re dead. But an arm breaking or your skin being fileted off. You’re gonna feel that. That’s gonna be agonizing. And the idea that after all Art had done to her, when Ali’s mom comes in, she’s still alive. It’s absolutely horrible.

Art is very memorable, in the same way Freddy Krueger, Mike Myers and Pinhead were in their first movies. One of the reasons he’s so creepy and effective is the awkward silence of the character, but it goes beyond that. Damien created a great slasher but you bring the embodiment– the movement and expression– to him. Did you have input into how to play him?

There was a lot of back and forth between Damien and I. It was a team effort. We’re constantly, you know, even to this day, going back and forth with each other about how we should approach certain things like, ‘Do we go scary here?’ Do we go funny here?’  I’m constantly just asking Damien on set, like, what kind of facial expression do you want in this, like for this reaction or that. He’s a really collaborative director in that way. And he’s very actor friendly. And it’s not just me, it’s everybody else on set, too. He knows what he wants, and he’ll get what he wants, and he knows how to get what he wants. But he’s open to other ideas. And so there’ll be several takes where I’ll give him what he wants and then he’s like, ‘okay, Dave, just play now. Do your thing.’ And sometimes happy accidents come from those moments.

What, if anything, can you tell us about the third movie coming up?

There’s a lot I can’t, of course, and I haven’t read the script yet. But I know that we’re going to explore more into Sienna’s background with her family, especially with the dad and stuff like that. And I believe they’re going to flesh out Victoria’s character a lot more now.

The movie seemed like reality-based horror but then it got very supernatural.

Damien’s adding some fun mythology into it. Some supernatural goings on especially with demons and angels or whatever. He’s having fun playing around with that. I kind of look at it as he’s taking the best of all the different slashers that came before us and putting them in a blender.

Can you give us a little bit of your background as an actor? Did you study mime at all? Drama or comedy? 

Well, first of all, I always like to put this rumor to rest. I did not study mime. My tutelage comes from just observing great physical comedians my whole entire life. I was watching old black and white silent films as a kid all the way through Mr. Bean and Jim Carrey movies. So that’s what I learned from and I learned from just being on stage with other actors. I was able to constantly just hone my craft, I guess you could say. I also had a great mentor for five years. I studied under Stephen Carl; I was his understudy for the Grinch. Stefan was known as Robbie Rotten from the TV show LazyTown and he was actually trained in clowning and mime, all that. He was able to give me a lot of good tips and tricks as I went along. And then when I was cast as Art, I called him up for some more encouragement and words of wisdom. So I just learned from the best and I adapted and made it my own.

I haven’t done comedy in film yet. Terrifier was my first film role. But I did a lot of stage work. So I did a lot of comedies in New York and even in Alabama, where I’m from originally. We had a really great community theater down there, especially with children’s theater. And that’s where I did a lot of slapstick comedy and a lot of melodramas. Then I moved up to New York and toured with the Grinch musical for five years.

So you were perfectly cast for The Mean One, the Grinch inspired horror movie that came out last year.  On one hand, being typecast as a horror villain of the Art/Grinch level is pretty cool. But at the same time, do you have a desire to expand into other roles as you continue with your career? 

People have asked me before if I would be okay, if I was just known for being Art the Clown or just typecast to that kind of character, and honestly I’m totally fine with that. He’s a fun character and I love playing him. So many actors would give their teeth just to have a character like that to play. So I just consider myself fortunate enough to do that. I’m just enjoying the ride. It’s been very surreal finding out who all knows about our little film that could. I’ve met so many other celebrities that I have admired for years at these conventions, and I find out they’re fans and that’s mind blowing.

But, of course there are other characters I would love to play. My big dream role is to play the Joker in some shape or form, especially live action. I would love to get on James Gunn’s radar because I would love to be his Joker. He’s a fellow geek and has a true appreciation for the comic material itself. He’s somebody who actually genuinely cares about the subject matter that’s being adapted so I would love to have a shot to be his Joker one day so I like to put that out there.

So how do you approach fan events like Days of the Dead, as Art the Clown? He obviously doesn’t talk. Do you make appearances as yourself or as Art?

I do both. Occasionally I make appearances in costume for photo ops. That’s usually when Damien’s out at the conventions with me, because he’s the only one that does my makeup. We have a deal between the two of us that he does my makeup. He’s a practical effects guy, a man of many, many talents. I’m so happy that he’s getting the love and respect that he deserves right now.

And that’s the thing, if people are going to have an experience with me in costume we want to make it authentic, and we want to make it as special as possible. And so that’s why he does make up for it. I’m sure there’s some great talented makeup artists out there that can do it equally as but this is his baby and we want to give people the true Art the Clown experience.

As soon as I’m in costume and makeup for my photo ops, I am in character. I do not talk. I have a lot of fun with that and I get to play around with people and not just in the photo ops. I’m always messing around with people at the conventions or in the hotels.  I’ve scared a lot of people.

Of course, I’m not doing the horrible mean violent things. But the playfulness is there. I like to play around and sneak up on people and scare them, especially with my horn. One of my favorite stories is when I really scared one of my security guys for the weekend. Big huge guy, mountain of a man. And we’re in the elevator and he was backed up into the corner as far as he could get away from me because he was terrified. And I just played into it. I’m just slowly raising the horn up into his face. And I just waited for the elevator doors to open in the lobby and then I honked the horn. He screamed like a little girl in front of all these people and I was like, that’s what I want.

See Thornton as Art the Clown at Days of the Dead at the Hilton LAX, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 25-27. More info on schedule and tickets at daysofthedead.com/los_angeles/.

Terrifier and Terrifier 2 both available to stream on The Roku Channel and Peacock now.

The Mean One will available for streaming on Oct. 3.
















































































































































































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