Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Interview with Jonathan Breck
The Creeper Speaks!
(interview conducted by telephone January 2003, but held over until summer release of Jeepers Creepers 2)
JL : So, how are you today?
JB : Im fine, here in California its a sunny day, about 75 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.
Can I just ask your age, please?
Im 37, Ill be 38 in February .
And are you from California originally?
No, Im from Texas a little place just outside Houston called Spring. It started off being kind of a small town, then over the years Houston just swallowed it up. Now its just a suburb of the city, but back when I was born it was a farming community.
So how did you get to Hollywood?
It was a roundabout kind of way. I left Texas to go study in New York, then I came out west in 1995. Before I started acting I made my living by working in medical sales all kind of surgical stuff, and Ive drawn on these experiences quite a few times in acting. And the experience of going out and having to sell yourself which is kind of what sales is about comes in handy when youre in an audition, and you have to do exactly the same thing. When I came to LA I didn’t know anybody at all just one of those thousands who seem to arrive every week. There really is a staggering number of actors in this city.
Why did you leave New York, which also has lots of openings for actors?
I wanted to be somewhere where the film and TV world was really happening. Id done a lot of stage stuff since grammar school, and the only place to do acting on a really consistent basis seemed to be Los Angeles. Id had enough of medical sales, and I realised that acting was what I wanted to do full time Saturday night at midnight or Sunday morning at 10am, that’s what I wanted to do. And of course you do work very odd hours, not at all fixed, in this job you can be filming at 4am on a Sunday morning if the schedule demands it.
What was your first job in Hollywood?
Well, my first proper job was after about three years, in a remake of I Married A Monster. I never saw the original, which came out in about 1958 I think. It was three weeks work, but it was the most money Id ever seen.
How did you make ends meet in those three years before the movie?
The usual stuff bartending. I also did a couple jobs on the production side. And I also worked for Big Brothers, which is a mentoring programme for kids without parents. I was a recruiter for them for a while.
So was Doug Limans movie Swingers (1996) an accurate reflection of your life?
Absolutely I can’t say I lived 100 percent those guys lives, but the ridiculousness was spot on, the craziness, the grumpiness of out-of-work actors, those details were exactly right. When friends in Texas asked what my life in Hollywood was like, and the glamour stuff, Id just tell em to go watch that movie.
So Jeepers Creepers has been your biggest break so far?
Definitely! Its given me my first lead in a studio film.
Did you meet the producer of Jeepers Creepers, Francis Ford Coppola, very much?
Of course he came down and visited the set. But he was mainly there for Victor [Salva, writer-director] as a source he could go to. They talked about creative matters very early on, but he wasn’t one of these producers who’s a presence on set. Three weeks into shooting he turned up, we just talked, and all of us had dinner. I have to say, I was so tongue-tied when I first met him for me, he’s arguably the greatest film-maker ever, so I didn’t know what the heck to say. After stuttering a lot I told him he made great wine so while we were making Jeepers Creepers 2 he sent a case of it to the producer and we could all pick out which bottles we wanted: I took a Merlot and a Rubicon.
Which Coppola movies do you like best?
The Godfather movies, and Apocalypse Now. I was a film fan from being a little kid, it was only a bit later I got into stage work and musical theatre I sang a lot. Growing up I wasn’t exactly a film expert or anything, more of a pop-culture kid. I remember doing Chicago on stage, which of course involves a lot of singing and dancing, sometimes at the same time!
Have you had the opportunity to use these skills in the movies much?
Well, I do think that my performances in the Jeepers Creepers movies have an element of dance in them. I trained a bit as a dancer, as well as doing a lot of sports I played baseball, and for 14 years American Football. So the physical training, the dance training it helped me a lot with the part of the Creeper. Movement was everything the Creeper doesn’t speak so I had to say what I wanted to say through my body. It was a bit like silent-movie acting, in fact a reall challenge, and a great challenge in many ways. Most of the things we do as actors are, I think, too reliant on words we can forget a little about movement, and behaviour, and those things that go into making a fully three-dimensional character. A good actor should be able to get points across by saying nothing and doing little. And thinking about the role in this way means Ive had a great deal of fun finding out how he would move, and stalk his victims.
How did you get the role?
Well, for the audition, they didn’t really tell me anything. There was maybe one short paragraph of details written down. They said We want someone to bring us this character how he uses his senses, and so on. So they really left it up to the actors interpretations. I worked on it for a week or so, observed animals and took a lot of movements from different kinds of animals. A supermelding of different characteristics is how I think of it, with the most heightened senses from each kind of animal. They were very happy with that, as it turned out. After that I didn’t talk to Victor much more he usually was happy to just let me do what I wanted to do. He didn’t need to say that much when production started because it was all there in the script he gave me a lot of things on the page that I was able to hook onto, and expand upon. It was a great collaborative experience Id get an idea, get excited about it, show it to him, and wed develop things together.
Is he the kind of director who uses many takes?
No, not really not at all, in fact. Which was really a blessing for me, as I was sometimes in the make-up and costume for 12 hours at a time. There are photographs of me where Im eating pizza, wearing the full Creeper make-up.
So you didn’t have to eat and drink through tubes or anything like that?
No but I had to be very careful, and then before shooting started again Id have to be in make-up for a half hour getting things touched up.
So was it always the intention to have the Creeper silent?
In fact I did have one line in the original cut of Jeepers Creepers. Its when I kill the cat lady [played by Eileen Brennan] and throw her away, I said She doesn’t smell too good. But I think it might have been an idea from Francis [Ford Coppola] to cut the line and leave me mute.
Does the Creeper speak more in Jeepers Creepers 2?
No but he does have more direct communication with people more chance to have twisted interchanges, without lines.
Did you suspect Jeepers Creepers was going to do so well at the box office?
Well, not really. I knew it was a very good movie, and I was proud to be a part of it. It just didn’t pander to the usual expectations of an independent horror movie. Straight away you could see it was shot beautifully, and that the acting and music were great. I knew it was a smart, good movie that adults could watch. Right from the beginning it was always supposed to be this small-scale movie, that would be released like an indie on just a few screens at first. Then it picked up so much momentum at the advance test screenings that it ended up in something like 3,000 theatres in its first week I was dumbfounded that it picked up so much steam so quickly.
Has the success of the first movie, plus the Creepers higher profile in Jeepers Creepers 2, boosted your career and fame?
Well, I have to admit it hasnt helped that much yet people don’t recognise me facially at all, because of course the Creeper look is achieved with make-up. I shaved my head before going to the audition (the audition is on the DVD, by the way), because I felt like the character would have that kind of clean look but then one thing led to another and I ended up being almost completely covered up. But I suspect that the intensity of my look without make-up was part of what got me the role. I must admit I was kind-of disappointed that this was my first big studio movie and you couldnt see my face!
Though of course you do have a cameo in the first movie as Bald Cop where we see your face.
I asked if I could do an uncredited little cameo part without make-up, and they gave me the cop to do. But there was none of that in the second movie.
So are you still keen to let us see your face a little more?
But now, its funny how these things work out and I can see the benefit I could do many more Jeepers movies and never get typecast in the same way as, say, Robert Englund did as Freddie Krueger. Hes a fantastic actor, but he’s always tied to that particular role. The success of Jeepers didnt make my name especially well known, maybe because I wasn’t actually on screen very much but this will hopefully all change with Jeepers 2. Though I do always have very reserved expectations about things I didn’t even tell my parents Id got the Jeepers job, but my mother recognised my eyes. My dad well, he’s not much of a horror fan, and he kind-of grumbled a bit
The success of Jeepers Creepers led to a much bigger budget for the sequel, I believe.
Well, its twice the budget of the first one, $18m, but by Hollywood standards that still isn’t much. It wasn’t a very different experience on set for the second movie, Victor wanted to do more effects, more action, bigger scenes. That can chew up money really fast, so I think the extra money went into those aspects of the production. We didn’t have bigger trailers or anything like that instead the money went on providing big explosions, and big stunt sequences. Personally, Id rather see the budget on-screen instead of just me getting a bigger trailer. And its certainly up on screen this time.
I believe Victor Salva wanted a big climax in the first film involving a train, but the money ran out. Has that been incorporated into the sequel instead?
Well its a variation of it, lets put it like that. There were several things that Victor couldnt afford to do on the first one, and put them into the second one when he knew there was going to be a sequel.
How did Victor develop the ideas for the sequel? Did you chip in?
He went off and wrote, and that was basically it! On the first movie I wrote him a long letter, three or four pages, about things that could be done with the character. He responded by saying that everything had to be done within a very tight budget. But he kept that letter, and when he was writing the sequel he said he’d put some of them in there I haven’t actually seen the finished version of the movie, so Im not sure exactly whats in there and what isnt. But I do know that this time I pop up about 30 seconds into the movie, and Im much more present right from the start. People whove seen the first movie have already seen the Creeper, so there’s no need to hide him away this time.
Did you perform your own stunts on the movies?
Some of them, but there were some pretty difficult stunts in Jeepers 2 some of the work where the Creeper is flying through the air, that involves a lot of wires and I did all that. Theres one bit where Im chasing this speeding truck down a road, and some of that got a little dicey. They had a stuntman come in called Derek Prescott he’s been working on the two new Matrix movies also and he did the more complicated manoeuvres. Id like to do all of it, but the producers step in I guess I get beat up enough as it is.
I heard mosquitoes caused lots of problems on the first movies set.
This time we filmed it not far from here, in Southern California, rather than Florida where we did Jeepers Creepers I don’t think anybody wanted to film down there again. I had a problem when a mosquito got stuck in my eyeball and stung my eyelid it just swelled up, and to be honest it was more annoying than painful. The last thing you think about is spraying your eyes, but those bloodthirsty suckers get everywhere. Its set in the same area as the first one, not that far away, but in both movies Victor is careful to make it look like kind of Nowhere, USA. But Jeepers Creepers 2 was harder for me, in terms of the sheer physical challenge. Hanging on wires is a lot of fun, but its not as easy as it might seem. I had to wear a harness under the Creeper outfit, and ended up hanging upside down quite a lot. To get one particular shot you end up upside down for almost an hour.
But your familiarity with the role perhaps meant you could be more relaxed with the part?
Well, Im very comfortable with the character now I think I know what he’d do, so I try to go a little further and maybe have a little fun with the role.
What have you got coming next?
Ive got a couple of independent movies, some plays, and a TV pilot. One of the movies is called Beat Boys, which I did about a year and a half ago I play a beat poet, or rather somebody who thinks hes a beat poet. This was just after I did Jeepers Creepers, so the character didn’t have any hair yet. Ive done about 26 movies altogether, including independent student films, but most of them haven’t been released yet.
Playing a poet after the Creeper sounds like a change of pace.
Yes, this time its all about the words, all about the lines but I came back to that kind of acting straightaway, no problem.
And has there been any talk of a Jeepers Creepers 3?
I don’t know yet it depends on the box office, of course. But I have heard rumours of a third one. It depends on a lot of things, but as long as Victor is involved Id be happy to do it knowing that a good film-maker is involved in the project makes a big difference. Ill be pleased to do the sequels as long as he keeps coming up with good stories.
interview by Neil Young
by Neil Young