Jason Voorhees is and always will be a cinematic icon. The hockey mask, the name, these things are instantly recognizable and have been for over thirty years. The success of the Friday the 13th franchise has only been reaffirmed by the recent best-selling video game. Only a select few, though, have the distinction of playing Jason on-screen. We caught up with C.J. Graham at Spooky Empire to talk about portraying Jason in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, one of the most beloved entries in the whole franchise. We talked about the movie, Graham stepping back into the Jason costume for photo ops and more.
Wicked Horror: So, Part VI turned thirty last year and I’m wondering what you think it is about this particular entry that’s resonated so well with fans?
C.J. Graham: Well, I think being part of the franchise is just an honor in itself. I think Part VI was the tipping point of the franchise in that Jason truly became what the movie is built around. I think prior to that it was still about the camp counselors, but it all started back with a little boy and I think by Part VI it was established that the hockey mask killer, Jason, is what it was really all about. I also think I was very fortunate in that I had a great writer/director in Tom McLoughlin.
And I’m the only Batman, so to speak, in the Jason world. You know, I had that Batman utility belt. James Bond, I had the opening scene like James Bond. Very blessed to have a Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer, Alice Cooper, do the music. How cool is that? And going back old school, coming back to life like Frankenstein? That had to make a lot of people go “Oh, my gosh!” So, I was in the right spot at the right time.
WH: Most directors in the franchise didn’t really give any motivation for Jason, but I interviewed Tom McLoughlin last year and he said he did do that with you.
Graham: Yeah, Tom McLoughlin was very engaged in what he wanted the character to become. Tom and myself are both old horror fans of the Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff era. The werewolf, Frankenstein, The Mummy and of course Dracula, so with that being said, he was very communicative about how he wanted Jason to come across. Not a robot, or a dead robot, just looking at that Frankenstein thing of being brought back to life, unstoppable—curious, too, but there’s a point where everybody’s gonna die.
He was very good. He put a little comedy into it, but I know he was told by Paramount, “You can have a little humor in there, but do not make fun of Jason.” Because at that point, I think Paramount had realized the significance of the Jason character.
WH: And that’s what I love most about it. The movie is very funny, but you’re still frightening. Now, because this is the first “zombie Jason,” so to speak, you get beat up a lot. What was the most technically challenging thing you had to do?
Graham: The most challenging wasn’t the fire burn or going through the wall or going through the door, or the shotgun blast, it was actually being underwater. We were twenty feet down in an Olympic-sized diving pool, and I was physically chained. If you take a look at that, that’s not a balsa wood or plastic chain, that’s a real chain and they screwed it on and stood me on a cinder block at the bottom of the pool. So I couldn’t go anywhere, even if I wanted to. It wasn’t that it was hard, because I had all the faith in the world in Michael Nomad, our stunt coordinator, but I was not going anywhere.
If I signaled for divers to come give me oxygen, I would have truly been in trouble, because there’s no way to get that chain off my neck, I’d have to unscrew it. The object is to do the fight scene until you’re just about out of air, and then you signal by hitting your chest over your heart and the divers swim in and they just lift up my hockey mask and push a regulator right into my mouth.
It was dark, we shot at night, the walls of the pool had been blacked out by a tarp, so it was pitch black. I couldn’t see anything. At that point, I realized “We’re really doing some serious stuff. But it was enjoyable.”
WH: What’s it like after all these years to put on the costume again for events like this?
Graham: It’s amazing. It was the fans’ idea, not mine. Roughly a year ago, give or take, a bunch of fans said “You need to do a wardrobe photo op” and I worked with about four or five different individuals in the industry that have that capability, and developed a wardrobe that should be spot-on for Part VI, including all seven marks on the chest where he’d been speared. It’s good, because everything is there. But it’s interesting, because when I put it on, it’s like a switch. I just flip back into Jason. My physical structure is the same size, which is nice.
And I think the fans are amazed by “OK, I saw this movie ten years ago, fifteen years ago, thirty years ago…” when they come around that corner and I’m just standing there and there’s no more communication, or as Alice Cooper would say “No More Mister Nice Guy,” the man behind the mask comes out. And I leave, everybody leaves with a positive experience.
WH: Did you do anything to sort of get into character on the set of Part VI?
Graham: I just try to be a badass on a daily basis. It just carries over to the hockey mask. It’s one of those things, being in the military years ago, where you just learn to have a presence when you walk into the room, if you’re in that mentality of “I’m a soldier, this is how we walk, this is how we act,” then everything is done routinely. So, for the Jason character, all I did was pick up what I had done in the military and just became a dominating force when I walked into the frame.
WH: A whole new generation of fans are discovering the franchise through the game. Have you checked that out at all yet?
Graham: Isn’t that amazing? In May 2017, Kane Hodder did a great job performing all of us. I understand Part VI is resonating because of, again, that Batman utility belt. At the same time, I’m really excited. To have a five-year-old come up to your table and be all dressed up as Jason and to have a sixty-five-year-old come up to you and tell you it was the first one they saw, what a great thing. Here we are, thirty years later, Jason has become an iconic image throughout the world.
I always say that people always know who Tom Cruise is, they see him and immediately go “Oh, there’s Tom Cruise.” You see C.J. Graham walking down the street, maybe Kane Hodder, you probably don’t know who they are unless you’re a super-fan. However, as soon as someone says “You know Friday the 13th?” They go “Oh, yeah, the guy in the hockey mask!” They go, “Well, that’s him.” “No way!” Now all of a sudden you’re mainstream.