So far as personality traits are concerned, there’s little doubt that C.J. Graham’s an Alpha. With a level of confidence that could give Gene Simmons a run for the money, he’d prove his formidability at the 2020 Days of the Dead convention in Indianapolis. It was there Graham, like Alex Vincent from Child’s Play, would find himself the lone participant in a would-be reunion. Covid-19 would turn the event’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives panel into a one-man show. But despite portraying the mute character of Jason Voorhees on-screen, ‘the man behind the mask’ had plenty to talk about with his audience.
Jason Lives marked the only time Graham would play the iconic Jason. He was supposed to return for Part VII but lost the role to Kane Hodder who was friends with its director. It’s a source of contention that Graham would address early in the panel. While DOTD panels usually have a moderator, this was a luxury an event crippled by COVID-19 could ill afford. Consequently, all questions would have to come directly from the audience members themselves. When Graham discovered his sparse and socially distant crowd was also a bit shy, he made it clear they’d either step up or he’d walk out. Later, he’d change his position and simply call on people randomly; whether they had their hands up or not. And like a strict high school teacher, God help those who strolled in late! And so we begin…
Graham: (takes his seat onstage) I get to take my mask off…cool! I know you’re all disappointed not to see Tom McLoughlin. I am too. True story, he texted me last night that his daughter’s girlfriend got the virus, and since he was in contact with her, elected to make the right choice and quarantine himself for fourteen days. So I apologize, but he does send his regrets because Tom really loves meeting his fans.
So, I guess we’re just gonna roll with the punches. Does everybody know I played Jason in Part VI? Does everybody know that there’s a guy named Kane Hodder that came after me? Notice I said after me. I just have to say that because a lot of times I’m asked why I didn’t do Part VII. For those of you who don’t know, I was originally scripted to play Jason in that movie but Kane knew the director and had worked with John (Carl Buechler) before. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s a huge horror fan and that he really wanted to play Jason and I mean that respectfully. So Kane stepped into the role and, to be fair, he’s been a great ambassador of the series; much more than I could ever have been. He works his ass off doing about twenty-six/twenty-seven shows a year and I appreciate all the hard work he does for the franchise.
Another question I get asked is why I didn’t play Jason in Freddy vs Jason. There was interest in me playing in the film but at the time I was the chief operating officer of two casino resorts and making a pretty good salary. I passed on the project because playing Jason at the time didn’t make logical sense. I retired from casinos about 3 1/2 years ago so since then I have been working on different projects. I got to play Jason‘s father Elias Voorhes in a fan film last year called Vengeance. I grew a beard for a few months and it was pretty cool. And then recently I did 13 Fanboy with Corey Feldman, Kane Hodder, and Deborah Voorhees. I know it’s ready to go but nobody’s making any decisions about distribution right now because of the Covid situation.
OK, don’t be shy, let’s have some fun with this! Who would like to ask a question?
Graham: OK I guess it’s over…
Days of the Dead staff: I’ve got one…obviously you’ve got a lot of tattoos if you had room to put one more on what would be?
Graham: So did everybody hear that question? I have a lot of tattoos and also back tattoos. He’s asking if I had any open space what would I get? I’m Norwegian, so most of my tattoos have a Viking type theme and would probably continue with that. On my back, I have a 20 inch M-16 and a pair of boots from my military days. A lot of you say to me “thank you for your service” and I want to say, “take the time to thank somebody who didn’t come home.” I’m here talking to you and they’re not. So my tattoos are all based on my heritage and my respect for those who gave their lives for this country.
Audience Member: Were you hot in the Jason costume?
Graham: Well, I’m feeling kind of hot now, sir. I’m 63 years old and lean and mean. For those of you that have ever worn anything in wardrobe, you know that you sweat like a pig. It was very hot, especially the hood, because it’s not ventilated but a prosthetic piece you slide over. Once you start sweating, you can imagine how it is being in that costume for 56…78 hours. After 12 hours you feel like a sardine and can’t wait to get out of it and into a shower.
Audience Question: How was it doing those water scenes?
Graham: Good question. The underwater scenes were very unique. The scene where you see me going out to the water with Tommy was a stagnant pond in Covington, Georgia. I actually went out into that pond and stayed underwater as long as I could to get that scene done. The good thing is that I didn’t know about the water moccasins nor about the leeches until afterward when I went to the shower and one of the wardrobe people said they needed to check for leeches. I’m glad they told me after the fact because I probably wouldn’t have done it if I’d known it ahead of time. The scene underwater was done in two different places. We shot a lot of the underwater scenes in an Olympic size swimming pool in Los Angeles. An Olympic size swimming pool is 20 feet deep. They actually put a black tarp all the way around the outside of the pool and shot at night. Obviously, they physically tied me down with a real chain so I was chained to the bottom and I would signal for a safety diver to come and give me air. That was more of a ‘how long can you hold your breath’ thing. The scene where they set me on fire was actually shot in a pool next to the Olympic size one and only 6 feet. When I was set on fire, I would step forward to do the fight scene and then go underwater. Then the last scene where you see Jason getting whacked by the propeller, that was done in Tom McLoughlin‘s parent’s swimming pool in the backyard of their home in Los Angeles. True story; they went down and got pig guts and different things at the supermarket to make the blood and stuff. Tom had to clean the pool the next day for his parents but that’s what it took to film those water scenes.
Audience Question: What was your favorite kill?
Graham: My favorite kill is breaking the sheriff’s back and the reason is, there’s no blood and guts at all. Busting somebody backward like an umbrella is badass. Hearing the snapping of his back was cool and how they did it was by digging a hole straight down. The sheriff was standing in the hole so the legs weren’t his. When he bends back, that’s another person but it looks like one body. So there’s a little magic but not like today’s movie magic with a green screen and people flying around. This was more creatively put together.
Graham: All right…if I don’t see someone else raise their hand, I’m gonna start randomly calling on people…
Audience Member: What was Tom McLaughlin like as a director?
Graham: The interesting thing about Tom is that he was very clear about being an old-school Universal Studios monster fan and that Friday the 13th Pt VI would have Jason return like the Frankenstein monster. Connecting the dots, Jason is not like a zombie but can actually think. For those of you who have seen the old Frankenstein movie, there’s that scene where the little girl at the edge of the water gives a daisy to the monster and he just kinda looks at her confused. It’s the same creative concept with Jason tilting his head and trying to make sense of the little girl in our movie. It was very creative how he did it and he was very clear he did not want a zombie, he wanted me to show curiosity, anger, and fear with my body. A lot of people think that’s pretty easy since you can’t talk but I challenge you to stand in front of a mirror with a hockey mask on and show emotions without opening your mouth. I gave Kane Hodder a hard time because in Part VII he does heavy breathing. I’m like, “Kane, why are you breathing man? You’re dead!”
Suddenly, in walks a trio of people 15 minutes late. CJ turns to them.
Graham: Hey did you guys bring a note from your teacher? You’re late…all three of you! (gives them a hard stare before they take their seats)
Me: It was just announced this past week that Scream Factory is releasing a new incredible Friday the 13th box set this Fall. They have not revealed all the extras regarding it. Can you tell us if you participated in any extras for that new set?
Graham: We did do some online commentary. (Note: Scream Factory has since released more information on this set’s bonus features) It’s been a while since Crystal Lake Memories (2013) and I think fans are really hungry for something. I think Derek Mears did an incredible job with his Friday the 13th (2009) and now everything is sort of in limbo. There have been some legal disagreements between Victor Miller and Sean Cunningham regarding who owns the rights and they are at war. Personally, I think they should just work on Friday the 13th projects, put them in a vault, and wait for the issues to get solved because the fans are the ones that are bankrolling you and they are hungry for something NOW. Without the fans, you wouldn’t be arguing over who has the rights in the first place. I say just shoot the damn films, pay back the investors, and if the movie makes $100 million or more, they’ll likely agree to 50-50. They’re far more likely to work something out with 100 million just sitting there rather than fighting over somebody getting 100% of a hypothetical project. I’m a capitalist and I tend to look at things that way. Bottom line – without the fans you get nothing!
Audience Question: How many movies have you been in?
Graham: I did Highway to Hell and then I did Friday the 13th. It was fun doing that stuff but there really isn’t a place for somebody my size. Most people are 5’ 8” like Tom Cruise and I’m 6’ 4. I’m actually bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was 240 on his best day, I’m 260. So, I went back to Vegas in the casino industry and rose through the ranks. Now that I’m retired, I can put myself back out there a bit. I have a few things going but everything is now in a holding pattern because of the virus. To be honest, acting is just a fun thing for me. I never did it because I wanted to be an accomplished actor or a stunt person. I just had fun doing it. I was fortunate to have gotten a job as Jason and here we are chatting about it 35 years later.
I recently completed 13: Fanboy with Dee Wallace. She plays the lead and I get to fight the villain at the end and survive. So I get to be the hero for a change. Getting back into it and doing stunts again was a real eye-opener. I was black and blue from head to toe. No, not brown…literally black and blue. A few weeks afterward, I went to the doctor and the nurse practitioner sent me straight to the Emergency Room. When you’re young you can tuck and roll but when you’re my age you may land on a mattress but it sure won’t feel like one.
Audience: Have you seen any of the other Friday the13th fan films?
Graham: I have not. I purposely picked the one that I did because I got to play Jason‘s father, Elias Voorhees. Nobody has ever seen the character before although he’s been talked about in some of the Friday the 13th paperback books. Tom had even talked about putting that character in his movie in some form. For me, to let my hair grow scraggly and grow a beard for four months and basically look like a woodsman was pretty fun. I got to stand up to somebody my size (Jason Brooks) and do battle against ‘my son.’ I and my friend Steve Dash did it. We didn’t get paid but were flown up to Seattle for a few days. So I haven’t seen any fan films but I have heard there are a lot of good ones out there. Today’s technology is so much better for filmmaking than it once was. It really no longer takes millions and millions of dollars to make quality productions in today’s world.
All right next question…(Silence. Graham picks out a random audience member) You, with the purple hair. Yeah, YOU! What’s your question. This is just like being at school if you’re not paying attention you’re going to get picked!
Singled out Audience Member with purple hair: Um…how did you approach doing Jason from a physical standpoint?
Graham: Well for me it was simple. I had just gotten out of the army and when you’re in the military you learn how to walk a certain way and it stays with you forever. Because of my size, I was used to making an impression wherever I go. Unfortunately, when you’re this large you walk into a bar and people want to challenge you because you’re the big guy. You quickly learn how to carry yourself a certain way and make a statement without saying a word. This is how the Jason character was presented to me by Tom. Fortunately, I think that worked well. Part VI is a very unique piece to the series. Is it the best? Well of course it is because I was in it. We can debate that all you want but Part VI has no nudity so you can show it to a 13-year-old. You’ve got the James Bond opening. I get to wear a Batman utility belt. I get to come back to life like Frankenstein. And Alice Cooper made music for it. In my opinion, Part VI is when Jason became the principal of the film. Up to that point, it was always about the camp counselors and the victims but in Part VI the Jason character steps forward and has remained that way ever since.
Audience: Did you steal any props?
Graham: There were a couple of masks that made it into my bag. I honestly didn’t know they were in there until I got home and I didn’t know what to do with them since I didn’t have any of the crew’s phone numbers. So I did keep those. Many years ago I did another show on the East Coast and somebody came by with one of those masks. I turned it around and saw that it had squibs (explosive blood packs used in films) on it. I said, ‘Hey, this is one of the real masks! Where did you get it from?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh. I got it from such and such. I paid $6.000 for it.’ I was like, WHAT? This was about 14 years ago. I’m thinking, ‘Shit, I’ve got two of them in a box sitting in my garage somewhere.’ I went home and immediately sold one on eBay but still have one that I’m keeping for my son. It’s the mask that was used in the opening James Bond segment and I now have on display in a shadow box. I also still have my original script and my original contract for it.
(Points to one of the audience members who had walked in late) You! You were late, what’s your question?
Late guy: Um…what was your favorite kill?
Graham: Ha! If you weren’t late you’d have known I already answered that! What’s your next question? Go ahead…this is what you get for being late.
Late guy: Mutters something
Graham: Alright, you’re sweating, don’t be nervous. Don’t cuss. We’ll come back to you later.
Audience: where would you like to see Jason go from here?
Graham: As an armchair quarterback I’d shoot three in a row. I would use the same Jason for all three movies but have three different directors and three different scripts with continuity running between the films. They should each be their own movies and have their own twists but continuity with the character of Jason. I would shoot them all in a row with maybe 18 months between them.
(Turns back to the late guy) You ready? Whatcha got?
Late guy: if you could play Jason again and go up against another screen killer, like in Freddy versus Jason, whom would you choose?
Graham: Personally, I am not a fan of Freddy vs Jason or Jason vs anybody for that matter. To be fair, I wasn’t a fan of the Alien vs Predator movies either. To twist the question back, if I were to ever play Jason again, Tom has written a script in the last few years and if I could still do the physicality as well as I could in Part VI, I would do it. So if the script had merit and wasn’t going to make me look too goofy, I would do it. Also, I don’t want any gimmicks in terms of location. I don’t want to be in the desert, I don’t want to be in the ocean, I would want to be at the campsite. Tom had written one that was taking place back at Camp Crystal Lake but during the wintertime. I believe the film involves some kids getting stuck there en route to a ski trip. Guess how good blood looks on white snow?
Graham: Let me take a moment to say how happy I am that nobody showed up to this panel wearing a Michael Myers T-shirt. For those of you who come up for my autograph and have a lapse in judgment by wearing a Michael Myers T-shirt, let me tell you that a machete’ is way cooler than an outback steak knife. You can go out and tell Toni (Moran) I said that.
Audience: Aside from you, who would you say is your favorite person who played Jason?
Graham: I’m sorry was there others? Next question!
Audience: Does anyone ever recognize you as Jason when you’re out in public?
Graham: Not often but it does happen sometimes when I come across a diehard fan. A couple of years back at a different Days of the Dead I did with Derek Meers, we got recognized at the airport and the TSA stopped us and said, ‘Weren’t you guys Jason?’ It doesn’t happen to the extent of other actors which is nice, but is a pleasant shock when it does.
Audience: Who’s your favorite band or singer?
Graham: I’ve got to go with Alice Cooper, of course. I first saw him play back when I was in the military and had no idea that I’d be in the studio with him later. We actually meet up a couple times each year.
Audience: Do you like animals?
Graham: I do. I own dogs, horses, and alpacas.
Audience: Do you have any favorite stories or anecdotes you can share regarding your experience filming part six?
Graham: Well Friday 13th was my first experience with making a movie and there was a scene where I had to pull this girl that was stuck in a car and there really was no way to do it so without touching her crotch. I turned the stunt coordinator and asked, ‘Is this gonna be OK?’ The actress was totally cool with it and we introduced ourselves to each other and then proceeded to do the scene. All you see in the movies her slippers falling off but it was a very uncomfortable scene for me even though she personally didn’t seem to have a problem with it.
Audience: Have you ever done any conventions overseas and do they love the movies as much as Americans do?
Graham: oh yes they go absolutely crazy for them. I was in Sweden back in February and Kane Hodder and I also did an event in England. I do get a lot of offers to go to Brazil and several other South American countries at this point I haven’t felt comfortable enough doing them for security reasons. I have passed on those but I do think it would be fun. But I’ve done several European countries multiple times.
Audience: How did you feel about the Jason performance in Freddy versus Jason?
Graham: Again, I am not a fan of that movie. Just like with Alien vs Predator I think it’s a bad sign when you need two big names to carry a movie. I will say that Kane Hodder and I are always surprised to see big Freddy Krueger fans at conventions. It’s like, why would you be rooting for a pedophile/child killer? And in today’s politically correct society, I honestly can’t believe that franchise still stands up!
(Turns to an audience member) Hey, you in the orange shirt! Yeah, the one I need sunglasses to look at. You’ve been sitting there all quiet this entire hour! What’s your question?
Audience member in orange shirt: Were there any scenes that you guys had to do multiple takes on or that really where are you out?
Graham: OK, well first of all just for clarification, does everybody know that I replaced the original Jason that was picked for this movie? So when I went to get the job I wasn’t a stunt man or an actor. There is still one scene in the movie where you can see their original choice and that is during the paintball scene. Apparently, after the powers that be saw that first scene he shot, they felt he was too pudgy to play Jason. They wanted to get back to that authoritative and powerful walk that Jason had. So the next day the call came out for me to come and take over the part. And don’t feel bad for that other guy either because he ended up going on to have a very successful career producing and as a stunt coordinator. The flavor just wasn’t there for him to play Jason.
Alrighty, thanks for coming out! Please stop by and see me at my table.