Interviews: David Howard Thornton Talks About Portraying Art The Clown In The Horror Film Terrifier

David Howard Thornton talks Terrifier

If you have a taste for the disturbing, dare to watch Terrifier! The killer clown slasher is the latest offering from Epic Pictures Releasing’s Dread Central Presents label. This unsettling horror film previews in select U.S. cities starting on March 15th and hits VOD on March 27th.

Based on a character from the 2013 anthology, All Hallows Eve, the gory ‘80s slasher throwback takes place on Halloween night as the demented Art the Clown sets his sights on terrorizing two girls and anyone else that gets in his way.

Terrifier was written and directed by Damien Leone (FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY) and stars Jenna Kanell (THE BYE-BYE MAN), Catherine Corcoran (RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, VOL. 1 & 2), Margaret Reed (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION), and David Howard Thornton (GOTHAM), who plays the very disturbing villain of Terrifier — Art the Clown. You can read our review for the film here.

We had the chance to speak to David Howard Thornton about the film and donning the makeup of Art the Clown.

TMS: First off, can you provide us with a little bit of background information. Did you always want to act?

DHT: Sure! I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama as the son of a NASA engineer and a former Special Ed teacher who were both very active in the arts, especially theater. I was originally a singer/musician at an early age (it is a family trait on both sides) that learned that I had a knack for mimicry (I now do over 200+ character voices) and physical comedy. I was bullied a lot in middle school since I was a shy, short, skinny, glasses and braces wearing geek. My mom encouraged me to audition for some of the community theater plays since she thought it would help me overcome my shyness. It took me a few auditions, but I finally started landing roles in various productions where I cultivated me skills as an actor. I learned that I had a knack for getting people to laugh with me instead of at me and found my true calling. However, I wanted to be pragmatic, so instead of studying acting in college, I got my degree in Elementary Education while being active in theater at my college. It was not until my mother passed away from cancer during my later college years that I had my epiphany about what I wanted to do with my life, and that was to entertain others and bring some joy into their lives. The most valuable lesson I learned from that tragic event was that life is way too short to not pursue what makes you truly happy. I'm glad that I learned that at an early age and have not looked back since.

TMSDid you have a lot of support when you decided to get into acting?

DHTYes, especially from my father, which surprised me. My father is your typical engineer and is very level headed and practical. I figured that I would get the typical lecture that most of my fellow thespians have gotten about how uncertain this field is and how I should follow a more stable career path. Instead he told me that he and my mother always thought that this is what I should do with my life, but they did not want to tell me what to do with my life and figured that I would eventually figure it out for myself. He just told me to finish up my degree in Education as a fall back plan, and then do what I felt I needed to do. That was one of the most freeing moments of my life and a day that I will never forget. He has always supported me 100% over all of these years that I have been trying to make it in this industry, as have the rest of my family and friends. I feel blessed to have such support!

TMSAre you a horror fan? If so, what are some of your favorite horror films?

DHTYes! However, I did not really grow up watching horror films. Oddly enough, my mom was terrified of horror films and her fear bled into me, which is funny because she and I were always trying to scare each other around the house etc (a tradition I still keep to this day with my friends). It was not until my senior year of high school that my friends dragged me to Scream 2 until I really sat down and watched a scary movie in it's entirety! I loved it! I started binge watching horror films then, especially during my college years. Some of my favorites are the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Nightmare on Elm Street films, The Omen, The Exorcist, as well as the Child's Play, Halloween, Scream, and Friday the 13th films... and of course, Showgirls.

TMSAre there any new horror films that you love or would recommend?

DHTWell Terrifier and All Hallow's Eve, of course! I've also recently enjoyed the new IT (I'd LOVE to play adult Richie Tozier in the sequel!), Creep, The Final Girls, Get Out, The Babysitter, and Tragedy Girls.

TMSWhat’s up with Terrifier? Where can people see it? And what do you want them to know about the movie?

DHTTerrifier is being released in select cities this March and then available on VOD and DVD/Blu-ray on March 27th. As for the film itself, it is Art the Clown's first feature length film. Damien, like myself, has a love for the classic slasher films of the 70's and 80's that were lite on plot, but heavy on action, gore, scares, and fun. He is also a big fan of the iconic horror villains of those times like Freddy, Jason, etc. This is what Terrifier is, a loving throwback to those types of films. We want to bring back that genre and also put our own twist on it as well. That is why we buck certain horror conventions in our film. It's fun to mess with certain expectations and experiment with the genre in some new ways. Hopefully the fans will dig what we have done since we definitely want to continue Art's story!

TMSWhat attracted you to the project? How did you end up being cast? Did you go through an audition process?

DHTI saw AHE a few years ago and enjoyed what Mike Giannelli brought to the role. I especially loved the idea of mixing horror and comedy in such a way where you both find the villain hilarious but also despicably scary at the same time. He's like a silent and deadlier version of the Joker in that way, and I love that! When I saw the casting notice for the role, I immediately asked my agents to submit me.

The audition process was a unique one. Since Art does not speak, I was not given any script to learn and was instead asked to improv a scene on the spot on camera. I came up with a scene where I stalked my victim, snuck up on him, knocked him unconscious, sawed off his head, picked the head up and tasted it, found that it was not to my liking, took out a salt shaker and seasoned it, tasted it again, loved it, then threw it in my bag for a midnight snack for later and skipped away. By the end of it, everyone was laughing. They asked me right there if I was up for coming in for a makeup test, so I figured that I pretty much had the part then and there. I am glad I figured right! Ha ha!

TMSWhat type of preparation and research did you undertake for this role? Did you spend a lot of time with the director Damien Leone about how you would physically portray the character?

DHTI did! He and I talked a lot about that all, especially during the MANY hours that I was in the make up chair. I also watched AHE several times so I could pick up the basic mannerisms that Mike originally had, that I would later tweek in my own ways to make them my own.

TMSArt the Clown has appeared in several other shorts with Mike Giannelli playing the character. Did you find anything difficult or challenging about taking on a role that has been portrayed by someone else?

DHTMike did such an amazing job originating the character that it was not really that difficult for me, to be honest. He gave me a lot to work with. The most challenging part was living up to the high bar that he had already set. Needless to say, I had some big clown shoes to fill!

TMSYour performance is outstanding and is built upon pantomime and the physical nuances that you bring to the character. What did you draw upon to bring it all together. Was there any previous training that you’ve had that you would say influenced or helped your performance.

DHTThanks! I'm happy you think so! I grew up watching the old silent film comedians like Buster Keaton, Chaplin, the Marx Brothers etc, plus I was also a huge fan of such recent physical comedians like Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and Rowan Atkinson, as well as the great physical work of Doug Jones and Andy Serkis. All of these amazing actors have been huge influences in my acting career since I was a child. Most of my career has revolved around physical comedy and it has always come naturally to me. Though there is one actor in particular that helped me fine tune all of this, the wonderfully talented Stefan Karl who you may know as Robbie Rotten from the hit kid's show Lazy Town. I had the great fortune of being his understudy as the Grinch for 5 years when I toured with the national tour of How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical. Stefan is a master class in physical comedy to say the very least. The things that he can do with his body and face are just amazing. I learned so much from him over those 5 years about how to be an actor both on and off the stage. There were several times on set where I would just think to myself, "What would Stefan do?" and then I would do it. He's truly my Yoda, and I simply adore the man and am grateful to have such a person in my life.

TMSHow was the shoot? Was it tougher than other films that you've worked on?

DHTIt was a lot of fun, but also a LOT of hard work! We had a few minor set backs that caused some delays in filming, but that can be expected in indie films. I told Damien that most classic horror films had set backs too, so we should take that as a good sign that we are on to something great! Probably the toughest part was that we always had to film at night, and most of those nights were during the coldest time of the year here in NY which is no fun when you are constantly covered in cold, sticky blood! I definitely had a change in sleeping patterns during all of that. However, I think the award for the one that had it the toughest goes to Catherine Corcoran for her infamous scene in the film. Not to spoil anything, but seeing how she handled that difficult night of filming in 20 degree weather like the true pro that she is made me a true fan of hers. Though I am a fan of everyone that worked on this film, especially my female costars! Everyone handled even the toughest of situations very well and made the most of it. They all kick ass in my humble opinion!

TMSWhat was it like having to wear the clown costume and perform in it?

DHTI'm used to extensive make up jobs, so that was not hard. The worst part were the contact lenses, especially when one ripped one night. Not fun. The teeth took a while to get used to as well. I think Damien deliberately made them hard for me to talk with so I would shut up in between takes (I have a tendency to joke around a lot on set). Plus they made me drool a lot and he had to constantly touch up the make up around my mouth. It could have been worse though. For the most part though, I would forget that I was wearing the make up and would sometimes even scare myself when I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I live a charmed life.

TMSLow budget film productions have been historically known for being difficult and demanding. How was this production on the cast and crew? Any challenges or funny stories?

DHTAs I already said above, we had a few challenges, but for the most part, we all pulled together and made it work. We did have a night where the prop board that Jenna was supposed to hit me with broke right before we started filming, so we ended up having to use a real board. I had to put all of my faith in Jenna's stunt training that night since she had to swing that sucker at me full tilt about an inch or so from my face. She's a pro and I never had to worry about her in that regard.

As for funny stories, the funniest happened on the night that we were supposed to be firing a gun in the seedy area we were filming in in Trenton, NJ. While they were setting up the scene, I was hanging out in the make up room which overlooked the street below on the first floor. There were these two women out there fighting late at night, so I went over to the window to watch, forgetting that I was in full make up and covered in blood. They looked up and saw this bloodied clown looking down at them and screamed and ran off. A little while later Damien came in and told me to not come outside of the garage that we were filming in until he said so since there were some people out there that wanted to meet me. He gave me the word, and I pulled up the rolling garage door to find myself greeted by a whole team of police officers in full SWAT gear. I just said "WASSSSSUP GUYS!" and waved and they all started laughing their asses off. They told me that those ladies reported seeing a scary clown covered in blood so they showed up for war. We ended up taking pictures together, though there was this one cop that would not come near me since he had a huge fear of clowns. I told him that he was the one with the big gun, not me, but he was not having it. They even offered to bring us a body from the morgue. I still don't know if they were joking about that. That was a fun night!

TMSCan we expect to see you donning Art’s makeup again anytime soon?

DHTDefinitely! We all definitely want to do at least 2 more Art films. Damien and I are constantly messaging each other with ideas etc of where to take the character next. We'd love to explore his origins more, but not give away too much too soon. A little mystery about the character is part of what makes him so interesting, kind of like the Joker. Hopefully the fans love Terrifier enough that more people and studios want to invest more money in the next films. I am constantly amazed at what we accomplished on the budget we had. That is all thanks to the amazing skills of Damien and our production team. They are like the MacGyvers of horror! I can only imagine what we could accomplish with more backing next time!

TMSCan you tell us anything about the other projects that you are working on or planning on working on? Or, anything else that you would like to plug?

DHTRight now, I am just doing a lot of auditioning for various voice over and films roles as well as preparing to film my final scenes as the Joker for the final season of the web series Nightwing: Escalation which is a fan made web series. I seem to have a knack for playing killer clowns! Now if only I could get cast in the sequel to IT. Andres Muschietti, are you listening?