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Interviews > Peter Jason (Duty Sergeant: Escape From L.A.) (Phone
How did you end up being an actor?
That's a good question. Everybody is an actor aren't they. We're all
born actors. Just some of us are better than others. I guess growing up and
lying and getting away with it. I can get away with lying. I might just as well
be an actor. How did I start off. Well, I was gonna be a professional athlete.
My dad was a physical education teacher so I was probably the best kid in school
in all the sports because he played with me and I was young. Then I got up to
eighteen, nineteen and they started getting really big. It kind of fade out and
girls came into the picture so that was another thing. One girl I had a crush on
brought me in auditioning for a high school play. It was a play called The
Man Who Came to Diner and I got the lead. When I went up for my curtain call
and it exploded into applause I went, "Oohh, I like this." That was pretty much
the way it began. I was bit by the bug and I was eighteen. Now I am
seventy-three so for the past fifty years I've been pursuing this career as an
actor. I've never had to work for a living so things have went exactly the way I
How come you and John Carpenter have worked
together so much and what do you like about each other?
Nothing. Just kidding. His wife Sandy King. I worked with her on The Long
Riders, a Walter Hill movie and she liked what I was doing. She introduced
me to her husband and he put me in Prince of Darkness. The thing I like
about John is that he creates a family when he makes a movie. Every player on
both sides of the camera are all part of a family and we all help each other and
it makes it a lot easier and a lot more fun to get through whatever you're
trying to make. When everyone is working for the thing it seems to be a lot more
fun than when a couple of egotistical individuals start saying, "Look at me."
instead of look at us. John insists of creating a family every time he makes a
movie and that's why I like working with him. I don't know why he likes working
with me except that I usually show up and knowing my lines.
How did you get cast as Duty Sergeant in Escape From
Well, I think he likes using me in his movies and at that point there might not
have been a part available for me. He knew that Stacy Keach (Malloy) was a
friend of mine and we worked together in many, many different shows so I think
he took Lee Van Cleef's (Bob Hauk) role and divided it into two parts. I got the
beginning when I arrest Kurt and bring him in and then Stacy takes over from
How did you prepare for the role and
how was the experience filming your scenes?
Well, I didn't drive around in a police car or anything to prepare for it. I've
played many, many police's and I've ridden in police cars and it's no fun. I'm
the kind of actor that just does what the director says. I'm not a guy who likes
to invent my own process. I like to be told what to do and then I like to do it.
I like a director who tells you how to do it and leaves you open to do it your
own way. My first movie I ever did was Rio Lobo with Howard Hawks. I
never even saw a script. He just told me exactly what to do. He said in the
opening scene, "Have your men pick up that box of gold. Kind of let them know
there's gold in there. One of them will drop it. You say, pick up your feet
there private and he'll say, it sure is heavy sir and you say, gold usually is.
Then you have him take it over to the train and put it all up. You'll be the
last one looking around nervously. You are the last one jumping on the train and
close the door to make sure no one is looking at you." You know exactly what to
do and he leaves it totally open for you to do it your own way. I love that kind
"Call me Snake." You knew when he was saying it that it was an iconic line.
That's what he says. That's what his character does. You want to be paying
attention as much as you can on moments like that. John always has a few of
those. He had a couple of them in They Live I remember for me too. He
wants it to be tongue-in-cheek when you're saying those lines but you also want
to be as real as possible. John likes you to be as real as possible because his
stories are usually larger than life and to make it palatable and believable to
the audience your performance has to be real so it's a challenge but that's why
we get the big bucks.
One interesting story about making that movie was Kurt Russell's younger son. He
brought him to the set one day. We were both walking from our cars to go the
shoot where we're walking down the hall. He was one of the producers and he's
walking with his kid and he says, "You think I can get my kid to be an extra in
this." and I looked at him and I went, "Well, I don't know. Do you know the
producer." He says, "Yeah." He was the producer. I said, "Just give him to me.
I'll take over." and I took him into wardrobe and got him mixed-up like all the
extras kids. There were all kinds of people in the thing. Homeless looking
people and I walked to the AD (Assistant Director) and told him, "This is Kurt's
son. I want him to be seen." and so on. We did the first rehearsal where we
walked down the hall and turn to the left and the steadicam is like in front of
us and I knew when we turn left the steadicam would follow us so who would be in
close-up right there on the corner. I said, "You stand right here." and stuck
him there. On the first take I came down and when we got there around the corner
I smashed him up back against the wall with my hand like, "Get out of my way."
you know and his expression on his face was such shock. For every take after
that I didn't have to touch him. He was just terrified when I turned in the
corner and the camera moves in right on him. That was a really fun moment on
that show that day. It's called a play you know. It should be fun. Everybody
should be having a good time and I usually do.
How was the experience working with the cast and crew and
what went on behind the scenes?
John is a guy who. He doesn't yell. He likes everything calm. I find it to be
very conducive for an artistic atmosphere if there is a calmness. People who
scream and yell on the set tend to make people tense. They tend to drop things
and break stuff and takes are ruined and it takes more time and more money. When
you create a family of people with respect for each other there's no need to
yell you know. The first thing you notice on a John Carpenter set is how calm it
is. How calm he is. I remember one time he said to somebody there. There was
some commotion going on on the side with a couple of members of the cast and
crew. When they were raising their voice arguing about something he walked over
and said, "What seems to be the problem here." and they said, "Well, argh." He
said, "You know what. Have you ever been in a video store. Have you ever looked
up on the wall seeing all those videos. It's been done before. It can't be that
difficult." I always loved that image of him walking into a video store and
looking up on the wall, "Yeah, yeah. It's been done before." He keeps a very
calm set and it's really easy to work with John Carpenter.
Forty years ago on a TV series called Daniel Boone Kurt played my little
brother. I forget what the story was. That was a long time ago. Daniel Boone
came into our house and he was seeking help in the American revolution period
there. I forget what we were doing. We were trying to help him out in some way
and Kurt played my younger brother. He was a feisty little kid. I remember
having to hit Daniel Boone. Fess Parker played Daniel Boone. I had to hit him
over his head with a frying pan and he was like six foot six and I was like
five, ten. Probably smaller because I was like twenty years old and I had to hit
him over his head with a frying pan. They gave me this fake frying pan that
looked real and I had to make it look like it was heavy but it was made out of
fiber glass. When I swung him the first time he wasn't sitting down on a chair.
I said, "I can never reach his head." When I swung the frying pan at him the
first time I pulled my swing so I wouldn't hurt him you know and kind of look
like I swung it hard. He looked at me and said, "No. Hit me harder." I said,
"Ok." and the next take I did it again and I kind of hit him a little harder but
I still pulled it. He said, "No, no, no. Hit me, hit me with that thing." and
the third time I hit him so hard and he went, "Something between those two."
Kurt was great to work with. Always amiable. Always in a good mood. Always easy
to be around. Always fun.
What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the
movie or other John Carpenter movies?
I've told you several already. I have lots of memories of working on John
Carpenter movies. One of my favorite things. I made another movie with John
Carpenter called Village of the Damned and he gave me a lot more
responsibility on that movie to help all the departments. I think he did it for
several reasons. One to bring the cast and crew closer together and one because
I told him I wanted to produce so he wanted me to find out little bit about
every aspect of making a picture. The cast was sent home and we were doing
beauty shots of the area with a really stealth crew. Just like six of us. We're
going around the city of Inverness and Point Reyes up in the San Francisco area
getting beautiful shots on the cliffs where the action was and I kept telling
them, "We got to get a shot of a sunset. It's the most beautiful shot of all of
California." They kept saying, "We don't have time." I kept telling them and
telling them and finally at the end of the day. We're driving each other around
in three cars and I have camera men and Sandy in my car. They say, "The sun is
going down so we can't get it. Just take us to the airport." I turn around and I
drove to the top of a mountain. "What are you doing. We're missing the plane."
"No, we are not." and I drove them to the top and as soon as we ended up on the
top of the mountain the camera men looked at me and went, "Oh my God. You can
see everything from here. Look at that sunset. Set the camera right here." It
was a beautiful sunset shot that he took. When he got ready to go to the car I
said, "No, no, no, no, no. We can't leave yet." "We have to go now." I said,
"No, no. We have to wait five more minutes." "Why." "Because an explosion is
gonna happen. Just watch. Wait five minutes. Have a cigarette. Relax. Just five
minutes." and they were very unhappy with me but they waited five minutes and
sure enough the sun went down and five minutes later an explosion of orange
light happen over the ocean that was magnificent and it's in the movie twice. I
think it opens the movie and I think it's in later in the movie again. It's
moments like that that you love.
What do you think of the movie personally?
Escape From L.A. or Village of the Damned. Both of them I like. It
was so inventive, so new, so fun.
It's kind of away what John's usual movies are. They are sometimes darker. I
mean it's dark and everything because all of his characters have a little bit of
that but this had a lot more zany qualities to it and it was a lot more fun.
There's so many wonderful characters in it. Everybody is really great in that
What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy
doing in your spare time?
Well, I like to work with wood. It's Christmas now. Everybody has a Christmas
tree and when they throw them away I usually drive by with my convertible and
cut all the branches off and keep the stocks and I dry them out. Those are my
arms and legs in chairs and tables that I make in my shop. I don't use nails. I
only use dough. I like working with wood. It's something I've picked up over the
years that I love doing. In the movie business. We just wrapped yesterday a
series called Baskets which is on FX with Louie Anderson and Zack
Galifianakis and I play Louie
Anderson's older brother uncle Jim. It's a dark comedy and the Baskets family
are just crazy as you can get. We just ended shooting our third season and it
will coming out shortly. I just steeped back last June from England where we
shot the new Jurassic World movie where I play congressman with Jeff
Goldblum and that was fantastic.
Thank you for your time, Peter.