Press > Escape From L.A. > Exclusive Interviews > Peter Jason (Duty Sergeant)

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 18, 19 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 18. Now I am 73 so for the past 50 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 had planned.      

How come you and John Carpenter (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer) 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 L.A.?

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 (Russell) (Snake Plissken/Producer/Co-Writer) and bring him in and then Stacy takes over from there. 

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 of direction.

"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 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. 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. 

40 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 20 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 movie.       

What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

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.