It has been over a year since a new clown of terror shocked Netflix audiences in the cult hit feature film Terrifier after winning one award and garnishing five nominations on the festival circuit. Portraying the sadistic slasher clown is David Howard Thornton who also gives an applaud-worthy performance as the clown of chaos, The Joker, in the YouTube series Nightwing: Escalation. However, David couldn’t be further from these twisted characters in reality. I recently caught up with him to speak about these performances, an alarming confrontation with New Jersey police while in full Art attire and his brief appearance on the hit series Gotham!
SCIFI.radio: Hi David! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
David Howard Thornton: Of course! You’re very welcome.
SCIFI.radio: When did you first decide to puruse an acting career and what inspired this move?
David Howard Thornton: I started off doing community theater way back in high school, which is when I really fell in love with it all. But I was still trying to be very pragmatic and realistic with my life. So, when I went to college, I didn’t go for a theater degree. I went for an elementary education degree. The turning point was when my mother passed away from cancer during one of my last years of college. And that changed my whole perspective on life. In one of my last conversations with her, she told me that I shouldn’t do what I think I have to do with my life. I should do what I want to do with my life. She told me that life’s too short. That I’ve been given certain gifts and I shouldn’t waste them. About a year later, I was doing an internship with the schools. And I realized that I was getting more satisfaction from entertaining my students than teaching my students. So, I decided to pursue entertainment instead! I took about a year off from school before finishing up my studies, transferring everything over and moving to New York!
SCIFI.radio: What lead to your decision to choose New York over L.A.?
David Howard Thornton: I decided on New York because I really wanted to go into musical theater, which was my strong suit. I also knew a lot of people from college who were living in New York whereas I didn’t really know anyone in L.A. I also heard that it is better for actors to start out in New York rather than L.A., so that’s what I did!
SCIFI.radio: It does seem like a common direction people go to build experience and find success. And it seems to be working out for you! You have gained some attention for your great performance as The Joker in the Batman inspired YouTube series Nightwing: Escalation. Was there a particular version of the caped crusader’s arch-enemy that you used for inspiration?
David Howard Thornton: Oh, yeah! Mark Hamill’s portrayal is by far my favorite version of the character. I think he truly nailed The Joker in every sense of the word! It’s like he totally understood the character. He had years of playing him and not just on the animated series, but he came back to play him on the Arkham video games. He continuously found new nuances of the character and really brought The Joker to life, and that was with his voice, alone! So, that was my big inspiration for my version of the character. I used little bits and pieces from Jack Nicholson, Romero and Ledger as well, but I would say that Hamill was my biggest inspiration.
SCIFI.radio: I definitely got an earlier Joker vibe from your performance, for sure!
David Howard Thornton: It’s interesting because if you go back and watch the Batman animated series now, you can see how Hamill’s version of the character changed from the first episode to his portrayal in the Arkham games. You can see how he has matured with the character. He’s so good! (laughs) I could listen to Hamill do Joker all day and I’d be happy.
SCIFI.radio: His version is definitely a great, unique take on the character! You also made a small appearance as an orderly on the hit series Gotham. Is it safe to say that you’re a Batman fan, yourself?
David Howard Thornton: Oh, yeah! Very much so. My character on Gotham was the orderly who dumped Butch Gilzean into Slaughter Swamp and created Solomon Grundy. (laughs) I didn’t necessarily get to play a villain on Gotham, but I at least got to create one, which is pretty cool.
SCIFI.radio: What was it like working on an episode of such a successful series?
David Howard Thornton: It was great! I was only on set for two days, but I loved it. It was amazing how efficient everyone worked on set! For the hospital scene, they had to set up a bunch of special effects like automatic doors, smoke machines and all that kind of stuff. (laughs) And it only took them about 30 minutes while I was eating my dinner to set up all of that including the lighting, which usually takes hours to do on a smaller film like Terrifier. (laughs) It was so fast! And it was a great set. Especially Drew Powell who played Butch. He’s a big teddy bear in real life.
SCIFI.radio: How did you become involved with Gotham?
David Howard Thornton: My agents just sent me in for an audition. (laughs) It’s funny too because I messed up on the audition when I choked on my own spit and started coughing like crazy! But I just kept going with it, made a whole production out of it and made jokes about it while in character. (laughs) And I had the casting director in stitches, which is probably part of the reason why I got the role. She asked if I wanted to start from the top and I said “yeah, sure!” But I think I stood out to her because I brought that levity to it.
SCIFI.radio: (laughs) Showing a bit of impromptu skill probably didn’t hurt. You’re best known in the horror community as Art the Clown in the gruesome surprise indie hit Terrifier. How did you become involved with this production?
David Howard Thornton: That was just another audition that I responded to. I came across a casting call for a tall, skinny guy with clowning or physical comedy experience. It was listed as a “role of a lifetime” and I’ll never forget that quote. (laughs) I was also familiar with the character that first made an appearance in the film All Hallows’ Eve. I saw that it was the same character, which I loved! I told my representation to submit me for the role and the rest is history!
SCIFI.radio: That is awesome! What attracted you most to this project?
David Howard Thornton: It was just getting the opportunity to play a character like that! I grew up watching old silent films and I’m also a big Mr. Bean fan. I kind of look at Art as being an evil Mr. Bean and I’ve always wanted to play a character like that. Because I love playing villains and mischievous characters. And I’ve always wanted to play a silent character that required me to just use my physicality for the whole duration of the film. So, when I saw this role, I thought it was perfect! And that’s totally what attracted me to the character.
SCIFI.radio: How did you get into character for such a sadistic villain?
David Howard Thornton: (laughs) I can just turn it on and I can just turn it off. I don’t know what it is. It’s just easy for me to do! As long as I have an idea for what the character is suppose to be in my head, I can automatically go into it when I need to.
SCIFI.radio: Anyone who has seen Terrifier is aware of several scenes that aren’t for the faint of heart.Especially in regards to the infamous scene involving an upside down victim and a hacksaw. What were your thoughts on the gruesome scenes when first reading the script?
David Howard Thornton: (both laughs) I was thinking…holy sh*t! I could tell right then that would be a scene everyone would remember. But I wasn’t expecting it to be nearly as graphic as we did it. Because I’m so use to most horror films now that show part of the kill scene and cut away. So, you don’t necessarily see the whole act being carried out.
SCIFI.radio: (laughs) And this one definitely didn’t turn away.
David Howard Thornton: Yeah! And I love that even more because I’m glad to see films like that take such risks. It just didn’t happen as much anymore!
SCIFI.radio: And I feel like indie films are the ones that take those types of risks more often. Studio films usually try to play it safe.
David Howard Thornton: Oh, I agree! There are some really good indie horror films out there, too. One in particular that we have a fun rivalry with is Circus of the Dead by Billy Pon. I absolutely love that film! It’s so good and I wish it was getting the recognition that it deserves as well. It has such a messed up storyline to it! I love it! Billy and I also love to rip each other on Facebook. (both laughs) It’s fun.
SCIFI.radio: What is your favorite memory from filming this feature?
David Howard Thornton: There are so many. But I would say my favorite memory that I love to talk about is the night where I almost died.
SCIFI.radio: You almost died!?
David Howard Thornton: (laughs) Sometimes I would forget how I looked in costume and makeup. There was one late night when they were filming Jenna Kanell’s reaction shots and I was waiting in my holding room before going on set. And I hear these two ladies having this argument on the street below. So, I was bored and decided to watch this argument. At one point, one of them looks up, sees me and screams bloody murder and they went running off into the night! (laughs) Again, I was in full costume, covered in fake blood and I kind of forgot. (laughs) I waved at them and everything!
About 10 to 15 minutes later, the director, Damien Leone, and our producer came out to get me. And they seemed very giddy. They said they had some friends who would like to meet me. I got excited and asked who came by the set. They said they wanted it to be a surprise. We had a big roll-up garage door and they yelled from the other side for me to come out. So, pull up the garage door to see about 10 to 15 members of New Jersey’s finest in uniform and full-on riot gear like they’re ready to go to war! (both laughs) I immediately felt like my butt cheeks puckered. I said “OH, what’s up guys!?” which came out probably five octaves higher. There was this silent pause and then they all started cracking up laughing. They said that I should be glad that I didn’t come out when they first arrived because they would have shot me on sight! We didn’t have running water in that building. We had a porta potty outside. (laughs) So, if I had been taking relieving myself when they arrived, things could have been a disaster! Things turned out great, though. They were all taking photos with me … except for this one cop who was deathly afraid of clowns.
SCIFI.radio: (laughs) That’s a great story! And I’m glad you’re alive to tell it! What was the biggest challenge?
David Howard Thornton: For me, I think that would be overcoming the fear of hurting my co-stars. The first few nights, I was so worried about hurting Jenna. One of the first scenes we filmed was with me laying on top of her, strangling her and trying to gouge out her eyes with my thumbs. I kept thinking that I don’t want to hurt her! And she’s a stuntwoman so she kept telling me to just do it because it gives her stuff to work with. (laughs) By the end of it, I got use to doing these types of scenes. In the scene where I grab Samantha Scaffidi by the hair and pull her back from escaping, she told me to go ahead and do it. (laughs) And I’m like “okay!” Of course, I’d check in with them and make sure I didn’t actually hurt them. I didn’t want one of those oh sh*t moments to when they black out. (laughs) But that’s the stuff that I had to get use to.
SCIFI.radio: Not too long ago, it was announced that Terrifier 2 is in the works. Will you be involved in this sequel on any level?
David Howard Thornton: Oh, of course! I’m not giving up the character any time soon! I love playing Art too much. He’s too much fun. I was very much involved in development while Damien wrote the script. We would bounce ideas off each other quite frequently. We still do it. We’re still coming up with new ideas to add. And we’re talking about the possibility of doing a third film. There’s just so many ideas! So, I’m not done with him any time soon.
SCIFI.radio: What do you like most about playing Art the Clown?
David Howard Thornton: He’s just so fun! He’s like The Joker or the Grinch! He’s one of those types of bad guys who revels in his maliciousness and his evilness. And he has fun with it! And I love that about him.
SCIFI.radio: What else can you tell me about this upcoming feature?
David Howard Thornton: (laughs) A lot of people are gonna die. But seriously, this one is going to be a lot more plot focused. I know that’s one gripe a lot of people had with the original. So, we have more of a plot with a really good protagonist who we’ll be setting up. I’ve been saying for awhile that The Joker needs his Batman.
SCIFI.radio: Now that people are a little more introduced to Art as a character, it makes sense to go that direction. When might we see a release?
David Howard Thornton: We anticipate to begin filming in October and we’re eyeing an October of 2020 release. It still takes place on Halloween, so we want to release it around that time.
SCIFI.radio: Are there any upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
David Howard Thornton: I’m still working on the YouTube series Nightwing. We had to postpone shooting for awhile because our Batgirl is pregnant again. And this series is all fan inspired. No one is getting paid for it so we film it whenever every one is free. And then, of course, Terrifier.
SCIFI.radio: That’s great! I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of your work. Thank you, again, for your time!
Mere hours after launching a crowd funding campaign, Terrifier 2 became fully funded surpassing its goal of $50K Dread Central reported earlier this week. With over a month left for fans to contribute, Damien Leone’s highly anticipated sequel already shows great promise with a strong demand. And with David returning as Art the Clown, how can horror fans not be excited? If you wish to contribute to the campaign that is already creating quite the stir, follow the Indiegogo link here.