EXCLUSIVE: Interview JACK THE GIANT SLAYER Actor JOHN KASSIR
John Kassir stars as Fallon, one half of the two-headed Giant in the much-anticipated New Line/Warner Brothers feature Jack the Giant Slayer from director Bryan Singer. Kassir who boasts a legendary resume is probably best known for his iconic performance as the voice of The Crypt Keeper in Tales from the Crypt.
Not only does John Kassir gives us the inside scoop about JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, the actor also provides us with a look back at TALES FROM THE CRYPT and a couple of pilot series that might have been big.
Born and raised in Baltimore and a graduate of Towson University, Kassir moved to New York where he made his living as a street performer. He auditioned for and eventually won the Star Search competition series as a stand-up comic where he edged out Rosie O’Donnell. Kassir had his own comedic television series for kids Johnnytime where he served as star and executive producer. He starred as Shemp in the ABC television movie The Three Stooges. Other series regular credits include: The Amanda Bynes Show, Encino Man, First and Ten, McBride and more. He has guest starred on Castle, Bones, CSI Miami, Cold Case, CSI, The Single Guy and many more. His theatre credits include The Gift, Room Service, Three Naked Guys, Reefer Madness and recently Silence! The Musical at Lincoln Center and he originated the role Dottore in the new Lynn Ahrens- Stephen Flahrety musical, The Glorious Ones. He also starred in the Emmy-winning Showtime feature Reefer Madness, The Movie Musical. Kassir’s film credits include: George of the Jungle, Toy Story II, Pocahontas, Casper and Frankenstein Sings among others.
As one of the preeminent voice over actors in the industry, Kassir’s numerous credits include: The Simpsons, Rocket Power, Cat Dog, As Told By Ginger and Tiny Tune Adventures. He has also provided the voice in countless video games including: Halo 2, X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance as a fan favorite, mercenary Deadpool, as well as Sauron and Pyro.
Let's talk about Jack the Giant Slayer. Give us a little introduction for the uninitiated.
This project has been an adventure from the beginning until now. I met Bryan Singer throughout one of the writers Dan Studney. Bryan was a fan of my work from Tales From the Crypt and a few other things he had seen me do. Dan setup the introduction and Bryan said, I need you for this part. What would make someone think of me as a smaller head of a two headed giant? Who knows?! [laughs] But he thought of me and pulled for me with the studio to make it happen.
It was a great adventure for me because we got to shoot in London with great actors. I got to do motion capture which was a great experience. You are basically working on a big gray stage and you are being recorded digitally, virtually, and visually all at the same time. Through those three ways of capturing your performance they combine all of the things that you have done to put you on film.
Then of course the special effects guys come in and put the look on you that replaces the special effect make-up. The guys that did that for us were the same guys that did Avatar. The technology just progress so fast. They are actually inventing the technology as we are working on the film. It is amazing. It is kind of like performing in front of NASA.
I got to work closely with Bill [Nighy] and we played a two-headed character. Bill being the larger head, we used his body, so I had to mimic Bill's body movements and then act differently with my head and right arm. It was really kind of a bizarre adventure right there. Bill being the generously wonderful actor that he is, was so open to having a great relationship with me and as a result we walked out on set everyday like we were a Vaudeville team. We just had a great time working on it. You can learn a lot from working with a guy like Bill Nighy.
I am playing opposite Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Nicholas Holt, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane, and all of these other great character actors playing giants, from London. It was an adventure bringing those things to life. Now when I get to go back and see the movie on premiere night, I will see what all the other geniuses did when putting this film together. They invited me up to Vancouver while they were rendering my face. The guys who rendered my face were the same guys that did Gollum for Lord of the Rings. That was kind of cool to have those guys create my look.
Bill's head is the brawn and the brains of the character and my head is the intuitive head. He kind of looks around and takes in information, basically feeding it to the other head. It was fun creating that. My character has no vocal chords so he talks with all these guttural sounds. I had to create a language for him. I created the dialog that only Bill would be privy too and understand. [laughs]
Can you tell us a little bit about the story?
As far as the story goes, it's and old story. It's based off of Jack and the Beanstalk which was a kid's fairy tale and Jack the Giant Killer which is more of a legendary dark story of a kid who unwittingly opens a portal to the land of giants. The giants didn't have access to humans for five hundred years and they had gone on and disappeared into legend. The humans on Earth weren't even sure if giants actually ever existed. They find out in this movie that they do exist!
Jack in his attempt to save the princess who is kidnapped by Stanley Tucci plays a hand in opening that portal. I don't want to give too much away, but the giants have access to the planet and Jack goes in to rescue the princess that was kidnapped and you have an amazing adventure. And an amazing cast to bring it together. I am really excited to see it myself.
As I was saying before, I got a chance to go see the guys up in Vancouver and talk them through my performance so they could get the little subtle tendencies that I was intending in my performance. That way they could animate to my performance. The fun thing about motion is that you are driving the animation. They are not just taking your voice performance, I am the actor and they are taking everything that I have physically done and captured it. The recording has my bone structure, my movement, my rhythm, and my voice. Then they layer it with these wonderful effects. The costumer make the costumes, but they are digitally added to me. The make-up artists make up the look, but they are digitally added to me. It's just an amazing process.
I think this movie more than any other movie you go to, you will not be conscious of the effects. It's hard to tell on posters, because they are printed and flat. When you go and see this on the big screen (especially in 3D), you will feel like you are seeing textures that are real and right in front of you!
Can you talk a little about your background and introduction to comic books?
I used to collect a lot of comic book as a kid. In fact, I used to collect Tales of the Crypt comic books as a kid, that's how old I am. My mother used to hide them and say "These cause juvenile delinquency" and that kind of thing. It was kind of an unbelievable thing when I got to do the Tales From the Crypt series. I was really stoked that they were making it into a series, let alone to become a huge part of it.
That was kind of cool to me, so I went back home and asked my mom where my box of comics was and she told me that she gave them to some kid down the street years ago. I said, "Are you kidding me?! Do you know how much those things would be worth? Especially because I could sign them now".
Oh yeah, the EC Comics are having a resurgence of sorts right now. I bet you could have had a small fortune.
I told her I could have put her grandchildren through college [laughs]. I had a whole stack of Casper comics and I think someone gave me a whole pile of Archie comics as well and I don't think I ever read those. They just were not my style [laughs]. I was really into the monster stuff. I remember I ordered the six foot cut out of the Frankenstein that I had for my bedroom, the X-ray vision goggles and all of that stuff. I used to absolutely love that stuff and the comics were just a big deal to me.
My grandfather owned a bodega type store in Springfield, Massachusetts. When we would go visit them up in New England and we would all hangout at the little comic stand and my grandfather would ask what we wanted. We would always take the comic books off the rack and walk away with them.
How long ago was that?
Oh gosh, your talking when I was a kid, back in the 60's.
And just think if you still had all of those comics!
Well when I started doing the Justice League I started collecting again and people started giving me a bunch of The Atom comic books. I have a small collection of those, but I don't think any of them are extremely rare. They are probably worth a little bit, but they aren't extremely rare. Those are some pretty good ones.
I like the more obscure comics, the ones that haven't been overblown on TV over the years. I like things like Captain America, The Atom, stuff like that. I was always into those characters.
Since you brought up Tales From the Crypt, do you do the Convention circuit?
I do occasionally, I didn't do very many during my time doing Tales From the Crypt in the late 80's and early 90's. Basically because I was busy all the time and never got the chance to do much of it. Then I grew to realize what a huge fan-base it had and I would get asked to do so many and I had to be very selective about it. I may do one or two a year. I went to San Diego Comic-Con a couple of times just for my own interests. I saw that fans are really a huge part of the success of projects like that. I feel grateful to have a fanbase like that for any project that you do, let alone one that you love so much and can relate to being a fan as well. I usually go to have a good time and I not only get to meet my fans, but I get to meet people that I am a fan of as well.
Do people still come up to you and ask you to do the Crypt Keeper voice?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. It's a bigger fanbase than I have ever had for Tales From the Crypt. I didn't realize until a couple of years ago that there is a whole generation of late twenties/early thirty somethings that grew up with Tales From the Crypt. It was their first introduction to horror. They are rabid about it, as much as I am about the Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Night Gallery, The Outer Limits, and shows like that.
I was introduced to horror by the Universal Monster movies. They were my favorites. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is still my favorite comedy. I grew to realize that the fanbase for Tales From the Crypt thought it was iconic. I think they are surprised to see how youthful I am. I think they expect to see like an 80-year-old guy or something [laughs]. In fact, I was really young when I did Tales From the Crypt. It's really a lot of fun for me and there is really no way I could sit there and not do the voice for them. [laughs] That's what they came to see and I certainly don't look like the Crypt Keeper.
A couple of years ago, it was reported that a new group was trying to shop around a new version of Tales From the Crypt. Can you comment on that or know anything about the status of it?
The original producers that I did the show with Joel Silver, Richard Donner, Bob Zemeckis, Walter Hill, and David Giler were huge producers and could call in favors. Today a show like that would take a huge budget and for television that is very hard to do. Once they made close to 100 episodes, they had called in all the favors and had guys working for peanuts and they had completed what they set out to do. A few years passed and I was telling them that they didn't realize the fanbase for the show. The fanbase was ready for new directors and new young stars. Trying to get someone to put up the money and do as good of a version is the only way they wanted to do it. Over the years of trying to acquire the funding, the right lapsed and they no longer had the rights.
Whoever picked up the rights does not have the rights to the Crypt Keeper that I voiced. That was more specifically for the show that I did. Of course the Crypt Keeper still gets used for some things. They pimp him out for things like FearNet's "New Year's Shocking Eve" and that kind of thing.
Obviously if someone else tries to make a new version, everyone is going to expect (myself included) a great anthology series with a great host like the Crypt Keeper like we had. Right now the idea was (for the guys that currently have the license) to make something like American Horror Story or a Walking Dead kind of thing were you have the same characters every week. That isn't what Tales From the Crypt is about. Tales From the Crypt is based on comic books. Each story has something that we all related to, and there were morales in each story, and someone got "What they axed for hahahaha!" [Crypt Keeper voice].
Until they have the opportunity to make the show like it was (and obviously you can take it up from there) my concept would be to get three modern directors like Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez and do a couple of new episodes and launch the series from there. You know that lots of people would want to come play in the box and do a Tales From the Crypt episode. It's really a matter of if they get the rights back we will do it, but if we don't then someone else will do something. I can't imagine that they wouldn't be just wasting the franchise's name if they weren't going to make it like it was.
It's not just a job for me. Tales From the Crypt is a passion of mine. I have put a lot of time into using that character to promote the show. Obviously I am a fan of comic books and a fan of that show in particular. It's not like I got rich off of that show. It was just a great show to be associated with and a great show to work on. My hopes are that down the road we will get a chance to do it again, but who knows…
Have you ever been approached to do a comic book based film or television series (outside of Tales From the Crypt)?
Doing voice over I have done a lot of things like interactive games, I have done the Spider-Man series and the Batman series and the Justice League series. I actually did the pilot episode of the live-action Justice League of America series for CBS some years back. I played the Atom. That was a lot of fun today. They were trying to make a television show that the whole family could sit down and watch. Obviously they didn't have the effects that they have now. In fact they didn't even finish the effects because the show was never picked up. It was just to expensive.
It could have been a great show. The concept of it was 'Friends' meets super-heroes. David Ogden Stiers from MASH played J'onn J'onzz and we had The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, Fire, and Ice. We all had our achilles heel. I was a very shy guy, but I was also a real brainiac. Flash had trouble keeping down a job. He would get a job at the post office and deliver the mail to quickly. The other mailmen would get pissed because it made them look bad. It really could have been a wonderful show, but you can never tell from a pilot. They try to put so much stuff in a pilot that you can never tell how it going to wind up being when they concentrate on one small story each week.
It was really fun to work on. They weren't going to spend the money to make us custom suits for the pilot so we got to go into the vault where they keep the "Bat-suits" for all of the Batman movies. So we tried to fit pieces and of course everyone that played Batman was bigger than me, I am only 5'8. I think I had the legs from Chris O'Donnell's stunt double and I had the upper body of Val Kilmer's suit so it really didn't fit me right. They cut them to fit for the original guys. Man were those suits restrictive. So when you see me in costume I am wearing pieces and parts of the Bat-suits.
Well what can we expect from John Kassir in the future?
Well hopefully Jack and the Giant Slayer will be a big hit. Obviously I do a ton of voice-over work for games that I can't discuss right now. We have Smurfs 2 coming out later this year. I did the first one as well. I play Crazy Smurf in those films. I did the Mockingbird Lane pilot with Bryan Singer and Brian Fuller based on the Munsters. I was hoping it would get picked up, but again it was a very expensive pilot. I am not sure what they spent on it, but it was in the neighborhood of 11 million. I think they just out-priced themselves from having the show picked up. I thought it had a lot of potential. I played the nosey neighbor Tim. Will see if anything comes of that, but at this point I think it is a done deal and nothing is going to happen with it.
Right now I just promoting the movie, it opens March 1st. I am also writing a few things with a couple of my writing partners so it should be a pretty exciting year. If "Jack" does well it could be very exciting thing. I do have a couple of conventions this year. I have one at Virginia Beach called "Blood at the Beach" which starts April 19. Then I have one in New Jersey called "Monstermania" which is coming up soon. Fans can find me there and I love to see fans.
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