Like a solar flare set off in a pitch-black room,
Nathan Baeselís first starring role (in his debut feature-length
feature no less) as Leslie Vernon--a humanistic serial killer with a
m.o. which is disconcertingly ethically justifiable--is one
of the most chilling portrayals of the homicidal mind since
Christian Baleís performance as Patrick Bateman, Anthony Hopkinís
role as Hannibal Lecter, or--by Robert Englundís assessment--Anthony
Perkinsís definite part as Norman Bates. The Horror Reviewís
Egregious Gurnow chats with this very up-and-coming actor about Pink
Floyd, why a horror icon wonít watch horror movies, Shakespeare, and
the reason everyone is obligated to buy, not one, but two
copies of Scott Glossermanís groundbreaking film,
Behind the Mask.
Thank you for having me.
First things first,
congratulations on the success of your new film, Scott Glossermanís
award-winning Behind the Mask: The Rise of
I appreciate that
Egregious Gurnow: Before
we proceed to the interview proper, letís take a moment to give our
readers a bit more insight into who Nathan Baesel is. From the hip,
what book are you ashamed I havenít read?
The book that Iím ashamed you
havenít read is On The Road. The book Iím ashamed I
havenít read is The Bluest Eye.
Ooo . . . would have never seen it
coming. Is it Kerouacís text in particular or the whole of the Beat
movement? Whatís your two-cents on the other cats of the era:
Gingsberg, Snyder, Kesey, Cassady, and Burroughs?
I love jazz. I think itís the form of
music I respond to most and because of its influence, I lost myself
in the Beat movement for a while, particularly in Kerouac. Like the
middle class white kids of the 50ís who turned writing into a jazz
solo, Iíve been trying to keep my acting as honest and impulsive as
a jazz riff.
Film I must go home and watch
immediately if not sooner?
Agh! The whole crab sequence. [EG tries
to shake the heebie-jeebies off of himself.] What draws you to this
I love stories that plug me into a time
and place that arenít my own, where I can lose myself in a fully
realized world or mythology. Das Boot so vividly summons the
experience of a U-boat crew in the last days of a lost war that you
can smell the stink and feel the sweat rolling down in beads.
Pink Floyd helmed by Syd Barrett or
Roger Waters. I never got in to the Sid
Barrett thing. I mean I appreciate the headiness of Set the
Controls for the Heart of the Sun and that but thereís something
much more coherent about Dark Side of the Moon and Wish
You Were Here. I guess one who pines over one who went over the
edge is more accessible than one who went over the edge.
A man after my own heart. And well put
I might add. Of course, you know weíre in the minority here,
right? I have no doubt if we were conducting this interview at a
convention weíd be dodging debris and oral condemnation right about
Yeah . . . . To each his own.
Patrick Bateman or Hannibal Lecter?
Hannibal Lecter. Heís an icon. Like
Darth Vader. I enjoyed American Psycho and found it
disturbing, but more because it was incoherent and less because of
itís content. Maybe Iím slow.
Hey now, I wonít have anyone telling my
interviewees that theyíre slow, not even themselves. American
Psycho is a mind-bender but you gotta hand it to Bret Easton
Ellis and Mary Harron, they did--much like Glosserman--posit one
hell of a social critique.
I should probably read the book then
watch it again. Christian Bale gave a hell of a performance though.
[EG gives a nod of
consent.] Okay, good. Now that we have the preliminaries out of the
way, onto the interview: Given that not only myself but a number of
critics have called Behind the Mask the best thing to appear
in horror in the last twenty-five years, were you aware of what you
were creating at the time or was it a case of merely being content
to have fun making a film?
I had never booked a film before
Behind the Mask and I wanted desperately to have that
experience. I was just happy to get the job. When I got to the set
and saw how well Scott had planned and was running the show, I felt
confident that if I delivered on my end, heíd have a pretty decent
foundation to build his movie on. As I started working, I got the
sense that there was a chance that we had something special on our
hands because crew members would constantly come up to me and say,
ďWhen I read the script I had a completely different idea about who
Leslie was, but I love where youíre taking this guy!Ē The
crewís encouragement always let me know I was on the right track.
When you say that you were issuing a
completely different take on the character from what people had
envisioned while reading the script, do you think they were
referring to the amiability which you brought to the character?
Yeah. I think most people saw him as
this big burley guy who kills people and says funny stuff now and
then. I went a different way. I wanted him to be relatable.
Where you surprised at the success of
Yes and no I guess. I had a firmly held
belief that if everything worked out on our end, it would translate
in turning people on. That seems to have been true to a great
extent. There is another plane, however, on which rests the ultimate
fate of the film. The general publicís appreciation of any film is
like a living organism which thrives or fails due to so many
unaccountable factors. The life of the film, once it was out of our
hands, has been really positive and I canít say what thatís because
of. Iím grateful that itís found an audience and that the audience
seems to be real people. People I know and mix with every day.
You are a classically trained actor. Has
your time at Juilliard served you well in your transition from the
stage to the screen? Whatís the biggest pro and con going from one
to the other and which do you ultimately prefer?
Bunch of questions. I learned to deal
with a number of styles, stories, and personalities at
Juilliard. That prepared me for the world. I donít prefer stage over
screen or vice versa. They both have merits one over the other. Work
is work. Bills getting paid are paramount. Creative expression and
finding new and unexplored areas of the psyche are the second-most
rewarding facets of what the world of entertainment can offer.
Isnít it a pain how we must first meet
our temporal needs, sometimes . . . whoís kidding who? . . . most
of the time at the sake of the artistic integrity? But, hey, you
definitely killed two birds with one stone with Behind the Mask,
I was conscious of my blessings every
day I worked on it.
You worked alongside Robert Englund,
another individual who, like yourself, is no stranger to
Shakespeare. Considering that your career as a classically-trained
stage actor to playing a horror icon ironically echoes his at this
juncture, did he lend you any insight into how to play the role by
either observation or in so many words?
He showed me what a class act is as a
professional actor. But specifically he hovered over Leslie and
finally gave his stamp of approval when he likened Leslie to a young
Anthony Perkins. That was when I knew I was on to something good.
When you say he likened Leslie to
Perkins, do you think he was referring more to the girth and weight
of what Vernon represents or the scope of your performance? When he
said that, did you pause, starting to feel the heat being turned up
in that you now have a larger responsibility than just playing a
I felt like Leslie just clicked with
me. I got him. I was never confused or unfocused about what I
wanted to do with him and where I wanted to take him. Along the way
I got nods from key people which confirmed I was right to walk the
road I was walking and his was the last, most significant
confirmation that I was creating a guy who just might have a shot at
sparking a phenomenon like Perkins did and like Robert for that
matter. I think that was our unspoken wish for the film: that
Behind the Mask would mirror those iconic films it was drawing
from. The juryís still out on the ďphenomenonĒ thing but itís going
well. Who knows?
You have mentioned you have an
admiration for the Bardís works, along with American playwright
Eugene OíNeill. Now, for our horror fans who might not be in the
know, Shakespeare penned his fair share of horrific little
ditties: King Lear tearing his eyes out; Macbeth, the Scottish
slayer; Hamletís father taking it in the ear; the multi-corpse
pileup at the finale of ďRomeo and JulietĒ; and the Britís most
popular play during his lifetime, ďTitus Andronicus,Ē its success
due, in part no doubt, for much the same reason that horror is one
of the reigning cinematic mediums today--the overabundant amount of
bloodletting witnessed during the play. Have you had an opportunity
to act in any of these works?
Iíve had the honor of taking on
Shakespeare in several of his plays. An actor takes words which are
not his own and personalizes them so that an audience is led into
believing that they are his own thoughts and feelings. The
trick is finding a way to personalize language that is archaic but
nonetheless relevant. In some cases, Shakespeare adopted dramatic
themes from ancient Greek plays to bring out the most profound human
emotions from the audience. An actor whoís worth his salt should be
able to draw from the depths of human folly and the heights of human
accomplishment to portray characters larger than life in a way that
makes the most stand-offish spectator reflect and repent.
Good answer. Which Shakespearian role in
particular did you like the most and why?
Hamlet. The play as a whole, and the
character in particular, are so complex and unknowable. There are
just as many reads on his intentions and motivations as there are on
And not to sound trite, but you are
chatting with a film critic: You mentioned part of the challenge to
such material is taking such words and making them your own in a
plausible, convincing manner. That said, what was your take on
Kenneth Branaghís Hamlet?
I didnít care for it. I think heís a
brilliant actor but I didnít agree with his take. I think of Hamlet
as a man tormented. He is compelled by the fucking ghost of
his father to kill his uncle but his incredible powers of
reason make him impotent to action. I think when Branagh threw his
sword fifty yards across the court to stab Claudius in the throat I
wanted to puke in my lap.
Do you see Shakespeareís violence
carried down throughout the centuries as readily as we have the
other facets of his writing?
Violence is one of the qualities of his
stories which make his work continually relevant. As long as man is
willing to wage war on his fellow man over irrelevant and misguided
notions of security and piety there will always be a relevance to
Nice jibe there. I like the reading of
the Bardís continuing political relevance . .
Yeah, well . . . .
The character of Leslie Vernon is
multifaceted to say the least. How did you prepare for a role in
which you would play a very amiable, astute serial killer?
simply felt that the audience would have
more of a jolt if they related to Leslie instead of reviled him. If
heís clearly a bad guy thereís only so much mileage you can get from
that. But if heís a nice guy, a good guy, a guy you know . . . a guy
youíd want to hang out with, then youíre taken in a much more
personal direction when the shit hits the fan.
Indeed, we not only sympathize with
Leslie, we empathize with him. Whatís more, after he issues his
philosophical justification for what he does, we even come to--God
forbid--respect him. Risquť indeed. We canít fault Glosserman for
not challenging his audience, can we?
Thereís something compelling--disturbing
though he may be--about a man who believes heís doing noble work by
leading people through the horrors of fear to the comfort of
Having said that, you accomplish the
Herculean task of making Leslie Vernon a sympathetic killer, so much
so that the viewer is unsure if whatís occurring onscreen will
ultimately wind up being a gag and then, wham, the shit hits the fan
as you said. You alluded to this earlier in the interview but how
much was already provided in the script as opposed to what you
brought to the role?
I had to talk Scott into casting me. My
take was different from what everyone else was doing. The script
seemed to call for Evil incarnate. I remember at the audition that
there were guys who were screaming during their
audition. Angry. Evil. I believed evil was more powerful when it
wasnít apologized for and exercised with venom. Evil is most
powerful when it is employed with great understanding, calm,
dignity, and calculation. In short, I thought Leslie could draw an
audience in by being relatable, then turn them on their heads by
revealing his darker impulses. All the while the humorous tone could
be supplied by the absurd situation that these ďnormalĒ people are
found in. Scott bought my argument. The rest is history.
Well, weíre glad he did. I think if he
would have went the route of ďEvil for Evilís sake,Ē the character
of Vernon might have lapsed into the rote serial killer weíve seen a
hundred times over and the film wouldnít have as much impact, to say
nothing of meaning. You truly flesh out the character and,
undoubtedly--to many polar moralistís chagrin--give the figure a
Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader did the
Letís get into this idea a little
more. Vernon is portrayed, despite being a serial killer, as
something of an iconoclastic ethicist because, on a philosophic
level, he is volunteering to be the counter to Good in order for the
word to house any meaning and, in so doing, is willing to die for
the idea. William Faulkner once intoned that, at base, every
creative act is executed due to the artistís ego needing to be
recognized, in short, in an attempt to validate a sense of
importance. Do you see Vernon as an egoist given that his situation
permits martyrdom to follow or purely someone attempting to, however
ironic, make the world a better place?
I guess itís a little bit of
both. Leslie is very much an egoist in that he has very little
regard for the lives of people beyond how they can serve him and his
purposes (with the exception of his Survivor Girls) and grow his
legend. On the other hand, his lack of regard is based on a
thoroughly considered philosophy in which he is performing a service
to humanity and the universe as a whole by wielding fear and
death. This philosophical clarity strengthens his purpose and makes
him more intriguing, I think, than your average crazy, bloodthirsty
Well put. And I think this is the
dilemma the audience is forced to contend with as well. In this
respect, Vernon has a real-life counterpart: The Unabomber, Theodore
Kaczynski, proved to be much harder to catch for much the same
reason in that authorities had never had to capture a killer whose
modus operandi was anything other than personal. Ted had a
philosophical agenda he was attempt to meet in much the same manner
I crossed a troubling personal threshold
when I came to that understanding with Leslie.
In what respect? How did you
ultimately reconcile it?
Itís important to me that I never
comment on my characters from the outside but step into the skin
fully to the degree that I can. I approached the shoot feeling that
I had a lot in common with Leslie but there were a few areas I
steered clear of because why even try? Iím not a homicidal person.
I donít intend to be one. Iíll just ďactĒ that stuff. At some
point during the shoot, I understood that there was so much more
power in a deeper acceptance of Leslieís philosophy. I donít feel
comfortable saying much more because I donít condone anything Leslie
does in the film, but when I had a meeting of the minds with Leslie
philosophically that was the last domino to drop and I was ďin.Ē
Going back to your reading of Vernonís
motive: His philosophy is very Marxist for--like Raskolnikov in
Dostoevskyís Crime and Punishment, Gary Cooperís character of
Alvin in Sergeant York, or even John Doe in Se7en--he
is killing for the greater good. How do you think Leslie reconciles
the contradiction of murdering a few, which is the cession of life,
in order to improve the quality of life for all?
In the scene where Leslie says goodbye
to Taylor, Todd, and Doug and then goes off to do his work I had a
little moment with each of them. Knowing how everything was going
to play out, my farewell to Doug was tossed off--heís going to live
after all--but Toddís was much more personal and I was trying to
tell him without telling him, ďYouíre going on a journey. Trust
that youíll emerge from your fear in a much better place.Ē I doubt
any of that comes across on a casual viewing but I tried to keep a
constant sense of integrity about Leslie so that an invested viewer
could glean those little nuggets.
Clever indeed. Youíve have went on
record as stating and, on behalf of Horror Reviewís readers--for
shame--that you havenít watched many of the films that harbor the
clichťs which your character of Vernon is simultaneously emulating
while turning on their head. In so doing, Glosserman deconstructs
the whole of the genre while positing a very wry, albeit
fascinating, revisionist theory that the mundane slasher flick is to
be reviewed as narratives which perhaps disclose very cognizant
killers and that the routine, uninteresting preparatory planning
stages which precede the killings have merely been excised from the
final product. Of course, this is part of the black humor of
Behind the Mask before the whole culminates into a devastating
finale but, having said that, Nathan, how come you donít like horror
Umm . . . they scare me.
Succinct. I doubt anyone will fault you
here. Having said that, I just rewatched another mindbender in the
Behind the Mask vein: Wes Cravenís New Nightmare. In
the film, Heather Langenkamp, playing herself--that is, a mother and
veteran horror actress from the Nightmare films--goes on a
talk show and baulks at the question of whether she deems horror
suitable, for she is placed between a rock and a hard place by the
host after stating she wonít let her son watch any of her
films. Whatís your take on this, will you allow your sons to watch
Behind the Mask before the age of 17?
Sure, if theyíre up for it. My four
year-old is familiar with the mask from all the promotion of the
film. I think he thinks itís cool. Heís very much into Batman,
another man who assumes an identity to wreak fear and purge his
troubled psyche. He might be ready for Leslie sooner than I think.
Aside from Leslie Vernon [EG wryly
smiles], what has been your favorite role thus far, on either stage
I did a production of Noah Heidleís
play ďPrincess MarjorieĒ a few months after I wrapped Behind the
Mask and the character I played was completely insane. I enjoyed
that ride so much. I just went nuts and the audience went along for
the ride with me. Iíd do that play again in a heartbeat. I also very
much enjoyed playing Lewis Sirk on Invasion. It was a well
done show and the story just got better and better. Had we got a
second season out of it, Iím sure it wouldíve been the most
interesting recurring role of my career.
Whatís the biggest pain in the
ass in regards to acting?
[Without missing a beat.] Waiting! I
fucking hate waiting. And that seems to be all you do as a
film/tv actor. Fortunately with Behind the Mask, I was
involved in most of the scenes and when I wasnít in the scene, I
usually involved myself behind the scenes with learning as much as I
could about the camera and setting up shots and the business of
directing. Scott was so open to input that he asked me to co-direct
a scene near the end of the shoot. Although Behind the Mask
was my first film I couldnít have had a more thorough crash course
Ope. Sounds like we might have a
burgeoning director on our hands sometime in the near future . . .
. Was it Glossermanís influence that got you interested in the craft
or has the thought always been looming around in your mind as a
Iíve relied on others to provide the
stories I tell for much too long. Iím getting to a point where I
have no excuses now for not telling my own stories.
Ten-dollar question. As you yourself
have expressed in previous interviews, many performers want to
create as opposed to merely act, to add something of their own to
the role, the prime example being Brandoís portrayal of Stanley in
A Streetcar Named Desire. Now, how does a performer handle a
situation with a Hitchcock or a Kubrick in which actors are cattle
to be pushed in one direction or another, a mere means to an end as
it where, and never permitted any creative input into the
I donít thrive in that kind of
environment and I donít know any actor who does. I think if the
vision is inspired, an actor will endure that kind of direction
because they believe the end result will pay off. I love to
collaborate and I love to have someoneís ideas alter and enrich my
interpretation of a character, but I wither creatively when thereís
no room for me to do my thing. In that situation, I tend to suck it
up and do what Iím told and get it done quick so I can move on and
leave the whole thing behind me.
That said, if time and death werenít a
metaphysical obstacle, would you do a Kubrick or Hitchcock film if
given the opportunity?
Absolutely! There are a few directors
that Iíd crawl across broken glass for and those are two of
them. Just being a fly on the wall would have been enriching. Maybe
that would have been more enjoyable than being an actor for
them. Yes, metaphysical obstacles aside, Iíd like to sit beside the
directorís chair on one of their productions
Like writing, you donít graduate with a
degree and start rolling in dough. As you have stated on your blog,
to an almost heart-wrenching degree I might add, you have to slowly,
gradually, and--in lieu of the threat of starvation--patiently work
your way up the ladder. The common phrase writers have is that the
tyrannical need to create winds up feeding the soul but not the
stomach. Do you concur? What keeps you from throwing in the towel
knowing that life would be that much easier if you were to take a
I have thought a lot about finding a
more stable job because my wife and boys deserve to be cared for and
my instincts as a father, husband, and a man compel me to keep busy
and work hard and get compensated well, which is difficult to do as
an actor. Itís hard to say why Iíve kept at it. Iím stubborn, that
has a lot to do with it Iím sure. I think Iím a unique talent as
well and my characters are different than what you generally see out
there. I believe I have a lot to offer as an actor and as long as
acting continues to be relevant, Iíll continue to strive to tell
God, if I had an award for good
answers, hands down, youíd win the sucker. Very well
phrased. You mentioned in another interview that at Juilliard that
you learned the value of the voice onstage. However, you apparently
also have a great appreciation for elocution. You are aware
you arenít supposed to be upstaging the wordsmith, right?
Síkay. Can you tell us a little about
your upcoming roles in Jim Torresís Like Moles, Like Rats and
Brooke Andersonís Off the Ledge?
In Like Moles, Like Rats, I play
a sociopathic assassin in a Children Of Men-type future
world. It was pretty wild. I think itís working itís way around the
festival circuit now, trying to get screenings and ultimately
distribution. I havenít seen it, so I donít know what kind of shape
itís in, but there were some real good people on the production and
some good work done, so weíll see. In Off the Ledge, I play a
suit-type party boy with questionable morals. I enjoyed the work and
the people but, again, I havenít seen anything from the film, so I
donít know how it all turned out.
Sounds like youíre drawn towards
the more, shall we say, ďfunĒ characters. Is this intentional or is
this merely how the chips fell? Any fear in being typecast as the
I like impulsive, emotionally unstable
characters. Sue me. I also like to play good guys who have their
heads on straight but I donít get the opportunity to play them as
often. I think I have a natural intensity that doesnít suit those
guys most of the time.
Where would you like to wind up
ten years from now?
Iíd like to be able to feed my family,
pay my bills, and have several creative avenues. Iíd like to be
producing my own material and collaborating with my friends and
family on the work.
Where do you think youíll
be ten years from now?
[With way too much verve and
enthusiasm.] I think Iíll be a superstar!
A-hem. [EG still chuckling, attempting
to collect himself.] Now, however trite this might sound, as you can
well imagine, if I didnít ask, Iíd be placed on Horrordomís
sacrificial alter: What are the chances that Leslie Vernon will rise
If the DVD sells well, thereís a
certain chance. I know that ideas have already been circulating
around Scott and Davidís heads and Iíd love to take Leslie on
again. However, I donít think weíd undertake a sequel unless the
script is as good or better than Behind the Mask. The first
was so good it would be pissing on Leslieís legacy to set out with
anything less than inspired . . . and Leslie would never have that.
Indeed. I often feel apprehensive
when a great work leaves an open door for a sequel for fear the
follow-up might lessen the impact of its precursor. However, I have
no doubt that you, Scott, and David would have no problem keeping
the momentum going and, with that said, everyone . . . go out and
buy another copy of Behind the Mask so Leslie Vernon
can rise again!
Nathan Baesel: Think
of my hungry children and have pity people!
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie
Vernon Official Website:
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie
Vernon Official Myspace Page:
Nathan Baesel: Click