Derek MacKinnon and Me at Monstermania, Sept 2010
Most horror movie villains, such as Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, are played by a stuntman wearing a mask. The exception is when the villain has a unique personality like Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter, and then an actor gets a chance to play the role. Derek MacKinnon’s portrayal of Kenny, the killer in Terror Train, is unique in the horror film world, being a performance that doesn’t rely on flashy personalities such as Hannibal, nor outrageous stunts, but an uncanny ability to mimic other people.
In Terror Train, Kenny is a victim of a cruel fraternity prank. He gets his revenge on the fraternity’s brothers and sorority’s sisters by boarding a train where they are planning a costume party. He first gets on the train by posing as a female assistant to David Copperfield. After he kills one victim, he takes their costume and impersonates them to get closer to the next victim. Kenny’s strategy of impersonating people works largely on screen thanks to an excellent and skillful performance from Derek MacKinnon. [To see a trailer for Terror Train, please click here.]
After seeing Terror Train, I was curious to see what other performances Derek had done. To my amazement, when I searched IMDb, I did not find any and wondered what had happened to him. I finally figured out what had happened when I met Derek at Monstermania. In addition to finding him very friendly and very funny (I probably haven’t laughed harder with any of my interview subjects), I found he had a lot of stories to tell me about Terror Train and what he was up to after it.
In this candid conversation, we not only talk about Terror Train, but his life afterwards and what he has been up to. Derek gave me a lot of his time at Monstermania as well as with a follow-up phone call. I want to give him big thanks.
Jeff Cramer: All right, Derek. How did you get started in Terror Train?
Derek MacKinnon: It was a date. I was bringing a good friend for an audition, walked in, they saw the sight of him and they said, “No, you’re not good” and they looked at me and said, “Do you wanna audition?” And I had no idea what it was for or anything like that. I had my own show, I was on stage and they just pursued and pursued and didn’t tell me what it was for. I thought I was gonna do a bit part and I went for the audition. I got four callbacks, and finally they told me, “You got the part”, and I’m like, “Okay”, and I leave. As I was going to the door, they asked me, “Mr. MacKinnon, do you understand what just happened?” I said, “Yeah, I got a bit part in a movie.” They said, “No. You just signed up for the lead in a 20th Century Fox movie with Jamie Lee Curtis.” I had no idea. That was all by mistake.
JC: That was all by mistake how you got the part?
DM: Because I’d already heard Kenny was cast, and it was they’d paid him off to get me. The casting director came and saw me on stage, but she just liked the show so much she said, “You gotta see this.” The other thing, too, was David Copperfield, and I look much alike.
JC: Now just a little backtrack: what were you doing on stage at that time?
DM: I started drag in the early 70s. When I came to Montreal from Nova Scotia, I couldn’t speak French and you needed it to work here, so I went to a night club where they were taking auditions, I did it the following week and got the job. It wasn’t long after that I started my own troupe. We have a cabaret show, and there’s eight of us and we toured all in Canada, in the States and loved it. I had the most famous female impersonation trope. It was all on set. When you’re doing live it’s a whole different story because your audience changes every night. My lover, who was on the road with me,and my name in those days was Alisha Ali. He didn’t like her. He says, “Honest to God,” he says, “you were one fucking royal bitch.” Terror Train found me in a club, and the rest is history!
JC: Now in this film, it was already written that you were gonna be dressed up in drag as David Copperfield’s assistant.
DM: Well the public had no idea that that was coming, and one of the main things that they wanted, actually, was I’d be believable. Like from the beginning: I’m right there and you don’t know that I’m there. I’m a female druid.
DM: And that was the whole gist of it. Actually, in the script you don’t know that he actually killed off David Copperfield’s assistant.
JC: I didn’t know that, no. I always thought that you fooled everyone, you even fooled David Copperfield into hiring you, even back then.
DM: David hired her. I killed her to get the job. Yeah, they wanted somebody who was going to be believable. Now the female part, that was two months in itself. There was no killing around me. There was no nothing. They wanted the female to be her, but they also wanted her to be Kenny, okay? So they had to distract the rest of the film from her. Do you understand what I’m saying?
DM: Okay, so for character analysis, I mean it was really, really important. She was filmed all at one time. They weren’t just throwing me in and out and all this shit. She had to be one character, and legitimate all the way through. So they shot just the female for literally two months.
DM: And there’s a scene that’s not there.
JC: What’s that?
DM: Well, Ben Johnson and I – he was suppose to be a love interest of mine.
DM: Yeah, and I got really, really upset. I didn’t want to do it, because he was suppose to kiss me.
JC: I see.
DM: You know when I’m between the cars?
JC: Yeah, between the cars.
DM: Yeah. Well, he’s supposed to be my boyfriend. They were trying to make the twist that’s how I got on the train.
JC: Oh, I see.
DM: Okay. So he was supposed to be my love interest and I didn’t want to go that route, so this is where it comes into writer versus me. They just basically said, “Derek, you know, this would be fantastic.” And I was really upset. I mean, I’m dealing with a nominated – like, you know, an Academy Award-winning star. At that point, I’d never met Ben, okay, and I was just – oh, totally freaked. And it was the 1980s, and you don’t kiss another man. Not Ben Johnson.
DM: And so I just got really, really upset. You know what he did. He called me in my trailer, and said “You get your fucking butt over here now.” I go over, and there he is, holier than thou. And I walk in, and say, “Mr. Johnson.” He says, “Number one, my name is Ben. Number two, what the fuck’s wrong with you?” I said, “I just don’t feel it’s right.” He looked at me and he says, “What you afraid of?” I said, “Well, you’ve won your Academy.” He says, “Derek, I’m going to tell you right now. You’re one of the best female roles I’ve ever seen in my life. Just remember, it’s just a part. That’s all it is.” I said “Yeah, but then I don’t want you to –” and he said, “It’s not about me. If the audience is not that fucking smart, it’s not your fault.”
JC: That’s great.
DM: And that is what it was all about. And he said, “I don’t have a problem.”
DM: And remember, that’s when AIDS and everything else is just coming out. And yeah, it was pretty rough. So anyway, we shot the scene, and you know, I was good about it, but I’ve got to tell you, too, it also helped that he got me so fucking pissed. He pulled out a bottle of vodka out of the freezer, and that’s when we were having the conversation. He said, “Now tell me what your problem is.” And you know, I mean, bless him. What a gentleman. I mean, to treat me like that, you know. That was one of my first lessons in the film industry. He was definitely decent, but I was right. It would not have swum for the film. I think the audience would have been more confused. Maybe if you’d shown it earlier.
JC: I would have been confused in this scene, unless they had the scene of you killing David Copperfield’s assistant.
DM: Well okay, I do understand what they were trying to do, but I would have said bring her out with them at the beginning. But also, if Ben Johnson was having a romance with the assistant, I would have done him in first and foremost. So this is where the writer just went, “Oh, shit! Yeah! Right!” So that’s why that was knocked out, but I thought it was an interesting ploy.
JC: Okay. Let’s talk more about Kenny himself.
DM: It was very behind-the-scenes and one of the smartest things, I think, that they did was we all had to create synopsis of characters. So Kenny is 19 years old. He’s disturbed, very berserk. So we wrote our own mystery, all of us. The writer actually used what we wrote and put it into the script. The ideas I wrote is that I’m a single child, my parents were older, that type of thing, so you understand what Kenny was: unloved, left alone.
JC: At one point in Terror Train, they talk about that at one point you had spent some time in a mental institution.
DM: That was because that was what I wrote.
JC: They mentioned that you killed someone in the past.
DM: Yes, but I wrote this. I was a little boy and I was going out and I’m from a rural area, and I was backing up a truck and my mother was putting out the garbage and I ran over my mom, my mistake.
JC: Now, unlike Friday The 13th, you’re wearing all the masks. This is not some stuntman wearing it. Everything from Groucho Marx to that green monster, that is you.
DM: Do you know that I was the only killer who ever played eleven parts?
Two of the eleven parts Derek played
JC: I would imagine that, because I don’t know of many films where the killer takes on the ––
DM: Their persona. I had to study each and every one of them. Literally, I’d sit with them for a week, and know their walk, the way that they moved, everything, to make this person real. I’m the great mimic, but I mean more in comedy. Like I can take your voice, I can do you in a minute. Just sit with you for five minutes.
DM: But this is one thing you knew about me. That they saw it on stage and like live that I could do it. I could just talk to somebody who was heckling, and I could become them in a minute. And so that’s what they saw, and so I could become you really quick.
John Alcott, who was my lighting man. You know what else he did?
JC: A Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon.
DM: 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was my lighting man, and he wanted everyone to know that I was behind that mask, and that there was no stand-in. So he used a pen light, and it was always in my eyes, so you always know it’s me. And he would use that pen light to – it drove me crazy. And Roger [Spottiswode, the director] would give me my direction, but John was more my director. He directed me all the way. Yeah, he told me how to move, where to look. The whole bit. And I trusted him. I mean, he was beyond reproach. The only thing I didn’t like about him is – John – was that he always filled the rooms full of smoke. You know what it was for?
JC: It was for the party atmosphere?
DM: No, no. Not the party. Every scene. The smoke is a filter for lighting. Yeah, so every scene was like smoking twenty packs of fucking cigarettes. When you walked on the set he had this smoker going on. You’re coughing and you’re choking and everything else because it was charcoal. He insisted on it. So that’s every scene that you see the smoke and it’s natural filter. That’s why you see the color come out, that it’s very soft. It’s smooth. You’ve got to remember, too, that we had one of the biggest budgets for a horror film. Ever.
DM: Yeah, it was $3.5 million. Back then it was Canadian, so you’re looking at it was like $7 million.
JC: Could you talk about the opening scene in the film where you go crazy?
DM: That was never in my script.
DM: That was kept from me. The first five pages I never saw. Everyone else did, but I never saw it. On the night of shooting the scene, they took me out to dinner. They got me loaded. I had a really nice time, and you know, I was ready to do the scene. I go in, and they go, “Okay, Derek, are you okay?” I say, “Yeah. Let’s get this done.”
What really got me was when we shot it, there was a lot of people that didn’t have to be there. David Copperfield flew in. Everybody. We were in a mansion, and I was doing it upstairs. I remember coming through the living room downstairs, and they were all there. Jamie and everybody. So they all knew. I just thought it was strange that – why are they here? I thought well, maybe they’re going to surprise me.
I went through five walk-throughs, and nothing that you saw there was what I walked through. It was just what I was supposed to do.I walk in and what you’re seeing, that was real, if you truly look at it. I wasn’t supposed to be wrapped up in those drapes and everything else. That was for real. Because I walked on this woman I didn’t even know, and she was split wide open where my foot went right through.
JC: So this was a real corpse?
DM: No, no, no. This was a live woman.
DM: But with special effects, they had her ripped wide open. And when I put my foot in, I mean blood squished through my toes, okay? The jelly and everything else. And I freaked. And that’s what you’re seeing. I got caught in the drape, and it just went from there. But it was five cameras setup, so I knew I was in shit. I walked in and I saw five cameras – “This isn’t good” – which means one take, if they’re going for the surprise.
JC: They got it.
DM: Yeah, like we did not retake that in way or shape. That was the one and only take. But they knew what they were doing. Roger was nasty. He kept me away from all the actors. I was, like, in solitude. I never dealt with any unless I was on set with them, and yet we all lived together. And the only time I was allowed out with them was when we did publicity, and that was it. So basically I was with the crew. The crew loved me. They found out that I was not Kenny. You know, I could be a lot more fun, which is good because your crew is what makes you. You’re not any better than they are. They do your makeup and hair. So if I make them my friends, I’m going to come off good.
I have to say Roger was spot-on, okay, and how he – maybe not in the best way, I mean emotionally, because it damaged me to a certain degree, but he got the character. He got what he wanted, but it certainly was hard.
JC: There are two other scenes I want to talk about in Terror Train. First, let’s talk about the bathroom scene where you smash the guy’s head through a mirror. You know?
DM: Yeah, with Anthony Sherwood. We must have done that scene about seventeen times. I kept smashing his head into the mirror, and it wouldn’t break. Everyone is like “what the fuck is going on?” They wanted me to really push him, you know, to break it, but I didn’t want to hurt Anthony. He’s a good friend. So finally they put a stand-in and they would throw him into it. I kept doing this, and with the stuntman I could care less. They even put a point underneath the mask that it would crack it. Anyway, you know what the problem was?
DM: It was an industrial mirror, and they forgot to put the breakaway mirror in. So I mean no – I blackened the stuntman’s eyes, and he had this huge bruise on the front of his forehead when I finally did it, and I got him through. But you know what’s funny? Have you ever been in a bathroom on a train?
DM: Okay, you know how small it is?
JC: I know. Very Small.
DM: Okay. Try seventeen people in there.
JC: How the hell did you get seventeen people in there?
DM: I was literally standing on the cameraman’s fucking chest, okay, doing this. That was the other problem, okay? There was seventeen people in there. I mean, you want to talk about – it was probably one of the most claustrophobic things after this for movies. I don’t want to do anything with wheels. You know, I want wide open spaces. Because I mean, I was under things, in things. You know what I mean? Throughout the film, it was extremely claustrophobic. Yeah, they got me seriously paranoid, so that scene was one of the harder ones to do.
JC: One other scene that I always had a question with is the one in which Doc (Hart Bochner) is talking to Mo (Timothy Webber). Then they, along with everyone else, watch a magic trick performed by you and David Copperfield. After the trick is over, Doc turns to Mo and Mo is dead, stabbed in the heart. How did you stab Mo in front of a whole crowd? Did you disappear when you did that?
DM: No. I’m there. I’m there. Did you not notice that? Aren’t I in the middle of ––
JC: Yeah, because David’s performing his magic trick.
DM: Yeah, but did I not just appear in the middle of the room?
DM: Think about it.
JC: That’s when you stabbed him?
DM: You remember, I have the cape. I’m in the middle of the room. He’s right beside me and then I take my arm with the cape and I go one way. How do you think that happened?
JC: But I’m amazed that you killed him in front of everyone with no witnesses and no sign of struggle from Mo.
DM: No, you weren’t – that was the whole thing. And we wanted that murder to look like “how the hell did that happen?” The critics got it in New York. They went “That’s super intelligent.” I appear in the middle of the room, and I just take my arm to take my bow. What’s underneath that cape?
JC: Oh, the knife.
DM: Yeah. You’ll see me bend over, and I take a bow, and I look over to the side. When I take my bow, guess who gets it?
DM: Then the next thing you see his heart comes out. Oh my God! You’ll see a smirk on my face.
It was all for shock value. I think it’s cool. I knew that would be the one thing a lot of people cannot figure that out. You have to watch it again.
JC: Right, I’ll probably watch it again. Yeah.
DM: No, they wanted to make it like you had to think. I think [screenwriter] T.Y. Drake did extremely well in writing it about where I was and how I did it. Like there was time, if you noticed – there’s always time for me to change out of female garb. And to do Mo, I didn’t have time to change.
My favorite killing though was of Hart Bochner. Yeah. I had a ball, personally. He just irritated the crap out of me. Now he’s a method actor, and I don’t understand method acting.
JC: Speaking of other people in the film, there’s two people I like to talk about in the film. First guy is David Copperfield.
DM: I had to stay with David to learn all the magic. I had to sign a waiver and all that, that I would never tell how things were done. It’s amazing. One thing David said, “When you’re watching me, don’t look for it and you’ll see it.” It’s actually very simple. I can do it now on stage. I can disappear and reappear anywhere I want.
Okay, you have to understand it’s an illusion. There’s no camera tricks in the film or anything like that, so we gave it – everything is in the timing. And he was – David is extremely – what’s the word I’m looking for? It has to be exactly right, okay, and he was something to work with. He was fantastic.
There was one funny time on Terror Train when we were in the middle of the scene, and I’m being levitated, and I’m halfway up, okay, and all of a sudden we run out of film, so they have to reload. So there’s another actor that was with us and a bit of the crew that he knew. And they were literally talking over me like I was the dining room table, and they were talking about the People’s Choice award that David had just won. I’m going, “Guys, can we get this done, please?” because you have to be – like everything with continuity. You have to stay in exactly the same spot. And so here I am hanging, okay? And you want to talk about uncomfortable. That’s not the word, and that went on for like forty-five minutes. And you know, with all the makeup and the hair, and you know, the whole shit, but it was kind of cute.
There was another moment, you know the scene with David and I, in the backroom where he says, “They don’t like me” and I, as her, went, “Oh, for God’s sake”?
DM: That took sixty-two takes.
JC: Sixty-two takes?
JC: Why did it take sixty-two?
DM: Because he couldn’t get his line out. All he says is, “They’re not going to like me”. I couldn’t believe this. At one point, they said, “Okay, it’s a wrap for Derek.” I’m done as her, okay? They take my nails off, and you know, the whole shit. Next thing you hear on the walkie is, “We need Derek back”. So they had to redo me, so another hour in makeup. Okay. I go back and at this point I’m fucking furious. And you know, my day is finished as far as I’m concerned.
So I go back and I turn and look at David and I said, “How stupid can you be?” And he goes, “What? “ And I go, “It’s one line! One fucking line!” He goes, “Yeah.” I said, “Think about it. If you’re doing a 6 year old’s birthday party, are you pissed off?” He said, “Yes.” And I said, “That’s all you have to think about.” And sure enough, one take and it was done. That was unbelievable.
JC: Just for this one damned line?
DM: One fucking line. And he still to this day, he swore to God he’d never do another movie.
JC: That’s the reason why.
DM: That’s the reason why.
JC: That probably was a smart decision after that. You probably aren’t meant to be an actor. Stick to your day job with magic tricks, you know?
DM: But what the ironic part is that he’s so meticulous. And it was his own show, but you know, everything is practice with him, dialogue. Like when I first met him, he went through this – and I thought he was absolutely sweet and everything, until I went and I did a show with him. I think it was Merv Griffin or something.
I’m in the greenroom, and I’m next, you know, coming after him, and I’m watching him, and it was the same fucking dialogue as the day that I met him. And I walked up to him and looked at him and I went, “David.” He turned around and I said, “That was rehearsed?” Do you know what I mean? Like there was no reality to it. I mean, holy fuck.
JC: OK, now the next person that I’m sure that everyone is curious about: Jamie Lee Curtis. What was your relationship with her?
DM: We didn’t. We did not associate, only after the fact to do interviews and things like that. Matter of fact, we didn’t meet each other again until we did – I don’t remember if it was Merv Griffin or something like that. They kept me completely separate from all of them, everybody on the set.
JC: You two were together a lot in the final fighting scene. It doesn’t look like there were any stunt doubles between you two fighting.
DM: There were none. That was a five-camera setup. It was done in one take. That was the only time we were on set together and we had to play against each other. We weren’t supposed to be friendly anyway. I mean, you couldn’t see me. I mean, nothing in that scene that you see is fake. I did beat the crap out of her and she let it go. She said, “Let him.” You know when her head goes down on the door and she hits that knob?
DM: That’s for fucking real. And when I get her under the bed? When I’m sprawled under the bed, she kicked me in the nuts.
JC: Oh, shit.
DM: And I just went stupid, and I went, “No way, you son-of-a-bitch.” And they told me, “For God’s sake don’t rip her blouse.” Well, you notice I did.
DM: I just grabbed her right by the fucking tits and dragged her out. The reason they didn’t want me ripping her blouse off is she didn’t have a breast augmentation and they didn’t want to show that she was flat.
DM: They kept telling me, “Don’t do it, don’t do it.” I think it was stuck in my head: “Okay, cunt, you’re not getting away with this. Don’t kick me in the nuts and think you’re getting fucking away with it.” So I mean, that scene – seriously, I mean, there’s five cameras, and there was no ifs, ands or buts. I mean, she was really crawling under that bed. She was terrified. And when I got her out of there, they just – it’s like they literally had to put me away. Okay, to continue the scene. You know, to move the cameras. When I threw her head against that fucking wall, yeah, that was real. She even looked at me. The tears were in her eyes, and she looked at me and said “Derek.” Like it’s not Kenny. She talked to me, “Derek. You know, get Kenny out of you. Come back.” And you know, I did.
There were some accidents though. You know, when I get the spoke in the eye?
JC: Right, when she’s in the little wire cage?
DM: Yeah, when she’s in the cage. That was the only time a stuntman was brought in, the reason being that I was dead tired, okay? I wanted to do it and I kept saying, “No, I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it”. And they go, “No, no, no, Derek. This is – we just need the close-up. And you know, we’ll tape you, you know, with your eyes and everything else. “
Anyway, what happened was is the guy steps in, and I’m standing there watching this whole thing. She’s in the cage, and anyway, she grabs the thing and she pushes it in his face. Well what happens was is because the scene was going so well, is they forgot to put the collapsible one in. It was a real spoke.
JC: Oh, God.
DM: And the guy got it right through the face. I’m not joking. He almost lost his eye. Jamie got really upset when she did that to his face, and that could have been me. She walked off the set. Yeah, it took her two days to get back on.
DM: There were other accidents. You know, when I put the axe through the window?
DM: Okay, well she got eighteen stitches. Not Jamie. It was a stand-in for her. There were accidents for me. One thing that they didn’t bother to tell me was, you know when I’m popping the light bulb?
DM: Okay, now picture this. I’m wearing a wool robe that’s satin lined, soaking, wringing wet, and I’ve got a fourteen-pound iron fucking goddamn tractor wrench popping those light bulbs in live sockets. If I would have connected right with one of those ––
JC: You would have been electrocuted.
DM: I’d have been toast.
DM: And nobody realizes that. Remember, I’m covered in blood. Okay, this is phony blood which is like done with jelly and jam, all kinds of shit. And when you pop a light bulb, a light bulb sucks in first and then explodes. So there was the finest fibers all over me, I break eight light bulbs. When they took that robe off , every one of them went right in through my clothing. The glass was unreal, and they literally had to soak my arms in water before they could do – like they couldn’t wipe me. I mean, I was covered in glass. And like you know, at that point they didn’t care, okay?
So when the train was – they got excited as we were doing it so well, a lot of it was just one take, and they just got really super excited. Okay, good: Let’s move it, move it, move it, you know? And it was hard.
Jamie does not promote Terror Train is because I came off more than she did. And that didn’t sit right with her and I don’t know if you noticed, but the cover has now changed
JC: What’s changed with the cover now?
DM: The original cover was me. The new one is her. I’m behind her. Why do you think they did that?
DM: She wanted to be first and foremost. It was always me. Not her. On the cover, now it’s her. You get my drift?
Original and new cover for Terror Train
When my convention agent Sean Clark brought her a laserdisc of Terror Train for her to sign, she looked at it, she flipped it over, signed the back of it. She wouldn’t sign the front of it. Sean said, “I really want you to do it on the front,” and she says, “No, that’s Derek.” She wouldn’t sign it because it has the original cover.
JC: I’ve heard some bizarre stories with her, with the horror stuff.
DM: The ironic part is, is I think whereas she’s making the biggest mistake in the world that she doesn’t want to be the scream queen, but she always was. Why isn’t she promoting it? You know, it’s what made her career and she doesn’t want to know from it. Sean said to me, “Between the three of you – you, David Copperfield, and Jamie – would be there for a week, just signing copies of Terror Train.” I said, “Don’t think about it. It’s not happening.” It might later on. I think she’s going to kind of humble herself. I mean, we’re still friends.
I’ve got to tell you, that was an honor when she – she turned twenty-one on the set, and both her mother and father came. So you know, I got to meet Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh – not together. They were not exactly friendly. But yeah, it was interesting to meet them. It was nice. I know he only died a couple of weeks ago, but it was an honor to meet the man and her.
JC: So Terror Train comes out, but we don’t hear from you anymore after that. What happened?
DM: Well, after Terror Train finished shooting, Kenny was there for fucking eight months. To get him out after the film was God awful. He lived within me and I needed him out. Because I’m nowhere near that type of a person. I raised him, and then to get rid of him is really hard. Nobody at my house for Thanksgiving wanted me to carve the turkey.
20th Century owned a part of me after Terror Train. I had a five year contract with then. They told me what I could and could not do. Anything that Aaron Spelling owned is what you did and that was basically it. Anything that I did, it had to be Kenny. They would not allow me to explore comedy, or drama, or anything like this. It had to be horror. You know, every character I was offered was Kenny. I got a few other pictures offers – Happy Birthday To Me, My Bloody Valentine, Death Ship. All of those were given to me. I didn’t want to do them. I think that would have been typecast had I done that. I don’t want to be a Freddy or Jason.
JC: I see.
DM: It got extremely boring. And you know, for five years. Can you imagine? I knew I had so much more in me, and I couldn’t wait for that contract to go so I could start doing independent films. While I was under contract with 20th Century Fox, I started my own series. I did a pilot of which we did six, which you know, was ordered. The ironic part was, it’s before Will and Grace came out. I was the original. I was the first openly gay character ever on T.V. The censor boards, of course, wouldn’t allow it then. Okay, and then in 1980, you have to understand something. Okay? I’m gay. In the 1980s, it was taboo, especially with 20th Century Fox.
Terror Train was probably one of the greatest moments in my life. Also, it’s a double-edge sword. When you’re twenty-two years old, your whole life has changed. People tell you that you can do this, and you can’t do that. My boyfriend was told that he wasn’t allowed to be within twenty feet of me for pictures.
DM: So it embarrassed me. You have to understand, like in the ‘80s, I wasn’t allowed to be me. It wasn’t fair to my lover that he was – I mean, this is the man that made my career. I mean, he made me. Okay, he got me across the country. He did the whole bit. And he was basically denied, and you know, literally told, and he just looked at me and you could see that. He just couldn’t handle it and I don’t blame him. You know, today it wouldn’t matter. You know, like when I look at Neil Patrick Harris, you know, who plays one of the most vile fucking womanizers on T.V.
DM: And yet he’s gay. Why now do they accept it and not then? But you know, when I was there it had to do with Rock Hudson with Linda Evans getting kissed, and she thought she was going to have AIDS and yadda yadda. That put a stop to everything. And I would have been poisoned. I was told by 20th Century “Don’t say a word. Don’t do this.” I wasn’t allowed to go to Gay Pride. I got married. They actually married me off.
JC: So you married a woman?
DM: Yep, that was to save my name, okay, for the box office. Because you know, like at that time they told me my audience was between the ages of fourteen to thirty, to forty-two. I was gay, and was known to be gay, then my reality would not – you know, they might as well just wash it down the drain. You know, I wasn’t worth anything. Pretty sad. So it totally – as I said, it’s a double-edge sword. However, my lover and I, we’re back together.
JC: Oh, that’s great. That’s great.
DM: We spent ten years together then. Thirty years later we’re back together.
JC: Well, what were some of the independent films you did after your five-year contract?
DM: The thing is I don’t think you would have heard anything that happened due to the fact that, you know, I’m Canadian, and the thing is that what’s in Canada doesn’t go, let’s say, worldwide, okay? You know, what’s in Canada stays in Canada in a sense.
Oh, I did My Lovely Bank. I did Sentense Diabolique. You see, the thing is that you’ve got to remember that this is a dual language country. I also do French, so a lot of those would not be seen. They’d be considered a foreign film. I had a ball. And you know, like I mean people actually saw that there was another dimension from me, and I needed that.
A lot of people used to say to me, “You know, Derek, because you are gay, did you get picked for gay parts?” No. As a matter of fact, there was a couple of parts that I did. One time was with James Orr, who at that time was going out with Farrah Fawcett.
JC: Do you know what happened between James and Farrah?
DM: Yeah, well he beat the crap out of her.
JC: Right. That story. Yes.
DM: So anyway, James and I did this scene and I was a hairdresser. He turned and looked at me, and he says, “You’ve got to be gayer”. I turned to him, I looked at him, and I said, “Do you think that we’re all cookie cutters? Are all the gays you met all your life just limp-wristed fucking idiots? Because that’s not the gay community.” He turned and looked at me, and he said, “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “Well, you wouldn’t be able to do this film with the beauty in it and everything else if it wasn’t for gay people. Such as makeup, hair, set design. Everything else. So back off, bastard.”
I got a career, but I lost a relationship. And then after it got to the point where I couldn’t have another one, not without trying, that’s when I decided that “Okay, I’m sick and tired of being in front of a camera, and I want to know what goes on behind the camera”. I went to find out what the suits were really actually talking about. That how could you do this to somebody else’s life? And then I found out, they don’t give a rat’s ass. All I was was just the dollar. And you know, if you get the suit, you’ve got the part. Talent has nothing to do with it.
JC: What did you do behind the camera?
DM: I started working with Taurus 7 and I was behind the scenes for almost seven years. I worked with Cronenberg, I did rewrites and I cast. I did all kinds of things. During that time, that’s where independent became more important to me, because these people truly love what they’re doing.
JC: I understand there was a documentary about you. Could you tell me a little more about that film?
DM: The documentary is called Lip Gloss. It is about the under-belly of the live entertainment world here in Montreal. It took 6 years to do and it went over very well. We even opened the Montreal World Film Festival!!
Derek looing for undies in Lip Gloss
JC: There was also a film you did a year and half ago called Family Motel. Tell me about that one.
DM: When I did Family Motel, I was just tickled to death. That part was not written. They just wanted me in the picture, and I wrote my part. And to come up with this character where I’m going to play an aging fucking old drag queen! The wife drops the kid off on me, and I have a little eight-year-old kid that’s staying in the hotel with me while I’m playing in the lounge downstairs. I’m not exactly happy about myself, especially with the kid.
The next thing you see is I’ve got the kid by the hand and I’m coming through the lobby, and there’s this Indian family that’s there. It’s all about immigration. He says, “You’re nothing but an old fucking fag, you fucking cunt.” He’s going on right in front of these people, and my child and I just let it fucking rip. And finally the scene is, is that as I’m walking out the door, this woman, this Indian woman, turns and she’s wearing all the garb and everything else, and I say, “Honey, welcome to the country. If he can do this to me, can you imagine what he’s going to do to you?” And that was it.
Derek and Child in Family Motel
JC: That was a good line. Yeah.
DM: So I mean, I’m in my own country, okay? So that kind of said it, and we got an award.
JC: That’s great.
DM: Yeah, four of them in New York.
JC: We met at Monstermania. That was your first horror convention appearance. Tell me your thoughts on that.
DM: When they dragged me out to do this, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to, to be very honest with you. In Canada we don’t charge for an autograph, okay? Like I just feel privileged that somebody would come up to me and know who I am. But here, they don’t do it the way that the Americans do. I’m allowed to have a hot meal. You know, wait till I’m finished dinner and then come over. You know, not join – or in the middle of it – you know, to intrude. So I don’t think the celebrity concept is as big here as it is in the States. They know who I am, but they just respect my privacy.
Now when I did do this, when I went to the convention, I was extremely surprised. This is thirty years after Terror Train, the minute I hit the airport it started. “Mr. MacKinnon, can I have your autograph?” I turn and I look at them. You know, like I’m pitch black, you know, back in those days, and now I have gray hair.
When I get there, I find out through the promoters that the fans like the victims to a certain extent, but it’s the killer that they’re really interested in. Robert Englund (who plays Freddy Krueger) and I are friends. I look at him, and I’m like, “Robert, what’s it like for you? “ He looks at me and he says, “I think you’re about to find out, Derek.”
DM: Well, I did find out, and I found out I was the only killer that people loved. You know, like I just thought that was kind of funny. The interest that I found was phenomenal. I didn’t realize that so many were on my side, you know, watching the film.
JC: Oh, absolutely. I can tell you myself, I was on your side throughout that whole film. I mean, about the only person you sympathize with - but she didn’t die - was Jamie Lee Curtis. That was about it. You know?
DM: Well, I wasn’t being looked at as a killer. That got me. Most of them, you know, everybody doesn’t want to know from them, you know, and you know, I’m not sawing up people and all that shit just out of revenge. He had a reason.
It’s a bit overwhelming when you do a convention, but I think what I really love about it is the first time you don’t know any of your peers who also acted in horror films, and you find out we all have the same stories. It’s amazing.
Like a lot of them, you know, not the best childhood. We were all left alone. After you got your star, everybody just picked up and leaves you. We do a lot of forgettable films. When we do a film there’s a working title. We don’t know what they change it to after the fact. So there are times I’m in my house and I’m just fooling around, the TV is on and I go, “Hmm, I remember that line” and sure enough, it’s a film I did and had no idea.
I was asking Linda Blair and Robert Englund, “Would anybody remember you in anything else other than Freddy and The Exorcist?” We all said the same thing .We do the one character in our life that will be most memorable. They’ll all be written on our tombstones. No matter what you’ve done, even if you were nominated for an Academy, you’re only known for that one part.
But the one thing that was nice is that all my fans are saying I was the most approachable.
JC: Well, as a horror fan myself, I would agree with that.
DM: They could actually talk to me and, you know, I wasn’t – like Sean kept telling me, “You know, don’t let them take photos and all that.” Well, they didn’t, only if I said it was OK. But you know, for them , being a promoter, it’s money out of their pockets I think. Right?
JC: Right. They get a percentage, from what I understand, of your autographs.
DM: Oh, yeah. I was being interviewed and this one person, he said “What do you think, this being your first convention?” I said it’s pretty much like prostitution. [Laughter] I said, “I’ve never charged for anything in my life,” and he said “Yes.” I said, “I just gave it away”, so I said, “Like, basically, that makes me a whore. Right?”And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, now I feel like a slut.” [Laughter] And he says, “Why?” I said, “Well, nothing less than a prostitute.” And I said, “My pimp is my agent.”And that’s the truth.
Did I tell you what happened when we were in Baltimore?
DM: I was in the bathroom. Sean was in there with me and this guy took a picture. Sean just looked at me and said, “Fuck. They just don’t give a shit.” And I turned and looked at the guy, and I said, “Listen, if it turns out, could you send it to Playgirl?” Sean says, “You’ve got an answer for absolutely everything, Derek.” I thank my fans, you know. Without them I wouldn’t exist.
JC: Are you planning on doing any other conventions?
DM: Okay, so like I’m doing this Screamfest, and there’s another one and I’m doing in Florida at the same time. There’s another one in Illinois. All three of them are going on at the same time. So apparently I’m going to be doing them, but I’m going to have to hopscotch. Monstermania was my birth and that was a tryout. Now I’m booked for everything, but Sean doesn’t want me in certain shows.
JC: Okay. Anything else on the horizon?
DM: Well, I swore I wouldn’t do horror again, but I’m gonna. Robert Englund and I are going do a film. Now, we’ve both played killers, but can you imagine having four killers in the same movie? Who’s doing it?
JC: You mean only one of you is going to be the killer.
DM: Of course.
JC: So they have four people that have played killers, but you’re not supposed to know which one it is.
DM: Yeah. Don’t you think that would be rather interesting? This is what we’re tossing together. It’s already been brought up to us. I say “Bring a script and we’ll see.”
I have a project with Matt Cloude. I’m going to do something with him. He wrote a part specifically for me. It’ll be interesting to see. I get the script this week, but I’ve already agreed that I would do it, and yeah, he’s a pretty good writer. It’s nice that now I’m in collaboration where I’m allowed to write for myself as well, okay? So when I see the script, I can go to the writer and go, “Hey, you know, this doesn’t fit”. I really get into my characters.
On November 6, I’m going be doing Dead Zone with Kelsey Grammer, where it’s going to be live throughout the world. Everyone can ask me questions. It’s a half-hour show.
JC: How did this happen?
DM: Actually, it was funny. I was on Facebook, and they came to me. You have to understand that I’ve only been on Facebook for six months.
JC: It’s funny when you added me as a friend: you were in the hundreds, and now you have like thousands of friends.
DM: Yeah. I know. It’s just unbelievable. The opportunities are just flying out the window. Well you know, it’s almost like there’s a resurgence of me. Like it’s a reverse, you know, like “Where the fuck have you been?”
JC: So it’s like a whole reawakening thirty years later.
DM: Well, there’s been a lot. Like I only did Family Motel a year and a half ago. So like no, I have not been away.
JC: No. I know, but America didn’t know what was going on.
DM: No, and why would they? I mean, you know, I wasn’t doing the horror genre, but I’m just totally amazed that they’re there. You know, and for one character. It’s just amazing.
With this show, The Dead Zone, they’re asking to give them stuff that’s never been seen. Exclusive to them. So I talked to a couple of producers and directors and I said, “Don’t send them to me. I want to be surprised myself at what’s out there”. The producers just keep going, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” I can’t wait to see what wow is.