A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 stars Mark Patton, Kim Myers and myself at the Monstermania convention. March 2010.
Mark Patton got off to an early start in his career when he starred in the Broadway production of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, directed by legendary director Robert Altman and starring Cher and Kathy Bates. In it, he plays a man who undergoes a sex change operation and becomes Karen Black. He would reprise the same role in the film version which also starred Cher, and Bates, and which Altman also directed.
Mark followed Jimmy Dean with a supporting role in a sci-fi tale, Anna to the Infinite Power. Next came his first leading role – and his most famous role of all – playing Jesse Walsh in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. The sequel is an unusual entry in the Elm Street series. First off, it has a male lead, which is rare in the horror genre; the lead is usually a tom-boyish girl. Second, it deals with the theme of Freddy Krueger (played by Robert Englund) wanting to possess someone – in this case, Jesse Walsh. The only other time Freddy would choose to possess someone would be Jason Vorhees in Freddy vs. Jason. Third (and most controversially), it contains several homoerotic elements. There is no female nudity, only male nudity, in the picture. Also there is one scene where-in Jesse dreams he visits his gym coach in a gay S&M leather bar. There is another moment where Jesse is making out with his girlfriend, but when he sees Freddy’s tongue come out of his mouth, he panics and goes over to his best friend Grady’s house. The following dialogue is exchanged. (Jesse: “Something is trying to get inside my body.” Grady: “Yeah, and she's female, and she's waiting for you in the cabana. And *you* wanna sleep with me”.) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2’s director Jack Sholder and writer David Chaskin have denied any homoerotic elements were intentional, but many viewers have continued to comment on them. In fact, one IMDB person commented that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 was “gay porn for [him] as a teen.”
After the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Mark never did another picture again. Nor did he appear in the public eye for a while. Producers were unable to find him for commentary when A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 became available on DVD. When he finally resurfaced for the Elm Street documentary, Never Sleep Again, a photo was taken of the producers of the documentary wearing shirts that show his face and say, “He Has Been Found.”
In this candid conversation, Mark and I discuss Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, his time making A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, his thoughts on the homoerotic elements of that film, and why he hasn’t been heard from till now. I interviewed Mark through Skype at his home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I want to thank Mark for taking the time to do this interview.
Jeff Cramer: So where were you born?
Mark Patton: I was born in Kansas City, Missouri. I moved to New York when I was 17 to go to college at New York City.
JC: Okay. So what made you decide you wanted to become an actor?
MP: Well, I had an amazing, amazing teacher in high school: her name was Mildred Fulton. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, and she was a very wise woman. Very smart. I went to her and said, “I don't know what I'm gonna do. I don't know what I'm gonna do.” She said, “You're going to go to New York, and you're going to be an actor. That's what your life is going to be.” I said “Okay,” and that's what I did. And I thank her every day.
JC: Now, when I was a kid, I read this little book called The Nightmare on Elm Street Companion. The book has a little bio on you. The bio said you were deciding between being an actor or a country-western singer.
MP: That's correct. I was offered a recording contract when I was 11 years old.
MP: Yeah, very soulful, kind of cut-your-throat honky-tonk music, which I still love; but my father wouldn't let me take the recording contract because I would have had to sing in bars, and he thought I was way too young.
JC: Well, you were 11, so I can understand your father’s point of view.
MP: I resented him at the time, but now in retrospect I realize he was probably wiser than I.
JC: The bio also said you qualified for the Junior Olympics.
MP: Yes, I was. I was qualified in the State of Missouri for the Junior Olympics, and I represented in gymnastics. I took sixth place in the still ring, sixth place on the floor exercise, and a bronze medal on the vaults.
JC: But you decided to be an actor and went to New York.
MP: I thought New York was the wisest place for me to be. I had fallen in love with A Chorus Line and Chicago, and I just wanted to be there. I just knew in my heart that it was the place for me to be, so I got on a plane and off I went. When I lived there, there was a guy named Dan Monahan who lived down the hall from me, and Dan – you may or may not know – was the star of Porky's, which was a big, big movie.
JC: Oh, yes, he played Pee Wee.
MP: Pee Wee, yeah. Well, Pee Wee lived down the hall from me, and everybody in the building whispered about how much money he made, so I thought I'm just gonna follow him one day and see where he goes. So I followed him to his manager's office, and I said, “Well, if he can do it, I can do it”. There was a big sign that said, “Do not knock on the door,” and of course, I knocked. The door opened, and the owner of the management company was there. It was very early in the morning, and he said, "What do you want?" I said, “Well, I'm an actor and I'm here to be an actor.” He said, “Okay, well come back at 11:00 a.m.” – and that was Stewart Sokol and Helene Sokol, and they were my managers for 25 years.
JC: Twenty-five years?
MP: Twenty-five years, yeah. They started me off doing television commercials, and that was my first experience. I made a lot of television commercials, Coke and Pepsi, and I got my equity card in Philadelphia doing Oliver. Then, I did a little play in New York, and then I got the audition for Jimmy Dean and that began that.
JC: Right, I understand that the Broadway version of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean was directed by the same man who later directed the film version; and that it also features the same cast? [A custom-made trailer for Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean can be viewed by clicking here.]
MP: Yes, the movie and the play are exactly the same. Robert Altman directed the production of the Broadway version and everybody involved in the production are exactly the same people as in the film. Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, Kathy Bates (before Kathy Bates was really Kathy Bates), Marta Heflin, Sudie Bond, and myself. We opened that play on Broadway. The opening was huge. It had press from everybody in the world. Literally, at that time, I met – if you were famous, I got to meet you and it was great – David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Greta Garbo. I mean, literally everybody, because they came to see Robert Altman.
When the show closed, it didn't get great reviews, but we immediately turned around two weeks later and filmed the movie, which went on to the Cannes Film Festival. It won the Golden Lion, and of course, it's a cult favorite at this point for many people.
JC: Now, your character becomes Karen Black later on. Did you and Karen have to, sort of, coordinate together?
MP: Actually, we did, and it was very strange. Karen and I would talk on the phone every night so she could get the inflection of my voice, which she felt was the most important thing. I really believe Karen did an amazing, amazing job in that movie. She took a lot of flack, which I came to understand better when I did Nightmare on Elm Street – the kind of flack that was given to her. Many people said, “Oh, she is a transvestite. She's a transsexual – look at her hands, look at her feet; they're so big.” A lot of people were very unkind to her, but I thought she was just amazing – amazing – in that movie.
JC: Also, at the same time, what was interesting about it was that Cher at that time wasn't known as a serious actress at that time.
MP: That's correct, sure. Yeah, well, actually, Cher had been turned down by a number of people. Cher had gone to Joseph Papp at the public theater to put her name in a hat, like Linda Ronstadt had done, so on and so forth, and said, “You know, I want it private.” And Joe Papp literally laughed her out of the building and said, “Like, we don't have room for you, sorry. Katherine Altman, Bob Altman’s wife, happened to be friends with Cher's mom and she said to Cher's mom, “You know, Bob's doing a movie, and maybe he has a part for Cher in it.”
That's actually how that happened, just one mother talking to another mother, trying to get her daughter a job – and it worked out great for Cher.
JC: Also no one knew who Kathy Bates was at the time.
MP: Oh, yeah. Kathy was amazing because Kathy actually was not supposed to be in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. A girl named Susan Kingsley was gonna be in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. She was from Louisville. Suddenly, she was in a car accident and was killed. Kathy was doing a Beth Henley play, and just stepped in at the last moment.
JC: Well, based on the movie, she did very well for a last-minute replacement.
MP: Well, you know, Kathy is a very unique person – and Kathy has watched a lot of pretty girls get famous. I had the good fortune – of right after Jimmy Dean closed and we finished making the movie – I did a play in Boston called Almost an Eagle, and Kathy was at American Repertory Theater doing 'Night Mother, and she was doing it in a studio production. They were building the production to go to Broadway, and I saw it with cardboard boxes and 20 people in a room, and it just blew me – I mean, I can't tell you the experience.
When my show very quickly closed in New York, she got our stage manager and our theater, so I got to watch that show about 100 times. I would just sneak in, in the afternoon when I had nothing to do and watch Kathy, and I knew in my heart of hearts from the moment I saw that play that Kathy was destined for greatness. She is amazing. If you see her in that or in Primary Colors, she's an amazing, amazing actress; and I love that she's a real sweetheart too.
JC: What was your experience of working with Robert Altman?
MP: Robert Altman was a fantastic director to work with. You hear that all the time regarding actors, but Bob was also a very good business-man and very, very smart. He also knew how to get people to work for him for free, which is a really good trick because he was a pretty wealthy man. He was just as good to me as could be – he and Scott Bushnell, the producer.
I auditioned for them, auditioned a second day, and then on a Saturday afternoon – and this is where he's really smart – I got a call at my home and it was Scotty Bushnell. Scott said, “Would you be interested in speaking to Mr. Altman?” I said, “Well, sure.” Mr. Altman got on the phone, and said, “Hey, how would you like to come and be on Broadway with us?” I'm like, “My God, I would love to.” Well, of course, I couldn't negotiate my contract then. He knew I wanted to do it, and I was gonna take any money they gave me, which I would have anyway. Bob, of course, was a genius and I'm thrilled that I got to work with him.
JC: Now, was that play exactly the way they shot the movie? The five and dime store is the only set. There are scenes where Karen is looking in the mirror and sees you as a reflection.
MP: It was a little baffling that way, as it was on Broadway, but dialogue wise it had to be because by the time we reached the filming stage, there was a lawsuit between Ed Graczyk and the producer. Ed wrote Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and he felt like Robert had ruined his play. He felt like he really had a masterpiece, and he felt like it had been destroyed by Robert Altman, which I thought was really sad on his part.
JC: Yeah, I’m not sure I saw the destruction that Ed is talking about.
MP: So by that time, we were having the lawsuit, and we had to read those lines as they were written; so there were agents on set, lawyers on set –everything had to be done exactly as it was written. No ad-libbing in that movie, which Altman is also famous for: just letting actors have the moment, because he shoots with three or four cameras at the same time so you really never know when you're on camera. You might think you're sitting over there doing nothing, but actually he's just filming you the entire time. That's how he gets those wonderful, sort-of relaxed, dreamy shots; because the people don't actually know they're being filmed at the time.
JC: Okay, now we go to another film. Anna to the Infinite Power, which is going to being released on DVD shortly. [To watch the trailer for Anna to the Infinite Power, click here.]
MP: Yeah, it is actually, and I just did an interview for the DVD version. I love that movie. I was offered Anna to the Infinite Power because of Dina Merrill, who was very good friends with Robert Altman. She had done A Wedding and a number of other movies with him. Dina was doing this movie, and she suggested me to the producer, and that's how I came about doing that movie.
JC: You and Martha Byrne had a real brother/sister chemistry on that film.
MP: Yeah, yeah. I love Martha. That was Martha's first. Actually, all of us on that movie had very good relationships: very close. We filmed in a very beautiful part of New Jersey, and it was just green, lush, everything was really nice, and the people were kind. Martha was, as you know, one of the most beautiful little girls that you ever laid your eyes on, and we just had a really wonderful time. I think you can tell the relationship, basically – with Martha and I – from the little scene where Martha and I are sitting by the side of a lake, and it looked like a multi-million-dollar Disney film; it's so beautifully rich, and it's just perfect.
I have a very good relationship with Dina also – and you know, what an interesting woman. She's one of the wealthiest women in the world. She's the daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress of the Kellogg fortune. She’s just a billionairess and making little movies, you know. And I'm so happy to be in that movie, because of all the things I've done in my career, all of my nieces know all of the words to Anna to the Infinite Power. They can act it out; they've all seen it at least 50 times, and they're about ten years old.
I think it's a great way to introduce the Holocaust to children who are young enough that they can comprehend it; but in a gentle way, where you can open up that conversation and say, “Well, yeah, this did happen.” It's a great way to have that conversation, and it's a pretty movie and wonderful for children.
JC: Yeah, even as an adult, I found the story very interesting, especially with the human cloning thing. And we’re still dealing the themes of human cloning today.
MP: Oh, yeah, absolutely. There's no doubt about it. It was ahead of its time. I think it is a very good movie, and I think it stands the test of time. The fact that they're re-releasing it proves that, I think.
JC: Okay, after Anna to the Infinite Power, you would audition for the first Nightmare on Elm Street.
MP: That's correct. I had gone to California and I was on General Hospital for quite a while in between Anna and Nightmare on Elm Street. I had done a couple Westerns, and I did a series with Chuck Connors, but I auditioned for the first Nightmare on Elm Street. I had never seen a horror movie.
JC: You had never seen a horror movie?
MP: I had seen scary stuff like Vincent Price but nothing like Elm Street. It didn't matter to me; it was just another audition. I went in, and it didn't work out – and then Nightmare on Elm Street came out. I took a little notice of it, but not really a lot. And then they came back, and I ended up being the star of the second one.
JC: Okay, now the role that you had auditioned for was the one that became Johnny Depp's role.
MP: That's correct, yes.
JC: Do you ever think for a second that, maybe if you got Depp’s role, maybe you could have gotten Depp’s career?
MP: Well, it’s funny, because at the time I was a bigger name then Johnny Depp was. Johnny Depp was just Johnny Depp. Nobody knew who he was. It's just mean to me that he doesn't really talk about Nightmare on Elm Street, which I think is a little short-sighted on his part, because most of the good things that came to him – that was the beginning, that's where they came from. If you don't do your homework as an actor, it's really sad. Bob Shaye gave Johnny Depp his first job.
I mean, my God, Wes Craven gave him his first job when he was a nobody. That's a stroke of good fortune that money can't buy. So I think it would be sweet of him if he could acknowledge that once in a while. As for his career, I think everybody's got their own path. I'm not Johnny Depp; I'm not like that. I would have liked to have had his life on some level, but I don't know if his life would have fit me very well, to be honest with you.
JC: It’s interesting what you said about Depp not talking about Nightmare on Elm Street, because Kevin Bacon was in the original Friday the 13th and you rarely get to see him talk about that.
MP: Yeah. I think for my generation of people, there was some embarrassment about doing horror movies. I'm not really sure. I have friends who were actors who really never worked, you know. They just never worked, and a lot of them berated me. They would be like, “I would never do that. I would never, ever, ever be in one of those movies.” My first thought was, “Well, nobody asked you, so how would you make that decision today?” And you know, it's like when I was a kid, I loved to go to Vincent Price movies, and I loved The Pit and the Pendulum.
And then, when I signed to do Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2, Bob Shaye set up a screening for me on Hollywood Boulevard at 10:00, and I went with a friend to an empty theater and saw Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time. I went, “My God, this is gonna me in just a little bit of time.” I started shooting the next week.
JC: Also you were going to have to carry this film, because you’re the lead in this. The male is rarely a lead in a horror movie. [To watch the trailer for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, please click here.]
MP: When I read the script, because I'm a New York-trained actor, I just read what's on the page, and some of the things began to strike me as a little odd. The phrasing, it was… - it wasn't good grammar, but I was committed to that movie. I didn't care how I looked. If I had cared how I looked, I would have – There were a lot of things I would never have done. I would never have let them shoot below my neck. I would never have let them shoot my stomach. I would never have let you see me in my underwear. All of that stuff was in my control. I had all of the power in that situation, but what I did was let them do what they wanted to do. I feel like – the only regret that I have in regard to Nightmare on Elm Street and this conversation we're having is I wish I would have been a little older, a little wiser; and I wish I could have read the script a little deeper.
I only had a week from the time I was hired until the time I started. I would have made Jesse a little darker. Instead of putting him in all those light colors, I would have probably put him in a black t-shirt. I would have rather not have had my hair cut. I had very long hair, and I would have left the hair long, and I would have made him seriously depressed. I would have decorated the room …
JC: Interesting, because Friday the 13th Part V was released the same year as Elm Street 2; and like Elm Street 2, it had a male lead, Tommy Jarvis, who didn’t dress in dark clothing, but he was clearly alienated and depressed.
MP: Right. Well, those were manufactured by the movie, but the thing is if I had built that character, he would be different. I mean, I would have made him more difficult to get to, less friendly. I would have made him more – he could have gone very dark, which would have been really cool in a different movie.
JC: Although, I have to say in the beginning scene of the movie, you don’t look very great in the bus.
MP: Yeah, they tried to make me look as sick as possible in that movie, but I don't mean so much in the fact of my physical looks. I mean, more in the sense of an alienated teenager, because that would have made the relationship between Freddy and I even more unusual. I wanted Jesse to be more like the girl in The Breakfast Club. What was her name?
JC: Oh, yeah. Ally Sheedy.
MP: More like Ally Sheedy. Actually, in Never Sleep Again they asked us to contemplate scenarios for Nightmare on Elm Street, and whether we had ever wished that we would direct one, and so on and so forth – like that. I had a fabulous, fabulous Nightmare on Elm Street in my head that I would have loved to make; but I made the one that I did, and I enjoyed it. It's been great.
JC: Now, what was your relationship with Robert Englund in this movie? You would have to deal with him in a different way than most teens. Obviously, he didn’t want to kill you, but he wanted to possess you.
MP: My relationship with Robert Englund was actually very, very good, and Robert was very respectful of me. Our camera operator had filmed Ordinary People with Timothy Hutton, and he and Robert had a conversation one day. The man said, ”I have not been happy working with a young person of this quality since I worked on Ordinary People.” Robert’s and my chemistry together was great. I had known Robert as an actor before in a movie called Buster and Billie. I don't know if you remember that movie.
JC: I've heard of it, but I haven't seen it.
MP: And I couldn't figure out how they found an albino that could act. It just befuddled me for years. It's like, “oh, my God, what a casting choice!” When I realized that was Robert, I realized I was dealing with genius on a certain level. I know there's a lot of controversy around about the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. They didn't choose Robert – they didn't ask Robert to be Freddy Krueger and all this kind of stuff – but I think Robert Englund is gonna have a second act that people aren't gonna comprehend. I don't think they realize what a great actor he is.
I mean, I know a lot of people love him as Freddy, but before . . . If you wanted to be terrified, like when we were doing those scenes, it was before his voice was modified, because his voice is always modified in movies. They put in work. But when we were acting together, it was just him and me. All I heard was his voice and his eyes, and he would scare the bejesus out of me. It was much scarier than what ended up in the films. I think Robert will go on to have a very prestigious, different type of career than if he had gone ahead and continued to be Freddy Krueger. So even though I know a lot of people are disappointed that he's not going to be Freddy Krueger, I think it's gonna be a big blessing for him in the end.
JC: Well, I actually saw Robert first as the friendly alien in V, Willie; so that was my first impression of him. My friend and I, actually – when we first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street – were surprised to see him going from such a nice guy as Willie to playing such a mean guy as Freddy Krueger.
MP: Right. He's got a lot of chops as far as… He really is just at the right age now where he can really just sort of – you know – the world could be his oyster. That's a real world class character, man. He has a lot of fans inside the movie industry also, because Robert is a real gentleman; he's professional. It's hard. Elm Street, that is really, really hard to do. The makeup, it's incredible. I mean, my transformation scene took four days to shoot and I had that ugly tongue in my mouth for ten and half hours, non-stop; it can't come out. Robert had a new mask every day, and that's like five hours makeup every morning, and then you go on to a full day of shooting.
I mean, it's a lot of work, and then you have to really keep your sanity. You have to hold onto your sanity in those things, because it can get very tedious.
JC: It looks you had to endure several makeup days. First, there’s you with the tongue, and then there’s Freddy coming out of your body.
MP: Well, when they build your body-cast, they bury you. They put the straw in your nostrils and you're covered completely in plastic, and they make that mold. Mark Shostrom did that, and that took a certain amount of time, but the actual transformation that you see on the screen – even if it looks a little old-fashioned today – at the time, it was what it was. That took four days to shoot. Four solid days of shooting to get those shots, and you're covered in fake blood, which smells horrible, and then you gotta get cleaned up and do it again. By the end, it's just blah. You know, you get in, and you scream. You scream like a girl, and then you scream some more.
But I think that scene is really exciting. I think it really works with the acting, the props, and everything coming together in that scene where Grady gets killed. I think that's genuinely a scary part of the movie.
JC: Now we come to some questions that I know fans have been waiting to ask about Elm Street II. The first is that I have to ask your thoughts on the homoerotic elements of the films.
MP: Well, I have to tell you, I never dreamed 25 years later I would still be talking about this; but I'll give you the info. I mean, like with the scene with Grady and I in the bedroom, it doesn't make any sense, but we would just do what they told us to do. I knew this writer for many years, and many people have been on the record as saying that they had no idea that this was being written as a subliminal gay movie. I do have to say that in Never Sleep Again, I do call out the writer because I know as a matter of fact that he did know what he was writing . . . because I had other friends on the crew that came and told me. They went to him and said, "Don't you know what you're doing?" And he said, "Oh, yes, I do. Isn't it funny?"
I don't know his sexuality. I don't anything about him really, but I think it's time he has enough balls to admit to what he did – whether he was making a joke against me, or for the movie, or whatever the case may be. I think it's time for him to just sort of come clean and say, “Yeah, I knew I was doing this.” But for me, it turned out to be a great thing. A lot of people on the internet would say, “Oh, you know, did Nightmare on Elm Street make Mark gay, or was Jesse gay?”
There’s one question I've waited for somebody to ask and it doesn't seem like anybody's going to, so I'll ask and answer it myself: If Jesse Walsh is gay, right, what about Freddy? I mean, Freddy's the one that's abusing Jesse; Jesse's not abusing Freddy, you know, so it adds a whole dimension of things in there that a lot of people just did not want to talk about in that multi-million-dollar franchise. The one that always wanted to be with me was Freddy, you know.
JC: Well, also Lisa did too.
MP: Oh, yeah, well Lisa loves me; but really, on an intellectual level, I always wondered why people never asked that question, because the bond between Jesse and Freddy is very intimate. I mean, if you look at those scenes on the stairs, where his fingers are in my eyes and, you know, Robert's an amazing actor. Nobody should ever underestimate what an amazing actor he is. So I think with Freddy, Grady, and the coach all that good stuff, I really think, honestly, the writer knew – and that if he didn't, and [director] Jack Sholder didn't . . .
JC: Well, Jack – to this day – claims that he had no idea.
MP: Yes, I know, but all I can say is – and I don't mean to be condescending –but if he didn't know, he's an idiot. He lives in New York and California. I mean, – we're having this conversation; he had to know. I think he absolutely had to know. And I think what the case was is that he thought he was making a joke that was very subtle, and he just wasn't quite confident enough to make a subtle joke, and it just became what it was. But that's the way it goes in the world of show business. You know, that's how it happens.
JC: These were the days before Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain. Could it be that Jack didn’t feel comfortable admitting it during this time?
MP: Well, I would never have understood what his agenda was. I wouldn't understand why he would have to have an agenda. I mean, Jack's not gay. I know his children, I know his wife, you know what I mean; he would have no agenda. Now, on one hand, Jack wouldn't allow the party scene to be done unless it was integrated. It had to be integrated. There had to be all different races in it, black, Asians, Caucasians. Because originally, they wanted all Caucasians at the party, so he had some social consciousness, you know what I mean, in that regard, but . . . I just don't know. I don't believe he – I have to be honest and say that those two, and the writer – I just don't believe they didn't know.
I don't want to call them liars, but I come as close to that as I can and just say, I don't think they have the courage of their own convictions, which is sad.
By the way, I’m getting ready to go to Amsterdam, then I'm going to Germany, and then I'm going to Monster Mania in New Jersey, right; and I had some t-shirts made for Germany that are special t-shirts. I'm only doing a few of them. I want to see how people respond to them, but I'm having one with a beautiful picture of me on the front of it - a young me, of course – and then on the back it says, “Jesse Walsh is a homo.” I just want to see how people respond to that, because a lot of people – now that this has transpired – they loved it. It actually turned out to be very helpful to a lot of young people over the course of time.
JC: Next question, which I know everyone else has asked you about, and you know what I'm about to ask you - I want to talk about that scene where you're asked to clean up your room, and you put on the music and do such a crazy dance. Was that all ad-libbed, or was it in the script? [To watch the dance, click here.]
MP: It was all ad-libbed. They asked me to choreograph the dance myself, and so I did. The actual music that I'm dancing to is Tina Turner's “Steel Claw,” but they couldn't afford that song for the movie. They overdubbed it with that “touch me feel me all night long” song, and it always amazes me how much people get a kick out of that. You cannot imagine my embarrassment. The day the movie opened in New York City, I was in New York. It was on Halloween. At 10:00 a.m., it was on 400 screens in New York City; it had sold out, you couldn't buy a ticket. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people waiting in line, and when that scene played, I was just humiliated. I thought, “Oh, my God, this is so stupid!” I’m always surprised people liked that as much as they did. In the documentary, they asked me to recreate it, and it was really fun.
JC: They must have also asked you in the documentary to recreate your scream. I mean, you really scream! Even though you were the guy, you did give the girls a run for their money.
MP: I mean, I have to be honest one sec that I'm not the type of person, until recently, that Google's myself every 20 minutes or something to see where I'm sitting on the internet. Once in a while, I might feel nostalgic and I look on IMDb or something. I would read those comments, and I would see, “Oh, you know, Jesse's a fag. He screams like a girl. He ruined that movie, blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Ugh, whatever.”
Then I thought, if you had a ten inch steel knife stuck in your eye, you would scream like a girl too because that's what screaming really sounds like. When you're scared, you don't scream like a boy or a girl, you just scream.
JC: Okay. What was the reaction back then when they first showed Elm Street 2 back in '85?
MP: The reviews were generally, for that subgenre, pretty good. They were good, and I actually got a lot of very nice reviews from people like the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune – those types of legitimate newspapers. Now, on the other hand, Fangoria, and those type of situations; I went to a Fangoria convention and I just gave an interview with Fangoria after 25 years, and they were very happy to have an interview with me. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 made a lot of money for the time, which was the purpose. It kept the franchise alive. I mean, it really is the reason for the franchise, and by and large it was positive.
The reaction in Hollywood for me personally was not that great. It was pre-Scream. Like after Scream came out, it became a different world in Hollywood. Being in a horror movie, now it can turn you into a star. Before Scream, that was not the case. It was like doing a soap opera; it was something you did for money basically.
JC: Did they ever offer you any of the Elm Streets? Like, did they ever ask Jesse to come back at any point?
MP: No, they never did. The only people that are actually alive in Elm Street - the lead characters that are technically alive - are Heather and I. It would be really, really, really good – great – marketing of the people of the new Nightmare on Elm Street to offer me the second Nightmare on Elm Street. Maybe I could be in it as some tongue in cheek thing, and something would be funny. If they asked me, I would love to do that.
JC: You do get a thanks for Freddy Vs. Jason.
MP: Oh, yeah, they gave us a stipend for the rights to use our image at the beginning and, of course, they used mine in the beginning. They used it for, like, whatever – a millisecond; and I think my first residual check from that was $37,000. I just signed my name and that was it. I'm happy to do that. I mean, I didn't think anything about it. If a friend asked me to do something like that, I would do it for free and just sign it.
JC: You had done both an art-house film and a mainstream horror film, which were successful. Your career was starting to go, and that was the last we heard of you. Why?
MP: Somebody called me the Greta Garbo of gore movies. It's like, I want to be alone. Perhaps if I would have stuck it out for a couple more years – who knows? I do have to say, criticism of Nightmare on Elm Street did help me make the decision to stop acting. It did, because a lot of it was very, very negative.
But I also saw so many of my friends, who were gay, live in total fear that they were gonna be outed – and that meant the end of your career. No matter what anybody thinks, homophobia is rampant in Hollywood. The saddest people are the people who are closeted gays themselves. They're the meanest and cruelest. The casting directors are horrible. Gay, male casting directors are horrible. They don't want to hire gay actors. They want to hire straight actors because they feel straight actors are better qualified for later on down the road – what will come. I think that's kind of horrible. If you're Jim J. Bullock, it's one thing. I mean, if you're like the third Nellie and you’re funny, if you're the Paul Lynde of today, then it's okay to be gay.
I remember going one time to an audition, and there were ten men, who I assume were gay, sitting around the table. This was gonna be on a television series, and I was gonna play a gay character. They were asking me, in dead seriousness, would I be comfortable being a gay character because people would think I was gay and would ask me a lot of questions, but of course I would have to say that I wasn't gay. I thought, I'm sitting around the table with a bunch of hypocrites. It's 1986, there are people dying all over the country with HIV, and I'm really kind of sick of this bullshit.
I mean, I got into this to be free, not to be put in some closet because I'm me and “me,” as a person, is going to offend somebody. I literally just walked away from it. I thought, this is not the life for me, and I think I walked away at the right time, because I don't believe that it was . . . I don’t think I would have been very good at being hunted like an animal. I'm not a real good sport.
I was going through personal issues at the time. Many, many, many of my friends were dying, and they were dying horribly. When my friend [Dallas actor] Timothy Patrick Murphy died, National Enquirer broke into his hospital room and took pictures of him dying. They came to his funeral, took pictures of everybody that was at the funeral home. David Marshall Grant gave the eulogy. They just took pictures of everybody who walked in so they could say who was gay and who was not gay. For me, I was honestly just appalled. I became sickened by the world at that point, and that's when I decided to leave.
JC: Okay, so what did you do after you left show business right after Elm Street 2?
MP: Well, I gave up show business a thing at a time. First I said, “Well, I won't do any more commercials.” Then I wouldn't do any more soap operas, no more television. I'd tell my agent, “I don't want to do this,” and people would call and, I mean, I was offered a lot of work. I was just going through this process of letting go of this dream that I had, and the only time I regretted it was with Angels of America. I wanted to be in Angels of America really badly. I was working on the Theater Development Fund, which is TDF, a half-price ticket organization, and they have a grant writing department and they have all sorts of services in there. I began to direct shows there. I have a reading series that I took part in. I brought in old actors; big, big stars would come and read for the evening, sort of like selected shorts. It was at the Atlantic Theater Company.
Then I had work on and off for some very serious high-end furniture stores in SoHo and antique stores. I was offered a job in David Rago's Antique Road show. I was just kicking bags back and forth and met with this really nice lady, and she said, “Well, I can't afford such and such a person for my main house, but this is a little job.” I said, “Well, I'll do it for you.” She was my first rich lady, and from that I opened my own firm, and I worked in New York and Palm Beach. I built homes from scratch, from the beginning all the way to the sheets, and that's all self-trained. I just love women. I get along with women very well, which you have to do if you're an interior designer. I like to shop. I have good people skills. That became my world, and that's what I did.
Then I started painting, and I came to Mexico the first time when the second President Bush was elected.
JC: What made you come to Mexico?
MP: I thank God every day that I'm a citizen of the United States. I thank God that I have that passport, but I have to say – without sounding unkind – that I’ve become very disassociated with living in the United States. I have an apartment in New York, and I remember one day, just stepping over a homeless person in the street, and it seemed like an inconvenience to me that this person was in my way. I was cold, I wanted to get to my house, and there was this person sleeping in my way. Literally, I thought that this is not healthy for my mind. And then I began to watch my nieces and nephews grow up, and they're wonderful children, but their priorities are so screwed.
I travel the world a lot, and while this is a second-world/third-world country that is in a Napoleonic state – I mean, the police, they can stop you if they want, there's no just-cause – but I honestly have to tell you that I find more freedom than I find in the United States: a personal freedom, the freedom to just be yourself. Like, if I lived in West Hollywood, I would never go to a gay bar. Never, never, never. You would never find me in a club dancing, because when you're over 25 years old, you're old; but down here, if you're 80 and you can still dance, they're like, “Come on, let's dance,” – and that's straight people and gay people alike. You can watch the big old fat gals at the center of the dance floor dancing and having a good time.
Family is very important. Talking is very important. Knowing people is important. On the street that my store is on, I know every person that lives on that street, and I'm involved with them. I know if they have something to eat; I know if they don't. I know who’s running numbers, who's not – and for me, I love that. I love it that it's a tourist town also, so you get the coming and going of all the taxicabs and whatnot. So my friends are real people. I know people whose main, number-one concern today is how they are going to get the money to get something to eat. Their problem is not, “Oh, my God, I can't afford $5,000 for a pair of shoes.”
In Mexico, I have a very successful gallery and a very successful store. A lot of the things in my store are painted by me, so I'm trying to get enough ready because this is our high season. I've been working pretty hard. It's just a matter of little by little.
I work with . . . I don't want to say underprivileged people, but I work with very poor people and teach them to become capitalists. I have touched people's lives in profound ways, over the course of a lifetime. Just like that school teacher touched me. You know, Mrs. Fulton, my teacher, touched me one day, and she showed me the way to go. Well, I just try to pay it back. I see people who are struggling, and I feel bad for them, and I say, “Okay, here's the way to go,” and I'm gonna take their hand and we're gonna go there.
I have one girl that works for me. When she came to me, she was selling her boxes for ten pesos apiece. Her last job, she got paid $10,000 US for it. She lived in a shack; now she lives in a two bedroom apartment.
I have a domestic partnership in Mexico with my partner, Hector Morales Mondragon, and we have a dog, a house; we have a very good life.
In retrospect, I'm beginning to see the way my life has gone. I've had a very successful life. If you could see where I'm sitting, which you can't on your Skype, but I'm on the edge of one of the largest bays in the world. I live in a tropical rainforest. I live in paradise. The weather is like Maui, the people are fantastic, the food is fabulous, and you know, I go into my store and I talk to people all day.
Plus I make a lot of money, so I can't complain. I mean, the residuals from Nightmare on Elm Street never stop.
JC: So you're still getting money from Elm Street 2?
MP: Oh, yeah, and I have my whole life – every single month. It's my trust fund. It's my Walsh-family trust fund. I would also say once a week, since I did Never Sleep Alone, I've been offered some type of movie. They're usually low-budget movies, but I figure one of these days, someone will come along and say, “Do you want to do this?” and I might say “Sure, why not?” and who knows what the next chapter will be? You just never know. Somebody's gonna roll along and offer me something interesting, and I'm gonna do it, and it'll be fun and we'll see where it takes me. But right now, my life is here, and I'm very involved in my life. I love my life.
I learned in my life I was born under a lucky star. I went to an astrologer a long time ago, and he said, “Your life is not even going to begin to be fabulous until you’re 50.” I just turned 50, and it's like the fab luck started again.