It’s not every day you get to speak to the lead actor in possibly your favourite horror film of all time. David Naughton should need no introduction to horror fans. Back in 1981, An American Werewolf in London had unprepared cinema goers laughing heartily one second and jumping out of their seats in terror the next. Its tale of two young American tourists coming face-to-teeth with a legendary lycanthropic beast perfectly married a genuinely funny script with razor sharp editing, groundbreaking special effects and a flawless cast to create a monster movie that is still many people’s benchmark today.
That may have been 38 years ago, but David – who played one half of the doomed moor-wandering duo – is still instantly recognised and adored by fright fans all around the world, and back in 2016 I managed to grab a longer-than-expected phone call with “the Kessler boy” himself…
Chris Barnes: Is that David?
David Naughton: [attempting to imitate my Liverpool accent] It is David!
Chris: Hello, sir! How are you?
David: Well, I’m talking to Great Britain so it’s a good day. You don’t mind me trying to imitate you do you?
Chris: Not at all. Everybody else does so it’d be nice to hear David Naughton try it!
David: It’s so damn difficult!
Chris: Your impersonation of me is blending into Schwarzenegger.
David: Oh did I? “GET TO THE CHOPPER!!!” Right, so now you know who you’re dealing with. “This man is insane!” [again attempting to imitate my accent] … I’ll take the Mickey! That’s more Irish than Liverpool.
Anyway… GO AHEAD! You’re on the air with Dave on The Dave Radio Show!
Chris: [laughs] Thank you for sparing some time to talk to me. I saw you at HorrorCon UK but we didn’t get a chance to speak. Did you enjoy the event?
David: It was such an honour for me to be there. I was so pleasantly surprised. Wendy and Gill [creators of HorrorCon UK] are such gracious hosts. It was like a family show. It’s not what you expect. Sometimes you show up and you never even get to meet the promoters, y’know? “Where’s the guy that signed my contract? I want to at least say hello to them!”
Chris: I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit nervous and overwhelmed talking to you.
David: Ah, well, listen, that’s very kind of you to say but if I can tell you I’m sitting here in shorts, looking out at a golf course… it’s 85 and sunny today, you wouldn’t be too impressed with me – you’d like the weather more!
Chris: Does it surprise you that people like me still live and breathe An American Werewolf in London after all this time?
David: First of all yes, I am excited that people hold it as dear as I do, really. It was a very exciting time in my life, 1981. There are fans that really enjoy the movie and appreciate it for what it is, as far as, you know, practical makeup being cutting edge at the time. Practical makeup moved on to digital images and now, y’know, we can all compare it – we’re all experts! Everybody’s an expert. But it’s really a preference… the film I’m in is an example of practical makeup at its best, because of the efforts of Rick Baker and John Landis. But we all had a hand in it too, the actors, because we got a chance to perform it and do it the justice that it really needed, because it was so special.
I always try to break down that barrier of people being awestruck meeting me, but I was thinking recently about [who had really impressed me] as a child and the first celebrity I ever met was when I was 7 years old. I met this old cowboy, his name was Gabby Hayes! He was on The Roy Rogers Show! And Gabby Hayes came to our elementary school and I remember waiting in line to get Gabby’s autograph, all super shy because we’d watch him on Roy Rogers next Saturday morning, so I understand what it’s like on both sides – being a fan and being on the other side of the table.
Chris: When was the last time you were starstruck?
David: Well, here where I live is where presidents come, it’s crazy. Obama was in town. This guy, what do they call him? Trump? He was here. So that kind of impresses me, the fanfare. I remember being in Rome working on a show and the Pope went blowing by in a bubble. That kind of officialdom.
I went to drama school in London – The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts; known as ‘LAMDA’. They should take the M out because there was no music. But it would be called ‘LADA’! But I remember going to see Princess Anne get married and I’d never seen anything like it; “I’m in Cinderella!” All the pomp impresses me; the changing of the guard. We have it here with The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington which is impressive. I like that stuff. It’s like a time capsule.
What relevance it has is really the same question we all have to ask ourselves, which is ‘How relevant am I?’ And, y’know, this movie keeps me relevant and I get to go all around the world. I just came back from Melbourne and Auckland, and I get a chance to meet fans. I was also in the south, Knoxville, Tennessee, and this actually happened to me: a lady came up and she’s looking at my pictures. She looks up at me and says “Y’know, somedays I just wish I could turn into a critter.”
Do you consider yourself a Yorkshireman?
Chris: No, people from Liverpool are ‘Scousers’.
David: A whaaaaat?! I’m speaking to a SCOUTER!
David: SCOUSER! SCOUSER!!! People on the golf course are looking over going “Who is in that house making all that noise?!” There’s people close by and I’m going “GET TO THE CHOPPER!”
“I’ve just seen the fella from An American Werewolf in London doing an impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger!”
Haha! Well, I was working on a John Woodvine thing, y’know, because they’re remaking Werewolf – John’s son Max [Landis]. So I’m going [imitating the legendary actor] “The Kessler boy. Nurse Price, have you seen the Kessler boy?”
How’s that, pretty good?
Chris: Excellent, yeah. I was going to ask you about that. Are you going to be in it?
David: Well, say a prayer with me, would you?! Can we genuflect? Dear God in heaven, please don’t let me be the only one not in the remake! That’d be a bloody embarrassment. How am I ever gonna go to a show and say to fans “Well, I’m not in it because I didn’t want to be in it, okay?! Let’s leave it at that.” LIE! That would be a LIE!
“Max, I played the damn werewolf, now I’m an orderly in a hospital!” Or I’ll be a victim, they’ll just kill me! “Hey, I’m in the subway and… Ohhh shiiit!” [imitating John Woodvine again] Good Lord!
Chris: I’ve been asked to speak to you about Midnight Madness with Michael J. Fox.
David: Have you seen it?
Chris: Many years ago.
David: Do you remember it? I barely remember it and I was in it, so don’t feel bad.
Chris: I’ll be completely honest, the first few questions were there so it didn’t seem rude just jumping straight into Werewolf questions!
David: No, if that’s your interest that’s fine. It doesn’t offend me in the least. I’ll spare you stories because, as you can probably tell, I do have [adopting my Liverpool accent] the gift of the gab! … Talking to a SCOUSER!
I’m patient about it [answering questions specifically about An American Werewolf in London] because you never know when you’re going to get asked a question you’ve never been asked before. This guy comes up to me – I was down in Birmingham, Alabama – and he goes, “Now, were you the actor or were you the werewolf?” I just looked at him. “Are you outta your mind?!” No, I didn’t, I was very nice, but what does that even mean?! I tried to bail him out by giving him somewhat of a straight answer, I went “Yes… and no, but yes.”
Paul Davis [creator of the in-depth An American Werewolf in London book and documentary Beware the Moon) had a 4K digital print screening in a theatre in London, so I said “Why don’t we talk?” and he says “Yeah, great idea, you can open the film.” So, it was a sold out screening – they had, like, 400 people in the audience – and he gets me on Facetime: “It’s David Naughton, everybody” and it went great. Then he says to me “Do you have any parting words for the audience?”, and I said “Well… Stick to the road…” and that got a big laugh. “And remember, I’m not as naked as I look! THANK YOU, BYE!” I left them pondering that one, ‘Hmm, he’s not as naked as he looks. Well, he looks pretty bloody naked to me!’ The reality is that doesn’t make any sense and I’m glad I didn’t have to explain it.
Needless to say, I guess the point I’m trying to make is I’ve had a lot of fun over the years and tried not to see it all for anything more than it really is. It’s a fun movie, it scared a lot of people, and it got some people into makeup and effects. It got people into horror. “This is the first movie my dad showed me when I was 8.” Thank you, dad, showing an R-rated movie to an 8-year old!
I know that the movie will be there after I’m gone, which is kind of heartening. Y’know, who’s the next Lon Chaney? Maybe they’ll one day talk about John Landis, Griffin Dunne, Rick Baker, David Naughton all in the same breath, and then they’ll get it mixed up: “No no no, Rick Baker was the werewolf and David Naughton did the effects.” Then they’ll ask Siri.
David Naughton is an old guy, lives out in the desert, still got tons of energy, still obviously thinks he’s 25… I have a current reel. You have to keep that updated and stay current in the minds of people who are casting.
Chris: You’ve still got to audition?!
David: Oh yeah. Y’see, that’s the myth. I’m not a big star. It cracks me up when fans say “But you are the werewolf!” It’s not the Holy Grail. In fact, John Landis is very amazed [that An American Werewolf in London is still celebrated] and he wrote the damn thing! But it’s timeless and it still holds up today. London today looks very much like it did in 1981 – same buses, same cabs; it looks very current. The only thing that’s changed is if you want those actors they’ve gotta show up and show you what they look like now, 35 years later! I’ve welcomed the aging process but I know sometimes it’s a shock to some fans. They come in and go “Ugh, my God, has it been that long?! Look how these guys have aged!” What was I supposed to do for 35 years, y’know?
I’m a people person, I embrace people and hearing what they have to say. I try to engage them, what they’re doing with their lives, and see how the movie impacted them. Have a good time, y’know.
Chris: That’s what was so nice about seeing you in person at HorrorCon. Obviously you make a living from travelling around meeting adoring fans and yet you’ve remained so grounded. It would’ve been easy for you to turn into an arsehole!
David: Oh, believe me, I meet them all the time! I meet some of these guys and I think ‘Why have you got to have this attitude problem?’ Especially some that are in minor films where everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon. They’re arseholes and they’re charging too much money. Those are two subjects that I could go off on but if you’re going to publish this I better not!
I certainly won’t mention any names but I run into that all the time. I think ‘Really? You’re gonna take a guy with four little kids, he’s a fan of yours, and you’re gonna charge him X amount of dollars. And then you’re gonna charge him double that for a selfie?! With his camera!’
Chris: Well, I write for a horror website [The Slaughtered Bird] because I’m a fan of horror, first and foremost, so for all horror fans out there I’d like to thank you for your outlook. It’s refreshing. One more thing, the reason my cousin [Stephen Harper] and I named the website The Slaughtered Bird is because of ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’, and the fact that we live in Liverpool, which has The Liver Birds… so we combined the two.
David: That’s great! I kinda figured it wasn’t just a coincidence. I appreciate that, that’s great.
Chris: You do realise now we’re friends with each other’s contact details I’m going to hound you?
David: “Hound”? No pun intended, right?