Character: 10 horror icons on finding their clown face


Character actors playing bad guys aren’t really maniacs, so how do they get into their roles? Here are some tricks of the trade!

Character actors are a staple of cinema and have been from the very beginning. From Lon Chaney, Jr. to  Vincent Price to Tim Curry these utility men of the horror genre are what have kept us scared for decades. Time to find out the tricks of their trade which make them so successful at haunting our dreams.

Character Actors and Their Tricks

1. Tim Curry as Pennywise

Before Stephen King’s It scared moviegoers in 2018, there was a made-for-TV version in 1990.  In this mini-series, Tim Curry knocked it out of the park as Pennywise!

Typically appearing as a clown, Pennywise was supposed to embody each individual child’s fears in the troubled little town of Derry. How did Curry approach this task? In one interview he talks about “finding his clown face.”

Although he’s scarce on the details of the process, he knew the appearance of having the right expression. Specifically, he notes how, if you go to clown school, “It takes a very long time to become a clown. They won’t let you put on a clown face for something like 2 years.”

He also stresses that, for a role like this, the makeup is pretty important, too. Which is interesting because as Curry notes, Pennywise’s nose appears to be part of his face.

(EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) attends The Rocky Horror Picture Show 35th anniversary to benefit The Painted Turtle at The Wiltern on October 28, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

The actor suggests it’s important to think of the monster psychologically:

"“I personally think that what is the most horrifying is the moment of decision behind somebody’s eyes when they decide to kill somebody, rather than a pint of blood and a pound-and-a-half of latex.”"

2. Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger

Character – Robert Englund – Courtesy of Michael Buckner, Getty Images

How does Robert Englund get ready to be Freddy from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise?

According to a CBC interview, the makeup process itself makes him cantankerous, and definitely helps him find the character. He recalls a moment where he fell asleep in the makeup and woke up later, looked in the mirror, and the image “seared itself into my brain…I scared myself.”
Also, as is common knowledge, Robert Englund’s voice was often manipulated by simple studio techniques, with pitch changes making it sound like Freddy’s evil fluctuates in some way (as if he’s more human sometimes than others).

3. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman

Character – Christian Bale – Getty Images

American Psycho director Mary Harron said Bale saw the character as “Martian-like,” as if he’s “looking at the world like somebody from another planet, watching what people did and trying to work out the right way to behave.” She says Bale was inspired by an appearance by Tom Cruise on David Letterman where Cruise had a “very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes”

4. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates

Character – Anthony Perkins – Courtesy of Gianni Ferrari – Getty Images

In an old Chicago Tribute article, Perkins spoke respectfully on Psycho‘s Norman Bates, one of the original slasher villains:

"“One of the things that made the original Psycho an enduring film is that Norman`s crimes were committed out of an excess of love rather than an excess of hate. And that`s what keeps audiences on his side–because they realize that he has been pushed to extremes.”"

It’s definitely an aspect of Perkins‘ performance, and what makes him one of the memorable movie villains (aside from how his portrayal of Norman Bates and Alfred Hitchcock really paved the way for future slasher films).

5. Ted Levine as Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill

Character – Ted Levine – Courtesy of Steve Granitz-WireImage

During his research for the Silence of the Lambs, Levine met with staff at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., and “reviewed tapes of a man who described abducting women.”
In a Chicago Tribune interview, Levine said, “It struck me that it was about power. He was a pathetic excuse for a man on all kinds of levels. But by trying to become a woman, he gains power.”

6. Steve Railsback as Charles Manson

INTERVIEW: Steve Railsback on why this was such an enticing story for him, on the emotional drama between the characters, on playing a spy in the cold war. at Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Red Carpet on 12/6/2011 in Hollywood, CA. (Footage by WireImage Video/Getty Images Entertainment Video)

Helter Skelter is a pretty scary movie, especially for a made-for-TV production. A big part of its scariness is Steve Railsback’s performance as Charles Manson.

For Railsback to look more like Manson, they applied realistic wigs and beards on him. Also, because the actor is taller than Manson in real life, they’d often surround him with people who were taller (when, usually in horror, villains are made to look taller and more muscular).

Railsback told The L.A. Times that, during the audition, he had “such incredible confidence” about myself that it “blew [the director] away.” Although he had a chance to meet the actual Manson, Steve didn’t want to be manipulated by him, so he declined the offer. He also studied the book by Vincent Bugliosi “to get the feeling of solitude” that Manson felt by spending about 15 minutes in a closet each day!

7. Michael Rooker as Henry Lee Lucas

Character – Michael Rooker – Courtesy of Getty Images

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a bleak, bleak movie, almost unrivaled in terms of its tension. In fact, the director was told there was nothing he could change to remove the MPAA’s X rating. In other words, their problem wasn’t just with the gore (which isn’t even that prevalent). How did Michael Rooker get so intense for his role as Henry?

He says he watched some videos of Henry Lee Lucas being interrogated, gaining insight into his body language and vocal rhythms. To maintain his character’s intensity, he would isolate himself from the cast and crew. It definitely worked, as Rooker gave quite a performance!

Just remember, a part of the X rating comes simply from Rooker’s cold demeanor.  That’s kind of impressive, if you think about it.

8. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter

Sir Anthony Hopkins during 2005 Toronto Film Festival – “The World’s Fastest Indian” Portraits at HP Portrait Studio in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage)

Hannibal Lecter is pretty much the face of Silence of the Lambs. Though Lecter was adequately played by Brian Cox in Manhunter, it was Hopkins who first turned Lecter into a horror icon.

How did he do it? In order to make Lecter more memorable, Hopkins says he decided to “play the opposite” of a raving madman. While Hannibal does ramp things up toward the end of the movie, a memorable aspect of the character is how he seems like a gentleman at times.

9. Warwick Davis as The Leprechaun

Character – Warwick Davis – Getty Images

Always on the lookout for gold (and those who take it from him), The Leprechaun is made memorable by the great Warwick Davis. How does he prepare for the role?

A four leaf clover? The luck of the Irish? Maybe, but it apparently has something to do with the Lep’s shoes. He’s stated on at least more than one occasion that he “only really felt in character when wearing those shoes.” It may be no coincidence, as the Leprechaun is a cobbler by trade!

10. Doug Bradley as Pinhead (AKA Lead Cenobite or Hellpriest)

Character – Doug Bradley – Courtesy of George De Sota-Liaison

What would Hellraiser be without Pinhead? Sure, he typically doesn’t get much screen time (except for Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth), but people often think about Pinhead when they think of Hellraiser, or even Clive Barker in general.

Related Story. Robert Englund is open to return to Elm Street in near future. light

It turns out that, much like Robert Englund, Bradley becomes the character partly through immersion in the makeup process:

"“I started playing with facial expressions and running a couple of the lines, but mostly I just sat and let myself absorb what was coming out of the mirror….And for all the hours I’d spent with the screenplay, I think Pinhead came to me in about ten or fifteen minutes.”"

What are your thoughts on these iconic villains getting into character? Let us know in the comments!