Disclaimer: All stills, images and video are copyright of their individual owners. I am only using them here as visual aids to this interview.

WARNING – there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie and want to go into it without knowing everything that will happen, stop now. See the movie and then come back to this interview.

As part of Smash or Trash Independent Filmmaking’s 10 year anniversary, I am taking a a very detailed look at the work of filmmaker Damien Leone. Most importantly his new movie TERRIFIER, starring his mascot Art the Clown.

I am happy to say that I have gotten the actor that played the comical killer – David Howard Thornton – for a fantastic interview. For such an evil bastard on screen, Art’s alter ego is a talented actor and all around great guy. I will also be posting an interview with his co-star, the incredible Jenna Kanell. Stay tuned.

So without further ado…

Robert: I’ve heard that the project started sometime in 2015. At what point did you become involved with it?

David: I first auditioned in, I think, April or May of 2015 when I saw a post on an audition website about the role calling for a tall, skinny man with clowning experience to play the role of Art. I was familiar with the character and asked my agents to submit me.

Robert: What was the audition like for trying out for the character of Art?

David: It was probably one of the most unique ones that I have ever had. Since Art does not speak, there was no script, so I was asked to improvise a scene on the spot.  I pantomimed a scene where I snuck up on my victim, decapitated him with a saw, went for a taste, didn’t like it, took out a salt shaker and seasoned the head, found the taste was to my liking, threw the head in my bag for later, and skipped off. I had everyone laughing and was essentially hired right then and there since they asked me to come back for make up tests later on. It just goes to show how important improv training can be for actors!

Robert: How long was the actual shoot? One week? Two weeks? Just shooting weekends working at night?

David: It was originally supposed to be only for about 3-4 weeks, but ended up taking much longer due to various set backs that were out of our control. Such things are known to happen on Indie films. We also ended up shooting some additional scenes later on after our first screening at Telluride Horror Film Festival in 2016 since we wanted to add some more to the film. We originally were shooting about 5 days a week starting out though. Those were all night shoots as well since the whole film takes place at night, so I would usually get to set around 4 pm to start the 4+ hour makeup process. They were long nights where we would usually end up wrapping around the time the sun came out the next morning. I had weird sleep patterns there for a while!

Robert: You paid great respect to Mike Gianelli’s Art the Clown, while adding a lot of your own touches. How did this come about?

David: Mike did a (pun intended) killer job with his original work, so he gave me a lot to work with going into the role. I have a lot of experience in doing physical comedy from years of theater and learning from the great physical comedians of the past, as well as my dear friend Stefan Karl (Robbie Rotten of “Lazy Town”) who I understudied for 5 years on tour with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas:The Musical”. Since Art is a silent clown, I wanted to bring a lot of that type of clowning to the role but put a dark twist on it all like an evil Mr. Bean. Damien gave me a lot of room to play around on set, and I am sure that we have tons of extra footage of my antics that might have been too silly for the scene or was cut for timing issues etc. I just enjoyed being able to play around with him.

Robert: When looking up reviews for Terrifier, I often see scenes that are from Mike’s interpretation of Art that are supposed to be you – usually from the gas station segment from the original short. How do you react to this when you see this? Amused? Roll your eyes?

David: I’m perfectly fine with it especially since Mike did such a stellar job! I only wish they would credit him for those images so he got his due.


Robert: To match Mike’s look, you wore false teeth and a prosthetic mask. The effect was amazing. Now, have you ever had to do that kind of extensive makeup before?

David: More or less, yes, but not quite as extensive since the process took roughly 4 hours per day to put on. I definitely have much more respect in actors like Doug Jones, Ron Perlman, and Robert Englund now that typically go under hours of make up for their roles. Damien has amazing skills with practical effects and did all of what you see on screen himself. I grew up doing a lot of children’s theater and usually played characters that had a lot of crazy make up, so I am accustomed to being in the chair. It’s always weird for me to have a role where I look like myself.

Robert: Director Damien Leone says he bonded by talking with you while applying the Art makeup to your face. What do you think of his work, and how was he to work with?

David: I consider Damien to be one of my best friends now. We truly bonded during this experience. I can’t begin to express what an amazingly talented and kind man he is. Considering the truly messed up things that he creates, he is one of the nicest and chillest guys that you could know. Even when we had setbacks that would probably push a lot of directors into screaming fits, he kept his cool and was a pleasure to work with. He’s truly a professional and a man that deserves the fame and acclaim that he receives. We need more directors like him.

Robert: Considering how bloody the film gets, how many clown costumes did they have for you?

David: I only had two. If you have a discerning eye, you might even notice subtle differences between the two. I only had one pair of shoes as well as the trade mark hat.

Robert: How difficult was it working in the makeup and the costume? As you have also played the Joker on a TV series, you must be getting used to clown white.

David: The makeup was completely easy to work in. Since it was molded to my face and glued on, I was able to show a very wide range of expression. The one part I didn’t like though were the contacts since I have an aversion to things being in my eyes. We even had a night where one of them ripped so we had to forgo wearing them for that scene. Maybe you will notice, maybe not. LOL! Talk about suffering for your Art!  The teeth were interesting. Luckily, Art does not talk, or I would have sounded like a country bumpkin wearing them. I think Damien deliberately made them that way to shut me up. Ha ha! The only real drawback to them was that they made me drool a lot, so he had to constant touch up my makeup around my mouth. Also, that damned hat was a pain to keep on my head during action scenes. We usually had to duct tape it down despite the band holding it to me head. As for the clown white, oh yes, I am very much used to that!

Robert: Did Leone make your mask to where you could breathe through your nose, or did you have to be a mouth breather as Art?

David: Oh yes, Damien made it so I could breath through my nose, no problem. Art is definitely not a mouth breather!

Robert: Art gets bloodier and bloodier as the film progresses. As most films are shot out of order, How difficult was the continuity?

David: Funny you should mention that. That was an ongoing joke on set where I would affect Comic Book Guy’s voice from “The Simpsons” ranting about continuity errors due to blood splatters. We took copious amounts of pictures to compare with later on when Damien had to reapply the blood effects since we did not shoot in order. Such a pain. I will never mock such continuity errors again in films.

Robert: Considering your height and the clown shoes, how difficult was it to ride the midget bicycle?

David: It was pretty difficult indeed at the start, but once I figured out how to position my body on that thing, it got easier. There are probably hours worth of footage of me crashing that dang thing though. I know Damien has me on film singing “Bicycle Race” by Queen when I got a bit loopy late into the night. Fun times were had.

Robert: For the bathroom scene – I am curious but hesitant to ask – what was the (hopefully) fake feces made from?

David: I can’t entirely remember since I was not involved in the creation of that, but I think it was chocolate pudding with chocolate syrup and some pizza dough added in for texture. I still feel sorry for our crew members that had to clean all of that up! You really have no idea until you work on a set how the crew really are the unsung heroes of this industry! These guys and gals bust their butts to make people like me look good. I truly appreciate all of them.

Robert: Can you tell our audience a little bit about your four main female co-stars, and what it was like working with them?

David: Bar none, Jenna, Catie, Pooya, and Samantha are the most kick ass awesome women that I have ever had the honor and privilege to work with. I simply adore them, as well as everyone else that worked on the film. These ladies went through all sorts of hardships filming this, especially Catie with her infamous kill scene. They fully committed to the roles and threw everything that had into them despite how uncomfortable they might have been. They are truly professionals in every sense of the word. Plus, I truly enjoyed getting to hang out and joke with them on and off set. I am so grateful to have them in my life now and hope to work with each of them again one day.

Robert: In the past, Art has had some supernatural elements. In this version, he seems to be more of a serial killer that has some women issues. Judging from his skills and choice of weapons, I would bet even money that Art has a medical background. What CAN you tell us about Art’s background – without Damien Leone coming after you with a scalpel?

David: Hmmm… I really can’t divulge much since we intend to explore more of that in future films. Damien and I talk about his origins a lot, actually. Suffice it to say, he does have some woman issues and some supernatural elements as well that we fully intend on fleshing out in the future. He truly is evil incarnate and loves being that way.

Robert: Where was most of the movie shot? An area in New York? Parts of New Jersey?

David: Both actually. We initially shot a lot in this warehouse in Trenton, NJ until we had some setbacks with the owner there. Btw, that building was as nasty as it looked in the film. That wasn’t set dressing at all.  After that, we ended up filming at Seaview Hospital on Staten Island (a truly creepy place) as well as various locations on Long Island and NJ.

Robert: Every production has weird or wild things happen on set. – like the production having to shut down for a period. Was there any interesting things that happened during the shoot? If so please share them.

David: The biggest was probably what happened with our Trenton location due to the owner wanting more money than he originally negotiated in the contract. That set us back a bit since we had to find a new location. That place was nasty though, especially since we had no running water there, which was a pain when you were covered in blood and had to wash off using bottled water. It was cool though since I stayed with the crew in a cabin in NJ. One of my favorite nights was the night we had to cancel shooting because of the above, so all of us made a big campfire and cooked and drank beers etc. It was a fun way of bonding over a crazy mishap.

We also had a crazy night there in Trenton. There were two ladies arguing under the window of where I got my makeup on. I went over to watch the argument while they were filming a scene on set, forgetting how I looked. They looked up and saw this blood covered clown looking down at them and ran off screaming. About 30 minutes later, Damien and our producer Phil come over and tell me to come outside of the garage door when the ask me to. I oblige and am greeted by about 15-20 fully armed NJPD officers in full riot gear!  It turned out that the area that we were filming in was VERY unsafe and that those ladies called in saying they saw a scary clown man covered in blood. They laughed their butts off when I came out and told me that I better be glad that I did not come out before my director and producer did, or that I would have been shot on site. I ended up taking pictures with them, though a few of them would not come near me since they were afraid of clowns (despite being armed to the teeth). One even offered to bring a dead body to set if we needed one. I don’t think he was joking either. That was a fun night!

Also, Seaview was creepy as hell since we were filming in the tunnels that they used to dispose of TB patients. One night, our makeup lady and  I decided to explore them at about 2 a.m. while everyone else was on set. We ended up hearing a female voice about 10 feet in front of us mumbling and shuffling around. We turned back immediately and did not want to see what was there since the only other female that we knew of was on set. Crazy stuff!

Robert: There is quite a bit of violent action in the film. How was this choreographed? I know Jenna Kanell has a stunt background. Did she help with this?

David: Most of that was choreographed on the spot between the other actors and I. We all did our own stunts. Jenna was very helpful with this though, yes! We had a prop mishap with our big fight scene. The board that she was supposed to hit me with was originally a rubber prop with a wooden dowel on the inside. Somehow it broke when we were practicing the scene, so our only other option was  to use a real board. I put all of my trust in Jenna and her abilities that night because she had to swing that board, full force, mere inches away from my face for a few takes. Not once did I come close to getting hit. Jenna is great at what she does and it shows on screen!

Robert: There is a scene where Art has Tara bound and gagged in a chair, and opposite her is Dawn – also bound and gagged and nude – hanging upside down as Art approaches her with a hacksaw. Bizarre setting aside (Hey guys! Guess what I did on set today?), what was the atmosphere on the set that day? You had to be in character with these young ladies, but there also had to be great care and respect towards them while shooting this sequence. Thoughts?

David: You mean, days? That is the magic of editing! Oddly enough, those two weren’t actually in the room together, nor where they filmed in the same room! We had to film Jenna’s scenes first since she had to leave us early to go film “The Bye Bye Man”, so unfortunately Catie and Jenna were not able to film that scene together. We actually filmed Jenna’s part in Trenton, and Catie’s part at Seaview. Boy, that was an intense scene to film with both of them though.

A tip of my hat goes to Catie, especially since she had to film that scene in 20 degree January weather. We only allowed her to hang upside down for 45 seconds maximum before we would cut and bring her up to rest. That was a rough scene for her since she had to be in that position for several hours in that state covered in blood with it running down into her eyes and nose etc. Never once did she complain. We also treated her with great respect that night knowing what a compromising  state she was in. I am happy to say that all that were allowed on set that night were true professionals. Also, that bit of ceiling tile that falls down when I pull off the curtain was serendipitous and was not meant to happen. I’m glad we got that on tape, though it shows the state of the building that we were filming in!

Robert: The effects looks grisly convincing on the screen. How did they look in person?

David: Just as gruesome and grisly. For the intestines, we filled sausage casings with fat. Unfortunately, the first night we wanted to film that scene, we had to postpone filming since the room had flooded during a rain storm. We did not get to filming it until about a month later and someone forgot to refrigerate the intestines so they were RANK! I think we all were gagging during that scene. Also, poor Catie again, when they cast the full body mold that I cut into with the hacksaw, they forgot to add the releasing agent, so she almost had to go to the ER since she was stuck in the mold! I think she truly deserves an award for all she went through, especially how she reacted to it all.

Robert: I must admit I was saddened by the downer ending. Art tends to always win. For myself, I would have preferred a stalemate between one of the women and Art, perhaps having them match wits in a sequel. Any thoughts you can share about how you thought it ended?

David: I actually liked the ending and thought it was gutsy in a way. You usually have the heroine/hero kill the villain at the end. We didn’t have that, and I loved that! Art ended things on his own terms and didn’t give anyone the satisfaction of ending him. He’s that much of an evil arse! Plus he might have created another monster in the process. I’d love to explore more of what happens with her character in the future.

Robert: I’ve visited your Instagram. You have a bevy of beautiful women fawning over the pix of Art. What’s it like being a sex symbol?

David: LOL! I have to say that it is one of the most surreal, flattering, and humbling experiences. I’m still in disbelief over it since I don’t think I am anywhere near Brad Pitt’s caliber in that department.  For most of my life, I have been very self conscious of my skinny frame. I’ve always been this way due to having a crazy metabolism. It’s my superpower. Just call me “Metaboman”!  My mom used to say that you had to tie my legs in knots to make knees. I’ve always said that my romantic life is a parody of a tragedy, so I am not used to this type of attention from women. So, I am having to still wrap my brain around it all and am simply grateful for the positive attention. Now if I had only known that dressing like a creepy killer clown with bad teeth would have done the trick, I would have done it years ago, rather than the absolutely ridiculous things that I did when I was younger trying to attract the opposite sex like chugging bottles of hot sauce or eating 2 dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. You do some really stupid things as a hormonal teenager! To all of the women that I unsuccessfully tried to woo back in the day, I am profoundly sorry! To all of my fans now that have shown interest, I want to say thank you for being so kind! I appreciate the compliments! 

Robert: Do you enjoy horror movies in general? Is there a genre out there you haven’t had a chance yet to act in, but would like to?

David: Oh very much so yes! Oddly enough, I did not watch them as a child since my mom was terrified of them and would not allow them in our house when I was younger. It was not until I saw Scream 2 with friends my senior year of high school that I discovered how much fun they were. After that, I started binge watching them in college. My favorite series are probably the Nightmare on Elm Street series since I love a villain that is both scary and funny. Plus I think Freddy is such a creative villain. I also love the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen, It, The Exorcist, Child’s Play series, Friday the 13th series, and Halloween series (can’t wait for the next one!). As for genre, I would love to do more comedies as well as superhero films. Actually, I would love to do a faithful reboot to the Mask comic book since it is a great blend of horror and comedy. I’m also putting it out there that I would love to play the adult version of Richie Tozier in the second “It” movie since, like Richie, I am a man of 1,000 voices (I also do vo work for cartoons and videogames) and am quite the wise ass. Hopefully Andres Muschietti is reading this. Call me! Let’s do lunch!

Robert: At sneak previews and film festivals the film has been getting positive reviews. The fans seem to love your performance. How has the experience been for you? Any chance you’ll do some horror conventions?

David: I am so happy to hear this! I’ve already gotten to see it twice with audiences and loved watching their reactions. Every laugh or scream brought me endless joy! I’m so used to having the instant feedback on stage and missed that while filming. I feed off of that energy and it brings me such great joy to entertain people in such a manner. That is my happy place, so I have enjoyed those experiences. It has been a bit surreal, especially seeing all of the “Art work” that my talented fans have made that they have shared on Instagram etc. Some have even gotten tattoos of me and dressed as me for Halloween! I love it and find it very flattering. As for conventions, yes! I have always wanted to do those, and am already set for my first convention at the Cult Classic Convention in Bastrop, TX in September. I hope to do several more since I would love to have more opportunities to meet the fans etc!  I never imagined such things would happen in my life and am truly appreciative of the fans. Without them and their support, this film would never have happened. We did this for them, and hope to do many more!

Robert: You have been very busy on stage, television and doing voice over work in New York. There are rumors that you are looking to go westward to California. What is next for actor David H. Thornton?

David: Ha! I have been intending to move out to LA (especially for my voice over and film career) for several years, but each time that I do, something ends up keeping me here job wise. Right now, I am just auditioning and going with the flow and seeing where this crazy life takes me. It has already taken me to some pretty amazing places already, so I look forward to what the future has in store!

Robert: For the rest of your career, part of you will be known for your portrayal as Art. How do you feel about that, and are you willing to come back for possible sequels?

David: I am completely fine with that and embrace it. Art is a uniquely fun character, so why wouldn’t I want to be known for playing him? Who knows who I will play in the future, but I am proud to be remembered for playing Art. As for sequels… most definitely yes! I have MANY ideas of where I want to take the character next that I can’t wait to explore! As long as the fans want him, Art will be there. After all, “Earth” without “Art” is just “eh”. Kill ya later! *waves*

And there you have it dear viewers! A conversation with the fascinating and talented David H. Thornton. We at Smash or Trash would like to thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule for this interview, and wish him great success with his career. Be sure to check out the interview with co-star Jenna Kanell and the TERRIFIER review – coming soon!

Links for actor David Howard Thornton

David’s Youtube Page