Bree Babineaux

American Werewolf in London

Revisiting a classic with lead actor David Naughton

David Naughton starred in American Werewolf in Londoni n 1981; a groundbreaking film in cinema, known for its storyline and practical effects detail.


After all, is there anyone who doesn't know the tale of the teenage werewolf?


Acting was a path that David Naughton found natural to follow: I have an older brother James who is an actor as well. That was certainly influential. We had the same upbringing – a choir director in high school who did the high school musicals. And this guy was really good. He turned us onto musical theaters and we thought, "Hey, we're not bad at this! It was a lot of fun. The thought of actually doing it as a career was a little daunting because you know; it was not an easy road. I don't want to be corny and say, I didn't choose this, it chose me, because that's not true. I went after it.


Quite a few fans approached with cell phones in hand, snapping photographs of David during the interview. I asked him if being in front of the camera was something he found hard to deal with starting out. He replied, "It's something you get used to. No, you know I went to drama school after I got out of college, so I really felt, you know, prepared, as you were saying. That's sort of a confidence builder to begin with. One of the first auditions I went for in New York, I got. I got the gig. It was a production of Hamlet with Sam Waterston as Hamlet. I thought I was up and on my way. Then I found out what its like to start NOT getting auditions. It's a little harder than the beginners luck that I had. I've been doing this a long time.


American Werewolf in London has held up to be one of the most influential movies in history. David shared why he felt the film has become a staple in the industry. Without question, Rick Bakers work. It was unheard of. In fact they created the category at the Academy for special makeup, which he won the very first Oscar for, and has won some subsequently since for other things he's done. He's quite a gifted artist. John Landis had written this when he was a kid, only 21. So he knew he had this script he wanted to do, and to work with Rick, they had done minor little independent things together before that. So there was that whole labor of love, that energy that went into making this. And having London as a backdrop, which has not changed. London is such a beautiful city. It hasn't changed. It looks the same as when we filmed in the eighties. It hasn't changed, so it still works today. And you know, it's also the classic love story: boy meets girl – boy turns into a werewolf.


The film definitely surpassed all special effects that had come before it. The category of makeup FX at the Academy Awards was non-existent, until Rick Bakers critically acclaimed work set the wheels in motion. That year was the first year special effects makeup was recognized by the Academy. Not only did Baker take home the win, but his contribution to the field continues to be recognized to this day.


On February 14, 2015, Rick Baker took home the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Guild Awards, and was introduced by John Landis, the writer of American Werewolf in London; proof that Baker's work and the film as a whole, has managed to inspire filmmakers and artists for decades.


It's easy to watch and look back on American Werewolf in London and see what makes the movie so special. Even during filming, David said there was a feeling that this film would stand apart from others. We knew we were onto something. Even for us, some of the scenes were creepy. Some of the sets were somewhat ominous.


Original American Werewolf in London ad poster


Picking up a photograph on the table that was a behind the scenes shot of the makeup, he pointed at the photo, telling me, "Seeing the makeup and Griffin Dunn this stuff here in this scene, when you got up close, that's exactly what it looked like. We had to tell ourselves not to look at it. Anyway, the process was not fun, but it was some really good makeup. Griffin did not enjoy being in the makeup either, and he had to be every time, because he continued to decompose. He was like here I am thinking I'm in this big movie for universal, but I look grotesque in every scene I'm in. And Rick Baker just kind of says, "Did you read the script?"


While he appreciates the film, David recalls it wasn't all a fun process: "The transformation kind of overshadows all the fond memories. It was a very difficult process to be sitting in a makeup chair for ten hours a day for six days, doing this transformation. But overall, I'd been an acting student in London five years prior to that, so being back in London and shooting this movie; the whole experience was so fun. Wow, I'm back here in a beautiful city and this time they are paying me to be here! It was a fun being back in a city that was so familiar to me."


American Werewolf in London may be one of the most iconic horror films, but David says for him, it's all about the story being told:


"I was really drawn to the role itself. It was well written. I liked where it was being shot. Overall it was what John wrote. I understood the role. I always looked at the character as having this terminal illness. He had this condition that he had to deal with, and was overwhelmed at what was happening to him. And that's not uncommon for young people having this feeling like, 'this cant be happening to me' So I tried to keep it grounded to reality, even though it was obviously not … I have done other things … After this there were offers to do more horror movies, but none of the scripts were particular – they were more slasher type. I like good stories. We have/had a rough idea for a sequel, Landis was going to pitch the idea, but anyway, yes – I am story based. I like a good character that I can add a little something to and make my own…


I also didn't want to get back in that makeup chair. Rick Baker and the film have been recognized as a benchmark of effects makeup Michael Jackson saw the movie and did the music video 'Thriller' … I've worked with the best there is." He went on, "The makeup Rick Baker created is looked to as a special thing. I can't tell you how many people come up to me and tell me that this film inspired them as effects artists, or other assets to the industry, and you know – it's cool to be part of that… to be involved in a career choice that people make based on something you did."



This issue of SCREAM Magazine (London, UK) is available in stores across the UK and US now.