It hangs out a Christmas party, has “recessed eyes,” a “farm boy body,” lays low and watches the action from a distance. What is it? It’s Leatherface, of course! Or at least that’s what Texas Chainsaw 3D director John Luessenhop decided. While at producer Carl Mazzocone’s holiday party, Luessenhop caught a mere glimpse of Dan Yeager and made it official.
Yeager takes over for Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface in the franchise’s latest installment. The film kicks off by showing what happens to the Sawyers after Sally escapes in the 1974 original, and it isn’t pretty. The townsfolk decide it’s time for the family to go, and burn their house to the ground, killing everyone – except for Leatherface. For the next 20 years, Leatherface’s grandmother keeps him tucked away in the basement of her home. When she passes away, her only living family member, Heather (Alexandra Daddario), inherits her house, including everything that’s in it.
You may know Leatherface as the hulking slasher who enjoys hacking up victims with a chainsaw while wearing a mask of human skin, but Texas Chainsaw 3D takes one major step towards turning this notorious horror icon into a human being with real feelings. Check out everything Yeager had to say about going from holiday party loner to a more multi-dimensional version of an iconic slasher in the interview below and catch him in action when Texas Chainsaw 3D hits theaters on January 4th.
I just spoke to John and he told me about how you got the role. How does that make you feel? Are you flattered or do you wonder, 'Is that what people think of me?'
“As an actor, you’re aware of what you’re asking for when you audition for a role. I really didn’t have to audition for this role, but when you consider what someone is doing for you, saying to you about you as a person, ‘Here, I trust you with the biggest role in my project,’ that’s a humbling thing, especially coming from people that you respect as much as I respect Carl Mazzocone and John Luessenhop. When they say that to you, it’s a very humbling experience. And I’ve dreamt of playing cinematic monsters all my life.”
Are you a big Leatherface fan?
“Oh, yeah! I saw the movie for the first time [when] it was re-released back in the early 80s and it played at a drive-in theater in Las Vegas where my family lived and I went to see it there. That was right when VHS machines were becoming popular and I remember I bought two VHS tapes early on. One was Eraserhead, David Lynch’s first feature, and the other one was Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I wore both those tapes out. I mean, I used to just obsess over them."
How was it getting to meet and work with Gunnar? Did he have some Leatherface 101 for you?
“We never actually got to do a scene together. He was shooting on a separate unit. My unit was shooting at night and he was shooting during the day, but, after we wrapped, I made a point of going over to where they were shooting so I could meet him at the Sawyer house. And, I’ve gotta tell you, it was a surreal experience to walk through the real Sawyer house with all the bone furniture and everything. And then to walk through the house with Gunnar and be able to talk to him. He really did a job when he created that character, with the help of Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel and all those people. If you read the original script of Texas Chainsaw, there’s a lot of cues and actor stuff that you can really get ahold of and create something interesting with, and he really did. I had read the original script before we did our movie. I studied everything he did and everything he ever said about it in an interview and really just did my best to emulate everything he did, and running it through the filter of this new story or this continuation of that story.”
What is it about this iteration of Leatherface that makes him your own?
“I am the older version of Gunnar Hansen’s character. I hope everybody appreciates that. I started with him, with that complete character that he had already created and then a lot of things happened in Leatherface’s life. Our movie starts at a very pivotal moment in his life where his world is turned completely upside down and by the time you see me on the screen, he’s gone through 20 years of radically different life to become the updated character that I portray. In the original he had no self-determination. Everybody told him what to do and he liked that. He was very much an instrument of the will of other people, so he didn’t have to think for himself at all. And when he did think for himself, he had nothing but good thoughts. He loved his family, and he worried about them. He was already an interesting person and then when we finally meet up with him again, when the kids unwittingly unlock the cellar, he’s lived in the cellar for 20-some years under completely different circumstances. And he’s become older. He’s gotten a little crotchety, a little grumpy. He now has a will, but he still sees the world as you’re either family or you’re food."
Can you tell me more about that cellar? We don’t really get the chance to pause and look around, but that set seems to be packed with details that reflect who he is.
“He’s got a working, kind of his version of a taxidermy shop down there. Most of what you see is the workroom. His bedroom was down there. You don’t see a lot of it in the movie, but it was a fully realized thing. It just ended up [that] it didn’t enter the frame very much in light so you don’t see a lot of it. He’s got his whole life down there and he was fairly comfortable. I think cinematically it contrasts with what’s upstairs. Downstairs you’ve got this proper house, but the basement, is definitely a product of who Leatherface is and he brought to bear his decorating style and need to work. He always has to be productive.”
You ever think about how he feels about the little things in life? Maybe his favorite food or what he does for fun when he isn’t sewing human skin to his face.
“Definitely not gourmet or anything. I think he liked fairly simple barbeque. It was his grandma’s cooking that he lived on for all those years. He was almost a prisoner down there. I think he could get out if he really put his mind to it and probably did. He liked to make things. He’s very childlike still. He plays with stuff like a kid does. His life experience is a bit limited. He has a television, but he probably doesn’t see a lot of it and doesn’t relate it to anything because he doesn’t have the context. It’s just images. It doesn’t mean emotionally to him what it would mean to a normal person that lives a normal life. I don’t think he could read, but he does like to make things.”
A simple life, but the guy does have a particularly big emotional arc in this movie. How was that for you, especially with a mask over your face the entire time?
“It’s a challenge. Actually I’ve acted in a mask before on stage and it’s just a matter of being aware that you have to physically move if you want to convey anything. You can’t show it in your eyes, you can’t show it with a wry smile. It’s got to be a physical move and so you just make those moves meaningful. You go from your head down to your head up and it’s got to mean something in the context of the story. And people will infer from what you’re doing, what it means. It’s a different challenge. It’s like learning to deliver your lines, it’s just very physical.”
Did you work out any specific ways to approach the material with Alexandra Daddario at all?
“No. When we first started production we had a table read of the script. I was there, but Leatherface didn’t have any real lines. But yeah, I rehearsed all of my stuff on my own and with the stunt coordinator. There are a few things we had other people involved in, you know, the physical alterations, but those were with stunt people so I had almost nothing to do with any of the other actors in the movie. Mostly the relationship of Leatherface and the other characters is fairly one-sided and it’s, if you see Leatherface you want to get away from him.”
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! Discussing the end of the movie. You have been warned!
Is it tough to go from that one side to what you have towards the end?
“No. The beginning when he walks into the slaughterhouse, there’s an actual moment that you can see he’s thinking. He has to change course at that point, which he’s not used to doing. It’s the first real decision you’ve ever seen Leatherface make. Other than that, he’s always just this grot, almost shark like machine who chases down dinner. When they finally make it back to the kitchen, that’s kind of the pivotal moment that sets up the payoff of the whole movie, that it’s all about family. Forget everything else. You do have to overlook the flaws of your family members. There had to be some kind of emotional connection for Heather to decide to stay. She had to see something human in Leatherface or she would just get the hell out of there. That moment has to happen, that, Jesus, he’s really this pitiful creature under that mask but he’s also dangerous as hell, still. And the simple hand on her arm, those little subtleties mean something.”
END SPOILER ALERT.
Considering where this movie ended, are there hopes for another?
“Yeah, I think they’ve left that open, and that’s unfortunately largely a business decision. I think we have so much more story to tell about these people and it could go a million different ways. It could be very compelling. From what I’ve seen of what these guys are capable of creating it will be, so I’m hopeful.”
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.