Interview with Actor/Musician Ari Lehman By Jesse Striewski

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It’s been forty years now since the world was first introduced to the infamous Jason Voorhees via the original Friday The 13th, when it was originally released in May of 1980. Since then, the series has influenced a plethora of related pop culture across various media platforms, one of the latest being the Chicago-based First Jason, lead by none other than the original Jason himself, Ari Lehman, who was the first in a long line of actors to play the notorious killer Jason himself (hence the band name). Lehman was gracious enough to recently answer a few questions about First Jason, as well as his time portraying him on the big screen before anyone else.

In addition to Lehman fronting the band on vocals and heavy metal keytar, First Jason also consists of guitarist Eddie Machete, drummer Prince Fabian Arroyo, and bassist Johnny Danger. The band released their first album, Jason is Watching!, on February 13, 2009 – the same day the F13 remake was actually released. Ari described their sound to me as “A heavy metal band with an eclectic range of styles from upbeat hardcore to thrash-y metal; there are influences of punk, metal, funk, and reggae on every album.”

Lehman explained the band’s sound even further; “Since my main instrument is keytar, it has a profound effect on the writing, giving me the capability to draw upon a wide range of rock motifs. The focus is on a high-energy performance with Jason-themed lyrics that also speak to a wide range of emotions and viewpoints. To paraphrase my musical hero Duke Ellington, ‘limitations enhance creativity.’ Drawing on the dark sources of horror and metal, the possibilities are endless…”

Of course I had to ask Lehman what it’s like looking back now on playing the one and only Jason Voorhees four decades later. He tells me; “I will never take it for granted that I was lucky enough to get cast in a role that fans love so much that they continue to demand more and more Jason and Friday The 13th each and every day worldwide. It is the imagination of the fans that has kept Jason alive these 40 years, and there will be many more decades to come.” He continues; “Not the same as horror films today, but I think it holds up well because of (F13 Director) Sean S. Cunnigham’s attention to not allowing the actors to overdo their roles in an effort to make it as real as possible. Also, Tom Savini’s use of practical effects and the often overlooked camera work of Director of Photography Barry Abrams created an environment that lured the viewer into a sense of safety – and then SHATTERED that completely. Together they transformed a usually bucolic setting – a summer camp – into a place of sheer terror, much like Jaws did the same way for sunny beaches in the summertime. And the fans never forgot!”

I also wanted to know just how much interaction Lehman had with the other actors on the set. He explains; “I did get to meet Adrienne King of course as well as most of the actors on the set including Kevin Bacon and Harry Crosby. It was ironically the actress who played my mom, Betsy Palmer, that I did not get to meet until years later, when we bonded as friends and she took me under her wing as a confidant and advisor. Betsy and my real mom shared the same birth date, November 1st, the day after Halloween! If I could have gotten her into a music video WOW!!! What I did do and you can see it in the “Voorhees is the Name” video is to commemorate what she would say to me when she knew that I had a rock show with First Jason – ‘mama said Knock ’em DEAD, and leave ’em writhing in the aisles!!!’ I love her forever…” Having actually met Palmer myself (at the same convention along with Tom Savini and Kane Hodder as well, albeit briefly) back in 2007, I can attest to Lehman’s sentiments of her kindness firsthand (though regrettably I did not get a photo to mark the occasion).

Lehman also shared with me what he took from working on the film so long ago; “Working with Tom Savini and Taso Stavrakis for four months and creating the FX for the film gave me a sense of camaraderie, and taught me that hard work can be fun and rewarding. Also I learned from being on the set how to make the most out of the resources that are at hand – this has served me well as a leader of a touring band, and when doing independent films like The Barn & Clown Motel.”

I was also curious what Lehman’s thoughts were on the later films of the F13 series. He states; “Honestly, I feel that each Jason actor and every production team brought a new perspective to the mythology. One of my favorites is Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), which was directed by John Buechler and starred Kane Hodder as Jason (for the first time). I feel that this episode does the most to recollect all of the sagas and bring it all together. Plus I enjoy that Jason is opposed by Tina (played by Lar Park Lincoln), a young psychic girl; that provides for great moments, like when she tears his mask off and sets the roof on fire!!!”

“The First Jason INTERSLASHIONAL album is the top priority now. Clown Motel 2 is shooting soon and I will return to play Psycan the deranged clown. The Barn 2 is completing now and my role as Dr. Dock was greatly expanded from the original. I am particularly proud of the work I did in this film and the team that created it for director Justin Seaman. And my weapon of choice to kill zombies in that film is even a KEYTAR!!!”

You can keep track of what’s going on with Lehman and First Jason on YouTube and Spotify, as well as Facebook (at the time of this writing, the band still has some tour dates set, with the first starting next month in Kenosha, WI on Sat., Aug 1).