David Howard Thornton, From Voice Actor To Deranged Clown
David Howard Thornton is an actor and voice-over actor. According to IMDb Thornton has five (5) performance credits since 2013. Thornton provided the voices for the characters Shizoku, Metal Mutt, and Toxitoad for the 2013 video game release The Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom.
He also portrayed The Joker and in the YouTube series, Nightwing Escalation. In his latest role, Thornton portrays a different demented clown, Art The Clown. The Terrifier is out now on VOD. DecayMag Content Contributor David Teixeira composed the following interview.
Ken Artuz DecayMag Founder
David Teixeira: Hello David, Congratulations on Terrifier! That was an intense and powerful gorefest. Can you tell us a bit about your background before turning into Art The Clown?
David Howard Thornton: I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama as the son of a retired Special Education teacher and a NASA engineer. I grew up loving films and cartoons where I perfected my skills both in physical comedy and character voices by acting in the local community theater for many years. However, I ended up getting a degree in Elementary Education.
“It was not until my mother passed away from cancer during my final years of college that I realized that my true calling in life was in entertaining people.”
I finished up my degree with the full support of my father and then moved up to NYC to pursue a career in acting. Over the past decade, I have done all sorts of work from touring with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical” for 5 years as Grandpa Who and as the understudy to Stefan Karl’s Grinch, to voicing numerous characters and creatures in various video games and animated series. Terrifier was my first real foray into film work!
David Teixeira: How did you come across Art The Clown? Did you watch the short film before ever thinking about joining the film?
David Howard Thornton: I had seen the original film, All Hallow’s Eve, a few years ago, so I was familiar with the character and loved him. I saw a posting on a popular casting website calling for a tall, lanky, actor with experience in clowning and physical comedy for “the role of a lifetime!” and immediately asked my reps to submit me. The rest is history!
David Teixeira: Can you tell us about the process of becoming Art The Clown?
David Howard Thornton: For the character himself, I pulled a lot from my deep knowledge of great physical comedians from film (Chaplin, Keaton, Marx, Carrey, Jones, Atkinson, and my buddy Stefan) and mixed them with my knowledge of iconic villains like Joker, Freddy Krueger, Pennywise, Jason, Michael Myers, and Chucky, hit frappe and added it to the great performance the original Art, Mike Giannelli, did. As for the physical aspects, the makeup process took around 3-4 hours to glue the mask that was molded of my face to me, as well as apply the fake teeth and contacts.
David Teixeira: How did you meet Damien Leone, the director of Terrifier?
David Howard Thornton: We first met at the audition, and it was instant chemistry between the two of us. Over the 100 or so hours in the makeup chair, we have gotten to know each other very well, and I now think of him as a very close friend.
David Teixeira: How was the casting process for Terrifier?
David Howard Thornton: Interesting to say the least. I was not given a script since Art does not speak, so I was asked to improvise a scene on the spot where Art beheads a guy. I ended up cartoonishly sneaking up behind my victim, knocking him out, sawing off his head, tasting the head and finding it not meeting my standards, taking out a salt shaker and salting it, tasting again and approving, throwing the head in my bag for a later snack, and happily skipping off. Everyone started cracking up when I finished and I was asked to come back for a makeup test later on. I walked out of there knowing I had booked it.
“It just goes to show how important it is for actors to be able to improvise on the spot and be creative.”
David Teixeira: You had big shoes to fill in after the performance of Mike Giannelli as Art The Clown in Terrifier (short) and All Hallow’s Eve. Was it hard to look up to it and replace him or did Leone told you to try something different with it?
David Howard Thornton: LOL! Literal big shoes! It certainly was a daunting task since Mike did such a stellar job originating the character. I was definitely worried about how the fans would react.
“I just trusted myself and Damien (Leone) to take what Mike originally brought to the character and fine tune and evolve him more.”
That is where I think my experience in physical comedy and clowning helped the most. Damien gave me plenty of room to experiment and play with the character in a lot of scenes, but there were times where he knew exactly how he wanted me to play him down to the look in his eyes. It was definitely a collaborative effort and a fun challenge!
David Teixeira: In the Scream franchise, the man behind the mask of Ghostface wouldn’t meet the actors during filming to create the sensational fear throughout the phone calls as real as possible… Were any trivia moments during Terrifier that helped you to get into character?
David Howard Thornton: Honestly? No. I’ve never had trouble getting into character when I needed to, so I didn’t feel the need to resort to such measures. Our set was probably the exact opposite of what you spoke of.
“I was constantly joking around with my fellow actors on and off set, which you might not expect from a film that is so violent and gruesome!”
That’s just how I am though. I like to keep the atmosphere light and fun, especially when the work we do can be so serious, except when it is needed. Case in point, the day we did Catherine’s kill scene was a day that there was no joking around on set since that was such a dangerous stunt to pull off. Now, if one of my fellow actors needs me to be scary and creepy to them when the cameras are not rolling, that is no problem at all. I’ll give them whatever they need to help them do the best job that they can.
David Teixeira: Can you share a story about Terrifier that we don’t know?
David Howard Thornton: We had this funny one moment one night on set where there were these women having an argument outside of my makeup/ holding room while I was waiting to go to set. I was bored and went over to the window overlooking them to watch the events unfold. I completely forgot how I looked in full makeup and blood. At one point, they noticed me, screamed, and ran off.
About 15 minutes later, Damien and our producer, Phil, come in telling me that there were some people outside of the garage we were filming in that wanted to meet me, but I was not to come out until they told me to. I patiently waited, not knowing what was behind the rolling garage door.
I hear them ask me to come out and meet my new friends, so I roll up the garage door and am greeted by about 15 police officers in full gear like they were ready to go to war. I offered up a “What’s up guys?” and waved.They broke out in laughter. It turns out that the ladies called in saying they thought something crazy was going on at our location and that people were dead.
“The cops came up to me and told me that I better be glad that I had not been the first to step outside when they arrived, or I would have been shot looking the way I did.”
I believed them. I ended up taking a bunch of pictures with them, except for one of them who was afraid of clowns. I had to remind him that he was the one with the guns. One of them even offered to bring a dead body in from the station in case we needed one. I still don’t know if he was joking or not. Fun night!
David Teixeira: Are you planning on filming the sequels, if there are any?
David Howard Thornton: Definitely! Damien is in the process of starting to write the next one already! We are constantly texting/emailing each other ideas on almost a daily basis. We definitely have more to tell about Art and the world around him!
David Teixeira: I consider Art The Clown as Michael Meyers or Dollface, Man in the Mask and Pin Up Girl from The Strangers. I mean, do we really need to know the background of horror villains to keep the film interesting? Do we need to humanize the villains? It seems to be a great problem with remakes nowadays.
I think Terrifier comes as a fresh and original take on slashers in that way. We don’t know where Art comes from and what he wants or why he does what he does. He’s like a boogeyman. What are your thoughts about this? Do you want to know a bit more about Art The Clown for a sequel or should Leone keep him a mystery?
David Howard Thornton: I agree! I mean, you didn’t know Freddy’s backstory for several films. Plus, look at the Joker! The guy has been loved for over 75 years and we still don’t truly know who he is! That bit of mystery is what makes such characters so intriguing and scary! Personally, I know exactly who Art is and what he wants, but I know that because I play the character and need that info. We intend to drop clues here and there, but not to fully explain all of that to the audience, especially not in the first few films.
“Part of what makes characters like this fun is theorizing who they are and what their agendas are. I don’t want to take that fun away from the audience. A bit of mystery is a good thing.”
David Teixeira: What was like to work with so many practical effects?
David Howard Thornton: I am used to wearing a lot of makeup for various roles that I have played in the past so it was not that big of an issue for me. Damien made a mold of my face so that the mask would fit me perfectly. I would even forget that I was wearing it at times and scare myself in the mirror because it was like a second skin. The teeth made me drool a lot though, so Damien had to constantly retouch my mouth. The only part that I was not fond of were the contacts that I wore, but that is a personal thing with me since I have never liked thigns in my eyes since I grew up having all kinds of vision problems. However, I made do. I literally suffered for my Art!
David Teixeira: What was the best aspect of working with Damien Leone?
David Howard Thornton: All of it really. He’s just a genuinely great guy to work with. Despite a lot of the chaos on set at times, he always kept his cool and treated everyone with great respect.
“Damien (Leone) accomplished the impossible with this film. He wrote, directed and did all of the practical effects himself on a VERY limited budget and made a successful film.”
That is virtually unheard of these days! He truly deserves all of the success that is bound to come his way soon. He genuinely loves horror and it shows. He is definitely one in a billion.
David Teixeira: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. It was a pleasure watching your performance in Terrifier! Please feel free to share with us your next projects!
David Howard Thornton: Thank you! It was my pleasure as well! As for upcoming projects, I am still filming the final season of the web series “Nightwing: Escalation” where I play The Joker. I guess you could say that I have a killer clown motif going at the moment.
I am also working on an unannounced animated series that will be debuting on Hulu later this fall with some big-name stars. I wish I could say more about that though, but NDA’s won’t allow it at this time! Thanks so much to you, and to all of you reading this. I’ve been floored by the success of “Terrifier” so far, especially since we have had very little mainstream press coverage.
“It is through people like you that the word has gotten out and made us so successful. It just goes to show the power of the fanbase! So, from the bottom of my dark heart, again THANK YOU for spreading the word about “Terrifier”. We literally could not have done it without you!”