FRIGHT INTERVIEW – Nick Principe (Chromeskull of LAID TO REST)!

Actor/stuntman Nick Principe wears his love of horror on his sleeve. No, literally – on his sleeves in a series of tattoos devoted to all his favorite horror icons! So it’s safe to say that he’s a die-hard horror fan, and when he moved out to Hollywood to get into show biz, he did it with one goal in mind – to one day be a monster. Now, he’s gotten to do it several times, most notably in Rob Hall’s Laid To Rest and Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 playing the modern day icons of fright Chromeskull. We caught up with Nick to talk about his humble beginnings, our mutual love of genre flicks and of course, wielding the blades of Chromeskull for the second time! Read it below! – Robg 10/11

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you recall what your first introduction to the genre was?

Absolutely! I remember me and my mom were at my aunt Linda’s house and she had a daughter that was around the same age as me, and they had a laserdisc of An American Werewolf In London. They wouldn’t let us see it, so they told us to go hang out in the basement. So, I was probably 6 or 7 years old and I remember watching that movie through a crack in the door with me and my cousin piled on top of each other trying to get a glimpse. That’s probably the first horror movie I remember and what got me into the genre.

I would assume catching that little glimpse of An American Werewolf In London made you a horror fan for life?

Just like any little kid, you want to see what you’re not supposed to see. So here’s this movie that is entertaining me, scaring the living crap out of me, but yet I wanted to watch more. I couldn’t pull away from it. Right from then, that was it. That was it for me. That was all I was interested in watching was horror movies. I was lucky because I always looked older than I actually was, so they’d let me in to R rated movies at the theater and I could rent stuff with no problem. It honestly hasn’t slowed down since!

There’s always a point for us where we come to the realization of what movie-making is. Meaning, we realize ‘wow, people made this. There’s a director, and an FX crew that created what I’m watching’. When did that happen for you and in what capacity did you want to get into the movie business?

In complete honesty, if I knew all the bullshit that surrounds getting something decent made and the long hours and the time you’d have to spend in the FX shops, like something that’ll take 3 weeks to do, and then 45 minutes to shoot – I don’t know if I would’ve gotten into this! (Laughs) But I’m glad I did. I think my first recollections of filmmaking were from that VHS tape of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And how they had a documentary about the behind the scenes and they had segments on the prosthetics, and they even dabbled a bit with An American Werewolf In London, because John Landis directed that video as well. So I remember they were showing all this amazing stuff with Rick Baker doing the make-up FX. I just thought, “wow”. Aside from this amazingly cool world of movies, there’s this whole other cool world of making movies. Even at that early age, I wanted to be the monster. I always wanted to be the monster.

I think that “the making of Thriller” really influenced all of the genre fans our age. It definitely had that impact on us.

Yeah, for our age group for sure. And to my recollection, that was one of the first VHS tapes that gave you a behind the scenes look at a film; this is long before the days of the DVD special features. For a lot of us, that was our first look at the painstaking FX process.

Do you remember your first on-set experience? Did you start out in the business trying to be a stuntman first, or an actor? What was the beginning for you?

Well, again, I’ll be totally honest with you. I moved here to California wanting to be Kane Hodder. Basically, I did some research and thought to myself, “how do these guys get cast to play the monster roles? Do they take any big guy? What’s the deal here?” So I looked into it and it seems they usually hire stunt guys, because most productions don’t want to pay an actor to do the acting and then a stuntman to do the stunts, so they just hire a stuntman to do both. So I figured, alright, if I want to play a monster, I guess I have to be a stuntman! Now, I wasn’t just jumping blindly into it. I have a black belt in kempo. I used to fight very early on in the early stages of MMA where there weren’t as many rules. So, I had credentials. I just really focused on that. But here’s my first real film experience. I was actually working at a music store in Los Angeles. I’d only been in LA for about 3 months and everybody always told me that if you see a bunch of trailers and trucks, that means they’re shooting a TV show or a commercial or something like that. So across the street from this music shop I was working at there was this Armenian Church and there were all these trailers set up. On my lunch break, I just walked over there and ignorantly and blindly, I looked for the first person with a clipboard and a headset. And I went up to him and said, “do you guys need any help?” And this guy replied, “what are you, a PA?” (production assistant) I didn’t even know what a PA was, but I said, “yes I am.” (Laughs) So, the guy says, “well, 3 people called out today, so fill out a W2 and you’re in.” There was a grip on that shoot that happened to be wearing a Sepultura t-shirt, so I figured “alright, this guy’s probably cool. I can talk to this guy.” This guy saved me that day. I went up to him and said, “Listen, man. They just hired me as a PA. I don’t even know what that means. What do I do?” The guy laughed and basically said, “well, if they call you name over the radio, just do whatever they say. Whenever the first AD yells something, just repeat it. And whenever you’ve got nothing to do, just clean up.” So I can only imagine what these people thought when they saw this 6 ft 7 tattooed guy running around like a madman just cleaning stuff up. I got hooked up with a stunt coordinator on that show and now here we are. I never went back to the music store after that lunch break, by the way.

For me, it’s always fascinating talking to guys that do stunts professionally because you obviously have to be somewhat of a daredevil. And a little crazy for sure! No offense! Do you remember the first stunt you tried pulling off? Do you get scared every time you have to approach doing something dangerous?

Well, they always say there’s a fine line between stupid and crazy. I’d like to think I tip toe across that line often. (Laughs) The first stunt I ever did was a fight scene, so I wasn’t nervous doing that. But there have been a couple of times where I’ll read a script and think “oh man. Some poor guy is going to have to do that.” And then I realize I’m that poor guy! There’s about 30 seconds where you question yourself, but then I just shrug my shoulders and say, “oh I’ll make it work.”

So, let’s talk about the character of Chromeskull! How’d you get that role in that movie? Did you already know Rob Hall beforehand?

Me and Rob met on the set of Robert Englund’s sophomore directorial job, a very goofy movie called Killer Pad. Rob took that job for the same reason that I did. We both just wanted to work for Freddy. I think Rob and I even discussed that if he showed up to set everyday in the hat & sweater & glove, we both would’ve worked on it for free. So, we met there. My favorite sub-genre of horror has always been “slasher” films and then zombie films and Rob and I had talked about that, and I mentioned that I had worked as a “zombie movement” coach for a SyFy movie called Dead & Deader. So we talked about horror movies and just stayed in touch over the years. And then I was at Joe Lynch’s Wrong Turn 2 premiere screening at the Mann’s (in Los Angeles) where Rob came up to me and said, “you want to chase my wife around in the woods in this slasher movie I’ve got going?” And I was like, “do you even have to ask? Of course! I’m your man!” There wasn’t an audition or anything like that. The following Monday I was in his shop getting a life cast done for the mask.

When you went in for that first life-cast, how far along were they in terms of the design and look for Chromeskull? Did they already have an idea for what the mask was going to look like? And discussion about what the mask was going to be?

Chromeskull is something that Rob had in his head for a while, so he knew what he wanted the mask to be. Originally, although he wears a suit, he was supposed to wear a black shirt and a black tie, but I thought we should give him a deranged psychologist look, so we changed the shirt and tie into a turtleneck. The knives are mine. I brought those in. I had taken a boye knife and put blades on the side and some spikes on the brass knuckles part to make it more like a French knife. That’s pretty much my contribution to Chromseskull in terms of what I brought to that.

When it came time to shoot, how collaborative was Rob in terms of what you wanted to do with the character and how the kills were pulled off?

Rob gave me complete free reign to do whatever I wanted and at best he would occasionally say, “alright pull it back. Not as extreme.” Or “don’t do this”. But he for the most part just totally let me go. He’d give me as many takes as I wanted and he was so, so awesome to work for. He really let me make the character my own. I’ve been quoted before saying this, but again Chromeskull is his son, but he’s also my adopted stepchild.

The thing that stands out about the first Laid To Rest is the kills, which when you have someone like Rob Hall involved, you have to expect that to be top-notch. So do you have a favorite kill from the first movie?

Definitely. That would be Johnathon Scharech’s kill. Where I throw the knife into his mouth and rip his face off. That was my money shot. I love that kill and it’s definitely my favorite kill in that one.

Anyone that talks to you will realize pretty quickly that you’ve always been a lifelong horror fan. You had this ambition to play the monster in something and then you finally got to be the monster. I remember you guys promoting the first film at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors here in LA and I recall you talking at the panel about how excited you were just to be on the cover of Fangoria. It’s just an amazing thing to accomplish. How was all that from your perspective as a fan? Promoting the first feature and getting the cover of Fangoria?

Well, you know the deal. You’re in the same boat as me. You can say whatever you want about Fangoria right now, but back in the day, there was no internet. Fangoria was your source of horror movie info. There really was no other place for us to get that stuff. My mom had gotten me a subscription to that magazine from the time I could read up until I could pay for the magazine myself. It’s a horror geek’s monthly bible. And I remember when they were talking about our movie possibly getting the cover. It’s either Laid To Rest or Terminator: Salvation. So I figured, well there goes that! (Laughs) It was nice to be nominated! (Laughs) But then a few months went by and I remember someone called me at 5 in the morning West Coast time to tell me I was on the cover. I hung up! I was half asleep and didn’t know what they hell they were talking about. So I went back to sleep and about an hour and a half later Rob calls me up and says, “we got the cover”. Me living in my Hollywood state of mind, I still didn’t believe it. I walked into a Borders and there was a stack of them with Chromeskull’s face on the cover. I will not lie, I totally cried. No matter what happens for the rest of my life, I will always have that. I can leave this world tomorrow and still be happy because I did what I came out here to do. Anything after that is frosting on the cake. As far as promoting the movie and going to all these conventions? I love it. I love it so much. I love these people so much. You have no idea how much I love horror fans because I am one. So when we talk about these kind of things, I get so excited and the fact that I’m involved in it is even better. Because this is something I’d be talking about anyways and I’d be at these conventions hanging with these people anyways. The fact that I’m in said movie, it just makes it all the better. There is no better fan than the horror fan. There’s no romantic comedy conventions. There’s no drama conventions… well, actually here in LA, there’s always a drama convention. (Laughs) But you know what I mean. This is the best genre in the world and I love being a part of it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

That’s awesome, man. And it’s great to have someone that loves the genre get to play one of our modern day slashers. A lot of people working on studio horror projects seems to have a lot of contempt for the genre, so it makes me happy when people like you that love it get to do it.

Absolutely. It kills me sometimes when I try to get a job on one of these big studio projects like something like Predators – not to take anything away from anyone’s performance, especially Derek Mears whom I love and think is awesome. He’s a great stuntman & actor and a great human being who also is a huge fan of this stuff. But, I just hate it when they hire someone just because he happens to be big and he’s just doing it for a paycheck and it means nothing to him. That’s very frustrating. Because I’m not just going to show up, punch a ticket and then leave after 8 hours. If you hire me for a horror gig, I am going to give you heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears.

And you might even tattoo yourself for the sake of a horror movie! That is you getting the Chromseskull tattoo in Laid To Rest 2, correct?

That sure is. Ya know what? You want me to do something for your movie? Ask me. (Laughs) Worst I can do is say no. I had already planned on getting a Chromseskull tattoo, but I planned on getting it on my knee, because on my left leg I have all my favorite horror icons. I’ve got Kyra from Night Of The Living Dead, I had her sign it and I got that tattooed. I’ve got Fulci’s Zombi on me, a random zombie from The Walking Dead, Michael Myers, Leatherface and Roy Batty from Blade Runner. Some of my favorite bad guys are on my leg and I wanted to put Chromeskull there, but hey – we needed tattoo footage for the movie and the knee wouldn’t work out because it was doubling Brian Austin Green’s chest. I had a little bit of space left on my back, so we threw it there and just to make it my own, I had them write “Born To Kill” above it.

Very nice! Now, going into Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2, I would assume you had the 2nd film in mind while you were making the first. Did you and Rob have any conversations during Laid To Rest 1 on where this story might go?

We kind of goofed around with it, but the biggest thing for us was “how are we going to bring him back from this?” It was a pretty raw dog ending. The one thing we totally agreed on was that we did not want to go supernatural with Chromeskull for a sequel. I love the fact that he’s still a human monster. That makes him way more scarier to me. A lot of people don’t like this actually, that we’re breaking a “slasher” code because he’s not disheveled, he’s not dirty, he’s not lumbering, he’s not mentally disabled. Instead, he’s very calculated and clean. That’s exactly why I like him! He’s not like any of the other “slashers” other than the fact that he’s silent. Initially when we were going into it, it was just going to be a one shot deal. Just the one movie, which is why he got so messed up by the end. But the more and more we talked about it, we just knew we were onto something special on set and we really felt it. So the process turned into how are we going to bring him back? So I did a lot of research on the internet, and I found this story about a guy in Russia who was hunting bears and a bear pretty much took off his face from above his lower jaw to his forehead. And they were able to reconstruct a fake face for him to snap on. So right there, we thought OK, there’s actual medical proof that if this did happen, someone could survive it as long as there was no brain damage and they were able to immediately get the help they needed. So we went with that. It was Rob and (co-writer) Kevin Bocarde that came up with the fact that Chromeskull had all these people working for him. It kind of establishes that the guy’s a multi-millionaire, and for me him having a crew like that to do his clean up work was a statement saying that if you have money, you can buy anything including people. You can make people look the other way for a price. If this guy has been doing this for so long and has killed this many people, how does he not get caught? Well, he’s probably in bed with political figures, police figures, government. That’s how he makes things go away, because he has so much money. That’s a really, really scary truth. If you are super rich, you can probably get away with whatever you want in this world and there are no repercussions.

Brian Austin Green had worked with Rob on Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles before, so it’s cool to have him here in the movie. Can you talk about your working relationship with him? Because he’s kind of the sequel’s second Chromeskull.

And I gave him no pointers whatsoever on his version of Chromeskull, because he was supposed to be new to being a killer and he was supposed to be awkward about it. The first time he kills somebody is at the beginning of the movie and you can see in his face how much he likes it and wants to run with it. In the film, he’s basically my right hand man, my second guy in charge. But then when I get all messed up, he gets it in his head that he can replace me. And Chromey does not like that whatsoever! And it comes back to him pretty badly!

As people shall see when they see the movie!

As far as working with him, to be honest at first I thought, wait, the guy from 90210? But ya know what? He did a phenomenal, phenomenal job. He’s definitely the best actor in the film, hands down.

My favorite aspect of Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 is that I feel Rob has mastered the use of practical FX combined with CGI digital FX. There were spots in there I couldn’t tell how certain things were done and it’s amazing when you don’t notice any digital augmentations. It wasn’t until I watched the featurette on the Blu-Ray that I got to see how much both practical and digital work went into pulling those FX off. So, what do you think of the way you guys pulled off the FX on this one and what was your favorite gag for Part 2?

I am hands down against CGI at all costs. I can’t stand it. It’s dominating everything in film, and I really don’t like it. But I do understand that sometimes it helps to enhance certain things. But every kill on set for both Laid To Rest 1 and 2 was done extremely practical and in the later phases would be touched up with minor CG enhancements. For the second one, my favorite kill is actually a 3-way kill when 3 cops try to arrest Chromeskull. It’s actually a 5 minute scene where it seems like there might be a cut in there, but at no point did that camera cut. It took us about 3 takes to get that scene perfect. To me, it’s amazing. I kill 2 guys at once, and slowly kill the third guy and it’s all in one shot. It’s just awesome and I can’t believe we pulled that off. There’s rarely anything like this in a genre movie that’s done in one take.

When I first heard about the sequel, there were rumors that it’d be a prequel and sequel, or that there would be two films, one a prequel and one a sequel. Obviously, this is a direct sequel. But what’s interesting is the end of Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 definitely leaves the potential for another sequel. But then there’s a scene after the credits that could set up a prequel.

Ah, good job, Mister G! A lot of people miss that extra scene.

How much of that prequel story have you guys worked on? Or is it something we’re just going to have to wait for?

I don’t know if you’ll ever get the full backstory. With the second one, we definitely give you little tiny bits to see where he’s coming from, but I personally don’t want to know anything about the guy. It’s cool to find out about that sort of stuff, but to me it’s always scarier if you don’t know. My explanation is that evil is evil, and it doesn’t need a backstory to exist. Chromeskull’s family could’ve been monkey tamer’s for all I know and then they did this and that, and that’s what made him the way he is. Whatever scenario you want to imagine, that’s fine. But if we explain it, nobody’s going to be happy with it. So I like holding it open like that and just giving little tidbits of information here and there. But nothing too revealing.

I assume you’d be game to play Chromeskull again if the opportunity arose?

I will do these movies until they send me to space. (Laughs)

(Laughs) You won’t do the sequel in space?! Come on, man!

No, no. I like Jason X and all, but that’s when you jump the shark. But to answer your question seriously, I will continue to do these movies as long as Rob is involved.

So what’s coming up next for you?

I’ve got a movie called Vs coming out that I did with the Trost brothers, Brandon Trost and Jason Trost. Very, very talented family. Brandon was the DP on Crank 2: High Voltage and Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, as well as the upcoming Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance. And he just finished an Adam Sandler movie, so he’s in the big leagues in Hollywood. But his younger brother loves I guess what you can call B-movies. The first movie we did together was something called The FP, which is getting released by the Alamo Drafthouse’s distribution company. If you like avant-garde cinema of independent films, you’ll love it. Jason’s follow-up film to that was Vs, which is basically about super villains taking over, so the heroes are on a quest to save the world and get their powers back and of course, I play yet another villain in that. There’s another film I did called Madison County, which is another slasher film that I think fans of that genre will love. The trailer’s up on line and we’re waiting on a release date for that. I starred in an episode of Femme Fetales for Cinemax called Crazy Mary. I think that airs in January. And one of the biggest things I’m proud of because it’s my first real non-make-up role with a lot of dialogue is something called Nobody Can Cool. It’s a heist film. I’m proud of that one because I did study to be an actor, and technically I am an actor. So hopefully that one will show the world that I can do more than just wear a mask and get set on fire and do stunts!

Check out Nick Principe’s TOP 10 “SLASHER” PICKS over on FearNet right HERE!

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