Spotlight Interview with Actor and Filmmaker John D. LeMay
We recently caught up with actor and filmmaker John D. LeMay. You may know him from the television show, Friday the 13th: The Series, which catapulted him onto other roles including, Jason Goes to Hell, Tour of Duty, and Without a Map. We asked LeMay how he got into acting, the craziest gift he received from fans, his experience leaving Los Angeles and moving to Boise, and we also learned a bit about his new company Feat1st Films. Keep reading to learn more about filmmaker turned entrepreneur, John D. LeMay.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
I had early warning signs. In grade school, I earned a reputation for being glib in class. My desire to communicate without raising my hand and chat with classmates brought me quickly to the attention of any teacher I came into contact with.
It also led to my being assigned a new seat on a regular basis. In spite of this, I seemed to have a gift for making anyone sitting next to me lose themselves completely. Not even the quietest kid in class was immune from being drug down into my disruptive ways.
The annual 6th grade English class performance project came as a bit of a revelation. None of my fellow classmates were inspired to participate in this self-starting creative venture. As a result, I became the de facto writer, director and, well…star with full creative control. The subsequent adaptation and performance of “Snow White” was a riotous mess, but I discovered that having the rapt attention and laughter of a cafeteria of corralled kids and teachers was much more satisfying than trying to engage one student at a time in class…and I didn’t have to spend any time in detention afterwards.
After that experience, I knew I wanted to be a performer of some sort. I just did not know what kind.
Consequently I spent all of middle school and high school pursuing every performing opportunity I could; swing choir, drama club, community theatre, summer theater, dinner theatre in a barn, high school speech team, and vocal contests. I was an extracurricular fiend!
After High School, I was determined to have a career in musical theatre. I enrolled at my hometown Illinois State University as a musical theatre major.
Freshman year I was cast in a production of David Mamet’s drama; American Buffalo. My character was well outside the realm of experiences, growing up middle class in small town in Central Illinois. I had to invest in the craft like never before. I fell in love with the process of character creation. I started seeing myself as a creative artist.
What started as a desire to be the center of attention turned into a passion for self-discovery and storytelling. Coincidentally, my 6th grade English teacher was the mother of the director who cast me in American Buffalo seven years later.
Working on Jason Goes to Hell
What’s your favorite memory from performing? Without naming names, what’s your worst or most unexpected?
Every time I am performing I feel so lucky. I can’t say I have a favorite memory…There is something magical about moments of connections with other actors. Acting is all about the heightened moment. Moments when lives are changed and illuminated. It is a thrill to live on that level for a couple of hours, and then go back to my life.
Unexpected…worst moments? That is a long list. I don’t even have to protect anyone else because I am perfectly capable of causing my own most embarrassing theatrical moments. This is the horror/beauty of live theater. Shit happens.
Forgotten lines, uncooperative props, choking on my own spit, scenery falling, and flop sweats. Working on stage is a magical experience for both performer and audience. I still remember witnessing my first live performance…to be breathing the same air as these people who are on stage pretending to be in another world…still blows me away. Part of the fun is never completely knowing how things will unfold.
On camera, while filming the series, I fell off a galloping horse onto a very cold, hard Canadian tundra. My fault. I insisted that a stunt double wasn’t necessary and that I could ride, bareback, on the butt of a horse while handcuffed, dismount, and slug a bad guy… all in one take. I was wrong. The horse was not happy to have me sitting on its back with co-star Robey at the reins. I was bucked soon after the director yelled action. There was a tremendous thud as I hit the ground, then silence. The bruise on my tailbone required the producers to put me up in a motel for a couple of nights near location, saving me the long car ride home sitting on my bruised butt.
With co-star Robey on Friday the 13th: The Series
Were you a horror fan before getting your role as Ryan Dallion on Friday the 13th: The Series? Are you able to still enjoy watching horror films?
During my last year of college, I moved to Chicago for an internship at the highly acclaimed “Theatre Building.” Someone talked me into going downtown to see a slasher film called, Pieces. I left the theater a little freaked out.
I tend to gravitate towards genre films that feature clever plots and characters you can root for. I really liked Cabin in the Woods, Pan’s Labyrinth, 28 Days Later, Bug, and Black Swan.
One of the first films I remember seeing in a movie theatre was JAWS. Even now, if I see a glimpse of that film I can’t turn away. I have to watch. So many iconic scenes and characters. Beyond that, I have always been a fan of the Universal Horror Classics.
John and Robey
Raising kids has limited my viewing options for an extended period. Thank God for Pixar! My daughter is a little older now and is starting to watch things on her own. Her group of friends are really into Supernatural on Netflix. I sat down and watched the pilot episode recently. Wonderful production with some great effects. Started watching Game of Thrones with my wife. (We don’t watch much TV) Whoa…is all I have to say.
Twenty-five years ago, there were a lot of groups complaining about the graphic nature of Friday The 13th: The Series. That show now seems quaint by today’s standards.
Since you’ve played the charming, comedic nice guy on screen, I’m sure you’ve garnered a wide female fan base. What’s the craziest or most awesome gift and/or compliment you’ve ever received from a fan?
I have had the good fortune to meet and get to know a lot of great fans over the years, some of which I am honored to call friends today.
One fan created an elaborate website for me prior to anyone being able to do something like that for themselves. It featured not only my acting work, but had pages devoted to my work as a visual artist. A tremendous gift.
Another fan is a very talented artist/illustrator. I always look forward to her birthday cards filled with awesome character illustrations… all hand drawn. At one point she fashioned a sock puppet dog, complete with dog tags in honor of a deceased canine companion of mine. At one point she visited Los Angeles on business and brought a group of her colleagues to see me in an Ovation nominated production of The Boys Next Door that I was performing in at the time. Getting audiences for plays, even highly acclaimed ones, in Los Angeles can be a challenge. I think they made up half the box office that evening. I was honored, and the producers were thankful.
Fun on the Friday the 13th: The Series set
A lot of male fans of the show credit Ryan as a major influence during that time in their lives. Were there any characters that had a lasting impression on you?
As a kid, I remember watching lots of television shows with my dad…the two of us sharing the avocado green, fake leather La-Z-Boy. Adam-12 and its spin-off Emergency, were shows that we regularly watched. They were dramas about policemen and paramedics produced by former Dragnet star Jack Webb. I remember having fantasies or dreams in which I was helping people in distress just like these larger than life public servants.
I am reminded of this partly because we just lost actor Martin Milner from Adam-12. His character was always cool under pressure yet always deeply human.
To be able to live out these childhood fantasies as a fictional character on a TV series years later was a bit of a hoot and a dream come true.
How do your kids feel about you being a pop culture horror icon?
I’ve never told them…Ha…
I have only recently made my youngest daughter watch a few episodes. “Do I have to?” is her response. I’m not sure my older stepdaughter has ever seen an episode.
My thirteen year old has trouble seeing me in danger and blubbering over dead girlfriends and such, besides she would rather spend her time watching YouTube channels. Every generation has their own touchstones.
Now that we have moved to Boise, there is a sense that her dad has kind of a cool job. She was always meeting actors and actresses in Los Angeles, not so much in Idaho.
Has having kids changed your perception on what’s scary?
Seeing the world anew through the eyes of your children is one of the greatest gifts a person can receive. My wife and I have been blessed with two girls that take big bites out of life and live with a kind of fearlessness. My worries for them have less to do with anything they might see in a movie theatre, but rather about the world we are leaving for them and their children. It seems to me that many of our current fears are of our own making and that the powers that be seem unable to take action in any meaningful way. That means the power to change has to happen on an individual level. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi … I try to emulate that for them, but as a human being, I often fall short.
Halloween is right around the corner, do you do anything special to celebrate now?
I don’t do anything that would speak to my past as a horror icon …as you say. We celebrated our first Halloween in Boise last year…lots of kids walking the streets at dusk, leaves falling…I projected the film Abbot and Costello Meet the Wolfman on a sheet and doled out a ton of candy.
It’s all very Norman Rockwell.
Actually, it all looks very similar to the opening shots one sees in just about every horror film. The calm, bucolic, neighborhood before all hell breaks loose.
Shooting the episode “Vanity’s Mirror”
What hobbies or activities do you like to do in your free time?
Moving to a new city and starting your own business doesn’t leave much time for much else.
Right now I am taking great pains scraping, sanding, priming, and painting the interior trim of our new to us 106 year old Bungalow. The literature that the county provides concerning the dangers of lead based paints was enough to scare me into buying a heavy duty respirator. (Hey, maybe I could wear the thing for Halloween…very scary.) Slow, meticulous work that I try to be Zen about.
While in California, I took advantage of the weather and grew vegetables year round. I became a master gardener; teaching the art and science of growing produce to the kids at my youngest daughter’s school. Our backyard was a food forest, and I loved cooking meals based on what was currently available in the yard.
You recently relocated to a new town. Was it hard to leave Los Angeles after calling it home for so many years?
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1985, I was pinching myself. I could not believe how fortunate I was to be living in a part of the country I had grown up watching on television and hearing sung about in pop songs.
I became a huge fan booster for all that California has to offer…I still am. I loved the fact that I could get lost in Los Angeles. After living there over thirty years I still traveled to places and drove down streets that I had never been before on a daily basis. Every day was filled with the possibility of a new adventure.
I certainly miss my friends and fellow artistic collaborators. Because it is so vast, I always valued the neighbors that I shared dinners with and the artistic homes I found in theatre companies.
With guest star Vanity
How does life in Boise compare to L.A.?
It certainly is a change of pace.
I just read a review of the new Rob Lowe/Fred Savage sitcom titled The Grinder which takes place in Boise. The [Executive Producer], Jake Kasdan, “wanted a fresh location that was as far away from the Hollywood vibe as possible.” So there you go.
The Idaho Statesmen has a section titled “what I shot or caught” with photos that feature mostly kids and their kill. That is pretty far away from the Hollywood vibe I’m thinking.
There are twice as many people living in Los Angeles proper as there are living in the entire state of Idaho. Yet, the city is large enough to support a vital arts scene with lots of free events to check out. The Treefort Music festival takes over the town in March and is a fantastic way to hear lots of great bands and see the town. I can get anywhere I want to be in 10 minutes, but I spend very little time in my car. People ride bikes with baskets and bells.
There is a vibrant downtown with a beautiful Capitol building and golden foothills as a backdrop. The Boise River runs right through the city with a Greenbelt or bike path that runs for close to 40 miles.
Kids are polite, introduce themselves and say, “Hi!”
I love raking leaves…ok, maybe not so much, but I do love the more noticeable change of seasons here. Did I mention that the light here is amazing!?
Hop fields dot the landscape outside of town, so there are variety of local breweries making some terrific beers. I am also a huge fan of hot springs and this state boasts more than any other. What’s not to like?
Life here just seems a little easier.
You’ve started your own company working behind the scenes in film production. Where did the name Feat1st Films come from? What inspired the logo?
I created the logo many years ago as the part of a series of artworks for a gallery show I was part of in Burbank, CA. I have always been inspired and informed by my dreams. The name is the title from a piece of “dream art.” It captured my point of view as I floated down, feet first, bouncing down the Hollywood Hills from roof top to roof top with the lights of the city gleaming in the distance.
The image has stuck with me to this day, and I have returned to it for this logo.
I’m not sure why I chose to use the title “feat” 1st. since the image shows actual “feet”.
It’s a play on words I guess…great “feats” can only come from risking and jumping at the chance to fail, and it is a reminder for me to live with courage and embrace change and have faith.
How has your acting background helped you make the transition into being on the other side of the camera?
I love being on sets. Lights camera, action. I am curious about it all. While on sets, I could often be seen picking the brains of the camera operator or the colorist. There have been some amazing changes in the tools in which we use to create media and films in the past thirty years. That change has opened up a world possibilities for media creators around the world. I love the fact that a short film can be created with something that we can carry in our pockets. (A 4k iPhone! Wow). Being an artist, in any form, is about “doing.” Now, more than ever, the easy access to affordable and powerful creative tools has opened up a world of possibilities and is helping thousands of people to “do.”
On the Jason Goes to Hell set
What has not changed is the need for people to tell their stories and our desire to hear them.
Here in Boise, we have an evening of storytelling called Story, Story Night. Members of the community share their experiences related to a pre-chosen theme. The evening never fails to blow me away with the raw honesty and courage of its storytellers. It reminds me how deeply personal experiences, told simply from the heart, can’t help but reverberate and affect a room full of people. As individuals we see the world… as a community we share it.
That is an incredibly long answer. The short answer is that I have always been curious about the craft of filmmaking. In spite of the technical changes that have taken place, the primary components and elements of the language of filmmaking still exists. I love the process.
Shooting the “Voodoo Mambo” episode
Do you have a passion project you’ve been hoping to pursue as a filmmaker?
I love the documentaries, and I am always on the lookout for subjects that interest me and pique my curiosity.
I have been fortunate to have spent my working life utilizing my artistic gifts and talents. Creating films that allow me to combine all of that experience and illuminate others’ stories is what I hope to work on.
Formerly an editor at Demand Media, writer at Citysearch, The Examiner and proofreader at The Los Angeles Daily News,Christy Buena decided to start Disarray Magazine because she missed writing what she wanted. From hiring writers, to contacting publicists and making assignments, Christy is responsible for the editorial strategy of DisarrayMAG.
When she’s not running Disarray, she’s consulting for Tigerlily Consultants, helping businesses with their content marketing and social media strategies.