Halloween behind the scenes: How John Carpenter cast the original Michael Myers
Nick Castle is a film director whose credits include the 1984 sci-fi adventure The Last Starfighter and the 1993 comedy Dennis the Menace. But to horror fans, he is probably best known for portraying Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween. So how did the future filmmaker wind up playing the soon-to-be-iconic masked maniac opposite Jamie Lee Curtis (as teenage babysitter Laurie Strode) and Donald Pleasence (as Myers’ psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis)?
“Well, that had to do with the fact that I’ve been friends with John Carpenter since film school,” Castle tells EW. “We both went to USC film department and did movies there. In fact, we were on a crew that won an Academy Award for a short [1970’s The Resurrection of Broncho Billy]. We just stayed close friends through the early part of his career. And then, when he was mounting the movie, they actually were going to shoot a large part of it near my house. I was in Laurel Canyon, and the houses — the hero street, so to speak, at the end of the movie — they’re off Sunset Blvd., near Laurel Canyon Blvd.
“So, I said, ‘John, I’m going to come down to the set and hang out,’” Castle continues. “‘I want to be a director too, so this will be pretty good practice for me to take a look.’ And he said, ‘Well, okay, then put on the mask, and then you’ll always be there, and that’s your reason to be on the set.’ And I said, ‘Okay, good.’ That was it. It was as simple as that.”
According to Carpenter, it wasn’t quite as simple as that — or rather, the director argues that Castle did bring something special to his portrayal of Myers (a.k.a. the Shape).
“We were buddies in film school, and I knew him, and he just has a grace to him,” Carpenter says. “And his dad was a choreographer. I don’t know if her learned anything from his father, but he moved in a way that nobody else moves like.”
“That’s absolutely true, my dad was a rather famous choreographer,” Castle confirms. “[He] worked with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and everyone, you know. So I grew up in that world, and while I have two left feet, he was one of the great dancers in Hollywood. I suppose there could be some subconscious factor in all that, but it certainly would be in the subconscious vein. What I really did was listen to what John told me to do. He was really very much puppeteering. It was John telling me, ‘Go fast,’ ‘Go slow,’ ‘Tilt your head,’ and puppeteering me through the thing.”
Forty years on, Castle is once again playing Myers: He makes a cameo as the killer in director David Gordon Green’s new sequel, which is also titled Halloween (out Oct. 19). On set, he reunited with returning star Curtis and a visiting Carpenter.
“Castle came out for a few days to play the Shape for us, and then once Jamie arrived it was just a reunion,” says Ryan Turek, a co-producer on the new Halloween. “I’d see Jamie and Nick and John just kind of secluded away off set, talking, catching up. It was amazing to see.”
“It was just a blast,” says Castle. “First of all, the production folks there couldn’t have been nicer. They’re big fans of the movie, and coincidentally some of the guys are big fans of some of my films that I directed. The first day I was on the set, Jamie was there and saw me walking across to the makeup trailer and screamed and came running over and said, ‘Is this nuts or what?’ But it was quite a reunion. I’m in one scene. That kind of makes it a lot of fun, I think. The other thing thing I did for the movie [was] ADR for the Shape, the breathing and the efforts when he gets hit, stuff like that.”
And why does Castle think Michael Myers has proven such a reliable fright machine over the years?
“It has a lot to do with that mask, of course,” he muses. “You can’t give enough credit to Tommy Wallace, who was the production designer, John’s buddy from Kentucky, who came to film school with us too, pulling a William Shatner mask off the shelf and cutting some holes and painting it a little whiter. Suddenly, you put it on, and it’s magic. It is just so scary. You know, I go to these conventions, and there’s a lot of guys walking around with these things, and even if it’s not the best mask, the idea that you can’t discern the personality of that person, he’s just a blank slate, that’s somehow very very powerful. That’s what Dr Loomis says too about this person: ‘There’s nothing there!’”