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In my 30 years as a professional actor, being cast as Pinhead in HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT is hands-down the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.
As a kid growing up in the middle of Kansas, Halloween was always my favorite time of year. My requirements for a successful Halloween costume and character consisted of three things: I must be scary, grotesque and unrecognizable. Little did I know how that would carry over into a much later chapter of my life.
My dad used to tell me I was lazy because he didn’t understand me. I was stubborn and willful and he couldn’t push me to do something I didn’t want to do. In his mind, that translated to “laziness,” but give me something to do that I’m passionate about and I am the polar opposite of lazy. And that passion fueled me to never give up on my acting career. And I’m proud to say that “laziness” (stubbornness, focus, and drive) has finally started to pay off!
A little over two years ago, I was doing a lot of soul-searching. I was meditating and chanting and asking the universe for some great film roles. I was living in the mindset of the manifestation of one’s dreams. My therapist and I had talked at length about the power I had if only I would cut out the negative self-talk and concentrate on working the law of abundance in my favor, willing the life I desired to come to me. You know, all the positivity the cynics joke about.
After a few months of this meditative work, I got an audition notice for a film titled JUDGMENT. Upon reading the audition side for the role of “The Auditor”, I knew immediately that it was a HELLRAISER film. His first line was something like, “We have such sights to show you”. Duh. I was thrilled that it was a sequel to my favorite horror franchise EVER.
I read the sides for the character and knew I could nail it. He was sort of a middle-management weirdo, the type of role I have played a lot in my career. A few minutes later, I got a private email from the casting director Chris Friehofer saying he also wanted to put me on tape for the role of “Pinhead”. He said that Doug Bradley would not be doing it and asked if I would be interested in auditioning. Of course, I said YES.
But then the old voices started up, saying, “Taylor, there’s no fucking way you’re going to get the part of Pinhead!” That lasted for about 15 minutes. Then suddenly I stopped. “Wait. What have I been doing for the last 3 months? I asked for this opportunity and the universe responded. I’m gonna make this the best film audition I’ve ever done and I’m gonna nail BOTH of those characters in the audition room.” I had four days to prepare.
At the time, I was doing a very dark play called MARTYR, about religious fundamentalism, playing a very strange and useless Priest. One of my personal props was my father’s bible and the actors would sit on benches in view of the audience, facing away from the action while they were not involved. I typed up my audition sides and hid them in the bible so I could study my lines onstage. I worked my butt off learning those lines. I auditioned very well (and I took my Pinhead action figure and NECA Lament Configuration for good luck!) And, obviously, I got the part. But first, I had to wait a few weeks.
I was told I was the director’s first choice, the studio’s first choice, the executive’s first choice, but Bob Weinstein, who had final casting approval, was at Cannes and was having some technical issues watching my audition tape, so the wait continued. Finally, one early Sunday morning, I got a text from the casting director. “Are you awake?” YES. “Welcome to the movie, Pinhead.” And my life changed. Well, first I did a happy dance. Then my life changed.
The first thing I did was visit writer-director Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s make-up and fx company TWO HOURS IN THE DARK to have my head cast done for the creation of Pinhead’s make-up. (Coincidentally, while I was in L.A., I wandered into a comic book store and found a HELLRAISER graphic novel. On the first page was a Priest giving last rites to a death row inmate. On the next page, Pinhead appeared and destroyed the Priest. The synchronicity of this was not lost on me, considering the play I was still doing and the role I was about to do.)
Before getting to the head casting process, Gary sat me down in his office, which was full of fantastic horror creations and memorabilia from many of the films he has worked on over the years. He told me bluntly that I was going to be hated by some hardcore fans of HELLRAISER and die-hard “Doug Bradley is the only Pinhead” fans. He said I was going to have a tough time winning over these fans, but that if I could, I would be golden.
I was not at all surprised by what he was telling me. After all, I am also a huge fan of all things Clive Barker, HELLRAISER being my favorite classic horror franchise of the 1980’s. Of course, I dig Freddy, Jason, and Michael, too, but Pinhead has always struck a chord with me. It’s because, besides being scary and grotesque, he’s also elegant, menacing, intelligent, beautiful, eloquent and sexy as hell. I think of Pinhead as the poet or Shakespeare of the horror icons. And if the actor playing the Hell Priest doesn’t have the ability or depth to give the character these traits, he’s simply a man in a costume acting scary, which is far from scary.
I think most of the fans who have reacted negatively to the idea of a new Pinhead are so emotionally invested in the true meanings of HELLRAISER, they find it very difficult to let go of that mindset. I don’t blame them at all. I understand. Doug Bradley IS Pinhead.
So then, the challenge was to create my own version of the character without doing an impression of Bradley and without being untrue to who I am and what I could bring to the role. It wasn’t as tough as it might sound. I had so much resource material: the past films and my affection for them, the script (which gave Pinhead a character arc, presenting him at a never-before-explored time in his existence), and my own personal history and experiences with pain, suffering, and ecstasy. I knew he had to be two things: British and terrifying. Quite frankly, I knew from my own experience as an actor and from reading interviews with Mr. Bradley that the costume and especially the make-up would do most of the work for me. When you look like that, you don’t have to “act” scary because you ARE scary.
My process for “becoming Pinhead” was fairly simple. I re-watched all of the HELLRAISER films for a couple of weeks, concentrating on the first two. Then, Gary and I agreed that it was time to get to work creating MY Hell Priest, based on the reality of the JUDGMENT script. He is a darker, older, more morose Hell Priest than has ever been seen in the franchise, so I spent a lot of time alone in my darkened house. I took long walks in my sketchy neighborhood. I was walking differently, speaking differently, and everything was tinged with danger. It was a fantastic voyage. I spent many hours sitting on my front porch and speaking the lines, and when I took those long walks in my heavy boots, I just kept saying, “I have nothing to fear. You can’t hurt me. I’m Pinhead.”
I cannot overemphasize how cool it was to have the exterior part of my transformation, the make-up, created and applied by the brilliant artists in the make-up trailer. The entire make-up consisted of two large prosthetic pieces and the lower lip. That’s it. The only things not covered with the very thin layer of foam latex were my ears and eyes. The make-up supervisor was Mike Measimer, who was also the sole applier of Pinhead’s face.
It’s a tradition in the HELLRAISER history to go for a world record time in applying the Hell Priest’s make-up. Of course, that record is held by Gary, who got Doug from nothing to camera-ready in 69 minutes! I would sit in the make-up chair, Mike would hit the timer and start gluing. Then at a good stopping place, he would stop the timer and go for a smoke break while I sat there staring at myself. Then he would come back, hit the timer and continue with the process. All I cared about was that I didn’t have a crooked grid or look like a stroke victim. Next was the air-brushing around the eyes and ears, applying the lower lip and putting in the full black sclera contact lenses. Gary would come in when I was almost finished to tweak the make-up and put in the scleras, which are a real pain to deal with if you don’t know what you’re doing. Mike didn’t beat Gary’s record, but then, from 1993 to 2004, Gary has applied the prosthetic around 80 times!
My first time in the make-up, I got to spend about 30 minutes alone in the trailer, staring at myself in the mirror and seeing just how much I needed to move my face to be subtle yet effective. That alone time was transformational. I started to feel the specific kind of isolation that Pinhead feels in JUDGMENT.
The first time I walked through the warehouse doors into the set, some of the crew were standing around the entrance. As the double doors were opened for me, I walked through and heard several audible gasps and a few murmurs of “Oh My God.” I was in Heaven. Which was in Hell. Irony. This Halloween-loving Kansan had arrived. I was Pinhead.
I am extremely proud that HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT is a standalone film, unique in its place within the mythos. I hope that fans like it, and I hope it gains some footing with new horror fans, who have never before seen a HELLRAISER film.
Hellraiser: Judgment was released today, February 13. And it has such sights to show you.