Interview – Judd Nelson

Interview – Judd Nelson

Back in the 1980s, coming-of-age films were hot in cinema and a talented group of young actors/actresses involved some of the most popular titles was nicknamed the Brat Pack. A play on the original Rat Pack, the Brat Pack’s core consisted of Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, and none other than Judd Nelson. Nelson, a well-educated young man who attended the prestigious Haverford College, is a unique talent who is remembered for his roles that include the bad attitude John Bender in The Breakfast Club and more preppy Alec Newbary in St. Elmo’s Fire. Yet still, the often under-appreciated Nelson has been one of the more diverse actors around – protraying good guys, bad guys, and everything in between.

Building a résumé a mile long in film and television, he continues to deliver superb performances nearly four decades since his debut, and recently took a leading role in the new Thriller Dead Water. Released in select theaters as well as on VOD July 26th, 2019, the film finds Nelson once again reveling in the challenge of another intense role. Taking the time out of his day, he recently sat down to chat about his impressive career, what he looks for in a role, plus a whole lot more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have been acting professionally for almost four decades starring in a list of memorable films as well as television series. Before going any further, briefly tell us what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

Judd Nelson – I did a play in college and I just kind of got the bug. It seemed like a wonderful thing to do for fun, and I wasn’t quite sure if it was something I could make a living at. When I decided I did want to pursue it as a career, I’m not from a family who has ever done anything like this, and my dad who is a lawyer said, “Well that’s an interesting job choice. You may find it difficult because it’s a profession where merit is not necessarily awarded.” I just said, “whatever,” I might of paid a little more attention to that. (Laughs) It just seemed like an exciting way to make a living if I could.

Cryptic Rock – You certainly did. You found success early on in the 1980s with a group of decade defining films, including 1985’s The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire. What was that early success like for you?

Judd Nelson – I’m not really sure. It seemed that we were labeled as kind of unprofessional, carrying ourselves with a sense of entitlement, and I think that wasn’t necessarily accurate. I enjoyed all the people that I worked with and I enjoyed all the project work. It was fun, exciting, and I’d like to think of the term ‘career’ as a retrospective term. It’s hard to really anticipate it and know what steps to take to keep it flourishing as opposed to not.

Universal Pictures

Columbia Pictures

Cryptic Rock – You have kept things very diverse over the years. Taking on a broad range of roles, you more recently starred in the Thriller Dead Water. How did this role come about for you?

Judd Nelson – It was a project I knew about and was hopefully going to do a year earlier, but in that region of the world they had a horrible hurricane. There wasn’t going to be any filming there for a while, but it came to life a year later. I was free, it worked out perfectly, and I got to work with Casper Van Dien who I had met briefly. I didn’t really know him, but it turns out now he is one of my best friends; he is a great guy, I had a blast working with him. It was a first time director, Chris Helton did a great job. It was fun: we were all on boats and there was beautiful weather.

Cryptic Rock – Very cool. As mentioned you have played diverse roles, and this role you play a modern day pirate type. What was it like portraying this character?

Judd Nelson – It was fun, it’s always fun to play a bad guy. I enjoyed it very much; the boats were great, the people in Saint Croix were incredibly nice. It kind of felt like actor’s camp, it was really fun.

Cryptic Rock – The film creates a great atmosphere on the water. What was it like shooting mostly on the water? Was it a challenge with such wide open spaces?

Judd Nelson – You certainly are a slave to the weather, but we were very fortunate the weather was good. A shoot like that, if you were to have bad weather, I don’t know where you could hide. It’s not like you could do things that weren’t on the boats, because all the scenes I’m involved in are on the boats. If the weather were to get very rough I think it would be very difficult, but we were lucky. The boats were great; the big fancy boat was incredible to shoot on. The smaller boat I begin to shoot on was a little bit less comfortable; it was a bit more rocky, the engine fumes were a bit rough, but, all in all, it was a great experience.

Judd Nelson as McLean in Dead Water.

Cryptic Rock – Interesting. Hitting theaters and VOD on Friday July 26th, have you heard some early reactions?

Judd Nelson – I have not heard anything. I have only seen a rough version of it; I have not seen the finished product, but I enjoyed it.  I think the work by the actors is really good. I got to meet Griff Furst, who I hadn’t met before, and he was just wonderful. It’s tough because a lot of those sets where we are shooting are practical on the boat. You are limited in your physical range of motion, and you have no sense of that from the performances; everyone was just great.

Cryptic Rock – The cast did a wonderful job. You mentioned you are now friends with your co-star Casper Van Dien. What was it like working opposite him on set?

Judd Nelson – Casper is incredibly friendly, very smart, and just a good guy. It’s funny, because he’s a handsome guy, so you think, of course, he’s going to be an idiot. I don’t know why I would think that, but he’s so interesting, smart, and sensitive. He was so easy to work with; he’s ready and prepared. I felt the same way about Griff, as well. I thought Chris Helton did a great job as a first time director. We had a good crew. You had to work kind of fast, because you don’t have a very long shooting schedule, you just have to come ready and just shoot it.

Cryptic Rock – Speaking of working fast, you have worked in television a lot too. Television can be a faster pace than a feature film. How would you compare working in television opposed to features?

Judd Nelson – Things have changed. When I began there was a big difference between the people and product, film and television were two separate worlds. Now they’ve merged and they are pretty much the same. You have the top directors in film shooting television, as well. Actors go back and forth too. It really depends on the budget of the project to how much time you get. It’s not like TV is necessarily faster than film anymore. Everything is kind of fast now: things are so expensive and there’s not that much money. People have to work fast, efficiently, create no problems, just show up ready and shoot.

Saban Films

Cryptic Rock – You are right. In may ways television has surpassed featured films in a lot of ways.

Judd Nelson – Yeah, there are some magnificent television shows that are shot like films. There are some incredibly beautiful television shows with deep content.

Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. You said it is fun to play a bad guy. You have played a lot of different types of roles from a bad guy to good guy to some just generally very intense characters. What have you taken away from all these different experiences?

Judd Nelson – A lot of times you can make the bad decisions of a character and you don’t have to make them in your life, because you see the ramifications of that in the characters you play. When I’m faced with various things in my life you go, “Well, I better calm down here and just play it easy.” Getting all worked up about things tends to not work out well. I’m a bit hyperactive so I’ve learned to be a bit more patient.

Cryptic Rock – That is a good life lesson in general. You have also done voice-overs, and you have been tied to The Transformers for over thirty years now. Doing the original The Transformers: The Movie in 1986, you have also done off-shoot series. What is like doing voice-overs?

Judd Nelson – Doing the voice for animated characters is a blast, it’s really fun. First off, you don’t have to worry about how you appear; that’s all done by the artist, you’re just the voice. It’s fun, the group of people I’ve worked with have been incredibly talented. There was a lot of laughs, good times, and I was very surprised how much I enjoyed it. It’s so funny people will come up to me and will say, “You know what I like? The Transformers movie!” I just smile – it’s so cool to hear that. When I was a kid you didn’t have those, they just had regular kind of cartoons. The Transformers have become this huge industry now, it’s great.

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Warner Bros.

Cryptic Rock – It really has become huge. As mentioned earlier, you were involved in some decade defining films including The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire. Looking back, how do you feel the films have aged? The content seems still very relevant.

Judd Nelson – I think so, as well. Certainly a film like The Breakfast Club has great applications in present day as well as it did when it was made. I think that’s a true testament to the work and intelligence of John Hughes. He was the first filmmaker who was able to see young people without seeing them as being less people, he treated them with respect. The issues people face in high school are sometimes very serious, it’s not always laughs and good times. It’s important to listen to the quiet voices to the people who are younger who are having some problems. If you ignore those voices you get Columbine.

Cryptic Rock – That is a very good point. Beyond playing just villains, you have also played some real dark characters. For example, your character in the 1992 Tales from the Crypt episode What’s Cookin’.

Judd Nelson – (Laughs) That was fun, I enjoyed that. I think in a good screenplay you find out the reasons why people do certain things. It’s a better screenplay when the audience knows where it’s coming from. Just to be this all of a sudden fully bloomed sociopath is a little less interesting than when you see what has created this person; when you see why they are so non-empathetic and why they are more of a sociopath than a thinking, feeling person. The deeper the screenplay goes the better I think it is for the audience, and the more fun it is to play those bad guys.

Cryptic Rock – It goes back to the fact that most things are not black and white, there are shades of grey to a character.

Judd Nelson – Yes, absolutely. It’s all situational ethics. Depending on your point-of-view what you see is different.

Cryptic Rock – Yes, exactly. Beyond Dead Water, what other projects do you have coming up?

Judd Nelson – There is one that is finished I did with C. Thomas Howell called Dauntless. I don’t know when it’s coming out, it’s about the Battle of Midway. I play a real-life guy who was an Admiral in the Battle of Midway. We did the whole thing in a green screen room. We didn’t have an aircraft carrier, an airplane, or the ocean, but it looks as if we did. It’s fascinating: whatever you can imagine, you can film it and make it look real. We were just in a room and it looks like an aircraft carrier; it’s fantastic.


Bayou Pictures

Cryptic Rock – That sounds like it will be an interesting film to look out for. Last question, what are some of your favorite Horror/Sci-Fi related films?

Judd Nelson – I would say for me the greatest Horror movie of all-time is The Exorcist (1973). That movie scared the bejesus out of me and still does. I once put the theme song from The Exorcist on my phone as the ringtone, it lasted two phone calls! I said what the hell am I doing with that, scaring the crap out of myself every time I get a phone call. (Laughs) That is probably my all-time favorite. I like almost all Horror movies. I like all movies with lots of blood and gore, but I also like the suspenseful Thrillers. If I were to sit with one Horror movie, it would be The Exorcist.

Cryptic Rock – Great selection. Having done Horror films, were there any Horror related films you were offered that you didn’t do?

Judd Nelson – None that I can think of. I don’t have any regrets, but who knows, time will tell. Maybe there will be something great in the future that I can do.

Cryptic Rock – It would be cool to see you do more Horror films. The Exorcist certainly has an affect on you.

Judd Nelson – All the actors are great, as well. Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, these are the best actors in the world. The Omen (1976) had great actors in it as well, it is also very scary. Constantine (2005) was great, as well. You have to think Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) is a Horror movie without question. Christian Bale is the most genius Batman.

Warner Bros.

20th Century Fox

Cryptic Rock – Yes, a lot of films which you would not consider a Horror movie can be viewed as such.

Judd Nelson – E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) is a Horror movie. Any movie which has an obvious villain who could possibly win is a Horror movie. I’m not quite sure if Blade Runner (1982) is a Horror movie or not, but Philip K. Dick wrote a lot of scary books. Not sure if you would necessarily call them Horror or just thrilling. Alien (1979) is a scary movie. It was also the great birth of an incredible female hero.

Cryptic Rock – That is right. Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley was one of the first female heroes in film. Her character was one of the first to make a female the strong hero opposed to a victim.

Judd Nelson – Exactly right. Ripley was nobody’s victim. (Laughs) It was so great. I tell you when that thing jumped out of John Hurt’s belly I was like whoa! When I was a kid when I saw Jaws (1975), I got a cramp in my leg from leaping up from when that head fell through the bottom of the boat. That’s a scary movie!

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