Interview – Thom Mathews

Life is full of surprises, and it is simply impossible to know what tomorrow will bring. Thom Mathews can vouch for that when he found himself falling into an acting career while in his mid-twenties. Unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, Mathews would soon go on to leading roles in Horror favorites such as 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead and 1986’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. In years since, he has starred in a list of different films, both in Horror and beyond, but there is much more than meets the eye with this laid back actor. Take a closer look into the world of Mathews in a new interview talking how he landed in movies, his surprising change in career paths, future plans, and much more. – You have been acting professionally in film and television for over thirty years now, starring in a list of successful films. First, tell us what inspired you to get into acting?

Thom Mathews – Well, I was out of high school kinda floundering, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life. A girl I was dating suggested I become an actor, and then it was like, “That’s what I’ll do!” I started pursuing it, and it took about three years before I started to actually tell people that I was doing it, because, being the kind of guy I am, if I’m not making any dough at it, then, I’m not really doing it. I started doing commercials, various small projects and that was it. – Wow, so it was kind of something you just fell into.

Thom Mathews – Totally fell into. As a child, I had no aspirations of doing it. I was always creative as child, painting stuff and very hands-on. That was a big part of it, I guess. – Interesting, sometimes life takes you in unexpected places. You never know where it is going to go. Of your lengthy film credits, perhaps one of your most beloved is your role in 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead. Now over 30 years old, the film is celebrated as one of the best Horror films of the decade. What was your experience like working on The Return of the Living Dead?

Thom Mathews – It was the first big part for myself in film, and the experience couldn’t have been better. I was happy to work every day and I was happy to work with the cast. I loved the script because there was comedy, but we were playing it real, which is the best way to do comedy. Just getting to know and getting to meet James Karen and the rest of the cast. We were lucky they allowed us to rehearse two weeks prior to that, so that was a key to make everyone gel, to become friends, and get to know everyone. I really didn’t realize until afterwards when I started doing other films what a great experience it was. I did realize it then, but even more so after I started working on other movies.

Thom Mathews & James Karen in The Return of the Living Dead. © Orion Pictures – The film has a perfect mix of Comedy and Horror, it has style, and the music. The cast is a great mix of individuals. What was it like working with the cast and crew of the film?

Thom Mathews – Everybody was great! Most of my scenes were with James Karen, and we would spend time getting make-up and he would just have great stories. He took me under his wing and we did a lot of improv. Thank goodness Dan O’Bannon, the director, allowed us to do that. It’s usually unlikely for a writer to let their actors go off, and ad-lib stuff or use themselves, which is the best thing for a director to do. He was very talented and made his mark.

As you know, and everyone else knows, it turned out to be a pop culture kind of a movie. Now, when you think of zombies, you think of them eating brains and that’s because of The Return of the Living Dead. – Yes, it is very true. One of the most memorable parts of the film is certainly your relationship with James Karen. You and James have remained friends all these years later. How did you two develop a close friendship like you have? He is such a sweet man.

Thom Mathews – He really is. If I was a producer, I would just hire him just to have him on the set, because he’s so optimistic, he brings a great energy to the set and everything else like that. We hit it off right away and I found out in Return of the Living Dead Part II, we were born on the same date, November 28th, which was pretty interesting. – Excellent! You actually came back for Return of the Living Dead Part II in 1988 alongside James. While not as celebrated as the original, it is still a very enjoyable sequel. Amusingly enough, your characters perished in the first film, but you came back playing the same characters in Part Two.

Thom Mathews – Do you know why we came back? When we went to go get money to make Part Two, the Japanese distributors wanted Jimmy Karen and I to come back to reprise some part of our role in some way. So they called us back. (Laughs)

Thom Mathews & James Karen – That is pretty interesting. You do have memorable characters. It is kind of funny how they come back, and you guys have that same chemistry again in the second film.

Thom Mathews – It is called movie magic. (Laughs) – (Laughs) Talking about the original Return of the Living Dead. What was it like to ad-lib like you did?

Thom Mathews – Yeah, we would just do what was on the page, and then we’d actually get in front of the camera and things would just come up, and we would do it different ways, different times. It just worked, it was seamless. They left it in. Dan O’Bannon would encourage us to do it, so kudos to him.

Orion Pictures
Lorimar Motion Pictures – It definitely worked well. In between it all, you also were cast as Tommy in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives in 1986. You give a very strong performance and, to many fans, Jason Lives is one of the strongest films in the series. How did the role come about for you?

Thom Mathews – I don’t know and I still don’t know to this day if The Return of the Living Dead Part 1 played  a part in it. It probably did in having them calling me in, yes. But it was a regular audition over at Paramount with Frank Mancuso Jr., who was producer and a group of other people. They cast me! I don’t know what happened behind-the-scenes, how I got that, but I was up against three or four other guys and they went with me. – Well, you did an exceptional job with the role. Interestingly enough, you came on to provide the voice for Tommy in the new Friday the 13th game. Was that a fun project?

Thom Mathews – It was a blast! The video game was a huge success. I just wanted to say that Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is the closest character I’ve played to myself, because usually I play as a character type. I feel like my body of work is some kind of character. I consider myself a character actor, not a leading man, funny enough. I love to just work and not be recognized on the street because it’s a little embarrassing. I just love acting. I wish I was doing more of it, but my construction company just kind of took off and I have three kids. They’re getting older, but that is kind of the turn my life has taken.

Gun Media – Right, it is understandable. Obviously, when it comes to family, that always takes precedence over everything else. Beyond the Horror genre, you have also worked on many other films through the years including many Martial Arts themed films. You have actually studied Martial Arts, right?

Thom Matthews – I did! I became a purple belt at one point. I do that to work-out and I started doing it early on, because I have an older brother who’d beat me up. I swore when I got older I’d learn Karate and kick his ass! That was my inspiration for learning Martial Arts. I never fought him after that, but that’s how I got into it. (Laughs) – (Laughs) Lucky him because after that training you probably would have kicked his ass! You have worked in some really cool Martial Arts films. Do you enjoy working in those type of films?

Thom Matthews – I like action! I’m very a physical actor so any kind of action or stunts, I like to do them myself, or like to try to do them myself if the insurance company or the production company will allow for you to do that. There are limitations but I enjoyed doing it. I’ve always done sports and been very physical. I try to do as much as I can. – Obviously you keep in-shape to this day, so that is positive. You said that you have a successful construction company. You were doing construction prior to the acting, is that correct?

Thom Mathews – I was and that’s how I always kept cash in my pocket. My grandfather was a carpenter who worked for the studios, and my dad was in construction. I was learning all this stuff because we always had tools around the house. My grandfather he had a full shop in his backyard and I took wood shop in high school, so I knew a lot. In between acting gigs, which were many days, I would do construction, carpentry, or whatever, and then go out on auditions.

I’ve always done it and I just assumed everybody knew I knew how to do it, but then I realized it had some value to other people who didn’t do it and it just kind of took off.  It came to a point where auditioning cost me money, so it was a financial thing that I stopped acting so much. I’ve enjoyed auditioning, ever. It takes me awhile to live the part, work on the character, let it get inside of me, think about it, and sleep with it.  That’s why I kind of lean more towards films, because the audition process is a little bit longer as opposed to like a soap or a TV show.

Paramount Pictures
Kings Road Entertainment – Right, and there is certainly a major value in carpentry especially nowadays. It seems like most people cannot even hammer a nail nowadays.

Thom Mathews – Yeah and I enjoy doing it. I like building stuff. At the end of the day, you can look at it, you can hit it, you say there it is!  Unlike acting where you do a movie and a year later it comes out, and you’re on to the next thing. It is almost intangible: it can get in your head and get lost in there.

Everyone always asks why don’t I get my kids into acting? I say, well, it’s kind of a curse. It’s a curse if you get successful as a child, and it’s a curse if you don’t work. If you get successful, mentally it’ll mess with you. If you don’t get work, mentally it’ll mess with you. That is why I advise people not to have their children going into acting for that reason, unless it is commercials or something like that. That’s always fun to do. – That is understandable. Entertainment is a very difficult industry, in general, whether it be music or film. There are a lot of pitfalls one can get involved in. It is definitely hard.

Thom Mathews – It’s very hard emotionally. I think both those industries bring the best people, the most creative people and some of the worst people together. – Agreed completely. In recent years you have stepped away from acting, could fans expect to see you return to film again in the future?

Thom Mathews – I just did a fan-based film for Friday the 13th that’s going to be coming out. I can’t really talk about it because they haven’t released it yet. Then there is another one down-the-line for a fan-based one as well for Friday the 13th kind of taking off where Part VI left off.  A lot of people have thrown a lot of different ideas at me. One was Tommy Jarvis is a detective and investigating murders – that was more like a TV series kind of a deal for a weekly show. There is some interesting stuff, so I’m excited for that.  I think the game has reinvigorated that franchise to come back alive a little bit. The game’s been really successful and, like I said, it was really fun to do it. It is fun to watch my son play me and try to kill Jason. (Laughs) – It will be interesting to see what comes hereafter.  Obviously, we know they have already remade the original Friday the 13th. Maybe it will revamp the franchise for more theater films?

Thom Mathews – That would be great, I’d love to come back. I’ve always considered Jason Tommy Jarvis’s nemesis. As you know, my character digs him up and puts him back down in an hour and a half. It was a great experience, a great cast, the director was wonderful, Tom McLoughlin. I do conventions 5-6 times a year all over the States. I’ve done one in Germany, I recently did one in the UK. It’s been fun to get away, take the wife for a long weekend and get away.

Thom Mathews as Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th The Game. Gun Media – That is fun. Understandably, you like you stay in the background, as you said, and just work. That in mind, it still has to be redeeming to see how many people still love these films, doesn’t it?

Thom Mathews – Yeah, it’s amazing the momentum it still has and the fanbase is pretty large. Apparently, it’s impacted people’s lives when they were younger.  They reach out to me and thank me for being a part of that, whether it was Friday the 13th Part VI or Return of the Living Dead Part 1.

Some of these conventions, it’s amazing what some people have done to their bodies – the tattoos of my dying scene with Beverly Randolph, and one guy had me sign my name on his arm. Then, it got slow at my table, so I walked around for five minutes looking at all the vendors, and this guy’s getting my signature tattooed on his arm. I was like, “Whoa!” I told all my friends I’ve arrived after seeing that. (Laughs) There’s a very hardcore fanbase. – The Horror genre has a very strong fanbase. Some people sometimes look at Horror as being a level below other genres, but they simply do not know the dedication the fans have.

Thom Matthews – Right, I agree with that.  I think the Academy Awards in recent years were thinking about having its own category for the Oscars. Which would have been great for the genre! – It deserves it! It is a very popular genre and, like we said, it has a very strong fanbase.

Thom Mathews – It’s its own thing. It’s not comedy, although it could be. It’s not a drama, but it could be. It has its own style, its own genre. – Exactly. Last question. Are you a fan of the Horror genre, and if so, do you have any favorites?

Thom Mathews – I originally wasn’t a fan of Horror. When I did the original Return of the Living Dead, because you’re there for six weeks, what I appreciated about it was having to hit certain marks. Particularly Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives and what Tom McLoughlin had done, because there are certain marks that you had to hit. He has to work all these things into the script, and I really appreciated the filmmaking aspect of it.  What he did, having to get all these kills and how he had to get these kills, but lacing it into a story that was a wonderful story that had a beginning, middle, and an end. It was shot beautifully, he lit it beautifully so I was into that.

I’m a big fan of Zombieland (2009), it’s a fun Horror movie.  As a kid, I used to watch Godzilla and all the Frankenstein movies. I like Boris Karloff and all those things. We recently saw It. I like all The Blair Witch Projects and stuff like that.

Universal Pictures
Columbia Pictures – There a lot of people who look at a Horror film that has a lot of gore and it is just gore. But to the make-up artists, that is an art. Especially practical effects, trying to create that and the ways to create it, it is an art.

Thom Mathews – Absolutely, I agree. It’s an art form, it’s filmmaking. – Nowadays, there are an awful lot of computer effects that are prevalent in film. What are your thoughts on that?

Thom Mathews – I think there’s a place for it, unless it overtakes the movie and the story; but if it’s done well and it’s seamless, I think it’s okay. I think it depends on the scene and what’s going on.  I’m not a big fan of it, but I do enjoy watching a lot of it like the Jason Bourne movies and Mission Impossible movies. They’re a fun ride, it’s great entertainment. As an actor,  a lot of it is done blue screen or green screen. That sometimes is more challenging, because you’re really acting by yourself a lot of the time.

For more on Thom Matthews: Facebook 

Purchase Return of the Living Dead I & II:

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Purchase  Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

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Purchase Friday the 13th: The Game:

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1 Comment

  • Wish there were more Thom Mathew actors in the world. It’s a shame this guy didn’t make the big bucks. So many overpaid brats in Hollywood now a days by comparison. Won’t give off any names but lets just say many of these airheads get very political and turn people against each other. I guess that accounts for about 90 percent of creepy Hollywood now a days sadly.

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