Some of the most beloved films of the 1970s 1980s and 1990s have a common factor in Chris Sarandon. Starting in A Dog Days Afternoon as Leon, his role in popular culture only grew. As a voice actor, Chris lent his voice to Kurotawa in studio Ghibli’s Nausica in the Valley of the Winds and to the iconic Pumpkin King himself, Jack Skellington in A Nightmare Before Christmas.
As an actor he faced the Dread Pirate Roberts and lost as the villainous Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride. And he stared down Chucky’s creepy eyes in Childs Play while baring his fangs as Jerry the vampire in Fright Night and crossing paths with the Crypt Keeper in Bordello of Blood.
With roles like those it is no surprise he was the star of the Days of the Dead convention in Indianapolis this year, where he was kind enough to give me some of his time to speak about his projects past and future.
You are known as Jack Skellington to many fans of my generation not only from the film, but from the video games, especially Kindgom Hearts. Do you have any idea when you might be back for one of those games?
I honestly don’t know. There are a number of games that Disney are putting together. I think I may be speaking a little out of turn here, but they are creating an interactive Kingdom Hearts event that someday, hopefully, will play to large venues around the country. That is sort of on the drawing table at the moment.
Those kind of interactive events seem like something Disney really has a handle on. Even with the characters walking around in the parks. Do you enjoy that part of fan interaction? Do you get that anywhere perhaps outside of live theater?
Fan interaction is the best part of doing these conventions. Except when you are working on stage as an actor [in front of a live audience], it’s film or movies, and it’s just you and another actor standing around. It’s not a real experience. But with these conventions, you come to understand the fan experience. To see how the movie affected them, how often they have watched them, and how much they have integrated [that experience] into their lives.
Fright Night, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Princess Bride, Child’s Play: just looking at the head shots on your table here it must be amazing to have people come up and realize you were a part of the fabric of their childhood. They must approach you with the quotes from those movies as well.
I see entire family traditions. Even generations of tradition, watching these films together. I’m not surprised when people approach me with quotes. Especially in the instance of the Princess Bride. Generally speaking, the thing that sets [those movies] apart is that they are really well written. The acting sometimes stands out, but it’s what defines [the movie]. In the end, if these titles are remembered, they are remembered for the writing.
Is that what drew you to scripts that some people might have dismissed as being “genre” roles?
I’ll go back to my previous statement: it’s the writing. If the writing is good, the project has a real sort of feel about it. With Fright Night I met the director and read the script, and could tell he knew what he was doing, and [he] was very gifted. With The Princess Bride it was Rob Reiner. It was a book by William Goldman, and it was adapted into a brilliant screenplay. So how can you go wrong? Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas? Some of the great cultural touchstones of this generation have come from Tim Burton. Child’s Play: Tom Holland again from Fright Night; I think you would have to be pretty stupid not to see the potential when working with these people.
Why do you think some people do take a dismissive approach to horror as a genre or, undeservedly in the case of the Princess Bride, call these (derisively) films B-movies?
I think there is a certain prejudice against films that are gory. Often, when a film has gore, it is not necessarily admired for its film-craft. Once in a while, a film slips through and makes that impact. I think Silence of the Lambs did that. There are certain films which elevate [the gore] and show it as an art form, [which allows it to] transcend genres. There are bad films, as well, in other genres certainly. There are melodramas that don’t transcend just as often as there are horror titles that don’t transcend. You certainly see that more artful approach in films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or the original Dracula or in Fright Night.
What should fans be on the lookout for from you in the near future?
I have another project with Tom Holland directing, but I can’t speak to that until the financing is in place. Other than that, us actors are always looking for work. Who knows!