Chris Sarandon received an Oscar nomination in 1975 for his brave portrayal of a pre-op transsexual in Dog Day Afternoon. Since then, he has appeared in such notable films as The Princess Bride, The Resurrected, the original Child’s Play, and The Nightmare Before Christmas (where he voiced the irrepressible Jack Skellington). He is perhaps best known for playing Jerry Dandridge, the vampire next door in Tom Holland’s Fright Night. A new version of the film hits theaters this Friday, and Sarandon is included in the cast as a nod to the original. He spoke to the press about both projects – as well as his other iconic screen turns – at a recent press conference in Los Angeles.
Question: What was your first thought when you heard they were remaking Fright Night, and at what point did you think there might be something in it for you?
Chris Sarandon: A mixture of excitement and trepidation to a certain extent. The first movie has a real place in my heart, not only because it became a cult hit and people came to love it, but also because the experience itself in doing it was great. We had a great time together, I got to cement my friendship with Roddy McDowall, which became a lifelong friendship, and I also became close friends with Bill Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse. It was a very collaborative experience as well, and I thought, “well if these guys can get together and do the same thing, then more power to them.”
Then I read the script and thought, “there’s some very smart people involved in this.” What they decided to do was not a slavish reenactment or remake, but rather taking the basic elements and reimagining it for a modern audience. We worked on the same things they did. Realism in relationships and characterization and situation is very important in movies like this. If you ever wink at the audience, you ruin it. There were a lot of vampire movies in the 60s and 70s that winked at the audience; Tom Holland, who directed the first Fright Night, was very specific about having fun with it, but not making fun of it. The way you keep from doing that is to create characters who are true to their relationships and keep that all the way through. It’s a fine line, and it’s not an easy way to go, because you have to be vigilant. I think the filmmakers in the new version were extremely vigilant.
As for my involvement, the original contact came because one of the producers, Mike DeLuca, knew my manager Ken Jacobson. Ken called him up and said, “wouldn’t it be great if you could work Chris into the movie?” Mike agreed and they sent me the script. I read it and said, “this is great, what do you want me to do?” They said, “pick a part.” I can’t say too much more, but the part I ended up getting felt very apropos.
Q: Did you talk to Colin Farrell at all about the character of Jerry Dandridge?
CS: Colin and I, the first evening we met, he came to my trailer and brought me a gift: a boxed set of Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr and a bottle of Chateau La Fete. And we just sat and talked, though not about Jerry. He was nervous about confronting the possibility that I might in some way be upset about the fact that he was playing it. But I was thrilled. I told him just the other day that I’d passed the torch and I’m very proud. Colin’s a very good actor, and this is not false modesty by saying that I think I’m pretty good too. But his performance was very consistent and he was very clear about what kind of character this new Jerry Dandridge was.
Q: Word is you have a theory on why Jerry Dandridge – both versions – eats apples.
CS: He eats apples, he eats apricots, he eats grapes, he eats all kinds of fruit. When I was originally researching the role, I checked around about bats. I saw that there are very few vampire bats. 90 percent of all bats in the world are fruit bats. So I thought, “wouldn’t it be interesting if Jerry had a genetic predisposition somewhere along the line to fruit?” We sort of ran with it, and Tom did some great things with it… besides the obvious Biblical quality.
Q: It’s a pity in some ways that there are no horror TV show hosts anymore. Was there ever any talk of you playing Peter Vincent?
CS: Who knows? If they’d chose to go that way, maybe. But they chose to go this way, and I think this is a better contemporary take on that character. It places you in the Las Vegas milieu, it makes a lot of sense of a lot of levels, and David Tennant is brilliant.
Q: What do you think about the current waves of vampires that we’ve been seeing over the past few years?
CS: It’s sort of interesting that they’ve become these romanticized figures. I don’t watch a lot of them, and I don’t say this in a pejorative way. I have nothing against them, but they haven’t entered my radar. My feeling is that, at least with this picture, they’re attempting to move away from that romanticism. Back to Nosferatu, the Bela Lugosi Dracula, the Bram Stoker novel: vampires as truly evil characters that have no compunctions about killing, no relationship to the people they kill. There’s something much more chilling to that notion, much more in keeping with the horror genre. The Twilight series and True Blood are beautifully made and wonderfully wrought and have millions of fans. But they’re essentially romances – and again, I don’t say that in a pejorative way. But I categorize them in different ways than vampire movies like this.
Q: What do you think is the most 80s thing about the first movie that just wouldn’t have worked in this one?
CS: Besides the wardrobe? [Laughter.] Certainly, I think they went the right way with the disco scene in this movie, the dance scene. That was a very 80s thing about the first film. Also, the seductive dance, which was a very 80s thing. I think the choice they made, which was to make it part of the chase, was a better one today. And they got some stuff in, some essential stuff, like the fact that she couldn’t see him in the mirror and had to make up her mind whether or not he was a vampire. Those are the moments that most immediately come to mind. I could probably think of more if I had a chance.
Q: As you said, the first film has an immense cult following. What kind of feedback do you get from it? Can you spot fans of particular films you’ve done when they come up to you?
CS: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I never cease to be surprised. I was in LA a few years back making another movie. I was in a house I was renting and the cable went out. The cable guy came in to fix it and he was there for like four hours trying to figure out what the problem was. He kept flashing these looks at me; they weren’t looks like, “I know who you are.” They were like, “should I know who you are?” As it turns out, that impression was wrong. After four hours, he finally finishes – and he hasn’t said a word the whole time – and he hands me this thing to sign. As I’m signing, I hear him say in this Southern drawl, “I’m surprised you come out in the daytime.” [Laughter.]
You never know. Princess Bride fans tend to be people who watched it when they were kids, and then grew up and now are watching it with their kids, but otherwise there’s not a real set demographic. I did a voice for a picture called The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I have people who walk up to me literally with scenes from the movie tattooed on their chest. There was one guy who had a scene all the way down his leg from his thigh to his ankle. He wanted me to sign my name on the tattoo so they could have the signature tattooed into it. I respectfully declined. “I’m sorry; thank you very much, but I don’t want you carrying me around for the rest of your life. I’m happy to sign a photograph and leave it at that.”