"Shelly" from FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D actor turned attorney Larry Zerner talks with TV STORE ONLINE about shooting F13 III as well as his big quarter of a million dollar win on NBC's 1 Vs. 100 gameshow.
TV STORE ONLINE: When do you think that the acting bug bit you?
ZERNER: When I was in the sixth grade I was cast in our school's production of H.M.S. Pinafore which is a musical that was written by Gilbert & Sullivan. I played the role of "Dick DeadEye" who is sort of the villain of the piece. I was only 10 or 11 years old but I got to wear all of this really cool make-up. I can remember going on that first night yet and I had to give this big speech as the character and afterward all of the people in the audience applauded and it was right then that I knew that there was something to this.
TV STORE ONLINE: Growing up as a kid were you a fan of movies?
ZERNER: Of course. When I was really young I just remember being really into the Universal Monsters and I can remember trying to convince my mom to let me paint my room all black and put up black light posters of Frankenstein. She didn't let me do it though. I'm a big movie fan so I actually see everything but certainly early on horror movies had a big influence on me.
TV STORE ONLINE: So what comes in between this sixth grade play and the point where you were eventually cast as "Shelly" in FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D (1982)?
ZERNER: All through junior high and in high school I was in theatre and I went to theatre camp when I was sixteen years old. That was a lot of fun because you just spent your whole summer just being in plays. I was the thespian president in high school. I didn't do anything professionally as an actor until I was cast in F13 PART 3 until I was eighteen years old. I graduated high school in June of 1981 and I was cast in the film in January of 1982.
TV STORE ONLINE: Is it true that the producers of F13 PART 3 saw you working in a movie theatre and asked you to come in to see them for the role of "Shelly?"
ZERNER: It wasn't the producers, it was the writers. Then I wasn't actually working at the theatre either. I was just standing outside of this theatre in Westwood handing out sneak preview passes for the film THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) which hadn't opened yet at the time.
TV STORE ONLINE: So what was going through your mind when these writers approached you for the role? Being an eighteen year old kid did you take them seriously instantly?
ZERNER: Well, I was a little skeptical at first. I mean it wasn't like I was this cute little eighteen year old girl who was being approached by someone who was trying to get into her pants. Maybe I took it with a little grain of salt at first, but then I asked myself, "How many guys are approached to be in a movie?" I was approached by Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson who were the screenwriters for the film.
TV STORE ONLINE: So how did the whole thing work? Did you have to go in for an audition?
ZERNER: Yes, I had to go in and audition. Writers don't have the pull to give an actor a role. So I'm sure that Martin and Carol just mentioned me to the director Steve Miner and plus I had an agent at the time so I'm sure that really helped me. But I just went in and read a scene for Steve Miner. Martin and Carol weren't even there. I think I read that scene in the Volkswagen. Then I got called back, and then I got called back again. I just remember that I was feeling pretty good and I can't recall seeing any other actors in competition for the role of "Shelly." I was the only fat kid with an Afro there that I saw. They kept calling me back and I got to read with all of these different girls and I was really feeling great and I just remember Steve Miner noticing this and saying "You don't have the role yet!"
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you decide that how you were going to approach the Shelly character going in for the audition?
ZERNER: It was easy because Steve Miner told me not to do anything. He just told me to be myself, and honestly there really isn't much difference between Shelly and the eighteen year old fat kid with an Afro that I was at the time. Both Shelly and I wanted to be actors and we were both practical jokers. How Shelly was in the script was exactly how I was. There was very little separation between myself and Shelly. We were both insecure. If someone really wanted to write a role for me -- there couldn't have been a role that wasn't written as well for me as this was.
TV STORE ONLINE: Where did you shoot the film?
ZERNER: We shot outside of Los Angeles. We shot mostly around Saugus, California which is about 30 miles outside of Los Angeles.
TV STORE ONLINE: How long did you shoot for?
ZERNER: I think it was a twelve week shoot. They did the first FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) in four weeks. Shooting for twelve weeks was really a long time for the type of film that we were making, but the 3-D took a lot of time to do.
TV STORE ONLINE: Was FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D as big of a success as the original film?
ZERNER: It was huge. We were the number one movie for two weeks in a row. We were very hot for a few weeks. There were a few weeks there where I really felt famous. Everywhere I went people would come up to me or you could hear people whispering around me. There was about a month where I really got a touch of what it means to be recognizable.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did you have any expectations following the film? Did you think that it would lead to other film roles for you?
ZERNER: I don't think so. Certainly I wanted to work more but you really need to set yourself up. If you look at the history of the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies and in particularly look at the actors who played the "nerd" with the exception of a couple actors it doesn't lead to more work. Hollywood doesn't look at the actor in the big movie they look at the money that the big movie made.
TV STORE ONLINE: Afterward you did an episode of Fame (1982-87)...
ZERNER: Right, but for that I was originally up for a bigger role in the episode. I was up against another actor for it and he got the bigger part and I got the role where I just had a couple of lines.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about the ill-fated television remake of Love, American Style (1969-74), New Love, American Style (1986)? You did an episode of that too right?
ZERNER: That was a couple years afterward. That was strange because I didn't have to audition for that. I literally just got a call and they told me that I was cast in the role. I still have no idea how I got that.
TV STORE ONLINE: Then does your interest in the law and being a lawyer come pre FRIDAY THE 13TH or post?
ZERNER: That came after FRIDAY THE 13TH. I wasn't making the rent. You can't pay the rent on one days work on New Love, American Style. My dad was an attorney and he offered to pay for law school so I decided to go.
TV STORE ONLINE: Where does your interest in copyright law come from?
ZERNER: I just wanted to do something in the entertainment industry and as a lawyer now my work involves film and television. I love what I do now, it's really great.
TV STORE ONLINE: So what are you thoughts on the current state of the industry? Will they ever be able to stop people from downloading movies and television over the internet?
ZERNER: No. Pandora's Box has already been opened. I don't think they'll never be able to get control of it. I saw all of this coming like ten years ago when the Ipod was released. Plus storage space is becoming so cheap too. You can take a thumb drive and put the 100 greatest albums of the last 50 years on it and sell it. Soon someone will be able to put the Top 100 movies of all time on a drive and sell it.
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you think they'll ever be able to change or regulate it in any way?
ZERNER: I think it will be different. The studios like to say that every movie or song downloaded is a lost sale and that's not true. People that download stuff take it because it's free not because they really want it. They wouldn't have ever paid for it at any point. There have been studies put out that people that download music listen to music and then they go out and buy that music. On the other side, younger people don't respect copyright. That's why there are so many companies trying to shift to that "Spotify" model where they charge a monthly fee and their rationale behind that is that they're at least getting those people to pay them something .
TV STORE ONLINE: Then about about big appearance on the NBC game show 1 vs. 100 (2006-08)? How did that whole thing come about?
ZERNER: I'm just really into pop culture trivia. I've tried out for Jeopardy (1984-Current) a few times but haven't been able to make it on. I went on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (1999-2002) but I didn't make it into the hot seat. Finally my nephew told me about this new show called 1 vs. 100. So I went online and looked at a few clips and thought that I could do it. I went in to audition to be on the show. You take a test and then they talk to you. If you haven't seen the show, how it works is that there is one contestant versus a mob of people. When the contestant doesn't answer a question correctly then the mob divides the amount that the question is worth. So if the contestant answers enough questions and get's up to the 100,000 dollar question and they miss it - that money goes to the mob divided up against how many people are in that mob. A couple weeks later I got a call and they told me that I could be in the mob.
TV STORE ONLINE: So take me through to when you won the $250,000 dollars on the show?
ZERNER: When I went on the show the first time I didn't win any money. I found out that you could stay in the mob for as long as you wanted as long as you didn't get any questions wrong. They took a shooting hiatus and just before they were about to start up again I got a call from the show and they told me that they were doing this one time only winner-take-all show that had a bigger cash prize and that I could do that show or skip it and come back when they were back to their regular format. So I decided to do the winner-take-all show. But when I got there I saw that they had brought in all of these trivia ringers like Ken Jennings from Jeopardy. So I went on the show again and I ended up winning on that question about Larry King. The fun part of the whole experience was that I couldn't tell anyone that I knew that I had won. I had to keep quiet until the night that the show aired. I could only tell people that I made it into the final five. That was a lot of fun.
WATCH LARRY ZERNER ON NBC's 1 VS. 100:
TV STORE ONLINE: All these years later are you surprised at the success that the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies have had?
ZERNER: I guess. It's hard now to imagine that thirty years ago there wasn't anything like FRIDAY THE 13TH out there. Back when we were shooting it we obviously had no idea that there were going to be nine Jason movies that would be made after ours.
TV STORE ONLINE: Are the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies modern day morality tales?
ZERNER: I don't think so. I've seen that said often about the movies but I don't think that they are. The rule is that if you have sex in a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie that you have to die, or if you do drugs in the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies that you'll die as well. But if you look at FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D "Shelly" doesn't do drugs and he doesn't have sex, but yet he dies. I think the real rule of a FRIDAY THE 13TH film is that if you talk you die. Everyone dies regardless if you do drugs or have sex in any of the F13 films.
TV STORE ONLINE: Excluding FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D....What is the best F13 film and which is the worst?
ZERNER: Excluding 3.....I really like Part 2 (1981). But I think that Parts 4 (1984) and 6 (1986) are the best in the franchise and I think that JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989) is the worst. It seems like they didn't have the money they needed to make that one right. When Jason gets to NYC it gets really good, but the rest of it I didn't care for. No offense though to any of the people that made that one.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about JASON X (2001)?
ZERNER: There are some great moments in JASON X that are very smart and clever. I really liked a lot of JASON X. That stuff with the campers in really great.
TV STORE ONLINE: Why do you think though that these F13 films have engrained themselves so much into the popular American culture?
ZERNER: Well I think that it's because of the time in which they were made and who was watching them. I think that a lot of their audience were just like twelve or thirteen years old at the time and they were just starting puberty. This is maybe the first time that they saw sex on the screen. Then there's the fear inside of a horror movie too. These audience members are starting to feel emotions that they've never felt before in their lives and I think that's why the John Hughes movies have had a similar impact on popular culture today. I can remember feeling that same way when I first saw George Romero's original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) when I was fifteen years old. That was the movie that did that to me.
TV STORE ONLINE: Where can we see you next?
ZERNER: I don't do a lot of conventions but I'll be at the Mad Monster Party convention in New Orleans on September 13th 2013. Plus, I've got a cameo in a movie that's coming out next year called KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM.