ADAM BANJO GIVES GOOD FACE: AN INTERVIEW WITH LEW TEMPLE FROM THE DEVIL’S REJECTS

There’s a point in Rob Zombie’s new film where Lew Temple (one half of the Country Western Duo, Banjo and Sullivan) finds himself straddled by the fiendish Otis (Bill Mosely) with the intent of carving himself some flesh with a wicked looking knife. It struck me as maybe a little more gruesome than my moviegoing neighbors because I knew Lew as more than just a character in a movie. We’d been friends ever since I met him in Houston, Texas where we worked on a project together.

As a consummate stage actor, a Southern good ole’ boy, and a Christian I would have never dreamt he’d end up as a victim in one of the more graphically violent mainstream movies to come out in a long time. I spent a few hours talking with him at his Hollywood residence, an apartment leased from Perry Ferrell (formerly of Jane’s Addiction) in the villa formerly owned by William Randolph Hearst. Just across the street is the ominous Scientologist center. Could there be a better setting for an interview about such macabre questions?

The last time I saw someone’s face used like that was in Halloween. Only it was a mask of William Shatner turned inside out. Not one of the characters from the movie. Did it freak you out?
When I originally read the script there were so many things that were shocking. That was just another one of them. I actually had to go back and go, “Whoa, is that my character?” Rob Zombie actually used the word ‘filleted’ when describing what would happen to me. There were several masks made. Rob has them all. I asked for one, but he said, “Nah. You have the original”. It’s really strange to see your face on someone else. There’s been talk with a company to release an Adam Banjo mask for Halloween. So, it could really be creepy with a knock on the door, “Trick or Treat!” and a couple of little Adam Banjo/Lew Temple’s asking for tootsie rolls.

I made a film, “Naked Beneath the Water,” where I’m drown in a bathtub. My mother still refuses to watch the film. Your past film and stage work is so far from the horror genre. What did your loved ones think when they watched the movie?
A couple people who I thought were my friends where like, “Man, You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do that to you,” but ultimately my parents, my girlfriend and those people who are closest to me have had a really hard time seeing it. My face cut off. They find it very offensive. To me it’s a part of that genre. We become so desensitized in the world we live in. People get killed all the time in movies, but if it’s someone you know it can be very powerful. Very real.

Yeah, it’s like you turn on CNN and 19 more marines have been blown to bits. To most people it’s just another statistic, but if you know one of those marines personally…
Yeah, definitely. The death scene for Banjo and Sullivan (Lew and Geoffrey Lewis) had to be horrific, but we talked about having a little poetry. It took three days to film and Rob shot it in the blazing sun which I thought made it a bit creepier. At some point during the day when the fake blood was being pushed through me I was struck with this feeling, like, there goes my 3rd grade kiss, and then my first hit in little league, my dad’s fishing trip with me. My memories spilling out in that blood.

Remember the scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where Adam Goldberg is stabbed by that Nazi? It was a poetic resolution to death in the end when the knife went in. Bill Mosley (Otis) and I worked a really nice piece where the killer honored the killee when it was over. When I finally give into death there’s peacefulness in my eyes. You’ll have to wait for the DVD though because the MPAA wouldn’t let them show the knife getting anywhere close to my face.

It’s okay to show you get shot in the neck, stabbed in the leg, and Geoffrey Lewis’ face bashed in, but no knife on face. That makes a lot of sense…although it was a pretty wicked looking knife.
Kane Hodder was the stunt coordinator and of course we all know he’s great in “Friday the 13th.” He’s Jason…the mask…that’s him. In the scene where I get stabbed in the leg he brought in these great stunt guys although I did a lot of it myself. Anyway, there were two knifes. A stunt knife and a real one. Bill pulls the real one for the authentic look and the stunt one slides back, but it doesn’t look very good.

We were breaking the sequence up, but one particular take was going so well that it played through. Well, I lost my sensibility of where we’re at and I’m into it with the intensity of “Let’s go!” So, I go over and am choking Bill Mosely’s stunt double with a board. He pulls the knife to stab me, but holds up. I’m like, “C’mon. Let’s make this look good,” only it’s the real knife and he’s the only one who knows it. I was trying to pull his hand to my leg with the knife practically in my nutsack when I finally understood why he wouldn’t let me. The guy, such a professional, probably saved me from being circumcised.

Dang, it wasn’t enough that you gave your face to this movie, it was almost your manhood too. So, how did you end up in this situation anyway?
I have some pictures of Rob Zombie that make this movie look like “Shrek.” No, just kidding. I knew the casting director, Monika Mikkelsen from when I worked on Serving Sara. She’s a great lady and a dear friend. She thought I would be perfect for the part of Adam Banjo and we made a tape and sent it to Rob Zombie. I patterned the role after my good friend, Jesse Dayton (Road Kings, Jesse Dayton Band) who’s actually the lead singer of a country band. I used the bravado and demeanor I saw in him when he performs and I guess it worked. This was in March of 2004 and a week later I got a call saying Rob liked me. Funny enough, I was with Jesse in Austin at the time of the call.

But now that they offered the role to me the reality started to sink in. I’d never done a horror film before and didn’t know much about this Rob Zombie guy. You gotta remember I’m from the land of George Jones. We don’t go for that devil worshipping stuff here. (said in an exaggerated southern twang). Also, I’m a devout Christian and trying to be in a place of cleaner living now. It was shortly after I first arrived in Los Angeles that I contracted a rare form of leukemia. Facing death gives a man a completely new perspective on life. But I survived and have been in remission for three years now.

I first met Rob Zombie at Wayne Toth’s prosthetic house when they were doing the mask for my face. He was very kind and we hit it off. He’s always had an aficionado for 70’s country music and we connected on that. As a director he has the flexibility to let go when he sees something not working and try something different. The great thing about working with Rob on set is that he has great stage presence. He could offer the intensity in a scene on, for instance, how you would stab someone. It was then I’d see the rage of this performer and think…wow, that’s White Zombie. That’s the power of his music. That’s the fucking killer who wrote this script and probably fried ants with a magnifying glass when he was a kid. I really appreciated his intensity and think it raised the bar on the set every day. Our performances were better because he would come with that intensity and organization of what he wanted. He draws the storyboards for the movie and even his concerts are very visual and participatory. I’ve come to love his music and have all his CDs. I would have never thought that two guys with such different backgrounds could ever end up being such good friends.

What about the music for Banjo and Sullivan? The titles are hilarious. Stuff like: ‘I’m at Home Getting’ Hammered, While She’s Out Getting Nailed’, ‘I Don’t Give a Truck’ and of course ‘Lord Don’t Let Me Die In a Cheap Motel’ which should be the Banjo and Sullivan theme song for this movie.
One of Rob’s disappointments was that we never got to see Banjo and Sullivan on stage singing. We were at his birthday party and I started talking about how we should put an album out. Rob liked the idea and told me to run with it. Of course, I thought of Jesse Dayton right off the bat. I gave Rob some of his music and he loved it. So, Jesse came out and with a bottle of whiskey and some guitars we started writing songs. It came together very fast and suddenly we found ourselves in a room full of Universal executives and Rob pitching the songs. They loved it and soon after we got a record deal. It would be Banjo and Sullivan, but since we’re all actors and not singers Jesse would be the voice behind the band. Unfortunately, it wasn’t finished in time for the movie, but one song did make the official Devil’s Rejects record. You can find the CD in stores now though. It’s called, ‘Banjo and Sullivan The Ultimate Collection 1972-1978’.

What about fans of the movie? I know, in general, horror fans are very…devoted. Anybody pulls a Kathy Bates from Misery on you yet?
Having my first love be baseball (Lew was in the Houston Astros minor leagues before he got into acting) I get the fan thing and have had experience with it, but the main difference is how passionate these guys and gals are. Let me just say that if there was a riot I’d want the Devil’s Rejects fans in front of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fans if you know what I mean. They’d kick some real ass.

One fan claimed to be Adam Banjo’s mother. She really believed it. Another guy wanted socks I wore in the movie and someone else asked for my beard. When I told him it wasn’t fake, but something I grew for the part and then shaved off he asked if there were any shavings left.

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Lew Temple can next be seen in Domino (with Keira Knightly) where he loses an arm instead of his face. Sean Cain’s film, “Naked Beneath the Water,” will be released on DVD this fall.

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