ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

Many men have slashed their way into horror history after donning the infamous Friday the 13th hockey mask, but only one of them has the honor of being the first Jason Voorhees and that guy is Ari Lehman.

Lehman was just 14 years old when he leapt at the chance to play a mildly-retarded teenager who drowned in Crystal Lake and set one of the biggest kill counts in cinematic history into motion, and the story of how he nabbed the iconic role is fascinating. Lehman recalls:

"Fortunately, as a little boy, I lived in West Port, Connecticut and Sean Cunningham had his production company based there and some of my friends were in his first production after Last House on The Left."
Lehman today
Lehman today

The production in question was the not wildly successful Mannys Orphans, but Lehman's performance clearly impressed Cunningham because he was later called back for a somewhat mysterious role. In Leman's own words:

"Here it is the next summer and the phone rings and it’s Sean. He said he had another idea for a movie and they wanted me to come down to the office. Famously, he said ‘Can you swim?’ and I said I could and he told me to come down. Really, that’s the whole process of how I got in."
Lehman gets suited up
Lehman gets suited up

When he met Cunningham for the second time, Lehman was handed the wrong script which led to a brief spell of disappointment before he learned he would be playing "the monster", he explained:

"The story is kind of funny because they handed me the wrong script. Sean wasn’t there and I was handed Kevin Bacon’s script. It said ‘the counsellor goes to make out with his girlfriend in the cabin’ and I was like, ‘Whoaaaa’ and sitting there very mischievously happy"

Although he didn't get make out with any girls, or indeed, speak any lines at all, Lehman became the stand out star of Friday the 13th for his memorable boat scene. Despite that fact that his scene was only a few seconds long, Lehman recalls that Cunningham's meticulous attention to detail really gave him a feel for Jason's suffering, he explained:

"He kind of gave me a feeling for the situation, as much as he could. I must admit, I sort of embellished on that in my own mind to kind of imagine this child who was like the kid at the back of the room who no one pays any attention to and he’s left out of all the fun and you feel sorry for that kid all through school. I was trying to represent that. That’s where I was, in my mind, when I was playing that character."

Working on Lehman's look
Working on Lehman's look

The iconic scene where Jason bursts out of the water exploding the calm of Crystal Lake only took a couple of takes to nail, despite some choreographic teething problems. Lehman told Shock Til You Drop that:

"The fun part was in the way they directed it because you’re not briefed. In your mind you think ‘I’ll just come out of the water and grab Adrienne King’ but there’s a process to make it look real, that’s just a reflection on the genius of Sean, but Barry Abrams was the director of photography and he was great. Sean tried to get it so you weren’t overdoing it. He said to me, ‘Ari, you’re the director on this scene so when you go down in the water that means action. I want you to look up and wait for your bubbles to clear and when they’re clear you just come up out of the water.’ We basically choreographed it and after two takes, there it was."

Lehman is clearly proud to be a slice of horror history and he recalls with glee the shocks and shrieks he has caused over the years, especially in the cinema when the movie was first released.

"It’s only there for like 1.7 seconds or something but that’s where, back in 1980, everyone threw their popcorn. That was an unforgettable shock for a lot of people and for me it was a lot of fun to do."

You can hear more about his experience first hand in the awesome video interview below:

(Source: Shock Til You Drop)


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