Film » Screens

Leslie's Gore

Unmasking Nathan Baesel.

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Nathan Baesel is a drug dealer. Not the bad kind, but rather a medical courier who works for his father, a pharmacist. He's also a movie star -- a job that doesn't as yet pay his bills, though that should change once Hollywood gets a gander at Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. An intelligent slasher-movie satire, it's been a hit at film festivals, thanks in no small part to Baesel's titular performance as a supposed bogeyman in the Michael Myers/Jason Voorhees mold who lets a documentary crew in on the tricks of his trade. Far from a lumbering, deformed creature, Leslie is handsome, erudite, and instantly likable -- whenever he isn't offing horny teens.

In person, Baesel is equally charismatic. If he has a dark side, it isn't immediately apparent. "People always tell me that I'm intense when they meet me," he says. "I've always felt like a pretty mellow guy, but I make choices as an actor that verge on intense, so I guess that's what they're talking about."

Indeed. Chances are that if you already know Baesel's name, it's from his recurring role in the short-lived ABC series Invasion, in which his character eventually chain-sawed his own arm off. Yet when it comes to watching violent movies, Baesel cops to being a bit of a wuss. "It's like people who live inland who have never gone to the ocean because they're afraid of the power of the waves. That's kind of me with horror films."

It was Baesel, however, who moved Behind the Mask in a darker direction than was originally intended. When he conceived the film, director Scott Glosserman was thinking in terms of a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary, but decided to make things scarier when he saw Baesel audition. Baesel says, "I remember telling [Glosserman], 'I think that this movie can be really, really scary . . . but that it should also be funny; that with the right sensibility, it could straddle both worlds.'"

If that sounds a lot like Scream, don't be alarmed. Unlike Wes Craven's shallow attempt at cinematic autocritique, Behind the Mask doesn't just point out horror movie clichés; it also deconstructs them, demonstrating, for example, the kind of workout a successful killer needs in order to move fast while appearing to slowly stalk. Another touch that horror fans will appreciate is Leslie's mentor, an older, retired killer played by veteran character actor Scott Wilson, who was equally inspirational off-camera. "Scott's . . . uh . . . I wanna fuck Scott!" exclaims Baesel, before quickly adding, "No, I just said that because I drank beer. But he's really an incredible guy. He could have phoned in something really solid -- a good, well-rounded performance. But he threw himself into [filming] with such gusto that I realized this is what I want to be like when I'm 50 years old, 60 years old, 70 years old, 80 years old, as an actor."

For now, Baesel is still looking for work. He recently shot an independent feature called Like Moles Like Rats, which he describes as being similar in premise to Children of Men, though he has no idea when it might be seen. "It could have been over the top, just bullshit, but I put myself into it," he says. Meanwhile, "I'll audition for Bozo the Clown; I don't give a shit, y'know. I love stuff that's challenging . . . I hope I always keep the desire to be uncomfortable."

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