Ted Prior is Mike Danton. In the last five years, the character has come to define the actor for many fans of cult cinema as a result of the film Deadly Prey finding a new audience in this post-Internet, everything-old-is-new again era. Due to this new-found popularity, Prior and his brother, writer/director David A. Prior, decided to make a sequel titled Deadliest Prey. I had a chance to speak with Ted about his thoughts on his career, the original film’s legacy, and what to expect in the sequel.
CINEDELPHIA: My first question is a very general one … what motivated you to go into acting?
TED PRIOR: Um well, I mean, for starters, it looked like fun from the outside. You know what I mean? I’m a kid growing up in Jersey and Baltimore watching people going, “Hey, I can do that.” But really, it started with playing music. I was in bands my whole younger life. I still play in a small group out here. You know, one way or the other, it was performance that I was looking to do somehow.
To be quite honest, the film thing was my brother’s thing, because I came out to L.A. after I won a handful of bodybuilding competitions back east. So I decided that if I really wanted to pursue that 100%, then I needed to get out to Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach. At the time there was only the one, it was the ‘70s. And that was exactly what I did, I got to Mr. L.A., and I was trying to get to Mr. Universe which is really far from Mr. L.A. And at the same time my brother was coming up with these cockamamie ideas to try to make a movie, because he had always wanted to be a writer. He was an avid reader as a kid, never put down books, never put down comic books. You know, writing short stories. Rod Serling was a big influence on him. And it sort of all just came together that way, because he had got the idea. I think I have this right, we had gone to see First Blood, I believe it was, with Sylvester Stallone, which obviously kicked off the whole Rambo franchise. And we walked away from that going, “Man, how hard can that be to do? All we needed was woods and guns and people.” And I believe that’s what spawned him to write Deadly Prey.
The many faces of Deadly Prey (1987)
But before that, we had done the other stuff — Killzone and Sledgehammer. And it just happened to be one of those things, I happened to be the guy in the room at the time. You know, Dave was like, “We need a lead guy, and that will be Ted.” And I said, “Okay.” I mean, that was it, that was really it. But, of course once I did it, then not so much Sledgehammer because Sledgehammer for me, I mean if you ever really saw the thing, it’s clear I didn’t know the lines. I didn’t really care that much. You know, my brother had a video camera in our apartment. I was with all my buddies and girlfriends and stuff. It wasn’t like we were making a movie, it was more like we were sweating our balls off in our apartment, shooting something. That was really my perception on that one.
And when Killzone came around, that’s when I started to get bit a little bit by the bug. I started going, “Huh? Maybe I wanna give up this weightlifting crap, because this is a lot more fun!” Then by the time Deadly Prey came around, it was the same sort of thing. But when I did Deadly Prey I felt like I was an actor, I felt like I was trying to do something with characters and relationships. The who am I, what do I want, why do I want it, how do I get it? All the standard acting hoops you jump through when studying a script. Not that it shows in the movie, but at least that’s where my head was. That’s sort of how it came about. I really have to give it to David, because otherwise I’d probably be somebody who tried and failed Mr. Universe or never tried at all. I’d be one of those guys at 54 still trying to be a bodybuilder.
C: I guess that’s one of the other interesting things I found about both you and David, that relationship you guys have working. You’re obviously brothers, but then working on so many of your films. Does that familial relationship affect the way you two communicate when making films in any way?
TP: For sure, man. I always know what David’s thinking. It’s so simple when I work on a movie with him, because I just know. You know what I’m saying? It’s the farthest thing from work. The hardest thing about my day is getting my ass up in the morning, that’s the hardest thing. After that, then it’s all cake. Because I just know. I know what he’s looking for, I know what he wants. And he kind of gives me free reign, too.
I do a lot of the First ADing on these things. I translate whatever he’s mumbling to the crew. And Dave’s not really an actor’s director. He’s much more technical, “Put the camera here; I want a two shot because we have to cut into that wide shot, so blah blah blah blah blah.” And then I can really walk up and I can setup the shot. I put actors on their marks and I have them run a few rehearsals and I make it clear, because we work with like most recently Vernon Wells and Eric Roberts and people that have been around. So I make it clear that I’m not just a First AD guy telling them how to act. We co-direct. And then I’ll make some suggestions if I think it’s needed. Most of the time it’s not because these guys are seasoned pros and they bring what they bring, but every once and awhile what will happen is somebody will forget what dots they’re connecting, if that makes sense to you. You’re shooting out of sequence. I might have to walk up to an actor and say, “Remember, this is cutting to when you walked out of the bar. Do you remember mentally where you were when you walked out of the bar?” And he’ll go, “Oh shit, you’re right. I wasn’t even thinking about that.”
But working with Dave is very simple. We don’t do long days anymore because Dave just schedules things a lot more liberal. We used to cram, we used to shoot movies in eight days. That just basically means you never go home. Now it’s three weeks for the same style movie. So we got on the set at 6, we’re usually out of there by 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
And by the way, that keeps the crew and actors, who aren’t really getting paid a lot and they know they’re on a small movie, it keeps them real happy to be there. Because they’re busting their ass and they’re not out there till midnight. And it doesn’t hurt that Dave knows exactly what he wants when he shows up. I’ve worked with other directors that are trying to figure it out as we go, and I get that. There’s an artistry to that. But at some point, man, you gotta make a decision. You gotta say, “Put the camera here. You guys do this.” And a lot of times these directors get caught up, especially the young guys that I help out sometimes, that I do some ADing work for. And what happens is, everybody turns to me and says, “Can you push this guy, I wanna go home.” But he’s my boss. But working with Dave is a breeze. I always know what he’s thinking. I believe I’m always a step ahead of him.
C: One of the things you mentioned is working with people like Eric Roberts. Over the course of your career and working with David you’ve worked with a range of personalities. Who were some of the actors you most enjoyed working with, even if it wasn’t with David and on other films you’ve done in your career?
TP:: Let’s face it, 90% of the films have been with David. You know, I’ve never really had a bad experience to be honest.
Joe Don Baker years ago, he got all pissy with me once and actually hit me. I just took it, you know. It was a film called Felony we were doing for Southern Star Studios. And he was just being an ass. I was being a good soldier, you know what I mean? I was taking the licks. I was listening. It had nothing to do with me, what he was bitching to me about, but I’m standing there not arguing with him. I’m being a good soldier and taking the hits because I wanna get him in front of the camera. That’s my job.
But there hasn’t been, and that by the way was a quick three minute thing. To be quite honest with you, I’m surprised after all these years and all of these people that there hasn’t really been anyone on the bad side. The fun side, of course, Dave Carradine. I became great friends with him. We hung out in L.A. and he was always a blast. You never knew what the hell Dave was gonna do. That was a little scary for me. We would just be out somewhere and suddenly he’d be in a fist fight. He was the real deal, Carradine. He was a cowboy at heart. And he didn’t think twice of a bar fight. You know, picking up a stool or whatever it was. I also think somewhere along the line the Kung Fu thing went to his head a little bit. I used to say, “Dave relax, that’s a character.” And he would give me the shit-eating smile kind of thing.
David Carradine and Ted Prior in Future Zone (1990)
C: So he took it seriously, the whole persona?
TP: I think so. Listen, his license plate said “Kung Fu,” you what I’m saying? He wasn’t trying to hide it. And good for him. I really hate these actors that get huge from one thing and spend their entire lives trying to get away from it. It’s like, “Are you kidding me?” You were lucky enough to be huge at anything in this world, in this life, and in this business.
I’ll tell you what, Eric Roberts was a real pleasure to work with just recently. And he’s one of my idols, so it doesn’t hurt. When I was younger and Pope of Greenwich Village came out, and Star 80 came out, I mean what he did was mind-blowing. Just him and Mickey Rourke. He affected me.
Eric Roberts in The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984)
He made me want to be an actor. There’s only one other person that ever did that, and that was Christopher Walken. Those two guys when I watch them on the screen I just can’t take my eyes off of them. I saw a film in New York when I was younger, I guess it was early ‘80s, called The Dead Zone. It was written by Stephen King, it was one of the books of his or something. If you haven’t seen it and you’re a fan of films, it’s a must-see. It’s just incredibly well-made, incredibly acted film starring Christopher Walken, and incredibly interesting. You can’t really second guess it.
Those two things, and Eric, getting back to the question, he was a blast to work with. Jan Michael Vincent was a lot of fun to work with, but a little bit of a loose cannon. He got us nervous from time to time but I don’t think that’s a secret. Charlene Tilton was a blast to work with. Tony Curtis was a blast. He really was. He liked to make fun of himself. I was standing there when somebody came up to him, a woman from Alabama. She said, “Oh my god, Mr. Curtis, this, that, and the other thing. You have the most beautiful hair.” He always had that perfect, combed back, perfectly coiffed, gray hair. And he goes, “Thank you. I have two more just like them at home.” And I just thought that was funny as shit, because obviously it was a wig. But it wasn’t obvious. He didn’t care. He just said it the way it was.
C: David Carradine was known for Kung Fu, and one of the characters you’ve been known for in your career is Mike Danton in Deadly Prey. I was curious about your thoughts on Deadly Prey’s second life and if you have any memories of making the film.
TP: It’s had a real interesting ride because, honestly, until about a year and a half ago, I didn’t know anyone knew that movie existed anymore. That was something we did almost thirty years ago.
I got an e-mail from this kid Dimitri Simakis saying he was with someone called the Cinefamily here in L.A. and they were going to do a screening of Deadly Prey and wanted to invite me. I was like, “Whaaaat? Are you insane?” And so, I decided to go. I called him and he was cool. We got along. I asked him some questions because here’s the thing, I don’t care if you’re gay or you’re straight. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t have an issue with it. But I know that Deadly Prey on some level became a cult thing in the gay community. Okay, fine. Well, I wanted to go this screening, but I really wanted to bring my son, who was eight at the time, or nine. And I really wanted him to go, he wanted to bring his little buddy, because he had gotten ahold of a VHS tape of Deadly Prey years ago and used to watch it and go out in our backyard and play Deadly Prey. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I have four kids, he’s my youngest. I only have one boy, so he’s kind of my legacy here. And it was just bitching, except he never played me. I go, “Well who are you?” And he goes, “I’m Matthews.” I’m like, “Whaaaat?” It was hysterical, it was always his friends playing me.
So I asked him straight out about the screening. I said, “Dude, is this a gay thing?” And I said, “By the way, if it is, I’ll still go, I don’t have an issue like that. I could care less.” But I said, “I don’t wanna bring my son and put him in that environment.” Because, you know, that shit gets crazy in Hollywood. I’ve been to a few. And he goes, “The fuck are you talking about?” He goes, “Hell no.” And I’m like, “Hey, back off, brother. I just gotta ask.”
So I went to this thing with my son. It was in Hollywood, and it was crazy. The theater was packed. There had to be two-hundred and fifty people. I had no idea they were there for me, because he had announced I was gonna be there for the movie, I should say. And what dawned on me is, I parked my van, my mini-van, you know dad, I grab the two boys and we go walking up the street, and the line is like a big line for a premiere of a movie. It’s about fifty feet long, three people deep. And I just walk past the line because I’m just looking to see where I go in. I’m trying to get to the door. To be honest with you, I was assuming there had to be another screening or event going on. I didn’t think this was all, I just didn’t. That was until, as I was walking, I saw people start with the elbows and nudging, and people started turning to look at me. I haven’t had that kind of intense attention in a lot of years. I went, “Holy shit.” So long story short, we saw the movie, it was a blast. I got Dave on the phone the next morning and said, “Hey, man. I need to tell you a story.” And I explained this to him. We had just finished doing, I think it was Relentless Justice, which is the last film we did. And we decided, “Hey, why don’t we do another Deadly Prey?” It seems there’s an audience.
Between that time and shooting the new Deadly Prey, I was taken out to Austin for another group called the Alamo Drafthouse. And that was even crazier. I was like, “Holy shit, David. We’ve got something here.” You know, this is insane. These people are just having the best time watching this movie. I said, “Hey listen, Dave.” Because he was like, “Do we take this serious?” I’m like, “Well, it’s a little Rocky Horror Picture Show-ish. People are having fun with the insanity of it, and the silliness, and some of the intensity. I think it’s a little bit across the board. They’re not laughing at me when I’m standing there, if that’s what you’re asking. We have to do this with a sense of humor if we’re gonna do it.” Then we went into writing this one. We had different approaches, and I asked a few of these guys I had met at these events, like, “Guys, do we do a spoof? Do we do it funny? Do we do it dead serious?” And unanimously they said, “No, do it dead serious.” Because there’s a lot of laughing. So I didn’t know if they were perceiving it to be funny or if they were just laughing at the outrageousness of us trying to be serious, if that makes sense to you. So we went into this thing full bore. Full bore.
Speaking of memories of the old stuff, it was weird for me because as an actor I have to take off the producer hat and all that stuff, and I sat with the script and, of course, I wrote it with my brother. He wrote it, but we do the idea thing together like we’ve always done. And I watched the old movie. I watched it online. I tried to remember things. I tried to remember what I was really thinking, where I was in my life. I remember my girlfriend at the time, I remember being a little disjointed with that situation. I was trying to figure out how to play this guy all these years later, then it kind of hit me — really the star of the movie is the pace. That’s really the star of the movie. It’s the pace of the movie, it kind of comes out of the blocks and just never stops. It doesn’t have to have a lot of rhyme or reason. That’s what’s fun about the movie, that’s what people like about the movie. If you watch all of these re-edited trailers on YouTube, that’s what you see. You don’t see a lot of dialogue scenes. You see the killing, the killing, the killing, the jumping, me out of the hole, me off the tree, whatever it is. So I decided to go after this movie the same way. It basically starts the same kind of way, except now Dave Campbell’s been released from jail and he’s out for revenge. But the minute I get abducted, it’s on.
Deadliest Prey (2013)
C: So it was a pleasant experience returning to the Mike Danton character and making Deadliest Prey? You enjoyed it?
TP: Oh man, it was a blast. Let me tell you, I haven’t seen Fritz since those movies, Fritz Matthews. You know, he produced and we did some movies in Riverside afterward here for AIP like Born Killer, and he produced a lot of those. But after that period of life, he moved on and went on his way and we went on our way. It was strange because we had just done a movie called Night Claws with Dave Campbell a couple years ago, so we already had Dave back in the fold, but I hadn’t seen Dave in all those years either. So we had Hogan and we had Danton. I said to my brother, “Man, I wish we knew where Fritz was. I mean, how cool would that be to bring him back?” And my brother said, “Yeah, but you cut off his arm and scalped him!” And I said, “So? He comes in as a one-armed guy with a bad hair piece. We can do whatever we want. You know, we’ll make that movie here.” So as we’re going through the writing process, which took a few weeks of mostly just bullshitting on the phone and this and that, ways to kill people, and things that aren’t exactly like the old movie but kind of like it. You know, we don’t want to get too far away from it. He calls me one day and says, “You’re not gonna believe what just happened.” I said, “What?” He said, “I just got an e-mail from Fritz Matthews.” And I was like, “Whaaaat?” You know what I’m saying? How weird is that? How weird is that? So then we said, “Uh-oh. Now we know we have to make this movie! Like, that’s just too strange. We gotta take advantage of this.” So we got a hold of him and he said, “Hell yeah I’ll come and do it!” We had a blast.
Getting back to the real point of the question, the first time I saw Fritz and Campbell in costume walk, and Fritz by the way has the same gun as the original, the same shades, he hung onto that stuff. He looks, nothing’s changed. He’s gotten a little bigger and older like all of us, but he’s built like a truck. They’re walking up, there’s a scene where they walk up on this sort of like little camp thing where I was held up. It’s one of those things, I think I ate some dog food out of a can or some shit I don’t know. You know, action, and Fritz is walking up doing his mirrored sunglasses thing and moving like the Terminator, and Campbell’s doing his crazy over-acting which he always does, which makes him so fun to watch, and it really hit me. We had been shooting this for like a week before Fritz showed up, but that was really the first time it hit me. I sat there on this apple box going, “Wow. We’re really doing this. This is fun.” Like, who gets to relive a special time in their life, and with people who they really love? We were all brothers in this thing.
AIP and everything Dave and I have worked in and the people we’ve worked with, it has always been a family situation. Very few change-outs throughout the years. Sometimes DPs, but they come and go because of the nature of their career. Honestly, Sean Holton is in this and on this, and every time we’re doing a movie he’s either running weapons or he’s blowing things up or he’s in it and I’m killing him. I killed him about four times in the original Deadly Prey. You just don’t realize it. There’s a scene where I come up out of this water and I grab a guy and throw him in, that’s him. There’s a scene where I pick a guy up and crack his back on a tree, that’s him. He’s been with us a long time. So it was really nice too, it was like a family reunion. Afterwards we would all go down to this American Legion down the street that my brother is an honorary member of, the whole crew and gang, we’d just go in there and belly up to the bar and oh my god talk old times forever. It was a blast.
And by the way, getting back to this, my son’s in this. He plays my son in the movie.
C: How old was he?
TP: Now he’s eleven, he had just turned ten, I believe, when we went out there. And that for me, if I never make another movie again, if I never do anything showbiz related again, I’ve reached the pinnacle in my opinion. In my own silly world. I understand we’re talking B-movies, I understand we’re talking Deadly Prey — that’s my life. And to have him with me, to have him participate and act with me after watching him play, he plays Mike Danton Jr. Yeah, it’s great, it’s just great. It was just awesome because he knew who Fritz was. He knew who Campbell was. From the movie and stuff. And because 90% of it was shot in the woods like the original the crew guys just loved him. He was out there in the woods playing every day. He’d go back to the room, do his homework, because I had to pack it for him since he came out for a week. He came out the second week. The first week my room was party room every night with everybody in there. But it was really fun to just hang out and share stories and remember this, remember that. It was a great time. I hope it shows up in the film.
C: You’ve kind of been going into it but which movie do you see as being more over-the-top, Deadly Prey or its sequel?
TP: I’m gonna say probably both the same. We tried to keep it just like the original in terms of its outrageousness. I haven’t seen it by the way. I haven’t seen a copy of it yet, but David told me this one, he thought it was even a faster pace, because that was the one thing that was a big concern for me with Dave. He cuts things and he’s in Alabama. So I’m not watching it going, “Hey, can we get to this clip or get to that.” So I’m sort of driving him crazy through that process with reminding him to keep this thing moving. The key to the movie was the pace. It really was. So the answer is, I don’t really know. I can only go off of the scripts, and probably to be honest the original reads a little slower than this. But I don’t know. I think it’s going to be comparable about the same in terms of pace and craziness and over-the-top.
But here’s the sad part, we don’t try to be over-the-top. It’s not like I’m trying to act poorly in some of these things. I’ve always tried my best. It just is what it is. That was the decision we had to make going into this, was do we goof with this, or do we really get serious? And I realized, when three hundred plus people in Austin are coming to this screening and screaming the whole movie and saying the lines and having a real good time, I don’t know if we make fun of it that that’s right, I think. I think they actually like it in its crazy, quirky way.
C: Definitely. It’s a movie you can watch multiple times and discover something exciting about it each time.
TP: Right. I think that’s the important thing. Look, the first Q&A I did in Hollywood for Dimitri and Cinefamily, the movie was over and there’s my son, and by the way, I walk up on stage for the Q&A and Dimitri meets me and he’s already worked this out with me and asked me if I wanted to do this. He has a fake arm and it’s in the sleeve, and his other arm is behind his shirt, behind his back. And so I walk up and grab the arm and rip it off and start beating him with it. The place goes beserk. My son was on the floor holding his stomach, he was just laughing his ass off, it was great.
But getting to the point, there was something along the lines, a question, I thought it was an odd question actually. A guy goes, “How do explain that you’re a hundred and fifty miles outside of L.A. and suddenly you go walking into your house from the woods?” And I looked at him and said, “That’s what you want me to explain?” And I pointed out like nine ridiculous things that happened in the movie, and I was clearly cutting myself down and the movie a little bit when I did it. But it didn’t get the laugh I was going for. And I went, “Oh shit, these guys are serious. He really wants to know how I explain that.” He’s not asking me like I thought he was asking me. So from that point on, man, and from everything I’ve done related to it, I treat it that way, because I realize, “Uh-oh. I don’t wanna insult people.” My answer came dangerously close to saying something like or sounding like, “What are you guys wasting your time here for?” You know what I mean? And I didn’t want to do that. I was having a blast. It’s just my nature. I tend to, when I’m joking around, clearly the joke’s on me.
C: So Deadliest Prey maintains that quality that made Deadly Prey so entertaining?
TP: I think that was the goal, the goal was to make it different, because it was a different movie. To keep it the same in terms of its over-the-topness and its insane pace. Campbell really delivers in it. He just has that way of delivering a line that rings true but borders on ridiculous, if that makes sense. And there’s a certain talent in that. It’s kind of one of those things where you don’t direct Dave because whatever he’s doing is working. It was fun, it was a lot of fun!
Deadly Prey and Deadliest Prey will screen as part of a double-feature at PhilaMOCA on Thursday, October 3, at 7:30 pm. Admission is $10.