Thom Mathews came into the horror genre with his first major film role as Freddy in 1985’s Return of the Living Dead. Just one year later, he took on one of horror’s most infamous slashers in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives as Tommy Jarvis. Mathews went on to star in many roles, including Joey in Return of the Living Dead II and in eleven Albert Pyun films.
Recently, he made a return as Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th: The Game as a playable character. We couldn’t wait to catch up with Mathews to talk about Tommy, along with his roles in the Return of the Living Dead series and his possible return to acting.
HorrorGeekLife: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me! I have to begin where it all started – your role as Freddy in Return of the Living Dead. What was the experience like and what were some of your fondest memories on set?
Thom Mathews: Oh my gosh, the whole experience was great from the very beginning. I didn’t realize how great it was at the time, it was my first big part in a movie. But I had come to realize how special it was.
A lot of times when you have a writer that’s directing, they want you to just skip to the words. But, Dan (O’Bannon) just knew that he needed to let the actors do their thing and make it more real for themselves. That goes across the board with every actor that was on the set. He always listened to people, for the most part. He didn’t always get along with Clu (Gulager), but for different reasons. Clu was under a lot of pressure. He got hired at the last minute and had a lot of dialogue, so he was stressed out.
As for the fondest memories, you know I had a lot of scenes with Jimmy (James) Karen. We would sit in the makeup chair and he just had all of these great stories about coming up as a young actor, being on Broadway, being good friends with Jason Robards, who came on set a couple of times. Just wonderful stories.
HorrorGeekLife: James Karen has had an amazing career, I can only imagine the stories. And, of course you both returned for Return of the Living Dead II, but as different characters.
Thom Mathews: The only reason Jimmy Karen and I came back is because the Japanese distributors wanted us to come back. Because the first was such a huge success. When you’re making a movie, you try to get financing. So the Japanese said yes, we’ll give you a bunch of money but you have to have these two characters come back.
HorrorGeekLife: I had no idea! I always figured it was just part of the cheesiness of the film.
Thom Mathews: Especially for that movie, it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek because they went a different direction. It was more of a comedy, as opposed to the first one.
HorrorGeekLife: The second is much more silly, but a fun watch nonetheless. Between those films, you stepped into another iconic role as Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Did you feel pressure taking on Tommy after Corey Feldman and John Shepherd?
Thom Mathews: No, I didn’t really feel a lot of pressure. I really liked the script a lot, Tom (McLoughlin) did a great job and it spoke to me. I knew what I wanted to do. It was probably the closest character that I’ve played to myself. I had a great experience and going to just outside of Atlanta and shooting for six weeks. It was a blast.
When I saw Part V, I wasn’t thrilled and I was kind of scared. After I was hired, I started to do research and I looked at Part V and thought…oh no. I spoke to Tom and he told me what he wanted to do and everything was a lot better. In Part V, there was no lighting and the story was kind of weak. Maybe I should go back and look at it again. Maybe I’d have a different opinion of it now. But it scared the hell out of me.
HorrorGeekLife: That film definitely gets less love than other Friday the 13th films, but I’ve come to appreciate it. We don’t know if Tommy will ever return to the big screen, but he does return in Friday the 13th: The Game. I played a lot throughout the game’s beta and had so much fun! Have you played yet?
Thom Mathews: I haven’t seen it yet. But, when they called me, I said I want ten cents for every person who plays me. That was my deal, I want ten cents! (laughs) It’s funny, my son had seen it and wanted to get it. When they asked me to be a part of it, he thought it was so cool. How were the graphics?
HorrorGeekLife: I can’t imagine being a teenager and seeing my dad in a game like that! And the game looks incredible, even for beta. I’m excited to see the finished product! Were you very hands-on with Tommy’s design?
Thom Mathews: We were going back and forth about my face. They would send pics and I would reply and say…no, I don’t have dark hair…no, I don’t have a five o’clock shadow. We went back and forth like five times. And I did a bunch of voiceovers to record lines. It came out pretty good.
HorrorGeekLife: Tommy looked fantastic throughout the beta. Will you be playing with fans when it launches?
Thom Mathews: Oh hell yeah. It’ll be fun, I can’t wait to check it out. I’ll let people know the times and dates. But I love video games, all the way back to Pinball.
HorrorGeekLife: I know fans will be excited to hear that! Before we wrap up, I have to ask if you’ll return to acting? I know you’ve taken a bit of a break over the last few years.
Thom Mathews: I just got busy with my life, having three kids and my construction company just took off. I love acting, but I hate the business side of it, having to deal with production, the trailer. I just want to create and get lost in the experience. People say they love my work, asking me why I haven’t been acting, but I was trying to stick close to home with my kids. Now that they’re older, I’m open to it for sure.
HorrorGeekLife: Lastly, you’ve attended quite a few conventions lately, do you have any coming up in 2017?
Thom Mathews: I’ll be at Crypticon Seattle, which is May 5-7. I really do enjoy going to the conventions, meeting everybody and talking to the fans about how it impacted their lives – both Return of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th. It’s just amazing to see the impact it’s had and it’s just fun to come into town, say hi and take a picture with them.
HorrorGeekLife: As fans, it’s always fun to meet actors we grew up loving, so it’s great to hear that you’re enjoying it as well. Again, I really appreciate your time and it’s been a pleasure speaking with you!