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First Come, First Staked: Alex Winter Revisits The Lost Boys

First Come, First Staked: Alex Winter Revisits The Lost Boys

“There were a lot of guys there that were sexually hungover from the assault. They were just sitting there in their seats looking completely gobsmacked.”

The vampires in The Lost Boys may stay young forever, but the actors and the audience who helped raise Joel Schumacher’s film to cult status don’t have access to that same elixir. Thirty years ago, the film made its debut starring Teen Beat luminaries such as Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland, to mixed reviews from the critics, but audiences loved it, helping The Lost Boys earn $32.2 million versus its $8.5 million budget.

Three decades later, The Lost Boys remains a much-beloved comedy/horror mash-up. It also features Alex Winter, who would break out two years later in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), in a small role as one of the vampires named Marko. Now 52 years old, Winter agreed to talk about The Lost Boys on its 30th anniversary. During our chat, Winter was an engaging, gregarious and good-humored subject who talked about assless chaps, hair extensions and one crazy summer in California from so many years ago. However, like its vampires, that period in Winter’s life remains frozen in time on the screen. I’m pleased to present First Come, First Staked: The Spectrum Culture interview with Alex Winter.

When I initially approached you about this interview, I had said it was the 20th anniversary of The Lost Boys But it’s actually the 30th anniversary. Am I willing myself to pretend that it hasn’t been so long?

Probably (laughs). Lord knows I do.

Yeah, I remember I was 10 years old and I convinced my dad to take me to the theater to see it.

That’s pretty good for a 10-year-old. It’s an R, isn’t it? But it’s like what PG-13 movies were like when I was 10 because I’m older than you. It’s pretty soft.

How was the movie settled into your memory? How do you feel about it now that so much time has passed?

I don’t watch it very often. I haven’t sat down and watched the whole movie through in a while. It’s a funny thing, acting in movies. I had been in the business since I was young, so it wasn’t like I was new to the business. In fact, I was kind of retired when I came back and did The Lost Boys. I acted as a kid and then went off to film school. I did it as a summer job that ended up taking me out of NYU in my junior year. When you’re young, everything is kind of a youthful experience, even when it’s a movie. The difference is it’s cemented in time when your other experiences aren’t. I had a really, really good time while I was making it, but in my mind, I relate it to a fun summer and fall I had at that age but it’s had this kind of longevity. That’s really nice. It’s fun when you do a movie that people still care about many years later. But it’s disconnected from my own memories from the film and the experience.

So, you’re saying that the making of the film sticks with more than actually the film itself?

Yeah, exactly! Because I’m in it, I don’t have the separation of the viewer would have of what’s going on, on the screen. For me, it’s like, “Oh, that’s the day I shot this. That’s when I watched them do that.” I think I’ve told this story before, but I think the only experience I ever had that was kind of somewhat close to a viewer’s experience was when I watched the movie, many years later, sitting in a bar in New York. This was still probably 20 years ago. The volume was off and it was playing up on a corner TV. I just kind of watched it while I was hanging out with friends at the bar with the volume off and it really struck me how beautiful the film was and how well edited, directed and acted it was. Watching in silence would be a really good litmus test for that. I always thought the movie was well-made. We had an incredible crew and [Joel] Schumacher is a really talented director. But again, I just have this separation from having been in it, so I have never taken it in a way an audience may have taken it in.

What is it about that film that still resonates with people?

It’s very stylish. It’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of humor. It represents a period of time in a very encapsulated way. Schumacher has always been really good at casting. I don’t mean because he cast me because frankly I have a really little part. Let’s be honest. I mean like Kiefer [Sutherland] and Dianne Wiest and Bernard Herrmann. I mean Barnard Hughes and Edward Herrmann.

Could you imagine if he actually got Bernard Herrmann to take part?

(laughs) That would be amazing, right? All these really stellar Broadway theater actors and interesting people you wouldn’t expect doing what they do. He’s really good at that. He’s really good at style. Even though he was a screenwriter, he came out of costume. He had done Woody Allen’s stuff for years. He’s very stylish as far as wardrobe and the look. There’s a fashion element to Joel, like you’re putting together a clothing line in a really theatrical way. It kind of bit him on the butt with the Batman movie, but generally it worked in his favor. The movies of his that work have a very unified style that he has really controlled. That’s an interesting talent, I think. It’s a unique talent. I think a lot of directors are good at one thing or another. Like the writing, but not the look. Or the acting, but not the wardrobe. I think what makes Joel unique and made him unique with that movie is that he’s good at all of those elements of the process. I think the movie looks really good and it’s written really well and performed really well. Films that hit all three of those buttons tend to last. What’s different about The Lost Boys is that it’s essentially a pulp vampire movie. You don’t expect that genre to have those kinds of qualities.

Schumacher was in the news this week because he apologized for Batman & Robin.

I think they make him apologize for Batman & Robin every 10 years. I feel bad for him. He has done so many great things and there have been so many bad Batman movies I feel like it has become an over-the-top rag on him about that one.

I never saw it.

Yeah…..(laughs) I’m not even sure I did either to be totally honest with you (laughs). Or if I did I have an incredibly vague memory of George Clooney with the nipple suit. But he’s a phenomenal director and he’s made a lot of entertaining and enduring movies so I don’t think it’s really dinged him that hard.

So why did you have to be the first vampire to die?

Because I’m little, you know! I’ve always been the little guy. Even when I was at school I was the little guy. I was absolutely almost alarmingly small until high school. Then, thank god, I started to grow a little bit. But yeah, I was little, of course I was going to be the first one to go (laughs).

They even say that, something about getting the little one first.

(laughs) Actually, yeah. It didn’t matter because of the way movies are shot. It’s all shot out of order and I was there for the whole shoot. It didn’t mean I left the set earlier. I made my exit off stage-left a little earlier than my compatriots.

I noticed last night when I was watching it that your character had glitter for blood.

Yeah, we all do. We have this sort of glittery blood. He wanted the blood to be really reflective in the light. I think the idea of the glittery blood became more prominent after Twilight. For us, it was more about the camera getting a kick off of it when it came out and that it didn’t turn into a blob of liquid.

They looked like they had come out of a Flaming Lips concert after they had staked you.

I know! The whole thing is pretty psychedelic. The way the cave was created is psychedelic, so that was all intentional.

Is there this strange, almost homosexual relationship between your character and Kiefer Sutherland’s character? There isn’t much backstory in the movie. He always asks your character to do things for him. Then there’s that tear when your character dies. I’m not sure if it’s because Kiefer’s hand gets burned or your character died. Was there any sort of discussion about your characters and their relationship?

Joel wasn’t blatant about whatever subtext he was playing with or whatever themes. But come on, I’ve got this long hair. You’ve got that singer all oiled up with his saxophone. This film is totally homoerotic. I’m from New York. I’m from a family of dancers, I’ve been on Broadway my entire childhood. It wasn’t any big shakes to me. Kiefer and I discussed it but we didn’t get into any detail about how we were magnified or anything. There was an obvious homoerotic undercurrent that doesn’t overtake the movie or become the primary theme of the movie by any stretch of the imagination but it’s there. I saw the movie in a theater with a group of people when it came out. I think I saw it in Times Square. It was a late show. I got up to walk out and there were a lot of guys there that were sexually hungover from the assault. They were just sitting there in their seats looking completely gobsmacked.

So, was the tear for Marko’s death or because he burned his hand?

Like I said, it’s never spoken. I never talked to Joel about it. If I had talked to Kiefer about it, it would have been laughing about the assless chaps I was wearing and my hair extensions. It wouldn’t have been anything more than that. To be honest with you, the androgynous style was very popular in the ‘80s. Just look at David Bowie in Labyrinth. I don’t think what Joel was doing was in any way radical. Don’t get me wrong. You find homoerotic undercurrents in Duran Duran videos. You find them everywhere in those days. It was a very androgynous era. I knew my character was androgynous. I knew it. It was obvious in the way I was dressed and how my hair was. So, I played into that a little bit, but I didn’t overdo it. I wasn’t that interested in it.

So, it wasn’t like a Ben-Hur situation where everyone except Charlton Heston knew….

No, not in the ‘80s. Things were so sophisticated. There wasn’t anyone there who didn’t know what was going on. Except maybe the little kids to whom it didn’t matter because it wasn’t overtly brought forward into the themes of the movie.

Did you guys create backstories for your characters? Because Marko was a human at some point before he became a vampire.

I did only so much as I felt I needed it in terms of what happened on-screen. I come from theater and a world where you get into the detail of your character. As an actor and a director, I subscribe to the theory that you create as much backstory as the character needs in terms of what is going to be on-screen. Otherwise, you’re playing details and subtleties that make no sense to the audience and that just becomes navel gazing. With a character like Marko, who only says a couple of lines in the entire movie and doesn’t really have much need for context, it wasn’t something I was going to spend an enormous amount of time on. He was just a homeless kid who had run away. Typical sort of ‘80s story, right? Someone from a crazy, conservative part of the country who ends up running away to a warmer climate where you can survive on the street. Very similar to how kids get picked up out at the bus station in Times Square. That is the way I came at it. That was the world I knew coming from New York. It seemed fairly straightforward. To us, David [Sutherland’s character] was kind of like a pimp. What I had in my head about Marko’s relationship with David was he was basically my pimp and sometimes you’re having a sexual relationship with that person and sometimes you’re not. But, there is a very bonded master-slave kind of aspect to it and then there’s a lover aspect to it. Those undercurrents are all there. They weren’t something I was going to try and drive in front of the audience, but they were fun to play with.

I want to talk about Santa Carla. It seems like a pretty rough place where everyone is a punk rocker. I understand that punk was big in the ‘80s, but the culture seemed to be the primary one in the movie and not a subculture. There is one scene where the Coreys go to the church to get holy water and suddenly we see some straight-laced, conservative folks. It’s like, where did they come from?

What I always took from that is it was poking fun at like a Nick Ray movie. Rebel Without a Cause, or something like that, where the world is populated by the youth. Or West Side Story. It’s that pulp genre of rebellion where the kids have taken over. The whole idea of a conservative town is exactly what is going to breed these punk rockers. The square parents and the rebellious kids is an age-old genre conceit. That’s part of the fun of the movie to me. It’s so over the top. My first day was when they were shooting the stuff on the beach with Tim [Cappello], who was the sax player.

Ah, I wanted to ask you about that guy.

I can you a story about him! He played with Tina Turner and a bunch of people as a session musician. I actually met him years earlier in New York with an avant-garde outfit called the Ken Dolls. When I was going to NYU, I used to see him play at CBGB’s at like three o’clock in the morning. They played really far-out jazz rock and he was dressed in a Ken doll outfit. So, I get to Santa Cruz and there’s Tim on stage, oiled up. The extras they had and the way they set it up for shooting was so circus-like and over the top. It’s sort of like Rebel Without a Cause on acid.

Watching Tim on-stage and Corey Haim’s outfits definitely signal this is something from another era.

Not only from a different era but just idiosyncratic for its era. Sure, I remember seeing Alice Cooper around then and he had a guitar player dressed like Rambo and fireworks came out of the guitar. You had stuff like that but what Joel did with it which was to stick it into this semi-seemingly grounded vampire movie. It wasn’t a music video and it wasn’t The Road Warrior. That wasn’t the ’80s either. That was over the top in a specific reaction. And that’s what really struck me when I got to the set. He was definitely going for something really, really specific and extreme. It wasn’t what I expected reading the script at all.

An interesting thing about the movie is how it changes the mythology of vampires. The teeth aren’t even the canines and the fact that you kill the vampire king and suddenly there aren’t any vampires any longer. How did these specific changes come about?

I don’t know because I wasn’t around when Jeff Boam wrote the version of the script we shot.

Like when the guy is pushed into the bathtub with the holy water and suddenly blood is shooting out of the sink in the kitchen and the toilet explodes.

Who knows? It was the era of Poltergeist and The Thing and I’m sure they wanted to give the audience a ride.

When I was a kid I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

(laughs) Well, there you go. There’s the answer to your question.

When I watched it last night I wanted to look at more critically and then I noticed a ton of loose ends. Like when they jumped off the bridge and suddenly Jason Patric lands in his bed.

Or just understand that there is a cheese factor to it that comes with making an ‘80s-era pulp horror movie. For god’s sake, it’s funny you singled out that moment. I can probably think of a thousand moments. The whole movie is like that, starting with, “What the hell is up with my hair?” (laughs) Honestly, I wouldn’t know where to stop if you’re going to start. It’s a cheese fest on a certain level, beginning to end. That’s part of its charm.

Do you have any really fond memories from the set?

It was a really long time ago. I have a general fondness for that summer. There’s certain directors that you work with, and it doesn’t have anything to do with their quality of their filmmaking, that just create a family. You can tell this is their whole life and you are their whole family and it’s very inviting. You can fight like a family. Joel and I had our skirmishes. Even in the auditions, I knew it was going to be special. Every job is not like that, so I’m not just blowing Hollywood smoke. Some jobs are really workmanlike and come out really great and some jobs feel special and come out terrible. I think I’ve had two experiences that were really familial in that way. One was working with Yul Brynner in The King and I when I was quite young and he hired me to play Louis for the backend of the Broadway run tour. The other was with Joel on the The Lost Boys. On both of those I felt this very inviting, warm, close-knit relationship with the director and the immediate crew I was working with. That is actually very rare. I’ve been in this business a long time. You don’t want it on every job. Sometimes it can feel invasive. It was just really great working with him. He would call my mom to make sure I was okay (laughs). It was just a special experience. It holds a really warm place in my memory of being that age and being invited into that film by him. I had to work hard to get the part. For as little lines that I had, I had to audition a lot. I have extremely fond memories. I don’t from all my experiences but that one is really pretty special.

Do more people recognize you more for The Lost Boys or Bill & Ted’s?

Dude, are you kidding? I get people who love The Lost Boys, I get people who love Freaked and people who love other stuff I’ve done. Bill & Ted eclipses that by an order of magnitude. I literally get recognized for Bill & Ted all day, every day no matter where I am in the world, always.

That must be tiring.

I’m just used to it. I just had to accustom myself to that. That’s also been almost 30 years.

I had to look that up because I thought Bill & Ted’s came out before The Lost Boys, but it didn’t.
No, I did The Lost Boys first.

You were Alexander still at that point.

Yeah, Joel was so pissed.

Why?

Because I was known by Alex by everyone but SAG had me as Alexander at that point and I had some issue trying to change the name. He was so irritated because it made my name ridiculously long on the card. I agree with it. As a director, I would have been really pissed. He was pretty cool about it but every time I look at it, and I don’t look at it that often, I’m like, “Oh god.”

When you were off set, did the younger actors and the older actors mix at all?

A little bit. I came out of theater, so I actually knew Edward Herrmann from Manhattan Theatre Club. I had done a play a couple years earlier and had met him then. Dianne Wiest had also come out of Manhattan Theatre Club, I think. I was on Broadway for a good chunk of my teens. Barnard Hughes was in a couple of really big shows on Broadway, so I sort of knew who he was. Yeah, we all hung out. We didn’t socialize a ton, but we were super friendly with each other.

What about the younger, younger kids?

I was sort of like a den dad to those guys. I had been in the business for a while and they were on their own a lot in Santa Cruz. So, I was sort of a den dad to the Coreys. Me and Brooke [McCarter] and Billy [Wirth] hung out all the time because we did all of our scenes together. We were all super tight. And Kiefer too. We all went out together and all of that jazz. I hung out with the little guys mostly to keep an eye on them to make sure they were okay. Like I said, it was a really familial set. It really was. I’ve been on a lot of shoots, including recently where I have directed stuff, where the actors just segregate themselves and they don’t get to know each other. They might have really intense scenes together and they are not socializing at all. That’s just the way it is. This person has their head here while this person has their head there. The Lost Boys was really not like that. It just wasn’t.

Do you keep in touch with anyone?

Yeah, I keep in touch with a lot of them. I saw Billy not too long ago. I saw Brooke right before he passed away, sadly. I just say Kiefer not too long ago. I went to see him and Jason when they did Jason’s dad’s play in New York a couple of years ago.

I just saw Kiefer play a concert here like last month. He seemed really genuine.

Yeah, he’s a great guy. Again, I know it sounds like such Hollywood shit, but he’s a really good guy. He’s been in the business his whole life. I just saw Joel not too long ago. I was editing where he was editing. When I see Joel, my heart warms over. It’s like seeing a relative. The memories are just very warm of that whole experience.

Thirty years later, are you surprised that someone in the movie got as big as they did or is there someone who didn’t get their due?

God, my brain is not wired that way at all. I don’t know, I’m always just like, “Are they happy? Are they doing interesting things with their lives?” I don’t really give a shit what someone is doing in the industry. I feel really, really, really bad that Haim died. I can say that without compunction. It’s really fucking terrible. He was dealing with a lot of demons and had a real struggle. What happened with Brooke was tragic, as well, but it was more medical. But Haim is heartbreaking to me. He was such a sweet kid and such an amazing talent. Again, it’s not with judgment. The other people I run into and they are doing great stuff. Jamison [Newlander] is doing great stuff with his life. I don’t really care what they are doing in the industry.

You grew up in New York, right?

Mostly. I lived in New York for my teens and in college.

I grew up in Philadelphia. I don’t know if you did this, but in the summers, I went to the beach in New Jersey. Like Wildwood.

I was a little north of you, but sure.

Something I noticed about The Lost Boys when I watched it last night is that it really captures that ‘80s boardwalk feeling. It might be a little scummier and scarier but it really invokes those memories. Do you have those types of feelings?
Yeah, totally. I have an interesting story about that. I remember coming out to Sunnyside or somewhere further north on the Jersey Shore and went to see The Road Warrior, not knowing what to expect at all. I remember coming out into the sort of the sunset blazing, golden magic hour of the Jersey Shore boardwalk and it just felt like the world had turned upside down. It was saturated and so epic. Everywhere you looked was so epic and insane. And when I went to the boardwalk to shoot The Lost Boys, I didn’t know what Joel was doing with the movie, I just knew the script and when I got to the moment where they were shooting the sax and all that, I had that same feeling. That feeling everything was heightened and crazy. I think that’s very much associated with the summer and a boardwalk. So, for sure. For sure. I think he encapsulated that feeling.

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