It's ironic that a classically trained actor such as Donald Pleasence who's worked with the likes of Olivier, De Niro, and Richard Burton---to name a few---would come to be known to a new generation, as a horror-film star. The British-born actor, whose career covers nearly 40 years, has become probably the preeminent star of the genre, starring in the last decade alone in some dozen films in the sci-fi/horror vein, including Creepers, Specters, Escape From New York, Prince of Darkness, and most notably as Dr. Loomis in Halloween and Halloween II. Reprising his role in Halloween IV, Pleasence finds himself again on the search for Michael Myers, the escaped incarnation of evil.
Of course, Pleasence's body of work covers much more than the horror genre, having starred in some of the biggest and best films of the past 30 years, including The Great Escape, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and as James Bond's nemesis Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.
A quiet, soft-spoken man, Pleasence seems genuinely amused that with all his movie work, it's the scary films that he's most easily identified with. As he notes, however, a working actor is a working actor, and whatever form success comes in, so be it.
HORROR FAN: Do you yourself have any special affinity for horror films?
Donald Pleasence: No. It's the money, I think. I'm an actor and it just happens that most of what I'm doing today is horror films. So what am I supposed to do---not work?
HF: Many of your parts cast you in the villain role. Is it a part you relish?
DP: (laughs) Well, I'm hardly physically right for the hero parts, now am I?
HF: What was the genesis for you doing Halloween IV? Had you planned on doing any after the original?
DP: At the end of the first Halloween when I shot 6 bullets into Michael Myers, John Carpenter said let's get a shot of you looking out of the window and seeing no one lying there. I said, "Why's that?" and he said, "would you believe Halloween II?". Well, no one had thought of that at that time, and it certainly never occurred to me that there would be a sequel. In Halloween II I was blown up at the end and I didn't think I'd ever be coming back, but the producers found a way. So now I've done Halloween IV with a limp and a scar down the side of my face.
HF: Why was the Midwest decided on as the place to set the story?
DP: Because it makes a rather average town ripe for a frightening story. Rather than setting it somewhere you'd expect horrible things to happen, such as New Orleans with its association with boogeymen and demons, a smaller, quiet town is much more effective. You just don't anticipate anything bad happening there.
HF: What do you attribute the success of the Halloween series to?
DP: The first film was very well made, so the series got off to a strong start. The second one was also well made, although I didn't like it as well as the first one. The third one had nothing to do with the series at all and perhaps shouldn't have been made at all. It interrupted the narrative.
HF: How do you feel about gore in films?
DP: I don't like it. I believe you can frighten people without showing their heads caved-in.
HF: How have the directors you've worked with felt about gore?
DP: Carpenter feels the same as I do, whereas Dario Argento, for example, likes it quite a lot. He likes bugs and things like that, he's a curious sort of guy. He makes good, technically proficient films, but I prefer Carpenter's approach.
HF: What's the difference you've found between the European and American approach to horror?
DP: That's really very difficult to answer. Carpenter is my favorite director, because we get on very well and we both have an over developed sense of humor. European directors, especially Italian ones, tend to direct. They know precisely what they want to do and have everything storyboarded and mapped out. I guess I'm the sort of actor who doesn't like that as much as having some kind of conference with the director and talk about what we're going to do. Continental directors, as opposed to British and American, also tend to be somewhat high-handed in their approach.
HF: Are people scared at all when they meet you?
DP: If they're scared or intimidated, I hope it's because I've been around for such a long time. Really, I'm a very unfrightening person.
HF: Is Michael Myers to be taken as a real character, or as some sort of indestructible creation?
DP: I think he's the way you want to take him. I don't think we set out to present any particular sort of person. In the original, he starts out as a child who murders his sister, and then becomes this sort of boogeyman character. Maybe all these other things are in our mind. I wouldn't think that John Carpenter ever thought of going very deeply on a psychic level with this character. He's the way he is, and I think people have a tendency to read into more than there is.
Interview from the December 1988 edition of HORROR FAN.