One of those rare “Renaissance men,” Jonathan Tiersten might be best known locally as the singer/songwriter whose pipes and lyrics graced the stage with Bambi’s Apartment and Ten Tiers over the years. But cast a wider net, and you’ll discover a following who’s been in love with him since his turn as Ricky Thomas in the cult horror classic Sleepaway Camp (1983). In the last few years, Tiersten’s found more time for the camera. His chilling turn as serial killer John Doesy in The Perfect House is just another in a list of reasons why you should make time to meet him at the Mile High Horror Festival.
French Davis: You laid off acting for a long time. What brought you back around?
Jonathan Tiersten: ‘THE DIRTY LOWDOWN!’ No, wait a minute, that was Bozz Skaggs. I failed at everything else? The honest answer is that someone asked.
FD: Talk about how you landed the role in The Perfect House.
JT: Well, rumor has it that the part was initially supposed to go to Jason Mewes, but he got something that paid better (a lot better). Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) recommended me to director/writer Kris Hulbert. He checked out my Facebook page and saw pictures of me and my son and my dogs and remarked, “He doesn’t look very menacing.” She responded, “Try dating him.” He called me on the phone and said that he knew in the first 30 seconds that I was John Doesy.
FD: You’re actually one of the more kind people someone’s likely to ever come across, at least in my experience. How do you prepare to take on such a dark role?
JT: My kindness was born from misery. I know that sounds trite but it is true. My kindness had to be learned. I have a terrible selfishness that I struggle with all the time. Human beings are the only the animal that lives outside of nature’s delicate balance, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t animals. We have very basic instincts. That was the key to playing John Doesy. He doesn’t perceive himself as “evil.” I didn’t play him as “evil.” That was the thing that always bothered me in the promos. They kept asking the question whether true evil exists. I don’t think so. I think fear and desperation and many other factors make people do what they do. I understand rage.
FD: What scares you the most?
JT: Nice segue. My own rage, my lack of empathy, my laziness… Oh, you mean, like, horror stuff. I had terrible night terrors as a child. It drove my family crazy. I was scared of everything. Like in Monster’s Inc. I may be all out of that kind of scare. James P. Sullivan would probably still scare me and Mike Wazowski reminds me of about 20 guys I went to high school with. Now they all run hedge funds. That is pretty scary.
FD: How are the creative processes between writing music, playing live and acting different? Where do they align?
JT: Writing music is such a hard thing to explain. Where do ideas come from? It isn’t thin air (despite living at 5,000 ft.). We are all affected by the things both around us and inside us. I honestly don’t know what inspires me to write, but when I hear a song I wrote years later, it is the most awesome feeling of accomplishment. Acting, as a process, is more organized. I was trained as a method actor at NYU’s Circle In The Square Theater School so I have a lot of tools at my disposal. One of the main things is to be relaxed and be able to center your energy so you don’t “overplay” something. I also like to trick myself. With Doesy, I pretended I was a mosquito. It kept me from getting too concerned with what I looked or sounded like. Musical performance is very similar. It is about relaxed focus. You need to listen. You need to command the stage. When it works, it is the greatest thing ever. I imagine it is like being royalty (not that I have any idea what that is like).