ACTOR DEREK MEARS AT HIGHLAND HIGH-5021

Derek Mears, a local actor, is the new Jason in the upcoming "Friday the 13th" movie to be released Friday. Mears graduated from Highland High in 1990. This week he spoke to students at the school.

If this guy was coming at me wearing a hockey mask and swinging a machete, I might have to change my shorts.

He’s big. Nasty looking. This guy looks like he could bench press the bench press.

Derek Mears is “this guy” and he’s local to boot. Mears plays Jason Voorhees in the newest “Friday the 13th” movie released Friday.

Although this isn’t his biggest pay day — Mears is an acting machine having been in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” one and two, “Wild Wild West,” “Men in Black II,” “Zathura,” “Semi-Pro,” “The Hills Have Eyes II” and “CSI: Miami” — “Friday the 13th” may be enough to rocket him to high-six-figure paydays if a horror film can do that. Kevin Bacon was in the first movie and look where he’s gone.

I haven’t seen any of these films. I don’t know if that makes me smart or an idiot. I may be the only one who hasn’t because the combined 11 films have grossed $315,635,506. And something tells me a horror film may not be as expensive as making the “Titanic.”

I don’t know what kind of job Mears does (early reviews say he’s the best of the lot, since they finally cast an actor as Jason rather than a stuntman or a stiff), but he was electrifying Wednesday afternoon at Highland High carrying on in Robert Long’s drama class. If every class was like that, students would actually look forward to going to school.

Mears was engaging, funny, self deprecating, in other words, a real Bakersfield guy.

He is different looking and I don’t mean ugly. Just singular. You can see why casting agents are salivating. You’re thinking monster, bad guy, alien, body guard, hit man and maybe some comedy too because Mears has a rubber face.

Not only is he built like an NBA forward, but Mears is hairless, which completes the visual. I’m not just talking about his head, I’m talking about arms, legs and whatever.

Mears has a disease called Alopecia areata. Growing up, it was a nightmare and made him an easy target for kids looking for a pigeon. Alopecia has become an advantage because you can pick him out of a lineup no matter how many people parade through. In addition, he is a makeup artist’s dream in that the gunk goes on and off without interference.

“I found my solace in the drama department,” he said of the early days, when his advantage had not yet demonstrated itself.

Mears played hours of Dungeons & Dragons and read comic books, but by his junior year in high school had left his room and was acting in ComedySportz competitions (improvisation played as a sport). One day during the awards ceremony for ComedySportz, Mears whipped off his fake hair and the audience almost had a heart attack.

“I found that I liked to make people scream,” he said, citing the origin of his interest in horror films.

Bakersfield College led to Cal State Bakersfield which led to moving to LA (he is now married and lives in Santa Clarita) and learning the stunt business.

“They want you to choose between stunts, which is essentially a blue collar thing and acting, which is white collar,” Mears said. “I wanted to do both.”

To improve as a stuntman, and rid himself of what he describes as a comedy body, he started practicing martial arts, lifting weights and dabbling in cage fighting. If this guy wasn’t nice, he’d be your worst nightmare.

“I’m pretty different from the Jason character,” Mears said of the inventively murder-hungry Jason. “I’m basically a big goofball.”

Only two actors auditioned for the role. Word went out early that Mears had the inside track. Not only did he get the part, but he’ll soon be replicated in a 19-inch action figure.

Mears is an overnight sensation. Overnight if you don’t count the last 11 years he has been bouncing around in Hollywood trying to forge a career from rejection, uncertainty and a few victories in between.

“If it’s not tough, it’s not worth it,” Mears said to the Highland students.

His favorite horror film is “Alien,” and his favorite Jason kill is where the character slams a girl in a sleeping bag against a tree. Mears thinks Jason would cream any of the other modern horror icons like Freddie Krueger, Michael Myers and Pinhead, and just in case anybody wants to know, fake blood tastes like sugar mixed with tears.

Friday, when the film hits the theaters, Mears will be driving around LA with friends and one of the producers to see what the crowds are like. He still has a lot of little kid in him and given how likable Mears is, a generous dash of Bakersfield.

These are Herb Benham’s opinions, and not necessarily The Californian’s. Call him at 395-7279 or write hbenham@bakersfield.com.

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