Lee Perkins has had quite a career – and it’s not all in movies. Earlier in life Lee found fame in the world of formula car racing - earning over 2.2 million in his professional racing career and eventually ending up as an ESPN commentator on ‘Speedworld’ and ‘Sportscenter’. After September 11th he shied away from the frequent travel that the reporting job required.Comfortable in front of the cameras and with some solid acting experience, Lee decided to focus more intently on performing. Since then he’s met with a good amount of success with roles in a wide array of films such as ‘The Waterboy’, ‘Freejack’, ‘Extreme Force’, ‘Death & Texas’, ‘Palmetto’, etc. On TV he has been featured in ‘Sheena’, ‘Daytona Beach’, ‘Ocean Ave.’, ‘ The Cape’, ‘Secret Lives’, ‘North Mission Road’, and many others.

Lee got his first taste of sweet terror-ville in the celebrated horror short ‘Shadows of the Dead’ which was featured in the first Fangoria ‘Blood Drive’ compilation film. Currently he’s making some serious waves in ‘KatieBird* certifiable crazy person’ by director Justin Paul Ritter. In this very twisted film about “the birth of a serial killer” Lee plays Merle – KatieBird’s father. Merl is a serial killer (as was his father and grandfather) who goes about teaching his daughter the tricks of the family trade. It’s creepy stuff (duh!) that views killing as somewhat of an addiction. It’s been understandably controversial – and quite favorably received by the best critics in the world - horror fans!

Now the horror role floodgates have opened for Lee. Recently we had a chance for this exclusive www.racksandrazors.com chat when he was fresh from an appearance at Texas Frightmare Weekend -- which featured a very successful ‘KatieBird’ screening.



  So Lee, can we start with a visual? Please describe for the visually oriented racks and razors readers the room where you are answering these questions?

Picture the nicest hotel room you’ve ever seen. Well, this isn’t it. I’m traveling back to Los Angeles from the Texas Frightmare Weekend, where we had a screening with a Q & A. I’ve been staying in those hotels where the TV is bolted to the furniture. They usually have a few dumb pictures or a mirror on the wall and a bed that has seen better days. I drove because I just bought a new Hummer H3 and wanted to break it in.

First off I want to talk about the twisted flick “KatieBird” about the birth of a serial killer. You play KatieBird’s dad Merl “Daddy” Wilkins who is also a killer and shows her the ropes so to speak. How did the role come about?

I was shooting a non-horror film (can you believe they still make them?), playing a very spineless husband, and I got a call about an audition. I couldn’t go, so I sent my reel and never heard anything (typical Hollywood). About a month later, I got a call from Justin Paul Ritter, the director. He wanted to know if I was still interested. I was, so he sent the script, and I read it straight through. I loved it. It was very dark, with a kind of poetic language describing very twisted events. I later found out that another actor was going to play the role but dropped out. I ended up only having four days to prepare 40-plus pages of dialog, but I still feel I got lucky on this one.

What was the main thing you wanted to convey to the film audience about Merl?

Merl is a third-generation serial killer who’s very conflicted. On one hand, he wants to be a good father and pass along to KatieBird the knowledge his father and grandfather gave him — that a truthful life can be found through death. On the other hand, Merl lives in fear of making a mistake. He’s so worried that he will not live up to his family name that he literally questions every word he says. That’s what gives Merl a rather slow speech pattern, and why he doesn’t feel comfortable making eye contact, unless, of course, he’s torturing someone.

Did you base your characterization of Merl on any real flesh and blood killers?

No, I didn’t. I really didn’t have the time. I wonder how that might have changed things. For me, I always start with the script. Merl was a very well developed character on the page. I just took that and added my own dark spin to it. I have a very dark side that I get from my dad and my auto racing days. I used to be so intense that I would walk around the race paddock in a good mood and people would think I was pissed off. Thankfully, through acting, I’ve now learned how to use that. You might say I do A-hole very well...and many people have said so.

It also seemed you treated Merl’s hunger for killing as a sort of addiction. Do you think that compulsivity is inherent in the killer nature?

I’m not sure it is, but it’s a great trait to give a character from an actor’s point of view. It’s something that is very playable. I honestly feel that everyone, good or evil, has reasons why they do what they do. They all justify their actions (in their mind) in some way. And yes, I did give Merl a deep hole in his soul (like an addict) that he’s desperately trying to fill. But no matter how hard he tries, he can’t find the answer. Merl even tries to find his own truth through the actions of his daughter. But when she starts abusing her body and combining sex and killing, Merl learns the painful lesson of what a lie he has been living.

I was amazed when I discovered this movie was shot in something like 10 days!!! What were the most difficult and most gratifying aspects of being on such a tight shooting schedule?

Shooting on a tight schedule can sometimes work in your favor. As an actor, you get up very early in the a.m. and come home very late in the p.m. By the time you take a shower, it’s time for bed. Then you do it all again the next day. You never get the time to decompress. The character is always with you. And sometimes, something strange starts to happen. A building of the character takes place. You find more levels, and the role deepens. The disadvantage is that there is very little time to experiment on set. And if it’s not organized, it’s a living nightmare. So, the secret to shooting on a tight schedule is to get your stuff done first. It’s usually the scenes at the end of the shoot that get rushed.

What was your outstanding memory of filming that movie?

There was one day about halfway though when I could feel something special start to happen. I remember talking with Jun Hee Lee (who plays Kevin Cool), and we both could feel it. It’s very hard to explain, but I guess I was finally able to see what the film could become and what Justin’s true vision was.

You also played the doctor in “Shadows of the Dead” which was in the first Fangoria Blood Drive DVD. How did that role come about?

Trust me, that one was a surprise. I had worked with the director, Joel Robertson, on another film. We decided to take one of his scripts and shoot some footage to get investors interested in a new feature. That footage would later (five years later) be re-edited into “Shadows of the Dead”. We never found the investors, but Joel made a great short that got Fangoria’s attention. The critics loved it, even though I don’t think it was my best work. But I did end up making some very nice connections from it.

Do you have any upcoming or current projects you would like to brag, plug, or inform the www.racksandrazors.com readers about?

Since Fangoria Magazine has been so supportive, I want to mention that “KatieBird *certifiable crazy person” will be at their Weekend of Horrors in Chicago on March 4 & 5. We’ll have a screening and I think a short Q & A. On the acting side, I have two films in post-production that should be out this summer, along with a documentary. Lately, I’ve been contacted by a bunch of horror directors about their upcoming films. Some sound very cool, like “Trippin’” by Devi Snively. But the film I’m starting to prepare for is a thriller called “The Red Machine” that’s set in 1935.

I want to hear prior to movies you were a professional car racer and earned over 2.2 million in that career. How did acting come about as your next career choice?

I had always acted from an early age, but sports were my first love. I played baseball, football and raced cars here in the U.S. and in Italy and England. I took racing as far as I could go, then I ended up on ESPN as a commentator. The travel started to get old and after 9-11, I just stopped. Thankfully, the acting was running on all eight cylinders (a little racing humor). So I just moved from one phase onto the next. Hopefully this will be my last, as I’m running out of how many lives I can live.But one day, I’ll get back to racing and do a kick-butt film, I can promise you that.

Are there any similarities between formula car racing and filmmaking?

Now this is a great question. They’re so much alike. When you test a car, it’s just like being on a movie set. The crew chief is the director. The mechanics are the film crew. Each one has their own job that depends on all the other jobs. And of course, the driver is the actor. For him, there’s a lot of sitting around waiting for those few precious seconds when he actually gets to perform. Both jobs are also filled with many low lows and high highs. And there are the women...but that’s a whole different story.

You've also started hitting some horror conventions --- I notice Texas Frightmare Weekend --- what have you noticed about horror fans that sort of sets them apart from the movie fans you'd had prior to this?

Horror fans are the best. They’re a very tight group who are passionate about what they like. They’ll support good films...they’ll support bad films. But what I like best is that they’ll tell you to your face what they think. The Texas con was special. The crowd was large and ready for some horror. Many came up after the screening and thanked me for the film (even though I only acted in it). When Katie reaches the right audience, they get this glazed look in their eyes. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a very cool experience. In fact, it’s the best experience I’ve ever had with a film.

We're pulling the car into the Lee Perkins Drive-In, picking our spot on the gravel lot, and hooking the speaker in the window...what three horror flicks are going to be playing on the triple bill and what goodies are they going to be serving up at the concession stand?

The first movie playing is “The Exorcist”. The second is “The Exorcist”. And the late late show is…you guessed it, “The Exorcist”. The reason is simple: it still scares the hell out of me. I’m not sure if it’s because I believe in God and the Devil, or what, but it just strikes a chord in me. So to get through it, we’re featuring free alcohol (even for the kids, who shouldn’t be here). I like beer and will need a lot of it. Maybe some pretzels, the big soft gooey ones. That might help me get through three screenings.

What makes you go psycho in real life?

People who don’t respect others. I just had an incident with a neighbor who was being very noisy and disrespectful to the older lady living below him. He had two three-year-olds visiting and they were running around (for hours) starting at 7 a.m. On the day we had words, it started at 6:30. I went up with the maintenance man to see what could be done. When the neighbor didn’t apologize and said, “They’re kids, what can you do,” I went mental. I guess I scared him, because later I heard he called the police. They never showed; so the moral is...don’t screw with Merl’s sleep. He’s not an early-morning type of guy.

What frightens you in real life?

Probably the thought of losing my parents. They’ve always been there for me and I really don’t know what I’ll do without them. It’s the total opposite of what KatieBird had. I guess you can say I’m a very blessed guy.