Interview With Judd Nelson – Saturday Detention To Bloodthirsty Pirate

I’m an ’80s girl. I grew up in the ’80s; I wore the clothes, teased my hair, played with lawn darts and watched movies. It was right around 1985 that the Brat Pack was coined, named after a band of young actors, including Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Molly Ringwald, Robert Downey, Jr. and Ally Sheedy, who brought real young adult life to the silver screen in films like St. Elmo’s Fire, Less Than Zero, Sixteen Candles and Weird Science. Among them was Judd Nelson, a man immortalized as The Breakfast Club’s teenage outcast, John Bender, who went on to create a name for himself playing politicians, psychologists, comedians, transformers and psychopaths. No matter who he played, he would always be Bender to me.

When I was given the opportunity to interview Nelson about his most recent film, Dead Water (read our review here), I actually squealed! I had so many questions!

To get you started, here’s the film’s synopsis:

When a relaxing getaway turns deadly, a former Marine must risk his life once again to save his wife and best friend from a modern day pirate; all the while trying to hold himself together as he faces the ghosts of the war he left behind.

PopHorror: Thank you very much for talking with me today!

Judd Nelson: My pleasure!

PopHorror: Your film, Dead Water, is releasing this month. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your character?

Judd Nelson: Well, I play a guy – I guess, you could consider him a modern day pirate – on the open water, looking for victims, people I can rob and kill and steal their stuff and their boats. I happen across these very wealthy people with a big, fancy boat, and I want it.

PopHorror: How did you prepare for the role?

Judd Nelson: It was fun! Great people to work with. Chris Helton, the director, this as his first film. He did a great job. I really enjoyed all of the actors I worked with. I’ve become really good friends with Casper Van Dien. He’s easy to work with. Everyone was ready. We got lucky with the weather, because when you’re on the water like that, if you have bad weather… I don’t know what you do. You gotta just wait, I guess. But, we were lucky. We were able to shoot it in the short period of time that we had. It was fun.

[John Hughes] really was the first guy to make movies about young people without implying that they’re less. Just because you’re young, doesn’t mean you’re less anything, except old. He’s one of the first guys to remember that high school is serious time for a lot of people. There’s a lot of social pressure and worries. You can’t ignore those problems. If you ignore those problems… then you have another Columbine.

PopHorror: I actually just got off the phone with Casper Van Dien [read the interview here]. He was saying that he actually celebrated his honeymoon during filming.

Judd Nelson: Yeah! Yeah, he really is a great guy. Smart, intuitive, sensitive, easy to work with… just funny! A good guy.

PopHorror: Awesome! I love hearing that. Dead Water was shot on location, not a sound stage, correct?

Judd Nelson: Yeah. All my work was done on the boats. All of it.

PopHorror: Was it hard working in such close quarters on a boat in the middle of the ocean?

Judd Nelson: No. No, it’s not too bad. The boat that I begin on was a little bit more uncomfortable because of the engine fumes. That was more of a problem than anything else, but it was good. And you realize very quickly that you only have this much space. The crew has to be small. You have to come ready. You can’t be taking any extra time for anything, you know? You get out there, and you just shoot. You’ve got to be ready before you get there.

Dead Water, Casper van Dien, Judd Nelson

PopHorror: Okay, so I’m watching Dead Water, and I’m waiting, and I’m thinking, “When does Judd show up?” And it took 40 minutes!

Judd Nelson: Really? (laughs)

PopHorror: Yeah!

Judd Nelson: Well, they have to set up. They have to set it all up before I get there. Because once I get there, things change pretty quickly.

PopHorror: True. So, what the heck happened to your head? The first time they show you on your boat, you head’s bleeding. Did I blink and miss it?

Judd Nelson: Well, I don’t know how much I should give away, but you know what you see in the end? What’s in my first boat? There’s just bodies there, right? So, you get the sense that I killed those people. So, the injury happened in that struggle. So when you first see me, and I’m getting the binoculars and looking over at the boat from far away. I’m still bloody, because I just finished dispatching these people. It happens before the movie starts, basically. My relationship with them.

You know, it’s interesting, because I haven’t seen the finished product yet. It’s too late now, but I kinda want to let the director know, like, “Hey, man. I don’t know if you know, but it’s not clear.” You may be onto something that’s a problem.

PopHorror: It’s clear in hindsight…

(Judd laughs)

PopHorror: But when it first happens, I was like, “What is wrong with this guy’s head?”

(Both laugh)

Judd Nelson, Dead Water
Judd Nelson as Sam McLean in Dead Water

PopHorror: So, do you have any secrets from behind the scenes?

Judd Nelson: No, not really. We just got there, worked fast and worked hard. The secret is that the weather stayed nice, you know? We were supposed to do it a year earlier, but the hurricanes went through there [St. Croix] and destroyed so much. We were very lucky. The secret is, someone was in control of the weather and helped us. (laughs) I don’t know who that was.

PopHorror: I think about when they filmed Jaws, all of the open water and weather-related issues that they had had.

Judd Nelson: You do keep some covered sets. None of my stuff could have been one on a covered set, but you have these interior scenes with Casper and Griff [Furst] that you can keep in reserve if there’s bad weather. But again, once you’re on the water, like in Jaws, once you’re on the boat… some stuff you can deal with in the weather, and some stuff you can’t. And they had a big shark they had to deal with, right?

PopHorror: (stupidly) Oh, no! There was a shark?

Judd Nelson: (laughs) No, not for us! In Jaws!

(Both laugh)

Judd Nelson: No, we didn’t have a shark to deal with there. We had nothing. The water was beautiful. People there were so nice. Everyone was so nice in St. Croix.

PopHorror: So, you know I’m going to get to The Breakfast Club questions, right?

Judd Nelson: Cool! Go ahead.

PopHorror: Do you enjoy being known as Bender from The Breakfast Club? You’re an icon now.

Judd Nelson: Hey, I feel lucky to have been on such a fast horse. You always hope a film will have relevance afterwards, years later. That film certainly does. It’s truly a testament to the work of [Director] John Hughes. He really was the first guy to make movies about young people without implying that they’re less. Just because you’re young, doesn’t mean you’re less anything, except old. He’s one of the first guys to remember that high school is serious time for a lot of people. There’s a lot of social pressure and worries. You can’t ignore those problems. If you ignore those problems, the stresses and troubles of young people, then you have another Columbine. It’s important to have an ear for that, and Hughes did. And I’m very lucky to have been involved in that project, because, years later, it’s still a film that people see and enjoy.

PopHorror: It’s timeless.

Judd Nelson: Yeah, I think so.

PopHorror: Here’s the weirdo question. Ready?

Judd Nelson: Yeah (laughs)

PopHorror: When you were a teenager, were you more like John Bender from The Breakfast Club or Alec Newbary from St. Elmo’s Fire?

Judd Nelson: Neither, really. I went to prep school for high school. We went to school six days a week anyway. I guess I was more rambunctious. I played basketball and tennis.

PopHorror: Would you call yourself a jock?

Judd Nelson: Not really, no. I don’t know if I was really a jock. Tennis was probably my biggest sport that I did in high school. But then, I stopped right after high school. I didn’t play anymore. So yeah. I wasn’t really like Bender or like Alec.

What I think is great about The Breakfast Club is that Hughes took five teenage archetypes, and everyone is made up of various pieces of those five. No one is only one of these guys. Everyone is a conglomeration of pieces of all of them.

PopHorror: Everyone can see a little bit of themselves in all of them.

Judd Nelson: Exactly!

Judd Nelson, Breakfast Club
Judd Nelson as John Bender in The Breakfast Club

PopHorror: My PopHorror partner in crime, Tori, wanted me to ask you about Cabin By The Lake.

Judd Nelson: Aha!

PopHorror: You played a pretty crazy, creepy character.

Judd Nelson: (laughs) Yeah, well, I played a writer with writer’s block. Just trying to get over that writer’s block.

PopHorror: (laughs) Is that all?

Judd Nelson: Yeah, that’s all! You, know, something small. That film was great to work on. The director was wonderful. He was a guy from Hong King named Po Chih Leong. Really good guy. We shot a lot of the first film at the bottom of the pool at University of British Columbia. We just went up there with our scuba stuff and spent a day underwater. I enjoyed it. The hard part was when we had to connect that with the outside, the exterior of the cabin by the lake. The lake they used was glacier fed. And that was cold. The safety divers wore dry suits, the kind where you don’t get any water on you at all inside. But I’m wearing, like, a bathing suit. Whooo-eeee! That was cold! But it’s only cold for a little while.

PopHorror: Just until the hypothermia kicks in.

Judd Nelson: (laughs) Yeah! After about a minute, you feel great. You’ve got hypothermia, but hypothermia doesn’t hurt. As soon as I said, “Hey, I feel good!” They were like, “Get out of the water…” And I’m like, “No, I’m doing good! I’m telling you, I’m not cold.” So they ask makeup for a mirror, and one of the safety divers holds the mirror up to my face. I was like, “Oh, no!” My face was chalk white, and my lips were purple. So they say, “Get out of the water!” And I’m like, “Okay, okay!”

PopHorror: Probably a good idea! So, do you have any projects coming up that you want to talk about?

Judd Nelson: I did a project with C. Thomas Howell called Dauntless, which is about the Battle of Midway, and we shot the whole thing in a green screen room. It looks like I’m on an aircraft carrier in front of planes and the ocean, but it’s just green screen. It’s fascinating, incredible. I saw the movie. It looks real! You’re like, “What the heck?” I really dig it. I’m not sure when it comes out, but it’s me and C. Thomas Howell.

PopHorror: Is it weird to act in front of something that’s not really there?

Judd Nelson: It’s like doing a play. You’re not really there when you do a play. But what’s cool about it is that for the audience, it’s real for them. But [green screen filming] was fascinating. It seemed like a cool thing to try and see how it goes, and it went great. Anything that you can imagine, they can film now. Like that movie 300. Anything you can imagine, you can shoot.

PopHorror: Then there’s movies like The Frighteners when you’re actually battling something that isn’t there. That must be a weird thing to have to do.

Judd Nelson: Yeah, for sure. You know, Will Smith has done a lot of that kind of stuff. He’s awfully good at it. There’s a lot of movies where he’s fighting… who knows what he’s fighting. He doesn’t even know what he’s fighting until he sees the movie. It’s that kind of stuff where you hope your eye line is right. Where’s this thing? Where am I looking? It’s tough, the way that it’s done, with motion capture and all that. Leonardo DiCaprio fighting that big bear in The Revenant. It’s pretty incredible. It’s not like they bring an actor bear on the set, and he’s smoking cigarettes in between beating up Leo.

(Both laugh)

It’s very elaborate and well-rehearsed and specific and even dangerous, as well.

PopHorror: So true! Do you have any hobbies that you like to do when you’re not working?

Judd Nelson: I do a lot of reading, and I do a lot of writing. That’s pretty much how I spend my time, yeah.

PopHorror: That’s what I spend all my time doing, too.

Judd Nelson: There you go! There’s nothing wrong with that. Although I do call into question our fitness, but you know. At least our mental fitness is okay.

(Both laugh)

Judd Nelson

PopHorror: I think we only have time for one more question. PopHorror is a horror review site, so I have to ask… what’s your favorite scary movie?

Judd Nelson: Well, that’s easy. It’s The Exorcist. That’s the greatest horror movie ever. That thing is still scary. I still think about it. And, second to The Exorcist, would be Jaws.

PopHorror: Jaws is my favorite horror movie, too!

Judd Nelson: I can still hear that silly song in my head when I’m swimming. I’ll be out there in the ocean body surfing, and there’s a thousand people in the water, and I’m hearing, “Ba-dum, ba-dum.” What the hell!

(Both laugh)

PopHorror: All you think think of is, “What’s swimming under my right now?”

Judd Nelson: Ugh! It’s just crazy! I went scuba diving in Australia once, and I made the mistake of telling the guys, “Hey, I don’t need to see any sharks.” So, I’m down there, minding my own business in the Great Barrier Reef. These two guys show up on either side of me, grab my arms and start swimming me towards something.

PopHorror: Uh-oh.

Judd Nelson: And there, in the distance, I can see slowly forming in front of me is a shark. He’s maybe ten- to twelve-feet long,  just swimming there in front of us, moving slowly. And, they swim me up close to it. I was like, “Uhhhhhhh…” And then, they made a loud noise, and the shark just turned and swam away. And it made me realize that a shark… it’s just a fish. If the shark wanted us, it would easily get us. It’s not like we can just swim away. No one can swim faster than a shark! I’m sorry, but no one can. But still, I was like, “Oh. My. God!” Thank God it didn’t want us. I can tell you, I won’t be swimming in a shark tank any time soon.

PopHorror: Especially swimming around with the chum bucket.

Judd Nelson: (laughs) No, no, no! Have you ever seen that video of the woman who feeds the sharks? That one shark falls asleep balancing on her hand?

PopHorror: Seriously?

Judd Nelson: It’s really cool! Try Googling “woman balances shark on hand.” It’s really beautiful. There’s music playing. It’s beautifully shot. You’re not sure what you’re watching at first. No one gets bitten; no one gets eaten. Don’t worry. You can’t even tell that she’s a girl. She’s in a wet suit. Feeding sharks are swimming all around her. You don’t know what’s going on. It looks like it’s going to be really scary, but nothing happens. She just balances the shark on her hand, like it fell asleep, upside down. Then, she wakes it up, and it swims away.

PopHorror: That’s insane!

Judd Nelson: Yeah! Yeah, it is. I just happened upon it, and I was like, “What the hell?!?” I was just sitting there, waiting for something to happen.

PopHorror: I definitely have to see that.

Judd Nelson: See if you can find it. It’s well worth seeing.

PopHorror: I will! And thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us!

Judd Nelson: Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it. Talk to you soon, I hope!

We want to send a great big THANK YOU to Judd Nelson for taking the time to chat with us. Stay tuned to PopHorror for an upcoming review on Judd’s new film, Dead Water, as well as an interview with his co-star, Casper Van Dien.

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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