Lee Waddell, the original Ghostface in Wes Craven's Scream, to haunt the halls of Calgary Expo

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Given that Lee Waddell would eventually become a part of horror’s lasting iconography, it’s fitting that his first experience on a professional film set was for a master of the genre.

It was in the early 1980s and Waddell had managed to get work as an extra on the set of the 1983 horror flick Christine, John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a demonically possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury. Waddell admits he had little interest in the genre kings overseeing the film and responsible for the source material. He had a specific reason for being there: he wanted to track down the stunt co-ordinator.

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“I was just a young, hungry stunt guy trying to break into the business,” he says. “I got on as an extra so I could get on the set without getting thrown off. I didn’t know who John Carpenter was, even though I loved The Thing. All I wanted to do was get there and keep my mouth shut and my ears open, my eyes open and learn and be able to talk to the stunt guys and hang out. I could have cared less what the storyline was. I didn’t care who the director was. I was after the stunt co-ordinator. I was pretty young and naive back then.”

Ghostface
The character Ghostface in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group’s Scream. Photo by Courtesy of Paramount Pictures a /cal

The amiable Waddell ended up having a long career as a stuntman and actor, but he is best known these days for being the first to don the iconic costume of the Ghostface killer in Wes Craven’s 1996 classic Scream and its 1997 sequel. It has become a major part of Waddell’s branding, particularly when he appears at fan expos. On Friday, he will join fellow Scream franchise members Neve Campbell, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard and Skeet Ulrich for a reunion at one of the marquee events at Calgary Expo to discuss the long shadow cast by Craven’s gory but comedic post-modern horror flick nearly 30 years after the Ghostface killer first prowled the screen. Yes, that is Waddell behind the mask in the iconic opening scene opposite Drew Barrymore.

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As a performer who usually specialized in precision driving and fire stunts, Waddell has worked on several iconic films of various genres including X-Men: First Class, Being John Malkovich, Jarhead and The Mask. But it’s safe to say his fan-expo bonafides are largely due to Scream and its sequel.

The first image that greets visitors to Waddell’s website is a small graphic of Ghostface’s spinning head. He sells signed Ghostface masks online. He landed the role in part because of his past relationship with Craven and his frequent stunt co-ordinator Tony Cecere. Waddell was early in his career when he worked on Craven’s 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street with Cecere, who would become a friend and mentor. He read the Scream screenplay days before shooting began and said he was impressed with its humour and how it set about dismantling horror-movie tropes. But he admits he had no idea that people would still be obsessed with the franchise nearly 30 years later.

Lee Waddell
Lee Waddell played the original Ghostface killer in Wes Craven’s Scream and Scream 2. Courtesy of Lee Waddell. cal

At the time, Waddell approached the role as both an actor finding a character and a stunt performer protecting his co-stars.

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“In the midst of putting on the mask and being that character, you still had to be a stunt performer,” he says .”I had to take care of my leading lady, Drew. I can’t hurt her. You had to marry the two. Then you have to do that within the confines of a mask where you can’t see, can’t breathe and you have this robe where you can’t move. It wasn’t pleasant, let’s put it that way. You can’t run, you can’t see and you have to be able to take care of your actress and stay in character and hit your marks. It was multi-tasking.”

As a teenager, Waddell would make 8-mm films with his friends. He loved the old black-and-white horror films. His favourite is still 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon.

A martial artist and natural athlete, he was torn between becoming a stuntman or joining the military after high school but figured stunts would pay better. To train, he would often get together with fellow fledgling stunt performers and focus on various specialties. He continues to act, usually in lower-budget horror films, but has retired from performing elaborate stunts. He said he would love to return to the franchise in some capacity for Scream’s seventh instalment, which is currently in development. Campbell, who was not in Scream VI, is set to return while Kevin Williamson, who wrote the original film, will direct.

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“I’m going to make some phone calls and probably beg a little bit and whine and plead and see if I can’t get on No. 7 and do a little cameo,” he says. “I think, ultimately, it would be really great to have my character kill me.”

These days, Ghostface is a common sight for Halloween or at fan expos. He is always a favourite among cosplayers, including many who recreate the iconic look with painful detail.

Waddell says he feeds off the passion of horror movie buffs at conventions.

“I’m a laughing, loving guy and everybody gets hugs and autographs because that’s who I am,” he says. “But when I’m in character, when I put my photo-ops to go do pictures, I slide back into character. I’m very aggressive, very dark and I don’t laugh at all so the people getting photos get a glimpse of that character and how I played him.”

Calgary Expo runs from April 25 to 28 at Stampede Park. The Cast of Scream! event will take place Friday at 6 p.m. on the main stage in Hall B.

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