Interview: Ken Sagoes

Ken Sagoes is a Nightmare on Elm St fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why. After all, no one else got to drop a car on Freddy Krueger. Sagoes is primarily known for his role as Roland Kincaid in A Nightmare on Elm St 3: Dream Warriors, and A Nightmare on Elm St 4: The Dream Master. If you look through the plots for most of the slasher films that were made throughout the 80s and 90s, you’ll notice the one black guy in the gang of teenagers usually didn’t make it to the end of the movie. As Kincaid, Sagoes logged appearances in two of the Elm St. films, which isn’t something you can say for most of the alumni from the franchise. And even as he’s killed off in the fourth film, his character, an immensely strong, formidably determined youth, gets to go down swinging. He even gets the “I’ll see you in hell” line, delivered with believable conviction.

Although Sagoes left a notable mark on the Elm St films, it’s hardly fair to reduce his work as an actor to those two films. As enduring as they are, Sagoes has enjoyed a career in film, television, and theater for almost thirty years. As an actor, he has worked with directors like the Coen Brothers and John Singleton. His television work includes Til DeathThe Bernie Mac ShowNight Court, and most recently, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. His large frame and distinctive voice gives him the ability to be effortlessly memorable in anything, but his work beyond the Elm St. franchise reveals a talented, diverse character actor. If his small-but-memorable role on It’s Always Sunny suggests anything, it’s that he could very easily be an asset to any TV series that would want to cast him. At least, as far as comedy goes, he has the timing and delivery down.

It’s also worth noting that Sagoes has also worked as a director and writer. He has directed two short films, has a writing credit for the award-winning TV film On Promised Land, and is currently at work on a project entitled The Secret WeaponThe short film project is currently seeking donations on Indiegogo. It hopes to tell a significant, moving story from the Civil Rights era that has unfortunately been neglected. Sagoes is producing the project, but also wrote it, plans to direct it, and is preparing to act in it, as well. As of this writing, the film is still attempting to obtain the necessary funding. It’s an intriguing project, with an exceptionally talented cast and crew working behind it. We can certainly hope that the film does indeed secure what it needs.

Sagoes in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Image © New Line Cinema)

Sagoes in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Image © New Line Cinema)

Classic horror films have the double-edged sword of generating a moment of fame for its cast, as well a certain degree of immortality, depending on the film. Yet they can also potentially define the rest of an actor’s career, for good or ill. Sagoes doesn’t outwardly appear to have a problem with the fact that people are still quoting Elm St. lines at him (my favorite is “Oh, great. Now it’s my dick that’s killing me”, but it’s hard to argue with anyone who likes “Take THAT, motherfucker!”). He is a fixture and fan favorite at horror movie conventions around the world.

It probably helps considerably than in the years since those films, he has never stopped working on a wide range of interesting projects. Gabriel Ricard conducted this interview with Sagoes via email.

Drunk Monkeys: Tell us about your current short film project The Secret Weapon.

Ken Sagoes: I’m working to direct a short film called, The Secret Weapon, which I hope will become a feature film. It’s one of those rare untold stories that very few are aware about. It centers around children, some as young as 4 years of age, who took a stand, for the Civil Rights of all people. The world took note to how these young people were treated in their quest to have simple base equality for everybody. I went to Birmingham, Al and talked with many of the foot soldiers (that’s what the young people were called, they were soldiers that walked peacefully, letting the world know that that had dreams and wanted a future). Most are in their mid-70s to 80s now. Every emotion was touched when I was hear them talk about those moments and what they had to face.

DM: Ultimately, it would seem as though The Secret Weapon is designed to be an educational
film. Would you say that’s accurate? Or is that perhaps simplistic.

KS: Both. It’s entertaining, and covered with education. Sometimes when you are telling a story that is so power, and have the backdrop of actually events, the education of it is just a given. The music of that time along will make you sit there and watch the film. Remember, this was the time of some of our most remembered music; such as the Motown Sounds, the country sounds of Tennessee, The American Bandstand with Dick Clark, etc. It’s all a part of this story.

DM: Since you’re the writer and director of this project, I would assume the original idea to create a film from this true story came from you. If so, how did the idea for this project first come to you? If not, how did you get involved?

KS: Yes, I am the writer and director of this story. I have always been passionate about stories that deal with our youth. I was a writer before I was an actor. I wrote for Paramount television. Believe it or not, it was not drama, it was comedy. I was a sitcom writer. I guess that’s why they say some of your deepest and touching drama can come from some of the funniest comics. As for where the idea really came from, I remember as a little boy living in Stockbridge, a small town south of Atlanta, GA. (It was also where many of Dr. King’s family lived). I was around 4 years of age, early one morning, one of my grandfather’s friends banged on the door around 2am. He and his wife were upset and looking for his son, who had taken the car, with others his age and was headed to Birmingham to be in a protest. My grandparents and his friends prayed all night for their son. I remember why they said their son took the car. They wanted to stand for something and they were tired of seeing how their parents were treated. I knew first-hand about the cold slap of racism, even at my age, I wanted to go. I never forgot that, so this story is a way of telling how those children felt.

DM: A number of very iconic, historically significant photographs from the portion of the Civil Rights Movement that took place the 50s and 60s help define the story told in The Secret Weapon. Several of them can be found on the project’s IndieGoGo page. Tell us about how these photographs influenced the project. Is there in one in particular that you feel really expresses what The Secret Weapon is about?

KS: The picture captured a lot of history that was just truths. There’s an old saying, “A picture says a thousand words.” This is one of them, many to be exact. There are several that express what “The Secret Weapon” is about. I took a character in the story and built it around one of the pictures. But one that stands out the most is the one where the water is beating the backs of three young people. God sent me a great sign that this story must be told. The young lady in that picture is Mrs. Mamie King-Chalmers. Her daughter contacted me. Mrs. Chalmer’s indorsed this project. She is such an unsung hero and if truth be told, I want to write her story.
DM: Let’s say The Secret Weapon gets the funding it needs. When would it go into production? When could we expect to see it released?

KS: First, you must understand this is not a feature film; this is a short-film. It is my hope that the short film will draw the attention I need to make a feature film. But if I received all the funds I need to make the short film, it will go in to pre-production within a month. The $15,000 is a great start up for me. It’s going to take about three times that and more to make this project the way it needs to be made. I don’t want to cheat it, I want to do it right, and in order to do it right, you need the tools and the professional team, both; behind the scene and in front of the camera.

DM: You have an exceptional cast and crew working on this thing. How difficult was it to assemble such a great team of actors, producers, and other talent?

KS: It was not hard. Once they read the screenplay, everyone that I contacted was on board. There have been a few who contacted me. At the end of the day, everyone wants to do a project that means something. But I also, must respect their craft. It is hard out there to survive in the field of entertainment. Everyone one cannot work for free. But they are willing to lend their talent for something. Everyone has to make ends meet, no matter what you have in your bank account.

DM: It’s hard to read about this project, what those kids went through against monsters like Bull Conner, and not find distinctive parallels to the present. Particularly in the case of everything that’s gone on in Ferguson, Missouri. I realize that stories similar to what happened in Ferguson go on at a tragically steady click, but that particular story has taken hold with the public, particularly in terms of how the police force has handled the protestors. Has it been difficult to work on this project, and then turn on the news, and see the kind of things that have been going on there? Can we say that one of the things about The Secret Weapon, when we compare its story to the current events of the day, is that we still, clearly, have a very long way to go?

KS: Yes, we have a long ways to go, but we have come a long ways too.

DM: You’ve been a writer and actor for nearly thirty years. How did you get started?

KS: When I was a security guard at Universal Studios, I used to make sure I was locked on the stage during my patrol. Once the camera started rolling, no one was to move. I was able to watch the best in what they do; actors, writers, producers, directors, both; behind the scene and in front of the camera. Then, I realize it all started with an idea. From the idea, it went to paper. I took an acting workshop and when the instructor was looking for something for me to read, there was nothing for me, or there was nothing for a young Black actor to read, other than if I was talking about robbing a bank or somebody. Plain and simple, I didn’t want to do that. So in the words of Kincaid, I wrote my owe shit!

DM: One of the things I really wanted to ask about was a couple of writing credits you have on IMDB. You have two story credits for Laverne and Shirley. Are those accurate?

KS: Yes, it is very accurate. Gary Marshall’s people saw me at an Actor’s Showcase. I had written a scene and they loved it. Long story short, I was interviewed, and became a part of the writing staff. I also worked on Joanie Love Chachie and Happy Days. Another funny story: When Gary Marshall called to speak to me early one morning, I thought it was somebody playing a joke on me, so I told him to hold on, and then, hung up the phone.

DM: Of course, it was fairly early on in your career that you were cast as Roland Kincaid for A Nightmare on Elm St 3. How did that come about?

KS: I actually did not want to go out on the audition. I had never seen or heard of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Based on what they were asking for in the breakdown (Breakdowns is what the agents received from casting directors for what they are looking for) I did not fit the role. I certainly did not have the body they were looking for, so I felt it was a waste of my time. It was raining heavily that day, car was in the shop, and I had to go to court – I lost the case. So I had a real shitty attitude. I went into the audition and the director told me to be free as to how I felt Kincaid would be. I said a few choice words that would have made my grandmamma wash my mouth out with soap. But it became the birth of Ken Sagoes playing the role of Kincaid.

DM: It is perhaps a little difficult for some people to appreciate just how popular Freddy Krueger was during the 1980s, and how big a deal it was to be cast in one of those films. What was it like working on the film? What was your career like after it was released?

KS: As I stated, I was not aware of the Nightmare movies. If I had known, I would have kept many things from the film: script, clothes, etc. But I became a hero to many all over the world. There were even Kincaid fan clubs in Japan, England, Spain, and down under. Kincaid had over 18 popular lines, and when I go to horror conventions, I hear them all.

DM: You have the odd distinction of being one of the few black people to survive a horror movie, and then come back for the next installment. Was your participation in the fourth film a foregone conclusion? How was it working on The Dream Master, compared to being in the previous Dream Warriors.

KS: I loved horror, but I was not a big horror fan like I am now – and guess why? I am grateful to New Line for foreseeing such an important fact of movie history. However, as a Black actor, I must give respect to Black Legend, William Marshall, who played the Blacula in the 70’s. He would really be the first to go from one sequel to another, but when we speak of international and worldly, I am the first forthat. It was great working on Nightmare 4, the cast was great. It was my second family outside of part 3. But Rodney Eastman and I were like seniors in high school. We were given our special death scenes so they could focus on the new kids on the block.

GR: For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t seen the fantastic, compulsory Never Sleep Again: The Elm St. Legacy, are there any good stories involving either of those films that you might be willing to share?

KS: No. I think I shared the good and the bad on Never Sleep Again: The Elm St. Legacy. Wait; there is one thing I would like to say. I don’t think Tuesday Knight was given enough credit for what she had to do. I think that out of all of us, she had one of the difficult roles to play, because she had to embody a role that Patricia (Arquette) had beautifully played. But Tuesday, did not skip a beat, she stepped in and made Kristen her’s with the highest respect.

DM: You’re a pretty consistent fixture on the horror movie convention scene. Would it be safe to say that you enjoy it? Are you ever surprised by the reception the Elm St. films continue to get?

KS: I really don’t do as many horror conventions that people think I do. I usually do about 2 or three a year. Yes, I am surprised, and I think Robert Englund has a lot to do with that. I don’t know or can’t say for sure that Nightmare on Elm Street would be without him. He is Freddy! There can be others who play the role well, but no one, I mean, no one can embody Freddy Krueger like the great Robert Englund.

Sagoes with the Elm Street cast.

Sagoes with the Elm Street cast.

DM: You’ve worked in a few other horror films. The 1988 Death by Dialogue is one, which has the great tag line of “Ken Sagoes, The Kid Who Survived A Nightmare on Elm St. 3 Is Back!” You also have a couple of films coming out soon that certainly sound like they belong to the genre. Would you call yourself a fan of horror? Any favorites?

KS: I don’t think I was much of a fan before Nightmare, but I am a fan now. I loved “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock (which I had the pleasure of meeting doing my first guard patrol at Universal) But I think I would like to say I am a man that loves all genre, but have been blessed the most by horror. One thing I will say, and I say it proudly, HORROR FANS ARE SUPPORTIVE AND HAVE YOUR BACK! Thank you, horror fans.

DM: It’s a small part, but it’s a memorable one, and I’ve just gotta ask about it: How on earth did you wind up on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

KS: I have to tell you, which were funny too. After I auditioned, I asked the casting director was this a pilot, and she said you are hilarious. After she studied the expression on my face and realized I was serious, she said, “No, it’s been on for three years now.” I guess I need to get cable.

DM: You should definitely watch a little more. It’s a great show. Now, you’ve worked pretty extensively as a writer. You’ve written short films, and you also wrote the Disney-produced TV filmOn Promised Land. How did you land that gig in particular? Do you enjoy writing and directing more than acting?

KS: I enjoy them both. I can’t choose one over the other. That script is based on a moment in my life when I lived in Stockbridge, Georgia. It happens around the same time as The Secret Weapon. The script was submitting by Ted Danson’s company, who was housed at Paramount Studios. By the way, just because you write a script and write a role for you, it doesn’t mean you have it when a studio buys it. I had to audition for the role I played in the script. But I received five CableACE nominations (Today, the CableACE is an Emmy), and walked away with Best Writer for Family.

DM: You’re a 2008 NAACP Theater Award nominee for Best Supporting Male. Do you have a theater background? Do you get to work in theater as much as you would like?

KS: I come from a theater background, and I try to do one to two places a year. I was also a stand-up comic.

DM: Tell us a little bit about the Giving Back Corporation.

KS: I founded GBC-Giving Back Corporation in 1997. I know what it is like to want something, especially and education and don’t have the supplies to study. I was one of those youth when I was growing up. There were a lot of people who gave back to me when I was coming into adulthood. So I wanted to pay homage to them. I give “books and supplies” scholarships to inner city youth all over the country. I send youth to summer came every summer. I pay for their tutoring if they need work in a subject. So far I have supported more than 2000 youth and will continue. For every movie I’ve acted in, or every script I’ve sold, I’ve tried to give back to somebody’s child who needed support. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for that somebody. GBC’s mission statement is: to offer a helping hand to those trying to help themselves. I was a child that dreamed, and I want to help every child, no matter what race, or background, giving back is important to a positive growth in the world.

 

For more information on Ken Sagoes’s current project, “The Secret Weapon”, go to its Kickstarter page.