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Interview With Dan Tursi (2000)

In the first minutes of Sleepaway Camp, John Baker's accidental death help set off the chain of events in Peter/Angela's life, and his homosexual encounter with a man named Lenny proved to be one of the most subtextually surreal flashbacks in the film. This kindly father may have eaten a speedboat on film, but Dan Tursi the person still drifts afloat today. In early July 2000 thanks to Ryan I got to quiz Dan's on all things Sleepaway:

On getting the role:

...I was living in New York, and my roommate was going to NYU Film School... and was a classmate of Robert... they always needed actors for their [short] films and that's how it started... I worked in about three of his films... he liked my work and when the opportunity for Sleepaway came up, he gave me an audition and I got the part.

On playing John:

From an acting standpoint, I tried to balance the gay aspect with his being a father and these two completely different sides to his life... I really concentrated on the relationship and how he feels about his children... making them the most important thing is his life.

On adjusting his towel head-rest:

I don't remember that...? I think that was a bit of action Robert and I came up with.

On being in the water:

It was fucking cold... It was late September in upstate NY... and that lake had to be no more than 50 degrees... and we were in the water for each take for quite a long time... especially when I did my stunt... the setup took a really long time.

On noticing the oncoming danger:

I just pretended a boat was heading our way... and was going to hit us.

On the crash-zoom into his reaction:

That was one of my big moments... practiced getting that look many times... ever since I got the script... at the time I was studying at Strasberg and heavily into the method... so the techniques I used were related to that.

On getting a boat shot over his head:

I did the stunt... Robert always knew me as a person who would do whatever it takes to get the film made... so I kind of lobbied to do it... I also lobbied to get extra pay for it also... but that never happened... It was very dangerous actually... at the time I didn't realize how much... the stunt coordinator seemed like he knew what he was doing but they were still going to use explosives to shoot this boat over my face... there was eighteen inches clearance... so it was pretty hairy... especially when it didn't work right on the pre-test. And the key to getting the shot was not ducking at all... which as it turned out worked rather well...

On floating face down on the water:

Sorry to say that wasn't my body... although I would have done it better.

On Peter and Angela watching him being gay with Lenny:

They didn't know the children were watching from what I can remember.

On being gay with Lenny:

It wasn't awkward... James Paradise and I, really worked on that scene... and played it like a love scene no matter what the gender... any uncomfortableness was planned to some degree because of where we decided their relationship was at the time...

On the weird Martha/Lenny theory:

That I haven't thought about.

On acting in Robert Hiltzik's college short films:

It was a great experience from an acting standpoint... Sleepaway was nothing like his films... sorry to say I can hardly remember the ones we shot...

On Robert Hiltzik directing Sleepaway Camp:

Robert was very easy to work with.... he knew what he wanted... and considering the budget and time constraints and all the other problems that creep up on a set... he always made sure his actors came first...

On the complete shoot:

I was there for three days.

On acting after Sleepaway Camp:

At the time it was my first feature film and I tried to parlay that into a broader profile as an actor. It was a good credit on my resume.

On Dan:

I live in LA. I own a Production company called Snow Leopard Productions, I'm also a writer... have written many scripts... some have been optioned... some have gotten close to getting made. We're playing the game of Hollywood... I switched over from acting into producing and writing around 1990.



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