To children, leprechauns have an innocent reputation of being the supernatural creature printed on the Lucky Charms cereal box. To director Mark Jones, leprechauns were a bit more devious. As the horror-comedy franchise Leprechaun makes its way to streaming on Hulu for its "Huluween" event this spooky season, Jones looks back on creating the Warwick Davis and Jennifer Aniston-led film that spawned seven movies.
Warwick Davis plays the titular role, where he hunts down civilians on a farm for a pot of gold he believes they stole. Leprechaun was also Aniston's film debut before she became famous on the highly acclaimed and popular television series Friends. In an interview with CBR, director, and writer Mark Jones talked about how he took a low budget, a charismatic cast, and a mischievous vision to create the 1993 film and hinted at another Leprechaun installment in the future.
CBR: Leprechaun has grown to have a big cult following over the years. What kind of impact did Leprechaun have on your career as a filmmaker?
Mark Jones: Well, it did very well down the road. It was funny when it first came out, I think, not a lot of critics understood what I was doing, which was not taking ourselves seriously [as] a comedy. They kind of compared it to Exorcist and things like that. So the critics killed me. But the people showed up at the theaters, and it got popular on the VHS. So I feel somewhat vindicated because I really did go in the direction that I think the fans love. It financially helped me because they did eight of them, and I have interest in all of them, so it did well for me. It got me sort of into the horror genre.
I did a movie right after; Dino De Laurentiis funded Rumpelstiltskin. It helped in the sense that it was a very popular movie. I started in TV, and I should have said, "Maybe I should have stayed in TV." I would have been richer, but I enjoyed directing, and that's what I want to do. And I love writing [and] directing these horror movies. There might be another one coming up very soon. So it gave me credibility when I go out and pitch horror. So, I was able to get funded on a number of horror movies.
Back then, how did you feel about the [original] movie expanding with all of these sequels into this big franchise?
I loved it. I was a little bit involved in [Leprechaun 2]. I was a producer on [Leprechaun 2], but then I went off to do other stuff. I thought Leprechaun in the Hood was great. There's a whole fan base there. Everyone but [Leprechaun: Origins], and all due respect to the filmmakers who made it, I know they worked hard, but that was not, to me, the right tone. Warwick [Davis] wasn't in it. [There] was no personality. It wasn't a character. It was just a monster. The last one, Leprechaun Returns, number eight, I loved. I thought that was great because they went right back to the original in the farmhouse and brought the leprechaun out of the well 20 years later. They even brought Mark Holton, who played Aussie, back. So, I was very happy. They'd call me and say, "We're making another one." So I was like, "Great!"
The great thing about the film is that you took this rather innocent figure, something associated with the Lucky Charms cereal, and you made it terrifying. Can you talk about what made you want to make the film in the first place?
Well, I've said this before: the Lucky Charms commercials are very popular. So everybody knew leprechauns. They know them as happy creatures. I did a little research and found that they were kind of mischievous and actually could end up pulling pranks that killed people. I was leaving television to direct my first movie. I wanted to direct, and I said, "I think I have a better shot." With a low budget, you can get made easier than trying to get a big studio [for a] $40 million movie. So I wrote the script with the thought that if I take something that everybody knows, a leprechaun, and make it a horror movie while still keeping some fun elements, I probably could get it made. And I did. I went to Trimark, and they said, "We're going to make the movie." They gave me a million dollars to do it. It was partly knowing that I could probably get my first directing feature assignment. Plus, I love horror, and I love the whole genre. It just fell into place nicely.
Do you remember how it was seeing Warwick Davis bring this character to life on set?
He flew in from England, and the studio wanted to read him. He had done Willow, and when I found out he got sent the script, he loved it. I said, "We don't have to fly him out and read him." I worked with him. He stayed. I went to his hotel. We worked for a day on what he thought he'd bring to the character, and he did a great job. He loved the comedy. He wanted to get a real personality. So I give him a lot of credit for bringing to life what was on the page, but never like an actor. We worked with him, and then he read for the executives, and they said, "Sure, let's use him." Then, on the set, he got better and better with the character.
Back then, Jennifer Aniston was relatively unknown. This was before Friends. What was it that you saw in her that made you say, "I have to have her in this movie?"
We were looking at like 200 girls because we were going with no names. We were paying scale. I'm probably the only guy who ever got Jennifer Aniston for scale. But she came into the room, and my producing partner and I were sitting next to each other, and I looked at him and said, "Wow, I hope she can act because she had a charisma." She just came into the room, and there was something about her. My casting director, Lisa London, I give her credit. She said the same thing. She said, "There's something about this girl." Then [Aniston] read, and she was great. I must have seen another 25 girls, and I kept saying, "That's the one." So I had to actually force it down the studio. They weren't that convinced that Jennifer was the one, but she did have something. I think that's part of the reason she became who she became.
It wasn't that long before Friends, so I give you credit for that.
Well, she [had] done a couple of episodic things. Like I said, we got her for scale. It was her first feature, and she was the co-star of the feature. She had a lot of fun doing it. She probably wants to forget it now [laughs]. But It's okay. If I ever had Jennifer's success, I would probably deny I made Leprechaun. So I understand. But no, she was a sweetheart. We kept in touch after. Then she got Friends, and so I couldn't be happier for her. She was really great to work with and had a lot of fun making them.
It was a low-budget film, especially compared to what movies are made with these days, which proves you can do a lot with a lower budget. Given this, how often did the budget affect decisions?
Good question. Well, it did. We were low budget, but you know, they kept enhancing it when they would see we were prepping [the film]. I wanted more money for the sets. In giving Trimark credit, which was the original studio that floated into Lionsgate, we ended up about a million dollars. Most of their pictures were direct-to-video. They thought this would just going to be a direct-to-video. They were making it for 500,000. So we actually got a better budget than what they were making these direct-to-video movies for. But it was still limiting. The schedule was tight. No director feels he's got enough money. But it was enough to do what I wanted to do. I didn't feel too handicapped.
All eight Leprechaun films are available to stream on Hulu.