Becoming Michael Myers: 9 Men Who've Portrayed 'The Shape' on Halloween's Enduring Legacy

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Photo credit: Esquire
Photo credit: Esquire

For more than 40 years now, Michael Myers has been the epitome of evil in cinema, relentlessly and wordlessly slashing his way through more than 100 innocent victims across 12 different movies. (The 13th instalment, Halloween Ends, is scheduled for release next year.)

The character has achieved the rare kind of pop culture notoriety where you don’t even have to be familiar with the source material, the Halloween film franchise, to recognise the iconography. Michael Myers’ signature, blank-faced visage can be found hanging in every Halloween shop in the country. Fans of Halloween cover their cars in Michael Myers decals and tattoo his featureless white mask and stringy red hair on their bodies. And every year, there’s always at least one kid in the neighbourhood who dons the Michael Myers mask and navy blue Dickie’s workman coveralls for Halloween.

But for all his cultural import, Michael Myers isn’t exactly a meaty role for an actor. There are no lines and no facial expressions (except for a few seconds in the original Halloween, Michael Myers face is always behind a mask), so there’s little opportunity for artistic expression in the role. All the actor has to work with is Myers’ iconic lumbering gait and the occasional head tilt. The character is so limited that the role is often billed as “The Shape” in credits.

In honour of Halloween, the holiday, and Halloween Kills, the latest instalment of the franchise released earlier this year, Esquire spoke with nine of the men who have portrayed Michael Myers over the years. Most of them were stuntmen handed the role by happenstance. Some studied the lives of infamous serial killers for inspiration for the role, while others went in a decidedly different direction, studying the philosophies of Eastern Asia to inhabit the role fully and without judgement.

The one thing all of the Michael Myers actors have in common is a deep appreciation for Halloween’s rabid fanbase. A cottage industry has developed around the film franchise, in which the men who played Michael Myers attend horror conventions around the country, posing for photos, signing autographs and selling merch to Halloween’s legion of adoring fans. You wouldn’t recognise them as Michael Myers walking down the street, but their collective legacy is eternal.

Nick Castle, 74, Los Angeles

Castle was the original Shape, portraying Michael Myers in the first Halloween film, released in 1978.

I was 30 years old when I got the role. John Carpenter was a classmate of mine at USC film school, and he was the first one from our graduating class to have success as a filmmaker.

John was doing some location scouting near my house in Laurel Canyon and invited me to meet him. I said hi, and John said, “Hey, why don’t you throw the mask on?” It was as off-handed as that. John later made up this mythology that he liked the way I walked. He would say, “Nick has this grace about him.”

We didn’t model Michael Myers after Frankenstein or any classic horror character. I put no pretty much zero thought into playing the role. I asked John, “What do you want out of this walk?” And he would say, “Just walk.”

I had no idea it would be anywhere as successful as it was. I thought it was a clever enough notion to do a horror film set on Halloween called Halloween, and I thought John was a talented enough filmmaker, but this was an indie movie with a small budget and short film schedule. John wrote the film score in three days; now it’s iconic. The movie was lightning in a bottle.

Many fans have told me, “Halloween was the first time I was ever scared in a movie.” That would turn a lot of people off, but that’s the fun of liking horror movies—you’re kind of a rebel, an outsider. There’s a camaraderie to it. You’re part of a special club.

There are lots of firefighters, cops and service members who are fans. A lot of working class people, too, and horror fandom is how they choose to spend their time and money. They have me sign photos, knives, masks, action figures. They discuss the kill scenes with you in excruciating detail.

I’ve had multiple people ask me to autograph their body in marker so they could get it tattooed on them. I always caution them against it, but there are people who love Halloween so much they want my writing permanently on their bodies.

I went on to have a nice career as a writer and director. I made more than a dozen of my own movies, and it’s rare to have that kind of contact with an audience. Usually, you make a movie, and maybe you get a premiere and that’s your only opportunity to view the film with an audience. To actually interact with people who enjoyed the movie, to hear them talk about how it affected them, to see how much joy the film brings them—that’s special.

Tony Moran, 64, Santa Clarita, CA

Playing Michael Myers was a group effort on the original Halloween, where six different people chipped in (including one woman, Debra Hill, the producer and co-writer on the film, who donned the mask for one distance shot).

Tony Moran was one of those six, and he occupies a special place in Halloween canon — he’s the only person to have his bear face appear on film as Michael Myers.

I was 21 when I got the role, and it was my first acting gig. I was living in North Hollywood, sleeping on a couch at my buddy’s place and doing the starving actor thing.

My agent called me up and told me about the part. At first I turned her down. Back then, the only way to see nudity was porno and horror movies, so producers looked down on you if you did it. It was an independent movie and nobody knew who Jamie Lee Curtis was back then. And the title was Halloween, which I thought was the corniest thing ever. The only reason I went to the interview was because Donald Pleasance was in the movie and I was a big fan of his.

John Carpenter interviewed me for 15 minutes and we didn’t discuss the film at all. It was just chit chat. He asked me what I do for fun, about my little sister, about surfing, about my acting workshop. He later told me he gave me the part because he had thought I had an “angelic face.”

Playing Michael Myers wasn’t very difficult. I was ready to kill someone every time I put the mask on because it was so hot and uncomfortable. I couldn’t breathe. I tried not to get that much sleep before the role, so I would be irritable and aggressive.

The movie wrapped and I didn’t think much of it. It was just a gig. Then six months later it was playing everywhere. I was driving my Volkswagen down Sunset Boulevard, going past Westwood, and there was Michael Myers on a billboard. It was surreal.

Earlier this year I was hired to officiate weddings dressed as Michael Myers. I did 12 weddings in four days, and it was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. Everyone who attends wants a photo. But it paid $26,000, so I was happy to do it.

You see my face in Halloween for only three seconds, but I’m the only face of Michael Myers. And it wasn’t because I did anything brilliant. I got the role because they had a small budget, I was cheap and John Carpenter liked my face.

I’m not religious, but I was blessed to get that role.

Will Sandin, 52, Los Angeles

Sandin plays a 6-year-old Michael Myers in a flashback scene in the original, 1978 version of Halloween.

We filmed Halloween in March and I was just about to turn 8 years old.

I originally auditioned for the role of Tommy Doyle, a neighbourhood boy in the movie. I got a callback, only this time, I didn’t have any lines. They just asked me to make a scary face, and that was it. Soon after my agent called and told my mom I got the job.

My mom had gotten me into child acting. It was her idea, but once I started doing it, I got into it. I mainly did commercials. I did a commercial for Buc Wheats, a cereal that doesn’t exist anymore, one for Fisher-Price toys.

The set was in Pasadena, and my shooting day was on Friday. We filmed at night, so I spent the entire day in the trailer, doing schoolwork. I shot my one scene and that was it.

My mom didn’t have an issue with me doing a horror movie. For her, it was just another gig. But we had to leave the premier mid-way through because the movie was scaring my little sister who’s 2 years younger.

I don't think anyone could have predicted what Halloween has become. When I saw it, I thought it was a great, scary horror film. Once it was available to watch at home, I discovered not only my friends loved it, but my friends’ parents loved it, as well. That’s when I first realised it was a big deal—and the popularity grew year and after year. When they made the sequel, you just knew it was going to be huge.

I didn’t mention to people growing up that I played Michael Myers. Kids in my neighbourhood inevitably found out, and they thought it was cool, but no one treated me differently because of it. I didn’t get any dates out of it.

I started going to the conventions 10 years ago and it’s hard to believe that I’m still talking about this low-budget horror film I did 40 years ago.

One time, a fan showed me his tattoo of young Michael Myers. My childhood face was tattooed on his chest. That was surreal.

Dick Warlock, 81, Kingsport, TN

Warlock played The Shape in Halloween II (1981) and The Assassin in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the 1982 film that doesn’t feature Michael Myers.

I was the stunt coordinator on Escape from New York and a few months after it wrapped, Debra Hill, one of the producers, called me about another project she was working on.

It was Halloween II, and when I went in to interview for the stunt coordinator job, I told Debra I had never seen the original. “You should take a look at it,” she said. “It’s a continuation.”

After speaking with Debra, I walked down the hall to speak with the director, Rick Rosenthal. On my way, I noticed a Michael Myers mask lying on a chair in one of the other empty office rooms. I put it on and entered Rick’s office.

“Who are you?” he asked. I didn’t say anything. “Who the hell are you?” he said.

At that point, I gave up the bit, took the mask off and introduced myself. We talked about the stunt for the movie, and on my way out, I held up the mask and said, “Is there any reason I can’t play this guy?”

He said, “No. If that’s what Debra wants, I don’t care.”

I ended up watching Halloween to help me prepare for the role. There’s a scene in the original where Michael is reaching into a closet and Jamie Lee Curtis sticks him in the eye with a coat hanger. Michael falls back, and later, in the background, you see him raise up and mechanically turn his head toward Jamie. My walk in Halloween II, the tempo, was based on that one scene.

At the end of the movie, I asked Debra if I could keep parts of the costume. She said, “Sure. We’re never going to do anything with this character again.” I took home the mask from the first Halloween, the mask from Halloween II, the coveralls, the scalpel, the butcher knife and Michael’s boots.

I kept those items for myself for years—until I discovered how big of a phenomenon Halloween is.

Don Shanks, who played Michael Myers in one of the sequels, and I met on the set of Married With Children in 1997. “Why don’t you come to the conventions with the rest of us?” he said. I had no idea what he was talking about.

I eventually went to one and the attention from fans was overwhelming. I had no idea Halloween was so popular. I also learned I couldn’t bring the memorabilia with me to fan appearances. They nearly ripped the costume to shreds. People wanted a piece of it (literally).

I later sold the items to Mark Roberts, a horror enthusiast who ran a haunted house in Toledo, Ohio. Roberts told me he has the original mask insured for $250,000—much more than I sold it for. I really should have kept them.

Don Shanks, 71, Salt Lake City

Shanks played Michael Myers in 1989’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.

A gentleman I worked with on the TV show CHIPS called me and said there was a movie coming to Salt Lake City and asked if I was available to meet with the director about doing stunts.

I thought it was strange they wanted me to meet with the director for stunt work, and sure enough, it was the new Halloween and they wanted me to interview for the role.

The director told me, “I want you to walk like wood through water.” I thought of being rigid but fluid. You’re a force opposing water, so you have to be rigid enough to stand up against it, but fluid enough to move with it. I kept that in mind playing the character.

Being an actor was my childhood dream. I grew up on a farm in Piasa, Illinois. There were maybe 100 kids in the whole town. So I grew up entertaining myself. I saw a movie called Crimson Pirates, with Burt Lancaster, when I was a kid. I rigged my hay loft as the mast of a ship and would swing around like a buccaneer. I watched the old westerns, and I would try to do the fancy mounts on my horse.

I was 29 when the original Halloween came out, and I thought it was great. You wanted to find out what Michael’s motivation was. And because he has that blank white mask, all you can do is project your own fears on it. I was engrossed and thought about it after I left the theatre.

I wasn’t that excited about the role, though. I had been working as an actor and stuntman for several years at that point, long enough to feel jaded about the entertainment industry. I don’t know how many times I’ve been up for parts and told it was gonna happen, only to have it fall through.

The fandom surrounding Halloween surprised me. I did the movie and said, “Okay, that’s over.” Thirty years later, I go to horror conventions and meet thousands of fans. I once signed 180,000 photos in a weekend. And the fans know the films better than we do. They watch them over and over. Sometimes they’ll mention a detail, and I’ll be like, “Man, I don’t remember that.”

Christopher Durand, 58, Los Angeles

Durand played the role, billed as “Michael,” for Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, the 1998 reprise of the franchise.

I was at the height of my career as a stuntman, doing stunts all the time for film and TV.

The opportunity arose because I knew Donna Keegan, Jamie Lee Curtis’ stunt double on True Lies, and she was the stunt coordinator for Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.

They looked at 100 or so actors to play Michael before they realised it should be a stuntman because it’s a physical role. Donna gave them five options, and all of us were around the same size—6-foot-2, 195 pounds, which was Nick Castle’s size when he first played the role. Size was important because the filmmakers wanted to distance themselves from the recent sequels and reconnect to the original film. Story-wise, H20 wasn’t the seventh film in the series; it was a continuation of Halloween and Halloween II.

All five of us went in and sat with the director and first assistant director. It came to me and one other guy, and ultimately the decision was based on who the filmmakers wanted to hang out with over the next two months. The other guy had a bit of a spark in his eye. You got the sense he could go off at any second. I'm a pretty chill guy. And I was Donna’s first recommendation.

I didn’t know much about Michael Myers. I was too young to see the original Halloween. I wasn’t allowed to go. I remember hearing about it and not being interested. I was never much of a horror film guy.

So when I got the role, I honestly did not know what a big deal it was. But that worked in my favour because I went on set with no preconceived notions. I didn’t get in my own head about it. I got to figure out how to play Michael Myers on my own.

I realised I had to bring more to the role than just me walking. I needed an intent to my motions.

I thought about large cats, like tigers. When you see tigers lock eyes on prey, they don’t break their gaze and it’s frightening. It’s primal. That’s who Michael is. He’s an archetype, he’s the essence of a killer, and nothing embodies that better than a tiger.

When I locked my gaze and chased someone in a scene, I lowered my head and did a low growl in my chest. The sound guy captured it and incorporated it into the mix in a very subtle way. If you turn the sound up, you might be able to hear it.

Michael has his own standing in the horror community. The original classics were Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman. The second trio is Freddy, Michael and Jason. Being asked to play Michael is akin to being asked to play Dracula, and it doesn’t get more iconic than that.

Halloween fans are the sweetest people in the world. They’re so excited to meet us, and all they want to do is hang out and geek out about Halloween—which is funny, because I still haven’t seen any of the Halloween movies besides H20, and I only saw that one because I went to the premiere.

Tyler Mane, 56, Atlanta

Mane played Michael Myers in Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009), the two-film, 2000s reboot written and directed by Rob Zombie.

I played Rufus in Rob Zombie’s 2005 movie The Devil’s Rejects, and that’s how he knew I would be able to do Michael Myers.

It was exciting, but it wasn’t anything new to me. I had already played Sabretooth in the first X-Men film in 2000 and had wrestled professionally for 11 years, so I was accustomed to big audiences.

There had been many Halloween movies at this point, so we wanted to kick it up a notch. Rob wanted to bring more to the character, to have audiences see Michael was a product of his environment.

I researched infamous serial killers, such as John Wayne Gacy and The BTK Killer. Is a stone cold killer really just a stone cold killer? Or is there more to these people?

I was specifically interested in how these killers interacted with society. I was intrigued by how aggressive they were when doing their kills, and how calm and seemingly normal they were otherwise. Many of these killers were normal guys next door. Their neighbors had no idea.

The way I approached Michael was he was just trying to reunite with his family. But when your family rejects you and turns on you, things go bad.

Airon Armstrong, 43, Atlanta

Armstrong plays the 1978 version of The Shape in Halloween Kills, the most recent film in the franchise. (Meta, I know.)

I was stunt coordinator on Halloween Kills, and David Gordon Green, the director, couldn’t find the right person for The Shape.

I was preparing the pre-vis—which is where you design, shoot and edit the action scenes, just as they would appear in the film, but with stuntmen. I played The Shape in those scenes, and in editing my performances, I mentioned to the second assistant director that I think I could pull off the role. He encouraged me to mention it to David. I did, and so it went.

I was ecstatic to get the role. I’m a cinephile, and a huge John Carpenter fan specifically. After growing up with Halloween and The Thing playing on repeat, it’s pretty darn cool to be part of this legacy.

Having studied Eastern philosophy—bushido, Zen, Taoism, Buddhism—I gravitated to the stillness and emptiness in the character. Michael Myers has no ego, no judgements, no anger. He doesn't perceive good or bad, right or wrong. He just is.

Myers’ affect is a terrible and violent one, but he’s not feeling anger or hate. In his reality, he’s an artist and he has to create. It’s just that his paintbrush is a kitchen knife and his canvas is the people of Haddonfield, Illinois.

I used basic mindfulness concepts. I tried to let go of any preconceived idea and just be empty, which was difficult because Michael Myers had been around for 40 years at this point. To perform him, you can’t look from the outside in. You have to just feel it.

There’s an old Zen saying that goes, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." The point being that you should fully immerse yourself in your tasks, even the tedious ones.

When you chop wood, just chop wood. When you carry water, just carry water. And when you kill, just kill.

James Jude Courtney, 64, Columbia, SC

Courtney plays The Shape in Halloween (2018), Halloween Kills (2021) and Halloween Ends (2022), the current trilogy in the franchise.

I got a call a few years back from Rawn Hutchinson, a fellow stuntman friend of mine, and he said, “Hey, man, we’re making another Halloween!”

I said, “Good for you.” I didn’t realise he was offering me the role.

Rawn was the stunt coordinator on the film, and he told me that the script was different from other Halloween movies. It called for a guy with serious acting chops; not just a stuntman.

I’ve done lots of stunt work, but I’m a classically trained actor and have always considered myself an actor first. Also, David Gordon Green, the director, wanted someone who was around 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, my precise build, so I fit the bill.

Fortunately, they were filming not too far from me, in Charleston, South Carolina, so I went there and did a screen test. Before I even made it back into my car, they called me and officially offered me the part.

Movies were my friends growing up. I was the small kid who got picked on, so I went into martial arts in 8th grade. Once I beat them up, they left me alone. And they really left me alone—I didn’t have a friend until I was in 12th grade. I spent my free time at the movies. I would walk an hour to the theater and spend the day there. It didn’t matter if it was John Wayne or horror, I would watch it.

I saw the original Halloween when I was in college and when I walked out, I said, “This movie is a gamechanger.” The only other movie to make me feel that way was Rocky.

But I didn’t take time to celebrate when I got the role. I immediately went into mission mode. When an opportunity is in front of me, I attack.

I called upon my spiritual work to inhabit the role. I’ve done lots of shamanic work — doing peyote with a North American shaman, ayahuasca with a shaman in South American and ibogaine with a shaman in Africa.

These exercises have helped me reach a place that’s beyond judgment. Fans will say Michael is pure evil, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t judge a cat when a cat kills a mouse, because that’s its nature. I don’t judge Michael when he kills because that’s what he does.

Green said he’s only worked with one other person who has gone as deep with a character as I did with Michael, and that guy had a psychotic breakdown. Not me, though. When the scene is over, I breathe the character out, and I’m back to myself.

There’s something spiritual to Halloween fandom.They identify with Michael and it helps them express and work out their pathologies in a way that allows them to be loving. In a weird way, Michael Myers is a gateway to freedom. How nice is that?

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