When Ari Lehman made an appearance at the end of Friday the 13th, little did anyone know that his character would one day become an iconic figure of popular culture. Whilst the killer had been revealed as Mrs. Voorhees, a respectable, middle-aged woman, the focus of the subsequent sequels would shift to her son, Jason, who had supposedly died over twenty years earlier but was somehow still roaming the forests around Crystal Lake. Friday the 13th Part 2 would face many obstacles during production, the first being the lack of plausibility with having Jason taking over as the killer and continuing his mother’s gruesome work. Regardless, it would be Part 2 that would introduce Jason Voorhees as the killer, although just who would portray the role would become one of the most controversial aspects of the movie. Director Steve Miner had intended on Part 2 to be a reunion of sorts, inviting back many of the cast and crew who had worked on the first film.
For the role of Jason, Miner approached Taso N. Stavrakis, who had doubled as the killer on numerous occasions during the shooting of Friday the 13th and had assisted special effects artist Tom Savini on creating the various gruesome set pieces. Although he would later come to regret his decision, Stavrakis declined the part and Miner was forced to search for a suitable actor to play the role. As well as their previous working relationship, one of the key reasons that Miner had approached Stavrakis was due to his experience as a stuntman, with the character of Jason receiving more screen time than the killer of Friday the 13th and the role involving the use of weapons and several dangerous stunts that a normal actor would not be able to handle. Twenty year old Warrington Gillette had relocated from Maryland to New York to pursue an acting career and was a student at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Following an unsuccessful attempt to be accepted into the acclaimed Actors Studio, Gillette auditioned for the role of Paul Holt, the male lead in Friday the 13th Part 2.
Eventually losing out on the part to John Furey, who had built up his résumé on such television shows as Logan’s Run and The Waltons, Gillette was offered the role of Jason on the understanding that he could perform his own stunts. Special make-up effects artist Carl Fullerton, who had joined the project after Savini had refused to take part in a sequel, based his initial designs for Jason on what he considered the young, deformed boy from the first movie would have grown into. Undergoing a long and unpleasant application of prosthetics and fake dentures that would take approximately seven hours, Gillette was transformed into a hideous interpretation of Savini’s original design, although Jason’s features would remain obscured behind a sack for the majority of the movie. Gillette soon found that performing under heavy make-up would prove problematic and became angry and frustrated at not being able to follow directions.
During Jason’s key scene, in which he was to burst through a window and grab the heroine, Ginny Field, it soon became clear that Gillette was incapable of performing the required stunts. To achieve the effect, stunt coordinator Cliff Cudney designed a rig with a harness that would swing the actor through the glass, whilst Gillette would stand on a raised platform behind the window from which he would jump. But each time he tried to launch himself through the window he was unable to break through the fake glass and the crew were forced to set up the scene again for another take. Soon it became clear that Gillette would be unable to perform what was required and so Miner reluctantly was forced to recast the role. Due to industry politics, however, Gillette would remain listed as Jason on the credits, despite only appearing briefly at the end of the movie. The following year, Gillettte became a member of the Screen Actors Guild and, more recently, has attended horror conventions in support of his role in Friday the 13th Part 2.