Meet Joe Zaso, horror himbo. It’s a title that only scratches the surface of his wide-ranging career in the movies: he’s been a producer, writer, costume designer and even catered several of his own productions. Still, mirroring many of the horror scream queens he’s worked with, Zaso has embraced the role of their queer, male equivalent and is most widely known, fairly or not, for putting his rather well-sculpted bod on display as an actor.
Xtra recently spoke with the master of what he calls “male T&A” about typecasting, the general lack of male nudity in cinema and the pleasures of fear. Oh, and we’d be remiss in not mentioning that Zaso’s third, horror-themed cookbook (the latest extension of his Café Himbo blog and video series) arrives this October.
Joe Zaso: A fellow Canuck. It’s my favourite slasher movie and also, believe it or not, my favourite Canadian movie. It’s a little convoluted, but it’s fun.
Speaking of your favourites, I understand seeing The Omen as a kid was your formative horror experience.
JZ: There are many better (and more frightening) horror films, but that one just did it for me. I guess it’s because of the age I was. Now, I see it for what it is. It’s very funny and empty. But for some reason, that one did it. To this day, I listen to the music and find it effective. The original, not the remake!
What do you think made you want to be scared?
JZ: It’s funny. Up until the age of about 12, I would watch these movies, but I’d have my hands in front of my eyes. It’s like the sensation when you go on a roller coaster. You know it’s going to be frightening, kind of an unpleasant experience, but you’re anticipating it. There’s something kind of warped about that. Maybe it’s just that, growing up, the dark side kind of attracted me more in some ways. I’d say half of the horror fans in this world are gay men. And I say this because whenever you go into book stores and you see horror magazines, right next to them are always gay lifestyle magazines. And when I go to conventions I see it.
You’ve said “I do male T&A.”
JZ: It’s true!
You have an obvious affection for the scream queens you’ve worked with. Is that part of what you do, kind of balancing the scales? There’s obviously so much more female nudity in the movies.
JZ: I didn’t set out to do it, but I think it is kind of a little crusade in that respect. A friend of mine always razzes me: “You’re one of the only actors that negotiates a butt shot in a movie.” The truth is, you do see a lot of women in movie after movie doing nudity. If men do it, they never get pigeonholed into horror or even being, like they call me, a “horror himbo.” I didn’t set out to be just the male T&A character, but I guess somebody has to do it.
I was going to ask if the “horror himbo” thing was something you sought or something you’ve just come to embrace.
JZ: It was just one thing leading into another. I wanted a legitimate acting career after college, and I was finding it hard to get anything other than extra work. I got together with my college pals to produce a film. I did one film, and next thing you know, other filmmakers are saying, “Will you be in my film?” And it just kept going in this whole circle, going from one thing to another. Basically it was 10 years of these movies, one after another. I kept making this joke: “I just want to be in Woody Allen movies and Robert Altman movies!” I love [what I’ve done]. Don’t get me wrong.
It’s a bit of a mixed blessing, then.
JZ: Once you do too many horror films or, if you’re somebody like me, who may work out too much, you never get these parts . . . nobody wants you to play the college chess player because you don’t fit the part.
GLAAD’s 2014 Studio Responsibility Index concludes that LGBT characters are both under- and misrepresented in movies. Is that something you feel strongly about?
JZ: It’s either extreme exaggeration or it’s almost like they’ve been put there just for the purpose of having that kind of character. If the character’s lesbian, she has to be there so there can be a lesbian, or she has to be the predatory lesbian. There’s no subtlety.