'Leprechaun' director Mark Jones reveals how he tricked studio into casting Jennifer Aniston in her movie debut

had simple and sound reasoning for why he wanted to make his feature film debut a horror movie.

“I was a writer-producer for television in the late-'80s, but I wanted to direct features,” Jones tells us on Zoom from his Woodland Hills, Calif. home, puffing on a stogie. “So I said, 'Well, I know [with movies that go] direct to video and are made under a million dollar budget, it’s probably easier to get a horror movie as a first-time filmmaker… So I just came up with the idea.

“I basically said, they’ve done . They’ve done . They’ve done Christmas [horror movies like ]. Nobody's done ,” adds Jones, who remembers as a child being creeped out by a

skit he’d seen on . “And the Lucky Charms commercials were all over the place at the time.”

So Jones dove into leprechaun research, and discovered that part of their Irish mythology extended beyond just practical jokes. .

Jones’s first film, , was born. The film would follow a killer ‘chaun who torments a group of people in rural North Dakota who he thinks stole his gold (natch). And it wasn’t even released straight to VHS. After initially passing on it twice, its distributor TriMark made it the first theatrical release of 1993, released Jan. 8, though Jones remains befuddled to this day why they didn’t wait until St.

Patrick’s Day in March. , made for a budget of only $1 million, earned $8.6 million at the box office.

Nevertheless, Jones struck his own bit of gold when it came to casting.

First, he landed , the beloved British actor who played Wicket in (1983) and the title character in 1988’s , as his short-statured and short-tempered lead. “He really liked the script,” says Jones of the now-53-year-old actor, who has dwarfism. Davis loved that it wasn’t just a serious slasher film, and that Leprechaun “wasn't just a straight horror monster. It drove tricycles. It was on skateboards.”

Davis was going through a tough stretch at the time.

The actor’s wife, Samantha, had just given birth to their first child, a son named Lloyd, tied to dwarfism nine days later.

"It was a sad [time]. So they were depressed and he said, ‘This gets us out of England. Let’s go to America.’”

Davis was under contract with Lucasfilm at the time for a second film, but George Lucas allowed the actor to make as they developed the sequel. (It never happened, but the film was rebooted into a Disney+ series in 2022.) Jones thanked Lucas in the credits, as he did vice president Dan Quayle, who helped expedite Davis’s travel to the U.S.

has also long been (in)famous for marking the feature film debut of

, who played the resourceful Tory Redding.

Jones swears he’s not doing “Monday morning quarterbacking” when it comes to what drew him to the unknown actress at the time.

“She walked in and there was something about her,” he says of Aniston, who landed her breakout role on a year later. “Obviously. I mean, she became superstar, and you don't get that just by acting, even though she's a terrific actress. You get it by [having] some kind of charisma, some kind of magic. And I looked at [co-producer Michael Prescott] and I said, ‘Boy, I hope she can act,’ because I didn't know who she was.”

Aniston could act, but the studio wasn’t sold on her, despite Jones’s pleas.

“I had to fight the studio,” he says. “I’ll say this forever. They liked her, but they kept wanting me to go with another girl. I said, ‘Guys, she's great.’ And so finally I got my way with a little trickery.”

One of the executives in charge wanted a blond actress for the role, Jones explains.

“And the other girl they were leaning towards was blond… So I called Jennifer and I said, ‘I got good news and bad news.’ I said, ‘You got the part.’ She says, ‘What's the bad news?’ I said, ‘Well, I told him we're going to have to lighten your hair, bleach your hair, go blond.’ And she had that beautiful brown hair.

She goes, ‘Mark, oh my God, I don't want to do it.’ I said, ‘Jennifer, we're not going to do it.’ We were like two weeks from shooting. I said, ‘You're going to come in, you're going to go to makeup, and you're going to come on the set [as you are]. They're not going to shut it down because your hair [isn’t] bleach blond. And they'll probably forget about it.’ And that's a true story.”

Jones says Aniston continued to exhibit that “it factor” throughout filming.

“I always thought she stood out in a crowd and she was great. She delivered. I know she hates me for putting her in that movie, and I've been trying to call her and apologize, but she keeps changing her phone number.

But it was her first movie, it was my first movie, and she was excited… She was a professional. She had a great sense of humor… She was also a real pro. And then right after came out, that next year she got .”

The studio ultimately loved her, too, and wanted to lock her in for an option to make sequels, but Aniston and her agent refused. (During , Aniston broke into a leprechaun accent when asked if she'd ever considered appearing in the sequels. “I had had it with leprechauns,” she cracked.) It was probably wise.

Even Jones will admit the film’s seven sequels and reboots have been hit and miss.

He got a producer credit on 1994’s , but didn’t like “the direction they did.” He thought 1995’s Vegas-set was “pretty good.” 1997’s was “a little over the top.” He did enjoy 2000’s and 2003’s .

He did not like the 2014 reboot , which was the first film not to bring back Davis in the lead. “Most of the fans didn’t [either],” he says. “They didn't use Warwick. And they made it a monster. [It went against] the whole charm of , the whole character.” One of his favorites, though, was 2018’s , which was a direct sequel to his film and reenlisted Mark Holton, who played Ozzie in the first film. And while Davis passed, Jones appreciated the performance of his replacement, Linden Porco.

(The film also introduced Taylor Spreitler as the daughter of Aniston’s character.)

Jones, who went on to direct a movie in 1995 as well as 2008’s , says he hears whispers that Lionsgate wants to make another , and says he has a great idea for it.

He’s also in the midst of trying to get a similar but unofficially unrelated new project off the ground with Davis: , in which the actor would play a leprechaun bitten by a vampire. Jones originally wrote it as a feature, but has since turned it into a pilot in hopes it can be a streaming series.

“It’s a completely different character,” he says. “Half Leprechaun powers, half vampire.”

And fully something Hollywood should greenlight.

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