Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with a special AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS interview. THE DEAD is about the harrowing journey of one American officer across a zombie-infested African landscape. Actor Rob Freeman had his own harrowing journey in making this film. Here’s what Freeman had to say about the film when I caught up with him last week…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hi Rob, how are you doing today?
ROB FREEMAN (RF): Terrific, Mark--how are you?
BUG: Great. I had seen THE DEAD a while back, but I saw it again just recently and both times the film has blown me away. I wanted to first just commend you on your performance in the movie. I think it was a really great role in a great film. How did you first find out about the film?
RF: Thank you very much for the compliment. I’ll accept that. (laughs) Being kind of a bad boy I had decided that I was going to abscond from the television industry where I was playing superman on couch and flying to cities in Europe for a bit and while I was doing that I met up with a producer that I had done a film with in Greece and we were doing a bit of bar hopping out on the south coast of England and we ran into the Ford brothers and started talking about the story and I said, “Let’s have a sit down and do a read through and see what we can do with this.” That’s where it started.
BUG: I talked with the Ford brothers a couple of months ago and they said you almost really…you got really sick in this and you almost died in this film. Can you talk a little bit about that?
RF: Yeah, just because they’re pussies. (laughs) Yeah, I collapsed on set.
RF: The first time I got malaria and they took me to a clinic and there were no rooms in the clinic. They were all booked up with malaria patients, so I was put in a storage room and left there overnight with things sticking in my arms. I got up and I felt good in the morning and I thought “Well,t,hat was a pretty horrible experience”, but it was nothing compared to what would happen. I went shooting for the next month thinking that I needed to train more and that I wasn’t in good enough shape. I would go for runs and do push ups and chin ups with the Ford brothers and Prince and we had competitions working out hard and the whole time I was developing a very bad case of malaria. We were in the middle of the outback and I collapsed at the feet of a whole bunch of tribesmen. Then I was rushed across the savannah out the back of our five hundred dollar Range Rover being rushed to some concrete block, moldy infested building. It had mold on the walls and I woke up there and the doctor said he had never seen anybody that close to dying of malaria that came back from it.
BUG: Oh wow. How long were you out? How long were you unconscious?
RF: Oh, I wouldn’t think I was unconscious for too long. I was delirious for a few hours. I think I was unconscious for…I don’t know, I face-planted in the dust and kind of woke up down there, so I don’t know, maybe a couple of minutes or something.
BUG: So how long did it take you to get back to health and start back up again?
RF: Well, it was over a week and I had yellow stuff being pumped into my body like out of some sort of freaky Frankenstein film. Just thinking back it was so weird. I can’t explain to you how bizarre it was. I mean, there was a guy beside my bed that probably never had the sheets changed and then there was a puddle of water there that was festering and stagnant. It was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. It was just the most surreal bizarre thing ever. I don’t think it was seven days where I went straight from there to set and there’s a scene in this film where there’s a chicken in the background. I think it was that scene. I was literally unplugged, we had gone and shot.
BUG: Wow. Well that’s pretty amazing. So what was it that drove you to return to this film after such a near death experience?
RF: You can blame that on my Canadian father who was a very rough tough rock and roll outdoorsman guy that didn’t believe in giving up at all and instilled that in me when I was a very young fellow with a few beatings.
BUG: Let’s talk a little bit about the film itself. It’s a zombie film, and there are so many zombie films out there. Why did you give this one a shot? What was it about it that made it special for you?
RF: Well I could ask you a question. Have you ever walked into a situation where you see a pretty person and you’re like “I would like to go out with that person” based on the circumstances. My circumstances at the time presented the film to me and I thought “Wow, this is a heck of an adventure” and that’s essentially the answer. It was circumstances. I was in England and had the unique chance to have the Ford brothers meet me and pitch this story to me and being a game actor as I was, I wanted to go. I was like “Let’s do it.”
BUG: So how did the locals react to you and the Ford brothers and just the fact that there were zombies? This is part of their local culture, correct?
RF: Yes. We were shooting in the birthplace of I think voodoo. They definitely believe in all of that sort of stuff out there and that’s actually a really interesting question that has many layers to it, because when we first started using local people on the ground, villagers, as zombies they didn’t understand how to be zombies, so we had to explain to them how to do it, but we only had to explain to a few of them and even though we traversed hundreds of miles away from the people who we explained how to be zombies to, the next people we used did it right away. It was a very interesting thing and I don’t know if you know about Rupert Sheldrake, the Cambridge biologist who has more…it was very much that theory of the idea of information passing without telephones and walkie talkies and that sort of thing. And the people treated us incredibly. They welcomed us into their villages and we are talking mud huts that haven’t changed structure for thousands of years. There’s no add-ons like “Let’s have a porch or an out house,” they’ve kept the same design of the mud hut. They welcomed us into the village with their instruments and singing to us. It was an incredible thing. We would stay there the whole night shooting and disrupt the whole village. There’s no light there, so we had a generator and I can’t say it was a party situation, but definitely surrealistic situation for both us and them.
BUG: What’s it like looking back on it now that it’s been a year or so since you wrapped shooting?
RF: It’s been a couple of years.
BUG: What’s it like looking back on it now? Can you believe you made it through it all?
RF: I believe it, because I’m talking to you and answering the question, but it’s a heck of a lot more comfortable sitting where I am right now than it was there. I’m glad that we came away. (laughs)
BUG: The film ends kind of open ended. Would you be interested in returning for a sequel given the same conditions and everything?
RF: I’m not going to go through that again. Look, as an actor I’ve been in guerilla “crawl through the mud and the shite” that all actors go “I can do that to become an actor and earn my stripes.” I’ve done that a lot, but I would do a sequel.
BUG: You would?
RF: Like zombies in New York would be…
BUG: So anywhere but there. Okay.
RF: Or zombies in Bel Air or something to that effect.
BUG: What’s up next for you?
RF: Well I’ve just finished shooting a reality pilot where I went back after not playing ice hockey for 30 years and making a comeback in my 50’s on a professional team.
BUG: Cool. That sounds great. That will be interesting to see. Do you know when that’s going to be airing?
RF: Well we are trying to get it developed into a full-blown reality show. We shot the pilot and are pitching it right now.
BUG: Awesome. Well, best of luck to you. Thank you so much and have a great day. Thanks a lot for talking with me today.
RF: Take it easy.
BUG: THE DEAD is available now on DVD/BluRay. Check out my interview with the Ford Brothers last fall and my own review of the film here!
See ya, Friday for our regular AICN HORROR column!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.
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