The first official remake of George Romero's Day of the Dead is out. It's a brutal and hyperviolent reimagining of the original with a few huge changes to the story we know all too well. Actor and screenwriter Johnathon Schaech recently spoke with us about the new film and his role as super-zombie/Bub antithesis Max. Check out the interview below and the trailer for Day of the Dead: Bloodline in theaters and on demand today
Andrew Hawkins: What are your thoughts on horror movies? This isn’t your first time in the genre for sure.
Schaech: Before, I did a film called The Forsaken. A buddy of mine I grew up with, his name is Richard Chizmar, he had a company called Cemetery Dance. It was the leading independent publisher of horror and sci-fi in the country and from that moment we just teamed up and started to write for Stephen King and Master Of Horror on Showtime.
AH: Oh, you did MoH? Masters of Horror is an excellent series, which ones did you work on?
Schaech: I did the one with Peter Medak, it was called “The Washingtonians.”
AH: Oh, very cool.
Schaech: We did that one first, and then we did one with Stuart Gordon. That was called— what the hell was that called?
AH: Was that “Mountain Pass?”
Schaech: That was “Eater” (on Fear Itself).
AH: Right on. Okay, so you started off writing horror, what made you want to get into acting and eventually tackle one of the biggest properties in the entirety of horror (George Romero’s Day of the Dead)? What got you leading towards this?
Schaech: Well, I got offered the role— I had done several horror films before then, but the reason I got offered the role— and this is just a guess— but I’m pretty certain that they saw me playing Jonah Hex on Legends Of Tomorrow, and they thought I’d make a great monster. When I was writing with Chizmar we got to work with George Romero on a Stephen King novel, so I actually got to work with him before. So as an actor, they offered me the role to play a monster/creature like Frankenstein. I thought, “What a great opportunity.”
AH: Nice. Tell us a little bit about Max. You’re playing a role that is, of course, a bit similar to Bub from the original Day Of The Dead. But who is your character, without getting too much into spoilers about his relationship with Zoey? Give us some insight into this half-zombie/super-smart zombie.
Schaech: Max, he’s a monster before he becomes that creature. He’s the worst kind of villain in that world, who preys on this young girl. He is the hero of his own story, though literally no one else would want to read it. He goes after her, and he’s trying to make her his. During this experience, there’s an apocalypse of zombies and a breakout and one of them attacks him and he gets bitten. Then he turns into a creature but what happens before that story, what brings you back into it, is that he’s having to look at his life. He realizes all of the things he’s done wrong but the cure inside him— he also has the disease inside him. He can’t be himself, he can’t speak, he can’t do anything about those horrible sins he committed in his life.
AH: What makes this version of Day Of The Dead different from the original? Because it’s a whole new story but it shares a lot of similarities.
Schaech: Yeah, those underlying social issues were something that Romero was big on. It’s a fun story on the outside, but it was really dealing with the horrible parts of the people that were living. Those people aren’t dealing with the things in life that are most important. So we deal with the dead because we look back on our lives and all of our sins. There’s a line that runs between that and this film. It’s more of a ramped-up version of a Romero film because it’s got more gadgets and stuff like that.
AH: Oh yeah, and it’s also got running zombies! Now, do you prefer the films with the running, fast-paced zombies, or do you prefer the more old-school, like the original Dawn Of The Dead and Night Of The Living Dead? Do you have a preference for when you watch horror movies?
Schaech: I have an affinity for the progression with each decade. Some things that weren’t there in life, nowadays it seems like they would be ramped up. You know, when I watch I Am Legend, which is set in the future, those Alpha zombies are ridiculously awesome with their physicality. That’s one thing I tried to capture with Max, put a shot of steroid in him.
AH: Yeah, you went through quite a physical transformation to play Max; talk to me about that. You put on something like 35 pounds of pure muscle to be able to pull off some of your stunts?
Schaech: I wish that was true. It was mostly fat! I wanted to bulk up and be imposing like The Hulk. So we’re dealing with all of the delicacies that he’d have to go through with Zoey, I just thought that it would be so much more interesting if he was just frightening. So I started training for it, I started eating like a beast, I was eating somewhere around 6000 calories a day. A lot of it was salmon. I felt like those guys in the hot dog eating contests.
AH: Yeah, drinking water and getting some competitive eating in so you can bulk up. Well, talk a little bit about the makeup. You’ve got a lot of practical stuff along with the visual effects, but you’re in some heavy makeup. Was that a long process when you prepped to play Max?
Schaech: It was about four hours a day. Maria (Stankovich) was my makeup artist, she’s fantastic. She took such care with the look of Max. I literally couldn’t move because they would be doing my hands at the same time they did my face. There was a prosthetic shoulder piece, too. They took such great care, every day. It’s almost like filming with a child. When you film with a child, you only get them for so many hours. So they’d only have me for so many hours because I was in the makeup chair for four and a half of them.
AH: Is this the most you’ve had to do for a role?
Schaech: Jonah Hex was about three hours of makeup, and we got him down to an hour, but this was different. I had to work on (Max’s) walk, his gait, to get it all nuanced. Then we’d try to get it as interesting as humanly, non-humanly possible.
AH: Sure. Well, what do you think of the special effects and visual effects for this movie? Do you think it holds up compared to the Romero zombies? How are the effects for the gorehounds?
Schaech: There’s some great thrill-kills in this one. They’ve ramped it up. They use practicality more than they use CGI. So it has the feel of Romero’s stuff, but they amped it up. Have you ever seen that movie Irreversible?
AH: Oh yeah, that is an extreme movie and when you’re talking about some of those confined spaces, effects, and intensity? Yeah, that’s up there.
Schaech: Yeah, so there’s a quality like that. You remember the end, when they’re smashing that skull in? There’s a lot like that.
AH: Well, I know we’re close to wrapping up. What would you say to somebody who is on the fence about seeing Day Of The Dead: Bloodline?
Schaech: If you love zombie movies, you’re going to love the movie. It’s a lot of fun. If you like creatures, go check out Max. He’s got a lot of delicacies and you could learn a lot from him in your own life.
AH: Thank you so much Johnathon Schaech, it’s been great talking to you. We really appreciate it and we look forward to getting the word out on your film.
Schaech: That’s great. You guys keep up the good work, I always check out out to see what’s going on in the world.
AH: Too cool. Thank you so much. Have a good one, Sir.
Schaech: Okay, you too.