“Every time I work, I work to create something special and unique and no matter what platform it is, I always try to bring something to it.” – Johnathon Schaech
Johnathon Schaech stars in Day of the Dead: Bloodline, the latest zombie film in George A. Romero’s classic series. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world where zombies roam freely. Zoe (Sophie Skelton), a former medical student who is helping the survivors in an underground bunker, has just discovered an evil figure from her past, Max (Schaech), is now a half-human, half-zombie creature who wants to destroy her.
Schaech, who’s career has spanned over 20 years, chats about his latest film, playing a human-like zombie and how he’s kept his career going for so long.
I would think that this part would be a ton of fun to play.
Johnathon Schaech: Oh my gosh, so much fun. When I got the script, basically I was getting to play that monster that I always wanted to … The creature that I get to create. My Frankenstein. I love Gary Oldman‘s Dracula. The new interpretation. Here, I knew it was going to be Bub, but it was different than Bub. I got to play with … I get to pull from varying performance, even like, I Am Legend, Dash Mihok played that alpha zombie basically. I was like, I could have a bit of that in this. Action parts. He’s like this visceral alpha zombie.
You talk about taking from other things. You mentioned Gary Oldman as Dracula, but did you go back and watch old Frankenstein’s and things like that before you did the movie?
Johnathon Schaech: Yeah. That’s all I did. I watched … I just tried to figure out as many layers as I could bring this guy. Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, I loved all the old monster, Dracula. The old Dracula, the new Dracula. Then just going through all varying zombies. Bub was the original in Day of the Dead, so I just wanted to have elements of that. Then when you get to your set, they have their own interpretation of what they want and what they don’t, so I always have a tool chest that I can pull from and just try different things. I watched all those old movies.
I got to work with George Romero on a Steven King script, so I got to know where Romero … I knew from watching his movies, but the frequent conversations I had with him about the social consciousness that’s underneath all of his films. Like, the root of the thing is never the thing itself. Underlying this story is… who is this human being and what was he before he turned into a zombie? That was the thing I really studied the most. It’s like, here’s this incredibly horrible human being. Cause, in Romero’s pieces, it the living were the ones that were f—ed up.
I would imagine working on this at home or wherever, it’s very different than when you actually finally put on the makeup. How much did the makeup more inform you and your character?
Johnathon Schaech: Sitting there for four hours makes you still. Makes you really think about the things that you’re about to do and what you’re going to try to get across and how you can help your fellow actor. I think in the stillness of those … Getting my makeup done, really would inform me every day of where this character was coming from and what he wanted. Every single day, I had to go through that process.
Four hours, holy crap.
Johnathon Schaech: Yeah. It’s a long time.
What time would you have to get there on set? Earlier than everybody else, right?
Johnathon Schaech: Yeah. Throughout my career, girls always had to come in earlier because they had to get their makeup done. I was in way before Sophie was ever there. This is the first time in my career I was always there prior to the female lead.
How long would it take you to get all that stuff off?
Johnathon Schaech: You know, it didn’t take as … Obviously, it didn’t take as long because you just put the oils underneath the prosthetics and start to swish and swash and make it tear away from the flesh. It took about 45 minutes at the end of the day.
I know you had to deal with prosthetics when you played Jonah Hex, but is this something that you want to keep on doing? Or are you like, “I’m good with that now.”
Johnathon Schaech: No, no. As an actor, it’s a great opportunity to play varying things. I love those creatures. Doug Jones is just phenomenal.
He’s fantastic, yeah.
Johnathon Schaech: I got to work with him in Quarantine and watched him go through his process. He’s an artist. He’s an artist in that field. My physical life and every character I’ve ever played has been probably the most important thing for me. I get to be creatures and get to play a world where man can’t express himself with words and only uses his body. That’s something I’d love to pursue. If I become Ron Perlman man in my old age, so be it.
Talking through those teeth, it almost looked painful.
Johnathon Schaech: Yeah. Well you know, I would use these … What happens, he’s a real monster as a human being. Then when he has to face his own death, he realizes all these horrible things that he was and he starts to feel really … A sense of guilt of shame for it. Throughout the piece, he’s basically asking for forgiveness from Sophie. He realizes he was wrong. He can’t cross over to the other side because he’s not a full rotter. He’s not fully dead, so I think he’s caught in this purgatory of where he’s trying to redeem himself. The prosthetics weren’t the hard part talking through. It was the part of him that was trying to get across after being half dead. There’s a beast racing through him. This half zombie that kept him from just articulating his sorrow.
I also read where you put 35 pounds of muscle on before the part, but it makes sense because he was a monster before he turned.
Johnathon Schaech: Well, I kept thinking that the physical presence of him when he is a zombie, it’s so imposing. All I could think about was King Kong. When King Kong tried to be so soft with the Jessica Lang character, he just tries to be so delicate with her, but he’s King Kong. He’s a beast. That’s what I thought would make it more of a drama, if I made him so bigger and stronger, scarier, more imposing. Trying to get that across and create a bigger obstacle for me.
You’ve had a really, really long career. How have you kept it going for so long where others who probably started out at the same time you did, faded away?
Johnathon Schaech: Every time I work, I work to create something special and unique and no matter what platform it is, I always try to bring something to it. I got lucky and I got into some of the right movies. I didn’t think high enough of myself not to continually work. Does that make any sense?
Johnathon Schaech: I’ve always worked. I think if I thought higher of myself, I wouldn’t have worked.
That’s a good point. I’ve never heard anybody put it that way, but that’s a great answer.
Johnathon Schaech: Right? To my detriment to some part because I could be a bigger star, but I just was like, it’s hard for a guy from Edgewood, Maryland to believe that … I do believe now. Now, I have a child. It’s a different thing. I think about what else I could be doing and I know exactly what else I could be doing.
What’s the worst audition you’ve ever had?
Johnathon Schaech: That’s a deep question. You know, one thing that I’ve learned is that I’m a dyslexic, so I can’t … My memory is really s—, so my short-term memory is horrible. Most of the auditions I’ve even gone on were me just trying to get by and I’ve never been successful in short-term auditions.
I also have always known that there was something wrong with me. This inability to connect and just be okay with it. It wouldn’t work. I would change things around and it was a disaster I have to tell you.
One time, I told the casting director, I was like, “I can’t do this to you and I can’t do this to me. I got to figure out what’s wrong with me.” Now, I won’t even go into audition rooms because I can’t do that. I can’t do what they’re asking of me.
Johnathon Schaech: Yeah. I won’t go in there. I put myself on tape if they really want me in. I’ve been doing this for so long that they have to make the playing field fair. If they really were talking about competition, give everyone the same amount of time. Dyslexics need more time.
They need to notice my ability. Notice my ability.
Day of the Dead: Bloodline is available to watch on all services, including Amazon.