John Amplas is an American actor known primarily for his work with director George A. Romero. His first work with Romero was the cult classic Martin (1977), a film that strikingly deconstructed the vampire myth, in which he played the title role. Thereafter, he has appeared in a number of other films directed by Romero, including Dawn of the Dead (1978), Knightriders (1981), Creepshow (1982), and Day of the Dead” (1985). He has recently acted in a horror concept teaser entitled The Three (2011) directed by filmmaker Scott Goldberg which also features co-lead from “Day of the Dead”, Lori Cardille.
I had the privilege to talk with John in May 2011.
GS: You had plenty of stage time, but no real time behind the camera before “Martin”. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that you didn’t know who George Romero was. How did you two end up together (and doing many projects since)?
JA: I met George when I was a senior in college, I was 27. George saw me in a play. He was writing “Martin”. He had an older character in mind but after seeing my performance rewrote the character and offered me the role and that lead to us working together in six of his films. I guess he liked my work. I knew of NOTLD but did not have a strong interest in the genre but liked working with him.
GS: Is there a story from the set of “Martin” that has never been told?
JA: Yes, there is, but I am not going to tell it.
GS: You said that the horror genre was not something that you had much interest in. Has that changed?
JA: My interest has not changed but my appreciation for the genre has changed. How could it not after the cult phenomenon of “Martin” and being a part of George’s legacy in the genre. It afforded me the opportunity to work as an actor in film. My greatest discovery was finally making contact with fans, I had no idea there were so many people with a love for the genre and the people that worked in it. The fans are the fuel that keep the genre alive. I can’t help but appreciate their dedication and love. There are so many fans from all walks of life who all have one thing in common, films that they love and the people that make them. I love them! They are who and what I appreciate most.
GS: Romero is most known for his zombie films, but I think some of his best work is in “Martin” and “Monkey Shines”. Where do you see his strengths?
JA: I am biased, but for my money “Martin” is his best and most personal film. As for George’s strengths, first and foremost is his humanity! He is a kind and decent person with a great sense of humor. As a film maker he can do it all. He writes, directs, can run the camera, he’s a terrific editor, and can act as well. Now coming from an actor’s point of view, I appreciate him most as a director who knows how to work with actors. A skill not found in all directors, be it in film or on stage.
GS: I’ve never seen “Bloodeaters”, and based on the reviews, neither have most other people. What was that one and how did you fit in?
JA: Hmmm! I was out of work in New York, auditioned for a student film, it out to be the one you mentioned. I had no business doing it and made little or no money. I don’t remember ever seeing it. A fan recently sent it to me. I still haven’t watched it. Maybe someday.
GS: I’ve also never seen “Knightriders”, and it seems hard to track down. Yet, I have met many people who worked on this film that swear by it as a classic. Is it not getting the acclaim it deserves?
JA: I think Knightriders is terrific. It was Ed Harris’ first feature. It could be that because it’s a departure from George’s “Dead” series, it hasn’t gotten quite the attention it deserves.
GS: Another lesser-known film is “Midnight”, a hidden gem written and directed by John Russo and special effects with Tom Savini. How did this one go under our collective radar?
JA: Midnight may have suffered from lack of money to promote it properly. Your question should really be answered by John Russo…
GS: Your role in “Creepshow” had you completely in makeup and costume… what is it like as an actor to accept a role where no one can see your face?
JA: You still play the character. The objective is to get what you want, makeup or not, and Nathan got his cake in the end. I think I got the job because Savini needed a slight guy to fit the costume which represented the body of a skeleton. I was easily 40 pounds lighter in those days! The head was a full mask, the hands had gloves and it all had to be physically moveable, with the jaw, etc… One week to design and build makeup, one week of shooting and Dead Nate was in the can. I worked with some great people — Ed Harris again, Carrie Nye (head on the plate) and the wonderful Vivica Lindfors!
GS: Normally I ask people for dirt on David Hasselhoff. But I’ll make my first exception for you. Do you have any dirt on Scott Baio?
JA: Scott Baio was a really good guy to work with. He was very professional, and I liked him a lot! I think he is a good actor, too, and is underrated in that regard. His work in “The Bread, My Sweet” was great, I thought.
GS: I have heard that you have more recently moved from acting to directing on the stage. Both in films and in theater, it seems that many actors sooner or later move to directing… what is the appeal?
JA: Not so recently, as I have been directing plays for 31 years! But never films, although I have thought about it quite a bit. I think it is a natural progression for those of us that have acted that move into directing. It provides a chance to interpret the whole story, to have a vision for the play’s or film’s entire dramatic action. An opportunity to create on a larger canvas, so to speak.
GS: We haven’t seen you in the movies for nearly a decade, John. Where are you hiding?
JA: I’m not hiding, but rather working as an actor on stage, directing and teaching. Look at my website (johnamplas.com). I am an Associate Professor at Point Park University / Pittsburgh Playhouse. But you’re right… not a lot in front of the camera. I do miss it. I am very interested in getting more actively involved in film work again. Got any connections?