This article was last modified on August 3, 2015.


Q&A with Ken Foree, “Dawn of the Dead”

A brief question and answer session with Ken Foree, best known for his leading role in George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”.

Q: What was casting like for “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)?

KF: I was doing off-Broadway in New York. I was doing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, probably the first or second time it had been launched in the last hundred years. I was in the dressing room, putting on the stage makeup. I was talking to an actor, just chatting, and he was like, “Listen, I hear they are auditioning for a role in a film that you might be right for. You oughtta go check it out.” At that point I had only had two acting experiences. One feature film. “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” (1976) with Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams. John Badham directed that for Universal. This was a huge project, and all I did before that was “Kojak”. I was mostly off-Broadway, just hanging around the Village. But I went up to Midtown at producer Richard P. Rubinstein’s office, walked in for an audition with David Emge, Scott Reiniger and Gaylen Ross. A week later I auditioned with three other people, and a few days later they told me I had it. Within two weeks, I was on a plane to Pittsburgh.

Q: Did you receive any weapons training before filming “Dawn of the Dead”?

KF: Well, we do shoot a lot where I’m from in Indiana. Hunting. But no, not really, not that much. My father’s good friend was a mentor to a lot of the kids in the neighborhood growing up. He’s a cop. And I went back to him before filming “Dawn of the Dead” and he showed me how to aim the pistol, hold it right. That was basically it. I didn’t need it.

Ken-Foree

Q: “Knightriders” (1981) is an underrated George Romero film. What’s your take?

KF: That was… weird. I had a great time with the cast, but it rained almost 50% of the time we were there. On set, it would rain. Over the course of the evening, we had a rainstorm and it would destroy the set. I spent more time in the hotel than on the set. We shot in Fawn Township, Pennsylvania. I arrived about 1 in the afternoon on a Sunday after flying in to Pittsburgh. I’m an NBA fan, I loved Magic Johnson. The Lakers were playing the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA Finals. It was Game 6, Kareem was hurt. Magic had to play center. This is a big game, Kareem is down, you have Dr. J (Julius Erving) and Darryl Dawkins the Chocolate Thunder. All these guys. So I’m psyched. I get a beer, go up to my room, light a cigarette, turn on the television. And they’ve got on “Bowling for Dollars”. So there must be something wrong. I went down to the front desk and asked, “This is the NBA Finals, this is national television, where is it?” I went into a panic, started calling all the hotels in the area. There weren’t many, just a Howard Johnson and a Ramada. But no one had it…

Anyway, “Knightriders”. We have these motorcycles for jousting. They didn’t really want us on the bikes for the jousting parts. One time, the bike got away from me a little bit. What it did, it kept going… I didn’t know enough to take my hand off the throttle. So I picked it up and the stunt guys are going, “Oh, my god.” That traveled through the set for a long time. It was fun. I had a good time. And a great cast. Ed Harris, Brother Blue who passed on in 2009. He really did what you see, that’s who he was. They had a guy who played a reporter who was later in “Jurassic Park” (Martin Ferrero).

Q: When you first read the script for “From Beyond” (1986), did it make any sense to you, or did that even matter?

KF: Barbara (Crampton) and Jeffrey (Combs) were already cast. I imagine they had several meetings with (director) Stuart Gordon and (producer) Brian Yuzna. They knew something about H.P. Lovecraft and his work. I had no idea what the hell was going on. I read it, and I read it, and I read it. And I said, “Okay. I’m a cop. Let’s just stick with that.” I had no idea. It was very strange. I wasn’t necessarily a fan, but I’m a working actor. The first time I saw the film, actually, was on television in L.A. I didn’t see a screening or any of that stuff. It ran several times on KTLA. I must have seen it five or six times on local television.

Q: What was Viggo Mortensen like on “Leatherface” (1990)?

KF: Great question. It was great, but remember the fight scene with Viggo? I ran into him seven years ago. We were talking, hanging out, went to a couple parties together. Eventually he said, “Hey Ken, you know something? You broke my ribs.” And I said, “What? What are you talking about?” He said it was during that fight scene, and I asked, “Why didn’t you say something?” But he was just that kind of guy. It wasn’t a staged fight, so with Viggo, he was holding on and just wouldn’t let go. So I had to take him, handle him. I didn’t think I hurt him and didn’t find out until twenty years later.

This is similar to that thing I did with Tyler Mane in “Halloween”. Mane is a big guy, but a gentle giant. I had to push him a little bit. With Tyler Mane, we were in the stall, getting ready to shoot. We were rehearsing, and I decided this was the only good scene I’ve got so I’m gonna make it work. We get to the set, and I whisper in his ear all these horrible things I did to his mother. His eyes get really big, and let me tell you, that guy went berserk. We destroyed two bathroom stalls. I think that guy was really trying to kill me. I was ready to kill him and I loved it because it made the scene real. I told Rob Zombie, he was hurt, he was bloodied, but nothing kills Joe Grizzley. What was funny about that shot is that after I got stabbed, everyone just got up and left. The cast, the crew, the lights. I’m lying there covered in blood and they’re on to the next set. After a while some guy – a grip or something – comes in to pick up some cables and sees me and asks, “Are you still there?” And I said, “Yeah. Nobody thanked me, nobody picked me up, patted me on the ass…”

Q: How did you feel about the “Dawn of the Dead” remake?

KF: I thought it was a good horror film. I especially like the shot of the car crash. And where they try to escape the bus. Those are some great shots. But yeah, I thought it was a good movie. I know they got death threats for remaking a classic, and I’m a slow zombie guy, but I liked it.

Q: In real life, did you ever have a Joe Grizzley haircut?

KF: (laughs) That’s a strange one. Can I tell you about the hair? I have the kind of hair… my hair is as straight as anyone’s hair. And back in the day, it was the time of the Afro. And before that, they had the Conk. There was this gel that straightened out the nappy hair and made you look like Elvis. Every guy in the neighborhood had it, I wanted it, but my mom said, “You don’t have that kind of hair.”So there was the Conk and the Afro, but I couldn’t grow either right. I just had that look. By the time I got a full head of hair, it began to recede a little bit and I just had to live with it. Some say it’s a giveaway that I’m not full African-American, but not many of us are.

Q: You’ve worked with Rob Zombie a few times with “Halloween”, “Devil’s Rejects” and “Lords of Salem”. Do you have some sort of shorthand at this point?

KF: Yeah. Rob will tell me to stick to the script, but at the same time “do what you want to do”. And then if I say something he doesn’t like, he’ll cut me off and say to just stick to the script. It is a shorthand in a way, because he can just say “Can you do that?” and I can say “Yeah, I got it.” That does happen a lot on the set.

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