Interview: Rob Freeman, The Dead

If Rob Freeman is known for anything, in my opinion it should be for being a nice guy. He is very easy-going and a pleasure to talk with. But that isn’t how you would know him.

You would recognize him (if you don’t already know his name) from “Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud” where he played the sheriff, or perhaps from multiple episodes of “Millennium”, “The Outer Limits” or “The X-Files”. Non-horror fans may have seen him in “Prozac Nation”, among others…

I briefly sat down and had a chat with Rob about his newest film, “The Dead”, which is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. And yes, I do recommend this film… one of the rare good zombie films out there.

GS: Do you ever get confused with other Rob Freemans?

RF: (laughs) That’s a great question. Never. (laughs)

GS: Alright, because when I was doing research for this interview, I found two other guys first — a libertarian blogger and a musician.

RF: This is clearly Google’s fault, not enough searches for me.

GS: Do you have any fond memories of Lance Henriksen?

RF: Yeah. I first met Lance when he was doing “Millennium” and I co-starred with him. He was a funny guy. I met him again in Romania, and he was just a fun, crazy guy.

GS: Any particular stories?

RF: I think what I recall best was his beautiful voice. He regaled me with some pretty good stories from “Alien” and stuff like that. I just recall him fondly, nothing really in particular.

GS: This story has been going around, but tell me more about how malaria is treated in Western Africa…

RF: I got malaria where we were based, and they ended up taking me to a clinic. I just felt odd and wasn’t sure what was going on. So they took me to the clinic and they said, “Oh, yeah, he has malaria, but we don’t have any space here.” So they put me in a storage room, and had me sleep on a table overnight with tubes in my arm. Being stuffed in a storage closet overnight is pretty harrowing, just horrible. I got up in the morning and was fine. But a month later I passed out and had to be raced to a brick building with mold on the walls, and I was just seconds or minutes from death. This is when the malaria became full-blown.

This was the first time in my life I thought, “Hmmm. I could die.” I made it through. Gavin, how would you react if you came to, you were delirious, and were in some dark, bizarre place? Oh, they speak a language you can’t understand.

GS: I don’t know how I would feel… I have no stories like that to share.

RF: Yeah, that’s how it went. You just don’t know what to think!

GS: Aside from passing out and getting malaria, what are the logistical issues of shooting in Western Africa as opposed to a studio?

RF: We had issues because we didn’t have a lot of money, and Africa runs off of bribes. What we call corruption they call doing business. So we constantly ran into issues where we had to bribe people, this would take what little money we had, and we would not be able to afford to feed ourselves. Transport was enough big issue, getting equipment down from England and getting it through the ports. Carrying equipment through Burkina Faso and trying to sneak across borders was an ordeal. We did not really have a crew, so we all had to haul equipment and we all had to scout locations. If cameras get broken, we were thousands of miles from a repair station. Jon Ford is pretty much a genius at fixing things, putting cameras back together with super glue and wires.

And, of course, we had to get local people to appear in the film. There was just an endless stream of things we had to do to get the film made. We also had to avoid the police and send out dummy vehicles for them to stop and shake down.

GS: I suppose they don’t have filming permits.

RF: Actually, we had a letter from the president giving us permission, but that didn’t seem to matter. I guess if the president wasn’t there, they didn’t give a hoot.

GS: As a horror reviewer, I’ve seen more zombie films than I’d care to admit. This is one ofthe better ones — what attracted you to this take on a well-covered genre?

RF: I’m a big fan of story. I liked the lone guy, fish out of water, having to run from Point A to Point B and avoid all these obstacles. I found it even more interesting because it was in Africa. And then you have the underlying theme: repression and the rise of repression of Africa over the centuries. There’s an enormous amount of subtext, and as I watched the film I could see it. There’s a scene that was shot in Ghana, where you see poles sticking up on a beach. You have to be kind of quick because the shot wasn’t held for very long. That’s a place where corrupt government officials were executed a few years before we arrived there — they keep the poles there as a symbol of the corruption. Not that any viewer is going to know that, unless they know about those poles, but it’s also symbolic of what’s going to happen in the film from that point forward.

There’s also a scene where Prince and I are at an airport, and there is a line on the ground where planes line up. I’m on one side of it and he is on the other, and I think that’s incredibly symbolic. The first time we come together, we’re holding a canister of gasoline. Gasoline, as you know, is made from oil, one of the reasons for oppression around the world. So there’s a lot of symbolism in the film, but it’s also a good film for just sitting back and getting scared shitless.

GS: Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times trashed the film, calling it “unsophisticated”, and said, “Mr. Freeman is from the Bruce Willis school of acting, which is to say that when he speaks, what comes out isn’t very compelling.” Would you care to respond to this?

RF: I’ll take it as a compliment to be compared to Bruce Willis — he’s a fantastic actor and has had a heck of a career. As for what comes out of my mouth, that is from the script, so… I take it that the dialogue that was written wasn’t very compelling. But that’s their opinion. I guess I would say that the silent parts were, in fact, more compelling than the speaking parts, so maybe that’s the point they were making. Maybe what they saw was so powerful that when I finally get around to saying something, it isn’t as interesting.

GS: We can hope it was meant that way.

RF: I’m taking it as two compliments, and I appreciate being compared to Bruce Willis.

GS: There you go. Thanks so much for your time, Rob.

RF: Thanks, Gavin!

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