In the Ford Brothers’ zombie opus The Dead, actor Rob Freeman portrays Lieutenant Brian Murphy, an American caught in Africa during a zombie uprising, and we recently caught up with the actor for a brief chat about the film.
In The Dead Freeman’s character survives a harrowing plane crash in western Africa only to come to realize he’s got bigger issues than his plane going down: He’s surrounding by hordes of flesh-hungry zombies who threaten the American engineer along every step of his dangerous journey out of the desolate and ravaged world he’s been left behind in.
With the film’s DVD and Blu-ray release occurring this Valentine’s Day courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment, we asked Freeman about the real-life dangers he and the entire cast and crew faced while shooting the zombie film in Burkina Faso and Ghana and how even a brush with death couldn’t keep him from working on Howard and Jonathan Ford’s stunning zombie film The Dead.
Freeman is the first to admit that he knew making a horror movie in Africa wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. “You know, I was thinking, ‘Man, what a great place to party for three months!’ (laughs). No, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I saw it as an adventure and had this notion that actors should earn their stripes so this was me, earning my stripes. There were no trailers, no drivers, no coddling or anything like that. Howard and Jon were sick a lot; so was Prince (his co-star Prince David Oseia) – that poor guy was from the area, and I think he got it almost as bad as I did.”
And while it’s true that pretty much everyone who worked on The Dead suffered a malady or two during the film’s production, Freeman endured the worst of it, coming down with a life-threatening case of malaria that put the actor into a brief comatose state.
“It’s still surreal to even think about almost dying,” said Freeman. “I expected I’d get sick in Africa but I never thought I’d get malaria, and it’s really hard to explain the feeling of waking up in this room in a small hut in the middle of God knows where with tubes hooked up to you and you don’t even know how you got there.”
“The Ford Brothers asked me if I wanted to quit after I finally got back on my feet, but honestly, that hadn’t even occurred to me- to stop and go home. I think I may have even laughed when they asked me if I wanted to stop filming. Quitting never occurred to me. Ever,” added Freeman.
Freeman used a lot of what he experienced while shooting The Dead to flesh out his performance as an American engineer stranded in a strange and dangerous land who only longed to return to his wife and daughter after his plane crashed on the coast of Africa. “I think what kept Murphy going was his family, and if he did stop, he’d die. The undead were everywhere and even though they were slow zombies, the sheer number of them would always catch up with you at some point. Surviving is the basic essence of humanity- we all want to survive, whatever it is that we’re facing, whether that’s going to work every day or running away from zombies in the middle of Africa.”
Freeman went on to discuss how health scares were only part of the danger everyone faced while shooting The Dead; making a feature film in the troubled sociopolitical climate of Africa turned out to be incredibly dangerous, and the amount of corruption the Ford Brothers faced while trying to complete their movie made it incredibly difficult for everyone involved.
“The shooting situation we found ourselves in while making The Dead was life-threatening in reality which I think, when looking back now, gives an ominous tone to the story because the corruption was pulsating through every scene,” explained Freeman. “We had to go with the ‘hurry up and shoot’ approach because if we stayed too long in any one place, we were in jeopardy of getting our vehicles impounded, having to pay local officials off with bribes so they wouldn’t confiscate our stuff or making sure we finished shooting before we ran out of food and water.”
Freeman added, “At one point, we were crossing the border in Burkina Faso and we were being chased by a mob in the middle of the pitch black night. That was something else. But the people you see in the movie were real villagers and I can’t even imagine what they must have thought when we showed up to shoot. In fact, there was one night when we were in this one village that got raided and we were all chased into the middle of the jungle, and I wouldn’t recommend doing that when you can see around you, let alone in the middle of the night.”
“We really ‘lived’ The Dead when we were making it, and I think viewers can sense that; I think that’s why we’ve been so lucky to have gotten so many great responses to the film so far, and hopefully now more fans will enjoy what we’ve done here.”
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