Joe Pilato/Gary Klar | Very Much Alive

Monster kids, your prayers have been answered by the horror gods on high.

As spooky movie fans have watched other cities like New York and Chicago grab convention gold and have all the fun, genre devotees will now have a chance to get their creepy-crawly party on. This weekend marks the debut of Con-tamination 2010, the horror/sci-fi/pop-culture event of the year.
To kick off the festivities, we at Playback thought it would be a bloody good time to give you a “drive-in double feature” interview with two of the stars of George Romero’s original Day of the Dead, which coincidentally celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. I had the honor of speaking to Day of the Dead’s Joe Pilato (who brilliantly portrayed the evil Captain Rhodes) and Gary Klar (who breathed life into the menacing Private Steel). Besides having wildly varied careers—including Broadway and films—both are most famous for their iconic turns in one of the genre’s most beloved films. I should also note that, even though the characters they played were hardcore villains, they couldn’t have been nicer guys to speak to.
First up in our double-feature is Joe Pilato. Even if you never saw Day of the Dead, you would recognize this Boston-born actor from such films as Pulp Fiction, Gung-Ho and Wishmaster. Mr. Pilato touched on working with the great George Romero, what projects he has in the pipeline, and his excitement about meeting St. Louis horror fans.
Does it ever surprise you to be talking about Day of the Dead so many years later?
No, not at all; it’s great. Having a role in a genre picture like this, historically, has always been special. Just look at Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff and all of those guys. What we do is part of a long tradition.
When I was a kid, Captain Rhodes scared me more than the zombies did. You must have had a lot of fun playing him.
He scared you, really? I thought he would be every young boy’s dream! No actually, playing a villain gives actors the chance to really kind of overdo it, and do things that the hero would never get a chance to do. It’s a lot more fun doing the stuff that a hero would never be allowed to act upon.
How was working with George Romero different from other directors you’ve worked with? You’ve worked with a lot of good ones…
It’s true, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of really good directors. The thing about George, though, is that he’s so easygoing and he’s always open to suggestions. He’s even like that with fans, just a really good guy. If you have a good idea, he wants to hear it.
Was there anything in Day of the Dead that you approached him about?
There were a couple of improv moments; the script was already solid, but there were a couple of things I was able to slip in. One was my final line of the movie, “Choke on ’em,” and the other was “pus fuck.” With “Choke on ’em,” I told George, “Look, I have an idea for when Rhodes is getting torn apart,” and he said “What could he possibly be saying while that’s happening? What do you have in mind?” I told him, and he ended up keeping it in. The “pus fuck” happened because, Bub, the lead zombie, had shot me in the leg and I was crawling down this hallway. So I bumped my head into this concrete wall really hard and I just went, “You fuck, you pus fuck.” One of the guys on the crew took off his headphones and said “Did you just say ‘pus fuck’?”.
You’re a horror icon now, but were you a fan of horror films growing up?
Very much so, sure. I was a big fan of the classic universal series, especially Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman and Son of Frankenstein. I also loved monster movies like Godzilla. I kind of prefer the black-and-white stuff, and I’m not really happy with the whole CG effects world.
Are there any projects coming up that your fans can look forward to?
Right now, I’m working on Night of the Living Dead – Origins, an animated contemporary version of the original. I’m playing Harry Cooper, Tony Todd is recreating his role as Ben, and Danielle Harris is playing Barbara, so it’s a really good cast. There’s also the release of Day of the Dead on Blu-Ray in the U.K. from Arrow Distribution. It has some great extras on there, including my trip to England to talk about the film. Hopefully it will be out in the States soon.
I know there are some actors that have kind of a love /hate relationship with conventions, but do you enjoy the experience?
Genre fans are the greatest fans in the world, they really are. I’m not stroking them; they have such vitality, you know? They just don’t come to the cons as looky loos, they come with intelligent questions, and hang out at the bar to shoot the shit about the film industry.
In the past, you’ve done a lot of theater. Any chance you’ll return to that?
There’s always a chance; it just depends on my schedule. I would love to return to the boards. Lately I haven’t had a chance to do that because of other work, which isn’t a bad thing for an actor.
Next up, we speak to the ever-charismatic Gary Klar. His long list of memorable roles includes playing the thuggish Mario in Bill Murray’s Quick Change, as well as Randy Bates in Clint Eastwood’s Pink Cadillac. The former pro-footballer spoke openly about his love for meeting genre fans and being a fervent admirer of the great philosopher Warren Zevon.
Gary, thanks for talking to Playback! How are you?
I’m doing great, thank you. Hey, did you talk to that pus fuck Joe Pilato yet? You know, that guy doesn’t even wake up until one in the afternoon! I’m an early riser myself. I’m a practitioner of the late great songwriter Warren Zevon, who said “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
I just talked to Joe Pilato, and he was awake.
(Laughs) I love Joe dearly, and he and I have done a lot of conventions together. We’ve done shows individually, but like I always tell him, we have the best dog and pony show going when we work together.
Fans in St Louis are pretty psyched about this convention. It’s really the first big one we’ve had here.
You know, that’s what (convention organizer) Dave Dyer was saying, and I couldn’t believe it. I know Chicago, New York and Dallas have big conventions, so I’m glad St. Louis is having one. These conventions are amazing because people from all over the country, sometimes the world, come and check them out. I love Dave; he’s really like a brother, has a tremendous passion for the genre, and he really gets it. We’ve got some great people coming in, and we’re looking forward to rocking it out this weekend.
Have you ever visited St. Louis before?
I’ve been there a few times, and the first time I was there…wow. God, I must have been 19 or so; this would have been in the mid- to late-’60s. I’ll never forget it. I was on the highway, I had been driving all night, and the radio was playing this great Moody Blues song from their classic album Days of Future Passed. So this beautiful orchestral progressive rock was playing and it was around sunrise, and the light was bouncing off of the Arch. What a great introduction to the city; it was really awe-inspiring.
This convention will feature a bit of a reunion of some of the Day of the Dead cast members, correct?
Yeah, I know a couple of the guys can’t be there, but we’re going to have myself, Joe, Tony Dileo and Lori Cardille, who is terrific. She’s beautiful on the inside and outside, just a great lady. She’s been off the road for a couple of years, so I’m glad she’s making the show in St. Louis. Mark Tierno is going to be there, too. He played Beef Treats, one of the key zombies, of course. He was the zombie I kind of tormented and knock on the head and say, “Nice hat, asshole!”
You were in one of my favorite comedies, Quick Change, with Bill Murray. Any good stories you could share?
Yeah, I played Mario and I was the thug taken down by Chief Rotzinger, played by the great actor Jason Robards. Let me see, well, Bill was pretty busy with that film because he was co-directing with the screenwriter, Howard Franklin. He was either acting, or looking through the camera, or putting on his headphones and watching the playback. He was a great guy, though, great to my family and great to my kids. In fact, I brought my family to the set a few times just to watch, and he was so gracious. My daughter was especially enamored with him because he was still extremely popular from the Ghostbusters movies. She just couldn’t believe she got to hang out with Bill Murray.
Growing up, what kind of movies appealed to you? Were you a fan of horror?
Yeah. George Romero wasn’t making movies when I was a young boy, so I enjoyed all the Boris Karloff stuff, the Lon Chaney stuff, all the classics. I loved Michael Landon in I Was a Teenage Werewolf and The Blob with Steve McQueen. I mean, I grew up watching all that stuff, you know? I’ll tell you film that I loved. Have you ever seen Carnival of Souls? It was directed by a guy named Herc Harvey, who didn’t do a whole lot after that. I think that’s a very scary, bizarre movie, to this day. When it comes on now, I still can’t watch it by myself, I’m not kidding you.
One of the themes of this convention is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Day of the Dead. The actors in all of his films seem to have nothing but good things to say about George Romero.
Shooting Day of the Dead could have been a really bad experience. I mean, we were down in a mine for three months, six days a week, 15 or 16 hours a day. It could have been a living hell but it was quite the opposite. It was a great cast and crew, and one of the best experiences I ever had. I’m sure Joe told you the same thing; working with George, it just doesn’t get any better. He’s a wonderful guy, and he doesn’t talk to you or at you, he talks with you. If he’s out meeting fans, I don’t care how long the line is, he will be there as long as it takes just so he can meet and talk with everybody. He’s one of a kind. | Jim Ousley


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