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Exclusive Interview With Day Of The Dead Star Joe Pilato
By James Whittington, Monday 12th April 2010

Joe-Pilato-1George A. Romero’s masterpiece Day Of The Dead hit Blu-ray on March 29th thanks to Arrow Video. One of the films most memorable characters is that of Captain Rhodes played to scene stealing perfection by Joe Pilato. Joe took some time out to tell us about his acting career and how he came to be play one of horror’s most iconic creations.

HC: When did you realise you wanted to become an actor?   JP: Great question. First of all, hello to all my UK fans. I didn’t think I realized that I wanted to be an actor. When I was a kid I noticed that I would critique how other kids played. We would play ‘World War II army’ and you would shoot an invisible machine gun or broom handle and I’d look and I’d go, ‘That’s not the way you die - you die like this.’ Then I went to Catholic School and became an alter boy. The mass was a sense of performance and this was back in the Latin days of the mass and it was very mysterious and there was a lot of circumstance and candles, incense and costumes and pageantry, weddings and funerals and baptisms and a lot of symbolic action. I remember being very aware of being observed. And then I got to college where I was in pre-law aspiring to become a lawyer. One day I just figured out that I really had no notion of lawyering, but I was more fascinated with the people on television like Perry Mason, E.G. Marshal and Spencer Tracy in Inherit The Wind. I was more excited about portraying a person who was the lawyer. Unfortunately to this day, I have not played a lawyer.   HC: Did you model your acting style on anyone?   JP: If you mean did I model the character of Rhodes after anyone in particular, I would have to say no to that. My acting style is a product of the different teachers that I’ve studied with, Jerzy Grotowski the very famous Polish director, and of course the Stanislavski system. The character leapt off the page, George wrote it. That’s how Rhodes was personified.   HC: How did you get your first big break?   JP: I would have to say; my first big break was through my relationship with the Pittsburgh film family in a movie called Effects, which unfortunately after twenty years, was just recently released by Synapse Films. I was a local Pittsburgh actor and they were auditioning for this movie and I was not even supposed to audition. I drove an actress who needed a ride and it was the dead of winter and instead of waiting in the car, I went in. The person she was supposed to read with didn’t show up, so I read and got cast in the role of Dominic, the cinematographer. That’s how I got introduced to George.   HC: Did you have to audition for the role of Captain Rhodes?   JP: Yes. There were auditions in New York, L.A. and Pittsburgh. So, I did have to audition. Auditioning for George is always an enjoyable experience because he gives you a lot of feedback and adjustments to make. George was always very fond of Pittsburgh actors. I did three movies for him Knight Riders, Dawn Of The Dead - I had originally auditioned for David Emge’s character in Dawn Of The Dead, the helicopter pilot. But, there was just too much of a similarity between me and Scotty. And, so that didn’t work out. But, thanks to the Dario Argento release, my entire scene as the head officer at the police dock was put back in the movie because it was not in the American release. Then my number came up with my audition for the part of Captain Rhodes in Day Of The Dead. It took about a month to find out as they went to different cities. I got a call one day saying I got the role.   HC: How did you approach playing such an intense character?   JP: Well, I was pretty left of centre politically and was very influenced by my anti-Vietnam war experience. I was chased and maced in the streets of Boston and Washington DC by tactical police. So, Rhodes was everything antithetical to my political belief and it’s usually very easy to play an opposite or villainous character. And Rhodes was the epitome. Although, Rhodes’ point of view in the movie is correct, ‘shoot ‘em in the head.’ They’re dead people, wake up, shoot ‘em in the head, which is the military point of view. Rhodes thought, and I think that we all think, it’s kind of fruitless to domesticate the zombies.   HC: What was the atmosphere like on set as the movie has very little humour to it?   Joe-Pilato-2JP: That’s a very interesting observation. The movie does have very little humour in it due to the claustrophobic nature of the shoot. Most actors go back to their trailer between shots, but we had cubby holes with a cot, it was bare minimum. So, we basically entertained each other, both cast and crew. The camaraderie on the set was just magnificent. Everybody really bonded. I really hate to use that word, it’s so overused, but we basically did because we were under harsh conditions.   HC: The movie is known for its grisly effects, did you object to how graphic the movie actually got?   JP: Absolutely not. When you think about it there was a period, I think in the 18th century, there was something called the theatre of The Grand Guignol based on gore. I really have no objections to screen violence. What I do object to most is the ease with which they can CG the effect. These were really hands on masterpieces. Each special effect was like a work of art and to watch these guys - Savini, Nicotero, Howard Berger, I’m sure I’m forgetting some names - craft and sculpt the real thing as it were, was amazing. I have no objection as long as it works for the story.   HC: You must get asked this a lot but what was it like waiting on set waiting to be “pulled to bits”?   JP: It was horrendous. I spent five hours in that hole and it was very uncomfortable. They told me the morning when I walked on the set not to eat or drink anything, and I asked them why, and they said because you’re going to be laying in a hole for four to five hours. They had created this false floor and drilled a hole in it, and they actually put a toilet seat cover over the hole. There’s a picture of me somewhere in long underwear crawling into this hole like an astronaut. It was very painful, but the most horrible part of it was when the guts came out. The smell was just so putrefied and so rotten. It took about two and a half more hours to set that up. They had an aspirator on my face and people were spraying Aramis and whatever cologne they could grab that was laying around. Once they covered up the chest, the smell subsided minimally. But, once they reopened it, with three cameras rolling we shot the scene, and I think you can see it on scream greats, I immediately started retching and gagging. When it was over they were afraid I was going to aspirate and they pulled me out of that hole real fast. I was covered with all this blood. Thank God there was a shower on the set.   HC: Captain Rhodes is one of the most acclaimed and memorable characters in horror movie history; you must rightly be proud of this?   JP: Oh, I absolutely am. I owe it all to the fans. The genre fans are the greatest fans in the world. They don’t come to the table empty and they don’t come just as autograph seekers. I’ve never met an unintelligent genre fan. And without the fans, I would just be a piece of celluloid. But, thanks to George’s creation and George’s vision and the embrace of the fans, it makes me feel wonderful. I just spent three or four days in the UK in the fall and met some of my UK fan base in Dublin, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, and I was blown away by the reception I received. Thank you very much.   HC: The film has also become hailed as a horror masterpiece, why do you think it remains so popular some 25 years after its initial release?   Joe-Pilato-3JP: I think that the entire trilogy has stayed famous. The concept of the dead walking is so revolting and so repulsive. The concept that there is death after death, not life after death or immortality after death, but there is nothing but vicious cannibalism, mindless cannibalism. I think that whole concept was touched briefly in the forties with Zombie Island and White Zombie, I believe. I’m not sure of the titles, but I think I’m pretty close. I think DAY out of all three of them has stayed so memorable because it is very dialogue driven because the budget was cut and we had to compress a lot of ideas into words and descriptive analysis as opposed to action. I think that’s why people quote DAY more than any other movie. I think that’s what gives it its longevity. It’s like a lifeboat. You have these people trapped in this cave with really nowhere to go, all having different points of view.   HC: Was it hard to get work away from horror or did you become typecast?   JP: No. I wish I had become typecast because typecasting gets you more work than non-typecasting. But, I’ve done an array of things both in film and theatre. I’ve done the Soaps. I was in Music From Another Room with Jude Law, Gung Ho and Wishmaster, where I played a civilian human being. No, I have not been typed but I would love to be typed because the more you’re typed the more you work. So, you young budding directors out there in the UK, come and find me.   HC: How did you get involved in the animated feature Night Of The Living Dead: Origins?   JP: I had done a production that is still kind of in progress for Zebediah DeSoto called, War Dogs. Zebediah called me one day out of the blue and introduced himself. He’s a huge fan of Day Of The Dead and Captain Rhodes and that’s basically how we were introduced. He virtually just offered me the role of Harry Cooper. There’s some footage of War Dogs out on the Internet if you go to either my MySpace page or Zeb’s site. It’s been a great collaboration. I’m anxious for you all to see the final project.   HC: It seems to be something of a unique production, meaning one of the first ever serious horror cartoon movies, would you agree?   JP: After the footage I’ve seen, I would say absolutely yes. Zeb has created something that nobody has seen before. The repercussions are going to make shockwaves in the world of cinema. I can’t really explain, but it’s kind of like a living Monet, bleeding. It’ll grab and engross the audience, believe me. It’ll leap off the screen.   HC: What else are you working on at the moment?   JP: I’ve got four or five conventions coming up. I’m slated to do a movie in April that I can’t really talk about yet. That’s basically what’s happening right now. Zeb has some projects lined up that he’s interested in me for, one is a film about Vlad the Impaler. I’m also working on some projects with Red Maverick Publishing, which is a comic book company. So, I’m keeping busy my friends.   HC: Joe Pilato, thank you very much.
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