Actor Rob Freeman discusses life among The Dead

by Mark Burger

Lt. Brian Murphy, the main character in The Dead (see review, page 36), is a stranger in a strange land — and things are only getting stranger.

Murphy, an American Air Force engineer stationed in Africa, is literally at Ground Zero for a sudden, unexplained outbreak of a virulent plague that causes the dead to rise and feed on the living. Panic has quickly set in, as the entire continent (and perhaps the entire world) is overrun by an unstoppable army of zombies.

Initially alone in his quest for sanctuary, Murphy is later joined by Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia), an African soldier seeking his missing son. There’s the distinct impression that Murphy and Dembele may once have been on opposite sides, but that no longer matters. All that matters now is survival, and to do so the two men must come to trust one another.

The Dead has received rave reviews across the board, rare for a horror film and rarer still for a zombie film. Filmmaker brothers Howard J. and Jon Ford have been hailed as new voices in horror cinema. For actor Rob Freeman, who stars as Brian Murphy, The Dead is the first film in which he’s the lead, and his gutsy yet sympathetic performance is key to the film’s success.

The actor had no problem conveying the notion of a stranger in a strange land, given that it mirrored his own experience making the film, which was filmed entirely on location. Given the tumultuous political history of the region, there’s an unmistakable allegorical tone to the story.

“There’s a little snapshot there,” Freeman said. “Years of oppression, years of war and years of strife are all encapsulated there.”

Not unlike their characters, Freeman and Oseia’s relationship was established immediately. There was no time for rehearsals. They met, shook hands, and started shooting. “We hit the ground running,” Freeman said, “and I had a good time with Prince.”

The relationship between Murphy and Daniel echoes that of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in the 1958 classic The Defiant Ones, in which two convicts (one white, one black) are chained together and must depend on the other for survival. A memome away because they don’t get in my way,” said Freeman, noting that the recent and acclaimed films Tree of Life and The Artist (both Best Picture Oscar nominees) also conveyed their stories primarily through imagery. He also added with a laugh that he’s had more to say in interviews about The Dead than in the actual film itself.

The African terrain is beautiful but treacherous, as Freeman can attest. He didn’t have a stunt double. It’s all him, all the time. “You betcha,” he confirmed. “Anybody who wants to suffer for their art, well, we really did. This was real guerrilla filmmaking. There were times when I thought we may not get out of this alive, I really did.”

Although The Dead is Freeman’s largest role to date, it’s hardly his rable scene in The Dead sees the two soldiers lugging a barrel of first encounter with the fantasy gasoline across an airport tarmac to refuel their automobile. The genre, having orbited producer Chris Carter’s universe with symbolism was intentional, according to Freeman. guest stints on “The X Files,” “Millennium” and the short-lived “Exactly,” he said. “That’s the first time we connect, and what “The Lone Gunman.”

do we connect over? Oil — the cause of so much war and so “Chris Carter is one of those writers who asks why do these much oppression throughout the world.” things happen, how do these things happen, and what’s the mys- The film “has an incredible amount to say on many levels,” tery behind it — and I was a willing participant.”

Freeman observed, “and I hope we did justice to what [film- Freeman made his screen debut in Fred Schepisi’s 1990 maker] David Cronenberg once wrote, that ‘horror rises out of adaptation of John le Carre’s bestseller The Russia House. He repression.’” laughed at the memory. “I did one of my first scenes with Roy Many of the extras — and, indeed, many of the zombies Scheider; he turned toward me, and I thought: ‘Wow, he’s really — were actual African villagers, most of whom had no acting talking to me!’” experience whatsoever. This further lends a reality to the unreal Now, with the release of The Dead, people are surely going to proceedings. In addition, much of the story is conveyed in im- be talking about Rob Freeman. agery and action as opposed to dialogue, lending it an existential undertone. The Dead is now available from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

“I really dig what you’re saying! Those kinds of films blow The DVD retails for $26.98, the Blu-ray for $29.99.