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He was the pint sized artist Toulouse-Lautrec in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, and now he’s a zombie killer in George A. Romero’s latest zombie-cum-social satire movie, Land of the Dead, a role he took because the strong script – and his political views, he tells John Millar.

In George A. Roemro’s Land of the Dead, the world has changed: those who can afford it, are crowded into expensive, high security high rises like Fiddler’s Green, but the poor and wretched scuttle in the shadows, while the ‘walkers’ – the walking dead zombies – grow ever larger in numbers, seemingly acquiring the hint of conscious thought, threatening all living humans with their urgent, insatiable need for human flesh. Opportunists thrive, like the powerful and manipulative Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) of Fiddler’s Green, who uses outside mercenaries like Riley (Simon Baker) and his No 2, Cholo (John Leguizamo) to acquire goods for the residents. Protected by their armoured vehicle, Dead Reckoning, they run the daily and nightly risks among the walking dead. When they both decide to get out, Cholo commandeers Dead Reckoning and tries to extort millions from Kaufman, who looks to Riley to get rid of this threat. Meanwhile, the walkers are heading for Fiddler’s Green.

Why did you do this movie?
I did it because the script was great. I had never planned to do a horror movie. But the script was amazing, it had real characters, not these stupid teenagers who get slashed. There are political undertones, it’s apocalyptic. It is an action study and a character study of the guys that Simon and I play.

What is the role of your character?
He is a zombie killer who works for one of the oasis of the human beings who have survived. Simon and I work for Dennis Hopper and we have to go into zombie territory to get supplies. And I want to live up there with all the rich survivors. To trade up I have to get rid of people that Dennis doesn’t want around.

What preparation was needed?
I read books about zombies. I wanted to come in knowing as much as I could. Then George filled us with information like if you are bitten by a zombie you become one. The only way you can kill them is to destroy their brain. That’s why in the movie I have a harpoon - and it was a real harpoon, it can go through metal - that I use.

Did the subtext that George uses appeal to you?
Yeah I don’t just want to do a horror movie for the sake of it. There’s no point. The script was parodying the situation that has happened in the States. So I loved that. There were real scenes to act.

What are your feelings about the situation in the USA?
I am angry, it’s a horrible situation that we are in. People were duped and hopefully they will see the light - just like the zombies finally get that chance in the movie.

You know that Dennis Hopper is a Bush supporter?
Yeah, it’s great casting. He is a CEO in power and those are his beliefs. I am a zombie killer and I have to deal with The Man and the under class.

How do you decide on which movies to do?
I try to find the best script. This was a real script otherwise I would not have done it. Now I’m doing the new Ed Burns movie which I think is the best thing he has written. I did not always respect directors but I do now. It’s so hard to be a director. When I directed I found the hardest thing was directing myself. I found it hard to come back and give myself those extra little things that I always do.

Why have so many Latin actors made the breakthrough?
Because we support Hollywood. We are a huge part of America and now we are more organised and more political so it is all coming together. And Latin cinema is really influencing American movies. Latin people go to the movies three times a week so they are putting more Latin actors in movies because they know that’s what we want to see.

NOTE: Land of the Dead is released on DVD in Australia on December 7, 2005.

Published December 8, 2005


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