SIMON BAKER Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
June 16, 2005
Largely credited as the filmmaker who defined horror's subgenre of zombie flicks with his classic trilogy of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead, writer/director George A. Romero returns to the trenches of undead cinema after a lengthy hiatus with Land of the Dead. In this chapter of his ongoing signature series, the world has been overrun with legions of the walking dead. Only pockets of humanity still exist, holed up in walled cities and scavenging for resources. But even in this apocalyptic, alternate reality, money talks, and huge economic disparities separate the haves from the have-nots.
The opportunistic Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) oversees Fiddler's Green, a secluded community where society's elite live in obscene luxury high above the less fortunate, who wallow in poverty and hopelessness. When Kaufman backstabs the equally opportunistic Cholo (John Leguizamo), his artificial paradise is threatened, and he must resort to enlisting the help of Cholo's former colleague, Riley (Simon Baker).
In this interview, actor Simon Baker talks about his experience with the film.
MEDIA: Did you feel a certain pressure in being part of the franchise that defined the subgenre of zombie movies?
SIMON: I felt the pressure for George. I didn't feel that much pressure. I thought that it was very much due, you know? It was really the right time to make another one. Almost overdue. I think the most important thing for me, with my character, is tapping into what these zombies are and where they fit in--and that's sort of the moral compass thing. The most important thing was just to try to find the truth in that for George.
What particular character elements did you want to bring to your role?
I thought straight away, if you make him essentially, at his core, a pacifist, then there's automatically a conflict with him. So I just play around with that idea. Then he's also a guy that is kind of the leader. But then if you make the guy somewhat anti-social, then he's a leader that has people with him that doesn't want to be responsible for the people. There's another conflict. They're not obvious conflicts. He doesn't want money. He doesn't want the more obvious things that Dennis' character wants. He's trying to work himself out. It's more of an internal conflict.
Having been behind the scenes of this movie, are you still able to be shocked or scared by it as a viewer?
It's funny...I'm not very vocal when I watch films generally. The most laugh you'll get out of me is like "hmmm..." That's it. But I found myself, at a few of the moments, moaning and groaning very loudly, and then afterwards laughing because I loved the fact that it was able to make me do that. I watched it again last night with an audience, and yeah, still those moments shock me. I even know when they're coming now, but they still shock me and scare me. There's some very precious gore moments in there. I know that George has been up in Canada working on an unrated cut, which is gonna be crazy. [laughs]
Like George's other zombie movies, this one makes a few comments on contemporary society. In your opinion, what is this film really about?
Well, I think if you ask all of us that question, we'd all have pretty different answers. For me, stuff that I thought about a lot was the idea of making decisions on your own and not being told, or believing, the propaganda. You've got to understand, the time we were shooting this, the US presidential election was taking place. It was just so hard for anyone to have their own idea or their own opinion without being influenced by the publicity machines of each of the parties, the spin of someone's opinion in the newspaper or CNN. The whole thing is not targeted for the individual to make up his own mind. Everyone's being influenced by different things. So that was a major thing for me because my character tends to want to go against the grain and say, "I'm trying to work out what I think." That was kind of what it was about for me.
Are there plans for a Land of the Dead sequel?
Yeah, there's an option for a second one. Who knows what's going on inside George's head? He's probably got things already put together with ideas and stuff. He's mysterious. He's Mr. Mysterioso. He doesn't really let too much on. He's really a special guy. I think there's obviously room for it. I like the movie a lot, that's why I saw it twice. And I'm a pretty harsh critic. There's not much stuff that I've done that I was like, "I'm gonna go and see that again" a week later. And I actually want to see it again. I like seeing it with an audience. It's a different type of movie to see because universally, people within the theater have a similar reaction, and they come down from that reaction at the same time. And I'll tell you, it's kind of nice to be in a theater like that and feel the presence of the rest of the audience.