We continue our chat with some of the cast of Night of the Animated Dead, an animated remake of the George A. Romero classic, presented by The Long Game in association with Hemisphere Entertainment, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Here we discuss the project with Josh Duhamel (Harry Cooper) and Katee Sackhoff (Judy).
The film includes never-before-seen scenes and is now available on digital and Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack.
Deanna Destito: So are you a big Romero and horror fan?
Katee Sackhoff: I respect the genre. Let me put it that way. I remember watching this film when I was way too young probably. I think I was in junior high. I should not have been allowed to watch it. I don’t think I was allowed to watch it and I think I had nightmares forever. So I think that my fascination with this is the creativity and the imagination that created these characters in what we know zombies to be. By the time I watched it, the film had been out for over 20 years and going on 30, actually. And to see how a movie in 1968 could influence film is just absolutely amazing. I think that’s what struck me from the original, and just to be a part of it was really cool.
Destito: Did you feel any pressure because it is such an iconic film or just excitement all around?
Sackhoff: I think excitement all around. I’m always a little nervous every time I play a new character. And for this one, she’s in and she’s out so fast. You want to make sure that she blends in well and isn’t jarring but adds to the story.
Destito: Judy, you said yourself, is in and out. She doesn’t say or do a lot. You’ve played very strong leader characters and she’s really not the leader in this one.
Sackhoff: No, absolutely not. She’s very different than I’d like to think that I would be in the same situation. Or at least the characters I play.
Destito: Your characters have always been very strong and she’s a little bit more reserved. She’s scared and tense. How did you have to change your approach to such a different character?
Sackhoff: I think for me one of the things that I love so much about voiceover work is the way that you’re able to manipulate the emotion in the voice to convey certain things and change a character and beats for the audience. And I love that. I think it’s absolutely so much fun and the challenge of playing a character that’s so different from the women that I normally play is really cool.
Destito: Now with voiceover, you obviously don’t have your body either. How does that change? Because everything has to be in your voice. We can’t see you.
Sackhoff: Absolutely. It’s one of the things that I love so much about it. How do you convey fear and sort of that reservation? How do you convey all that in the box of the dialogue so the audience knows exactly what you’re thinking? That is so much fun. I tell actors consistently that if you want to be a better live action actor, you need to do voiceover work. You have to because it teaches you how to manipulate your voice and relax your face and not rely necessarily on a visual emotion to convey something in live action.
Destito: So now switching to another character who is a little bit closer to what we know you from, but it is still a little different. Poison Ivy in Batman. Yeah, she’s a bit of a badass, but she’s got a sultriness to her. How does that influence your approach?
Sackhoff: So that’s a little different. It’s almost harder because you’re trying to then convey something completely different, a very different emotion, if you will, and elicit a completely different response from the audience. And so you just play with it. You play with it, you trust the person giving you direction. That’s huge. But she is very different.
You know, one of the things that I love about the women that I play, and I do think that every woman, including Judy, they’re all complicated. I love playing complicated women that are not just what you see. And that’s really important to me. And Poison Ivy is the exact thing. I just find her to be incredibly complicated.
Destito: There are going to be opinions about a remake of this, even an animated one. Do you pay attention to fan reactions?
Sackhoff: I don’t pay attention anymore. There’s too much. And the onslaught is too rapid. I think that sometimes, you know, as artists, the best thing to do is to give it everything you have, do the best that you can, and then let it go. And whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be, and you can’t change it after the fact. And if it resonates, it does. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. And there’s nothing you can do about it. And I think that art is very subjective. There’s always going to be someone somewhere that hates you. You just have to let it go.
Destito: Do you miss going to the shows and meeting those fans in person?
Sackhoff: I do because here’s the thing. And this is the beautiful thing. I love going to sci-fi conventions. They have very, very drastically changed the way that they are run for better and for worse during this pandemic. I love them. I love the interaction with the fans. I love it so much because I have a career because people don’t go to see the things that I’m in. It wouldn’t exist without that. And so it is really important to me.
That being said, it’s also very, very difficult for someone to be critical to your face. And so I think that I would much rather have somebody critique my work to my face than over social media because I think that it’s just too easy to be cruel. I think that people would think twice about the things that they say if they actually had to say it if we were on a panel, you know what I mean?
Destito: That’s a good point. And there’s safety behind the screen for sure.
Sackhoff: Yeah, absolutely. We were never meant to know what everyone in the world thinks about us.
Destito: You’ve taken on a couple of roles that are remakes or there was an older version, and you’ve done it again in your own way. Is there any role that you haven’t done or that hasn’t even been thought of yet that you would like to do?
Sackhoff: Oh, my God. There are so many. I’ve always wanted to remake Die Hard and just be Bruce Willis. I grew up wanting to be Bruce Willis and save the Nakatomi Tower. I would put together cardboard boxes as a little kid, and wear my dad’s white tank tops and crawl through boxes with candy cigarettes. I wanted to be him. And I think it probably influenced a lot of my career.
Destito: I know the candy cigarettes you’re talking about.
Sackhoff: They even said Lucky on them I think. And they even had a little bit of powder that blew out and looked like smoke. I thought I was so cool.
Destito: Last question. We kind of mentioned it before. Do you really think you’d be strong in a zombie apocalypse or would you be huddled in the corner crying?
Sackhoff: You know, I honestly don’t know. It depends on what kind of zombies we’re talking about. Are we talking like, World War Z zombies? Because that would be like, hell, no, they just move too fast. But if we’re talking about zombies that are a little slower. They might not be very smart. I think I’d be fine. I mean, I do have some training under my belt here. There are certain things that I feel accomplished in. I could fly a fighter jet. I think I could kill aliens. So if we ever have that problem and we go to space, I could do that. I think I could be a sniper.
Destito: So if we have an alien invasion or zombies, we need to call you.
Sackhoff: You got to know what you’re good at and what your role is, because people are crazy and you have to earn your keep.
Destito: How was it stepping into this film and this role?
Josh Duhamel: I thought that it was an interesting idea to take something that was kind of the original zombie film and recreate it in an animated fashion. I watched the original before we went in and did it, and it was such an old movie, and they did it on almost no money. And so to be able to go in and do the animated version of this yet still maintain that same tone that the original had, but at the same time, you’ve got more at your fingertips as far as blood and gore, and you can enhance some of those scenes that maybe Romero didn’t have a chance to do back then. But they still sort of paid homage to him and the tone that he set back then, which was so creepy and psychological and frustrating almost to watch because you just so badly want them to get away. And there’s nothing they can do, even though these things seem so slow and not that dangerous. But they just keep coming. And there’s something that’s just…yuck. It’s your worst nightmare.
Destito: Is this the first time you really watched this movie, or have you seen the series prior to this project?
Duhamel: I think I’d seen it a long time ago, but I just watched it a little bit more closely this time because it was something that we were actually recreating. I watched through a different lens than the first time I saw it. This was the original zombie movie. And you can see why this particular genre has lasted so long because there is this helpless feeling that you get watching it that’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.
Destito: Are you a horror fan?
Duhamel: Somewhat. I don’t go out and see every one of the horror films that come out. If it’s meant just to shock and scare and gross you out, not really my thing, but I am a fan of films like The Shining and The Conjuring and Slenderman and things like that because there’s something psychological about them. There’s something artistic about them. And I think that that’s really what I find more scary than something that’s just meant to make you jump.
Destito: So let’s talk about your character. Besides the zombies he’s kind of the antagonist. He doesn’t want to do what Ben is doing. But when you look at him, he is trying to protect his family. How do you approach a character like that?
Duhamel: A bad guy doesn’t see himself as a bad guy. He sees himself as the hero really. And if you put yourself in his shoes, he’s dealing with something he’s never seen before, this terrifying sort of alternative being. Are they human? Are they not human? Are they alive or dead? Are they possessed? You’ve never seen something like this, and now you’re dealing with it. You’re trying to face it and overcome it and just get through the night.
And his daughter may or may not be infected by this, and he’s doing everything he can to keep them safe. So if you’re looking out through that lens, you can understand why he is the way he is. Maybe not the best version of himself in this movie, but he’s doing the best he can to keep himself and his family safe. I think that, you know, to me, I didn’t see him as an antagonist. He’s just a guy who’s under a lot of duress and trying to figure it out like anyone else.
Destito: What did you bring to this role that might have been specifically you that the original role didn’t have? Or did you try to keep it as true to the 1968 film as you could?
Duhamel: No, I mostly just tried to keep it. Obviously, I watch the original just to feel the tone of what they were trying to do. And so I guess that would be all that I drew from the original Harry. I just tried to play this character as realistically as I could, considering the situation. And that was it. Apparently, I just found out that I was the first one to record. I had to somehow imagine what everybody else is doing. That’s the difficult thing about these things.
And you don’t have a set and other actors to work off of. You don’t have actual zombies beating down the door. There’s nothing to play off of. You have to create this whole thing in your head. And so my thing was just putting myself mentally in that place and just working from there.
Destito: Did you find this a bigger challenge because you were isolated. Did you have to approach how your character differently than you would if you were in front of the camera?
Duhamel: Yeah, for sure. It’s harder in a lot of ways. It’s easier [because] you don’t have to go through the hair and makeup. You don’t have to deal with all the camera setups and everything else. You have to keep going and record it. But at the same time, you have to still deliver a performance that’s believable and impactful to whoever is viewing it. The hard part is just sort of letting your imagination run wild and just sort of creating this world and just work from that.
Destito: If you were in a zombie apocalypse, which character do you think you would be most like?
Duhamel: I definitely identify more with Ben than I do with Harry. It’s only because I feel if we’re just talking strictly, do we stay upstairs or do we go down the cellar? Some people argue that they would have survived if they stayed the cellar. But if you can take them on at the front door, and if you have to retreat to the cellar, then that’s what you do. But I would be the guy trying to take them out one by one before they get across the threshold rather than let them come to me. I think that’s what I would do.
Destito: You don’t know until you’re in that situation, right? If your panic kicks in.
Duhamel: Yeah. Hopefully, I don’t have to deal with the zombie apocalypse.
Destito: How do you feel about taking on these animated roles?
Duhamel: I actually enjoy it because as an actor, it forces you to rely on your voice. And oftentimes I think the mistake actors make is not using their voice because it’s on camera stuff, because it’s such a visual medium that your voice is as important as anything visual that you’re doing, in my opinion. Because so much is conveyed in your words, in the inflection, and everything else that you use. And it’s an instrument that sort of forces you. So imagine if you’re deaf, your vision is enhanced or if you’re blind, you’re hearing and your taste and everything else is enhanced. This forces you to sort of focus purely on your voice regardless of what you’re doing physically.
Destito: What other role would you like to recreate?
Duhamel: I’m going to say…to recreate any character, it’d be something like, oh, God, I don’t know. Honestly, I would love to do something like what Tom Hanks did in Cast Away. That to me would be really fun. To really test what you would do physically if you’re left to survive on your own. Something like that would be really fun because I would really try to get into when you’re broken down psychologically, how do you react? How do you survive? Even though I could never compete with what Tom Hanks did in Cast Away that would be something I would love to try to do or a version of that.
Watch the trailer for Night of the Animated Dead here!