Rich Howells

ARCHIVES: Surviving the ‘Dead’ – ‘Walking Dead’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’ stars Infect Scranton Sept. 20-22

ARCHIVES: Surviving the ‘Dead’ – ‘Walking Dead’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’ stars Infect Scranton Sept. 20-22
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Two years ago, a friend told actor Vincent Ward that he should be on AMC’s hit TV series “The Walking Dead.”

“Why would I want to be on a show about zombies?” he replied. “A year later, I’m on a show about zombies.”

Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Ward was a basketball star and a dancer in a rap group before catching the acting bug after watching a play.

“I fell in love with it that day. That day I told myself, “I can do that,” and the following week, I went and auditioned and I got a part with that same play company. I never even thought about acting ever,” he recalled in an interview with NEPA Scene just after an audition.

“I think it was more of how the audience reacted, that quick reaction for the audience. I always felt like I’ve had the entertainment bug in me.”

After moving to Los Angeles, where he has resided for 13 years, he has earned roles in films like “Traffic” and “Ocean’s Eleven” and TV shows like “The Wire” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” noting that the hardest part of the industry is just not giving up.

“I’ve had friends that moved out here and they couldn’t cut it or they didn’t have enough patience, man. Another hard thing is having patience. You have to be patient,” he advised.

Though he looked at it as “just another audition,” Ward got a major break when he tried out for the character of Oscar in the third season of “The Walking Dead,” a part shrouded in secrecy at the time. The character was called “Mouse” to avoid leaks to the press.

“The character of Mouse was just like my character, Oscar, and Oscar is just like Vincent, to be honest with you. I was really and truly playing myself. When they pulled a gun on me, I’ve had a gun pulled out on me twice – once by somebody I knew! And I didn’t plead for my life then, neither time,” he emphasized.

“I don’t even read the entire script; I just read my part. I go through the script and I look for Oscar or whoever I’m playing and I focus on that.”

He hadn’t even seen the record-breaking series until his fourth episode, but he loved every minute of his time on set.

“Even though at that time I was staying like an hour away from where we were filming, every day I would drive – I don’t care if it was 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning – I would drive with a smile on my face because I felt like I was a part of something, you know, even though I really didn’t know what ‘The Walking Dead’ was,” Ward explained.

“Everybody that’s in prison isn’t a bad guy; they just made a mistake, and that’s what happened with my character. I had a wife, I had kids – I got caught stealing, once, and that’s how I ended up in prison… That’s why I say Oscar is very close to how Vincent is, or Vincent is very close to how Oscar is. I’m not saying I’ve been in jail, but I just think they thought a lot alike and I was basically just being myself.”

He wasn’t the only one invested in his character during Ward’s often intense scenes. In a showdown with star Andrew Lincoln, who plays group leader Rick Grimes, Lincoln took the scene a bit too far.

“Andy was so hyped up he kicked me! He kicked me in the stomach and I didn’t even know what the hell to do. I got pissed!” he said with a laugh. “As soon as it was over, he’s like, ‘Vince, I am so sorry! I don’t even know what I was thinking about!’”

And while the zombie apocalypse scenario may be fake, the action is very real, as both Ward and Norman Reedus, who portrays fan-favorite Daryl Dixon, discovered.

“When Norman has the knife to my neck, it was a real knife and he didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Let’s go – just don’t press it against me.’”

After starring in seven episodes, it was Ward’s death scene during a gunfight with an opposing survivor group, though, that was the most difficult to shoot.

“I was sad. I was really and truly sad. It was for a couple reasons: one, because I wasn’t going to be around anymore to be around my fellow co-stars, and I had become close to them as far as like being on the set and working with them. Everybody was so professional all the time and I loved it. There was no egos. There wasn’t no, ‘I’m the lead and you’re not.’ There wasn’t any of that, even behind the scenes,” Ward said.

“Two, it was sad, but I have to admit, I was also a little angry about the situation for the simple fact that it’s like OK, yeah, I know it’s called ‘The Walking Dead’ and you never know who’s going to go, but I think my death could have been a lot better than what it was.

“And then when I read an interview with [creator] Robert Kirkman and somebody asked him, ‘Well why did Oscar have to die?’ and his answer was, ‘Because we didn’t want him to kick the Governor’s ass,’ that really pissed me off. That was a bogus excuse, a bogus reason to me.”

Ward was also not invited to be a guest on the live after-show “Talking Dead” and refers to the end of his role as “bittersweet.”

“Give [Oscar] an opportunity to really go ahead and do something. He’s proved himself, he showed that he’s strong and got your back, so why not let him be around a little longer? And then even with Twitter and Facebook, one thing I hate and I can’t control is when somebody calls me T-Dog 2.0 or the token black guy because a lot of fans have brought to my attention or asked why can’t they have more than one black guy on the show at a time. And I never even thought about that until it happened to me,” he pointed out.

“It was like OK, T-Dog is dead, here’s Vincent. OK, then kill Vincent, here’s Tyreese. I think whoever’s behind the scenes really and truly need to look at that because the fans are starting to look at that and a lot of black people are starting to look at that.

“Who knows what’s going to happen with Oscar? They didn’t show me get shot in the head, so who knows?”

The 42-year-old said he “had a great time” despite this, and it’s opened up many other doors since, even leading to an unlikely friendship with co-star Lew Temple, who will be appearing with Ward at Infect Scranton this weekend.

“That’s my brother from another mother, man. Lew is a great guy, and I probably never had chemistry with somebody like this, on the set and off the set. You would think me and Lew have been friends for years. We call ourselves the new Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, and I told him, ‘Somebody’s going to give us a spinoff or our own show,’ because our chemistry is on-point. We’re talking about trying to do something together, but we’ll see,” he said.

Ward has since traded in his prison jumpsuit for a suit and tie, which he is often seen in at conventions, but what would the up-and-coming actor do if zombies were real? Arm himself with an ax or tire iron and pray.

“Just watching over my shoulder a lot, just like we did on ‘The Walking Dead.’ I would just be praying. That’s it. Praying with whatever weapon I have and just be ready to go to war to protect me and mine.”

Behind the rotting flesh

Mike Christopher
Film: “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
Character: Hare Krishna Zombie

NEPA SCENE: How did you end up being cast as a zombie?

MIKE CHRISTOPHER: I was in a theatrical rock band named Fluid. We had a space-themed stage show. I had a bald head as part of my character. [Director] George [Romero] was looking for some zombies that would be different than blue jeans and plaid shirts. He especially wanted something different for my part because since I was the zombie who discovered the hideout in the mall.

NS: Did you have any say in your appearance or costume or your on-screen death?

MC: I didn’t even read the script when I showed up for my scenes. Everything I did was done on one take… George wanted every zombie to make up his own character.

NS: What was shooting your death scene like?

MC: It was over in an instant. One minute I was grasping at Fran’s legs dangling in front of me…next instant Roger was coming at me with a rifle butt to the head.

NS: How do you prepare to play a zombie?

MC: I got a sick feeling in my stomach like I was going to puke then tried to maintain that feeling all through my scenes.

NS: How do you think your character became a zombie?

MC: I have thought of a backstory for my character but I don’t have the financing to pull off the movie since it would have to be shot in the ‘70s.

NS: How long did a typical day of makeup and shooting take?

MC: My makeup is easy – gray all over and a knot of hair coming out the top of my head. Takes about 45 minutes to blend it even. I had three days shooting, two in the mall which went like this: Get to the mall after it closes around 9 p.m. Sit in a room full of people turning into zombies by the makeup people. Sit around drinking coffee all night until someone frantically runs into the room saying, “I need you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, and you. Follow me.” Everyone gets into place in the mall until George says “action,” then we shamble around until he yells “cut,” then we go back into the room and wait until someone runs frantically back into the room again!

NS: What was going through your mind during your scenes?

MC: Why didn’t someone think about the hot sulfur sparks falling on the floor that are burning the soles of my feet?

NS: Do people ever recognize you outside of your makeup?

MC: Only one time about two years ago. I was in a bar in Ybor City and a guy was having his birthday party there. He came over and asked me if I was the Hare Krishna Zombie from “Dawn of the Dead.” I gave him an autograph on a small picture I usually have with me and he was thrilled.

Sharon Ceccatti-Hill
Film: “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
Character: Nurse Zombie

NEPA SCENE: How did you end up being cast as a zombie?

SHARON CECCATTI-HILL: My husband, Clayton, and I, who was the featured lead Escalator Sweater Zombie, were doing stage work (operettas) at the Pittsburgh Playhouse when we heard George Romero was looking for talent for his upcoming movie to be shot in and around Pittsburgh. We both interviewed with George with portfolio in hand of our singing and dancing photos for consideration. We both were cast as lead zombies and to be credited as such.

NS: Were you a horror movie fan before playing a zombie or was this genre new to you?

SCH: This genre was all new to me! I had no idea what a zombie was! George just laughed.

NS: Did you have any say in your appearance or costume?

SCH: There was a nurse’s outfit in wardrobe. He said he wanted me to wear that. With having no blood applied to it, he wanted to feature me pure-looking, so I could stand out.

NS: How long did a typical day of makeup and shooting take?

SCH: My makeup didn’t take that long, since I only needed to apply to my hands, face, and neck. My hair took the longest. I had to have grease throughout my hair… Actually, John Amplas who was a raider and also “Martin” [another Romero film] at the time was responsible for taking control of my look… We shot most of the scenes at Monroeville Mall, which is east of the city, from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Long hours but not unusual for shooting a film.

NS: How do you prepare to play a zombie?

SCH: The way I prepared to play a zombie was to always stay in character no matter what the scene. I would get into my zombie by feeling I was dead – not really sure how that is – but to look dazed. I would walk slowly, roll my eyes to the back of my head with arms extended, looking for human flesh. At that point, I just wanted to survive.

NS: How do you think your character became a zombie?

SCH: I am assuming my role became a zombie from all the long hours working as a nurse and dying due to stress. And no, I never was a real nurse working in a hospital in Pittsburgh.

NS: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

SCH: I would like to mention my husband, who passed away four years ago, who cannot be with us, but only in spirit… His name is Clayton D. Hill. He was known for his funny stint on the escalator going up backwards. The look on his face is surreal. He also was featured. He was the weapons coordinator on the film. He loaded and unloaded all the weapons that were fired. He would collect the used shell casings after the scene was shot, put them in a bag, and go to the next scene. He saved these empty shell casings. After all these years, he put them to use. I sell them at conventions. They are enclosed in a case with his autograph. It was the last signature he did.

Travis Charpentier
TV show: “The Walking Dead”
Characters: Zombified Shawn Greene, RV Walker (Screwdriver Zombie)

NEPA SCENE: How did you end up getting cast as a zombie?

TRAVIS CHARPENTIER: I got extremely lucky with the casting. I had just moved near Atlanta with some friends and they told me to apply for extra work on TV and film. They told me it was about $300 a day and it would help me put up rent money while looking for a stable real job. They gave me the e-mail to apply and boom, I got cast for the first scene of the very first episode and it took off from there.

NS: Did you have any say in your appearance or costume or your on-screen death?

TC: I honestly had no say in what I was put in but Eulyn, the wardrobe coordinator for set, has this great insight to each person’s style and which outfits would flow with whom they were on. My on-screen death for the most part is just complete direction from the producers and director. In the RV Walker death, I was asked to improvise and throw a bit of my own into it, which was pretty fun and they actually liked it and used it in the show.

NS: What was it like shooting your death scenes?

TC: Honestly, it was nerve-racking. I started out worrying how well I’d be able to do the scene and remembering movements. But when the cameras are rolling and it’s time to film the shot, I kind of slip directly into the role and just react naturally. If I’m shot in the leg, I instinctively limp or drag it. It’s all about just giving yourself over to the thought of becoming what you’re trying to convey, and once I did that, it was very liberating and freeing and made the scene incredible to shoot.

NS: How do you prepare to play a zombie?

TC: We did go to zombie school, which is where we learned the basic shuffle and responses. But it’s really an individual study. You make it a apart of who you are and think about the backstory of your walker. Were you a business man, did you have kids, where and what were you doing when you turned? There’s a lot of things to prepare for it, and it’s a great way to keep each walker different from the next.

NS: Do people ever recognize you outside of your makeup?

TC: It hasn’t been until recently that people have recognized me outside of makeup, but it’s actually pretty funny when they ask or freak out. I still haven’t grasped that I’m a small celebrity. I see these people fangirling and I’m just like, “I work at Target and barely make even. I’m not spectacular,” but when I see how excited they are when they meet me, it makes my day.

NS: What is it like having your head immortalized as a DVD box set?

TC: It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I know it’s there, I know I’m in so many houses, but I just brush it off. I guess they used the mold they made of my head for the role to make the box set, so I really had no idea until they announced it, and that was a shock. It’s pretty awesome when I’m out and about and I see someone with it and I laugh and point saying, “Hey, that’s my head!”

Jim Krut
Film: “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
Character: Helicopter Zombie

NEPA SCENE: How did you end up being cast as a zombie?

JIM KRUT: Well, Tom Savini, who did all the makeup and special effects for “Dawn” asked me. Tom and I had gone to college together at Point Park University and we also worked in theater together… We’d been in touch and kind of been friends for a long time. I was living in
Pittsburgh at the time and I ran into Tom and he said, “I’ve got this great role for you in a George Romero movie.”

NS: How long did it take to put your makeup on?

JK: I went to Tom’s place. We did makeup sessions in his workshop. We did complete head casts, twice, when you have plaster just slathered all over your face and then you’re breathing through a straw for about 20 minutes ‘til it hardens. That was the technology at the time, so things got a little easier over time. The first one cracked, so a few days later, I had to go back and do it again but it was probably over a two-week period to get the prosthetics and the makeup things together.

NS: What was shooting your death scene like?

JK: It was me and the blocks – there was no dummy head, and I should say that the helicopter blades were cut in afterward. The engine was running on the helicopter, and you have all the anticipation with the music. You sort of kind of guess what might be coming next, but as far as the top coming off, I was a couple of boxes standing up higher. The makeup prosthetic piece on top of my head was, I don’t know, an inch and half or something like that high, and then that was cut into chunks and threaded together with monofilament line, so it looked like it was one complete piece, but then from off camera at the right moment, somebody yanked on a piece of monofilament line attached to that piece on top of my head. That then flew off. The blood came from two guys behind the boxes using hand pumps with tubes going up through the back of my trousers and shirt and into the top of the head. One of those guys was Tom Savini.

NS: What was Savini and Romero’s direction to you during your scene?

JK: Tom Savini said, “Hey, I want you to be like a zombie.” “OK.” … I said, “Tom, I haven’t been to any of the other scenes. I haven’t seen any of the other zombies. Is there a particular thing I’m supposed to do? He said, “Well, you just kind of be like a zombie,” and so your imagination takes over. I said, “Well do they talk? Do they yell or moan or do anything like that?” He said, “You can do whatever you want to do.” So I did some moaning.

NS: What was it like playing such an iconic zombie?

JK: I always wondered, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a character like Dracula, an iconic kind of character?” and so when it came to having an opportunity to do a role in a film that was a pretty much a standalone role, I definitely wanted to give it my all. I was certainly delighted with the response

NS: Did you know just how important this film would become?

JK: If you go back and ask anybody who was in “Dawn of the Dead,” “Did you think this was going to be a huge sensation and popular across the world even today?” they would have said, “No, I’m just making a movie.” They had no idea. For me, I don’t know about that.

Infect Scranton: Sept. 20-22

Rates as they are listed on the website (some fees may apply):

VIP Survivor: $50
Ultimate Survivor: $199.99
Official Infect Scranton T-shirt: $15; $20 for XXL and larger
Saturday General Admission: $25
Sunday General Admission: $20
General Admission Weekend Pass: $40
Weekend Family Pass: $70
Sunday Ticket, Free T-shirt: $20

Zombie kick-off

The weekend’s festivities will begin with the Undead Fed, a world record-breaking attempt that will also help out a local charity. Dress up as a zombie and join the Infect Scranton team on Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Mall at Steamtown and bring a non-perishable food item. The goal is to have as many zombies as possible in one place, while also collecting goods for the Scranton Rescue Mission.

Travis Love, one of the Governor’s henchmen on “The Walking Dead,” will be on hand for free photos and autographs.

All participants must register online, though tickets are free. They’re just required as proof of a total number for the Guinness World Record folks.

Afterward, be sure to put that zombie costume to good use and hit up the zombie pub crawl, which will travel through several establishments in downtown Scranton starting at 9 p.m.

The big race

The Zombie Survivor challenge is a zombie-infested 5K (3.1-mile) obstacle course that will be held at Montage Mountain.

Runners will carry their “lives” on their belts. During the race, participants will avoid zombies (both shamblers that hang about in an assigned place and hypers that actually run the course starting five minutes after the humans), tackle obstacles both man-made and natural and try to survive.

There is an added element this year, as Luzerne County Paintball will have a special obstacle (that has the option of being skipped). Runners will be provided (from a stationary position, after putting on safety goggles) a weapon with only three rounds (paintballs). Runners will have to hit targets. If you don’t have three successful shots, you have the potential of losing one life before proceeding on the course.

First wave starts at 10 a.m. with waves following every 15 minutes. Participants must be 14-years-old on the day of the race.

All race participants will receive the following as part of their experience:

1. A super cool, high-quality performance running T-shirt.

2. A medal (survivor or infected) to use when bragging to your friends.

3. Having a celebrity (from “The Walking Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and more) actually greet you at the finish line and present your medal.

4. A pretzel dog, soda, and bag of chips.

5. Admission to the Green Zone (party area and where the beer will flow from nice cold taps).

6. Admission to the Infect Scranton convention.

Race proceeds will go to efforts to build a children’s splash park in Taylor Borough.

From the Archives reprints articles and photos that were published before this website was established and backdates them to their original publication date to preserve a little local history.