Jun 5, 2012


Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (review here) is just one of the latest films released by the infamously prolific Asylum Films. While the film isn't perfect, it is among the mini studio's best releases in their ten year history. 

The film, whose release preempts that of the bigger-budgeted Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by almost a month, is a heavily inspired tale of our sixteenth president forced to fight legions of the undead. In this case, the film replaces one mythical creature with another – from vampires to zombies – who Lincoln decapitates with great vengeance and furious anger. It stars fan favorite Bill Oberst, Jr. in the title role, as well as a supporting cast of relative unknowns. Among the cast is Christopher Marrone, who sports a caterpillar mustache and Civil War-era garb to play Pat Garrett, historically famous for the assassination of outlaw William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid. Chris was nice enough to share his experiences on the film, as well as his career, his views on the current state of horror, and what he has lined up in the future.

Was there a turning point in your life where you knew you wanted to be an actor? Was it a particular film or filmmaker? Or did you simply always have that desire?

I don’t know if there was a particular turning point exactly, because I was raised by two former actors. My father and mother met in New York while doing an off-Broadway play. I grew up with stories from both of them and knew at a young age that I wanted to be involved with the film business.

Were your parents involved in anything that might sound familiar to our readers? Did they take part in features or television, or did they strictly perform on the stage?

My mother was mainly a theater actor, her true love was the stage. I know she auditioned for film and TV, but with her voice and ability, she was meant for [the stage]. My father was also a theater actor, but he began to make his way into film and television. He was a big guy and worked as a security specialist for film executives and the talent, so it put him right in front of the people you'd want to meet. Being a talented actor and making healthy friendships with these people led to him working pretty consistently within TV/film. Some notable projects are Woody Allen's segment for New York Stories, "Miami Vice," and Men of Respect (starring John Turturro).

Because both of your parents are actors, how often does it turn into acting school at home? Do you all compare notes and swap advice? Have you ever dared critique a performance by either of them?

My parents were great about my upbringing when it came to the entertainment business, so it didn't turn into an acting school so much, but whenever we watched films and TV shows, they shared their input and commentary on the stronger talent in the project. I don't know if they knew at the time, but I believe subconsciously I was taking notes on who they talked about, and why they came across better on screen. I don't think that thought has ever crossed my mind until you brought it up.

Growing up, I was still able to see them perform on stage for some of my youth, and from what I remember they did a damn good job.

What was your first professional acting experience?

What I consider to be my FIRST professional experience was working on “Field of Vision” for NBC. I played a high school football player, which was amusing to me, because I had just gotten done playing college football… [and now I was] portraying a high school football player on screen.

You have spent time on both television and feature film productions. What would you say is the difference between the two, if any?

I feel like the difference is more with time. With television, usually one episode is 7-10 days of shooting, so there is this sense of pressure when the week is coming to an end. They obviously map it out in scheduling to work, but it still doesn't stop that feeling [of pressure]. With film, it’s not as “turn and burn,” so to speak, but more of a longer effort…but there's still a sense of urgency, as you only have the window of time to get what you can get during principal photography. I’m a fan of both styles of production, so if it’s strictly film for myself here on out I am fine with that, and if I land a re-occurring role on a TV show, I will be just as happy.

How did you come to be involved with The Asylum’s Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies?

Darla Clarkson. That is how. Darla is a local casting director here in Atlanta. I had originally submitted for a film she was involved with about a month before Lincoln vs. Zombies came along. Darla and I met, which went really well, and she told me she would keep me at top of her list of actors. She was offered casting director by The Asylum for Lincoln vs. Zombies and then my phone rang. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if it were not for her. Granted, I still had to audition, but for a casting director to be a fan of yours, it truly goes a long way in this business.

Over the years, The Asylum has developed a divisive, love-them-or-hate-them reputation across the Internet, inspired by their history of releasing what’s become known as “mockbusters.” Were you aware of this reputation before becoming involved with the film? If so, did that make you hesitant at all to join the production?

Prior to doing Lincoln vs. Zombies, I wasn’t fully aware of who The Asylum was...until I looked into the films they had done in the past; then I knew. I was not as much hesitant, but there was more of a “let me stop and think” mentality, as one should have with any project. I called up my family, I called up my mentor (Patrick 'P-nut' Monroe), and I called my agency. I wanted to take the role immediately, but knew I needed to think it out no matter what. Needless to say, I was happy with the decision I made, and am happy with how the film turned out.

How much research did you perform for your role as Pat Garrett, known as assassinating the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid? Did you learn anything about him that surprised you?

I did look into Pat Garrett the moment I found out I got the role. I had about a week prior to filming to research him. Much of the Pat Garrett we know is as a bad-ass lawman, and for his killing of Billy the Kid. That really allowed me to portray him in my own way – because I was a younger Pat Garrett – and not exactly emulate him based on history, or other actors who have played him, so I really enjoyed that. I did find pictures of a young Pat Garrett and I seriously believe that man had that mustache even when he left the womb.

What was it like to work with Bill Oberst Jr., who plays Lincoln in the film?

Bill Oberst, Jr. is an amazing actor, person, and a friend. The first day of filming with Bill was the scene with Garret and Lincoln’s “walk & talk.” We rehearsed the scene outside the room we were to film in, and the moment we got done rehearsing, the first thing out of his mouth was a compliment of my acting abilities. I was really humbled by that moment and he went over a few tips that have helped his performances come across a lot stronger, which I immediately made note of. I enjoyed every day on set with Bill and really hope to work with him again in the future.

In a recent interview with Oberst, Jr., he explained his approach to the role, in that Lincoln, when performed correctly, is and always will be Lincoln. Whether Lincoln’s on the moon, or wherever else, an actor must approach him as if he is the real Lincoln finding himself in an outlandish situation. He said: “I used to tour with first-person stage portrayals; Jesus Of Nazareth, Mark Twain, JFK… sometimes I’d be in a gym; sometimes on a huge stage; sometimes in a community center. But if the character is present, the historical anomalies don’t matter.” For this film, the Lincoln that history has always held was plucked down into this situation and we’re observing how Lincoln would have responded—in this case, to the walking dead. Was this mindframe something you experienced yourself when working alongside Oberst, Jr., and was this also something that made its way into your own performance?

Bill brought an element to that performance that I feel rubbed off on all of the cast that he shared screen time with. I took it upon myself after Day 1, doing our scene together, to pick his brain and see what wisdom I could gain from him. I made sure not to allow any distractions cloud my performance as much as I could. I am a huge gamer so working on Lincoln vs. Zombies was like a new land, in an RPG, and I walked away with a few points to add to my "Skill Tree of Acting Abilities."

How did you and the cast/crew approach the film, knowing it had been largely inspired by the better-known Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which releases this month?

The cast bonded quickly and knew we wanted to achieve something different for this film. The ability to compete with a multi-million dollar film was just not possible with the budget we had, so we knew not to approach it as a competition. Instead, the approach I felt on set from the cast was a “co-existing” mentality with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It’s like a heavyweight and a middleweight within the world of fighting—those two should never fight each other; yet, they are both still fighters, so they treat each other with that type of co-existing respect. That is, in my opinion, how these two films should be looked at: we fight in the same ring and fight the same fight…we just don't fight each other. So, let’s not say one is better than the other, but let’s say they both put up a great fight and deserve respect.

What was your overall experience on the film?

I really enjoyed working this movie and believe that doors will open for all of us involved. I made some life-long friends off this set and met some people who were able to share wisdom that I plan to utilize as I move forward with my career.

Was there ever a moment on set where you just kind of took in all your surroundings and laughed to yourself at the kind of movie you were making? If so, what was it that you saw, or heard, or experienced that made you realize the oddball movie you were making? 

There was that moment, yes. I don't believe the scene made it into the final cut, but there was a scene being filmed where Lincoln beheads a child zombie, and at that moment I was like, "That just happened." Then a couple days after that, one of the couples playing some zombies had their one-year-old with them. They actually asked if they could make their baby a zombie and have it crawling after Lincoln. This all happened in the make-up room, which I was in, and [this idea] was being considered. In the back of my mind I formulated this zombie-baby crawling after Lincoln with a finger in its mouth. I believe the zombie baby idea was considered, but ultimately not used. I do think about how funny that would have been to see on film.

Would you consider yourself a fan of horror? If so, what are your favorites?

I am very much a fan of horror films. I always find myself watching a horror film frequently throughout the week right before I go to bed. Some of my favorites would have to be Insidious, Saw, Fire in the Sky, The Thing, Jaws, The Ring, and there are many more to go along with that list.

Are there any particular “new” horror filmmakers you’re especially enthusiastic about?

I am a fan of James Wan and the horror films he has made. I am a big fan of Insidious and Saw and what he did with those films. I think he is only getting better at his craft and would love to work with him some time.

I would agree. I think Insidious especially shows that James Wan is capable of providing genuine scares and creating genuinely creepy imagery – it’s so opposite of Saw, which was/is a very visceral and graphic experience. Another filmmaker with a similar agenda is Ti West. He’s a master at slow burn horror, a style that can sometimes turn off more the hardened, Saw-obsessed horror fan. Have you seen his previous films, The Innkeepers, or before that, House of the Devil?

I agree completely. I am all about the build up, as it really adds to the intensity one feels... not knowing when the scares are going to happen. I have not gotten a chance to see The Innkeepers yet, but I remember the trailer very clearly and that trailer freaked me out. Ti West did an amazing job scaring my ass with House of the Devil, so I am sure The Innkeepers will do the same. I know he was involved with The ABCs of Death, which is funny because I participated in a short film that was up for the competition for the letter T. Unfortunately we weren't selected, but was a fun time.

Horror comes in stages. There are always crazes that sustain the genre before the genre strangles it to death. Halloween gave us the slasher craze in the late 70s/ and most of the 80s; Scream gave us the self-aware, WB-starring, pop culture-quoting teens in the 90s; in the new millennium, Saw gave us what has been termed “torture porn,” and the remake craze seems to be finally be dying a slow death. We now seem to be in the very beginning stages of the “historical mash-up.” Do you think this is a stage that will last? If not, what do you think is next for the genre?

Hmm, that is a good question. I think the idea of an "Alternate History" is a great way for people to come up with various renditions of what could have happened. There are plenty of conspiracies out there and unexplained/undocumented time in our world's past, so the door is technically open for interpretation.

I can't put my finger on where I think the genre is moving, but I will say that films like Insidious, The Woman in Black, and I am sure The Innkeepers are showing the industry that we (the audience) can still be scared like they were during the Psycho, Jaws, and Alien days. We don't need all the gore and graphic violence. I think the real effect is when the viewer goes home from the theater and does the "not- look- into- the- room- but- move- their- hand- along- the- wall- to- find- the- light- switch" routine before entering the room. That's the real scare.

In a pre-Internet time twenty years ago, a mini studio like The Asylum would have great difficulty enjoying the kind of modest success it is currently enjoying. Do you think the Internet has changed the face of marketing low budget films? Where do you see the trend of small, grassroots marketing going into the future?

The Internet has, without a doubt, changed the face of marketing for filmmaking. The ability you have today to fund a film through sources like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, as well as promote your idea through Youtube, with the possibility of someone taking notice and wanting to put money into it…it’s phenomenal. I am a fan of the underdog, so when someone has the drive to make a film at a low budget and they are able to pull it off; well, you should, at the very least, applaud them for doing that.

How did you come to be involved in Lawless (formerly The Wettest County in the World)? Could you tell us about your role in the film?

Right before I was to work “Field of Vision,” I was speaking with my dad, getting some advice on what could I do to help myself before going into my first major role. He told me to find some work for any position, if I could, on a major motion picture that was filming in the area. When I saw that Lawless was looking for people – for crew and extras – I decided to send my stuff in to see what it would do. I got called in to work as Tom Hardy’s double, which was great because I was on set each day and able to watch the director, crew, and talent work. Also by working Lawless,  I was able to meet Patrick ‘P-Nut’ Monroe, who has become a very strong influence on my career/life and is like my other big brother.

What was your experience working with director John Hillcoat?

Working as Tom Hardy’s double put me in the same room as John Hillcoat the whole time I was on set. John Hillcoat is an amazing director and knows what he wants out of his scenes. His D.P., Benoit Delhomme, is his P.I.C (Partner In Crime) and they work very well together. Hillcoat would tell Benoit what he wanted, and Benoit would immediately come up with how to make it look beautiful on camera. It was probably one of the best parts of working on that film: watching the both of them work together.

Did you have much interaction with the primary cast?

I did, actually. There seems to be this “unwritten” rule of not talking to the cast while on set—at least that is what I was advised not to do. Now, being raised in a home like I was, there was no such thing as being “starstruck” to me, so when I was around the talent I talked to them; not much else to do when crew is setting up a shot. The cool thing was when they got to find out that I had just gotten done playing football at the University of Georgia, it opened up avenues of communication other than film talk, and knew I was just speaking to them as a normal human being. I felt like I had a very good standing with all of them: Shia LaBeouf is a real cool dude and very funny; his sense of humor is much like mine. Tom Hardy was laid back and easy to speak to, especially when it came to video games. Jason Clarke, who has a thick Australian accent, by the way, did an amazing Southern accent; it was fun to watch him perform. Jessica Chastain was one of the sweetest actresses I have met on a project; completely humble, super talented. She really loved her “Words with Friends” while on set. There was this one actor whose name I wasn’t familiar with at the time – Lew Temple – but once I got to know him while I saw him on set, [I found out] that man is one class act and an extremely down-to-earth guy. It was a pleasure getting to know him.

Did you have any interaction with the film’s screenwriter Nick Cave?

From what I remember, Nick Cave was on set for one of the days I was and he was playing a gangster who was all shot up in a vehicle. There wasn’t much interaction other than that.

What’s next for you?

Next I begin working on a new horror film, Plus One, directed by Dennis Iliadis (the Last House on the Left remake) this month. Ron Ogden, a good friend I made while working on Lincoln vs. Zombies, was also cast as one of the main roles. (That’s definitely going to be another fun time on set.) I have another film, which is about the most lawmen ever killed in the line of duty, with a leading role as Jennings Young, one of the cop killers. Then later this year I will be one of the leads in another horror film, about the spirit of a witch coming back to take her revenge on a town for her gruesome murder. There are some I can’t speak about yet, but once I am free to, I will share, and hopefully some more projects will be added to the rest of the year.

What would you consider your dream job as an actor?

I am a huge Punisher comic book fan, and if one day I got the opportunity to be Frank Castle, I would do it in a heartbeat. Other than that, every day on set is a dream come true.

If you found yourself surrounded by an army of the undead, would you want Lincoln by your side, or is there perhaps another former president who you think could kick some serious ass?

I think Lincoln would hold his own; that man could probably wrestle some of those zombies to death. Honestly, I would love to have Kennedy and Reagan. With their WWII experience and my zombie-video-game experience, we would decimate that zombie horde!

TEOS thanks Chris for his time. Fans can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies is now on video from Asylum Films.

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