Exclusive: Neil Brown Jr talks Battle Los Angeles and Walking Dead S2
|INTERVIEWS - FILM|
With The Walking Dead and World Invasion: Battle LA under his belt, Neil Brown Jr. is an expert on the apocalypse...
Neil Brown Jr. knows more than most about the end of the world. As 'Guillermo' in AMC's The Walking Dead, he's turned from a hospital janitor into a streetwise survivor and champion of the weak – and in the forthcoming World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles (in Europe: Battle Los Angeles), he's a tough marine looking to keep alien invaders out of his home turf. Here Neil takes the time to chat with us about Walking Dead season two and the March 25th release of BLA...
Did you read The Walking Dead as a comic book?
Not before the show. Somebody had told me about it – they were talking about the zombie apocalypse and how it should be made into a series, but I didn’t get to read it until after I booked the show. Then I was like, “Oh, yeah! This is awesome!”
And 'Vatos' was an episode not in the comic structure, written for TV?
Yeah, Robert Kirkman wrote it, it’s one of the ones that he wrote, but Frank Darabont was actually the one who created the character of Guillermo.
I see that Guillermo is coming back in season two...?
I can’t say! I mean, I would love to tell you, but they are still doing writes and negotiating contracts. I’m not at liberty to say. But that was my first appearance – and it looks good!
I heard there was some question on whether the writers would be returning for season two.
Well, the series was such a strong initial hit, I think they are just focused on getting the best writers possible. And there has been some talk out there of going freelance. There are just some really great writers out there, that don’t even have the opportunity... that have great stories, and don’t really get a chance. Frank [Darabont] has a way to make that work out for them, and give them an opportunity, so…
Obviously it’s a fan-based show. The fans make it what it is, and I’m sure there are tons of fans who are also writers themselves, who have some great ideas. And are in the business, some of them are. And leave it to Frank to give them an opportunity! I’m not saying that is what is going to happen, but that’s what the talk is around town. So I’m pretty excited about the scripts that are coming out! Of course they are watching everything closely, Frank and Robert [Kirkman].
So Battle: Los Angeles is the next big project you have coming out?
World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles. That’s the big one!
I saw the trailer, and it looks amazing, but you don’t get to see the aliens. They do that stuff post-production... but did you get to see what they look like?
Yeah, I did. They are awesome. I was reading a review the other day, about originality. I don’t know if there’s really an original script any more, but what you can do is have an original take on things. Every story is pretty much a reworking of other stories. But this one, just the way it was done, how gritty it was, how realistic it was – the aliens themselves look very real. They look plausible. They look like 'okay, they could really come down here and take over right now'!
Was the filming physically grueling? It seems like such a heavy action movie, it must have been tough to actually do...
We worked for half a year on it, with one solid month of boot camp training. Actually the United States Marine Corps worked very closely with us on it, making sure that everything was accurate according to them. Like, if there was a way that a squad or a fighter team moved, and it looked too “movie” they would say “No, you can’t do that, because a Marine wouldn’t do that.” And they wouldn’t allow us to do it. We’d have to do something different, more realistic.
It’s so great that they would work with you like that. And how did you find working with the Marines? Was that an eye-opener for you?
It was the best! I’ve actually been through two – the first was for Tigerland, back in 2000, with Colin Farrell. It was a big difference! It was grueling; we’d have to sleep in mosquito nets and train eighteen-hour days of working-out and learning to use the weapons that we had. We had to make it look good. We had to learn to look like real marines; to be real marines. They wanted to train us so that... there were so many special effects and mortars going off, and we were doing mostly our own stunts, they wanted us to know how a real marine would respond in certain situations without having to say, “Cut! Hold your weapon like this! Do this! Do that!”
That probably makes the action flow a lot more smoothly, when you have the background there like that.
When your cast knows how to reload weapons on the fly – we know how to take cover, like real Marines do, so you don’t have to tell us to do that, you can just go along with the story.
Nice! As far as the physicality of it, you’ve been in martial arts forever, yeah?
I have 26 years karate and Thai boxing, my father got me into it as a kid and I did some teaching when I was younger, to supplement my income. I inherited the style of martial arts that was taught by my master. You know, certain styles have their own creators and the base style was Shotokai Karate and my master added to it, and I taught that style, original from my master.
Did that give you a leg up on the marine training? Or was it a completely different thing?
Just being a physical person, I had a leg up on some of the other cast. Also, my father was a marine so I kind of had an in with that, and with weapons, I hunt and stuff. But it was hard, for everybody!
Speaking of the other cast in the movie: what was it like working with Michelle Rodriguez, Aaron Eckhart?
Oh, it was great! I’ve known Michelle for years, we are actually good friends. We worked together on The Fast and the Furious 4; although we didn’t have any scenes together, we both shot the movie. And this was the first time she and I were able to really interact inside the movie, with our characters, and it was just great. She is awesome. She wasn’t required to do all the training we did, but she was right there with us. Of course she didn’t live with us, but she would come early in the morning, bright and early, and she would work out with us all day.
Everybody was great, Bridget Moynahan, Cory Hardrict, Will Rothhaar... these are the up-and-coming guys - and everybody gave their heart, you know, 110%.
That has to make it such a great experience when everybody’s working together, that hard.
We knew we were making something special about the second week. It all came together – everybody still hangs out together; especially the supporting cast – there’s only really like twelve or thirteen of us in the entire movie.
You get really close after six months of solid living together and working?
Yep, everybody is really close and cool. Ramon Rodriguez, great actor. He was in Transformers, he was great. Everybody gave their heart. I don’t think I ever saw anybody flub a line!
I just finished Harry’s Law on NBC. It’s a really great show! Kathy [Bates] is amazing. Aml Ameen, who is the young black actor on there, he’s a Brit, he came to the States and shot it, he plays the third lead and most of my interactions are with him on the show. It was just really, really great. The show itself has a nice narrative thread, when it comes to touching on people’s heartstrings. Kathy Bates is just, you know... she’s Kathy! She brings it every week. It looks like it’s going to be good. All the episodes are amazing.
You’ve already done such a variety – action movies, TV, what’s next?
I am really looking to do more movies. I want to do a variety of characters, I love doing all these different roles. I play the bad guy a lot; always a bad guy with redeeming qualities, I do that quite well. I would love to play a nerdy guy, with glasses, really smart, knows how to work a computer...? I would love that!
You could be the next techie, right?
I would love to be a techie! I love playing all the variety of roles, I love people, and I love portraying those guys, because I’ve met so many interesting people in my life. I’m looking to do that, and play these roles that I play. I love doing Guillermo, and Tank, and all of those characters I’ve been playing recently.
And what about Dark Star Hollow? Is that definitely happening?
It’s still in negotiations, I don’t exactly know about the funding. I signed on for the picture a few years ago and originally it was going into production and then it didn’t. It’s one of those things that are up in the air.
There were some legal things going on there, yeah. They were... they did our special effects and they didn’t let Sony or anyone else know that they were in the process of supposedly doing a competing film. They had all our stuff while they were making their own. Which... it seems strange that you can make a movie so fast, without having some other form of inspiration. Not saying that they took it from us... hopefully it’s kind of obvious what they were up to, but [Skyline] didn’t do anything, because it’s just not the same movie.
I mean, you can take what we did, in our film, and make a cheap version of it, but it’s still going to be a straight-to-DVD like Skyline probably should have been. At one point Sony was going to sue them, but then they realized hey, that movie is not going to be anything – it’s going to be an afterthought.
And so at one point they were a little worried about it. Because it’s wrong, what they did.
Absolutely! It seems so deceptive, not the type of thing you want to do in a business where you work with the same people over and over again.
It’s like, you’re trying to take away from all these young actors who are trying to be the next big thing, the new thing, and you take a movie and put a bunch of TV actors in it, and it should have gone straight to DVD - which we wouldn’t have cared about. But the people who saw it realized that it is not Battle Los Angeles. It is so not.
And that’s the thing, the movie with the good storyline will be the one that actually holds up.
Our movie is character-driven: the marines, following what they have to go through... I don’t think you’ve ever seen it before, especially on this grand a scale. But people will mention something goofy like Starship Troopers. For me, I am a sci-fi-geek, I actually loved that movie! But, it’s no comparison whatsoever. This would be like watching a Black Hawk Down, but with aliens attacking in it. And this is what the marines would really do and how we would really respond... and you just haven’t really seen that.
Your dad was a marine; did he give you any advice on it? Is he waiting to see the finished product?
Oh no, he was very excited about it. My father fought in Vietnam; when he found out I was in it he was ecstatic. And the Marines, knowing my father had served, offered him an opportunity to come behind the scenes and just check everything out. He wasn’t able to come, but the fact that they offered it was really great.
But growing up with the Marines, you have the insight and background that helped with the movie...?
Absolutely! My father was very impressed when I got the lingo and the terminology. I would come home talking about my 'saw', my M-249 – it was great.
I won’t keep you too much longer – thank you so much for your time. Is there anything you want to add?
No, thank you for the interview. I just really want the fans to continue to tune in to The Walking Dead, to continue to tune in to Harry’s Law, and to be ready for Battle Los Angeles – because it’s going to be a great ride!
Neil Brown Jr - Thanks a lot!
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