Finding the Madness in Genius: 8 Big Question for Christopher Lloyd
Dead Before Dawn
Since his big screen debut in 1975’s classic, “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest,” Christopher Lloyd has cornered the market on playing brilliant but wildly off-kilter oddballs. In an amazing body of classic films ranging from the “Back to the Future” “Star Trek” and “Addams Family” series to his role as Reverend Jim in TV’s “Taxi,” Lloyd has reigned as America’s leading portrayer of the eccentric.
Lloyd takes another off-kilter step in his latest film, the zombie comedy “Dead Before Dawn” directed April Mullen. Available now on DVD and VOD, Lloyd plays another tormented soul with something not quite right about him who warns a group of endangered young people about an ancient curse.
Yahoo Movies spoke with Lloyd by phone about the challenge of playing a lifetime of bizarre and unusual roles.
1. What inspired you to make a zombie comedy?
Christopher Lloyd: Well it seemed like a challenge. It’s an interesting role in that this guy, he’s part, not zombie, but he’s a Zemon. He’s also somehow in spite of things, he’s retained his heart and soul and is trying to do well by his family and the kids or whatever, so he’s in a very conflicted situation spiritually and emotionally and trying to reconcile these two extremes.
2. Comedy in horror is a hard balance to walk. If you’re too funny, you're not scary. If you’re too scary, you forget to be funny. How do you find that balance?
CL: I kind of felt for myself and my character that he’s aware of what he is, and that he is fighting it at the same time. He kind of sees the irony of being a Zemon and human at the same time and trying to put all that together and make it work out. So I felt a lot of the comedy was that effort. The effort to strike a balance and not to go too far that he couldn’t go be too human because he’d lost part of that nature in himself. So I feel a lot of the comedy came out of that and for everybody.
3. Throughout your career you’ve bounced between genre films and doing very serious theater work. Do you prepare for a horror film the same way that you do for a Samuel Beckett play?
CL: Yes. I mean it’s always been the same process. My goal is if I get a part no matter how extreme or outrageous it may be or whatever, how to make him believable, how to make him credible to an audience. You know, finding out what is his essential human characteristic that everybody can relate to, and that’s what I do. I feel that’s the actor’s challenge. You’ve got to make this person human somehow. I saw a film some time ago, quite some time ago, maybe it was in the ‘80s or something, of a man who was playing the part of Hitler and pretty difficult person to make people want to be sympathetic towards. And this actor without…he just somehow you saw what this guy was in a human kind of way. It didn’t make him any better. It didn’t excuse the heinous things that he did and the monster that he was but you could see a little bit of yourself in him, and I felt that was quite an accomplishment. And I kind of find similarly whatever I’m playing to find what is a common trait, human trait that I find in myself that I can bring in this character without distorting it and people will relate to.
4. Since “Cuckoo’s Nest” you’ve played some of the most famously celebrated kind of off-kilter characters in history. What is it about you that people want you in those parts?
CL: Well I’m not always sure. I have not tried to guide myself, my career into those kind of parts. I guess somewhere along the line directors and whatever thought maybe I could connect to those character, and I guess I do and I enjoy it. I don’t think I’m crazy but I see their reality and hopefully something that makes it real. But it’s not. I didn’t set out to be a Captain Kruge or Uncle Fester or any of those. It’s just sort of people would give me a call when they were looking for the person.