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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Shawn Roberts, Diary of the Dead

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Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

George A. Romero pioneered the zombie genre when he wrote and directed the seminal Night of the Living Dead in 1968. He would later go on to make Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985) and Land of the Dead (2005). His latest undead picture, Diary of the Dead hits theaters today after successful screenings at the Toronto and Sundance film festivals. Actor Shawn Roberts is a veteran of Romero's zombie films, having earlier appeared in Land of the Dead and now starring in Diary of the Dead. I had a chance to interview him this week.

First off, tell me a little bit about Diary of the Dead? What's the new twist on this franchise?

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This film was shot from the point of view of the characters in the movie. So basically anyone who has ever posted a video on YouTube can relate to it. It has a natural flow to it that a staged shot just can't match.

What's your role in the film?

I play the role of Tony Ravello. Initially a skeptic of the dead coming back to life, but when he comes face to face with a zombie, he does what he has to.

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Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

This is your second time working with George A. Romero. Can you talk a little bit about his process as a director? How he works with the actors, the crew, the script?

George is one of the most laid back directors I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He was always open to suggestions from anyone, and constantly kept the cast and crew laughing. You might not expect a horror guru to have such a great sense of humor, but he'd surprise you.

What's the best story you can tell about your experience working on Diary of the Dead?

Other than getting to work with a legend, play with guns everyday, and have zombie body parts laying on the ground outside of the FX trailer, there isn't much else to mention. Everyday on that set has a story worth telling, but who has the time.

How do you approach your work as an actor? Do you have specific strategies or ideas that you use when developing your character?

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Whenever I get a script I read through the whole thing just to get a feel for the story before looking deeper into the characters. There is no specific approach or strategy that I always turn to, but rather you know the story and where you fit into it. Just do what the scene requires... have a human response to any particular circumstance. "Be like water" was some of the best advice I got early on in my career, and it has served me well.

What are the most fulfilling and difficult parts of your job?

Getting to take on a whole different personality and play with it, keeps me coming back for more. It's a truly freeing experience to be able to leave behind the world and lose yourself in the moment during a scene. When someone who has seen a project of mine, comes to me and says they enjoyed it, that's everything. If they could even have half as much fun watching it as I do making it...well then all is well in the world.

You've been working a hell of a lot over the last few years. What were your best and worst professional experiences?

I always try to look at the bright side of things, so it's rare that I ever have a bad experience. Not to say there aren't any tough days. But when you get to do what you love for a living, it's never work. However, auditions are about the most draining aspects of the business. Getting the information on a new project the night before going into the room, it just doesn't allow for much time to grow comfortable with the character and project. So that usually leaves me wondering what I could have done better. But I've learned over the years to move past it because there's always another audition to try again.

Are you someone who sees himself primarily as an actor or are there other areas of the filmmaking process that you're interested in exploring?

Well as much as I love the acting aspect of the business, I've recently started to produce. Right now I'm working on my next horror script, and after that it's time for an action film. Directing is also something I could see myself doing, so in one form or another. I will be in this industry till the day I die.

What's the best movie you've seen in the last year and what are some the movies that you return to again and again?

This year has been chalk full of great films but I'm torn between No Country for Old Men and The Bourne Ultimatum as my favorites for this year. I would say that the movie I have watched more than anything else is a draw between Fight Club and Anchorman.

Given the choice, would you be more attracted by a particular script or> by the opportunity to work with certain people?

I think its a draw for both sides of that argument. Sometimes the script wins me over, even if the people putting it together don't have much of a track record. And sometimes the script isn't nearly as appealing as the opportunity to work with the people. I take it on a case to case basis.

What would you say to someone to get them interested in seeing this movie?

This is a freakin' George Romero film! Need I say more....the man created the genre!