After a long gap The Ford Brothers’ return with their eagerly anticipated follow-up to The Dead. A non-stop ferocious fight for survival across the exotic landscapes and slums of India The Dead 2 stars Joseph Millson who we where lucky enough to chat to way back when the film was screened at FrightFest.
A great actor and a all round nice guy Joseph Millson told us all about filming The Dead 2: India with The Ford Brothers along with some stories of the crazy stunts in the film and his experience of FrightFest.
Love Horror: How did you get involved with The Dead 2?
Joseph Millson: It’s a long story but I will try and give you the short version. I’ve known Howard and John Ford since 1996 but I hadn’t seen them for 17 years. We did a short film together in 1996 called La Belle Dame Sans Merci and they followed my career afterwards and I knew about them and we bumped into each other because we were both going to Cannes last year and it’s such a weird chain of events but I ended up getting a lift with Howard across the Pyrenees in his car because it was cheaper than flying as we were all broke. We hadn’t seen each other for years but got on like a house on fire.
Unbeknownst to me he was going down to Cannes and then going on to John’s place to write The Dead 2 so by the end of the car journey they were writing it with me in mind but I didn’t know that. Later they got in touch and it was quite tricky making it all work but we really wanted to do it. The budget kept changing and there were other difficulties but it ended up being a great, great experience.
Love Horror: That is a pretty crazy story. You say they wrote it with you in mind, we don’t learn very much information on your character Nicholas Burton’s past, did you or the Ford Brothers create a back story for him and if so what was it?
Joseph Millson: No not really I didn’t really get involved at all. I always like films and television where you have more questions about a character than answers, it just gets very boring if you watch something and they keep giving you flashbacks to back story, back story, there’s no questions left to ask. What’s great about the films the Ford Brothers make is it’s just the situation really so the viewer can just project onto them their own anxieties and I think that’s quite intelligent filmmaking actually.
What I mean by them writing it with me in mind is that I think they had me in their visual mind to the point where they said when they were brainstorming scenes they would say “then Joe does this.” But of course they knew like everyone does they were hoping to get 10 million dollars and of course they might well have had to have had god knows who, Billy Zane or someone, I don’t know what ever that world is and they didn’t know if they could do it with me. They knew my acting and I have been very successful, I’m kind of like the most successful unknown actor in the world if you know what I mean so there was no guarantee they would have been able to do it with me but luckily we did.
Love Horror: You’re right the film does really throw the audience headlong into the situation and there is a very real feel to the film.
Joseph Millson: Yeah I agree. Also in England I’m vaguely known but in America and the rest of the world it’s almost better I’m not. That’s what the Ford Brothers were trying to tell all the big money men when they were saying “whose Joseph Millson?” that it works a lot better as you don’t bring any preconceived notions to the character. You only get this once really because if The Dead 2 is as successful as it might well be then I might be way better known after its come out. At the time what you get is you don’t have any associations with me, most of the American film goers will just accept me totally as the character, they don’t think of me in other films and it ends up almost feeling documentary like.
Love Horror: How did you prepare for the role mentally and physically?
Joseph Millson: I was lucky enough to have a few weeks where I wasn’t working and I was in L.A with my lovely fiancée staying at hers and we were busy with life but actually I did have 3 or 4 weeks where I was free to get very fit because I knew it was going to be physically incredibly demanding. I wanted to arrive day 1 as strong and as fit as I could ever feel because I was only going to get gradually iller. You want to start as close to 10 out of 10 as you can so your natural depletion only ever ends up as 4 out of 10. If you arrived feeling 6 out of 10 by the end of that 30 day shoot you would be a zero. My other half is a well-known actress but she is also very, very good on diets and fitness so it was actually like having a secret personal trainer. She licked me into shape, oh no that sounds wrong! (Laughs)
Love Horror: We’ve spoken to many other actors and actresses and they have all said that horror is one of the most physically demanding genre’s for one thing because you are perpetually in a state of constant terror.
Joseph Millson: It is. I knew as well with those boys that this was going to be chaos working with them on the budget they were on especially as I had read the book on The Dead 1 Surviving the Dead written by Howard. It wasn’t no budget but it wasn’t a big film and sure enough we worked 31 days straight and I mean night shoots leading into day shoots every single day and not a single break doing all our own stunts so it was pretty full on.
That to me though is my ideal film making scenario, okay my ideal might have been exactly the same experience with 5 times the pay packet but this was pretty close to the ideal as far as artistic control because it was like guerrilla film making. There was nothing safe or sanitised about it. No one was checking through unions whether we were allowed to do X, Y or Z we just did it. The difference with a lot of guerrilla film making however was its normally very young film makers who have all the desire but don’t have the experience and technique. What we had was 9 or 10 people on that crew, British and some Indian who were going “quick, quick, quick let’s shoot it” and you only get 1 or 2 takes but what happened was it was framed by someone with 20 years of experience, lit in 2 seconds by someone with 20 years of experience and acted by someone in 1 take with 20 years of experience who can do it. You end up with the feeling of a complete from the hip guerrilla film but the actual artistry of years of experience.
Love Horror: What was it like working with the Ford Brothers?
Joseph Millson: Basically we had a very similar experience to The Dead 1 and anyone who knows that wonderful book Howard wrote about it will know what a disaster it was, just how fate seemed be spitting in their face every day. I wasn’t on the first one but I know all about it and on The Dead 2 it felt like every day the challenges where just as harsh and just as dangerous and just as fraught and difficult but at the end of every day and every situation on The Dead 1 fate said “no screw you you’re not getting this.” On The Dead 2 it seemed we had the same struggle and at the final moment fate seemed to always go “oh go on then you can get that shot.” The luck just seemed to go our way day after day after day until we got the giggles. In the last week of shooting we would sometimes get shots in the can, watch them back and just be amazed as we couldn’t believe our luck sometimes. It was just as arduous I think and many moments just dangerous but fate was on our side.
Love Horror: What was it like filming in India?
Joseph Millson: I had never been there before and I had always wanted to. I didn’t get to do much mucking about enjoying it if you know what I mean but we were in some very real places so it wasn’t touristy. I saw the real poverty in the real rural areas and met a lot of very genuine people which was a much better experience. It’s made me very keen to go back and explore more I must say. Aside from some of the scary moments most of the people where incredibly friendly. I always thought of India as a country with a lot of get up and go as it is the most developing country there is and the economy is doing really well but actually when you get there you remember it is still a Third World country and 9 out of 10 people are living in abject poverty but they are so used to it generation after generation. It’s terribly sobering to come back to your life and your little concerns and realise they really are First World problems.
Love Horror: There is a lot of action in the movie how much of it was actually you?
Joseph Millson: Every single stunt is me except for the 70 foot in the air paragliding stunt. I did do take-off and landing in that but yeah everything else you see is me I didn’t have a stunt man at all. The paraglide pilot had to wear my costume, I’m 6 foot 2 and he had to wear my stinky costume and he was 5 foot 1, I jest not. It was like Warwick Davis having to wear my costume, it was hilarious and my boots fell off him as he took off into the air. The whole time I was watching standing in my underpants as we hadn’t remembered to bring anything for me to wear while he was doing the stunt. That’s the kind of film we were on.
Love Horror: There are some pretty hair rising stunts in The Dead 2 what was that like to do?
Joseph Millson: Oh you don’t want to get into actors talking about their stunts its like fisherman talking about the fish they nearly caught; I could bore you with stories. I was very glad the women in my life, my fiancé, my agent, my daughters and my mother were not privy to how dangerous some of the stuff was. I didn’t do anything totally stupid but there were some moments that were risky. I have children so I am never going to put myself in complete danger, I retain a 5% part of my brain that no matter how exciting it is and in the moment I am there is a small part of me that wants to get home and see my children.
Love Horror: What was the most dangerous stunt then?
Joseph Millson: Well there was a cliff and a car and it was terribly Gung Ho of me to kick the car off the cliff that was 200 foot up and crumbling away. The car was stuck and the only way to get the one shot was for me to get on the edge and kick it off. That was one then we had a miss firing with a blank firing gun but I think a live cartridge got in it and it exploded in the chamber 3 inches from my face which wasn’t such a good experience.
Love Horror: Have you seen the film since shooting and what did you think of it?
Joseph Millson: I hadn’t seen the movie till I saw the FrightFest screening and I was incredibly proud as every shot looked like it was the kind of stuff young film makers would dream of framing up. Forget about everything else, I think Howard is one of the greatest camera operators, I think he’s a genius operator. When you’re acting with a good operator it’s like dancing with someone, you’re following instinct and making moves and they are staying in focus and moving with you and breathing with you and it’s amazing.
John is exactly the same as a DOP (Director of Photography) they were both co-directing as far as the acting. They know where their skills lie so the meat of the operating went to Howard and the meat of the lighting went to John and they are both masters. It’s funny we are all the same age, we’ve all been at it the same amount of time and we all went ‘this is the last time we do one of these kick bollocks scramble films so let’s make it count and after this its either move up into the real world of getting paid properly and doing the big films or we’ll knock it on the head’ that’s kind of how we all felt that this was the last throw of the dice and it has worked. Howard has certainly been offered studio films now. So although I’m completely broke the world I’m moving into and the auditions I’m going for are a step up. Once this film comes out it’s hopefully a gamble that paid off for all of us and we are all very proud of it.
Love Horror: You should be, I saw it at FrightFest as well and it went down really well. I think it really amps up everything that was good from the first film in a great way. It has real mass appeal as well yet it does offer something truly different which is what makes it so good.
Joseph Millson: Thanks. It’s interesting because I think it’s being sold in certain places as not strictly a genre film. I think at the film festival in Spain it was just at it was entered in as best film not best horror. The whole world seems to have got more zombie friendly anyway.
Love Horror: Did you enjoy FrightFest?
Joseph Millson: FrightFest was utterly brilliant. I’m really not just saying this for good PR I think it’s one of the most genuinely spirited film festivals certainly in Britain where you can feel the love of film and not a bunch of wankers trying to make money in every room. The people I was signing autographs for where all really intelligent, I think horror fans are some of the most sincere film lovers actually because they demand inventiveness. As a genre it’s permanently pushing ideas and shots more than many other because you can make a romantic comedy exactly the same way Four Weddings and a Funeral was made and as long as it’s a new script and new actors it works brilliantly. With horror and thrillers certainly you have to find new things to put in the ghost train you can’t just go round the same track again so I think it’s a very healthy genre for artistry.
Love Horror: What’s next for you and more horror?
Joseph Millson: Well I have a few plates spinning as they say and I don’t know quite which plate will stray on the stick at the moment but I am attached to a couple of films and one or two of them are horror but we will see. One is called Blood Moon which on paper sounds a bit trite but it’s a werewolf western and it’s actually really good. I can’t believe no one’s ever done that before so hopefully that will come off. We will see but at the moment I am very available so please get in touch.
Love Horror: Well good luck and well done again for The Dead 2.
Joseph Millson: Cheers and it was lovely to speak to you.
The Dead 2 is out now and you can read our review right HERE