Part Two of our exclusive interviews (in conjunction with the special edition Blu-ray and DVD release of The Return of the Living Dead on the 4th of June) is with actor Brian Peck – also known as Scuz the apocalyptic punk rocker with an attitude that even zombies can’t stop.
LoveHorror: The Return of the Living Dead is returning once again. How did you get involved in this zany zombie movie?
Brain Peck: It initially came to my attention through a phone call from an actress friend of mine who I had met while shooting my first film “The Last American Virgin”. Kimmy Robertson, who played “Rose” in “L.A.V.” and would later play “Lucy” the sheriff’s secretary in “Twin Peaks”, was up for the role of “Tina” in “Return of the Living Dead”. She knows I am a huge horror movie fan so she told me about the script thinking it would be right up my alley and suggested I should audition for it.
After borrowing her copy of the script and giving it a read, I contacted my agent at the time to see about setting up an audition, he said he would look into it.
After several days went by without hearing back from him I called and he told me I wasn’t right for any of the roles, that they were looking for “gritty street punks” and that he wasn’t going to embarrass me and himself by sending me in for something I had absolutely no chance of getting. Since I had played a nerd in “Last American Virgin” he seemed to only send me in for nerdy or geeky characters, it was very frustrating. Even if he only saw me as a nerd type I wanted to read for the “Chuck” role, but what I was really interested in was the “Scuz” role. I thought it would be so much fun as an actor to play such an extreme looking punk character, and someone so different from myself!
I told Kimmy the story of my agent refusing to set up an audition for me, so she simply took in my picture and resume’ and gave them to Dan O’Bannon and our casting director Stanzi Stokes along with a nice recommendation. I always felt guilty that she ended up not getting her role. From there it was the typical audition and callback process and eventually I obviously got the part in spite of my agents total lack of vision. I fired him shortly after I finished shooting…ha!
LoveHorror: What was filming like? Do you have any stories from the set?
Brain Peck: My personal experience of filming was fantastic!!!
It was truly a dream come true for me to be acting in a horror film and battling zombies! It was something I had fantasized about ever since spending countless hours as a child of the 60’s watching every old horror movie that came on T.V. and building Aurora monster models and turning my bedroom into a “haunted house” attraction as often as possible. As an added bonus I was getting to work with Dan O’Bannon who I was a huge fan of because of “Alien”, one of my all time favorite films. The whole summer of 1984 shooting “R.O.T.L.D.” was like heaven I thought, the best summer camp anyone could have ever dreamed up for me. If I had days off as an actor I would go to set anyway, just to watch the scenes I wasn’t in being filmed and to hang out with Dan and the cast.
I would visit Bill Stout our amazing production designer in the art department, or wander into the editing room to watch rough assemblies of scenes we had already shot. I think Dan saw how excited I was by the whole film making process beyond just acting in it and really appreciated my enthusiasm. Consequently I ended up helping to puppeteer the split dog and the half corpse, and even played the zombie you see tunneling it’s way up through the dirt when the “acid rain” first hits. It was a pretty difficult shoot for a lot of the cast and crew, particularly Dan who did not have much support from the production heads, but for me it was just all so amazing, one of the most fun and exciting times of my life to this day.
LoveHorror: The movie was made in 1985. Have you watched it since and if so, what do you think of it?
Brain Peck: You know the first time I saw it with an audience was on Hollywood Boulevard at the Pacific Theater a couple of nights before it opened officially on August 16, 1985. The place was packed with people who had won promotional tickets from a radio station giveaway, the whole cast was there along with Dan O’Bannon and others who worked on it. We introduced the film and then sat and watched the movie with an audience for the first time, and they laughed… a lot! Now I had NO idea that we had made a funny movie in any way. I thought we had filmed a straight forward scary zombie movie, so I was taken aback by all the laughs and didn’t know if that was really a good thing or not. I also didn’t know all those punk songs were going to be part of the soundtrack, I had expected a traditional horror movie orchestral score. I thought the punk music made it less scary.
So my initial reaction was mixed. I have seen the film many times since, especially in the last 5 years or so as it’s cult status has reached epic proportions and we have attended screenings and conventions, and I am now able to really appreciate it. It’s such a great movie and all those things that didn’t seem quite right to me the first time I saw it are exactly the elements that make the film so unique and such an enduring cult classic now. Dan had such a clear vision from the very beginning, and he was dead on, no pun intended!
LoveHorror: The special edition features the documentary More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead. Are you surprised at the cult status the movie has? And why do you think it has been embraced by so many horror fans?
Brain Peck: I’m thrilled that the “More Brains” documentary is included in this special edition, It was put together incredibly well and was so cool that ALL of the surviving cast members and many of the key crew participated. It really is the definitive look back at the film including Dan O’Bannon’s final interview about making the “Return”. I am definitely surprised by the film’s enduring cult status, but only in that you just can’t ever predict that sort of thing. The second you set out to purposefully make a “cult” movie is the moment you are guaranteed that it most likely won’t be. If I knew how to do it for sure I would be out making lots of films and getting rich.
I think “R.O.T.L.D.” just has the perfect blend of horror and comedy, some truly unique and memorable zombie characters such as “Tarman”, the “Half Corpse” and the crazy “Split Dog”, the awesome punk rock score, James Karen’s over the top and hilarious performance, and last but not least Linnea Quigley doing that super sexy naked dance on a tombstone!!! My death scene is pretty rocking too!
LoveHorror: What have you been doing since the film, and what are you up to now?
Brain Peck: I have continued acting here and there, wrote and directed a little film titled “The Willies” in 1990, and shortly after “Return” became an acting coach and dialog coach helping the actors with their lines on the show “Growing Pains”. I have done that job many times since on shows such as “The Mommies”, “Boy Meets World”, “What I like About You”, several Nickelodeon Network shows and films like “Holes”. Since 2005 I have also been a producer on the films “Outlaw Trail”, “Forever Strong and “Bitch Slap”.
Last summer I starred in a SYFY Network pilot called “Z.E.R.O.S.” where I played “Artie” the boss of a government run Zombie Extermination unit. It was played very tongue in cheek and put me on screen with zombies again for the first time in 20 something years. Currently I am working with Charlie Sheen as a dialog coach on his new sitcom “Anger Management, we are having a blast and I adore Charlie.
LoveHorror: What is your favorite zombie movie (other than The Return of the Living Dead)?
Brain Peck: George Romero’s original “Dawn of the Dead” hands down. I saw it at a special midnight screening when it first opened. I had to get permission from my Mom to stay out that late and went with my High School buddy Doug Benson who is a well known stand up comedian now. It was the film that made me dream of wanting to be in a zombie movie one day. Lately I have been an avid viewer of “The Walking Dead” and really enjoy it. I would love to be on that, a triumphant return to zombie fighting!
LoveHorror: Finally, if you were to return as one of the living dead, what’s the first thing you would do?
Brain Peck: I would find my former co-worker Kirk Cameron and bite him on the head, although I would come away still hungry due to the serious lack of sufficient brains in there!!
LoveHorror: Thank you so much for your time and your answers.
Brain Peck: Thank you, I appreciate your interest and the opportunity to babble… 🙂